The Waldorf School of Philadelphia
6000 Wayne Ave, Philadelphia, PA 19144
The Waldorf School of Philadelphia is a bit of a mystery to Center City parents. I am basing this on the reactions I got from other parents when I asked them what they actually knew about the school. People that have never been to the school or on a tour said the school was cliquey, they don’t let the kids use pencils, they don’t use computers, they are not preparing kids for the real world.
Well, last week I spent four hours at the school, in the classrooms, and observing the students. I have to tell you guys… whatever questionable thing you have heard toss it out the window, because this place is like an academic and artistic utopia. I know that if Waldorf was located in Center City parents would be flocking to it like bees to honey because they would be able to see the amazing things the school is doing on a daily basis.
Waldorf’s 2015 school year started in a brand new location at 6000 Wayne Ave. in Germantown. It is located 15 minutes from Center City and 25 minutes from both Fishtown and No Libs. There is a school bus pick up option for parents that are interested. Waldorf completely restored the Frank Furness designed, St. Peter’s Episcopal Church and all its accompanying buildings to create their campus. It doesn’t hurt to mention, recess is held on the same grounds where Walt Whitman walked. If “bright + modern Harry Potter” was a design style this would be it.
Waldorf’s curriculum is designed to produce curious, confident, critical thinkers. While this is a true statement there is no way that flat sentence can prepare you for what you are going to experience at Waldorf. If there is a beautiful way to learn Waldorf has figured it out.
Their classrooms are beautiful. Even the chalk the teachers use and the way they write and draw on the board is beautiful. It starts from day one with everything the teachers do, which is where you are going to see the greatest difference from what you are used to.
In their Kindergarten, teachers do not read from story books, instead they tell the story orally and let the children form the images in their own mind. Think about the level of creative brain training that comes from a change as simple as that.
Each classroom has a kitchen, where Thursday bread baking and Friday soup making is apart of the curriculum. The entire lower school is a calm and peaceful place.
While visiting, I watched a kindergarten class playing, I turned around to talk to an adult and when I turned back around all the kids were gathered on the rug at the teacher’s feet. I never heard a noise, not a peep. In other schools I’m used to hearing teachers raised voices corralling the children and giving out orders. Not at Waldorf, their teachers are like kid whisperers.
As part of the curriculum a lot of time is spent outside on the grounds. The children go outside every day no matter what the weather is. Every student’s cubby is packed with everything they could possibly need for any type of weather. Play is a huge part of the day at Waldorf in lower school and recess is twice a day to help kids manage their energy.
When I moved on to tour the First Grade I saw kids that were at the same level as my son’s First Grade class with one exception: these kids workbooks were filled with beautiful images of the alphabet. For example they learned how to write the letter Q by drawing a queen that had a loose hem on her dress. The entire book was filled with the letter ‘M’ (depicted by drawings of majestic mountains) or the letter ‘H’ (depicted by drawings of beautiful houses) and so on.
First Grade also had very low desks and cushions to sit on. The belief behind this is that kids at this age need to be able to wiggle-and-move during their lessons.
From there we moved on to the upper school. I wanted to see the 7th and 8th Graders, because this is what would tell me if this school was really producing kids that could hack it as they moved on to the next level. Let me start off by saying, these kids were so well adjusted, confident, comfortable and so well spoken that I thought I was in a college classroom. While I was visiting, one class was working on composition writing with their teacher and the other class was discussing Plato and what it meant to be a “Renaissance Man.” I watched as students raised their hands and instead of giving ”the answer” these kids were forming concepts, ideas and feeding off of each other while finding a solution to the question of what it really meant to be a Renaissance Man. If you are worried about the “real stuff” not being covered at Waldorf… you shouldn’t be. Waldorf graduates are known for being critical thinkers and problem-solvers, and have found that the math and science foundation gained while at Waldorf prepares them to go into any field they choose.
There might be some of you that are reading this article and haven’t heard these rumors about Waldorf and now you may be wondering why their commitment to academics is questioned? Well, I think these rumors might be because Waldorf students are also “makers,” and being a “maker” isn’t typically a priority when you’re looking at your child’s education. The Waldorf values being a “maker” on the same level as academics, but they integrate it perfectly into this way of learning.
For example, when a Waldorf class studies the Industrial Revolution they don’t simply read about it like other schools, instead they read about it and then go and do it! They go into the Handwork Studio and create their own garments from scratch, they dye their own yarn, and then start making their own products.
I come from a family of “makers” and when you know how to make something with your hands, you develop a confidence and problem-solving ability that you aren’t able to get from simply reading a book. If you’re able to build something on your own, you build it by using a different part of your brain. You’ve taken something apart and seen it’s guts and inner-workings and in return are able to more confidently make your own decisions or are more comfortable about venturing into the “unknown.”
This style of learning is what Waldorf develops in their students, which is simply an added skill to solve a math problem, science experiment or create a business plan.
Teachers at Waldorf are very unique. Children have the same teacher from 1st to 8th Grade. At first having the same teacher for all those years sounded terrible. For example, what if we did not vibe with the teacher? That means eight long and arduous years of unhappiness.
However, after visiting the classrooms I changed my mind. I saw a deeper connection between the students and their teachers at Waldorf then I did anywhere else. Instead of a typical instance where a teacher simply tolerates a difficult student because they know that they won’t have them the following school year, you have these Waldorf teachers being committed to their class and students for the long haul. There is no getting through, giving up or writing anyone off. I heard more than once from Waldorf parents that they feel the teacher is a real advocate for their child.
In addition to their degrees, Waldorf teachers are trained in the Waldorf methodology for 4 years before they can become a Waldorf teacher. Additionally, every summer Waldorf teachers go to summer school to keep up on the latest method in the subjects they will be teaching the following year. It’s evident that there is a different level of commitment with Waldorf teachers. There is little to no teacher turn over at Waldorf.
At the end I was so surprised, based on everything I saw, that tuition was not at the 24K mark. By Philadelphia standards Waldorf works hard to offer competitive tuition with Kindergarten coming in at $12,600 and First through Eighth at $13,300. Financial Aid is available. There is also an additional supply cost for each grade that ranges from $280 to $560.
Here are things that might be different from what you are used to:
There is a kitchen in every the Nursery (18 mos -3.5 yo) and Kindergarten (3.5-5 yo) classroom. Cooking organic, wholesome food is an important part of the school curriculum.
- The school is the best smelling place you will ever visit.
- It is so calm it is hard not to want to lie down on the floor and relax for a little bit.
- All the toys (mostly wood) are about as natural as you can get.
- Every student in 4th to 8th grade plays a string instrument. All students also take woodworking and Spanish.
- Children do not wear graphics or logos on their clothing in the lower school. Reasoning: when you are wearing a Batman t-shirt all you want to do is pretend to be Batman. Instead they want the kids to create their own play, and not mimic a random character on TV. This rule disappears in the Upper School.
- There are no “mean girls.” Seriously, I am not kidding.
- 7th Graders and up have earned the right to warm up with a cuppa (cup of tea) at recess if they would like.
- Students have the same teacher from grades 1st to 8th.
- Computers are not used at the school. Gasp! I know technology is a parent’s security blanket. The truth is, my kids don’t need a class on how to use a computer, they already know how to – it’s already integrated into their everyday life. Do I want them to take a coding class if they’re interested? Yes. Can find any class like that in the city I need? Yes.
- In addition to tuition there is a yearly supply list. Depending on the grade the supply cost is $280-$560. This enables the students to use the best materials possible.
- The school has competitive and non-competitive sports.
Waldorf is hard to explain because you have to experience the energy and the synergy that is at the school for yourself. I am not saying the school is not different from what we are used to. I know most of us didn’t grow up like this but I am starting to think maybe we should have, especially since I always want more for my kids then I had.
If Waldorf School of Philadelphia is not on your list it needs to be. It was an absolute treat to tour this school. It challenged my thinking on education and what I want for my own kids. I am far from hippy-like, cliquey and academics and my kids ability to compete at the next level is important to me. So Waldorf has been officially myth busted and you have the facts. Their next Fall Family Open House is this Saturday, October 24th at 10:00 a.m. -12:00 pm. Click here for details and to register. Director of Admissions, Alexandra Borders is ready for all your questions. You can reach her directly at firstname.lastname@example.org