Why is waldorf education important?


Children free to be children

It is widely accepted that young children learn best through play. Studies show that play helps us develop everything from problem-solving to language skills; social skills to self-regulation.

However, there are fears that many children in Ireland and the UK may be losing out on some of these benefits. Cambridge University early childhood researchers David Whitebread and Sue Bingham describe a “substantial body of research concerning the worrying increase in stress... among children whose childhood education is being “schoolified”. [This research] suggests strong links with loss of playful experiences and increased achievement pressures.”

This is recognised in highly regarded Scandinavian education systems, where formal learning begins only at age 6 or 7. “We believe children under seven are not ready to start school,” one educator in Finland told the Guardian. “They need time to play and be physically active. It’s a time for creativity.”

Waldorf education takes a similarly unhurried approach, with the view that “childhood is something to be savoured”. Formal education begins at age 7; with the focus before that being on creativity, arts and social skills. Teacher training college, the Sunbridge Institute, describes it thus: “Being free to develop according to their own natural rhythms, Waldorf-educated children enjoy full and rich childhoods, gaining the experiences they need to become healthy, self-actualised individuals.”

When approached by the news media and asked the question, ‘What did Waldorf education do for you?’ I replied, ‘It encouraged me to always strive to become a better human being.'

- jens stoltenberg, former pm of norway

When academic education begins, the emphasis is on learning through first-hand experience, rather than rote recitation. Field trips are an integral part of the curriculum and we make the most of our city-centre location with visits to museums, galleries, historical landmarks, the theatre and much more.

The result is to empower children with a sense of agency in their own education. Waldorf education instils in children the confidence and communication skills to hold themselves in the world; and, in doing so, builds the core skill sets of self-management, emotional intelligence and responsibility.

Children ready to meet the world

Increasingly, it is recognised that the most important thing delivered by education is not knowledge, but an approach to learning. This is true not only for our development as individuals, but in the professional world also. According to the World Economic Forum, the most important skills for those beginning their careers today are creativity, problem solving and critical thinking.

These are the skills foregrounded by the Waldorf approach. As Andreas Schleicher, Director of Education and Skills at the OECD, has said: “There is a high degree of congruence between what the modern world demands of people and what is promoted in Waldorf students.”

A 2022 report on future-proofing education in England, produced by the Tony Blair Institute draws similar conclusions, calling for radical change in order to better prepare students for the wider world of work and beyond. To make a meaningful contribution, the report’s authors write, assessments which prioritise rote-learning should be abandoned. Instead, pupils need space to develop “the 4Cs”: critical thinking, creativity, communication and collaborative problem-solving.

This is backed up by further research. A 2009 study in France found that children who attended alternative schools, including Steiner schools, adapted more easily to the demands of university. A 2012 study in Germany, Die Welt reported, found that Waldorf students “learn more enthusiastically than students in state schools, are bored less, feel individually supported and especially get to know their strengths.


The immediate benefits for children of spending time outdoors and in natural environments are well documented. When researchers for the American Academy of Pediatrics reviewed almost 11,000 studies in 2021, they found “a positive relationship between nature contact and children’s health”, noting particular impacts for physical activity and mental health, and advocated “equitable nature contact for children in places where they live, play and learn”.

But the mental and physical health benefits are just part of the picture. Time outdoors helps to supports positive environmental attitudes and values in children, according to a 2014 review of academic literature. And as the need for sustainable lifestyles comes into sharper focus, the broader awareness fostered by this contact with nature has never been more urgent.

Our own Government is firmly in agreement, stating in its policy framework for children that children and young people “should be aware of their connection to the natural world and the interdependence between people, plants, animals and the land, motivating them to live more sustainably [and raising] their environmental consciousness.”

In Waldorf education, outdoor play and natural experiences are not an ‘extra’ at school, but crucial elements that lie at the heart of the student experience and provide the foundation for much essential learning. Thanks to daily outdoor sessions (rain or shine), a curriculum rooted in the natural world, and a calendar of festival celebrations to mark the rhythm of the seasons, students build their own understanding of the need to live sustainably in the world we share.

With careful observation, we see what the natural world has to teach. With hands-on interaction, we understand how we ourselves form part of our natural environment. And with garden tending and careful stewardship, we develop the the conscience, ethical judgement and understanding to look after the world around us.

Dublin Steiner School changed our lives. It's what every parent would dream of.
Both my children have experienced wonder and magic, a true love of learning.
We have seen our child grow into the person she is meant to be in this world, supported by good guidance.