Wondering About Waldorf?

Waldorf education is based on a uniquely rich philosophy. Here are some answers to commonly asked questions about Waldorf pedagogy. If you have a question that is not covered here, please email Kate Woll, Admissions Director, or call 781-860-5208.

What is Waldorf education all about?

Short answer: For parents who want a balanced approach to educating their child in mind, body, and spirit, the Waldorf School of Lexington provides a challenging, arts-integrated curriculum in a healthy, joyful, screen-free environment.

Waldorf education is a rich, time-tested approach to education whose popularity continues to grow, with over 1,200 Waldorf schools worldwide. In essence, Waldorf offers a balanced, holistic, academically robust education. We do not race from one milestone to the next. Rather, we cultivate children’s capacities as they emerge, building confidence and a love of learning naturally along the way—without the stress that today’s parents are trying to avoid. You can learn more about WSL’s core educational values here.
Who started Waldorf education?

Short answer: Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner founded Waldorf education and opened the first school in 1919 in Germany.

In the devastating aftermath of World War I, Austrian philosopher and scientist Rudolf Steiner conceived of an education whose aim was nothing less than the reinvention of society, from one driven by strife and conflict to a world where diverse individuals could learn, collaborate, and reach their full potential in harmony with one another. The first “Steiner school” was opened in 1919 at the request of Emil Molt, a forward-thinking businessman who owned the Waldorf Astoria cigarette factory in Stuttgart, Germany. This school enrolled the children of factory workers and was considered revolutionary for its time. Unlike other schools, it was co-ed, socially and economically diverse, and featured a developmental (as opposed to rote) curriculum—long before that approach became popular. The school quickly grew to more than 1,000 students. Other Waldorf (or Steiner) schools soon sprang up in Europe and in New York.

Today, there are more than 1,200 Waldorf schools and an additional 1,200 early childhood centers on six continents. In a strong endorsement of the education, Waldorf schools are particularly popular among parents who work in Silicon Valley’s high-tech industry.
Is WSL a religious school?

Short answer: No.

Waldorf schools are non-sectarian and unaffiliated with any particular religion. We do, however, seek to educate the child in mind, body, and spirit, with a reverence and appreciation for the greater good that we see—and seek—in the world, and in ourselves. To this end, we actively foster in our students a strong connection with the natural world, spending time outdoors nearly every day on our campus and in nearby conservation land.

The celebration of seasonal festivals, whether school-wide or within a given class, is another centerpiece of the Waldorf curriculum. Our goal is to develop students’ respect and appreciation for the many religious and cultural traditions, of many races and faiths, that comprise human history and contemporary society.
How diverse is your student population?

Short answer: The WSL community includes families of diverse ethnicities, races, cultures, sexual orientations, and religions.

Our student body reflects the socio-economic, racial, and ethnic diversity of our hometown, Lexington, and surrounding towns. Many families come from other countries, and languages spoken at home have included Mandarin, Hebrew, Japanese, Russian, Korean, Spanish, French, German, Dutch, Italian, Portuguese, Greek, Czech, Lithuanian, Danish, Finnish, Swedish, Urdu, Gujrati, and Farsi.
Why do elementary teachers stay with a class for 8 years?

Short answer: This unique approach builds strong relationships among students, teachers, and parents, which creates an unusually rich and rewarding learning environment and school culture.

A fundamental tenet of Waldorf education is that the loving guidance of a class teacher whom children know and trust helps them to grow into self-confident learners and adults. Waldorf first graders typically view their teacher as an all-knowing presence. Eighth graders view that same teacher as a mentor. In all cases, students learn that their class teacher will stick with them through thick and thin. We are very proud of the fact that the Waldorf School of Lexington is a place where every child is seen, known, and loved.

Waldorf class teachers are authorities on their subject matter, as well as storytellers, musicians, artists, and actors. They teach the first two-hour lesson block of the day, covering primarily science, history, and geography. The class teacher is also responsible for students’ overall academic and social development. Subject specialists in foreign languages, math, reading, English, music, movement, handwork, woodwork, and athletics teach students throughout the grades. All Waldorf teachers are highly trained, credentialed, and experienced.

In addition, the Waldorf approach eliminates the “ramp-up” time at the start of each school year, during which students and teachers at other schools spend weeks getting to know each other. Waldorf teachers know each student well enough to keep them academically challenged from the first week in September through the final week in June.
What if there is a mismatch between student and teacher?

Short answer: This is very rare, but when it happens, everyone works purposefully and mindfully to improve the relationship.

There are many different personalities in the world, and some get along more easily than others. Waldorf teachers are extraordinarily motivated to find a way to work with children whom they initially may find challenging, and remarkable things happen when everyone understands that this is a multi-year commitment. Parents are often surprised to find that a teacher understands their child as well as they do. Parents are encouraged to communicate regularly with their child’s teacher, not only during parent-teacher conferences, but any time they have questions or concerns. Parents receive written student assessments from their children’s teachers one to three times per year, depending on the grade level.
How large are your classes?

Short answer: Class sizes vary by grade, from 10 in nursery to 20+ in elementary.

Our youngest nursery classes enroll 10 children, and our older nursery classes have no more than 14 children per day (with parents opting to send their children three, four, or five days per week). Kindergartens have approximately 18 students each, while elementary classes average 19-20 and may be as large as 25. The Waldorf instructional method is very dynamic and has proven effective with larger class sizes. Early childhood classes have one head teacher and one assistant in each room. The first and second grade teachers also have an assistant. Third and fourth grade teachers may request assistants as needed.
Why do you begin formal reading instruction in first grade?

Short answer: The Waldorf approach produces strong, eager readers and is validated by high-achieving students from countries like Finland.

The Waldorf approach goes against the current tide in the U.S. of teaching academic subjects at increasingly younger ages. Many European countries with high-performing schools, most notably Finland, wait to teach reading until age seven. As American school children have begun to show the deleterious effects of a fast-paced, high-pressure approach to kindergarten, countries like Finland have gotten greater recognition for their successful approach to early childhood education.

Waldorf nursery and kindergarten classrooms buzz with the energy of children involved in self-directed, creative free play—exercising their growing capacities for initiative, collaboration, and problem-solving. These skills are the foundation for academic learning. Although Waldorf students read later than their peers at other schools, once they catch up (around fourth grade), they are generally very strong, engaged, and enthusiastic readers.

Another difference in the Waldorf curriculum is that learning to write precedes learning to read, a unique approach now validated by neurological research. Writing starts in first grade with capital letters, followed by lower case letters. In second grade, Waldorf students learn cursive writing, which has been shown to improve brain development and stimulate neural synapses and left-right brain synchronicity.
How much homework do students typically get?

Short answer: Homework starts in 2nd or 3rd grade and builds to half an hour to an hour per night by 8th grade.

In many school systems, homework now starts in kindergarten, often with mindless worksheets and insipid crafts projects. In contrast, Finland has “the lightest homework load of any industrialized nation,” yet its 15-year-olds score top marks on international tests. At WSL, homework begins gently, at the class teacher’s discretion, in second or third grade. In middle school, students receive daily homework assignments from the class teacher as well as subject teachers, with the total time typically ranging from half an hour to an hour per night.
How well do your students make the transition to high school?

Short answer: Extremely well! Our graduates thrive at numerous private and public high schools, and they go on to attend a wide variety of fine colleges and universities. We invite you to read more about our graduates!

High school teachers from public and independent schools have told us that our graduates raise the intellectual bar in their classrooms, that they are naturally curious and respectful, and that they know how to use their many talents to advance the common goals of the group. Our students bring with them an unusual passion for learning; a respect for other people, cultures, and points of view; and a desire to make a meaningful difference in the world. While the transition to high school can naturally pose challenges, WSL graduates excel at self-advocating for help when they need it, and in persevering with a positive attitude when the work is difficult.
How are WSL students assessed?

Short answer: We assess students with rubrics and written assessments 1–3 times a year. We do not use letter grades or administer standardized tests.

Families receive a detailed written assessment of their child’s progress between one and three times per year starting in nursery. Reports for nursery, kindergarten, and grades 1–3 are mailed once a year, and grade 4–8 reports are mailed twice a year. Students in grades 6–8 receive an additional mid-semester progress report in the fall. Students in middle school are evaluated based on tests, quizzes, homework, assigned papers, and class participation. All elementary students keep a main lesson book of writings and drawings—a self-created portfolio of the year’s academic work. These books can be reviewed by parents at regular parent evenings or during parent/teacher conferences. The books are sent home in June as a permanent record of what the child has accomplished in that school year. We do not administer or require standardized tests, although many of our eighth graders take SSATs before applying to private high school.
What are your guidelines for electronic media?

Short answer: We request that students use no electronics of any kind at home through grade 5. Minimal use is suggested in grades 6–8.

We are often asked why we don’t use computers for instruction at WSL, and why we recommend a screen-free life for our students at home, especially in the early childhood and elementary years. At the Waldorf School of Lexington, our classrooms are screen-free, and our students thrive, both academically and socially. Our “unplugged” approach is backed not only by current research, but by the hundreds of thoughtful, creative, successful students who have graduated from the Waldorf School of Lexington during its 47-year history.

Technology can be a wonderful tool, which is why our middle school students learn to touch-type, use word processing to write papers, and use the Internet for research. However, the promise of technology in education has fallen far short of its aims—while study after study warns of the harm technology and media use pose for children, particularly during the early years of critical brain development.

Families of students through grade 5 are asked to eliminate the use of all digital technology at home, including television, computers, videos and movies, Internet, and cell phones. We support the gradual and supervised introduction of media at home starting in 6th grade. A majority of parents tell us that our screen-free approach is one of the reasons they chose WSL for their children.

You can read our full media white paper here.
How (and why) do you include art, handwork, drama, and music in the curriculum?

Short answer: The arts, music, and drama enrich the grades 1–8 curriculum for every student at the Waldorf School of Lexington, increasing student engagement and love of learning.

At WSL, art is not a separate class, but an integral part of the day’s lessons. As the Boston Globe has reported, creative endeavors have been shown to deepen students’ involvement in their education, boost academic performance, and improve student and family engagement in education. (You can read more in our Art Smart blog post.)

Students in every grade at WSL illustrate their studies with free-hand drawings. In the 7th grade anatomy and physiology block, for instance, students make detailed drawings of the digestive and respiratory systems, while students in a geometry class may make 3D models out of paper. All students do watercolor painting once a week and attend handwork class twice a week. Woodworking begins in fifth grade and culminates in eighth grade with construction of small furniture.

Music instruction begins in first grade with singing and simple flute playing. All students in grades 3–8 play recorder. In third grade, students begin a string instrument and may switch to a wind instrument in fifth grade. Students who join WSL in middle school and do not yet play an instrument participate in a musical ensemble. All students in grades 5–8 learn to sight-read music and sing in a chorus. All students in grades 1–8 participate in a yearly class play.
Do you have after-school programs?

Short answer: WSL offers Aftercare and Extended Day programs until 6:00 p.m., along with after-school sports and homework club for middle school students.

Aftercare runs from noon–3:00 and serves students in nursery and kindergarten. Extended Day runs from 3:00–6:00 and serves students in nursery through grade 6. You can learn more about these programs on our website.

After-school homework club is offered for students in grades 6–8. We also offer team soccer in the fall and basketball in the winter. For more on after-school athletics, please see our Team Sports page.
Do you have a hot lunch program?

Short answer: Yes! WSL offers a healthy, nutritious, freshly prepared hot lunch Monday–Friday, in junior or regular portions.

Lunch is cooked daily in our on-site kitchen by a professional cook, supported by parent volunteers. The kitchen also features a Café where parents can gather for coffee and tea, baked goods, and lunch during the week. We use as many organic ingredients as possible, and most menu items are cooked from scratch, including homemade soup and fresh bread baked every Tuesday.
What athletic programs does WSL offer?

Short answer: We believe that healthy development requires healthy physical activity, so WSL students are on the move, both inside and outdoors in all weather.

It is widely acknowledged that physical activity not only boosts fitness, but also improves students’ psychological, social/emotional, and behavioral health as well as their brain development and academic performance. At WSL, no student spends the day behind a desk. Every student participates in a rich array of movement, games, and athletics that evolve along with the developing child.

Our early childhood classes spend a significant amount of time outdoors—in all kinds of weather—gardening, sledding, digging, climbing on rocks, and walking in the woods. Elementary and middle school students have two recess periods daily, in addition to two periods per week of games or gym class, which may include activities such as sledding, skating, kickball, archery, basketball, juggling, tumbling, and group games of all kinds.

Our campus offers an indoor gym, an auditorium with basketball nets, a soccer field, an outdoor basketball court, and a skating pond available for student use weather permitting. Students in grades 6–8 may enroll in after-school soccer and basketball team programs. In addition, we host a Fifth Grade Olympics every year, in which students from regional Waldorf schools compete in javelin, discus, long jump, wrestling, long run, and the 50-yard dash. Awards are given for grace and form, as well as strength and speed.
Does the school provide transportation?

Short answer: WSL offers morning bus service with a route through Cambridge and Arlington, convenient to parts of Somerville, Belmont, and several other towns.

The school also provides transportation to and from after-school sporting events. WSL families, who come from many different towns, arrange their own carpools for daily trips to and from school. Public transportation is also available. Two MBTA buses stop right in front of the school. Some older students and parents with young children commute by bicycle via the Minuteman Bikeway, which is immediately adjacent to the WSL campus.
What financial aid is available?

Short answer: WSL offers confidential tuition assistance based on demonstrated financial need.

We strive to make Waldorf education available to as many families as possible by keeping our tuition lower than that of many independent schools in the region. In addition, the school has financial aid available for families that need it. Awards are generally in the range of 10 to 30 percent of tuition and are made to families with children in our nursery program and above. Maximum awards are 50 percent. A 10 percent sibling discount is given to any family that requests it.
What role do parents play at the school?

Short answer: WSL thrives with the active support of parents in different capacities.

At WSL, parents have the opportunity to serve on the Board of Trustees, participate on committees, act as chaperones on field trips, organize annual events such as the Holiday Fair and the Spring Party & Auction, volunteer in Homespun (the school store) and kitchen, plan educational lecture series, coach the soccer and basketball teams, or make handcrafts for various events.

WSL has a vibrant Parent Community Association that serves many important functions at the school. Waldorf parents also support the work of the classroom teachers by creating a home life conducive to healthy growth and learning. Monthly or bi-monthly parent evenings with the class teachers help to create a caring network of support for each child and for the class as a whole.

Friendships between Waldorf families often continue for decades after the children graduate, and many parents tell us that the unusually close-knit community at the school is a joy appreciated by the whole family.
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