We just spent a very difficult year at a Waldorf School, and after much soul-searching (and personal trauma), decided to pull our kids out for some of the reasons you mentioned. There are very committed Waldorf parents out there who will tell you to give it time despite initial concerns or problems. Often, as you have heard, it works out.
For us, it did not.
(Note, I apologize for the length of this post...it is the first time I am writing about the experience, so it is difficult to crystallize in a short sentence or two.)
Our children were early readers, and we are an academic family; we encourage questions and critical thinking in our children, and delight when they want to engage the world with not only their heart and hands, but their minds as well. They love puzzles, word games, spelling challenges, science experiments - all the "traditional academics" that Waldorf intentionlly avoids in the early years. We were eager to let them discover other facets of learning, while still engaging their academics in an unconventional way. Unfortunately, we found that our children's learning personalites can be a terrible fit in the Waldorf context.
My nine year old, who has always loved school, was abjectly miserable. She cried most days going to and coming home from the Waldorf school - she was begging for more challenging spelling and math work, and asking to learn about history (her 3rd grade class had words like "cat" and "the" on a spelling test, when she had been practicing words like soliloquy and consternation in her precious grade. The only history taught was mythology or Bible stories) She wrote short stories for fun at home, and at school, was allowed no opportunity for creative writing. A curious child, she didn't understand why questioning the teacher was discouraged. She was bored out of her mind, and told to "concentrate on handwork and eurythmy" (new subjects to her) instead. When we met with the teacher and administration after she finally started asking to be homeschooled, we asked for simple fixes: perhaps she could get a slightly more challenging spelling list? Perhaps she could work ahead on fractions on her own (which she had learned and was intrigued by), while other children did the standard worksheets? We did not want to interrupt the class teaching model or curriculum, we only wanted to keep our child engaged and positive about school. But the school not only refused to provide any individualized work (they instead encouraged us to pay for outside tutors for this - really? for spelling tests??), they insinuated that there was something developmentally wrong with a child who didn't strictly hoe to the Waldorf developmental model. Again and again we were asked whether she had emotional/behavioral/or social deficits (no, no, and no - she is a very grounded, emotionally stable child with many friends, and a born peacemaker), Was she resisting elements of the Waldorf curriculum? No - turns out she enjoyed handwork and Eurythmy, and did fairly well in both despite being new to the subjects. Again, and again, our daughter's interest in and enthusiasm for academics was met with something akin to suspicion, if not downright discouragement. At no point did she feel validated or even "heard" in wanting to learn more. Which ultimately made her sadder, and angrier, as the year wore on.
My son, who was in first grade, had a less traumatic, but still frustrating experience. He was very bored, and reading extensively at home. But books were discouraged in his classroom, and his teacher told him he shouldn't worry about learning more academics, that he should just "feel happy" that he knew more than his classmates. He, too, was encouraged to "work harder on things like handwork." He complained about the lack of any individual voice, about the rigidity of classwork, that each child had to do the exact same art, in the exact same way, as the teacher...he started having nightmares that "Waldorf teachers are trying to turn me into a mutant zombie robot." *(I'm not making that up.) He also came home voicing doubts about the morning verses, saying that he disagreed with the teacher saying there were different spirits in the world ("Brother Sun, Sister Moon), and that he "was not going to say prayers he didn't believe in."
Clearly, this was not a kid cut out for Waldorf. But when we shared our son's concerns with the administration, we were told that children his age "simply aren't able to engage in critical thinking," despite the evidence, and we were blamed as parents for somehow putting these ideas into his head. (Which we didn't....any concerns we had about Waldorf were never shared in front of or in the vicinity of our children.) At home, we strove to lead a Waldorf-centered life; we upheld the no-media policy, we celebrated Waldorf festivals, we got our kids to bed early, we showed reverence toward nature and seasons, ate healthy, organic food...all things the school actively encouraged. We were as committed as we could be.
Going into the Waldorf experience, we had also done our due-diligence. We read extensively on Steiner and Anthroposophy, and knew we had serious doubts about much of the philosophy underpinning the curriculum. While we thought the belief in gnomes was kooky, the core belief of helping our children's souls reincarnate occultish and odd, and the whole dentition-as-marker-of-readiness-to-read thing scientifically ridiculous, we were ready to go along with the program if it helped turn our children into independent, soulful learners who used their hearts, hands, and minds equally. (And we had been mightily impressed by many Waldorf teens we had met, who were wonderfully rounded, articulate kids.) We didn't think the kooky theories would touch our kids, but ultimately they did, and that's a big reason why we ultimately couldn't stay.
We were floored when we were told, for example, that our daughter absolutely couldn't learn fractions (which she had already studied and knew) because it was "inappropriate before the 10 year change, that children cannot understand fractions before then." When pressed for scientific substantiation for this assertion, we were told it was because "Steiner said it." Apparently it all relates to reincarnation theories, and since part of my daughter's spirit would not descend until she was 10, she would be emotionally harmed by the prematurely early fragmentation of the world as presented by fractions. (I'm paraphrasing, but this was the message.)
This, combined with the assertion that young children weren't capable of critical thinking, forced us to is recognize that there was a great divide in our educational philosophies We realized that the school was not looking at our specific children as individuals, but as some sort of typical 7 or 9 year olds who could not, must not, learn things out of Anthrophosophical sequence.
Along with this basic philosophical divide, we were also deeply troubled by the tone-deaf responses to our children's frustrations and unhappiness. Instead of empathy or compassion, our concerns were met with suspicion and a knee-jerk defense of the Waldorf approach. In the end, we felt the teachers cared more for upholding the sanctity of the school's philosophy than the spiritual and emotional health of my children. For a school that paints itself as nurturing, loving, and compassionate, this came like a kick to the gut.
So....while I still admire much of what Waldorf does, and while we value the many gifts we took away from our experience, we look upon that time as the "lost year" for our children. I know many kids who are happy and thriving in a Waldorf School, but I also know others who had to leave when their children's individual needs (typically, as either special needs learners or advanced learners) simply couldn't be met.
No one knows the right decision but you, but I would echo the advice of another poster who urged you to listen to your heart, and watch your children. They will tell you more than any one school or random internet poster can.
Thank you for sharing your experience in a thoughtful, detailed way. It is an invaluable input on a thread like this.