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Analog & Digital Drawing by Yuno B. and Works for University of Florida. (©Yuzunoki)

Art in Waldorf Education

Introducing Waldorf Education and unique ways of integrating art in the classroom. This video is made for the University of Florida, History of Teaching Art class.

Art in Waldorf Education

Yuno Bounds

University of Florida

ARE 6049: History of Teaching Art

February 24, 2021


This paper provides a brief method of Waldorf education and ways of integrating art into Waldorf school. Rudolf Steiner contributed to founding the first Waldorf school, and Steiner emphasized each student’s individuality and believed that children learn through uninterrupted play, using whole their bodies. Steiner’s philosophy still has a great impact on the Waldorf school. Waldorf education is a growing method worldwide; however, it is sometimes called an uncommon or unique method. This paper explores the reasons for Steiner’s approach sometimes being called uncommon and explores the unique ways of using art in the Waldorf school.

 Art in Waldorf Education

The Waldorf education is the method that has great emphasis on educating children as a whole individual. The belief is that children learn through uninterrupted play; children learn from natural resources using whole their bodies. Children spend time unlimitedly as they wish on the activity that they chose. The teacher’s role is to provide a natural, safe place and time for children to wonder and to be soaked into their imagination. Nordlund (2013) states that Waldorf educators have a vision of child education that supports the potential of the whole person and believes that willing, feeling, thinking, and being are inseparable. The first Waldorf School was established in Stuttgart, Germany, in 1919, by Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner (1861- 1925). The Waldorf school still stands on Steiner’s philosophy and the writings he has done. Waldorf schools also have a great focus on an environment that children spend daily. Uhrmacher (2004) explains that for the eyes of Steiner, environments possess life, they stimulate thinking, and they shape moral possibilities. School environments emphasize more on how children learn rather than what they actually learn.

The Waldorf education is growing worldwide since the first school was established. In 1984, there were Waldorf Schools in at least 18 countries, over 300 schools (Foster, 1984), and by 1995, there were over 600 schools in almost forty countries. (Sloan, 1982). Currently, according to the Association of Waldorf Schools of North America (n.d), there are nearly 3,000 Waldorf / Steiner schools, including kindergarten, in 70 countries. In North America, there are more than 160 member schools today. Why Waldorf education attracts more guardians and educators from all over the world? In the 19th century, Education focused more on academics, such as teaching children how to read or do mathematics (Nordlund, 2006).  The idea was that the sooner they learn academics, the more they learn in total. It may sound wise to gain more academic knowledge; however, the complete lack of consideration of child development came to attention. In fact, study after study proves that the principle of sooner is better with academic instruction to be untrue both generally and specifically in math test scores and reading comprehension (“Waldorf Preschool & Kindergarten,” 2018). The Waldorf method was to enhance children’s will of learning, provide a place to learn for themselves, to build a foundation for their life to further advance in their later life. Just like cultivation and gentle care are needed for seeds to grow and flourish. The Waldorf School of Mendocino County (n.d), a member of the Independent Waldorf Schools of North America, explains the six key elements of the Waldorf early childhood education curriculum. 

  1. Ample time and space -the first essential component of Waldorf early childhood education are to provide time and space for joyful creative play and imagination.
  2. Caring environments – the second crucial component of Waldorf early childhood education is to create caring environments that nourish the senses.
  3. Consistent rhythms – the third essential component of Waldorf early childhood education is to establish consistent rhythms that promote health, security, and trust.
  4. Real-Life activities – the fourth cornerstone of Waldorf early childhood education is to engage children in real-life activities that evoke reverence for the wonders of the world.
  5. Relationships based on love – the fifth essential element of Waldorf’s early childhood education is to foster relationships based on love, respect, and care for each child as unique in body, soul, and spirit.
  6. Committed educators – the sixth vital component of Waldorf early childhood education are educators who are committed to self-development and collaboration in the community with others.

Waldorf educators believe that a developmentally appropriate learning environment for preschool children is not teachers teaching academics to children. They rather respect children’s curiosity, respect their imaginary world, and help them build essential skills through child-centered creative play, storytime, artistic activities, and outdoor exploration. According to Waldorf Preschool & Kindergarten (2018), some of the daily curriculum in Waldorf preschool includes creative or imaginative playtime, in which children learn to develop a rich imagination. It will help them comprehend their reading skills as they take words from the book and transform them into narrative memory. Outdoor play is also important, and early childhood students spend much of their day outdoors year around. While the indoor world is safe and structured, the outdoor world holds a whole unpredictable possibility. Besides gaining large motor skills such as running, jumping, and balancing, anything can happen during outdoor play, such as weather changes, and children learn through experience and develop all the important skills through free, creative outdoor play (Preschool & Kindergarten 2018). Just as free play uses the will to teach, collective time with structure helps children become masters of this will in a gentle and natural way, and thus circle time is in the curriculum, too, provides time for each child to be absorbed in their own work. During circle time, children are engaged in artistic activity, and children learn the joys of bringing a task to completion. Not only do artistic activities help promote small motor and visual learning skills, but they also encourage the child’s natural sense of aesthetics (Preschool & Kindergarten 2018). Waldorf educators also consider snack time as an important part of life learning; children grow foods such as vegetables and fruits in the garden and help to cook healthy foods. Growing and cooking on their own help children to understand both where their food comes from and work with nature to bring food into our lives and also learn the science of cooking. Clean-up time is part of children’s daily routine. By cleaning up after themselves together, they learn both personal responsibility and social interaction. (“Waldorf Preschool & Kindergarten” 2018). Waldorf education utilizes natural daily activities as an opportunity to nurture children.

Connection to Cosmic World

As it seems, Waldorf education is widely appreciated and recognized; however, it is sometimes called an uncommon or unique method. Waldorf education is based on Steiner’s holistic approach to the environment. Nordlund (2013) mentioned that in the sense of Steiner’s philosophy, initiation of will is driven by individual inner activity; some Waldorf proponents claim that spiritual activity is involved in Waldorf education. Looking deeply into Steiner’s philosophy to understand his view, some mind-opening would be required to understand the spiritual world or the cosmic world. Uhrmacher (2004) states that “to understand Rudolf Steiner’s ideas about the environment, one must know something about Steiner’s cosmology because for Steiner, cosmic earthly environments are tightly interwoven” (p,98). Steiner believed that all living nature, including humans, are all connected in the vast world. Foster (1984) also mentioned that central to Waldorf education is the idea that human beings have three main natures, which are body, soul, and spirit. Steiner’s belief of we is connected to the universe at large means that our daily life is within the cosmic environment. Steiner (as cited in Uhrmacher,2004) considered, that the environment consists of spirit and matter, and he argued against the notion that one’s mind cannot know things in itself. Steiner believed that we could know the noumenal world by entering into it spiritually. Steiner formed his own belief from theosophy and named it Anthroposophy (Uhrmacher, 2004). Although Steiner’s belief was from theosophy and based on his own experiences, recently science is trying to figure out how human consciousness works. Seth (2017), a Cognitive neuroscientist, explains that billions of neurons in the brain are working together to generate a conscious experience of the world around you and of yourself within. He gives the example that if we were to be the brain inside the skull with no light and no sound and trying to figure out what is out there in the world, the only way to find out is to enter the body’s streams of electrical impulses, which are only indirectly related to things in the world to make the best guess. According to Seth (2017), what we see in the world is the output of our brain’s best guess from all the information it could gather throughout the body and past experiences, which we may call hallucination if no one else recognizes it as the same. However, if a majority of us agree on that same hallucination, we call it a reality. Seth also mentioned that we are a part of nature and an individual’s consciousness is just one of the possible consciousnesses within the vast space. This scientist’s idea cross over to Steiner’s belief that what we see in real life and even in the cosmic world is within us, and what we see and feel is the output based on our learning throughout the whole body. Nordlund (2013) explained that in Waldorf education, knowing involves the whole body and soul. Steiner’s belief in the spiritual and cosmic world was sometimes called uncommon or unique; however, it is possible to become not uncommon with scientific theory soon. Even though Steiner’s philosophy root is from a connection between humans and the spiritual or cosmic world, his education method is not meaning to teach children about the spiritual or cosmic world. Waldorf education is more focused on children truly being themselves to flourish their inner-self and enjoy life at the moment. By doing so, children gain the strength to trust themselves and move on with their own will and advance themselves in their later life.

Art in Waldorf Education.

Art plays a great part in Waldorf education. One of the unique features of Waldorf education is that art is integrated into daily learning, and it utilizes art in other subjects. The environment of the school and architecture is also an important part of art in Waldorf education. Classroom walls are more likely to be covered with imagery generated by artists, which is students and educators, rather than store-bought materials (Nordlund 2013). Nature-based environments are encouraged for exploration, and furniture is made of natural woods. Foster (1984) explained that one of the Waldorf kindergartens she visited was a single-story building behind the main one, and there were four rooms, each sharing the environment provided by a park, natured base environments. Children had a place to wander, finding rocks, pinecones, branches, and more. Uhrmacher (2004) also explained that when he visited one of the Waldorf schools, the buildings were certainly pleasant looking and blended into their surroundings. Art was not just for decoration or expressing themselves. For Steiner (as cited in Uhrmacher,2004), “Art is a manifestation of higher natural laws that would never be revealed without art” (p,101). Creating an environment and the architecture needed to be in consideration of creating art.

The Waldorf curriculum emphasizes the development of children’s imaginations and thus utilizes art in any possible way. Steiner stated, “The heart of the Waldorf method is that education is an art, it must speak to the child’s experience. To educate the whole child, his heart and his will must be reached, as well as the mind.”  (Waldorf Preschool & Kindergarten, 2018) In the Waldorf community, parents and guardians also work together beyond school walls to promote children’s creativity. Creativity, as means to access potentiality, has spiritual connotations in Waldorf schools (Nordlund 2013). Art has possibilities beyond art itself. Howard (1998, as cited in Nordlund 2013) explained Steiner’s concept of creativity involves the following: (1) forces greater than ourselves; (2) attention to our willing, feeling, and thinking; and (3) a balance of two impulses, an intuitive impulse from outer sensibility and an imaginative impulse from inner sensibility. Art is more than just an activity or aesthetic look; art nurtures children from the inside. Nordlund (2013) concludes creativity is ongoingly created in the mind’s eye stemming from curiosity, a form of human freedom through a self-navigated stream of willing, sensing, and thinking. From Nordlund’s (2006) interview with graduates of Waldorf education, here are some examples of the unique ways how art is seamlessly integrated into the Waldorf school setting.

 First, there is always space for wondering. Nordlund (2013) explains that from Waldorf’s viewpoint, the desire to wonder is more important than learning specific things or gaining skills; Steiner valued feeling toward living, a sense of wonder about the vast world. Waldorf educators try their best to create an environment for students to wonder and draw their curiosity. Outside of Waldorf school, with academic standards and guidelines of public school, teachers might be focusing on bringing academic levels higher; however, they may not be giving children the time and space to wonder about the world.

Second, imaginative play is always welcomed. During Nordlund’s (2006) interview, some graduates from Waldorf schools explained the importance of educators not drawing lines between play and learning, especially during early childhood, when they are developing mental stages. Waldorf school’s graduates described imagine-lands in Waldorf schools where children could escape to imagine. In Waldorf schools, uninterrupted imaginary play is considered one of the most important child-centered forms of creativity; imaginary play is a state where students can hold an image or idea in their minds and manipulate it into different scenarios. (Nordlund,2013). Imagination is the resource of creativity and beyond.

Third, enjoy nature and free play as design thinking. Using nature as a learning environment, this learning comes from free play, which is learning not assigned or structured by an adult educator. Free play is work and learning for children. Children face challenges, conflicts, and reconciles, take in and assess what is being learned, and create a personal scenario or private reality (Nordlund, 2013). Children build their own knowledge of the world and their surroundings by playing, exploring, and interacting with others and nature. In Nordlund’s (2006) research, one of the Waldorf school’s graduates shared, “We learned the art of building without using manmade materials, and often we were permitted to stay out when it rained in order to test the effectiveness of our structures” (Nordlund, 2006, p. 103). In Waldorf education, rain is not necessarily the sign of going inside; it is an opportunity for children to learn about the consequences of the weather and learn about the various weather condition in the world we live in. Nordlund (2013) states that “When making art, we essentially play: translate and construct our world, create new things, and take risks with the unknown” (p,16). Children learn through nature and free play, explore their unknowns, and absorb, and internalize them into their own knowledge.

Forth, encourage arts as a way of knowing. In Waldorf education, the arts are integrated into many other subjects and in everyday living and utilized art to promote students’ willingness, feeling, and learning. For example, during math, students use angles, vertices, and diagonal lines to understand perspective division, or students create a three-dimensional sculpture to capture gestures of animals and draft the pattern piece using circumference and diameter math concepts (Middle School Math, 2019). Besides math, art is naturally utilized in science, language arts, social studies, music, and more. Nordlund (2013) highlights the A-Main Lesson Bookmaking in the Waldorf classroom. The main lesson book is a book created by students based on lessons and studies taught by a Waldorf educator where students explore an interdisciplinary curricular theme (Nordlund 2013). After in-depth learning of the unit of study, main lesson books become students’ own unique textbooks and also become their life journal of learning. Steiner (as cited in Foster, 1984) hoped that these activities would not only increase one’s capabilities but also give us an understanding and an appreciation for the contributions made by others. One of the Waldorf school graduates shared, “Everyday things increasingly get made with no love, with love almost intentionally driven out of their manufacture, things made to conform with marketing schemes and financial bottom lines” (Nordlund, 2006, p.110). Children learn through the art and learn to appreciate the art, as well as to appreciate others’ love of art-making.

Lastly, teaching art to provoke thought, my creative decisions, and messages, meaning within the art. Nordlund(2013) explains that Waldorf class educators are trained in visual and performing arts and called to think innovatively about lessons. Art is not only for children themselves, and art also has the capability to impact society, and the world around us. In Waldorf school, art is seen as education itself for children and also for our world.


The Waldorf education utilizes art in every possible way to nurture students as a whole person and cherish students’ individuality. Rudolf Steiner, the founder of Waldorf education, believed in the cosmic world and thus sometimes was called uncommon. However, it is possible for Steiner’s theory to soon become not uncommon with the scientific theory of our consciousness, which explains our world is our brain’s output from experience throughout the body. Even though Steiner believed in the spiritual cosmic world, Waldorf education is not about teaching children the spiritual or the cosmic world. Waldorf education focuses on children to be truly themselves to flourish from the inner self, enjoy their life, and have the strength to move on with their own will. Also, Waldorf education utilizes the natural power of nature and art to draw children’s possibilities to their full capacity. These are the reasons Waldorf education is attracting guardians and educators from all over the world.

ough Steiner believed in the spiritual cosmic world, Waldorf education is not about teaching children the spiritual or the cosmic world. Waldorf education focuses on children to be truly themselves to flourish from the inner self, to enjoy their life, and have the strength to move on with their own will. Also, Waldorf education utilizes the natural power of nature and art to draw children’s individual possibilities to their full capacity. These are the reasons Waldorf education is attracting guardians and educators from all over the world.



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