What does age-appropriate learning mean in Waldorf education?
Have you seen a baby elephant learn to stand within minutes of birth and within a few hours? Most animal species, irrespective of size, acquire movement, balance and motor functions in less than a month of their birth. In comparison, a human requires months to sit without support, years to run and be independent.
As children grow, they exhibit development and meet milestones that are not only confined to their physical growth but also social, intellectual, emotional and spiritual growth. Through their transition across stages of development it is important that all the influences and experiences of childhood need to be age-appropriate and unhurried.
Waldorf education approaches childhood through three distinct stages of child development -
Birth to 7 years as early childhood,
7 to 14 years as middle childhood, and
14 to 21 years as adolescence.
Each stage represents the forces driving a child’s experience of the world and shapes how they learn. Inspired by this outlook, teaching and curriculum at Swechha is appropriately tailored to these developmental stages, each evolving as per the child’s needs.
0 to 7: Learning through “doing”
In early childhood, from birth to age seven, children are filled with curiosity and imagination as they explore the world around them - the warmth of a parent’s touch, the blue of the sky, the texture of food and the movement during play; everything is a wonder. This intense desire to explore the world leads them to “do” which stems from their own will.
They learn to master the use of their bodies on their own and in this process, they best learn through their senses. To enable this experience and development, at Swechha, children in Kindergarten are surrounded with natural materials, varied textures, soothing tones, fairy tales and gestures of reverence. Bringing together these elements, a gentle and warm environment is created to nurture their senses and foster a joy in learning. The rhythm of the day moves between work and play in which the imaginative capacities of children and a joy for learning is invoked through the loving gestures of imitation-worthy adults.
7 to 14: Learning through “feeling”
After age seven, during middle childhood, children mainly learn through feeling as they navigate different, expansive emotions now open to them. Having developed the appropriate skills during the early years, children are gradually led from a joyful oral language experience of the kindergarten to the written sounds - the alphabet, words and finally to reading.
As they begin to demonstrate a readiness for formal academic instruction, artistically rich content and delivery replaces abstract concepts. Taking inspiration from this approach in Waldorf, the grade school curriculum at Swechha integrates storytelling, movement, painting, drawing, poetry and music into lessons of math, science, social sciences and language. Children are often encouraged and challenged to explore the many answers and interpretations to a problem. Through this learning approach and experiences, children develop their confidence, love for nature and responsibility towards it during this stage of childhood.
14 to 21: Learning through “thinking”
As children reach the adolescence stage, they develop critical thinking to evaluate the world around them. Where they first learned to work with their will and then manage their feelings, they now learn to make sense and express their thoughts.
To nurture their capacity to think abstractly and critically, see both sides of a story, search for truth in the world around them, the Waldorf curriculum encourages inquiry, dialogue and debate. At Swechha, we strive to design a learning for students in higher grades that includes scientific concepts which explains cause and effect, social or community projects which support causes they believe in, study of history and historical figures that provides a sense of justice. Teachers who are specialists in the respective fields of study guide students to critically engage with the subject matter.
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