Frequently Asked Questions

What is Waldorf Education?

Every human being is an individual living essence which enters life with inherent gifts and creative potential. During development it dynamically interacts with physical, emotional and cognitive constituents that, when integrated into a maturing “whole,” allow each person to determine his or her unique path through life.

Waldorf education seeks to create the most supportive conditions to enable a child to grow and mature into a whole person by freeing thinking, harmonizing feeling and focusing intentions. Waldorf education consciously brings all three into a complementary dynamic which supports learning and accomplishment throughout life.

Every one has the possibility of attaining the clarity, liveliness and creativity of thought, breadth of perception and understanding, personal integrity, compassion, and purposeful strength of intention needed to navigate these rapidly evolving times of accelerated change.

Phases of Child Development

There are three identifiable 7-year phases of growth from birth to adulthood. A different constituent is the focal point for development within each phase, leading to a specific learning modality for each:

  • up to age 7 — imitation
  •  age 7 to 14 — imaginative pictures and metamorphosis
  • from age 14 — developing thinking through self-reflection, discovery of patterns, and exploration of inter-relationships

The highly animated dynamics between the interweaving physical, emotional and cognitive constituents frequently seem anything but cohesive. However, the dynamics can resolve into a harmonious, living expression of the compete individual when guided by educational methodologies grounded upon the appropriate learning modality.

These three stages progress:

  • from developing form through interaction with the outer environment
  • into awakening and working with the perceptions, inner pictures, and questions of the student through exposure to a wide breadth and scope of experiences, guided by the compassionate inner authority and clarity of the teacher;
  • towards clarity for the students through engaging their initiative and enabling them to identify patterns and relationships for themselves to form independent, objective perspectives

The desired result is to graduate young adults ready to enter life with the self-awareness and self-assurance, social acuity and integrity, comprehensive and inquiring perceptiveness, living and creative thinking, and purposeful intention that will enable each one to take initiative and create a positive future for themselves and their community.

Teaching Methodology

All of the following central Waldorf methodologies are interwoven to create a holistic process at each age level:

  • Creating an experiential foundation for learning

  • Proceeding from the whole to the parts and back again to develop flexibility
  • Artistic metamorphosis — use of story, biography, metaphor and other imaginative techniques to provide entry points for multiple learning modalities

- Charles Burkham, Executive Director, Desert Marigold School, Phoneix, AZ

What does a school "inspired by Waldorf education" practice?

Running River School follows a developmentally appropriate curriculum (described above). It strives to fully integrate the humanities, science and math, movement, and the arts into a holistic educational model. It is designed to teach the traditional academic skills while strengthening the child’s moral purpose and artistic sense. It is intended to engage the mind, fuel the imagination, enliven the heart, and strengthen the will. This multi-dimensional approach yields students who are self-aware, confident, capable, flexible thinkers. Our curriculum meaningfully prepares students to enter successfully and responsibly into our fast-changing local and global communities. Following a model "inspired by Waldorf education", teaching is regarded as an art as well as a science. This means that there must be freedom for the teacher to adapt both the form and the content of instruction to time and place, to the capacity of the particular children involved and to the qualitative needs of each moment. In this sense, our curriculum is an ongoing creative medium to meet the appropriate developmental and academic stages in a student’s life. We like to call it a "living education". Our teachers strive to educate the whole child — the heart and the hands, as well as the head. They are interested in the students as individuals and are dedicated to generating an inner enthusiasm for learning. Typically the core teacher will follow the children through many grades. Ideally a teacher will remain with students from 1st through 8th grade. The core teacher usually presents reading, writing, math, social studies and science. Ideally, students have contact with other teachers throughout the day who oversee other subjects such as movement, music, languages and handwork. The teachers are particularly interested in these questions:

  • How do we establish a learning environment that addresses the individual needs of each child so they may reach their own high level of academic excellence?
  • How do we elicit a love of learning and work, a healthy self-awareness, compassion for fellow human beings, and a respect for the natural and multi-cultural world?
  • How can we help our students find meaning in their lives, within their education as well as the “real world” they will someday enter?

How are students graded and what standardized tests are they taking?

Running River School does not issue grades. The core teacher, however, continually monitors a student’s progress. Parent-Teacher conferences are scheduled at the end of each semester. At each of these meetings, parents receive a detailed narrative assessment based on the teacher’s observation of and experience with each student. These narrative assessments are based on The Educational Tasks and Content of the Steiner Waldorf Curriculum, Edited by Martyn Rawson and Tobias Ritcher As an independent school we are not required to administer standardized tests. We firmly believe that standardized testing is not an accurate, or complete reflection of a student’s wisdom, knowledge, mental flexibility, or ability to learn. Our curriculum does not focus on, nor does it require our students to achieve academic goals based on meeting testing standards. Much of today’s research agrees that it is not beneficial for developing children to be compared to one another. The authentic assessment that is provided by your student’s teacher is a comprehensive map on how to navigate the strengths and challenges each student exhibits within the classroom.

What is your media policy?

Alternative educational models, such as ours, have long been grounded in the belief that media exposure is counterproductive to the development of imagination and the ability to entertain oneself, especially in the younger grades. The philosophy is rooted in a belief that children need the opportunity to fully develop their social, imaginative, intellectual and creative selves without interference or examples from outside media sources. Contemporary research in human development and cognition has led to an increasingly accepted wisdom in the education field that supports findings about the negative effects of media-saturation on children, particularly in the pre-school and grade school years.

The short article Discover Waldorf Education: Beyond Cognition (Children and Television)gives a good picture of how TV effects children. There are also many wonderful books on the subject, some of which are listed here:

  • Endangered Minds: Why Our Children Don't Think by Jane Healy
  • Failure To Connect: How Computers Affect Our Children's Minds For Better and Worse by Jane Healy
  • Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television by Jerry Mander
  • The Plug-In Drug by Marie Winn
  • Evolution's End: Claiming The Potential of Our Intelligence by Joseph Chilton Pearce

While we know that most families have some media as part of the home experience, we encourage families to consider significantly limiting exposure. At the very minimum, we encourage families to consider a no-media policy during the school week. The absence of media influence during the week will help your child more fully integrate what the curriculum has to offer.

What about computers and technology in the classroom?

For very specific developmental reasons computers and digital technology are not a part of the school curriculum in the early grades, although mechanical technology and the practical arts are incorporated at all levels. It is suggested that the appropriate developmental age for computer use and digital technology in the classroom is in high school. We feel it is more important for students to have the opportunity to interact with one another and with teachers in exploring the world of ideas, participating in the creative process, and developing their knowledge, skills, abilities, and inner qualities. Students educated in this type of environment can often be identified by a lifelong love of learning, an ongoing curiosity, and interest in life. For additional reading, please see Fools Gold, a special report from the Alliance For Childhood (

Why are the Language Arts taught on a different schedule?

When learning to read, comprehension is key, not the ability to decode letters and form words. In many U.S. schools, children are taught to first memorize the alphabet, then sounds, and then piece together phonics into words and finally sentences. Vocabulary and spelling lists are then memorized and readers are often timed for speed. Teachers then guide students toward sentence and paragraph comprehension.

Inspired by Waldorf education, we take the opposite approach, believing that for comprehensive reading to occur, a child should first obtain the skill of forming an inner picture of content, inside their mind, as they decode.  So, in consideration of child development, Waldorf educators work to develop these comprehension capabilities at a time when imagination thrives in the child – before age seven, which is also before eye tracking and other developmental milestones for reading are strong.

Fairy tales, songs, poems and rhyming become the basis for the Language Arts curriculum through which a child comes to learn expansive vocabulary and eventually printed word. The idea being that younger children are first given the gift of a strong foundation in comprehension, vocabulary and the sounds and meanings of language. Then, and only then, are students introduced to the external expression of those well-formed concepts and taught to write and spell the letters and words that are part of these richly imagined texts.

Please note: Running River School is an independent school currently inspired by Waldorf education. While our teachers do offer the standard Waldorf educational curriculum, we are not officially recognized by AWSNA (Association of Waldorf Schools of North America). The AWSNA certification process is very involved and takes time to pursue, often multiple years. Whether or not we will be pursuing certification is a matter we plan to address in the future. For a thorough and comprehensive picture of Waldorf education we do recommend the AWSNA website