Waldorf school

From AnthroWiki
Rudolf Steiner School Loheland in the typical anthroposophical style of many Waldorf school buildings
Dr. phil. Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925), the first editor of Goethe's scientific writings, founder of the anthroposophical movement, developer of the art of education as applied in Waldorf schools, and head of the first Waldorf school in Stuttgart from 1919 to 1925
The Trier Waldorf School
Hawthorne Valley Waldorf School, Ghent, NY

Waldorf schools are independent schools where Waldorf teachers teach according to the Waldorf education founded by Rudolf Steiner. Waldorf education is one of the best-known practical applications of anthroposophy, which was also founded by Rudolf Steiner and from whose mother soil it emerged. Many Waldorf schools have a Waldorf kindergarten attached to them. They are also known as Rudolf Steiner Schools, Free Waldorf schools, Steiner schools, École Waldorf in French and Vrijeschools in Dutch. There are currently 1251 Rudolf Steiner schools in 70 countries worldwide and 1915 Waldorf kindergartens in more than 59 countries (as of 2021)[1].


The Waldorf School emerged in the social turmoil after World War I from the attempts of Rudolf Steiner and his like-minded comrades to create a spiritual life independent of the state and to return science, art and religion to their assumed primordial unity. It ultimately developed out of general education courses for workers at the Waldorf-Astoria cigarette factory in Stuttgart, who wanted to gain a better understanding of their work processes and to develop Steiner's approaches to industrial science into a school for their children. For them, the first school was founded in 1919 by the owner of the factory, Emil Molt, and ceremoniously opened on 7 September. Men and women from a wide variety of professional backgrounds taught there: an officer, a factory owner, the railway engineer Alexander Strakosch and the self-taught Ernst Uehli. Steiner became the first headmaster. Herbert Hahn was initially the most important teacher for the humanities subjects and later moved more and more into Steiner's position. Before World War II a handful of Waldorf schools were founded in Germany and a few more abroad; all those on territory that had at some point been conquered by Hitler were forced to close. After the war, Waldorf people quickly regrouped and many schools were founded. After the rapid growth of the movement in the aftermath of World War II, the foundings were stopped in 1973; they now came about only on the initiative of parents because it was feared that the young school movement might otherwise be crushed by the overload of its own rapid expansion. Since about the beginning of the 1990s, the movement, which had previously enjoyed only popularity, has come under much attack, among others by the Catholic Church. In the meantime, its spread in Germany has stopped, there is a shortage of teachers, while Waldorf schools abroad are multiplying more rapidly than ever before.

The Nazi era in Germany

During the era of National Socialism, the German Waldorf Schools, like other non-governmental schools, ceased teaching after 1937 at the latest, either through self-dissolution or coercion.[2]

The eight Waldorf schools had been a particular thorn in the side of the National Socialists from the beginning. Unlike other anthroposophical institutions, which were able to continue operating unnoticed by the authorities for a long time, the schools had a great external impact. In order to save the schools, Elisabeth Klein, the Dresden headmistress who held a key position in the negotiations with the regime, made contact with leading National Socialists. She sought to close ranks, while the school in Berlin explicitly distanced itself from these collaboration attempts in 1936 and pursued its own closure. Among the people Klein contacted was Rudolf Hess, who was said to have sympathies for anthroposophy. Klein also assumed that Hess saw his task as "protecting all schools of thought in Germany that can still have a constructive effect on spiritual life."[3]

On 1 November 1935 the Anthroposophical Society in Germany was banned by decree of Reinhard Heydrich. The justification clearly referred to antroposophical pedagogy and read: "According to the historical development of the Anthroposophical Society, it has an international outlook and still maintains close relations with foreign Freemasons, Jews and pacifists. The teaching methods based on the pedagogy of the founder Steiner and still applied in the existing anthroposophical schools today pursue an education that is individualistic and oriented towards the individual, which has nothing in common with the National Socialist educational principles.... i.V. gez. Heydrich."[4]

In accordance with an order by Rudolf Hess, Waldorf schools were no longer allowed to enrol pupils until 1940. Two schools were even banned (Stuttgart in 1938 and Dresden in 1941). The rest had to close for financial reasons. Of the eight anthroposophical curative education homes, three were massively threatened, two of which were closed.

Waldorf education

Growth of Waldorf schools
Growth in the number of accredited Waldorf schools from 1919 to 2020[5]
Main article: Waldorf education

Waldorf education is based on Rudolf Steiner's remarks on the general study of man and the art of education, as well as on numerous educational courses he gave to teachers on this subject.

„What is said about Waldorf school education must be listened to with different ears than what one usually hears about education, even reform education. For Waldorf education gives no answer at all to the questions which people now want answered and which are asked and seemingly answered in the other educational systems! What are these questions aimed at? Usually to quite a lot of reason, and reason is immensely abundant in the present. Reason, intellect and cleverness are tremendously widespread articles in the present. Questions like these: What is to be done with the child? How should one bring this or that into the child? - are answered in a terribly reasonable way. And it all boils down to this: What do you like in a child and how can you get it to be the way you want it? But that has no significance for the deeper development of humanity! Waldorf education does not answer such questions at all.

If we first want to characterise figuratively how Waldorf education speaks, we have to say that it speaks quite differently from the way we usually speak about education. Waldorf education is not a pedagogical system at all, but an art to awaken what is there in the human being. Basically, Waldorf education does not want to educate, but to awaken. For today it is a question of waking up. First the teachers must be awakened, then the teachers must again awaken the children and young people.“ (Lit.:GA 217, p. 36)

Method and didactics

The aim is to provide a more comprehensive and natural education and, above all, to prevent the absorption of too much purely intellectual knowledge in early childhood. In order to achieve this goal, measures have been taken which are designed for greater humanity and better opportunities for spiritual development: a class community and its teacher remain together as long as possible, no competition for grades, "free Christian" religious education, eurythmy. But it has also been decided that much other artistic activity is part of every pupil's education. The curriculum of the Waldorf School, especially in the first years of schooling, which Steiner still experienced, deals precisely with the change of teeth, sexual maturity and other stages of human development, and therefore also repeats some things up to three times during the school years. The Waldorf movement also aims to have a general socially healing effect and, among other things, to overcome national boundaries as far as possible.

Steiner's Study of Man

Steiner has given advice for all ages of the child. In the first period up to about 7 years of age, the child learns primarily through imitation and example. From the change of teeth to sexual maturity, it learns through imitation and authority.[6]

The Temperaments

For Waldorf teachers Steiner also considers knowledge of the theory of temperaments in the version he developed to be indispensable.[7] Like its Greek predecessor, it divides people into four basic types - sanguine, phlegmatic, melancholic and choleric - with mixed forms of these types usually occurring. Waldorf teachers should find out which of the four characters predominates in each pupil. They should also find out which trait the pupil has only inherited from his parents and which is his very own.

The Curriculum

The class teacher period

A class teacher keeps his class from the first to the eighth school year, i.e. through the whole Lower and Middle School. He teaches all the epoch subjects for about three weeks every day in the first two, continuous lessons until the big break, the so-called main lesson. In order for the class teacher to grow even closer with his class, he is also expected to give several other subjects that he has studied, if possible. From the first class onwards there are two foreign languages - in Germany, of course, one of them is English, the other usually Russian, sometimes also French -, handicrafts, music, eurythmy, religion (of the local predominant churches and sometimes also of the Christian Community), gymnastics. In the lower classes, the pupils often follow the teacher's blackboard design and also design their epoch booklet with their own contributions.

The rhythmic element

The main lesson begins with a vitalising rhythmic element that activates and harmonises physiological rhythms such as breathing and heartbeat and thus has both an awakening and health-promoting effect (salutogenesis)[8]. Poems are spoken and songs sung, to which rhythmic clapping or stamping is done. Only then does the actual teaching follow, whereby the content covered on the previous day is usually briefly repeated beforehand.

The Morning Saying

Every class begins the day with Rudolf Steiner's so-called Morning Saying, which has remained unchanged since 1919, and which is intended to get them in the right mood for solemnly absorbing knowledge that is important for life. It reads:

The sun's dear light,
It brightens my day;
The soul's spiritual power,
it gives strength to the limbs;
In the sunlight's radiance
I adore, O God,
the power of man, which thou
in my soul
so graciously planted in my soul,
that I may be industrious
and eager to learn.
from you comes light and strength,
to thee flow love and thanksgiving.

Der Sonne liebes Licht,
es hellet mir den Tag;
der Seele Geistesmacht,
sie gibt den Gliedern Kraft;
im Sonnen-Lichtes-Glanz
verehre ich, o Gott,
die Menschenkraft, die du
in meine Seele mir
so gütig hast gepflanzt,
dass ich kann arbeitsam
und lernbegierig sein.
von dir stammt Licht und Kraft,
zu dir ström' Lieb' und Dank.

The school report sayings

From the second grade onwards, each pupil is allowed once a week on the day of the week on which he was born, standing next to the others whose turn it is, to say in front of the class a saying which the class teacher has written under his school report and which he may either have thought up himself or taken from someone else - often from eminent poets.


Steiner big.jpg
References to the work of Rudolf Steiner follow Rudolf Steiner's Collected Works (CW or GA), Rudolf Steiner Verlag, Dornach/Switzerland, unless otherwise stated.
Email: verlag@steinerverlag.com URL: www.steinerverlag.com.
Index to the Complete Works of Rudolf Steiner - Aelzina Books
A complete list by Volume Number and a full list of known English translations you may also find at Rudolf Steiner's Collected Works
Rudolf Steiner Archive - The largest online collection of Rudolf Steiner's books, lectures and articles in English (by Steiner Online Library).
Rudolf Steiner Audio - Recorded and Read by Dale Brunsvold
steinerbooks.org - Anthroposophic Press Inc. (USA)
Rudolf Steiner Handbook - Christian Karl's proven standard work for orientation in Rudolf Steiner's Collected Works for free download as PDF.


  1. Waldorf_World_List.pdf
  2. cf. Detlef Hardorp: Die deutsche Waldorfbewegung in der Zeit des Nationalsozialismus. In: Inge Hansen-Schaberg, Bruno Schonig: Basiswissen Pädagogik. Reformpädagogische Schulkonzepte Band 6: Waldorf-Pädagogik. Schneider Verlag Hohengehren, Baltmannsweiler 2002. ISBN 3-89676-503-5, p. 132ff.
  3. In her memoirs she had written: "While sitting together with Hess and Leitgen in the Hotel Vier Jahreszeiten in Munich, he [=Hans Erdmenger] asked the question: 'What is actually the task of the Hess office?' Mr Leitgen answered: 'If you keep it to yourself, I will tell you. We see our task as protecting all schools of thought in Germany which can still have a constructive effect in spiritual life and which would be wiped out by other agencies of National Socialism'" Klein, Erinnerungen, 1978, p. 126. Quoted from Jens Heisterkamp, Schatten der Vergangenheit - Anthroposophen und ihre Institutionen im Nationalsozialismus, info3, April 1999 (Internet). Rudolf Hess's wife retrospectively stated: "My husband, through his association with Dr. Klein, has for the time being taken a protective hand. My husband, through his connection with Dr Klein, has held his protective hand over the Waldorf Schools, saying that he is in favour of letting this educational experiment work." Letter Ilse Hess to Reinhard G., 21.07.1984, quoted from Arfst Wagner, Dokumente und Briefe zur Geschichte der Anthroposophischen Gesellschaft und Bewegung in der Zeit des Nationalsozialismus, 1993 (Internet)
  4. Preußische Geheime Staatspolizei Berlin, 1. November 1935, StAM LR 17 134354, BAD Z/B 1 904, BAK R 43 II/822, quoted from Walter Kugler, Feindbild Steiner, 2001, p. 11f.
  5. Data drawn from Helmut Zander, Anthroposophie in Deutschland, 2 volumes, Vandenhoeck und Ruprecht Verlag, Göttingen 2007, ISBN 9783525554524}}; Dirk Randall, "Empirische Forschung und Waldorfpädogogik", in H. Paschen (ed.) Erziehungswissenschaftliche Zugänge zur Waldorfpädagogik, 2010 Berlin: Springer 978-3-531-17397-9; "Introduction", Deeper insights in education: the Waldorf approach, Rudolf Steiner Press (December 1983) ISBN 978-0880100670. p. vii; L. M. Klasse, Die Waldorfschule und die Grundlagen der Waldorfpädagogik Rudolf Steiners, GRIN Verlag, 2007; Ogletree E J "The Waldorf Schools: An International School System", Headmaster U.S.A., pp8-10 Dec 1979; Heiner Ullrich, Rudolf Steiner, Translated by Janet Duke and Daniel Balestrini, Continuum Library of Educational Thought, v. 11, 2008 ISBN 9780826484192}}; List of independent Waldorf schools worldwide Template:Webarchive Public Waldorf school list Template:Webarchive
  6. Rudolf Steiner: Die Erziehung des Kindes vom Gesichtspunkte der Geisteswissenschaft. Rudolf Steiner Verlag, Dornach 2003, ISBN 3-7274-5260-9, S. 37.
  7. cf. Rudolf Steiner: Erziehungskunst. Seminarbesprechungen und Lehrplanvorträge. 4. Auflage. Rudolf Steiner Verlag, Dornach 1984, ISBN 3-7274-2950-X, S. 9 ff.
  8. In fact, a comparative study showed that former Waldorf pupils suffer with significantly lower frequency from chronic illnesses such as osteoarthritis, high blood pressure, inflammatory joint disease and diabetes in the second half of their lives.
    cf. Barz, H/Randoll, D. (eds.): Absolventen von Waldorfschulen, Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften, Wiesbaden 2007
This article is partly based on the article Waldorfschule from the free encyclopedia de.wikipedia and is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike. Wikipedia has a list of authors available.