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Waldorf Schools

Educating the Whole Child: Head, Heart and Hands

The problems that exist in the world today cannot be solved by the level of thinking that created them. ~ Albert Einstein


In July 2010, a Newsweek magazine article, “The Creativity Crisis,” recognized a serious decline in U.S. creativity scores among American school children in kindergarten through sixth grade. Co-authors Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman also noted possible future consequences: a lack of creative solutions for matters of national interest—such as sustaining economic growth—and international importance.

Clearly, today’s children face unpredictable tomorrows filled with rapid and dramatic change. This may be why Bronson and Merryman foresee that success in the future will hinge on one’s ability to anticipate trends, recognize patterns in seemingly random events, and come up with original ways to add value to organizations and society. Such abilities require an education that nurtures creativity and innovative thought, as well as the cultivation of social and emotional intelligence.

Rudolf Steiner, founder of the Waldorf School, believed that children would develop these abilities and a passion for lifelong learning if they were educated in an environment where learning was less about an acquisition of information and more about an engaging voyage of discovery of the world and oneself.

Steiner, a leading figure in the cultural life of Central Europe until his death in 1925, would be delighted to see his distinctive approach to education flourishing in one of the world’s fastest growing private school movements. The Milwaukee area boasts four entities working with Steiner’s ideas about education and child development: LifeWays Early Childhood Center, for children ages three months to six years, and LifeWays teacher training; Prairie Hill and Tamarack Waldorf schools, for pre-school through eighth grade; and Great Lakes Waldorf Institute (GLWI), for teacher development. The latter three belong to the Association of Waldorf Schools of North America (AWSNA), which includes more than 160 schools across the U.S.

Education from the Inside Out

According to Lori Barian, director of administration and adult enrichment at GLWI and a former Forest Kindergarten Teacher at the LifeWays Center, the key to Waldorf’s “education from the inside out” approach is that children develop an open-ended way of thinking. “This means that the concepts they learn about continue to grow and expand along with the curriculum, which mirrors their development through adulthood,” says Barian.Prairie Hill Waldorf School

“Learning about a subject from one perspective in one grade, and a few years later approaching it from another point of view, develops a child’s ability to look at problems in different ways. It also helps them comprehend, on different levels, that understanding is not something fixed, but rather something that grows and deepens over time,” advises Barian, who believes that children educated with this approach become vibrant, well-rounded, curious, imaginative human beings with diverse interests and capacities. “They may be better equipped to deal with the future as world citizens,” she notes.

To develop world citizens and achieve the Waldorf ideal, Nancy Kresin-Price, director of teacher development for GLWI and a Waldorf class teacher, stayed with the same class
for eight years and is now taking her second class through Tamarack Waldorf School. “A Waldorf teacher’s work is their art,” she explains. “To remain with the same children from first through eighth grade, while bringing artistry to teaching, means that a teacher does research throughout their career. In other words, this work permeates our entire life.”

The aim of Waldorf schooling—educating the whole child: head, heart and hands—is accomplished by teachers who stimulate the mind with a full spectrum of traditional academic subjects; nurture healthy emotional development by conveying knowledge experientially as well as academically; and encourage working with the hands throughout the day, both in academic subjects and a broad range of artistic handwork, music and craft activities.

According to a recent New York Times article, “A Silicon Valley School that Doesn’t Compute,” by Matt Richtel, Waldorf Schools around the country subscribe to a teaching philosophy
focused on physical activity and learning through creative, hands-on tasks, rather than computer learning. “Those who endorse this approach say computers inhibit creative thinking, movement, human interaction and attention spans,” writes Richtel. When asked for evidence of the schools’ effectiveness, AWSNA offered research by an affiliated group showing that 94 percent of students graduating from Waldorf high schools in the U.S. between 1994 and 2004 attended college, with many heading to prestigious institutions such as Oberlin Tamarack Waldorf SchoolCollege, the University of California-Berkeley and Vassar College.

Planting seeds of reverence for life, nature and the human experience, as well as for all that brings beauty to the soul, starts early in childcare and preschool activities at LifeWays Early Childhood Center, located within a nature preserve. LifeWays children spend a lot of time playing and exploring while supervised by caregivers. “Some of the parents who bring their children here take LifeWays training because they value how it enhances their parenting skills and home life,” says Director Mary O’Connell, who is also the director of Wisconsin’s LifeWays teacher training. “Many people who learn about us are surprised that they don’t have to be a teacher to take the training, and that GLWI offers Waldorf teacher training to anyone interested in learning about this holistic approach,” she advises.

Waldorf teacher training, workshops and continuing education classes benefit not only the lives of children, but also those of the adults that take the classes. “We’re looking to share what we have learned with anyone who is interested, because children are our future and we’d all like to see a bright one on the horizon,” enthuses O’Connell.


For more information, visit WhyWaldorfWorks.org.

LifeWays Early Childhood Center, 3224 N. Gordon Place, Milwaukee; 414-562-0818. LifeWaysMilwaukee.com. (Also offers adult education.)

Prairie Hill Waldorf School, N14 W29143 Silvernail Rd., Pewaukee; 262-646-7497. PrairieHillWaldorf.org.

Tamarack Waldorf School, 1150 E. Brady St., Milwaukee; 414-277-0009. TamarackWaldorf.org.

Great Lakes Waldorf Institute; 414-616-1832. GreatLakesWaldorf.org.

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