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Waldorf 101

Updated: Jul 14, 2020

An Overview

The ever-elusive elevator pitch. Everyone wants to know: What is Waldorf Education? (And they want you to tell them in one to three sentences!) Like most things, Waldorf Education is difficult to sum up so succinctly, but Sunbridge Institute gets us off to a good start: In Waldorf Education, the learning process is essentially threefold, engaging head, heart, and hands, or thinking, feeling, and doing. This is the basis out of which Waldorf teachers work to nurture and engage each child through a curriculum and methodology that integrates academics, arts, and practical skills.

A Brief History

From the Association of Waldorf Schools of North America: In April of 1919, Rudolf Steiner visited the Waldorf Astoria cigarette factory in Stuttgart, Germany. The German nation, defeated in war, was teetering on the brink of economic, social, and political chaos. Steiner spoke to the workers about the need for social renewal, for a new way of organizing society and its political and cultural life.

Emil Molt, the owner of the factory, asked Steiner if he would undertake to establish and lead a school for the children of the employees of the company. Steiner agreed, and in September 1919, the Independent Waldorf School (die Freie Waldorfschule) opened its doors.

Child Development

It's not uncommon to hear catch phrases in Waldorf Education like the threefold human being or the four temperaments. What do these things mean? They're each linked to how Waldorf Education views child development and how that view is interwoven into the approach inside the classroom.

Waldorf Education divides child development into three seven-year segments: Birth - Age 7, Age 7 to Age 14, and Age 14 Age 21. These phases are each ruled by varying forces. The diagram shows an overview of those influences:

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The Threefold Human Being: Thinking, Feeling, and Willing

Waldorf Education considers three aspects of a person in its approach: thinking, feeling, and willing. Another way to think of it is through the lens of head, heart, and hands. Going back to the seven-year stages of child development, each stage is connected to a phase that defines a developing child's way of seeing the world and learning from it.

The Four Temperaments

Teachers use the temperaments to help guide them in tailoring their approach to each child with the end goal being to help each child acquire as many skills as possible from all of the temperaments so that they may face any challenge with confidence. We are all a combination of these temperaments, but typically you'll notice a tendency toward one. See if you recognize which one describes your child.

  1. Choleric: Leadership. The choleric is a person who is fulfilled by deeds. This temperament tends to be fiery with a keen interest in all things, a high level of engagement in all they do, and quickness to action

  2. Sanguine - Social Butterfly. Sanguine children have trouble concentrating because their attention flits a bit. They delight in quick changes and varied ideas. They love people and discussions.

  3. Phlegmatic - Easygoing. They have a knack at being cheerful and they tend to avoid describing any situation in terms of being a crisis. They are complacent souls who would rather be left to their own devices than to be stirred to great action.

  4. Melancholic - Deep Thinkers. Melancholics tend to feel many things personally. Tasks can feel insurmountable to them easily and they tend to consider many situations in the most difficult light. They would, for example, most often consider the glass, “half empty.”

Learn more about temperaments here.


Learn more about Waldorf Education:

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