Waldorf education follows continuous learning trajectories in its 14-year curriculum. Each year of a child’s life comes with its own developmental possibilities, and these are used to determine an annual theme in each class year. This is used as a common thread throughout the year’s subject matter, creating a connection amongst the different lessons. Despite how diverse children are in practice, their emotional and physical growth follows the same general line. The teachers determine each stage of development in order to distinguish the children’s needs. Pedagogy is the art of recognition of children’s hidden intentions in order to create an environment in which they can develop optimally.
The first seven years of a child’s life are centered around the development of the body. A child learns to walk, speak, think, and control its body by refining the gross and fine motor skills. Throughout kindergarten the emphasis is on the improvement of spoken language and preservation of fantasy. By the time the child starts to lose its teeth, the foundation of the physical development process has been laid.
During the second seven-year period (the primary and middle school years), the focus is on advancing social and emotional skills. Teachers try to translate subject matter into something more tangible, and the student’s basic cognitive skills automatically take over. This concerns reading, writing, arithmetic, language, geography and history. Psychologically, the child also changes during primary school. This is evident not only in their emotions but also their thinking and willpower. What the child knows is less important than how the child thinks. Almost every child has the ability to think creatively in order to solve problems but it’s up to the parents and teachers to protect and nurture that ability.
Pre-adolescents and adolescents experience themselves and their environment emotionally to a large extent, and so middle years teachers attempt to connect with them through this channel. By recognizing and encouraging a child’s interests, their imagination, fantasy, creativity and discipline are cultivated.
Only in the third phase in life (from the age of 14), does the development of analytical skills and abstract thinking come into being. Students learn to understand the world through thinking.
Man as a whole
All subjects studied together support child development. Each student is challenged intellectually, creatively, artistically and socially in the process of developing his or her personality. The curriculum is therefore the means to a developmental goal. In this way there is no early specialization in the form of a limited range of subjects. The curriculum is focused on a general overview of a wide range of subjects, which every child can follow at their individual level. We use fewer textbooks than in traditional education. Standardized methods don’t always meet the needs or answer the questions of a particular class or child. When the teachers themselves develop the lessons based on the specific interests of their class, the children are more engaged and enthusiastic.
Processing of the curriculum
We see self-motivation as an important and stimulating factor in the learning process. The teacher promotes this by encouraging students to question learning material and express their opinions. The processing of knowledge appeals to the emotional side and will of the child. This requires concentration, dedication and the ability to empathize with others.
Despite being an international school where students attend for a limited time, we try to keep teachers and classes together for several years. In this way the children are able to develop their senses of community and responsibility. Some celebrations are reserved for inside the classroom, with others including the rest of the school or the Dutch Vrije School. Twice a year class presentations are held, where each class shares something from their lessons. For example, they may play a math or language game, recite a poem, or perform a play or eurhythmy session.
Our school has a spiritual foundation, with festivities throughout the year to help teach various aspects of life such as birth, death, courage and forgiveness. Taking place regularly, the children and parents all look forward to these celebrations.
In a nutshell: Head, Heart & Hands
We stimulate each child to develop their Head (cognition), Heart (social & emotional endowments) and Hands (physical skills and perseverance) in a balanced and age-appropriate way. As a consequence, our primary school curriculum is less exclusively focused on cognitive development than that of many other schools. Our curriculum does satisfy Dutch primary educational standards, but Waldorf schools may not be the best choice for parents who expect their child’s school to be primarily focused on cognition relative to other developmental areas.