Frequently Asked Questions About Waldorf Education

What is Waldorf Education?

Waldorf Education is based on a developmental approach that addresses the needs of the growing child and maturing adolescent.  For over 100 years Waldorf teachers have worked to transform education into an art that educates the whole child.  In addition to teaching academics Waldorf Education schools the imagination, develops moral discernment and trains the will.  This is truly an education of head, heart and hands.


How many Waldorf Schools are there?
Waldorf education is a worldwide independent educational movement, with over 1000 schools in 64 countries. The first Waldorf school was founded in 1919 in Stuttgart, Germany, by Rudolf Steiner, the visionary Austrian educator, scientist and philosopher.


How is the school environment different at Highland Hall?
The environment in a Waldorf school is holistic with the emphasis on gaining a broad understanding of a subject rather than learning by rote.  Waldorf teachers often bring academics to their students in a creative way.  Art, music, poetry, drama, and movement are just some of the ways a Waldorf teacher may use to present subject matter to students. 


Through a curriculum that encourages active daily participation, students are encouraged to speak in front of their classmates, present their original material, and formulate their own ideas.  In this way the students are directly engaged in the learning process and have many opportunities to express themselves in their academic work.


As much as possible teachers enliven their classrooms with natural materials and lighting, artwork, and illustrations related to the curriculum. Classrooms are generally devoid of memorization charts, progress charts and technology and provide a calm learning environment that minimizes sensory overload.


Highland Hall has a rich community life and actively partners with parents in their children’s education through a variety of parent education lectures, workshops and community events.


Why should I send my child to a Waldorf school?

For the youngest students Waldorf schools honor and protect the wonder of childhood. Every effort is expended to make Waldorf schools safe and nurturing environments.  In honoring the child, we aim to let children be children and not force them to grow up too quickly.


Waldorf education offers a classical education that is academically challenging, yet integrated with the arts to provide more meaning to the students.  Our students are taught to have respect for the environment, their community and themselves.


Finally, Waldorf schools produce graduates who are well rounded and who have been exposed to a broad array of academic and artistic disciplines.  Waldorf graduates consistently gain admission to top universities and are valued for their unique qualities they bring with them. 


Where do Highland Hall students go to college?
Highland Hall students have been accepted to and graduated from a broad spectrum of colleges and universities including Stanford, UC Berkeley, Harvard, Yale, and Brown.  Many of our graduates have gone on to pursue the highest degrees in their field.  Waldorf graduates reflect a wide diversity of professions and occupations including medicine, law, science, engineering, computer technology, the arts, social science, government, and teaching at all levels.  


How well do your students perform on standardized tests?
Although Highland Hall students do not take any standardized tests until high school, they tend to score well above average on tests such as the SAT and ACT.   Every 9th, 10th, and 11th grade student is required to take the PSAT in the fall.  Highland Hall also hosts an outside test prep program on campus to assist students with preparing for the SAT and ACT.


Why do Waldorf schools recommend limiting media exposure for young children?

There is increased scientific evidence that media exposure is harmful to young children and may impact their physical and cognitive development.  A central aim of Waldorf Education is to stimulate the healthy development of the child's own imagination.  Waldorf teachers are also concerned that the content of media is often inappropriate for the child’s developmental age.  

How do your students use technology?
Technology use among young children is discouraged.  In the middle school (grades 6-8), students may research the internet for writing reports.  By high school our students use technology as do students in many other schools. Our high school teachers post homework assignments, schedules and other information on the school website.  However, we do not issue laptops or iPads or require students to read books electronically.  Most reading is done via printed materials.  We emphasize personal interaction between students and teachers, and as a result students may not use cell phones or laptops on campus without a teacher’s permission.


What are your class sizes?
Class size varies depending on the grade and subject matter.  Many subjects are taught with fewer than 15 students in the room, ensuring that each child receives personal attention and is never overlooked.  Our faculty/student ratio is about 1:7.


Is Waldorf Similar to Montessori?
These two educational approaches began with a similar goal: to design a curriculum that was developmentally appropriate to the child and that addressed the child's need to learn in a tactile as well as an intellectual way. The philosophies are otherwise very different.


Are Waldorf schools religious?
No, Waldorf schools are non-sectarian and non-denominational.  They espouse no particular religious doctrine but are based on a belief that there is a spiritual dimension to the human being and to all of life. Waldorf families come from a broad spectrum of religious traditions.


Why do Waldorf schools wait until grade school to teach reading?

Waldorf schools use a path to literacy that begins with listening to stories.  The beautiful stories told by the Early Childhood teachers are rich in vocabulary and imagery.  As the story takes hold of the imagination the attention span of the child grows, and an important foundation for reading comprehension and literacy is developed.  In first grade students learn the form of each letter, connecting it to an image from a story.  They draw the letters and illustrate the story, creating a sound basis for the decoding process. 


With practice the children develop a growing set of sight words.  They begin by reading their own written text and soon begin to write independently.  Comfort and facility with decoding and writing are essential abilities for developing readers.  By fostering motivation and engagement with stories children are able to embrace the challenge and wonder of reading and writing.  There is evidence that normal, healthy children who are not forced to read at an early age are more likely to take lively interest in reading that continues into adulthood. In fact they often become better readers and higher achievers in later years. Some children will, out of themselves, want to learn to read at an early age. This interest can and should be met, as long as it comes in fact from the child rather than being imposed by parents.


Why does a Lower School teacher stay with their students for several years?

By continuing with a class for several years, the teacher comes to know and understand each student’s unique learning style and capabilities.  The children, feeling secure in a long-term relationship, are better able to learn. The interaction of teacher and parents also can become more deep and meaningful over time, and they can cooperate in helping the child.


A Waldorf class is something like a family. When difficulties arise, the teacher looks at the situation and sees what can be done to improve the relationship. With the goodwill and active support of the parents, the teacher can make the necessary changes to ensure a healthy and productive learning environment.


Do lower school classes only have one teacher?

No, each day a number of specialty teachers also instruct the students.  Music, German, Mandarin, Spanish, handwork, P.E., woodworking, gardening and movement are all taught by specially trained teachers with knowledge of their subjects and an enthusiastic desire to share their subjects with the students.   The class teacher is, however, responsible for the two-hour "main lesson" every morning and usually also for one or two lessons later in the day. The main lesson will generally include science, history, language arts and mathematics, and is typically enlivened with poetry, singing, plays and other artistic expressions.


What changes do students experience when they transition to the high school?

The two hour main lessons in the high school are taught by specialists, and this increasingly focused approach continues throughout the day.  Many classes in the high school are integrated with students from multiple grades, allowing students to develop academic and social relationships with a larger number of people.  Older students model behavior for the younger students and a rich camaraderie is born through their interactions. 


Do students receive grades?

Yes, in the High School students receive grades as well as written evaluations from their teachers. In the Lower School students do not receive grades, but receive progress reports and written evaluations from each teacher.  Learning in a Waldorf school is a noncompetitive activity. Each child is challenged through tasks and skills that build confidence with completion and accomplishment. Students are evaluated through performance measures such as project completion, written assignments and tests.


What sports programs are offered?
In the Lower School, students have some form of movement or physical activity each day.  The teacher focuses on developing coordination, spatial awareness and cooperation.  Beginning in grade 5, students learn track events (discus, javelin, long jump, etc.) and participate in annual athletic competitions with other Waldorf Schools.  Competitive volleyball and basketball teams are also introduced in grades 6-8.


In the High School, P.E. is required all four years.  We offer a three-season sports program which includes soccer, basketball, volleyball, softball and archery.   There are no try outs and any student can be on a team.  Students are able to play on multiple teams and learn new sports they may have never tried.  Many of our students have gone on to play on college teams.


What extra-curricular activities are offered?
Many schools today have removed music, drama, art, foreign language and practical arts from their regular school day, requiring them to compensate for this by offering a number of after school clubs and activities.  At Highland Hall our students’ days are filled with these activities, and we believe there is nothing “extra” about them, and they are required elements of the Waldorf curriculum.  Our focus is on instructing our students in a way that will allow our graduates to give full expression to their ideas and aims, and we believe these activities are essential for a healthy, well rounded adult.  After school activities are generally centered on sports, homework support and free play.


How well do children do who transfer from a public school into a Waldorf school, or out of a Waldorf school into a public school?
Children who transfer into a Waldorf school are generally up to speed academically and bring with them much information about the world.  These new students are often behind in artistic expressions such as art, drama, handwork or music, but are able to learn these skills in time.  They are also often surprised to learn that Waldorf schools require a lot more writing than what they may have experienced elsewhere. 


Due to our emphasis on literacy rather than early reading, Waldorf educated children who transfer to a public school in grades 1-3 may be somewhat behind their peers in their reading ability.  On the other hand, they are usually well prepared for math, social studies, and writing. Children transferring during the later grades should experience no problems. In fact, in most cases, these students find themselves ahead of their classmates. Waldorf students are also likely to take into the new school a personal confidence in their abilities and an enthusiasm for learning, skills which their new teachers appreciate and find remarkable.