The Waldorf schools, or Steiner schools, as they’re commonly known in Europe, were formed many years ago (1919). The idea was to create a school environment that had little input into the way it was run from outside influences like government. It caused quite a stir in educational outlook at the time and the teachers took special training, giving them more responsibility than in normal schools, in that they were asked to help and develop teaching practices that worked, and had more say than their traditional counterparts.
What is unique about a Waldorf school is that it treats the child as a whole, rather than just getting them through the curriculum. The balance that they have created between art and academics has been proven to make a substantial difference to the potential of a child, and, for the special needs child, this is particularly valuable.
Rather than introducing children to academic work in the kindergarten stages, Waldorf believes that it is better to nurture the love of learning. The whole system is geared to creating children that want to learn, are well balanced and use their creativity in the early stages to foster learning skills that will make the introduction of academic skills later in their schooling years be based upon the will to learn. It works particularly well with the special needs child, as the attention to detail in these school environments is that each individual child is equal. Introducing the letters of the alphabet happens in the earlier stages though not in the same sense as traditional schools. These are part of the creative activities.
How these schools differ is by fostering the positive attributes of children and developing them to a fine art. In public schools, neither the funding nor the availability of consistency is sufficient to sustain a child with learning difficulties. In the Waldorf schools, children will have the same teacher all the way through eight years of training, which means that the teacher knows all the weaker points of each child, and can cater adequately, so that the special needs child is just one child in the class, rather than needing a label.
There has been much controversy about the methods of teaching, although without the labels, and having consistent input, the special needs child thrives, matures, and reaches their full potential better than in any other school environment. Although traditionalists argue that the methods are flawed, much of the argument isn’t backed up by fact.
The element that is removed from all Waldorf schools is that of competition and measuring one child’s ability against another, and this really is fostered from the very beginning, meaning that there are no elites, and no expectations of children being pressured into achieving better results than others. Therefore the stress on the child is less, and the motivation found from within the child themselves, rather than trying to keep up with their peers.
These really are schools that took the premise that all children are special. They are challenging those that are gifted with more difficult work, and taking extra time for those kids with difficulties in learning concepts. Their success in producing academics that go on to University is on the higher end of the scale from that of their traditional counterparts.