Waldorf Education is indeed an alternative form of education. It has often been mistaken by some as a form of unschooling.

Being alternative does not mean that Waldorf is a version of unschooling. There are points where the two education approaches meet. Both, for example, respect the fact that education should be focused not on content but on meeting the child where they are. Both systems also believe strongly in learning through life – being outside, playing and learning through practical activities. Both agree that no education should start in the abstract. That does not mean that theory cannot be extracted from the practical.

One of the main differences, however, is that with Waldorf education, it is the teacher who discerns with the guidance of a well worked out curriculum, when to introduce the subject matter to be learned. The timing introducing particular subject matter is based on when it coincides with the development of the child as a human being. Class 3, for example, sees the introduction of stories from the Old Testament that show how the Jewish people handled authority because nine-year-olds are often grappling with similar issues in their own development. While in Class 12, the eighteen-year-olds are introduced to philosophy because they are developmentally ready for complex, objective and existential thoughts.

Boundaries are another huge area of difference between unschooling and Waldorf education. With unschooling, there are often very few, or no boundaries, and children are encouraged, for example, to go to bed when they feel like it, and eat what they want for breakfast (even if it’s chocolate). With Waldorf education, we believe that because children are still learning, it’s not fair or helpful to ask them to take part in a democracy when it comes to what they will learn or play with what they will. They may well be attracted to things that could have a negative impact on their well-being, and it is the job of the Waldorf teacher (and parents) to set age-appropriate boundaries that contribute to the healthy development of the child. The impact of healthy sleep patterns and nutrition on the children’s learning ability is emphasised. Our approach is to help the child gradually develop and foster their own sense of duty, responsibility and initiative. In the early years, boundaries are largely imparted by the daily rhythm and routine of well-planned activities that balance and alternate free play with more focused activities. The security and predictability of this create a learning environment where the teacher seldom needs to impose a limitation on the children because they are held by the structure of the day. Adults working with this age must be mindful that their every action, word or mood is imprinted on the young child and that they therefore need to be a worthy model of intimation. As the children mature in primary school they look to their teachers to hold the class with loving authority and later in adolescence they relish the possibility of exercising greater personal initiative within the secure boundaries of the curriculum.

Unschooling is also known as “experienced-based learning,” “independent learning” and “natural learning.” It is a more “radical” form of homeschooling in that it doesn’t use a fixed curriculum, emphasising instead the opportunities to learn from the world around us. This more organic, self-directed learning is similar to the way in which we learn as pre-schoolers, and as adults in the world of work – if we want to know something, we research and find out the answers. If we don’t want to know something, we don’t have to.

The philosophy behind this approach is that unschooling creates an enthusiasm for learning because children are only learning about things that genuinely interest them and which they find intrinsically fascinating. This is something that doesn’t always happen with subjects in a more formal curriculum. In a Waldorf School, a formal curriculum is used as a vehicle to open genuine interest in learning and areas of personal research.

In unschooling, the parent is the teacher – not in the traditional, formal sense, but instead in the way that parents naturally teach their children about things. Together, they pursue questions and interests as and when they arise, only using more “conventional” teaching methods if the subject at hand requires it.

As an educational philosophy Waldorf schools offer their pupils a vast scope for personal expression and academic extension. In this way, pupils are encouraged to develop broad interests through being exposed to diverse subjects throughout the curriculum. While all the children are presented with maths, science, art, music and craft etc. The teachers endeavour to find a connection point for the various personalities in class, drawing each child into a relationship with the subject matter and thereby fostering holistic a holistic education that is not limited to one’s natural interests or inclinations. Waldorf teachers undergo extensive training in child development and continue this training throughout their careers.

The staff at Roseway Waldorf School would welcome the chance to unpack this subject in more detail with you and answer any questions you may have. Contact us today to arrange a meeting.

Angelique Laaks