Waldorf Education on a Farm


“When I first open my eyes upon the morning meadows and look out upon the beautiful world, I thank God I am alive.”

— Ralph Waldo Emerson, essayist, philosopher, and poet

Sunfield Waldorf School is committed to a holistic education for the growing child. Our early childhood and grade-school programs foster healthy development of the whole child through an innovative and richly artistic Waldorf curriculum. Creatively integrated into the curriculum are the practical learning experiences that take place on a farm. Children who come to Sunfield are nourished deeply and take joy in the wonder of learning.

Integrating Farm and School

The benefits of integrating farm and school are many. A working farm provides healthy outdoor activity for children and brings balance to the activities that take place in the classroom. A sense of compassion and responsibility for all living beings is developed when working with animals, and tending the land deepens each child’s connection with nature and understanding of earth stewardship.

Hands-on agricultural and environmental learning experiences that take place on the fields, in the forests, and around the wetlands of our eighty-one acres bring deeper meaning and comprehension to many of our studies in the sciences, including zoology, botany, ecology, geology, physical science, and chemistry. All of the practical lessons learned on a farm prepare children for many diverse tasks in life by contributing to the development of a well-balanced individual: guiding, nourishing, and educating the whole human being – hands, heart, and mind.

The Waldorf School Movement

Waldorf education is an independent and inclusive form of education based on the insight and teaching of the early twentieth-century Austrian philosopher and scientist Rudolf Steiner. Evolving from a deep understanding of the human spirit and human development, the Waldorf curriculum honors all spiritual and cultural traditions and embraces the diversity of humanity.

The Waldorf movement is one of the fastest growing independent school movements in the world. Currently there are approximately 870 Waldorf schools worldwide, and we are excited to be part of this important movement towards more holistic education for our children.

Goodness, Beauty, and TruthFelted wool dolls

All Waldorf schools strive to bring the ideals of goodness, beauty, and truth into the world of childhood and the maturing adolescent. These ideals permeate all aspects of a Waldorf education at Sunfield – from the creativity of our integrated curriculum and the close relationship between teacher and students to the aesthetic furnishings of the classroom – allowing students to cultivate all of their inherent capacities: physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual.

Learning in this nurturing environment, each student is provided with the tools to become an individual with imaginative thought, an empathetic heart, and the confidence to positively shape his or her world.

“The heart of the Waldorf method is the conviction that education is an art – it must speak to the child’s experience. To educate the whole child, the heart must be reached, as well as the mind.”

— Rudolf Steiner, founder of Waldorf education

Education for the Whole Child

In Waldorf schools, the arts and practical skills are not considered luxuries, but play an essential part in the educational process and are believed to be fundamental to human growth and development.

Waldorf education offers a developmentally appropriate, experiential approach to education that engages all aspects of a child’s being: the hands, the heart, and the mind. Rudolf Steiner believed that all learning must be balanced in these three realms to enable each child to fully develop physical will and artistic sensibility alongside intellectual capacity. To achieve this balance, the arts and practical skills are integrated into every element of the academic curriculum, and at Sunfield, the curriculum is enhanced with practical work on the farm.

In the classroom, drawing, painting, modeling with beeswax or clay, singing, poetry, movement, and drama engage the children’s active and creative participation. In addition, a broad range of crafts and handwork are included in the comprehensive curriculum. Younger students develop manual dexterity with knitting and weaving, and as they progress through the grades, their artistry is developed further with more advanced skills in crafts and handwork, including basketry, woodworking, and sculpting.

Outside the classroom, children at Sunfield engage in farm chores and physical activities that balance the school day. Younger children awaken to the wonder of nature on their daily explorations through the fields and forest. They visit farm animals and discover the joy of caring for the land as they develop a small garden plot. Older children learn invaluable life skills as they are given more responsibility for taking care of animals and cultivating plants.

Meeting the Needs of the Growing Child

Practical activities, such as brooding chicks, cultivating fields, and learning to spin, dye, and felt wool from the sheep on the farm, bring deeper meaning to lessons learned in the classroom and engage the child’s whole being in healthy outdoor activity.

Waldorf education respects the unique qualities of each child while recognizing that all children pass through naturally unfolding stages of development. Rudolf Steiner developed the Waldorf curriculum based on his perception that children have distinct physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual needs as they progress through these developmental stages. He stressed to teachers that the best way to provide meaningful support for the child is to comprehend these phases fully and provide age-appropriate content that nurtures healthy growth. At Sunfield, this includes integrating age-appropriate farm responsibilities and learning experiences into the academic content of each day.

 

The first seven years: Movement and Imitation

During the first seven years – preschool and kindergarten – the child is a being of will and movement and learns best through imitation. The young child mimics everything in his or her environment uncritically, not only the sounds of speech and the gestures of people, but also the attitudes and values of the adults in his or her world. In the Waldorf preschool and kindergarten, the teacher strives to emulate all that is good and engages in domestic, practical, and artistic activities that the children can readily imitate.

From seven to fourteen: Feeling and Imagination

06830017During the second phase of a child’s life – the grade-school years – the child develops a new and vivid life of imagination and a readiness for more formal learning. Consciousness is now largely pictorial; living most strongly in the senses and emotions, the child learns and remembers best whatever has sparked the imagination. The class teacher strives to bring beauty into the life of the child, and timeless stories – from fairy tales, legends, and fables through ancient mythology, biography, and epic sagas – are presented in a lively, artistic manner.

Around age twelve, the child’s thinking and reasoning capacities gradually become more active. At this time, the transition is made to actual history and science, and the curriculum – while still being presented artistically – increasingly relies on direct observation, objective description, and reflection of all subjects.

From fourteen to twenty-one: Truth and Discernment

As a young person enters the high school years, powers of thought and independent judgment unfold, and a search for truth begins. During this phase, the student learns best through the intellect. Waldorf high school teachers furnish guidance in mastering the powers of thinking and discernment. Appropriate challenges are provided to develop idealism, capacities in analysis and synthesis, and the ability to consider issues from multiple points of view.