Waldorf was the name given to a school built in 1919 and based on the educational philosophy of Rudolf Steiner, an Austrian educator and scientist. The school was created for the children of the Waldorf-Astoria Company’s employees and took on the name ‘Waldorf’. The Waldorf-Astoria in Stuttgart, Germany was an enormous tobacco factory that was established by Emil Molt, a friend and admirer of Steiner. The factory employed about 1000 people in 1919.
You’ll remember that 1919 was the year following the First World War. The Treaty of Versailles, the peace treaty that ended the war, was only just signed that summer. In the early 20th century, the world was just recovering from the speed of development during the Industrial Revolution of the 19th century. 1919 was a time of hard work in factories combined with the loss and economic depression of a post war moment. In addition to these factors, there was a rise in fascism happening in Germany. With all of this as a background, Steiner and other philosophers and scientists, formed a philosophy called Anthroposophy. Anthroposophy translates to mean ‘the study of human wisdom’ and was meant to become a form of spiritual movement that would free the individual from any external authority. Steiner believed that the human capacity for rational thought would allow individuals to comprehend spiritual research on their own and bypass the danger of dependency on an authority (including himself).1 Though deeply spiritual, Anthroposophy is not a religion, nor is it meant to be a substitute for religion, it provides no belief system. Anthroposophy can complement religious practices and is open to people of any faith and to those who do not adhere to a particular faith.2 Anthroposophy became the underlying philosophy behind Waldorf education and would inform the practice of teaching as well as many other contributions such as Biodynamic Farming and Anthroposophic Medicine.
For the Daily Wonder Squad, Waldorf education has been a highly honoured foundation of wisdom, knowledge and resources, as well as an incredible catalyst and jumping point for further innovation and exploration into educating children in the 21st century. Both Rebecca and Jennifer began their Waldorf training together, post-degree, at the Rudolf Steiner Centre in 2001. This program was a full-time, immersive experience, that required students to delve deeply into anthroposophical study, child development, their own path of self-development, the path of relational development, and learning effective ways of working and growing with colleagues. These two women followed this path of Waldorf education with responsibility and dedication. After having taught for many years as class and subject teachers, it was the pioneering of the first Waldorf school in the Comox Valley, that challenged them at a new level. Working in British Columbia, Canada, offers the benefit of receiving partial funding from the government, and at the same time this requires a high level of accountability. In 2016, the BC Ministry of Education rolled out a new curriculum based on the Calls to Action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. This new curriculum highlights core competencies as the main focus of lesson planning. This new curriculum reflects so much of the Waldorf pedagogy that inspired these women for 15 years. In order to continue to receive funding, Waldorf schools were asked to provide daily documentation to show how the First Peoples' Principles of Learning and Social Emotional Learning are a part of daily Waldorf lessons. Rebecca and Jennifer gained experience with this type of documentation and supported other teachers to understand a new way to describe what they were already doing in the classroom. This was a rigorous process that became a gift. What evolved from that experience is a Waldorf education for the 21st century.
Rudolf Steiner’s contributions to the creation of Waldorf education are never forgotten and endlessly drawn upon. In 100 years of Waldorf education, teachers and communities have taken the insight of these beginnings and transformed them to fit the times we find ourselves in, all the while honouring the original foundation of Steiner’s insights. Today we recognize the failings of the past and acknowledge that although Rudolf Steiner offered many profound insights that support the value and dignity of each human being, he also made statements that reflect harmful assertions regarding race and ethnicity. Racism, explicit or implicit, stands in direct conflict to the fundamental principles of Waldorf education. We at Daily Wonder, and Waldorf educators across the globe, commit to working to address any dehumanizing or disparaging aspects of Waldorf history and practices.3
The method and practice of teaching is called pedagogy. Waldorf schools have a distinct pedagogy that is evident in almost everything you would encounter as you walk into the spaces and observe your child’s experience with the culture and curriculum. Every action and choice at a Waldorf school is intentional. The intention is to meet the child with reverence and send them forth in freedom. Rudolf Steiner left his very first teachers with a meditation:
Imbue thyself with imagination. Have courage for the truth. Sharpen thy feeling for responsibility of soul.
Waldorf teachers still use this guide today. Although we can’t write out the entire philosophical, spiritual, and practical underpinnings of Waldorf education in this post, we can offer a tiny insight into a Waldorf perspective of child development. It is this understanding of the child that we base our unit theme choices on for our curriculum.
Steiner segmented development into seven-year general phases: birth to age seven, age seven to fourteen, age fourteen to twenty-one, and so on. The first phase we consider early childhood and focus our teaching on building the physical body and the will. Early childhood has the theme of ‘goodness’. The second phase is our particular focus, grade school, centered on developing the feeling. This stage of childhood has the theme of ‘beauty’. The next phase is adolescence and is centered on developing the thinking. This stage has the theme of ‘truth’. In each of the distinct phases are smaller phases and stages that include the will, feeling and thinking. We also recognize some developmentally significant changes throughout a child’s life such as age 6, age 9 and age 12 where a shift is occurring and can have some specific behaviours that come with it.
At Daily Wonder our focus is on the second phase of childhood, age 6 or 7 to age 12 or 13, grades one to seven. To free humans from external authority and develop a capacity for recognizing one’s path, we begin by developing a conscious community. In the Waldorf system, relationships are the foundation for all learning. In this second phase of childhood, we place the teacher/parent in the position of ‘loving authority’. In a Waldorf school, much like in the home, the teacher goes through all the years of the grade school with the same children since the relationship is the base for learning. The role of this person in the child’s life it to bring them the world through experience, story, and art. The intention is to awaken them to the beauty of the world. The lesson is guided to provide the child an experience of the world so that they may discover what it means to be a human from out of themselves. Another method of teaching would have the instructor tell the student the law, or concept, then go about demonstrating it. Our way is to know the concept behind the scenes, provide an experience of it, and have the child discover it through observation, experience, and review, without being told beforehand. In this way the child comes to develop their will, embolden their imagination, and trust their thinking. Through conscious community building we create a resting place for learning. Working with conflict resolution, conscious age-appropriate communication, and immersion in free social play helps build this resting place. A combination of working with social emotional learning and Waldorf pedagogy creates a gentle yet rigorous education with a goal of developing life long, engaged learners who know and trust themselves.
The pedagogy and curriculum are not the only Waldorf aspects of Daily Wonder’s lesson plans. We know that setting the child up to learn successfully requires a certain foundation, the engaged will. As you read above, the base for this second phase of childhood is the first, where in early childhood we focus on building the will. With a healthy will, comes the availability of what is needed for learning in the second phase of childhood. The will is guided by rhythm and routine in combination with other important aspects of early childhood learning. In this second phase of childhood, we continue with a healthy rhythm and routine as a setting for learning. In our lesson plans you will experience the repetition and rhythm for each day, week, unit, and full year. Our intention is to support the maintenance of the child’s will and physical health so that they are available for learning.
You will find that our lessons guide you to inspire your child’s imagination and curiosity, to share diverse stories that tell of the human journey through time and across place, to offer experiences that provide opportunities to discover, and to support them to show their learning artistically to express their feelings about what they have learned. This intention comes from our Waldorf background where the purpose of education is to model what it really means to be human: to love.
In North America, Waldorf Schools are united by a governing body called the Association of Waldorf Schools of North America, or AWSNA. To become a certified member a school must complete a rigorous self-study that includes proof of adherence to Waldorf principles including Waldorf specific training of its teachers from an accredited institute. If a school is considered in adherence, they are then considered a member of AWSNA and given permission to use the trademark name “Waldorf” to describe their school and/or curriculum. As a member of AWSNA a school is provided shared resources and access to continental support and collaboration in the form of a community of hundreds of schools. You may have noticed that Daily Wonder does not use the word Waldorf to describe our curriculum. This is because we honour the process of becoming a member as well as trademark laws. We were some of the founders of a Waldorf school and can attest to the hard work of becoming a member of AWSNA. Receiving the gift of being able to use the name Waldorf was a highlight in the long process of becoming an ‘Associate Member’. Daily Wonder is not eligible to become a Waldorf School, or use the trademark name, since we are not a brick-and-mortar school with staff, students and a Board, and yet we will always be Waldorf teachers.
Jennifer, Rebecca and Mareesha worked together at the Comox Valley Waldorf School for 10 years. After their school closed, they used their innovative spirit and passion for educating the whole child to create Daily Wonder. Daily Wonder takes Waldorf education’s principles: child development; loving authority; attachment and connection; experiential learning; artistic connection; heart-centred learning, and crafts it into lessons for the students of today. It is brought in a language that is current and easy to understand, and stands true to the essence of Waldorf education. This is highlighted in our mission statement: Reclaiming childhood to transform the world.
Our future depends on the children of today being educated in ways that cultivate and nurture social emotional intelligence, critical and creative thinking, personal and social awareness and responsibility, and conscious communication and collaboration. Children are naturally in their physical bodies, and living in their feeling and senses. It is through Daily Wonder's curriculum that these natural avenues can remain open and nourished.
In a world heavily reliant on technology it becomes a concern that children are not given enough time each day to build a connection to their inner world. Our modern world is built on distractions, activities and experiences that take us away from our connection to ourselves. The dominant world view that ‘more is better’ is a detriment to our children today; the excess of toys, food, and screens complicates and clogs up what can be so simple. The world of imagination, inspiration and intuition needs to be cultivated in each human. A world of love, compassion, empathy, and the expression of it through deed, word and artistic endeavour needs to be the focus of education.
It is through aligning and honouring the natural heart forces of the child, that things begin to become simple. It is through creating and implementing a healthy and nourishing rhythm and routine for your child, and the entire family, that things begin to feel doable, possible, and healing. It is through story, art and nature play, that a child receives their soul food. And when they are nourished, an inner world of heart-felt pictures begins to emerge. This is the foundation for imagination.
Imagination is the ability to sit with inner mental pictures, visualizing ways of living, being, doing, creating, and inventing in the world. Imagining ways that are not yet in existence for the individual, or the collective. It is through imagination, the ability to work with inner mental pictures, that we can visualize a tomorrow that is different from today. It is through inspiring heartfelt connections, that our mental visions are for the greater good. However, it is only through cultivating our will forces, that any of these heartfelt visions can come to fruition.
Our 21st century human collective is now aware of the things that need to change. We can see the social and environmental injustices, we can feel enraged by the inequality that is still pervasive in the world, and the injustices occurring regularly to people belonging to minority groups based on race, religion, sexual identity, or gender. We want the world to change, and we want our children to live in a more cohesive and collaborative world.
A foundational principle of Waldorf pedagogy is the insistence that children need to develop their will forces equal to their heart and mental forces. Will forces can be explained as the forces of perseverance, resilience, dedication, self-discipline, accountability, and responsibility. Without these forces strengthened and utilized regularly, the child develops out of balance. Without these forces strengthened, the way you build any muscle, we often see adults who are “all talk, no action”. We believe that we must educate children to become socially and emotionally intelligent, compassionate adults who are ready and willing to take action based on an integrated and informed world vision.
That is why the mission of Daily Wonder is so simple, yet so profound.
We must reclaim childhood, to transform the world.
We must let our children play in the mud, get their hands dirty, hear stories of ancient myths and folktales, hear of the great religions of the world, observe the phenomenon of our natural surroundings.
Simply put, reconnect to wonder.
Wonder is the door to wisdom.
Every great philosopher and scientist, artist and changemaker, sat in wonder. Simply sat, and became curious, and let their imagination run wild. What if...what if...what if?
What if...Waldorf education could be adjusted, tweaked, modernized and still hold true to the essence of anthroposophy, the wisdom of the human spirit?
What if…Waldorf education could be affordable to all people on this earth?
What if...Waldorf education was accessible to all people on this earth?
What if...Waldorf education could be broken down into simple daily steps, easily guided by a parent, caregiver or community leader?
What if...Waldorf education guided the parents to implement simplified routines and rhythms for the day, week, season, and year?
What if...Waldorf education created daily step-by-step lesson plans for parents that wove the cultivation of heart, mind and will forces into each lesson?
What if...Waldorf education could serve the anxious or unique learner who struggles to learn in the classroom?
What if...Waldorf education could nurture and strengthen the natural parent/child bond of attachment?
What if...Waldorf education was brought into the 21st century?
And then through our imagination, inspiration, and intuition Daily Wonder was born.