• Independent versus publicly funded Waldorf schools
  • U.S. public Waldorf-methods charter schools 
  • What are Waldorf methods? 
  • Summary
  • Additional information
  • Articles on U.S. public Waldorf-methods schools
  • Waldorf-methods training
  • Public Waldorf-methods schools in North America

Independent Waldorf schools versus publicly funded Waldorf methods schools

Waldorf education began in 1919 with the founding of an independent school in Stuttgart, Germany. Since then most Waldorf schools are likewise independent and non-profit institutions which operate almost exclusively from student tuitions and from donations. However, in the past decades in a number of countries, public (government) funding has become available to these independent Waldorf schools. This trend has been most prominent in different European countries, for example, in the Netherlands, Sweden and Germany. 

Rudolf Steiner was concerned such government funding might produce conflicts with the ideal that Waldorf schools, that is, the teachers and administrators, be free to work out of their understanding of the spiritual nature of the developing child. Numerous pressures to conform to the requirements of the State might come with government funding, which would restrict or even eliminate that freedom. In some cases, Steiner's concerns were correct: Waldorf schools which receive government funding in some countries are under continual pressure to conform to government standards for curriculum, testing, assessment, and so on. 

In the United States, the situation is somewhat different. The Association of Waldorf Schools of North America (AWSNA), which serves independent Waldorf schools in North America, recognizes that a public school (funded with tax dollars) could never be a bona fide Waldorf school, because its teachers and administrators would not have the freedom to work out of the view of the spiritual nature of the human being that is the essence of Waldorf education. However, the use of the forms and methods of Waldorf education which are derived from these insights could be applied in many different settings:

"[AWSNA] is an association of independent schools working out of the pedagogical indications of Rudolf Steiner. Waldorf Education is devoted to contributing to spiritual, social, and economic renewal. It should be understood by any school or institution seeking affiliation with AWSNA that Waldorf Education is based on Anthroposophy, the philosophy initiated by Rudolf Steiner.

"It is our belief that Waldorf methods can be applied in many different classroom settings. However, Waldorf education is only possible if its practitioners and administrators are free to work out of a clear recognition of and commitment to the development of the spiritual nature of the human being." 

Rudolf Steiner agreed that the methods of Waldorf education could be used in any school but stressed that independent Waldorf schools should serve as models for how fruitful these methods are.

U.S. public Waldorf-methods charter schools

In the 1990s, a number of States in the U.S. adopted charter school programs whereby an independent group of parents and administrators may set up a publicly funded charter school which would have a certain degree of independence in terms of setting curriculum and educational philosophy. As a result, a number of Waldorf-oriented charter school programs have been established in the U.S. 

These schools are charter public schools under the jurisdiction of a public school district and school board and must meet the criteria set by the district and State to operate. Furthermore, these Waldorf-oriented charter schools adopt the methods and forms of independent Waldorf schools. They are usually called “Waldorf-methods” schools or “Waldorf-inspired” schools. Typically a Waldorf-methods charter school retains certain aspects, such as the form of the Main Lesson block, the fact that the teacher follows the class from Grade 1 through 8, the use of the arts throughout the curriculum, and so on, but the curriculum and content are typically adjusted and the training of teachers is specifically oriented to public Waldorf-methods teachers.

Today there are at least 30 publicly funded schools in North America, from Alaska to Wisconsin, using Waldorf methods or Waldorf “inspiration” and serving perhaps 5,000 to 6,000 students. See here for a list.

What are Waldorf methods?

The methods of a Waldorf school derive from a pedagogical model that recognizes the specific developmental stages of the child. The Waldorf philosophy views education as an art, so each subject, be it arithmetic, biology or English, is presented in a living way that speaks to the child's developmental stage. Each subject is presented through direct experience and is usually augmented with art, poetry, music, drama and movement. The teacher’s aim is to draw out the children’s inherent capacities by creating an atmosphere in the classroom that fills the children with interest, wonder and enthusiasm. 

The morning Main Lesson immerses the students in a particular academic subject of the curriculum, over three or four weeks, and each child produces a beautifully written and illustrated Main Lesson book for each subject. The class teacher works with each child through an eight-year relationship, where the teacher is able to draw out the child’s strengths and focus more consistently and intensively on the weaker areas. The Waldorf-methods teacher will adjust the pedagogical approach year to year, to best address the way children learn at the different developmental stages.

Additional subjects augment the Main Lessons: a Waldorf-methods school will typically include handwork classes, woodworking and other “practical arts”, music classes, two foreign languages and eurythmy (movement) classes, in addition to physical education and on-going math and English classes.

Waldorf-methods teachers are Waldorf-trained or, if not, are sufficiently knowledgeable of Steiner's model of child development that they can successfully work within the curriculum. There are courses offered by Rudolf Steiner College in California which are specifically oriented to public Waldorf-methods teachers, and in-depth courses in Waldorf education are also available at a number of Waldorf teacher education centers.

With the Waldorf method of instruction, the class teacher involves the children in the subject through presentation, story telling, writing, reading, recitation, dramatic acting, painting, drawing, and movement. The teacher follows a rhythm, day to day, which begins with a review of the previous day’s material, further development of the subject matter and then introduction of new material. Day by day throughout the block, the teacher builds up the subject matter and the students build up their Main Lesson books. The involvement of the students in the Main Lesson promotes and develops active listening, imagination, memory and verbal skills.

The Waldorf-methods curriculum follows the general outline of an independent Waldorf school. Writing is taught before reading and is experienced at first through stories and pictures. Nature stories are introduced in the early grades and develop in the later grades into more advanced investigations of zoology, geology, space science, botany, chemistry, physics, physiology, and anatomy. Math and English are taught in an imaginative way similar to independent Waldorf schools. The specific songs, stories, poems, and so on which the teacher brings to her class may differ somewhat in a Waldorf-methods school.


A public Waldorf-methods or Waldorf-inspired charter school typically takes the forms and methods which distinguish independent Waldorf schools and adapts them to the public school environment. The curriculum and content are usually adjusted, but the methods of teaching, such as the Main Lesson, the daily and weekly rhythms, the integration of artistic activity into every subject area, the inclusion of the fine arts, the performing arts and the “practical arts”, the inclusion of foreign languages and movement, and the class teacher from Grade 1 to 8, are all used.

In contrast, in an independent Waldorf school, teachers are trained not only in the methods of the curriculum, but are also trained in and work directly out of the philosophy that motivated the curriculum and methods. 

Waldorf-methods instruction is a compromise which, in the view of many independent Waldorf teachers, gives up too much. An outcomes-based approach to education, measured by testing against government standards, results in a competitive atmosphere in the classroom and significantly restricts the teacher's freedom to formulate the curriculum and content for her specific students. An independent teacher working out of the Waldorf philosophy provides a moral education which is strengthened by the teacher's commitment to self-development. Whereas public education is currently committed to "values-free" or "values neutral" education, the independent Waldorf teacher strives to develop individual integrity in each student.

In light of these differences, U.S. public schools using Waldorf methods are not Waldorf schools. Even so, they provide a meaningful education to many children.

Additional information

For another description of Waldorf methods: What is a Waldorf Methods Education?

Articles on U.S. public Waldorf-methods schools

Schooled in Spirituality by Chrisanne Beckner

Schooling the Imagination by Todd Oppenheimer

Waldorf-methods training

For workshops on how the Waldorf approach can be applied in the public school classroom, see Public School Institute at Rudolf Steiner College


Public Waldorf-methods schools in North America

 - Alliance for Public Waldorf Education list of member schools


- Toronto ON – Da Vinci School
- Vanier ON - École élémentaire publique Trille des Bois

- Victoriaville QC - École communautaire l'Eau Vive
- Waterville QC - École des Enfants-de-la-Terre  


If you have suggestions for corrections or additions to this list, please contact us.

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