How We Teach 

Waldorf School at Moraine Farm, serving students from pre-K through grade five, offers a learning environment that is a thoughtful and progressive alternative. With a supportive community of faculty, staff and parents, we’re able to meet students where they are developmentally, intellectually and emotionally. While what we teach is critical to our goals, it is how we teach that truly sets us apart.

Our educational approach is founded on the time-tested insights into learning that are applied by Waldorf schools around the world. Much current thinking in the education field supports what Waldorf schools have been doing for nearly a century — experiential learning, place-based learning and kinesthetic learning, to name just a few techniques. We apply these insights, making every lesson active and engaging. The successful results are seen in our highly imaginative, self-motivated students, who approach learning with curiosity, discipline and enthusiasm.

Why Choose Waldorf?

Imagine a school that shares your values for nurturing your children. A school that allows them the time and space they need to learn in an unhurried, unstandardized environment. A school that challenges them to imagine new ideas, solve problems in new ways and see the world in a new light. A school that inspires them to trust themselves, develop their own gifts and reach beyond the expected. What you’ve imagined is Waldorf School at Moraine Farm — one of nearly 1,000 Waldorf schools in 60 countries worldwide.

Early Childhood

In our Early Childhood classrooms, we foster active, imaginative play — the real work of childhood. We ensure a consistent rhythm of everyday life, songs, poems and circle games to strengthen the children’s natural creativity and provide the content for high quality of play. Stories are told, not read, and come to life through the imagination that the children bring to them. Fairy tales and puppet shows allow the children to feel secure in a world where good triumphs over bad. Seasonal festivals and activities in nature foster a meaningful connection with the natural world.

Early Childhood

In our Early Childhood classrooms, we foster active, imaginative play — the real work of childhood. We ensure a consistent rhythm of everyday life, songs, poems and circle games to strengthen the children’s natural creativity and provide the content for high quality of play. Stories are told, not read, and come to life through the imagination that the children bring to them. Fairy tales and puppet shows allow the children to feel secure in a world where good triumphs over bad. Seasonal festivals and activities in nature foster a meaningful connection with the natural world.

The Class Teacher

The class teacher accompanies a class for multiple years, ideally through all eight grades. He or she is the primary teacher for math, language arts, social studies and science. Class teachers are role models for lifelong learning, researching the curriculum each year and designing lessons for a small group of children they know well and fully understand how to best engage.

The Main Lesson

Each day begins with a two-hour lesson that typically opens with speech work and music, math practice and movement, followed by the main academic work of the day. Subjects are taught in three- or four-week blocks so that the students can explore the subject in depth. Rather than using textbooks, the class teachers create lessons based on their research and their knowledge of the students. Students record and illustrate the subject matter in a main lesson book — one way they are active and responsible for their learning.

Special Subjects

Handwork, Spanish, movement and games, strings, orchestra and chorus are taught by special subject teachers after the Main Lesson. Class teachers and special subject teachers meet together weekly to discuss their teaching and learn from each other.

Foreign Language

Spanish (Grades 1-5)

Learning foreign languages broadens students‘ perspectives and deepens their understanding of other cultures. But learning foreign languages also offers several cognitive benefits, including improving overall memory, multi-tasking, communication skill and problem solving by learning to recognize and negotiate meaning more adroitly.


Knitting, Felting, Sewing, Crochet, Cross Stitch, Basic Weaving, Woodworking (Grades 1-5)

Handwork improves fine motor skills which has direct correlations to improved cognitive functioning. Knitting, for example, reinforces left-right brain connection and helps to build math skills. Handwork projects are also integrated into the curriculum by subject. 


Flute (Grades 1 & 2), Recorder (Grades 3-5),
Stringed Instruments (Grades 3-5), Cross Curricular Music Integration (all classes)

Music plays a role at every stage of Waldorf education. Rhythms and transitions throughout the course of the day are established with music for the younger students, and there is lots of singing, poetry, rhyming and rhythm-building exercises. We also appreciate cultures around the world through the singing of songs and playing of hand clapping games. Older students learn to play a stringed instrument and learn to appreciate music through the lenses of math, history, and more.  In Grade 3, each student selects an orchestral string instrument and participates in a string ensemble. 


Wet-on-Wet Watercolor Painting, Form drawing, Beeswax and Clay Modeling, Perspective Drawing (Grades 1-5)

Our students enjoy the complete integration of the visual arts into their main lessons and core subject areas. Painting, drawing and modeling, whether illustrating a myth or reinforcing a scientific principle, allows students to link deeper meaning to lesson content, builds focus and encourages creativity. Time spent on visual arts also improves fine motor skills and fuels young imaginations.

Science in Nature

At Waldorf Moraine we believe that science is about the process of turning discoveries into coherent and comprehensive understandings of the natural world. Through the Science in Nature program we use the rich natural setting of Moraine Farm to give our students the opportunity to think like scientists–make observations, ask questions, brainstorm, create hypotheses, make predictions, experiment and reflect on what is learned. We give them the space to be curious about the world, building the skills to support their future academic pursuits in areas such as physics, biology, ecology, astronomy, chemistry, meteorology and beyond.


Bothmer Gymnastics, Group Games (Grades 1-5); Olympic Pentathlon (5), Sports, Soccer and Basketball 

Movement, particularly choreographed movement, coordinated group activities and Bothmer Gymnastics, help to build physical agility and a sense of internal rhythm while developing spatial awareness and left-brain/right-brain coordination. The cognitive impacts of these activities have a lasting and positive effect on overall health and well being, as well as supporting the ability to organize and process intellectual concepts.


All students have parts in an annual class play based on a main lesson block subject area (Grades 1-5)

For each grade, the class play is an important part of the Waldorf curriculum, with roles chosen to develop each student’s innate gifts and to support curricular themes for that year. You will witness the high level of speech work that is cultivated and watch skills develop over the years. With each production, the class learns to work together as the final piece grows from a short 10-minute skit in the first grade, to something as complex as a 60-minute play in fifth grade.

Why is Waldorf Math Education Unique and Powerful?

Waldorf education lays the foundation for each individual to experience the internalization of mathematical thinking.  Like all Waldorf curricula math lessons are carefully planned to meet the needs of the developing child. Math lessons are brought through many subjects and modalities, while mindfully educating and experiencing math through the hands, heart and head.  Waldorf math education involves movement, music, rhythm, art, form drawing, language, creativity, curiosity and wonder, creating a truly multi-sensory approach to mathematics. As a result, Waldorf students acquire a deep mathematical understanding that they carry throughout their lives.

Below is a brief overview of how math progresses through the grades.

Math Through the Grades

The rhythm of the day, of nursery rhymes and poems, and the social considerations of how many friends need a place setting or a swing are all integral parts of the youngest child’s day in a Waldorf early childhood classroom.


Grade 1 – The story of King Plus, Queen Minus, Magician Multiply and Doctor Divide

In first grade, students learn that numbers exist everywhere in the world, especially in nature. Through this holistic approach to learning math, the special significance of the number one is discovered (as in one universe, one human being) and students explore the numbers that are found within each being (each person has two eyes and two ears, four limbs, and so on). In this way, the mystery of numbers is introduced and is further explored through the grades. In first grade, the four math processes are taught simultaneously because they reinforce each other (multiplication is fast addition, division is fast subtraction) and while learning math facts we begin to develop a general number sense which is so important for subsequent work in mathematics.

Grade 2 – Counting star for the four table

In third grade, practical math activities such as measuring, understanding the calendar, and furthering comfort with the four mathematical operations (addition, subtraction, multiplication and division) are the bulk of the math program.

In fourth grade, working with fractions is a perfect topic because the children are experiencing an “existential fragmentation” of their world as they begin to separate from their parents and the journey toward puberty begins.

Grade 4 – The fraction tree

In fifth grade, comfort with decimals as additional expressions of fractions is a central math theme.

Sixth grade is a time to deepen the math learned thus far, and be introduced to the concepts of business math and more formal geometry lessons.

In seventh grade, learning about ratios (relationships of one number to another) complements the child’s experience of working through relationships between themselves and the world. During the seventh grade year, we continue with geometry studies and add formal algebra into the curriculum (although algebraic thinking has been part of the math work through all of the grades).

The culminating year, eighth grade, is dedicated to deepening the algebra work, geometry of solids, and might also include work with number bases and loci, among other math topics.

Along the way, math terminology and general concepts are also taught through the languages of German and Spanish, and all of the math work is beautifully complemented by many handwork activities and eurhythmy designed to bring mathematical understanding into the will.

By Dianne McGaunn, 8th Grade Math Teacher and Math Mentor

How Reading, Writing, Literature, and Language are Taught in a Waldorf Education

By Dianne McGaunn and Kat Marsh

The Waldorf approach to literacy is unique in two very important ways.

First, Waldorf education builds a foundation for literacy learning through attention to the physical body and its importance in learning and the significance of social and emotional health in education.

Second, literacy education in Waldorf schools is an elaborate, thoughtful sequence starting with speech development, listening, and only then more formal academic learning.

Underlying all of this is Rudolf Steiner’s unique philosophy of child development which, among other aspects, considers the importance of movement, imagination and healthy social experiences in developing a foundation for overall health and deep and lasting learning. In essence, the Waldorf approach to literacy is purposefully patient and thoughtfully builds a foundation for a life-long love of literacy, in its many forms.

A common misconception about Waldorf literacy education is that Waldorf schools do not teach children how to read until second grade. While it is true that decoding (learning how to read through a phonics approach) is not specifically taught until late first or second grade, early childhood educators and first grade teachers concentrate on building a strong foundation for literacy learning through drama, artistic endeavors, writing what students know by heart, healthy play and movement experiences, beautiful recitation of poetry and many other forms of learning that are multi-sensory experiences. Therefore, when students are taught a traditional phonics approach in second grade, they have a deep foundation to aid in the reading process.

First Grade Lesson Book

The Importance of Movement in Learning

In the early twentieth century, Rudolf Steiner, the creator of Waldorf education, emphasized the three faculties of walking, speaking and thinking (in that order) for their importance in healthy development and all learning (1). Waldorf educators understand that walking and coordinated movement requires a strong sense of proprioception (awareness of the position and movement of the body) and balance, among many other capacities. Walking, the ability to command one’s body in defiance of gravity, is a complex developmental milestone which signifies a new sense of spatial relationships which is critical to the learning process. The proprioceptive system is further developed by activities in the Waldorf early childhood classroom such as circle time, sweeping and pushing a wheelbarrow (2). Thus, the physical foundation for learning is being built through imitating the teacher’s purposeful movements.

Waldorf educators know that when children engage in these activities, nerve endings that develop spatial relationships are stimulated, which prepares students to sit still in class, remember the shapes of letters and numbers, and other important activities.

Of course, this proprioceptive capacity and sense of self in relationship to others is also needed for a child’s healthy social learning throughout the school years and beyond.

Kindergarteners develop fine motor movement skills by sewing.

Furthermore, Waldorf teachers understand the importance of developing fine and gross motor movement skills for writing and reading. In the early childhood classroom, activities such as cutting food for snacks, drawing with crayons, sewing, and modeling with beeswax help develop fine motor skills for smooth writing experiences.

Other gross movement activities such as cross-lateral skipping help develop the connecting “bridge” of the brain that orchestrates the processes between the left and right hemispheres of the brain (3), which is not fully developed until seven or nine years of age (2). This bilateral brain integration is critical for whole-word recognition and decoding words, two essential reading skills. Additionally, rhythmic exercises are an integral part of early childhood and early grades classrooms, as moving in rhythm teaches children to be aware of rhythm in literary works and to internalize the beat when they are being read to (4). Therefore, developing healthy movement patterns is a major focus of the Waldorf early childhood classroom in preparation for literacy learning.

Thoughtfully and Gradually Building Retention and Comprehension

In addition to the importance of healthy movement in brain development and learning, the Waldorf approach to literacy follows the course of literacy development throughout human history: oral learning (speaking and listening), then writing (as in hieroglyphics), and only then reading. This progression and sequence or order of skills (movement, speaking and listening as precursors to reading and writing) supports a child’s development because it strengthens inherent skills aforementioned, and only then introduces writing skills which are the next step toward developing a broad understanding of literacy. Children taught in this sequence have a better understanding of the meaning of print and will come to the task of reading with purpose, comprehension, and confident engagement.

For millennia, humans relied on oral traditions for learning. In fact, storytelling remains one of the most effective tools for teaching (5), and it is indeed one of the most important learning methodologies used by Waldorf educators. Early childhood educators cultivate a love of language in their students through playful nursery rhymes, poems, songs, and stories all spoken with beautiful articulation and vocabulary.

Through listening to these imaginative, engaging stories and subsequent story recall activities such as student retelling, drama and drawing, language comprehension is strengthened and the repetition of these stories develops memory, attention, and retention. Moreover, students develop a sense of narrative structure and style and the rhythm of language. Students make meaning of what they hear using their imaginations and non-verbal memory to construct their own pictures of the story while expanding their oral vocabulary. Thus, because students need to first develop word meanings and a broad understanding of language, listening and speaking are central to Waldorf nursery and kindergarten programs and continue to be a focus of language learning from the first day of first grade.

In a Waldorf Nursery or Kindergarten, the children listen to and experience the same story for several weeks. First the teacher tells the story to children for a few days. Then the teacher may create a puppet show out of the same story. Finally, the teacher will involve the children in a play of the story.

Research demonstrates the benefits of early emphasis on oral, narrative listening and comprehension skills, which are predictive of expository reading level and provide a basis for students to develop listening and reading skills for different genres of text (6). In addition, listening comprehension skills are a strong predictor of reading comprehension skills in later grades (7). The varieties of formal and informal language used in poems, stories, texts, songs, and by teachers when speaking in the Waldorf early childhood and first grade classroom is rich and varied, preparing students to more easily access complex texts when reading independently.

Furthermore, listening to and reciting poems, songs, and tongue twisters builds on the phonemic awareness (awareness of the sounds of language) that students have already acquired (8) in the early childhood years. Then, in first grade, letters are introduced along with the varied sounds of each as students become familiar with the basic phonological and morphological arrangements of letter-sound relationships. This progression of literacy skills in the Waldorf curriculum aligns with a fundamental connection between printed letters and speech sounds that are developed in the brain by practice with associating the visual information of speech with the mental representations of printed letters (9).

Additional research suggests that there is an interactive relationship between phonemic awareness and early reading skills such as those where students develop reading skills from personal experiences and oral language (10).

The Waldorf early grades curriculum is rich in phonological awareness and emphasizes holistic literacy skills along with informal print writing to give students a stronger basis for formal print reading.

Current research supports the idea that teachers can improve reading skills by having students write about what they are reading, teaching them writing skills, and increasing how much they write (11). In the Waldorf first grade classroom, writing the letters of the alphabet emerges from daily imaginative stories thus giving students a meaningful basis for linking printed letters with sounds (as in the early relationships to humans with hieroglyphics). Students write simple words that they know, and gradually the skill of writing words and recognizing word families is used to build simple sentences. The beginning skill of associating sounds with letters guides students to sound out and read basic words, and emphasis on the morphology of words (such as the meanings that come from prefixes and suffixes) gives students access to meaning as they attempt to sound out words in more complex texts. Later in first grade and in second grade, Waldorf students are introduced to word families such as “ag” and “at” and encouraged to build reading from a basis of sound-to-letter(s) relationships. The emphasis on students writing letters, words, and phrases that they know increases confidence and this propels them deeper into literacy learning.

All of this deep, elaborate learning and processing leads to better memory retention. Students process the shapes of letters and words least deeply, the sounds of letters and words more deeply, and the meanings of words most deeply (12). In addition, research supports the Waldorf approach of integrating movement skills with visual skills which link action and perception to enhance letter recognition and knowledge to prepare children for visual reading tasks (13).

Indeed, current trends of emphasis on academic tasks in non-Waldorf early childhood classrooms (preschool through grade one) are not well supported by research or by early childhood experts (14). Furthermore, recent research indicates that early reading gains dissipate by the end of first grade (17). In fact, current brain-based evidence supports a generous balance between play and academic work in early childhood and highlights the harm that can be done when academics are emphasized (15) or when reading is expected too soon (16), or earlier than when the brain is truly ready to read, which is around seven to nine years old (2).

The Importance of Play and Social-Emotional Health in Learning

Waldorf early childhood classrooms are largely play-based, and these activities further strengthen the foundation for literacy learning as well as executive function development. Current research is uncovering the crucial functions that play and social-emotional learning have in preparing children to engage with literacy.

In the Waldorf approach, play is essential to the social, emotional, behavioral, and cognitive development of children when they engage and interact with the world around them through self-initiated, imaginative and playful experiences. In an academic sense, play helps children adjust to the school setting, thereby fostering school engagement.

Play enhances children’s learning readiness, learning behaviors, and problem-solving skills.

In addition, play and recess may increase children’s capacity to store new information, as their cognitive capacity is enhanced when they are offered a drastic change in activity (18). Current research also shows that children’s executive functions and social-emotional learning are fundamental to academic success (21), and play is an important practice ground for the development of executive function skills. School environments that foster executive functioning emphasize caring adult-child relationships that guide children from complete dependence on adult support to gradual assumption of the “executive” role for themselves. Thus, early education policies that primarily emphasize literacy instruction are missing an important opportunity to increase their effectiveness by including attention to the development of executive functioning skills. Indeed, there is also evidence that emerging executive function skills contribute to early reading and math achievement during the pre-kindergarten years and into kindergarten (21).

Furthermore, recent research indicates that a teacher’s emotional support during preschool has a positive effect on children’s reading attitudes, which in turn has a positive effect on their reading and vocabulary learning outcomes in later grades (19). The emphasis on warmth and loving relationships in the Waldorf early childhood classrooms and in the grades (in which class teachers remain with their students for eight years) are consistent with these findings. As teachers and students develop strong relationships in the grades, literacy learning continues with beautiful speech recitation, many modes of writing, drama experiences (20), several public speaking experiences in school-wide assemblies and presentations, and other artistic experiences that further enhance literacy learning.

Even with all the above-mentioned modes of learning, it is possible that a minority of children will still struggle with reading. While most Waldorf students are reading by third grade, Waldorf schools screen for reading difficulties early, regularly, and informally so as not to trigger anxiety in students or parents. Teachers take an active role in developing individualized intervention activities and assist struggling readers to focus on and improve reading skills, all in the context of lessons that ground students in the purpose of and engagement with reading.

In summary, the unique philosophy of Waldorf literacy learning includes careful development of movement, listening and speaking, and play and imagination. All of this forms a mindfully tended, fertile ground for literacy learning and all future learning.

In this context, Waldorf students build a rich fund of literacy knowledge that includes a strong vocabulary and the ability to focus attention on stories while listening or reading. In addition, students develop the ability to attend to the structure and details of information while reading to gain the most meaning from texts and to leverage that knowledge when writing both academically and creatively. Literacy development in Waldorf schools cultivates awareness, appreciation, and skill in both the spoken and written word, following a developmentally sound approach that helps to ensure that students claim a love of literature, language and writing as part of their birthright.


1) Steiner, R. “Education: Lecture VI: Walking, Speaking, Thinking”. August 10, 1923. Rudolf Steiner Archive. https://wn.rsarchive.org/Lectures/GA307/English/RSPC1943/19230810p01.html, published 31 January 2010. Accessed 11 April 2019.

2) Johnson, S. “Teaching Our Children to Write, Read and Spell.” You and Your Child’s Health. http://www.youandyourchildshealth.org/articles/teaching-our-children.html. Accessed 11 April 2019.
3) Hannaford, C. (1995). Smart Moves: Why Learning Is Not All in Your Head. Arlington, VA: Great Ocean Publishers

4) Block, B.A. (2001). Literacy Through Movement: An organizational approach. Journal of Physical Education, Recreation and Dance, 72(1), 39-48.

5) Steele, A., & Scott, J. (2016). Emotionality and learning stories: Documenting how we learn what we feel. Canadian Journal of Environmental Education, 21, 106-124.

6) Diakidoy, I-A. N., Stylianou, P., Karefillidou, C. & Papageorgiou, P. (2005). The relationship between listening and reading comprehension of different types of text at increasing grade levels. Reading Psychology, 26(1), 55-80.

7) Cadime, I., Rodrigues, S. S., Viana, F. L., ´li Chaves-Sousa, S., do Ce ´u Cosme, M., & Ribeiro, I. (2017). The role of word recognition, oral reading fluency and listening comprehension in the simple view of reading: A study in an intermediate depth orthography. Reading and Writing, 30, 591-611.

8) Abbott, M., Walton, C., & Greenwood, C. (2002). Research to practice: Phonemic awareness in kindergarten and first grade. Teaching Exceptional Children, 34(4), 20.

9) van Atteveldt, N., Formisano, E., Goebel, R., & Blomert, L. (2004). Integration of letters and speech sounds in the human brain. Neuron, 43, 271–282.

10) Morris, D., Bloodgood, J. W., Lomax, R. G., & Perney, J. (2003). Developmental steps in learning to read: A longitudinal study in kindergarten and first grade. Reading Research Quarterly, 38(3), 302-328.

11) Graham, S. & Hebert, M. (2010). Writing to read: Evidence for how writing can improve reading. Education Week 29, 5.

12) Baddeley, A., Eysenck, M. W., & Anderson, M. C. (2015). Memory. London, UK: Psychology Press.

13) Bara, F., & Bonneton-Botte, N. (2018). Learning letters with the whole body: Visuomotor versus visual teaching in kindergarten. Perceptual and Motor Skills, (1), 190.

14) Strauss, V. “What educators know about teaching young children — but policymakers ignore” Washington Post. www.washingtonpost.com/news/answer-sheet/wp/2017/03/15/what-educators-know-about-teaching-young-children-but-policymakers-ignore/?utm_term=.dc27ff35736a. Accessed 11 April 2019.

15) Gray, P. “Early academic training produces long-term harm.” Psychology Today. www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/freedom-learn/201505/early-academic-training-produces-long-term-harm. Accessed 11 April 2019.

16) Almon, J. W., Carlsson-Paige, N., Bywater McLaughlin, G. “Reading Instruction in Kindergarten: Little to Gain and Much to Lose.” Defending the Early Years. www.deyproject.org/uploads/1/5/5/7/15571834/readinginkindergarten_online-1__1_.pdf Accessed 12 February 2019.

17) Soodla, P., Lerkkanen, M. K., Niemi, P., Kikas, E., Silinskas, G., & Nurmi, J. E. (2015). Does early reading instruction promote the rate of acquisition? A comparison of two transparent orthographies. Learning and Instruction, 38, 14-23.

18) Bedard, C., Bremer, E., Campbell, W., & Cairney, J. (2018). Evaluation of a direct-instruction intervention to improve movement and preliteracy skills among young children: A within-subject repeated-measures design. Frontiers in pediatrics, 5, 298.

19) Hu, B.Y., Wu, H., Curby, T.W., Wu, Z. & Zhang, X. (2018). Teacher-child interaction quality, attitudes toward reading, and literacy achievement of Chinese preschool children: Mediation and moderation analysis. Learning and Individual Differences, 68, 1-11.

20) Chia-hui, L. (Jun 2005). Literacy instruction through communicative and visual arts. Teacher Librarian; Bowie Vol. 32, Iss. 5, 25-27.

21) Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University (2011). Building the Brain’s “Air Traffic Control” System: How Early Experiences Shape the Development of Executive Function: Working Paper No. 11. www.developingchild.harvard.edu. Accessed 05 March 2019.