“Where is the book in which the teacher can read about what teaching is? The children themselves are this book. We should not learn to teach out of any book other than the one lying open before us and consisting of the children themselves.” Stated by Rudolf Steiner in his work, Human Values in Education. Steiner developed the Waldorf education approach and opened the first school opened in Germany in 1919 at the Waldorf-Astoria Cigarette Company.

Waldorf teachers are dedicated to generating an inner enthusiasm for learning within every child through the utilization of independence and inclusiveness. According to Steiner, “The need for imagination, a sense of truth and a feeling of responsibility – these are the three forces which are the very nerve of education.”

The Waldorf education structure utilizes three (3) distinct learning strategies for each of three distinct development phases. Steiner believed human beings developed in seven (7) year spiritual cycles. He also believed each cycle had a different “sphere” – the Moon for those age 0 to 7 years, Mercury for ages 7-14 years, and Venus for ages 14-21 years old.


Birth to age 6.

The Waldorf approach focuses the first years of life on environmental immersion so children can learn through unselfconscious imitation of practical activities The early childhood curriculum centers on experiential education, with children learning by example and through imaginative play. The classroom is designed to resemble a home with a curriculum includes free play, artistic work, circle time comprised of songs and games, and practical tasks such as cooking, cleaning, and gardening. The use of electronics including media and television is discouraged while seasonal festivals and cultural traditions are often celebrated.


Age 7-13 (Elementary).

In the second cycle, the Waldorf approach focuses on readiness for learning with an emphasis on character, temperament, habits, and memory. Readiness is required before introducing formal instruction on reading, writing, and other academic areas and when introduced, programs develop the children’s emotional life and imagination. The classroom is designed to use visual arts, drama, movement, music and crafts to teach language arts, mythology, history, geography, algebra, mineralogy, biology, astronomy, physics, chemistry, and nutrition. The day traditionally begins with a 90 minute or 2 hour “main lesson” that focuses on a month-long theme such as the animal kingdom, fables and myths, or old testament stories. The elementary curriculum allows for individual variations in the pace of learning and cooperation is emphasized over competition in both the classroom and team sports.

Steiner sought a holistic and comprehensive approach to education that considers children’s cognitive, emotional and behavior developments to be interlinked. Steiner adopted the idea of four temperaments for use in the elementary years and believed teaching should be guided by the temperament**.

The four temperaments are:

  • The choleric temperament is fulfilled by deeds and tends to have keen interest in all things, have high levels of engagement, are natural leaders, and are quick to action. They do well with difficult tasks, make clear rules, and have good judgment.
  • The melancholic temperament is a deep thinker, is sensitive or introverted and often feels some tasks are insurmountable. They often consider many solutions to challenges and can offer insights into people’s motivations.
  • The phlegmatic temperament prefers to be left to their own devices rather than be spurred to great action and are often unflappable. They tend to like water and swimming, food and mealtimes and are often cheerful.
  • The sanguine temperament is a social person who loves people and delights in quick exchanges and varied ideas. They do well in mathematics, tracking activities from start to end, and are often well informed of their peer group activities, hot topics, and community events.

Today, the temperaments are taught to differentiate instruction, so teachers have a methodology to group students, arrange seating, and drive class activities. Temperaments are also used to help teachers understand their skills, knowing that most people express a combination of temperaments.


Age 14 and up (Secondary).

In the third cycle, the Waldorf approach trains specialized teachers for each subject with the curriculum structured to further student’s intellectual understanding, independent judgment, and ethical ideas including social responsibility as they advance in their education. Learning through their own thinking, the objective is to provide young people with a basis to develop into morally responsible and integrated individuals. Waldorf institutions are not required to follow a prescribed curriculum, but most utilize 2-hour lesson blocks and some include cooking, farming, second languages, and environmental education.

The Waldorf education aims to educate children in a range of religious traditions, not favoring one over another. Recognizing the value of role models from a range of literacy and historical traditions, the Waldorf curriculums include local culture as well as national festivals. Music, dance, theater, writing, myths and legends are not subjects to read about but should be experienced. Celebrations are one of many ways, the Waldorf education system aims to inspire life-long learning in all students.

Nannies interested in learning more about the Waldorf approach can enroll in the Professional Childcare program (online). The Nanny Institute provides online childcare classes and nanny certification programs based on a curriculum specifically designed to advance the skills of Nannies and Sitters. The Nanny Institute has over 30 college faculty with a passion for education and childcare, bringing them together to help childcare providers gain practical skills and qualifications that benefit their careers and the children in their care.


*For more information, visit the Association of Waldorf Schools in North American (WSNA) at https://www.waldorfeducation.org/waldorf-education.

**Waldorf publications, August 2015 at https://www.waldorfpublications.org/blogs/book-news/40270145-temperaments-in-a-waldorf-school.