Frequently Asked Questions
The Waldorf School of Philadelphia is the only school of its kind in the city of Philadelphia. Waldorf Education focuses on the development of the whole child and Waldorf teachers strive to help each child realize their potential at each developmental stage. Our interdisciplinary approach to learning emphasizes connections – between the student and the world, between arts and academics, between physical and cognitive development, between history and current events – and offers a truly well-rounded education that engages students’ minds, hearts, and imaginations. As a distinctive model, it is this synthesizing approach that enables creative, confident, independent thinkers that are the hallmark characteristics of Waldorf graduates.
The Waldorf School of Philadelphia is not an art school. It is an academic school that fully integrates the arts into the teaching of a unique curriculum that surpasses all standard educational learning goals and benchmarks. As education research continues to bear out, the inclusion of arts increases aptitude and creative thinking in the traditional hard logic areas such as math and science. Art is used as an intensifier for academic learning. The visual and performing arts are not compartmentalized lessons presented without any relationship to the rest of the curriculum. Rather they are integral, not only to every activity in the curriculum but also to every moment spent in school.
While there is no formal academic curriculum until first grade, the fundamental building blocks of reading, and all the academic skills, are part of the earliest school experience, including nurturing self-esteem, which has been proven to be critical in the development of reading skills, as well as storytelling, songs, verses and circle games. Waldorf Education begins with the oral tradition, followed by writing. In first grade, a story is developed for each letter, and the children work with the shape of each letter in several mediums. Printed textbooks do not appear in the curriculum; instead children make their own lesson books. While the timing of the development of reading skills differs from that followed in other schools, it results in a high level of reading comprehension and a deep appreciation of reading.
Waldorf-educated children develop academic skills equal to or better than children from conventional schools, though with different pacing. Children move through the development process and emerge as self-reliant, creative, analytical, moral and socially-minded critical thinkers ready to move on with their education and face whatever challenges they need to meet. While various qualities of the school are particularly attractive to different families, many parents have chosen the Waldorf School because they are convinced that it will give their children the very best opportunity to maximize their academic potential.
Because the grade school class teacher works with a group of children over an extended developmental period, the social issues that inevitably emerge between children and between teacher and child are worked out in a healthy and nurturing fashion. Teachers encourage discussion and cultivate the children’s natural respect for others. The classroom resembles a healthy and developing family. As in any healthy family, the best in each individual is nurtured and the importance of human relationships is stressed. As a result, Waldorf students do very well socially. The evidence suggests that they function easily in social situations and are influential members of their peer groups as they move on to non-Waldorf pursuits in high school, college and beyond.
Classes in religion or doctrine are not part of Waldorf Education, and children from a full range of religious and non-religious backgrounds attend The Waldorf School of Philadelphia. Our school is spiritual in the broadest sense of the word and not aligned with any particular doctrine. Day-to-day activities are conducted with a sense of reverence for one’s self, one another, nature and each individual’s relationship to the larger universe. A cycle of festivals is celebrated each year and serves as the overt spiritual expression of the school. Those who do not consider themselves to be particularly spiritual respond to these festivals as humanistic celebrations of life.
The school strives to shelter younger children from the distractions of popular culture and from negative influences, particularly because it is important to nurture their magical connection to life and their sense of total safety. Allowing children to develop awareness naturally serves to strengthen them for later accomplishments and challenges. Education is not a race, and childhood is a precious time. Waldorf education supports and reinforces these values.
Waldorf Education teaches thinking skills first. Computers are useful tools. We recognize their importance and we expect our students will use them later in their academic careers and lives. At the same time, Waldorf Education does not consider it helpful for children to use computers during the period when the basic building blocks are being established and the emphasis is on person-to-person oral teaching. Our graduates step into computer use easily in high school, given their strong critical thinking skills.
Television is discouraged because it tends to close down the creative pathways and processes within the child that Waldorf education nurtures. Its hypnotic influence leaves children sitting passively when they would otherwise be moving and actively creating their own play. The school asks that families refrain from television and video watching, computer activities and radio on school nights.
Any student changing schools encounters an adjustment period. Transition tends to take longer for older children. However, because Waldorf Education speaks so directly to the children’s experience and developmental level, they respond quickly.
Academic instruction is strong in the Waldorf schools and it spans the traditional subject matter of Western education. The differences in a Waldorf approach to academics are a matter of organization and presentation, and the method has resulted in a strong reputation internationally for academic excellence. Some subjects are taught at different ages than in other schools, with differences in emphasis. Material is presented using an approach that begins with an encounter, the encounter then becomes experience and out of experience crystallizes the concept.
Waldorf Education has a strong “developmental” base, meaning simply that careful attention is focused on the developmental stages through which children grow. The curriculum is designed to touch children at critical developmental points so that they can respond and grow further. This same approach is used at all age levels to interest the student and stimulate learning. Children are less likely to be frustrated, because material is taught at a time when students are most developmentally capable of receiving and understanding it. By recognizing that the child’s own development mirrors that of civilization, progress, growth and learning merge. The school experience is not something apart from the child’s interests, or something strained and difficult and somehow unnaturally unique to the classroom. When children relate what they learn to their own experiences, they are interested and alive, and what they learn becomes their own. In this way, school becomes a natural and supportive part of the rhythm of life itself. For example, a nine-year-old is developmentally focused on separation and individuation. The third-grade curriculum, therefore, is based in part on the Old Testament and focuses on the history and culture of the Jewish people involved in a similar process as they leave Egypt and establish their own homeland.
In the grade school, students ideally work with the same teacher for eight years, allowing that teacher to develop critical relationships with students and parents that will support growth and learning throughout the elementary grades. Grade school teachers specialize in child development, making them singularly well equipped to address their students’ needs at each developmental stage. Stable relationships are crucial for the child, including the relationship with authority figures. Having one teacher from at least grades 1 to 5 allows for closeness between teacher, parent and child. The teacher can help the child unfold at his or her unique pace. If the student/teacher relationship encounters rough times, it is the teacher’s duty and commitment to make it work, and often the more difficult relationships result in the most growth and satisfaction. In a conventional classroom, a difficult relationship is abandoned at the end of the school year and may never be resolved.
A unique feature of a Waldorf education is the arrangement of the school day. Academic work is concentrated in the morning hours when children are most alert and receptive. A two-hour main lesson is presented by the “block method” where a particular subject is pursued over several weeks. Students go on to devote the remaining morning hours to academic lessons in periods of about 45 minutes each. Subjects involving handwork and physical activity comprise the afternoon hours when energy levels are higher but the students’ ability to concentrate diminishes. All subjects, wherever possible, place an emphasis on learning by observation, discussion and imitation of nature. The class teacher presents some of these lessons and special subject teachers offer others.
The Waldorf School of Philadelphia welcomes and supports diversity and inclusion as we work to expand our understandings as they relate to and are reflected through heritage and areas of social justice. We welcome all including but not limited to, race, gender identity, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, age, religion, and abilities, as we continue to enhance and embrace our own understanding of existing practices, barriers, and strengths, which hinder or support the inclusion of all.