Finding Balance: Honoring Childhood While Educating for the Future

Christine Martuscello, Admissions Coordinator of Meadowbrook Waldorf School

A Waldorf School Offers A Child-Centered Education

A healthy education is one that balances the current needs of the child with future educational goals. The child, not the goal, should always be at the center of the process.

Waldorf Education, founded in 1919 and based on the philosophy of Rudolf Steiner, achieves a balanced education by offering a developmentally appropriate curriculum that both supports children where they are in the moment, and prepares them for their next phase of development.   This curriculum unites academics with the arts, movement, practical work, and a deep respect for the natural world.

The Waldorf Preschool Program

For children in a Waldorf preschool program, this means their days are spent engaged in purposeful play, social activity and exploration, both indoors and out. Rich stories are experienced through puppetry, songs are combined with movement, and curiosity, observation, and collaboration are encouraged during forest adventures. Although these important activities are considered “pre-academic”, they all build skills critical for the academic journey that begins in first grade.

A Classical Elementary School Curriculum

Once students enter elementary school they are formally introduced to a classic, liberal arts curriculum that includes music, fine arts, foreign language, and practical arts to create deeper, more meaningful learning. Desk time is balanced with movement, academics are balanced with the arts, and time indoors is balanced with time spent in nature. Since children at this age learn best through strong, memorable experiences, the curriculum is often offered in an experiential manner. In the early elementary grades, this means math facts are paired with clapping games and rhythmical movement, language arts studied through dramatic presentation, and history is experienced firsthand with field trips and biography. These activities meet many styles of learning and reflect the complex world the children will inherit. The skills learned in these early years provide a strong foundation for the challenging learning and growth that is still to come.

Waldorf Curriculum Meets the Child’s Developmental Stage
Elementary (Grades 1-5)

The later elementary curriculum broadens the experience of the child. In the early elementary years, children are still in a dreamy world of imitation, content and secure in their family. Adults are seen as all knowing, and children do not yet question the world around them. This begins to change during the mid-elementary years as the children become more aware of themselves as individuals, and more awake to the world around them. This “nine year change” challenges their sense of confidence in the world, and their place in it.  To reassure children that they will have what they need to meet the world as adults, the Waldorf curriculum turns to the practical. Units of measure and fractions are studied in math, with shelter building and farming as cornerstones of the curriculum at this age. The curriculum at this time is a conscious exploration of what directly surrounds the child: local ecology, government, animals, and plants.

It is this experience of the local and practical that helps children cross a threshold and see themselves as individuals capable of inhabiting a rich and complex world, and successfully meeting the future with knowledge, connection, and collaboration.

After this immersion in the local, the curriculum expands to include ancient cultures and creation stories including Judeo-Christian, Native American, Norse, Indian, Egyptian, Greek, and Roman mythology. Presented during the later elementary grades, these stories describe how humans have been long striving to understand and explain the world around them.

As the curriculum broadens to include that which is outside of the child’s view, the fine and practical art curriculum also broadens. Fourth grade students add a string instrument to their recorder studies, and woodworking is added to the handwork curriculum begun in first grade. Both of these additions serve to not only improve fine motor skills, but to strengthen the will and demonstrate to the child that with practice and perseverance difficult tasks can be mastered to a beautiful end.

Middle School (Grades 6-8)

Middle school is a time of great change: physical, emotional, and intellectual. The children begin to question what they previously accepted without issue when they were younger. This adolescent urge to question and test is the perfect time to introduce the rigorous science curriculum. Through deep observation, which has been encouraged since the early childhood years, the students explore the world sometimes hidden from view through chemistry, optics, physics, anatomy, physiology, and astronomy. Moving from the concrete calculations of decimals, geometry, and business math, to the more the abstract math of exponents, number bases, platonic solids, and algebra, challenges the middle schooler’s burgeoning ability to think in the abstract.

Mirroring their sometimes tumultuous internal changes, the students study tumultuous times of history. Roman law, the Dark Ages, the beauty of the Renaissance, and periods of revolution are explored through first hand experiences, drama, fine art, and biography.   The students are now introduced to individuals, rather than the myths and legends of elementary school, who worked to make positive change in the world, sometimes at great personal cost. By the study and example of these pivotal individuals, the seed is planted that they too can be instruments of change in the world.

Waldorf Education Offers A Balanced, Thoughtful Approach 

A Waldorf Education provides a balanced curriculum that honors childhood by meeting the child where they are developmentally. The nurturance of foundational skills and play in early childhood provides a strong basis for the academics of the elementary years.

The elementary grades offer a rich curriculum of language, math, foreign language, history, geography, music, fine, and practical arts. Time for outdoor play and projects allows the child to experience the natural world, encourages collaboration, and provides an opportunity to recharge.  Once in middle school, the rigorous curriculum expands further to include more sciences and complex math to challenge the children’s new abilities.

It is the thoughtfulness of this intricate curriculum that encourages student’s growing capacities while maintaining the reverence of childhood.

Related Links:
About Waldorf Education 
Meadowbrook Waldorf School Curriculum
Admissions Application


The Art of Story Telling to the Preschool Child

Contributed by Sarah Wiberg (Parent-Child Class Teacher)

& Nancy St. Vincent (Early Childhood Class Teacher)

Waldorf story telling captivates preschool children

Preschool Puppets

One special part of a Waldorf Early Childhood experience is the use of puppetry to tell a story. The teacher is able to express a variety of deep story themes and soul moods with the simplest of gestures.  The magic for the viewer, whether they are young or old, is that the atmosphere surrounding the story is held with complete reverence and respect.  Lighting a candle and singing a simple song marks the beginning of this special time.

Engaging imagination in a preschool child

Stories rich in language and archetypical characters lay the foundation for creativity and imaginative thinking in the child. Colored silks and wools are used to reflect the seasons and the gestures of these archetypal figures.  Puppets that are lovingly handmade bring the story to life. The puppets are often without faces so the child is free to have their individual experience of the story.  The puppets and the props for the story are made from natural materials such as wool, silk, and wood.  This connects the child to the natural world. Stories follow the characters as they experience joy as well as struggles.  The characters are always able to find their way to the safety of home.  This is a very comforting message. The life of a young child can have many challenges and they need to know that they have a safe and secure place to return to.

Experience the Waldorf way of story telling with your child

Every year, the early childhood faculty at Meadowbrook Waldorf School present a marionette or puppet show for Holiday Faire visitors. This event allows parents a peek into the special world that their children get to experience, and for children and adults who have never seen it before, an opportunity to connect with something truly magical.  We invite you and your child to experience the wonder of story telling and puppetry at the upcoming Holiday Faire.  Please come to witness this simple, beautiful gift.

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Come join in the 2014 festivities at the Meadowbrook Waldorf School Holiday Faire.

Friday, November 21rd from 6-9 PM (Adults’ Night)

Saturday, November 22th from 10-4 (Family Day) 

Play, Sports and Competition

Donna (513x640)Donna Mirza is trained in Spatial Dynamics and has been the movement teacher at Meadowbrook for 16 years. In this atricle she explains the basis of the Waldorf approach to physical education and introduces some useful reading materials. She and her children, both MWS graduates, are enthusiastically involved in a wide range of sporting activities.

Everything taught in a Waldorf School comes from the understanding of what is appropriate developmentally to support the child at each particular age. The Waldorf movement curriculum supports the healthy development of the growing child in the early years with cooperative play and non-competitive games. Through this work the child builds a strong foundation of physical skills including balance, spatial awareness, motor planning, coordination and rhythm. As the child reaches middle school, a healthy balance of play and competition is introduced. At this age the child is developing his understanding of what it means to challenge himself against another. With skills and confidence developed through years of playing cooperatively, the children are now poised to physically, socially and emotionally to take on the challenge of competition.

Working with the ideals of Waldorf Education, early grade school is a sacred time for the children to play in harmony with others, exploring how their bodies move. Introducing the young child too early into organized sports can have negative influences on the child’s emotional, social and physical well being. It is a distraction to the rhythm of family life and can negatively impact the culture of the classroom. How do you maneuver through the sports obsession culture and make healthy choices for your child and your family? Begin with the informative article in the Waldorf Education journal, Renewal Fall/Winter 2013; “Learning to Move in Space, Healthy Movement Education for Children”. The MWS library also has three new books about sports and competition with useful parenting ideas. Read more about them below:

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Beyond Winning – Smart Parenting in a Toxic Sports Environment by Kim John Payne, Luis Fernando Llosa and Scott Lancaster

“Every child’s life unfolds in its own unique way. Our role as parents is to nurture our children and guide them as they grow into strong, healthy, independent individuals. How then can we shield our children from today’s intoxicating youth sports culture, which sweeps us all into its swirling vortex and subjects our kids to too much, too soon? Caught up in a cultural frenzy, we clutter our children’s daily lives with too many sporting activities and though, often unwittingly, pressure our “child-athletes” to perform. As a result they grow up too quickly, and often the foundations of our family lives are fractured.”

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Warrior Girls - Protecting Our Daughters Against the Injury Epidemic in Women’s Sports by Michael Sokolove

Warrior Girls exposes the downside of the women’s sports revolution that has evolved since Title IX; an injury epidemic that is easily ignored because we worry that it will threaten our daughters’ hard won opportunities on the field. Well documented, opinionated and controversial, Warrior Girls shows that all girls can safeguard themselves on the field without sacrificing their hard-won right to be there.”

Annana b-ball


No Contest – The Case Against Competition by Alfie Kohn

“Contrary to myths with which we have been raised, Kohn shows that competition is not an inevitable part of human nature. It does not motivate us to do our best (in fact, our workplaces and schools are in trouble because they value competitiveness instead of excellence). Rather than building character, competition sabotages self-esteem and ruins relationships. It even warps recreation by turning the playing field into a battlefield.”



Why Pre-School is Important

Joan Almon is the founding director of the U.S. Alliance for Childhood and an international consultant on early childhood education. She is also a former co-chair of the Waldorf Early Childhood Association of North America.

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Creativity, curiosity, play, and problem-solving are all intertwined in early childhood. Social negotiation is also frequently part of the mix. In this article Joan Almon explains how play-based education supports the healthy cognitive, social-emotional and physical development of children, preparing them for the 21st century workplace where creativity is highly valued. Click the link below for the full article.

Let Them Play by Joan Almon