Waldorf Teaching Methods

An interdisciplinary, hands-on approach to learning is fundamental to Waldorf Grade Schools. For example, our second-graders may plant a vegetable garden on a local farm. In third grade, they harvest, prepare, cook and sell their products. In the process, they are introduced to the natural sciences, measurement, time and money. Academic studies come alive through such practical experiences. In all grades the children create their own illustrated books to demonstrate what they learn. These may be filled with the four mathematical processes, fables from a myriad of cultures, workings of clocks and calendars, poetry or diagrams. Students compose descriptions that are both poetic and scientifically accurate. The process of learning is always active and creative, consistently enhanced by art, music and body movement to engage the children’s entire being.

The Waldorf Grade School offers a classical education that is richly imbued with the arts. Waldorf education is a carefully structured system, nurturing creativity within the context of intellectual competence and disciplined exploration. Waldorf teachers craft their lessons to work with every learning style; kinesthetic, auditory, and visual, thus enabling every student to shine. Our flexible program meets the needs of individual students as they meld into cooperative class groups, advancing together through expanding realms of information and accomplishment.

Curriculum Overview | Main Lessons

An Extraordinary Liberal Arts Curriculum

This begins with a multicultural literary base, which takes the children through the full sweep of human cultural heritage, as well as the social sciences and geography. The stories and history presented in the curriculum closely parallel the development of human consciousness through the ages, beginning in First grade with the classic fairy tales that symbolize the archetypes of pre-literate, oral cultures, moving through myths and sagas of ancient societies to the stuff of history. Because Waldorf pedagogy recognizes that grade school students engage most deeply when immersed in richly detailed story, teachers prefer primary sources such as literature or journals of the time, and of course their own oral versions of fables, history, scientific experiments or the main lesson for that day. Literature spans every continent and culture and includes the stories of legendary exemplars of humanity; the ancient Hebrew people; Norse, Egyptian and Greek myths; Alexander the Great; Joan of Arc; the Renaissance masters; and world revolutions. Students are immersed in these cultures and thus gain great appreciation for multicultural diversity around the world.

The Natural Sciences

Science begins with nature study, including observation and field experience in the early grades. First, Second, and Third graders develop an intuitive and reverential respect for the earth as they spend time outside throughout the seasons playing, gardening, composting, and simply being in nature.
Classes then move to more challenging subjects such as geology, zoology, botany, chemistry, physics, astronomy, ecological literacy, and physiology in grades four through eight. In the upper grades the sciences are taught experientially – that is, the teacher sets up an experiment, calls upon the children to observe carefully, ponder, discuss, and then allows them to discover the underlying conclusion, law, or formula. Through this process, independent critical thinking, sound disciplined judgment, and a respect for the natural world results.


In the early grades arithmetic is taught through a dynamic process engaging the child’s imagination and intuition combined with kinesthetic activities and games utilizing rhythmic patterns to explore the four processes of addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. The children are introduced to freehand geometry through form drawing. Geometric awareness utilizing visual-spatial intelligence is developed in the art of Eurythmy. In the upper grades the children work with weights and measures, fractions and decimals, and later algebra and geometric constructions. Sixth grade marks a significant transition to mathematics as students move away from the mechanics of manipulating numbers to gaining insights into what is solvable. While work continues with fractions and decimals, students are introduced to business math, geometry with compass and straight edge, and exploration of the golden ratio (phi).

Language Arts

Letters are learned in the same way they originated in the course of human history. Humans perceived, then pictured, and out of the pictures they abstracted signs and symbols. First graders hear stories, draw pictures, and discover the letter in the gesture of the picture. Throughout the grade school, children do much phonetic work in the form of songs, poems, and games in addition to the more traditional speech and drama. This multi-faceted approach helps establish a joyful and living experience of the language. Additionally, texts from world literature provide material for reading as well as a foundation for the study and acquisition of grammar skills.

The Language Arts curriculum moves from the mechanics of learning to read to honing comprehension skills to creative writing. Letters and their sounds emerge from stories so that the “abstract symbol” has context and meaning. Comprehension is exercised through oral retelling of stories as well as by learning to write paragraphs and essays. Students’ ability to pay meticulous attention to rich, sequential detail serves them well as they venture off into their own creative writing in the upper grades.

The Arts

Drama, painting, Eurythmy, music, sculpting and modeling, and practical arts and crafts are integrated into the entire academic curriculum including mathematics and the sciences. Music permeates life in a Waldorf School. From the first grade on, children sing and learn to play the pentatonic flute, C flute, and the full range of recorders. From the fourth grade on, every student takes up a stringed instrument and thus, has an orchestral experience. Music instruction is provided for its own sake and the joy it engenders, as well as the strong harmonizing and humanizing force it brings into the student’s life.

Other examples include crafts and handwork that are integral to the curriculum from kindergarten through the grades. Children learn knitting and needlework and create many beautiful and useful objects. Coordination, fine motor skills, patience, perseverance, and imagination are schooled through this practical work. The Waldorf method of education, through the arts, awakens imaginative and creative powers, bringing vitality and wholeness to learning.

Foreign Languages

Beginning in the first grade students are introduced to a foreign language. Language lessons are presented orally in the first three grades using games, poems, and songs. Reading, writing, and an understanding of grammar are introduced in the upper grades, always building upon the earlier oral work. Foreign languages give the children insights into and facility with other cultures. Madison Waldorf School offers German and Spanish.

Main Lessons & Main Lesson Books

The Morning Main Lesson

The main lesson, a two-hour period in which the main subject of the day is presented, begins each school day. Students study the language arts, mathematics, history, and the sciences in alternating highly integrated three to six week main lesson blocks. Topics are revisited during the term and core subjects needing constant practice, such as language and math, are also taught regularly in shorter periods.

This approach allows for freshness and enthusiasm and a concentrated and in-depth experience as well as providing students time to process and retain what has been learned. Because the students are encouraged to completely immerse themselves in their lesson, their creative forces are fully engaged and intellectual understanding is merged with experience.

During the rest of the school day, specialty teachers provide instruction in such areas as music and the arts, foreign languages, handcrafts, and athletics, but it is the class teacher who remains a unifying and harmonizing figure for the students’ educational experience.

The Main Lesson Book

Each student creates her or his own main lesson book over the course of the year, which is a particularly powerful tool for integrating the various subjects and internalizing and retaining the learning. Main lesson books are special books with compositions, observations, diagrams, and illustrations. The main lesson books are a way for students to engage personally with each subject and truly take ownership of the educational experience.