10 Lessons Art Educators Can Learn From The Waldorf Approach

Looking outside the field of art education is a great way to enhance your practice. There are so many wonderful connections to be made between art education and other philosophies of educational delivery — in general education, early childhood education, and beyond! The richer our research and breadth, the more we can bring to the table in our art rooms.

One method that has fascinated me for a while is the Waldorf approach to teaching. It was a bit of a mystery to me, but from my initial research, I knew there were some great connections to be made for art educators.

I recently had the privilege to sit down with Stephanie Brooks, a longtime AOE reader and wonderful influence in the world of art education to discuss one of her areas of expertise, Waldorf. Stephanie has a BFA, degrees in Art Ed and Elementary Education, and a Master’s in Waldorf. She is currently teaching art but incorporates Waldorf concepts into her art room on a daily basis.

 

Stephanie Headshot

 

The following 10 ideas, spearheaded by my conversation with Stephanie, will not only explore the foundation of the Waldorf Method but also help you see how Waldorf ideas can be applied directly in the art room.

 

10 Lessons Art Educators Can Learn From The Waldorf Method

 

1. Slow Down! What’s the Rush?

Waldorf is a ‘Way of Life’ – one that includes a slow, calm pace. This is the first thing you might notice when walking into a Waldorf classroom. Ok, we get that a Waldof classroom is peaceful and calm, but how does this happen? It starts with you. Equanimity is described as ‘mental calmness, composure, and evenness of temper, especially in a difficult situation’. So, how do you keep this feeling going? As Michael Linsin says, “keep emotion out of it.” Students will pick up on your vibes in the classroom. 

 

equanimity

 

2. Cultivate A Sense of Beauty & A Feeling of Peace

Waldorf schools are free of clutter and many of the materials are hand painted or drawn instead of the purchased posters that we are so accustomed to seeing everywhere. Why not consider making your own posters more often? Alecia Eggers shared 20 Art Room Visuals in 10 Minutes at the Winter 2015 AOE Online Conference, and many of her visuals were handmade.  They look great and evoke a really nice feeling. 

 

Alecia's posters

 

3. Present Developmentally Appropriate Curriculum

The Waldorf curriculum is broad and comprehensive, structured to respond to the three developmental phases of childhood: from birth to approximately 6 or 7 years, from 7 to 14 years and from 14 to 18 years. Waldorf K-12 Education started in Europe in the 1920s and has since spread to every continent. Rudolf Steiner stressed to teachers that the best way to provide meaningful support for the child is to comprehend these phases fully and to bring “age appropriate” content to the children that nourishes healthy growth. We can do this in the art room by listening to our students. If you don’t feel they are ready for something, don’t push it. Search for ways to differentiate to meet the needs of your students in meaningful ways. 

You may want to browse the official site of the American Waldorf Schools of North America for more detailed information on Waldorf curriculum if you are interested. 

 

4. Engage in Thematic Work 

Students in a Waldorf school work under umbrella themes, and all subjects connect to those themes. Themes in the art classroom are an excellent way to form units or allow choice within a theme. In Waldorf, much of the work is pre-selected, but the philosophy behind Waldorf is very Emergent. In fact, we actually cover the Waldorf method in our Choice Based Art Education online grad class as an example of Emergent Choice, according to the Choice Spectrum

 

5.  Choose the Highest Quality Materials

Students are provided with very high-quality materials, including unique art supplies such as block crayons and liquid watercolor paint, which are often purchased from alternative distributors such as Mercurius USA and Bella Luna Toys. You might consider stepping away from the old standards you always order and changing up your materials. Because of cost, it’s wise to start with one area and gradually build up your collection. Chances are, students will take notice and care more for these materials as a result. 

block crayons
Photo by Bella Luna Toys

 

The first five tips covered basic philosophy. The second five will cover specific activities taken directly from Waldorf that you can use in your art room.

 

6. Use Form Drawings

Form drawings are exercises that help students gain better physical control of their hand movements to gain fine motor skills.  These are similar to Zentangles and include things like running patterns (waves, etc). Drawing exercises like these get students into a meditative state and help with focus. In the Waldorf classroom, form drawings are a pre-curser to cursive writing. In your classroom, they could be used in a variety of ways: sketchbook actives, brain breaks, extension activities, or practice for fine motor skills. 

wave drawings

 

7. Try Main Lesson Books

Since there are no textbooks in a Waldorf school, the students create their own “books” relaying what they have learned. Most student drawing work is also created in Main Lesson Books. This reminds us of visual journaling or sketchbooks in the art classroom that go beyond basic assignments and doodling. 

journal

 

8. Teach Handcrafts

You may consider yourself a ‘specialist teacher’ but in a Waldorf school, often one of their specialists isn’t an art teacher, but a handcrafts teacher. Some of these handcrafts include finger knitting, knitting, felting, sewing, and wood working. Consider adding some of these art forms into your classroom to spice things up. Students often are very engaged with handcrafts. 

 

9. Have A Nature Table

You will find a table in every Waldorf classroom to place and collect treasures from nature. Students go outside for extended recess in all weather. Stephanie has taken this lesson from Waldorf into her own art room and makes it a priority to ensure students see the beauty in nature. Bring in items regularly. Push your still life beyond plastic flowers. Consider a collection of odd nobs from trees, pinecones, crystals and geodes. 

 

10. Utilize  Chalkboard Drawings

These beautiful drawings are placed on the chalkboard for an extended time during a unit. The image is related to the lesson and is beautiful and detailed. The image will stay on the board during the entire unit. There are many great examples of chalkboard drawings on Pinterest right here. 

Chalboard Drawing

 

I hope some of these ideas sparked your interest in the Waldorf method and gave you tidbits to consider taking into your classroom. I really appreciate Stephanie’s willingness to share her expertise in the area of both art education and Waldorf. You can follow her on Pinterest for more great ideas related to art education and Waldorf, or send her an email (svbrooks1@gmail.com) to make a personal connection.

 

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What are some other educational philosophies you like to incorporate into your art room?

Are you familiar with Waldorf? What surprised you the most? 

 
 
 

Jessica Balsley

Jessica Balsley is the Founder and President at AOE. She is passionate about helping art teachers enhance their lives and careers through relevant professional development.

Related

  • Amy Hartman

    Reggio Emilia philosophy is incorporated into our school for the youngest students and weaves its way into the Upper School curriculum.

    • Great, Amy! How have you found it to successfully weave into the upper levels? I can think of ways myself, but am curious.

  • anna nichols

    Hi, Jessica!
    This article comes at a ripe time – I just wrote a blog post about the difficulties of teaching linear perspective to 6th graders and I believe they (possibly) are just not developmentally ready to learn the concept. Piaget’s theory of child development says they cannot reason abstractly until the age of 11 or 12 and we all know kids develop at different speeds.
    Thank you for reminding us to slow down! Many times in this profession it is rush, rush, rush, and our students need us to take things more slowly – keep up the good work!
    Mrs. Anna Nichols
    Visual Art Instructor, grades 6, 7, 8
    founder, editor, MANAGING THE ART CLASSROOM
    artteachershelpal.blogspot.com

    • Great, Anna! Nice to hear from you after meeting you in Arkansas! There are so many areas where we push the limits and wonder why things flop. The Reggio, Montessori and Waldorf philosophies are all about doing more observing first, and then taking action. This is an important lesson for any educator!

      • anna nichols

        Actually, it was a lot of fun meeting you at the Alabama Art Education Association conference in November :) You are so genuine and I appreciate everything you have done for art teachers!

        It is also exciting to see all the wonderful content on your website – we art teachers are so isolated and it is good to hear about what others are doing! I have gotten many great ideas from reading theartofed and I hope to see more of the compilations like Amanda Heyn did with her article, “33 Fiber Art Ideas.”

        Another resource I would love to see is a collection of drawing lessons – not lesson plans – but actually HOW other middle school art teachers facilitate that elusive paradigm shift in thinking when kids are finally able to draw, really draw, from observation. So many of them come to us believing they can’t draw!

        I read a book, “The Teaching Gap,” that compared the way math teachers taught 8th graders in Japan, Germany, and the U.S.A. In Japan, the teachers spent many hours working together to come up with the BEST way to teach a specific concept. The group watched one of their members teach the lesson, then they would re-group to discuss and analyze how effective it was. How cool would it be if art teachers could team up this way, collectively figuring out the BEST way to teach otherwise challenging concepts like linear perspective and observational drawing?!

        Have an awesome evening, and stay warm!

        Mrs. Anna Nichols
        Visual Art Instructor, grades 6, 7, 8
        founder, editor, MANAGING THE ART CLASSROOM
        artteachershelpal.blogspot.com

        • Anna – Excellent feedback and suggestions. I will pass them along to our fabulous Editor, Amanda Heyn! Japanese Lesson Study? I am familiar with this approach and want to do more research to bring to the table for art teachers.

  • Mary Rutherford

    Great article! I would love to see an article on the Reggio Emilia approach. In fact, I dream of taking a field trip there with AOE one day! Wouldn’t that be a great location for a virtual conference?

  • HipWaldorf

    It’s great to see the interest in alternative teaching approaches!

    Here is a great link that makes it easy to compare Waldorf, Reggio and Montessori. If you are curious about any of them, I suggest you visit a school to SEE and FEEL the difference. They sound very similar on paper, but are vasty different in person. A common phrase in the alternative education world is “Waldorf children’s work is play, Montessori’s children’s play is work, Reggio’s children’s work is class led.”

    http://www.pbs.org/parents/education/going-to-school/choosing/comparing-preschool-philosophies-montessori-waldorf-and-more/

    Make sure a trained and certified staff is running the school so there is accountability and quality.

    Enjoy!
    Stephanie Brooks

    • Great suggestion to visit yourself, Stephanie! What a great way to spend a self-led PD day!

  • Ellen Sullivan Taylor

    My son attended a Waldorf School for kindergarten and I have been incorporating ideas from this approach in my public school art room for years. It is great to see it shared so that many teachers can investigate it. Thank you! I do find that many public US schools are in conflict with so many of the Waldorf approaches but when I introduce an idea to teachers or to the classroom, it is met with awe. Theosophy can be very dogmatic but the classroom methods and ideas show deep respect for age appropriateness and for the natural world. In the “cyber”world of today, it of utmost importance to keep children connected to the seasons through the natural world. Its important to note that in Waldof Ed.the handiwork is key for developing brain agility early on, and it is my observation that as a generation,our children as a whole are losing these abilities as they become the button/keyboard generation.

    • I would agree, Ellen. Plus some of the natural materials are just so engaging, children can be just as interested in these as an iPad, so long as they are presented in an appealing manner.

    • HipWaldorf

      Thanks Ellen for your enthusiasm! I am very grateful the beauty and insight of Waldorf can be appreciated outside of a formal Waldorf school setting. It sounds like you are familiar with the in-depth study of human development that supports Waldorf teaching methods. Fortunately you do not need to be familiar as a student, parent or public school teacher, only adults study it at their choosing or if they decide to become a certified Waldorf Teacher. I have shown a 3-5 minute video clip to my public school art students if it best explains a concept, but as a rule I have my students using their hands to create. My students love finger knitting! Enjoy!

  • artprojectgirl

    I love this article Steph and I have always admired your work!

    More thinking:) less trying to fit in someone else’s box. Although everyone has the best intentions for education, we run ourselves in circles when we forget that we are teaching CHILDREN, even the best ideas only work if it takes into account the whole child. Waldorf focuses on teaching the whole child.

    How many times have you heard “THAT DIDN”T HAPPEN IN MY CLASSROOM THAT HAPPENED IN LUNCH, GET TO WORK!” When I worked at a Montessori school that would have been an absurd thing to say or hear! Children don’t have on and off switches and a classroom is far from the business world.

    In business you HAVE to do work focused on results and measuring your progress with data. This is a fine approach for adults but not children and education. This kills education in my opinion. There is a lot more emotional connection in the Waldorf way of teaching because the kids invest in what they are studying, they can’t check out. Understanding Waldorf Education: Teaching from the Inside Out is a great resource. I don’t teach Waldorf or could I ever hope to without the support of a school, but I love to incorporate concepts into my public education class.

    • Thanks for weighing in, Erica! I just love how we can incorporate other methods into our teaching, even if the entire school isn’t on board. It really takes away those barriers and allows you to customize the experience you are giving your students.

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  • Trapezewalker

    There’s a lot more to handwork than “spicing things up.” If you see a first grader knitting his first project (in our school it’s called a “butterfly,” basically a small rectangle tied in the middle with contrasting color yarn) he must concentrate and learn the correct motions, involving small motor control and rhythm. Believe me, they are challenged! Some say they “don’t like knitting,” but they are just as proud when they complete their project. They LOVE the gnomes and dogs etc. they make–very simple designs and sometimes outlandish colors! Teaching some of these children requires a lot of patience and the ability to see (and point out to them) any progress you see them make. I tell any reluctant child that knitting is like calisthenics for the brain, making them smarter. Surely the lessons learned in handwork are applied to other learning situations. The other aspect of handwork I like, which is equally true of other specialty subjects like music and art, is that variety in the curriculum allows more children to succeed at something. Success is a great motivator. For instance music lights up more parts of our brains than any other activity. New brain research suggests the music improves brain function. I think of Waldorf methods school as a gifted program for everyone.

  • Sirpa Marianne Khalil Sinimaa

    Jolie!

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