Why Waldorf Schools Are Becoming Popular in China

Chinese children in a Waldorf school.

Waldorf schools are becoming popular in China. (Image: yuyan9686 via Pixabay)

The education culture in China is relatively stressful for children. Right from a young age, children are pressured into several activities designed to get them into good schools, colleges, and eventually, a great job. However, many parents are choosing nowadays to move away from this typical rat race and opt for Waldorf schools, which emphasize educating children through fun and play.

Waldorf schools in China

The Waldorf school system was developed by Rudolph Steiner, an Austrian mystic. An occultist who taught about reincarnation and other spiritual practices, Steiner wanted to develop a teaching methodology that would enable children to be educated in a more spiritual, wholesome manner. This eventually led to the establishment of Waldorf schools, with the first one having opened way back in 1919.

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“[Steiner] believed that children should be guided slowly out of what he termed ‘the etheric world,’ where they existed prior to birth, and that education should engage first the hands, then the heart, then the brain… Waldorf-educated children play a lot when they’re young, and often don’t learn to read until second or third grade… [The Waldorf curriculum] reflects Steiner’s belief that an individual’s development mirrors a civilization’s, so the early years include lots of creation myths and fables,” according to The New Yorker.

It was in 1994 that two teachers from a Waldorf school in Australia visited China. They realized that the education system could be very useful in the country. As a consequence, the first Waldorf school was opened in September 2004 in the city of Chengdu. Eventually, additional schools were opened. At the schools, children learn science and mathematics through indulging in activities like handicrafts, baking, gardening, and more.

And while many modern classrooms equip themselves with the latest technologies, like tablets and LED screens, to make education more cutting-edge, Waldorf schools choose to go in the opposite direction. Screens are not used until at least the 8th grade. Waldorf management believes that too much use of technology during the early years numbs intelligence and creativity.

“Instead of learning for the sake of passing exams, the Waldorf system is designed to engage all the senses and build up logical analysis, which helps to arouse curiosity… Whether they choose the world of commerce and business, the public sector, or the arts, Waldorf education prepares young people to step into the world with confidence, carrying a lifelong love of learning and appreciation of the world around them,” Christof  Wiechert, who has spent over three decades teaching the Waldorf system in Europe, said to the South China Morning Post.

A young student playing with lego bricks, one of the educational toys of Waldorf schools.
A young student playing with Lego bricks, one of the educational toys of Waldorf schools. (Image: Esi Grünhagen via Pixabay)

The education system

Waldorf aims at developing a child’s intellectual and ethical potential so that they can make independent decisions when they grow up. The schools place a heavy emphasis on listening and speaking when children under 7 years of age.

Most of the curriculum during the period involves teachers acting as storytellers, introducing children to various fairytales and folklore that are read out loud in the classroom. The stories are repeated after a few weeks so that children remember them well. According to Waldorf, this focus on giving children a repeat experience develops the neural pathways in their brains.  

Only when children enter primary education are they introduced to writing. But unlike the boring black and white sheets used in normal kindergartens, Waldorf schools use a creative pictorial method to teach children how to write. Reading is practiced from the second to the third grade of primary education. The system seeks to develop a positive relationship between the children and activities like talking and scribbling in order to build up their natural intelligence.

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