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Waldorf and religion....

post #1 of 50
Thread Starter 
We are not a Waldorf family but i have been interested in learning more. I have visited a few schools and at some I have noticed a slight religious tone. At one I noticed a nativity scene for sale at their store and a few religious drawing and paintings. Is this true of all Waldorfs? Is it common? Is their a connection at all with Waldorf celebrations/ festivals/ etc. and religion. I'm just curious. Thanks.
post #2 of 50
This is potentially such a charged question (with charged answers). But I'll tell you what I know and what our experience is.
To be called a Waldorf school, the same things are taught at all schools. Every Waldorf school celebrates festival life--this is integral and present at every school. Waldorf schools do not teach a religion, this is specifically against anything that Rudolf Steiner advocated.

That said, there are many elements that draw on the Christian tradition---many of the festivals celebrated at the school are based on Christian saints (Michaelmas-St. Michael, Santa Lucia, St. Nicholas), others like Advent are Easter are celebrated as well. In the kindergartens you will see the Raphael painting of Madonna and child. The verses the children say in opening or closing of the day may mention god, and in the verses before snacks/lunch there may also be a mention of god.

Today was our May Day celebration and there was nothing Christian about it, the Green man was there giving blessings to the creatures of the earth and the growing plants. The children had flower crowns on and were all led to the May pole by the Spring Maiden.

Now that my dd is in third grade, the focus of the year is the Old Testament and the Jewish festivals. Last year it was the lives of the (Christian) saints. In future years time will be spent immersed in Hinduism, Buddhism and Islam.

Our experience and that of my dd is that all of these festivals are celebrated for very specific reasons, tying us to the earth, reminding us of our spiritual journey (whatever religion we are). My children have peers of all faiths in their class, and this is fine (with the school and their teachers).

I know (from friends and family) that the religious thing freaks them out, or at least did in the beginning. My daughter is getting a spiritual experience (maybe reverence) though, not a religious one. It is not like going to Catholic school or Yeshiva (and yes, dh and I both know what that looks like).

All this said, and even though the curriculum at all Waldorf schools is the same, Waldorf schools are different--different geographical locations, different age of the school, different culture, and run by different groups of teachers giving them often totally different energies. I've heard of some things that are totally inappropriate, and other things that are terrible misunderstandings. You need to check out your school, read up on Waldorf, and see how it feels to you.
post #3 of 50
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by melamama View Post
This is potentially such a charged question (with charged answers). But I'll tell you what I know and what our experience is.
To be called a Waldorf school, the same things are taught at all schools. Every Waldorf school celebrates festival life--this is integral and present at every school. Waldorf schools do not teach a religion, this is specifically against anything that Rudolf Steiner advocated.

That said, there are many elements that draw on the Christian tradition---many of the festivals celebrated at the school are based on Christian saints (Michaelmas-St. Michael, Santa Lucia, St. Nicholas), others like Advent are Easter are celebrated as well. In the kindergartens you will see the Raphael painting of Madonna and child. The verses the children say in opening or closing of the day may mention god, and in the verses before snacks/lunch there may also be a mention of god.

Today was our May Day celebration and there was nothing Christian about it, the Green man was there giving blessings to the creatures of the earth and the growing plants. The children had flower crowns on and were all led to the May pole by the Spring Maiden.

Now that my dd is in third grade, the focus of the year is the Old Testament and the Jewish festivals. Last year it was the lives of the (Christian) saints. In future years time will be spent immersed in Hinduism, Buddhism and Islam.

Our experience and that of my dd is that all of these festivals are celebrated for very specific reasons, tying us to the earth, reminding us of our spiritual journey (whatever religion we are). My children have peers of all faiths in their class, and this is fine (with the school and their teachers).

I know (from friends and family) that the religious thing freaks them out, or at least did in the beginning. My daughter is getting a spiritual experience (maybe reverence) though, not a religious one. It is not like going to Catholic school or Yeshiva (and yes, dh and I both know what that looks like).

All this said, and even though the curriculum at all Waldorf schools is the same, Waldorf schools are different--different geographical locations, different age of the school, different culture, and run by different groups of teachers giving them often totally different energies. I've heard of some things that are totally inappropriate, and other things that are terrible misunderstandings. You need to check out your school, read up on Waldorf, and see how it feels to you.
Thank you for this. I was curious. Also how do they approach science?
post #4 of 50
Waldorf and religion can be a charged question. I will say the examples the mom before me gave were right on - and Saints in the second grade could also cover Hindu saints, heroes of mythical proportion from China and other places. The saints may be from Christian tradition, but they are not taught within the context of the church or anything like that. Here is a post I wrote about religion and Waldorf that includes a link to the classic article regarding Waldorf and religion toward the bottom if you scroll down:
http://theparentingpassageway.com/20...d-and-renewed/

I think that article will really help answer all your questions.


As far as science, I wrote a post that traced Science in the Waldorf curriculum from Kindy through Grade 8 here, maybe that will help you:
http://theparentingpassageway.com/20...homeschooling/
post #5 of 50
The short answer: As a non-religious family, we've found our (brief) experiences checking out private Waldorf schools to feel very religious. Religious people generally seem to feel the opposite (IME). We chose a Waldorf charter school which negates the religious tone but still teaches the same curriculum (stories of the saints, Old Testament, etc.).
post #6 of 50
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by 2+twins View Post
The short answer: As a non-religious family, we've found our (brief) experiences checking out private Waldorf schools to feel very religious. Religious people generally seem to feel the opposite (IME). We chose a Waldorf charter school which negates the religious tone but still teaches the same curriculum (stories of the saints, Old Testament, etc.).
Thank you.
post #7 of 50
The missing link not yet mentioned is anthroposophy. Waldorf teachers are trained to teach out of Rudolph Steiner's "spiritual science" called anthroposophy. The answer to this comes down to how you define religion. If you include spiritual path oriented religions like Buddhism and esotericism in your definition of religion, it definitely is one.

Anthroposophy is not hot on the scientific method and it is not taught in the Waldorf grade school. Rather, they have a "phenomenological" approach to science. As near as I can tell this means that a teacher demonstrates a phememonon and the student write and draw about it in their lesson books. But they do not teach formation of hypothesis, testing of hypothesis etc... Some of the things they teach like the "man and animal" block in the fourth grade are decidedly unscientific. Steiner was opposed to the idea that people are animals and this unit reflects this belief. (I do believe that there are Waldorf teacher who like science who do their best to finesse their way through this block of study.) I don't think the scientific method is taught in high school either, but perhaps someone familiar with the curriculum can say for sure.

Steiner believed that the spiritual world was directly observable through anthroposophical practice. Waldorf teachers might, for example, reflect on what a child's present behavior reflects about a past life.

You will often hear that anthroposophy is not taught to the children. A usually unmentioned exception to this is eurythmy. All Waldorf schools teach it, and it is pure anthroposophy.

I will end this post by saying that I don't think that anthroposophy is bad or that there is anything wrong with it. It just isn't usually layed out well enough for prospective parents. I think that this is partly due to the need for enrollment, and they want to make sure they aren't turning anyone off. And it is partly due to the esoteric nature of anthroposophy. They believe that anthroposophical principles must be learned in a specific context, and they can't simply be expained like the creeds of the Christian religions.
post #8 of 50
Thread Starter 
Okay..so...we come from a Montessori background. (Please no hash words. I have seen too many Waldorf threads here trashing Montessori.) In the 1st, 2nd and 3rd grade class my son was introduced to many ideas and theories as to how life began and he was then left to decide on his own. Anyway, when I visited the Waldorf school I mentioned I was surprised at the religious references. You guys have opened my eyes to a lot of Waldorf ideas I was not aware of. Thank you. I will be doing some more reading and research. It definitely sounds interesting.
post #9 of 50
Quote:
Originally Posted by orangewallflower View Post
I don't think the scientific method is taught in high school either, but perhaps someone familiar with the curriculum can say for sure.
I'm rather surprised that you say that. We were taught about teaching science at university, and as I understand it, beginning in Class 6, you ]

a) spend one day demonstrating the phenomenon, often in a way that involves the children actively and then

b) you spend a day talking about what happened (recalling it) with a focus on careful and exact observation, and

c) on the third day, and while composing some kind of 'report' about all this, you "arrive at the concept". This is generally done lightly in Class 6 -- the concepts are pretty basic and they're not stressed too much -- but it becomes more and more important.

I don't really know much about Upper School science but I believe big established schools have labs and everything; I would be surprised if they didn't teach the scientific method. I once saw a documentary about Steiner Education that featured, among others, an 18-year-old German boy whose Class 12 project involved testing different kinds of sand to find out which filtered water the best. Apparently the town then went on to use the results of his research in a fountain they build. That sounds like science to me, but perhaps we have different definitions?

Now, mind you, none of this seems strange to me because I wasn't really taught any science in primary school. We did do some observation and talking about things in the last year or so, but as far as I can remember it was very basic. And even in secondary school we proceeded quite slowly.

The religion think varies wildly from school to school. The only think that makes sense is visit the specific school, ask some difficult questions to a few different people, and see how they react.

Oh, and in my experience, not all eyrhythmy is 'pure anthroposophy', at least not in my experience. It is usually funny, though
post #10 of 50
I am a Christian and I fell in love with Waldorf partly because of the freedoms my daughters would have to speak of their beliefs. I loved the fact that the food was blessed with a song (not a prayer to God ending in Amen, but a blessing none the less). That we weren't condemned for calling Christmas... Christmas. I also felt it was important for my daughters to be exposed to other religious beliefs and understand where others are coming from and be able to respect them. To talk with others intellectually about their beliefs and appreciate them. I have witnessed this happening with children in Waldorf schools. Spirituality is important to me and I think it is an important part of Waldorf education. Many different beliefs are touched on and celebrated... I believe for the wholeness they bring to the experience of life. If that makes sense.
post #11 of 50
The religion piece does not vary widely from school to school because anthroposophy is the basis of waldorf education, so any waldorf school is by definition an anthroposophical institution. If you mean outward signs of 'religion" like pictures of madonna and child. celebration of christmas, advent, which may have earlier roots, but can look pretty Judeo/Christian, I don't think this varies either. I have experience with several waldorf schools and haven't seen a variation. In fact, I rather enjoyed all of the Christmas celebrations for my kids. Just to be clear however, there isn't much variation. And there is no other reason for eurythmy other than anthrposophy.
post #12 of 50
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by eastkygal View Post
I am a Christian and I fell in love with Waldorf partly because of the freedoms my daughters would have to speak of their beliefs. I loved the fact that the food was blessed with a song (not a prayer to God ending in Amen, but a blessing none the less). That we weren't condemned for calling Christmas... Christmas. I also felt it was important for my daughters to be exposed to other religious beliefs and understand where others are coming from and be able to respect them. To talk with others intellectually about their beliefs and appreciate them. I have witnessed this happening with children in Waldorf schools. Spirituality is important to me and I think it is an important part of Waldorf education. Many different beliefs are touched on and celebrated... I believe for the wholeness they bring to the experience of life. If that makes sense.
So..in general...if my son were to say " I don't believe in god. Science had proven there is not a god." Would this be acceptable at Waldorf or would it go against it completely? (in general of course.)
post #13 of 50
Quote:
Originally Posted by DimitraDaisy View Post
I'm rather surprised that you say that. We were taught about teaching science at university, and as I understand it, beginning in Class 6, you ]

a) spend one day demonstrating the phenomenon, often in a way that involves the children actively and then

b) you spend a day talking about what happened (recalling it) with a focus on careful and exact observation, and

c) on the third day, and while composing some kind of 'report' about all this, you "arrive at the concept". This is generally done lightly in Class 6 -- the concepts are pretty basic and they're not stressed too much -- but it becomes more and more important.

I don't really know much about Upper School science but I believe big established schools have labs and everything; I would be surprised if they didn't teach the scientific method. I once saw a documentary about Steiner Education that featured, among others, an 18-year-old German boy whose Class 12 project involved testing different kinds of sand to find out which filtered water the best. Apparently the town then went on to use the results of his research in a fountain they build. That sounds like science to me, but perhaps we have different definitions?
Dimitra, I'm not sure where the disagreement lies. I agree with all you have written, and like I said, I just don't know how the scientific method is taught in high school.
post #14 of 50
Trying again to delete post
post #15 of 50
Deleting this post for being too speculative.
post #16 of 50
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by orangewallflower View Post
Wow, I don't know how a Waldorf teacher would respond to that. Here is my best guess: they wouldn't say anything at all to the child (this is not how little kids are worked with in Waldorf.) The faculty might be interested in taking the child up as a subject of "child study" to figure out what's going on and they would probably then come up for some ideas to help the child. I think they would very likely see this as an imbalance and would want to come up with some anthroposophical therapy to help the child.
I don't think this would be a good fit for my oldest DS at this time. This is how he feels and responds to any mention of god.
post #17 of 50
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by orangewallflower View Post
By the way, I would want to remind the kid that it is very difficult for science to prove a negative, and it is especially difficult to prove non-existence. I don't know of any scientists who have sought to prove God doesn't exist, and I know many who believe in God. (This is an agnostic science-lover talking, by the way!)
Oh my husband has had many discussions with him to try to open the door and help him see many sides but he is not interested.
post #18 of 50
I actually came back on line to delete my post because it is way too speculative. They really aren't likely to talk about the existence of God at all. You'll hear the word in the lunch blessing, but they really don't prosylitize and they don't spend a lot of time worrying about belief. This would be a good question to take up with the teacher to find out what that individual would do. I actually don't think it'd be a big deal. However, if you son loves to talk about what's real and doesn't go in for fantasy as much, Montessori might be a better fit.
post #19 of 50
Quote:
Originally Posted by burke-a-bee View Post
So..in general...if my son were to say " I don't believe in god. Science had proven there is not a god." Would this be acceptable at Waldorf or would it go against it completely? (in general of course.)
The school where we were I believe it certainly would. I also believe there would be further questioning maybe, but in child to child conversation, I don't think anyone would say anything about it at all. I think the point is to explore beliefs and why they are believed. Belief in science is just as strong for some as religion is for others. Though our school only went to 5th grade, so I think the conversations would be very general in nature. For example, "We celebrate Christmas." "Great, what do you do?" "Go to church and learn about the birth of Christ." "Wow! We don't do that, but we have Hanukkah. It's my favorite holiday."
post #20 of 50
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by orangewallflower View Post
However, if you son loves to talk about what's real and doesn't go in for fantasy as much, Montessori might be a better fit.
Could you expand on the real ( Montessori) vs fantasy (Waldorf) debate? It seems as though Montessori gets pegged as leaving no room for imagination.
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