In its 43 years of existence, the PreK-12 Denver Waldorf School has embraced whole child education with a consistency and singleness of purpose that has persevered through the successive waves of education fads that have washed over the country during that time.
There are Waldorf schools throughout the world, and have been for 98 years. They are based on the educational philosophy of Rudolf Steiner, an Austrian philosopher and social reformer.
Waldorf schools aim to awaken the "physical, behavioral, emotional, cognitive, social, and spiritual" aspects of each individual fostering creative as well as analytic thinking. And while a Waldorf school is recognizably a school, its approach to education is unique.
“We educate consciousness, not intellect,” is how veteran Denver Waldorf teacher Michael Baker explains it.
What makes a Waldorf education unique, and how does the Waldorf philosophy overlap with the B4Kids approach? In a multitude of ways, is the short answer. Here are some highlights:
Every day in a Waldorf school, students spend time in academics, creative endeavors, and structured and unstructured period of movement. Academics take place in blocks of between three and four weeks, when students study one subject intensively. Core academics take place in the morning. During a February visit, we saw high-schoolers studying embryology and juniors diving deep into thermodynamics. Eighth-graders were rehearsing their class play, “West Side Story,” running through a spirited version of the song “Officer Krupke.” Fourth-graders were practicing cursive writing, still a Waldorf hallmark, even as many schools emphasize keyboarding over handwriting.
Arts and creativity are infused in all aspects of a Waldorf education. “We’re constantly asking how to bring artistic expression to everything we do,” Baker said. “No matter what you’re teaching kids, they form a different relationship with their learning when you bring in that aesthetic.” Or, as admissions director Brianna Kaiser put it: “We’re not trying to make everyone into an artist, but rather to show that there is beauty in everything.”
From first through eighth grades, students stay with the same teacher. “My kids have accidentally called me mom at times,” Kaiser said with a laugh. The idea behind this is that it forms a tight community of parents, teachers, and students. When conflicts arise, as they invariably do, the community has established norms over time to deal with them constructively. Also, Kaiser said “as a teacher, there is no relearning of kids every year.”
All students begin playing musical instruments in third grade, and continue until they graduate from high school. At third grade all students start with strings, mostly violin. At fifth grade, Waldorf introduces wind instruments as well. “We want kids to try everything, work with different parts of the brain” said teacher and admissions director Brianna Kaiser. “It challenges the brain every time you struggle with a new instrument or concept.”
Unlike many schools, Waldorf deemphasizes technology. No cell phones are allowed during school hours. Students do not use computers or tablets in school. They do research the old-fashioned way, using books, journals and periodicals. “To be able to know how to learn without the answer being provided at your fingertips is a skill that is being lost,” Kaiser said. Until at least eighth grades, papers and assignments are written out in longhand. Eighth graders take a typing test and those who pass are allowed to start typing assignments.
“Waldorf is getting farther and farther away from what people today see as school,” Baker said. “We are a very different kind of program. We educate the will and the human being here.”