The Pre-Primary School
A Time for Imitation and Play
Children attend kindergarten from the ages of four to six years. These young children live in a rich world of play and discovery. They are completely open and deeply influenced by all that surrounds them. What they see and hear they imitate; unconscious imitation is the natural mode of learning for the Pre-School child.
The still developing child absorbs everything around him. Accordingly, the kindergarten is a world of harmony, beauty and warmth. The teachers themselves, in their attitudes, feelings and actions, strive to be worthy of the children‘s unquestioning imitation.
In this secure and intimate environment, the children learn about themselves and their world. Their days are filled with artistic and practical work, imaginative play and fairy tales, puppetry and music, circle games and healthy outdoor play.
Toys in the kindergarten are made from nature’s gifts: wood, seashells, stones, pine cones, lamb’s wool. The simpler the toys the more active can the children’s imagination be. This prepares the ground for a fertile mind.
Through play young children recreate the world they find themselves in and live it out. To do this they develop the ability to plan and strategise, the skills to work cooperatively with others and the faculty of thinking on their feet, of finding creative solutions.
Natural childlike thinking is a part of all their activities but is so integrated in the whole that that there is no intention to isolate intellectual thinking faculties in these early years. Thus there would be no formal intellectual schooling. The primary focus in a Waldorf kindergarten is on imaginative play and rhythmic activity, which serves as a sound learning basis for later academic achievement in the child’s thinking, feeling and will activity. With an active imagination, energetic physical development, and a true reverence for the world, children are best prepared for the challenges of Primary School and later life.
Imitation, the key to the kindergarten
Play, the ‘work’ of the young child
Recorder lesson in Grade Three
Geometrical construction in the senior primary
The Primary School
A Time for Imagination And Caring Authority
As the child enters Primary School, the earlier stage of imitation expands into a need for applied learning and a guiding authority. The class teacher should become the beloved, respected, and readily accepted representative of the world. In Waldorf schools the aim for the class teacher is to move with his or her class right through the Primary School.
Through this, a deeper understanding develops between the pupils and their teacher. This secure continuity enhances the children’s learning. Throughout the years the class teacher and the parents form a co-operative relationship, centered on the growing child.
Subjects are presented in the Main Lesson, usually over a block of about three weeks. The uninterrupted focus on a theme enables the children to immerse themselves completely in the subject matter at hand.
It also allows the class teacher the freedom to structure the lessons creatively, incorporating a variety of activities, for example, undertaking a building project as part of a main lesson on House Building, or the use of drama and story telling to expand the work in history.
Main Lessons include Mathematics, Geometry, Ancient Civilisations, Mythology, English Literature, and later Biology, Science, Astronomy and the Humanities. Other subjects such as the second languages, technical skills, Eurythmy and sport are taught by subject teachers.
The child’s feeling of wonder for form is encouraged and stimulated from the earliest classes. Through large, free hand form drawings the child develops an experience of inner harmony, which can be, applied later, both in practical tasks and in exact thinking. In addition to helping develop good handwriting, these exercises give a real basis for the exact geometrical constructions, which follow. Academic skills in numeracy and literacy are developed throughout primary school years through rhythmical practice, daily exercises at each grade level, regular marking and assessment by the teacher. The Federation conducts a national academic survey of all the schools to reflect progress to the schools and recommend improvement.
The High School
A Time For Independent Thinking
The child’s view of the adult as a natural authority changes at puberty, when the individual personality is felt more strongly. The students must now learn to think for themselves and form their own judgments. Class teachers now give way to specialist teachers who lead the students through a rich and varied selection of lessons. Clear writing, lively thinking and good work habits are emphasised. Through exploration, discussion and individual research, the adolescent is trained in acute observation, logical thinking and self-discipline. The student is guided to understand the laws underlying world phenomena and the human being‘s central position and responsibility in all fields of human endeavour.
We live in a highly scientific and technological age, and therefore the study of science and mathematics plays a crucial role in preparing the young adult to understand and integrate into today‘s world. In the Waldorf approach to science and mathematics, pupils study the dramatic biographies of remarkable personalities whose discoveries changed and moulded the social conditions of our civilisation. Such studies begin with observation and personal experience and lead, through exploration and careful observation to discovery of the laws.
With imaginative presentation, natural curiosity can be aroused in all pupils. For the potential specialist in science, there is much that can be done to sharpen the senses and clarify the thought processes that are essential for later specialisation. Students thus develop a scientific training that is coupled with a dawning awareness of the social significance of the sciences.
The arts and technical skills are not reserved for the gifted but provide some of the most outstanding learning opportunities for all. Drama, music, painting, sculpture, Eurythmy, bookbinding, metalwork, weaving and woodwork give vitally important challenges to pupils, which enrich their experience and strengthen abilities.
Adolescence can be a celebration of growing independence. Stifled with cynicism or irrelevancies, the damage can easily lead to unhealthy escapism. In the high school the endeavour is to provide the student with personal challenges that stimulate a capacity to think independently and apply the will to seeing a project through to the end. Examples of such projects would be the performances of plays and Eurythmy, project oriented camps such as surveying, work experience and the final twelfth class project that caps the pupils’ high school experience. These self-chosen projects help significantly to develop the ability to create own questions, formulate tasks and carry them out.
The matriculation results of the Waldorf schools are consistently good, showing that academic excellence can be well achieved within a very broad education for life.
Computer studies in the junior high school
The Class Nine play, a milestone in the high school
Reports and Examinations
In the Primary School conventional examinations are replaced by continuous assessment. The child is under the constant observation of the class teacher who is warmly interested in his or her progress. The aim of teachers is to avoid the stress factor of exams which can do real harm in young pupils. Creative involvement in work provides the key to motivation, rather competitive accomplishment that separates winners from losers. Children who experience learning difficulties receive assistance to be able to remain in their age group as far as possible.
The teachers continuously assess the child’s work and behaviour in all spheres of school life, including academic progress and keep records of this. This is summarized in an in-depth written report, given to the parents at the end of the year in the Primary School. In the High School detailed reports are given bi- annually or at the end of each term.
In a Waldorf School discipline is neither rigid in the traditional sense nor free in a permissive way. The objective of discipline is an easy, peaceful atmosphere in which all can breathe freely. This arises quite naturally when there is the right human understanding amongst pupils and between teacher and pupil: a mutual caring concern and regard. Correction, if required, is carefully considered regarding the nature of the behaviour and the dignity both of the individual concerned and the fellow students in the class.
One of the unique experiences for the parents at Waldorf Schools is the Parents’ Evening. This is held once a term for each class. Here is an opportunity for parents to regularly meet the teachers, discuss pupils’ progress and become informed about the work of the children. It is also a time to share concerns or queries with other parents and the staff. Invariably parents express particular appreciation for the opportunity that these evenings provide.
Waldorf schools provide a supportive base for children of every faith. The schools are Christian in the universal sense and therefore non-denominational. In the primary school the history lessons include the ancient histories of India, Persia, Mesopotamia, Egypt, Greece and Rome. This provides an early familiarity with broadly different religious approaches. The teachers hold that all young children are naturally religious, and that if this quality is not distorted by dogmatism, nor withered by neglect, it can become a firm basis for confidence in life. In the High School existential questions become matters of burning interest and concern. With openness, religion lessons can provide crucial meaning for the adolescent.
The development and maintenance of a healthy body is as important as that of the intellect or feelings. For this reason a wide range of games and sporting activities is offered by a Waldorf school, according to choice and available facilities. The emphasis is not on a highly competitive approach to sport but rather on teamwork and cooperation as well as excellence in individual achievement. This focus has at times resulted in the development of leadership qualities in sport, even beyond the school years.
The basic skills for the various sports are taught first through class games in the primary school. Children then join teams in the various sports. Some sporting events are shared between other Waldorf schools, such as the Greek Olympics, an annual sporting event in the Cape schools. In high school the teams, where feasible will join the sporting leagues and compete with other schools.
Eurythmy is an art of movement, which was initiated by Rudolf Steiner in the beginning of the twentieth century, in a time when social-political and cultural traditions were changing radically. This form of movement, unique to Waldorf education, views the human body as an instrument. It expresses in movement the creative forces of Speech, Drama and Music. These are the realms in which the human soul and the spirit live, and through which the human being expresses different moods and contents.
Eurythmy is a subject that is taught from kindergarten until the final years of high school. Each lesson is an education in movement and rhythm. The ear of the child is tuned to listening with ever deeply accuracy to tones and inflections of the voice as the group creates movements to either music or the spoken word. There is much room in the Eurythmy lesson for developing the themes of their current main lesson. For example, geometrical forms can be used as a basis for movement and music and poetry can be drawn from a main lesson such as Ancient Greece. Throughout the primary school the children regularly show their work in performances. In high school the students finally create an own individual piece of work as a performance.
Eurythmy performance in the junior primary school