Former Waldorf ParentMy daughter attended two different Waldorf schools, one for Kindergarten through second grade, and the other just for third and half of fourth grade. The two schools were VERY different. The first school allowed a tremendous amount of parent involvement (I was the president of the parent/teacher assoc. for one year) and open discussion, the second one did not. The teachers in the second school totally controlled the school, and "innappropriate" teachers were rarely asked to leave as they were in the first school. By innappropriate, I mean teachers that really didn't have the skills or the temperment to teach the Waldorf way.
That said, I thought the Waldorf kindergarten was a magical year! The two teachers that my daughter had were kind, loving, and very conscious women. It was a wonderful way to start education with the creative play with natural materials, the singing, the foreign language exposure, bread and soup making, lots of outdoor play, puppet shows, finger knitting et al. First and second grade were also very good with the teacher my daughter had, however, discpline and respect seem to be a big problem in that class as it seems to be in many Waldorf schools. I think that there are several reasons why this is, the first being that many children with learning disabilities find their way to Waldorf schools because their parent's think that they just have different learning styles. Unfortunately, learning disabilities tend to lead to frustration and acting out behavior in the classroom. It also holds the class back to have a large percentage of children with learning disabilities.
My daughter is extremely bright and motivated, had no problem reading, and mastered school after Waldorf effortlessly. I feel that her love of learning was bolstered by the Waldorf approach in the first school. The second school was a huge disappointment. The teacher (who she would have had for 5 years) was critical, sarcastic, angry and rigid. Not a good fit. What's worse, many of the parents in the class seemed to be oblivious to the teacher's faults, or simply accepted them because they didn't know where else to send their child. My daughter's self esteem was plummeting at the hands of this woman. She became stressed (often felt sick before school).
There are some incredibly positive aspects of Waldorf education (the beautiful work they do in the main lesson books, lack of grades, less homework, more field trips, handwork skills such as knitting and sewing, woodworking, singing, recorders and string insturments, outdoor play in all weather, two languages, immersing themselves in the curriculum rather than just book memorization), and more, and yet the "pedagogy" of Anthroposophy scares me. The second school was very rigid in this philisophy, which is rarely understood by parents, nor shared much by the faculty, and there is definitely a policy that "teacher knows best". This was not the case in our experience.
Overall, I am glad our daughter had a Waldorf beginning, but I would encourage leaving after third grade, unless the teacher was outstanding. In all fairness, Waldorf teachers put a tremendous amount of energy and effort into their job. It's a life choice, not just a job. For that they should be commended. Not many people are up to that kind of challenge, nor should they be in that role for 8 years with one class.