Why does the same teacher stay with the class for several years?
At Waldorf schools, a teacher is chosen for a First Grade class and often journeys with this class for a full eight years. In the elementary grades, the class is, in many ways, a substitute family with the teacher in a role analogous to a parent. As at home, continuity is strived for in the class. This creates a sense of security for children and an important stable relationship with an authority figure that is not a parent.
Are Waldorf teachers specially trained?
All teachers at HVWS are Waldorf-trained and most have a teaching certification from a recognized Waldorf teacher training center. Their commitment to children, education, and moral/ethical standards is at the highest level. In 1922, Dr. Rudolf Steiner spoke at Oxford about the "three golden rules" which a teacher must embrace fully, and which should shape his/her fundamental attitude: "to receive the child in gratitude from the world s/he comes from; to educate the child with love; and to lead the child into the true freedom which belongs to man."
What is the school's policy on electronic media?
The Housatonic Valley Waldorf School is dedicated to nurturing children’s capacities for creative imagination, healthy emotional development, independent critical thinking, and constructive work in the world. It is generally recognized in mainstream society that many activities and tools that are useful and appropriate for adults can be unhealthy for the growing child. Research on child development increasingly demonstrates that spending time in front of a video screen and with other electronic media falls into this category. HVWS acknowledges the many published research reports showing the debilitating effects of electronic media (including but not limited to TV, radio, audiotapes, CDs, movies, video and virtual reality games, iPods) on the unfolding of these innate human capacities.
The childhood advocacy organizations listed below recommend play, movement, and sensorimotor development to support academic achievement in the early childhood and elementary school years. Screen time and electronic media deprive the child of the physiological foundation upon which a successful school experience is built. Extensive brain research and practical experience from teachers, parents and physicians have found that the effects of electronic media and screen time can show up academically and socially in the following ways:
- children may be less able to concentrate, and listening skills may be diminished;
- possibilities for creative expression in artwork may be limited;
- social problem-solving in play may deteriorate;
- the ability to participate fully in real-world activities going on around them may decrease;
- the visual and auditory development needed for reading, writing and math may be inhibited;
- muscle tone and core strength may be weakened by lack of movement in these critical years of sensorimotor growth, affecting balance, spatial orientation and overall physical coordination;
- sleep may be disturbed, affecting overall health and immune function.
The foundations of Waldorf education rely on the richness of the child’s direct sensorimotor and social experience in the three-dimensional world. The Internet is developing a reality of its own within our culture, but one which is founded on abstraction and isolation in a two-dimensional screen world. In all the grades, handwriting and composition are emphasized in the curriculum. Premature use of a keyboard consists of a mechanical, multiple-choice (as opposed to creative) activity that undermines the skills and abilities being developed and nurtured in the classroom. The abstract, rapid, and cursory nature of email/texting also works against the fostering of grammar and composition skills so valued in the classroom. Chat rooms, Facebook, instant messaging, and texting simulate true human connection, remove the child from direct experience, and build a false social context (at best artificial, at worst dangerous), weakening our efforts to promote the real, meaningful social relationships necessary for success in adult life.
Below are only a few of the multiple resources that list the research cited above and offer practical advice for parenting healthy children in a media age. Some Childhood Advocacy Organizations:
What is a Main Lesson?
The Main Lesson takes place in the first two hours of the grade school day, when children are at their most alert and focused. Academic subjects, such as history, literature, mathematics, and science, are taught in blocks of three to five weeks. Main Lessons include review and discussion of previously covered material, presentation of new material, and time for the students to develop their own work on a related project. The Main Lesson may also be approached through the arts: drama, music, drawing and sculpture. It is an integrated and multi-faceted approach that supports intense engagement and fosters deep understanding.
How is class work assessed?
Number and letter grades are not given at our school until the Eighth Grade. At the end of the school year the teachers write a progress report, which gives a picture of the child’s academic, artistic, and personal development as well as a description of the material covered in each subject. Generally, the report is written for the parents alone. All specialty teachers contribute to the end-of-year report as well. Conferences are scheduled twice a year to provide parents and teachers an opportunity to share their impressions and concerns. Additional conferences may be scheduled at any time when parents have a special concern about their child.
Would a child be at a disadvantage if he were transferred from or into a public school?
Children who transfer to a Waldorf school in the first four grades usually are up to grade in reading, math, and basic academic skills. However, they usually have much to learn in bodily coordination skills, posture, artistic and social activities, cursive handwriting, and listening skills. Listening well is particularly important since most of the curricular content is presented orally in the classroom by the teacher. The human relationship between the child and the teacher is the basis for healthy learning, for the acquiring of understanding and knowledge rather than just information. Children who are used to learning from computers and other electronic media will have to adjust.
Those children who enter a Waldorf school in the middle grades often bring much information about the world. This contribution should be recognized and received with interest by the class. However, these children often have to unlearn some social habits, such as the tendency to experience learning as a competitive activity. They have to learn to approach the arts in a more objective way, not simply as a means for personal expression. In contrast, in their study of nature, history, and the world, they need to relate what they learn to their own life and being. The popular ideal of "objectivity" in learning is misguided when applied to elementary school children. At their stage of development, the subjective element is essential for healthy learning. Involvement in what is learned about the world makes the world truly meaningful to them.
Children who transfer out of a Waldorf school into a public school during the earlier grades probably have to upgrade their reading ability and to approach the science lessons differently. Science in a Waldorf school emphasizes the observation of natural phenomena rather than the formulation of abstract concepts and laws. On the other hand, the Waldorf transferees are usually well prepared for social studies, practical and artistic activities, and mathematics.
Children moving during the middle grades should experience no problems. In fact, in most cases, transferring students of this age group find themselves ahead of their classmates. The departing Waldorf student is likely to take along into the new school a distinguishing individual strength, personal confidence, and love of learning.
-From "Five Frequently Asked Questions" by Colin Price; originally printed in Renewal Magazine, Spring/Summer 2003
For more information visit www.whywaldorfworks.org