High Schools

Please click to find general information about choosing a private school in Boulder, Colorado, or general information about Waldorf education.

The two Waldorf high schools in Boulder, Colorado are Shining Mountain and Tara. As an aside, there is also a Waldorf high school in Denver. It is quite remarkable, and unique in the United States, to have three Waldorf high schools so close to each other.

According to Steiner’s philosophy of child development, the high school age of adolescence is all about a search for self and quest for truth. An adolescent has a capacity and a need to question everything and everyone, including himself.

Waldorf high schools meet the needs of adolescence by maintaining a broad education while also preparing students to exceed college entrance requirements. Subject teachers bring specialized expertise in their areas of authority. Waldorf seeks to help adolescents find examples in the world that match their own inner experience, and includes subjects that are metaphors of the various experiences of adolescence. Adolescents are developing social awareness and a grasp of world events, so the curriculum supports this development. Gifted students have opportunities for doing advanced work. Analytical skills, independent thought, self-discipline, and creative resourcefulness are cultivated.

Middle Schools

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Both Shepherd Valley and Shining Mountain offer middle school grades within their grades 1-8 program, rather than having a middle school as a pre-high school. This comes from a belief that it’s useful for children of those ages to interact together socially with mutual respect. It benefits the younger children, who look up to the 7th and 8th graders with anticipation for the day when they will have those expanded capabilities. It also benefits the 7th and 8th graders, who develop compassion and a sense of social responsibility for those who are younger. They also learn by teaching.

An example of this is the Halloween celebration. For the younger ones, there is a non-scary Halloween Journey, while those 12 and older have a Perilous Path. However, by the time children are in the 8th grade, they often have an awakened sense of social responsibility, such that they want to create and perform a skit for the younger ones on the Halloween Journey.

Elementary Schools

Please click to find general information about choosing a private school in Boulder, Colorado, or general information about Waldorf education.

Boulder, Colorado is blessed with two Waldorf elementary schools: Shepherd Valley and Shining Mountain.

While mainstream schools are increasingly focusing on the three R’s, Waldorf elementary schools are incredibly well-rounded, while turning out graduates that also excel in standard academic subjects. From first grade, children in the Boulder Waldorf elementary schools learn two foreign languages, learn to play musical instruments, learn handwork skills, listen to stories, and still have lots of time for physical activity. While these types of study are typically considered “frills”, in Waldorf schools they are considered part of the core curriculum, because they develop the full capacities of a whole human being. It may be a little counter-intuitive for some, but these types of non-academic learning also seem to support a greater capacity for academic learning, as well, in the long run.

Waldorf really differs from mainstream education in that reading is taught more slowly through the early elementary grades. Foundational skills are taught in first grade, with gradual development through second grade. Full reading skills can develop at different rates for different students, and they are taught comprehensively in third grade. Waldorf starts with an emphasis on learning to listen and speak, then to write, and finally to read, which allows the learning to unfold in a way that is natural and stress-free for most students. By about fifth grade, Waldorf students are reading at least as well as children with a mainstream education, and there is some evidence that children who learned to read at a later age enjoy reading more, and spend more of their leisure time reading.

Kindergartens

Please click to find general information about choosing a private school in Boulder, Colorado, or general information about Waldorf education.

There are several private Waldorf kindergartens in Boulder, Colorado: Shepherd Valley, Shining Mountain, Blue Sky Preschool/Kindergarten, and Boulder Waldorf Kindergarten.

Like the Waldorf-inspired preschools, a Waldorf kindergarten also has a primary emphasis on play, imagination, social development, and physical development. They get the children out walking, with as much contact with nature as possible. Children get to play with natural toys designed to leave room for the imagination. Children are served healthy whole-grain snacks.

And again, there is evidence which backs up Steiner’s philosophy that even in kindergarten, it is better not to begin teaching reading and math skills yet. I have learned from Waldorf teachers that at this age, developing the imagination and also motor skills are strongly associated with the cognitive skills that will later enable them to do well at reading, math, and other academics. And Waldorf certainly has a fantastic track record of graduates’ proficiency with academic subjects.

Also, since Waldorf schools really work with the parents to help limit TV and other electronic media exposure for the children, the imaginative games in a Waldorf kindergarten tend to be created more organically, rather than being constrained by images that were absorbed from the TV (which may or may not be wholesome)!

Waldorf kindergartens typically include two years, which gives the older ones a chance to learn by helping the younger ones, while the younger ones look to the older ones and can anticipate the growth they will soon be experiencing.

Preschools

Please click to find general information about choosing a private school in Boulder, Colorado, or general information about Waldorf education.

Although Rudolf Steiner did not design curriculum for preschools, he did publish writings about early child development from his philosophical perspective. In modern times, “Waldorf-inspired” preschools are widely available, especially in areas where there is one or more Waldorf schools. These preschools work in harmony with the young child’s special needs and abilities, as described by Steiner and as observed by Waldorf teachers and parents.

In the Boulder area, preschools are available at Shepherd Valley, Shining Mountain, Blue Sky Preschool/Kindergarten, and Boulder Waldorf Kindergarten. In addition, there are quite a few in-home Waldorf-inspired preschools, which in many cases accept only up to six children. When my son was four, he really needed a very small group to be comfortable, so we found an in-home group for him. Some other children are naturally gregarious at a young age, and can benefit from a somewhat larger group with more people to make friends with. Both Shepherd Valley and Shining Mountain keep lists of in-home Waldorf-inspired preschools, which is how I found the one we used.

A Waldorf-inspired preschool has a big emphasis on play and opportunities for developing socially, developing the imagination, as well as physical development. They typically have times for coloring with crayons and for water color painting. They generally serve healthy whole-grain snacks. Each preschool will have its own style and personality, and it can be worth checking out several to find the best fit.

When I was looking for a preschool, that is exactly what I wanted. Since there is evidence to support Steiner’s philosophy that teaching reading and math skills at an early age is not only unnecessary, but actually harmful, I was happy to have a place where my child could make friends and play in a nurturing, caring environment, without his attention being diverted to academic activities that I believe are more appropriate for an older child.

What does this school do to create a safe learning environment?

Parents who are choosing a private school are often concerned about safety in the classroom, just from watching the news and hearing horror stories of things that have occurred in public schools.

We feel there is a big benefit in being part of a school where all the parents are strongly encouraged to keep their child’s environment healthy and positive. The reality is that your child’s environment will be strongly co-created by the other parents in your child’s class.

Details may vary from one Waldorf school to another. One way that Waldorf increases safety is by encouraging parents to protect a child’s innocence. A big part of this is limiting a child’s exposure to TV and other media. A child who is exposed to sexual or violent behavior will likely be driven to act it out with his friends, thus exposing even more children. Keeping children innocent makes that sort of thing less likely.

In addition, in my experience, most Waldorf parents are very dedicated and care a great deal about their children. It is not easy to pay private school tuition and to go against the cultural currents by avoiding media exposure and electronic toys. Parents who are willing to do this for their children are, by and large, very loving and attentive with their children.

Waldorf teachers also contribute to the safety of children by being so attuned to each student as an individual. It’s a focus of Waldorf philosophy for teachers to really get to know each student as a unique person. This watchfulness also contributes to greater safety. Of course, Waldorf teachers are each unique individuals, too, and you should ask to meet your child’s potential teacher in advance. Whenever the class size is small, this also contributes to a teacher’s ability to attend to each child. (At our Waldorf school, there is a limit of 24 students per class in grades 1-8, and the classes are often smaller than that.)

What is the basic philosophy/theology of the school?

Waldorf schools are based on the work of Rudolf Steiner. Steiner developed a rich educational philosophy that works with the natural development of a child. According to Steiner’s philosophy, our capacities unfold in seven-year developmental stages. The first three of these stages are relevant to education from early years through high school. The Waldorf education and curriculum is designed to optimize learning during each developmental stage.

Steiner also developed a spiritual philosophy called “anthroposophy“.

What degrees or certifications are held by the teaching staff?

This varies from one Waldorf school to another, and it can also be influenced by state laws. Some Waldorf schools require education degrees. Some require a two-year certification from one of the Waldorf teaching centers accredited by AWSNA. Our Waldorf school requires both of those credentials for every teacher, which is a higher standard than required by Colorado state law for private schools.

What is the ratio of teaching staff to students?

For the most up to date information, it is necessary to ask the specific Waldorf school you are considering. Different Waldorf schools have different policies on this. My Waldorf school has placed its own cap of about 24 students per class in grades 1-8, for optimal learning. In actual practice, the size of the classes is generally smaller than that.

For kindergarten and preschool, class size is a state-regulated issue in Colorado. For mixed age groups that include children younger than 6 years, the limit is 10 children per teaching staff, so that limit applies to kindergarten and generally also aftercare for our school. Each kindergarten can go up to 20 with two staff present. For the youngest children, the class size is kept smaller.

What is the typical schedule for a school day?

Here I can make some general comments; for more detail, ask the specific Waldorf school you are considering.

For grades 1-8, intellectual learning activities are concentrated in the morning, with more of the physical activity in the afternoon. The specific balance and mix, of course, changes from one grade to another.

The day begins with a “main lesson block”, in which the class engages in a variety of activities that are all focused on a single subject for a long, uninterrupted stretch of time which may well be two hours. This includes movement, review, practice and introduction of new material. For more detail on this lesson structure, as well as information about the curriculum, you may want to check out this article published by AWSNA.

What opportunities are there for parental involvement?

Parental involvement is very important to optimize a child’s school experience. It creates an integration of home life and school life and helps your child have a sense of community. Also, when you participate, you help create the school experience, hopefully for the better. Waldorf encourages parental involvement, and creates many opportunities for it. The specifics can vary from one school to another.

Here’s one example: At our Waldorf school, parents work together with the teachers to create a Halloween Journey, which is a healthy and non-scary alternative to trick or treating for young children. Within their classroom they create a scene for a short skit, come up with costumes, and a few act it out. Then all the children come dressed up (homemade costumes are encouraged, and nothing too scary for the sake of the youngest ones) and go around in groups from one skit to the next. They receive little gifts, but candy isn’t emphasized. It’s really enriching for the young children. Not all parents are involved, but it’s a lot of fun for those who do get involved and it’s an opportunity for anyone who wants to participate.

How does this school meet the needs of individuals, who may have different learning styles?

 The Waldorf curriculum works with a child’s learning strengths, and then from there attempts to bring greater balance to the child. As an example, a child may have no interest in reading but he is interested in drama. This child may be asked to read scripts, or to write his own script, for a play. This builds on the child’s natural enthusiasm to perhaps kindle a passion in another area.

Academics are taught in an integrated fashion, involving the three main senses of seeing, hearing, and feeling/moving. At our school, on a daily basis, children in the lower grades get up to 45 minutes of rhythmic activities and sensory / motor integration skills. The length of sensory integration activity diminishes in the upper grades, and is replaced by academic drills. This creates a bridge between areas in which the child is strongest and the other areas. As an example, if the child already has well-developed visual skills, the child can utilize those skills to enhance his listening skills and his coordination, and to integrate them so he is learning with his whole being.

Waldorf teaching is very much in alignment with Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences, which include Verbal/Linguistic, Visual, Musical, Interpersonal, Intrapersonal, Logical/Mathematical, Bodily/Kinesthetic and Naturalistic. Waldorf is designed to develop and integrate all of these.

Many teachers in mainstream classrooms would like to utilize these types of teaching methods, and may do so as best they can, but their curriculum is often constrained, to some degree, to strictly academic methods of teaching. Increasingly, mainstream curriculum is focused primarily on Verbal/Linguistic and Logical/Mathematical intelligences.

How does this school embrace diversity?

Waldorf schools that are organized as non-profit 501c3 schools are required to have a policy of non-discrimination. In addition, Waldorf schools also draw from a spiritual philosophy that embraces diversity and encourages respect for all races, religions and cultures.

How long has this school been in operation?

This varies from one school to the next. There is an advantage to older, established schools, which may have more fully developed facilities. There is also an advantage to younger, growing schools, which often have smaller class sizes and sometimes lower tuition.

Waldorf education in the United States is regulated by the Association of Waldorf Schools of North America. There is a mentorship program that is required for new schools. Our school in Boulder is mentored by Denver Waldorf School. This mentorship helps ensure a high level of quality for new schools.

Does your school focus on standard academic subjects only, or do children get a well-rounded education that includes the arts, physical education and foreign languages?

Waldorf in well known for integrating arts into the classroom. Steiner developed an arts curriculum that is very effective at teaching a very high level of artistic skill. Perhaps more importantly, the arts are used to teach other subject areas at a deeper level. When music and art are a part of learning a subject, more areas of the brain are engaged, and the result is a fuller, richer understanding (see our FREE REPORT for more on this).

All children learn to play pentatonic flute (first and second grades), and diatonic flute or recorder and a string instrument (starting in the third grade). Children learn handwork such as sewing, crochet and knitting. They learn woodworking skills. They get a fantastic training in painting and drawing, and most importantly, in appreciating beauty. They learn a special dance/movement form called “eurhythmy”. They are all involved in school plays.

In fact, Waldorf is so effective at teaching arts that some people have a misconception that they do not also teach academics, or teach academics well. This is far from true. According to this survey of Waldorf graduates, 42% of Waldorf graduates who went to college majored in science or math. However, the arts background supports Waldorf graduates’ academic abilities, because the most brilliant people in any field can apply their imagination and creativity to their endeavor. There is research that shows students with a good education in music do significantly better at academic subjects.

My nephew who attended K-12 in Waldorf school is now at MIT getting his doctorate in chemistry on an NIH scholarship. We’ve heard from parents of Waldorf graduates that often their kids’ college teachers comment on how their child is more mature than usual, and has more problem-solving abilities and creativity. More about Waldorf graduates here.

In addition, Waldorf graduates tend to have a life-long love of the arts, and most would rather engage in an artistic activity than watch TV.

Physical development: Waldorf teachers pay more attention to assessing and guiding physical development than mainstream teachers generally do.

For young children, it is a part of Waldorf philosophy that a child needs to build a strong body, with balance, coordination, and both gross and fine motor skills, before they are ready to shift much of their energy into intense mental development. This is not only to have a good foundation for future learning, but also to have a good foundation for robust health throughout the person’s life. At first, I thought this idea was a little strange, but as I watched my child it made sense to me. He’s really little. He needs to get big and strong. I can look at grownups who put all their energy into mental activities, and they are often not physically healthy. It makes sense to me that this would be especially bad for a young, growing body. Not only the bones and muscles, but also the internal organs do a tremendous amount of developing in the early years.

In Kindergarten, at our school, they have a nature walk most days (depending on weather and other factors) that could be up to 60 or 90 minutes. Walking in nature is a great way to develop physical strength and body awareness. They spend some time playing outdoors in almost any weather. They also work with the parents to teach young children to tie their shoes, and they teach other activities to develop fine motor skills.

Foreign languages: Waldorf schools in the US include at least one foreign language, and often more, starting in the primary grades. We have two languages taught at our school. I consider foreign languages to be an indispensable part of a complete education, so I am glad they are included. The specific languages that are taught varies by regional differences; in Colorado, Spanish is generally taught as one of the languages.

In our FREE REPORT, we show evidence that learning foreign languages makes children smarter in other ways, too!

For a more detailed view of the curriculum for a particular grade, please contact your local Waldorf school.

How do your graduates perform in college and in the world? Do your graduates have a life-long love of learning?

The short answer is “extremely well,” both in academics and in life.

Here are three brief articles, written by people outside the Waldorf movement, who have had the opportunity to observe Waldorf graduates. A Marin history professor has noticed an eagerness to learn and an ability to think, rather than just to learn by rote. A New York biology professor has noticed Waldorf grads approaching a scientific subject with a sense of humanity and ethics. These articles bring tears to my eyes, because these are exactly the kinds of people the world needs more of. In addition, in Germany, it has been observed unexpectedly that Waldorf grads passed the difficult “Abitur” exam at a much higher rate than those who went through the very rigorous academic German school system. 

This survey of Waldorf graduates shows that they are accepted into a wide variety of colleges and universities.

This study shows that Waldorf graduates do well not only in college, but in life. They think for themselves, value lasting human relationships, and carry high ethical principals.

This study gives some more anecdotal information about professors noticing good qualities in their college students who went through Waldorf schools. It also indicates that 91% are active in lifelong learning. In addition, 94% of Waldorf graduates attend or have attended colleges or universities, and over half of these continue on to post-graduate study.

I myself have been very impressed with the Waldorf graduates I have met. They are young people who are doing well not only in academics but perhaps more importantly, they seem well-prepared to do well in life.

How satisfied are the graduates of this school with the education they received here?

 

According to this survey, most Waldorf graduates plan to send their own children through Waldorf school. To me, this is a good indication they appreciate their own education!

What kind of discipline does this school practice? Does the school have a student conduct policy?

For younger children, the most important discipline method in Waldorf education is modeling useful behaviors. “Modeling” means demonstrating the desirable behavior. By behaving in the way we want our children to behave, they naturally copy what they see and hear us doing. Of course, some behaviors need a stronger intervention. For example, sometimes a young student (who may be poking or annoying his fellow students) is invited to watch the others play until he is ready to join back in in a positive way.

In addition, our school actively solicits the cooperation of parents and families in fostering conduct that is conducive to learning. We can be most effective in teaching good conduct when we’re all on the same page, working together. A “student conduct policy” is included in the new student handbook, which clarifies the kind of conduct that is expected of students and also speaks to the disciplinary approach that is taken. Here is a quote from our new Student Conduct Policy:

The student conduct policy is mean to address patterns of unacceptable behavior exhibited by any student at Shepherd Valley Waldorf School. When a child exhibits such behavior we do not assume that she/he is a “bad” child, nor do we ever address him or her as such. Rather, our goal is to help such children, without shame, humiliation or blame, to become aware of and transform their behavior for the better.

Most of the processes behind this policy apply to students in the grades program. In the early childhood classes, a positive approach to discipline is emphasized, and the young child is gradually led toward an experience of self-discipline. Discipline situations are all unique and the teacher involved uses his or her discretion in handling each circumstance appropriately. In every case, we aim to promote learning appropriate behaviors. The young child is highly imitative and learns by doing. Much of our discipline efforts rely on repetitively leading the child to the desired behavior.

Waldorf schools have recently adopted an approach by Kim John Payne that involves working with parents to address serious behavior issues without resorting to drugs such as Ritalin. This approach incorporates conventional methods such as “compassionate communication” as well as traditional Waldorf methods. This new approach is in response to observable changes in children, who just have a harder time paying attention than children used to. Left unchecked, a child who doesn’t pay attention can disrupt the whole classroom and prevent anyone else from learning. Addressing this kind of issue without drugs can involve a lot of work on the part of parents, because there may be dietary, environmental, media, and other factors that play a role in it. There’s really no magic bullet–except drugs, of course, and then who knows what the long term cost would be to the child? I am glad that Waldorf schools are exploring this difficult area, for the sake of our children and our future.

See our FREE REPORT for information on how to avoid certain activities that may contribute to behavior problems, including ADD!

How do you assess how well students are learning?

In Waldorf schools, there are no letter grades given to evaluate progress at the primary levels. Teachers give parents a detailed written summary of their child’s learning. It includes the child’s strengths, areas to develop, and how the teacher is working with the child. At our school, there is a mandate that there will be no surprises for parents on the year end report! We have a minimum requirement of two parent-teacher conferences, one in the fall and one in the spring. At each one, the teacher describes the child’s progress with regards to a very detailed list of skills and attributes. Not only that, but additional conferences may be scheduled at the request of the parent or the teacher at any time during the year. So the year end report is a compilation of conversations and advisements that have already taken place throughout the year.

For young children especially, cooperation is emphasized instead of competition.

See our FREE REPORT for information on why it’s important to avoid high-stakes testing for kindergarten and elementary school children!

In middle school, children are taught how grading systems work, and are encouraged to calculate their own grades by measuring their performance against specific criteria established by their teachers. Letter grades can be given at the discretion of the teacher as early as 7th grade.

In regular classrooms, many children who are given tests from a young age develop anxiety about tests, and bad grades sometimes contributes to a belief that “I can’t learn”. To me it makes sense to first foster a love of learning and a belief that “I can learn”, and then learn how to take tests. In this way, tests are more likely to become a useful learning tool rather than a source of dread and stress.

Here is an article about testing written from a Waldorf perspective.

How well does this school fit the natural developmental stages of a child?

When Rudolf Steiner created Waldorf educational theories, he did not have the benefit of scientific research into child development. He only had his own observations, common sense, and his practice of seeking spiritual guidance. Now we do have a science of developmental psychology, with well-substantiated theories of child development. Ironically, Waldorf education fits a child’s developmental stages better than modern, mainstream teaching methods. This may seem hard to believe, but there is a lot of research that shows that certain aspects of mainstream education harms children’s development in the long run (see our FREE REPORT for more on this). Today’s educational methods are influenced more by political, societal, and economic pressures than by the scientific knowledge we have from developmental psychology. The educational establishment may give lip service to developmental psychology, but they ignore research that calls customary methods into question.

One of the ideas in mainstream education is that “earlier is better.” “If learning to read and write is good, we should be trying to teach this at younger and younger ages.”  It can be easy for us as parents to fall into this kind of thinking out of our desire for our children to succeed.

However, it is clear that earlier is not always better. It’s obvious that if we take 3-month-old infants and try to teach them to walk, this can cause trouble. Forcing the physical body to perform feats for which it is not physically ready can cause damage to the posture, physical structure, and also the psychology of the child.

This same principle applies with cognitive development and emotional development. Rudolf Steiner based his educational sequence on how the child actually develops. His goal is long-range success: what produces the best-educated young person and adult. Increasingly, research supports his approach to education. Rather than getting a child to start reading as soon as possible, he asked the question, “When is the best time for the child to start?” By waiting a bit longer than public schools to teach reading, the Waldorf School educational system then has more time to help children develop their fundamental abilities to think, problem-solve, be creative, etc.

To me it makes sense that if we want to have a fully intelligent human being, that we begin by developing our foundational “intelligence.” This intelligence includes being able to process information in each of our sensory modalities. We have the ability to see, hear, move, and feel. Developing ourselves in each of our sensory modalities is a fundamental “intelligence” that we can then apply to any kind of learning. When we solve problems, we use these abilities to image, hear, and grasp a solution.

This article by Earl J. Ogletree references quite a lot of research to support the benefits of waiting for some maturity before beginning formal academic instruction. Here are some quotes:

“Studies show that induced cognitive learning before a child is maturationally ready will reduce his learning potential.”

“Another possible symptom of induced learning is that children are currently being diagnosed and misclassified by teachers and special educators as ‘Attention Deficit Disordered’ (ADD)….”

“Anthropometric studies of the physical and motor maturity of first graders showed that unsuccessful  pupils had lower maturation levels than their successful peers.”

“Morency and Wepman suggested that children who are not neurophysiologically ready (maturity of the central nervous system — auditorily, visually and who possess intersensory coordination) will not only not do well in a traditional classroom but will probably not catch up to their more mature peers. Full perceptual processing ability may not occur until age 9.”

“Children who begin reading at age 6, one year ahead of their class peers, are often one year behind them in reading achievement at the end of the seventh grade.”

“Not only do later school beginners surpass those who started school at an earlier age, but the latter group seems to have greater emotional and social adjustment problems.”

I recommend reading the whole article, especially if you’re going to speak with traditional educators. They may be able to tout higher IQ scores in first grade, but those advantages disappear and even turn into disadvantages as the child grows.

If you are confused by the various claims of different educational modalities, a very interesting book on child development is “The Magical Child” by Joseph Chilton Pearce. He does not come from a Waldorf background, but rather a child development background, which gives him an independent viewpoint.

The Waldorf curriculum and teaching methods are different for every developmental stage and even every year of schooling, out of respect for the changing developmental needs of a student.

Among the organized, established systems of education that I am aware of, Waldorf is the only one that waits until a child is developmentally ready before beginning academic subjects, and then proceeds with respect for natural development. That is a very sad state of affairs.

(For more information about the benefits to the child in waiting until he is developmentally ready before learning to read, see our FREE report.)