Education systems in schools and preschools have become a widely discussed topic with the increasing no. of options in the curriculums for children. As parents, it is good to know about various education systems and use the concepts to your advantage. Early child education systems give higher importance to play-based learning than mainstream traditional education.
Talking about play-based learning, there are many philosophies such as Reggio Emilia and Multiple Intelligence. Waldorf and Montessori have also emerged as popular choices among parents. While both these programs encourage kids to acquire knowledge freely in an environment where they can work at their own pace, they have their own approach when it comes to classroom education.
What is Waldorf education?
Founded in the early 20th century, Waldorf educational Model is based on the insights, teachings, and principles of education outlined by the world-renowned artist, and scientist, Rudolf Steiner.
In Waldorf educational philosophies, the learning process is essentially threefold, engaging the head, heart, and hands—or thinking, feeling, and doing. This is the basis on which Waldorf teachers work to nurture and engage each child through a curriculum and methodology that integrates academics, arts, and practical skills.
Waldorf education focuses on each developmental stage because they place great importance on the idea that every child learns about themselves and their place in the world after passing through these stages. As a result, it changes the way children learn intellectually, emotionally, physically, and spiritually. This is a clear departure from traditional education.
Music, dance and theater, writing, literature, legends, and myths are not simply subjects to be read about and tested. They are experienced. Through these experiences and Imaginative activities, Waldorf students cultivate their intellectual, emotional, physical, and spiritual capacities to be individuals certain of their paths and to be of service to the world.
Activities in Waldorf early childhood education take into consideration the age-specific developmental needs of young children, from a focus on will-oriented physical activity in the first three years, then on imaginative play in the middle years of early childhood, and later a more cognitive approach to learning after the child enters school.
Waldorf private schools are entirely play-based environments. Children are encouraged to explore their environment, take healthy risks, and partake in meaningful work, such as gardening and cooking, and other practical experiences.
Children are often not introduced to any academic concepts, including basics like writing letters in a Waldorf preschool. The day may incorporate music, art, and games to foster the child's imagination. It's notable that in many Waldorf preschools, you won't find any books. Instead, great emphasis is placed on storytelling and dramatic play to develop creativity.
English language and writing, arts and poetry, drama and history, foreign languages and mathematics, geography and the sciences are all main parts of Waldorf's school curriculum.
Teachers in Waldorf Elementary schools are dedicated to generating an inner enthusiasm for learning within every child. This eliminates the need for competitive testing, academic placement, and rewards to motivate learning and allows motivation to arise from within. It helps develop the capacity for joyful lifelong learning.
Waldorf and Montessori
Montessori and Waldorf schools are fairly similar in supporting play-based learning, in a student-centered approach.
They both lean toward the idea that less is more, limiting the use of computers and technology in exchange for toys that encourage imagination, role play, and the development of fine motor skills. They also focus on the importance of forging a connection with the natural environment, eschewing plastic, and, instead, focusing on natural materials, and art, theater, music, and dance are all encouraging expressions.
In Waldorf's philosophy, fantasy and play are seen as the primary focus for education before the age of seven. Storytelling and pretend play are the foundation for Waldorf-centered learning.
In Montessori, Pretend play is rarely encouraged, even in preschool. Task-oriented work is favored over imaginative play. There are real kitchens, real (child-sized) furniture, work tools, food, cooking utensils, and other practical objects for kids to work with.
Curriculum- Classrooms and role of teachers
In Waldorf education, the teacher is very much in charge of what will be presented to the child. Montessori, however, is a child-led education. Academic subjects are kept from children in Waldorf preschools until a much later age(till the age of seven) than in Montessori.
Waldorf classrooms are grouped by age but the same teacher stays with the children from first to eighth grade, a practice called looping. In Montessori, students are in mixed-age classrooms. Often those are in three-year age groups.
While Waldorf is similar to Montessori in terms of helping children develop, the educational style focuses more on creative play rather than a prepared environment learning style (Montessori).
Why include Waldorf toys in your playroom?
As you know, play is essential in early childhood development. Just as you ensure a balanced diet for your child, a balance of different types of play is recommended for your child’s holistic development. While you might have toys encouraging skill development, Waldorf toys add tools to nurture your child’s emotional and creative development through sensory experiences.
Waldorf toys are distinctive in their thoughtful design, sustainable materials, and educational principles. They provide hours of open-ended, imaginative play and will become heirlooms to be passed down to the next generation. These kinds of toys are not just good for the environment, they are great for children!
Imagine the sensory experience of a toddler cuddling a rigid, hard plastic doll with synthetic hair. And now imagine them cuddling a Waldorf doll stuffed with wool, covered in cotton with a head of soft mohair. The Waldorf doll soothes your child with its softness and warmth and allows them to weave stories based on imagination. They are often so cute that your child may carry them everywhere and make lovely childhood memories to cherish.
We cannot emphasize enough on how important the sensory experience is for early childhood, and the important hallmark of a “Waldorf toy” is that it is nourishing to a young child's senses. If your kid goes to a school that does not follow Waldorf's methodology, you can fill in the void by getting these amazing Waldorf-based toys.
Our Recommendations for Waldorf-based Toys
These are some universally loved Waldorf materials you can start with.Play Silks-
Play Silks have been a staple in Waldorf & Steiner-focused classrooms for decades. It was probably the child-led discovery of this open-ended fabric play that led to the widespread use of play silk. It's quite interesting how children are just drawn to them, maybe it is the colors and soft sensory feel of the silk and the fact that they are not a normal 'toy' therefore more interesting by default.Wooden Peg dolls-
Waldorf Peg Dolls have no expressions and are ideal for early child development, encouraging skills like shape recognition, numeracy, and understanding cause-effect. Wooden Peg dolls are a great option to keep your child engaged, especially when you are traveling, you can simply put it in your purse and you are travel ready. They are a great option for Role-playing, which improves their creativity, which in turn helps them discover new things and a newer perspective. Pretend play also fosters empathy, emotional growth, language, and communication development.Wooden balance board-
Balance boards or Wobble boards are great Open-ended Toys designed for creative play, for your kid to learn balance, climb, or carry the board within their pretend play. With the rocking design of a balance board, your child will support their physical development, practice spatial awareness, and strengthen coordination.Hand Kite-
A Hand Kite is an excellent choice for improving hand-eye coordination and gross motor skills as it converts into a fun flying machine for your child. Children get a good dose of physical activity as they run around freely with the Hand kite. The colorful ribbons dance as your child runs and dances or as they zoom by on their cycle or scooter. A perfect beach vacation companion for your child (or you) to feel the wind. Fly the kite on your terrace for almost a meditative experience. It also doubles up as a great décor piece when not in use.Waldorf Dolls-
Waldorf-based Dolls are soft toys designed with minimal to no expressions allowing the child to explore their emotions. These dolls can be used as a way to explore role-playing, nurturing skills, and imaginative play. Studies have found that doll play activates parts of the brain that allow children to develop empathy and social information-processing skills, even when they are playing alone. These soft toys with subtle colors and designs are a perfect cuddle partner for your little one.Wand with a Silk Streamer-
Waldorf-inspired wand encourages active play, and free movement and makes your child want to run and dance! This is the perfect open-ended play toy for your toddler. Your kid can cast a spell, run around with it, or simply place it on the cycle to watch the silk streamer fly in the wind. A perfect toy for free play.