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Connection, Creativity and Experience: Waldorf Education

Educating through “Head, Heart and Hands” has been a hallmark of Waldorf educators for decades. The idea behind the phrase is that learning should involve the whole human being and be based on relevant and multi-sensory experiences that engage and inspire each student.

With classrooms shuttered worldwide and most students now learning at home, how are Waldorf schools continuing to engage the whole child? What does experiential learning look like outside of the classroom?

Waldorf teachers are rising to the challenging task before them, adapting and working creatively to not just deliver curriculum but to make sure students continue to feel safe, welcome, supported, and a part of a greater learning community. While distance learning may be more suited towards delivering short-term memory learning such as facts, vocabulary lists, or math worksheets, Waldorf educators continue to focus on applying and linking learning concepts to wider experiences. Maintaining this hallmark of Waldorf curriculum is where creativity with distance learning really comes into play.

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Take for example how seventh-grade history students at several Waldorf schools are learning about the Age of Exploration and are receiving assignments to choose and research an explorer online. The remainder of the lesson is an experiential offline assignment, including a written and illustrated biography to be placed in main lesson books, and at the Portland Waldorf School, students are involved in the creation of a board game both outlining and gamifying the journeys made by their explorer of choice.

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Language arts lessons at the Aurora Waldorf School include pandemic journals for class 7 and 8 students, to be designed with the understanding of what such a journal would require to be one day used as historical primary source material.

Math times tables can still be tied to jumping rope; fractions and units of measure to cooking; geometry to hand-drawn geometric forms; and platonic solids to 3D modeling all with simple materials sent to or found in students’ homes.

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While care in curriculum addresses the head and hands, the heart is still an equal priority and Waldorf schools and teachers have found new ways to focus on community and connection. Resources for parents are an integral part of the community support offered by schools and often include supportive instructions, songs, crafts, and other online resources parents may need to enhance both learning time and unstructured playtime at home.

Experiential education is, at its heart, about adaptation and innovation around students’ unique learning strengths and needs. As such, it is no surprise that Waldorf educators have taken distance learning in stride and that examples of innovative curriculum delivery and community building carry on and expand in our communities as school closures continue.

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