Madison Waldorf School is one of more than 1,000 Waldorf schools worldwide. When the first Waldorf school was founded in 1919, in the Waldorf-Astoria cigarette factory in Stuttgart, Germany, Rudolph Steiner viewed it as an antidote to the dry and deadly ‘head’ learning that was then common in schools. A child, he said, must be educated not only through the intellect, but also through feelings, imagination, and the body. Steiner infused his curriculum with artistic work, music, movement, and storytelling. He further insisted that a teacher’s job was not simply to impart information and facts, but to inspire students’ strength and will to pursue their own destinies in life. Waldorf teachers hold the development of a child’s ethical and moral character to be as important as anything else in the curriculum.
The Waldorf curriculum is based on Steiner’s insights into the developmental needs of children at every age, insights that are borne out by educational researchers such as Gesell, Piaget, Gardner, and others. Steiner held that there are three main stages of childhood: 0 – 7 years, during which children learn primarily through doing; 7 – 14 years, during which they learn primarily through feeling; and 14 – 21 years, when people learn primarily through thinking. He believed that young children learn through play rather than by intellect, while older students, those in adolescence, are best met by addressing their capacity for critical thinking, and so on. The goal of Waldorf schooling is to graduate balanced individuals, who are able to think for themselves and who posses both the desire to serve others and the courage to take action for the common good in a divided world.