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Looking for your waldorf experiences (for questioners)

post #1 of 51
Thread Starter 
I wasn't sure quite how to title this thread but I am trying to make a very important decision as to whether or not to put my five year old in a seemingly idyllic local waldorf school. You may have seen my other thread already about my open house visit.

Like any other concerned parent I am disappointed to see so many questionably creepy stories about anthroposophy as the root of all teachings and mysteries not divulged to parents at schools resulting in trauma to families.

So far I have read the support and concerns thread as well as some other recommended websites with many of the kooky Steiner quotes. I guess I am looking for a thread where the support one leaves off...one where I can hear some long time waldorfers and anthroposophists defend themselves and tell me about their positive experiences in a place where that is allowed.

I guess I want a well rounded perspective on the schools and so far I have only heard the nasty stories or what I have received from ASWNA from my local school. I'm asking for parents with children who have been in these schools for awhile to tell me what they love (or hate, that is welcome too) about it.

Maybe this is like throwing kerosene on a fire but I'm a fairly new MDC member so I haven't seen previous Waldorf debate threads. I guess that is what I would like to see though...a healthy and productive debate where both sides are able to give their perspectives in a respectful and informative way.

I am only asking this because this is one of the most important decisions I will make regarding my child and I've heard so very little on this forum from those with kids in waldorf as opposed to those who homeschool, are curious like me, or have had traumatizing experiences as a result.

So please, step up and tell me what it's like in your school and how your child has benefited or suffered in result.
post #2 of 51
I am very interested to hear this as well, because I have no clue yet what type of schooling we will be using for our future children.
post #3 of 51
well...I've no children yet...but in 94 I was a nanny to 3 boys in Stuttgart Germany who were Waldorf studnets (6, 9, and 13)

all 3 seemed well adjusted, curious, and kind. Could speak English, German, and Russian reasonbly well. All three had very good imaginations.

The imagination is what I found most impressive...the 6 year old was sick in bed one day, and I watched him tell himself several stories to keep himself entertained...I found that REALLY interesting...

The one thing that freaked me out (being American, I guess) was the nature of this family to let their kids experiment with things to learn about them...the one case I remember well was matches in the hands of a 6 year old so I was freaked out...but he was fine and didn't burn down the house LOL

And there was no TV in the house...

sorry I don't have more to offer...but I can't wait to read other's responses as this is the path my DH and I are thinking of for Amelia

I'll put in this cavaet. At the time I was in my 20s...didn't like children and really had no desire to be an Au-Pair....I went to Stuttgart to follow a boy I met in college so I didn't pay as close attention to Waldorf as I could have. (i regret this now teehee)
post #4 of 51
Well, I've had some sort of waldorf stuff going on in my life since I was 14 and I'm now 57, so that adds up to quite a bit. Neither waldorfians nor anthroposophists are remotely in the vicinity of perfect, so I've definitely had negative experiences. I tend to chalk them up to human nature rather than anything evil or sinister in waldorf education or anthroposophy, but I can understand people who do come up with a negative theory about why things go wrong.

But mostly things have been good. I got a lot out of my two years as a waldorf student, my daughter's thirteen years in two waldorf schools were mostly excellent and my granddaughter is in, I think, her fourth year of waldorf (first grade) and loving it. I also worked as a staff member at a school for three years, and this was the hardest and most challenging piece of my waldorf life.

The positives for me: the artistic, imaginative approach to education, especially the inclusion of drama and story as an essential part of teaching. This is what I think I wanted and didn't get in my many public school experiences, which tended towards the dry and boring. The excellent history teaching, focused people more than events. The broad curriculum. The community (which can also be the biggest negative). My daughter benefitted from having the same teacher for seven years. She also got an excellent foundation in a wide range of subjects: math, literature, music, science, geography. I was struck by her enthusiasm for school and learning.

Negatives: I've seen self-righteousness and closemindedness and over-confidence about waldorf as compared to other approaches. I think these qualities are less common than they were 40 years ago, but probably still crop up in some schools. Real difficulties working through conflicts (but, some of the conflicts that turn up around education are doozies). Poor planning. Disorganization. The biggest problem I see is that in the U.S., because waldorf is private education, it is not very economically diverse.

Is there anything I should expand on?
post #5 of 51
Our ds was in waldorf in the Uk and we came close to putting him in again here. I still keep it as an option for down the line. But for now we'll go with either ps or hs.

While I am more strongly drawn to waldorf than most other educational models, there are things I fundamentally struggle with. For me it always a case of finding a balance, and what fits our family's needs the best.

Here's the main "issue" that I see (and hear, over and over again) with waldorf; their method is very rigid, and does not work for every child. There can be a lack of flexibility around different learning styles. A child with special needs, even on a very moderate level, simply may not get their needs met in a waldorf classroom. And instead of saying, what we're doing with this child isn't working, often the child/family is labelled as the problem. Similarly, a gifted child who is academically advanced may be very frustrated in waldorf. I just heard this experience from a parent this mornign; of her daughter there in middle school asking for extra/harder work but the teacher refusing because the class moves together at the same pace. That girl is much happier in a PS where she can be challenged.

I could go on, but you've read a lot of other stuff on the questioners thread.

Even wth my struggles, some day we may conclude that it is the best available option for our children since it is the only holistic, arts integrated school around at this point. I think for you to know if it's the right choice you need to compare it with your other options. Also know that waldorf schools vary widely. Our Uk school was nowhere near as dogmatic or controversial as the one here.
post #6 of 51
Thread Starter 
Thanks for your replies so far. I am curious as to what the differences are between European and U.S waldorf schools. I wonder if anyone here can shed any light on that.

My son is in special needs but he gets minimal services for speech which has improved dramatically. He is extremely imaginative (builds houses with blankets and pillows, things like that). On the same token though, his cognitive scores are very advanced so I do wonder if he would be bored or not challenged enough in a waldorf kindergarten. Honestly I would love him to have that experience after the very public school preK experience he has had but I'm not certain it will work of course.

My other concern is the rigidity, children only being able to color a certain way or certain things and so forth. Did any of you have experience with that or children being frustrated with not feeling they could express themselves?

When I was at the open house I was quite impressed with the beautiful drawings and all of the colors in the children's sketchbooks but I can't say I noticed that they all looked the same...maybe just in conjunction with a particular theme they were working on.
post #7 of 51
Quote:
Originally Posted by pixiewytch View Post
Thanks for your replies so far. I am curious as to what the differences are between European and U.S waldorf schools. I wonder if anyone here can shed any light on that.
I'm an American living in Europe and I worked for a while at a Waldorf School here. I would say that generally speaking, the whole approach to Steiner education here is much less strict and dogmatic and much more "normal" and acceptable. The schools are everywhere and nobody would think twice if you told them your child attended the steiner school. The parents may or may not be vegetarian or anthroposophists and may or may not have a tv etc. Interestingly, a lot of the aspects that Americans consider "Waldorf" (like natural materials, gnomes, wax crayons, no or little tv or media, seasonal focus, wooden toys etc) are actually "European" traditions, and are certainly not limited to the Waldorf crowd. All the festivals that American Waldorf families celebrate are European ones...they are a normal part of the yearly cycle here...for everyone. So I think the divide between who is "Waldorf" and who isn't is often much much smaller on this side of the pond.

Also, no family at the school would identify themselves as "Waldorf", as in "We're into the Waldorf/steiner approach" or whatever. It's not a label here. When I read what so many moms post in various waldorf forums i'm in, I feel like they have adopted it much as a sort of religion...or have added it onto their religion...and just generally take it much more seriously. And also, americans in general have made it much more about material things...all these expensive wooden toys and fancy silks (here most people use old towels or cotton gauze) and gnome tree houses. The vast majority of that stuff here would be homemade with stuff gathered at the forest...ya know? Some of the simple spirit seems to have gotten a bit lost in the US...

but all that stuff IS lovely to look at!

So it seems to me there can be plenty of the same things attached to Waldorf in the US that most people who are drawn to it are looking to avoid...but really, it depends totally on the particular school and it's particular staff. One can be so very different from another! And of course, these are only my personal thoughts and experiences.

good luck!
post #8 of 51
I am a long time Waldorf parent but not an anthroposophist nor even particularly "waldorfy". I could fill pages and pages answering your question, but I'll try to make this concise.

1. My children's school is very mature and established institution that is very strong and solid. The school is held together by this very healthy underlying structure, unlike newer or less adapted schools which are sometimes shaped by a handful of powerful personalities (idealistic visionaries start new schools).

2. The school is a "real" Waldorf school that follows Steiner's philosophy of education, but it isn't fundamentalist about it.

3. I was also a public school parent, for 15 years. I am also involved to a certain extent through my work. Without question, in the public schools I have dealt with, both as a system, and for many within that system, I have found it overall to be a more dogmatic environment, "traumatizing" in some cases, rigid, judgmental, and more dismissive and self-righteous towards "dissent" than my children's Waldorf school. I can't count the number of times I myself have been viciously attacked over nonsense - I don't even get worked up about it anymore. Everybody judges things from their own perspective--and in mine, there is far less rigidity in Waldorf than most educational spheres. (Just about two weeks ago a teacher with gillions of years of experience teaching in my school district publicly blamed me for all the ills in public education. I'm not kidding. "You're the reason the public schools are the way they are. You are killing the public schools with your attitude." Finger pointing at me, voice shaking with rage, with the classic Gradgrind imperiousness both admitting what I said to be true while at the same time unleashing on me as if me verbalizing it is what caused it in the first place--quite a colorful episode I should write about sometime. Education of any kind inflames passions, but none more than public ed in my experience.: )

4. It is interesting to read other views that European schools are less dogmatic than American. I have no experience with European Waldorf, and my impression from the European Waldorf educators I've known was the opposite--that they tended to be more "just so" about how things should be, and a tended so act more authoritative toward parents and other teachers in their opinions.

((...I'll be back to say more about what our experience at Waldorf has been like .... ))
post #9 of 51
I am really excited this thread is here... I hope there Waldorf schools very and that I can find one near me that is not so dogmatic or rigid as some of them are.
post #10 of 51
Hi. I'm the father of three waldorf educated girls (the oldest is now a high school senior did waldorf grades 1-8, second went for nursery through eight, and youngest is now in seventh grade). We have no waldorf high school available nearby, the older two now attend a Catholic high school.

As is probably typical, my wife learned more about waldorf than I did early. She went to home-based waldorf playgroups and got our oldest into a home-based preschool when she was four. After a fairly unsatisfying year at the public school kindergarten (not terrible, but not great), we ended up sending her to the waldorf first grade.

I have always liked the layout of the curriculum, how the subjects mesh, how the arts reinforce the subject matter, and how the curriculum meets the child as he/she gets older.

Around any waldorf school, you can meet parents who love it and parents who have had bad experiences. Including ours (full disclosure -- I'm also a trustee and the treasurer).

Are there problems? Of course, as many as there are schools. In fact, sometimes it's hard to view US waldorf schools as a collection, because the ties among them can be so minor.

There are waldorf schools that do not support faculty in terms of mentoring and helping them to improve as teachers. There are waldorf schools that do not have effective administration. There are waldorf schools that have perpetual money problems. There are waldorf schools that have "insider" (usually anthroposophist or Steiner fundamentalists) v. "outsider" problems. There are waldorf schools with economic "have" v. "have not" issues. There are waldorf schools with good reputations academically and some that have reputations as havens for special needs children.

My experience has been overwhelmingly positive, but included very trying times around nine years ago due to huge organizational and interpersonal issues at the school. I am pleased with the qualit,y of the academics, thrilled about the exposure my children have had to musical intrucments and singing, artistic methods, handwork and woodwork, the time the children spend outside, and the depth of the friendships they have from their time at the waldorf school. Even my oldest daugther (attending during the difficult years, in a class riven by parental disagreement) fondly remembers her waldorf years and is happy to have gone there; both my high schoolers just met with our graduating eighth grade to give them advice on entering high school.

Hope this helps. It's been so long since I've had young children, I forget what the parent of a three year old even thinks about.

David
post #11 of 51
Quote:
Originally Posted by pixiewytch View Post
When I was at the open house I was quite impressed with the beautiful drawings and all of the colors in the children's sketchbooks but I can't say I noticed that they all looked the same...maybe just in conjunction with a particular theme they were working on.
The lesson books in the earlier grades tend to be pretty similar (handwriting and artistic talent aside), because the classwork is more teacher-directed. In the later years (fourth grade and beyond), more of the writing, the illustrations, and annotation is original.

David
post #12 of 51
Thread Starter 
I really appreciate everyone's insight. It is interesting to hear the differences between Europe and here. I suppose Waldorf is so "cliquey" and maybe even cult like to some here because our American values don't tend to coincide with less materialism and media influence.

David, I'm really glad to hear that your children have had a positive experience up until high school. I am curious about their transition to catholic school. Is that going well? Are you catholic or religious at all? I hope that isn't intruding but I've always wondered what it would be like sending your children to catholic school if they are not catholic.

Another issue that concerns me is that this is considered a "developing" school. They just started K-8 last year after having only K for quite a number of years. Now that I've been to open house I'm wondering if there are any particular questions I should ask to help me determine how stable the school is. I read their recent newsletter which talked about appointing a parent liasion for each class to help mediate class problems. Does that sound like a good or bad thing?

Linda, I also wanted to thank you for bringing up some important questions about the future, especially having two children in school at once. I wasn't thinking a lot about that and I need to plan for it.

Thanks again everybody and keep the insight coming!
post #13 of 51
Quote:
Originally Posted by canndw View Post
After a fairly unsatisfying year at the public school kindergarten (not terrible, but not great), we ended up sending her to the waldorf first grade.

David, I'm curious to hear more about that transition since we are considering sending DS to ps, and if it doesn't work out transferring to waldorf for 1st grade. How did the transition go academically and socially? Was the school concerned about her bringing in PS "influences"?

Sorry if this is too OT, I'm enjoying this discussion...
post #14 of 51
I have been a Waldorf child myself (in Europe -Stuttgart actually!;-)) and I would have to agree with most comments good and bad that have been made in previouse posts, one thing I would have to say though, as someone mentioned Waldorf being disorganized and poorly planned was not true at all in my school. Also someone once told me that disorganized people are raised in Waldorf schools, anybody who knows me, can actually say the opposite of me. I am normally very organized, sometimes a bit too much actually ;-)
The bad part at my school was though, that they were rigid in their curriculum, there was a lack of flexibility around different learning styles. All this might had something to do with the matter though that Stuttgart is the first established Waldorf school, so both the good and bad parts that I mentioned might stem from there.

I would have to say the one thing which disturbed me a little was that I loved books as a child, and still do, and I would have preferd to read at an earlier age.
I loved all the arts though, languages and the crafts, music, drama and theater performances as well as the seasonal plays and concerts. That is one thing that in my opinion, now thinking back at it, made it all worth while!
I am planning on sending my children to a Waldorf school, hopefully one that will not mind if I teach them reading at an earlier age, as my ds is already very keen on books.....just like I was.
post #15 of 51
Quote:
Originally Posted by muse View Post
David, I'm curious to hear more about that transition since we are considering sending DS to ps, and if it doesn't work out transferring to waldorf for 1st grade. How did the transition go academically and socially? Was the school concerned about her bringing in PS "influences"?
My daughter had no problems at all, as I remember. She was sooo shy that she probably hardly said a word in either class.

Not being a sturdy child, she did wear down in first grade, falling asleep in main lesson a few times (which she recalled during her eighth grade graduation speech).

The pre-phonics stuff they did in PS kindergarten wasn't something we were happy about anyway. One big criterion in the decisoin to move was that the grade one teacher at waldorf was experienced (had taught a class grade one to six already) and had been a reading teacher in PS before becoming a waldorf teacher.

I'm not sure what you mean about PS influences. There's a generally a "no TV talk" rule at school. If you are asking if the school is hesitant about admitting students from public school backgrounds, absolutely not.

David
post #16 of 51
Quote:
Originally Posted by pixiewytch View Post
David, I'm really glad to hear that your children have had a positive experience up until high school. I am curious about their transition to catholic school. Is that going well? Are you catholic or religious at all? I hope that isn't intruding but I've always wondered what it would be like sending your children to catholic school if they are not catholic.
We're not catholic, just not-very-observant Congregationalists. We chose the Catholic high school because it's much smaller than the local public HS and is the only choice under $20K for nonpublic high school within 30 miles.

We found the Catholicism to be no problem. Coming from Waldorf school, the concept of saying a verse (or prayer, at Catholic school) before class was not a foreign concept, and the community service and moral behavior emphasis we agree with.

I haven't found that the school mandates Catholic attitudes on subjects like birth control or gay rights.

My oldest bombed a couple of tests in ninth grade religion class because (a) she wasn't very good at picky multiple choice tests, and (b) the didn't know the Catholic church material very well. IN the more academic subjects, she was more than ready, and world history, in particular, was mostly all review.

David
post #17 of 51
Maggieinnh wrote:
Quote:
Also someone once told me that disorganized people are raised in Waldorf schools, anybody who knows me, can actually say the opposite of me. I am normally very organized, sometimes a bit too much actually ;-)
My daughter, with many years of waldorf, is also extremely organized. Not only can she keep her space and her family in reasonable order, she can organize crowds of other people, too. She just managed a work day at the waldorf school and kept a whole crowd of people busy at a variety of tasks.

I've known a number of waldorf graduates and being disorganized isn't something I've noticed about any of them.

Actually, I was mostly worried about my daughter being a Gemini, way back 40 years ago, when she was born. I'd known several incredibly flaky Geminis. Luckily, although she is very diverse, she isn't flaky!
post #18 of 51
Quote:
Originally Posted by pixiewytch View Post
Another issue that concerns me is that this is considered a "developing" school. They just started K-8 last year after having only K for quite a number of years. Now that I've been to open house I'm wondering if there are any particular questions I should ask to help me determine how stable the school is. I read their recent newsletter which talked about appointing a parent liasion for each class to help mediate class problems. Does that sound like a good or bad thing?
A "developing" school (which is tied to the national association's membership categories) can be anywhere in a huge spectrum -- everything from a school that just began its grade school program up to a pretty mature organization.

Do I understand you to say your school just began its grade program last year? If so, I suggest you need to enter this with your eyes wide open and realize that a "pioneering" attitude on your part is probably necessary.

I can go into this in more detail, but if you just accept that a waldorf school with separate classes for grades one through eight on top of an early childhood program will have 150 students or more if it is to be even marginally healthy financially, you can see that the school would go through monumental changes in a relatively short amount of time.

This picture appeals to some people and not to others. It would be worth asking the school how it plans on looking in a few years in terms of size, space, cost, etc. If they're not planning for it (and even if they are), there could be some big bumps in the road.

Lastly, I don't think a class parent's role is to mediate disagreements; it's to foster communication going both ways.

David
post #19 of 51
Quote:
Originally Posted by Deborah View Post
I'd known several incredibly flaky Geminis.
That one hits pretty close to home!

David (June 3)
post #20 of 51
Quote:
Originally Posted by canndw View Post
In fact, sometimes it's hard to view US waldorf schools as a collection, because the ties among them can be so minor...

There are waldorf schools that have "insider" (usually anthroposophist or Steiner fundamentalists) v. "outsider" problems.
David I think you did a GREAT job addressing the possible issues at Waldorf Schools (and really any school for that matter). Most of them you listed I can deal with but the one biggie is the "insider vs. outsider problems". My daughter is African American so she will be one of only a handful in any private school to be honest already so I don't wat to add additional potential stress to her by us being the only ones that eat meat and watch a Friday night movie. That said, we are lucjy and have 2-3 Waldorf schools relativly near so how I can tell which of them doesn't have that particular issue....? How does one pick between 3 different Waldorf schools?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Maggieinnh View Post
I am planning on sending my children to a Waldorf school, hopefully one that will not mind if I teach them reading at an earlier age, as my ds is already very keen on books.....just like I was.
This is an interesting comment as well. My dd is very young but if I put a board book and a toy down on a blanket for her she goes after the book.... she is only 5 months so she can't read but I don't see myself limiting her exposure to books.
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