Similar to Montessori schools, Waldorf daycares and preschools use mixed age classrooms and emphasize building independence. However, the Waldorf approach focuses on imagination and curiosity rather than targeted academic activities. Waldorf teachers help children learn how to think, rather than what to think, while using a consistent schedule that provides the security of a daily routine.
If you were to visit a Waldorf preschool, you would immediately notice the easy-going, home-like setting, where children might be singing songs, acting out a scene, listening to a story, painting, baking, or building with blocks. Teachers in a Waldorf preschool are all certified by the Association of Waldorf Schools of North America
. They use imitation and repetition as core techniques, modeling good behavior instead of offering traditional academic instruction. Through this hands-off early education approach, teachers strive to encourage curiosity and independence while gently facilitating learning.
A typical day at a Waldorf preschool might begin with circle time, followed by a period of free play and group activities. Carefully selected stories are regularly told to help nurture the wonder and imagination of the kids as they interact with each other and their surroundings. Cooperation is encouraged and teachers only offer guidance when necessary. Children are not explicitly made aware that they are learning, but rather led to it through their playful explorations.
Materials are always natural and specifically chosen for their flexibility in use. For instance, dolls will be expressionless to allow children to impress upon them the emotions most appropriate to their play. Raw materials such as pine cones, sea shells, stones, colored cloth, etc. are typically in abundance. Waldorf daycares don't use traditional grading, and video or electronic media (including computers) are excluded from the facility. They employ an "all-weather" philosophy and children spend a lot of time outdoors, rain or shine.
A Waldorf preschool can be an excellent choice for parents looking to encourage their child's individualism and love of learning rather than focusing on academic skills. Children who enjoy predictability and a home-like atmosphere will thrive in a Waldorf environment, with the gentle, nurturing approach providing comfort to shy children and balancing out more aggressive children. Imaginative and free-spirited children would also feel right at home, while children with special needs can benefit from the Waldorf's central assumption that every child should be supported in developing at their own pace.
The Waldorf curriculum is decidedly not academic, with creativity and play taking center stage. This makes the Waldorf philosophy a poor fit for families that prefer to stress early reading or other academic skill building. They also do not offer access to technological devices such as computers or tablets. It is worth noting that the Waldorf approach can be found in early childhood education programs all the way through the high school level.