The Waldorf philosophy is, in many ways, opposed to that of mainstream schools. Waldorf schools have several progressive classroom practices that you won’t find in many of today’s schools.
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Waldorf schools and preschools don’t have a standardized curriculum. Instead, they give their students quite a bit of freedom to work in a broad range of areas and pursue their own interests. And teachers carefully tailor curricula to meet each student’s unique learning needs.
Whole child education
While Waldorf schools do cover core academics, at least at the elementary level, this isn’t their whole focus. They aim to educate your child more holistically—intellectually, emotionally, and practically. Teachers develop children’s aptitudes for thinking, feeling, and acting.
Waldorf schools delay formal academics. Formal instruction in math, science, and reading isn’t given until grade 1. Unlike in many other other schools, it isn’t offered in preschool or kindergarten. Kids don’t start formal academics until they’re developmentally ready, and ideally, interested.
Focus on the arts
Creativity and the arts are a big focus. These are infused throughout curriculum. Many lessons begin with a story, song, or dance. Moreover, schools devote a lot of independent time to arts and crafts, dance, music, and other arts subjects.
Imagination and creativity
Pretend play is encouraged in preschool and kindergarten. There are lots of toys, art materials, and games in the classroom. Kids spend lots of time playing indoors and outdoors. The aim is to promote imaginative learning, creativity, and social and emotional skills.
Students do plenty of hands-on learning, at least up until grade 3. They learn and practice important practical skills, including cooking, cleaning, and gardening. They also learn crafts such as woodworking and sewing.
The use technology such as TVs, computers, and tablets is minimized. Too much screen time, it’s thought, can interfere with interaction and social development. Students first need to master “fundamental, time-honoured ways of discovering information and learning, such as practical experiments and books” (The Herald Scotland, December 2, 2007).
Reggio Emilia schools
The Reggio Emilia approach to education, like the Waldorf approach, is unique. It also involves several progressive classroom practices.
Reggio Emilia schools and preschools encourage self-directed learning and use what’s called a “co-constructed curriculum.” Teachers carefully observe and monitor students in class to gauge their interests. They use this knowledge to prepare the learning environment and find meaningful work and activities for each student.
Teachers don’t use a one-size-fits-all curriculum. Nor do they try to impart knowledge to the class through lots of lectures or direct instruction. Instead, they observe children, ask them questions, and listen to their ideas. They thereby learn what kids are drawn to and plan their curriculum accordingly.
Importance of projects
Reggio schools make projects a big focus. These are mainly proposed by students, though teachers do make suggestions and act as a sounding board. Projects can be short- or long-term. They allow children to pursue deep and interesting ideas, and explore them in great detail.
Each class is viewed as a system of relationships. Teachers consider each child’s relation to their family, other children, the teachers, the school environment, the community, and wider society.
The Reggio classroom is set up to promote lots of interaction. Children interact with teachers throughout the day, and they often work with their peers in small groups of two to five.
Many modes of learning
Teachers create environments where children can use many modes or languages to learn (sometimes called the “hundred languages.”) These modes include drawing, painting, modelling, sculpting, music, dance, poems, stories, metaphors, and more. Children are also given a wide range of materials to express themselves, such as paint, clay, wire, and natural and recycled materials.
Parents are considered a vital part of education. In fact, parents are encouraged to be very involved in school. This can take many forms, including day-to-day interaction, advising and working with staff, helping out in the classroom, and attending field trips.
Waldorf vs. Reggio Emilia
Main similarities between Waldorf and Reggio Emilia schools
Multi-age classrooms: Both Waldorf and Reggio Emilia schools have multi-age classrooms. In both preschool and elementary school, children interact and work with peers of different ages. They also engage in plenty of group work, child-to-child teaching, and mentoring.
Decentralized learning: Neither Waldorf nor Reggio teachers give regular lectures to the class. Nor do they try to impart knowledge through direct instruction. Instead, children are free to roam around the classroom and choose their own activities and work, with some guidance from the teacher. They can also choose to work independently or in groups.
Individualized curriculum: Both Waldorf and Reggio Emilia schools use an individualized curriculum. Children’s tasks and activities are tailored to their special learning and developmental needs. And they can often choose their own tasks and work at their own pace.
Arts and creativity: Both Waldorf and Reggio schools place a lot of focus on the arts, creativity, and the imagination. In Waldorf schools, the arts are integrated into lessons and injected into the whole curriculum. In Reggio schools, the arts and creative expression are often pursued independently of other subjects (sometimes in art studios or “ateliers”).
Main differences between Waldorf and Reggio Emilia schools
Education level: The Reggio Emilia approach is mainly used for preschool (though sometimes it’s used in early elementary school). The Waldorf approach, meanwhile, is used in preschool, elementary school, and even secondary school.
Projects: Reggio schools are more project-focused than Waldorf schools. Reggio teachers encourage students to pursue open-ended projects and to find work that can sustain their interest over the long term.
Work and play: Both Waldorf and Reggio Emilia offer a combination of work and play at the preschool level. Waldorf, though, is more play-based than Reggio (it especially focuses more on pretend play).
Technology: Waldorf schools tend to use very little modern-day technology in the classroom. Reggio schools, on the other hand, use a fair amount. Reggio teachers, especially, use lots of technology, including cameras and video recorders, to observe and document children’s work and behaviour in the classroom.
To learn about the differences between Montessori, Waldorf, and Reggio Emilia schools, read our guide. You can also read our guides comparing Montessori to Waldorf and Montessori to Reggio Emilia schools.
To learn about the differences between various preschool approaches, read our comparison guides. In separate articles, we compare Montessori to Waldorf, Montessori to Reggio Emilia, Waldorf to Reggio Emilia, academic to play-based, Montessori to play-based, and Montessori to academic preschools. If you want to compare specific schools or preschools one-to-one, visit our compare hub.