Michael Mount Waldorf School: A Schooling System for the Future
Michael Mount Waldorf School (MMWS) is a private, non-profit, co-educational day school in Bryanston, Johannesburg, catering for early childhood, nursery, primary, and high school students.
The school currently has approximately 550 students, and there are on average, 25 children in each class. All teachers hold a recognised teaching qualification and South African Council for educators (SACE) registration, accompanied by a two-year Waldorf education certificate, and all undergo biennial appraisals and training. MMWS follows the Waldorf curriculum up to Grade 11, as well as all subjects required by the Department of Basic Education.
All students write the internationally acclaimed Independent Examinations Board (IEB) examinations in matric. MMWS students have maintained a 100% pass rate since the inception of the matric programme in 1987.
What is Waldorf education?
Waldorf education was founded in 1919 by Austrian scientist-philosopher Rudolf Steiner in Stuttgart, Germany, and has since developed into one of the largest, fastest growing non-sectarian, independent education systems in the world . Currently, there are over 1000 Waldorf schools and 2000 Waldorf early childhood centres across more than 60 countries. Waldorf schools are independent of political and cultural affiliation and are universally inclusive. Additionally, each Waldorf school adapts its education system to the cultural environment in which it is located.
Our highest endeavour must be to develop free human beings who are able of themselves to impart purpose and direction to their lives.
~ Rudolf Steiner
What sets Waldorf education apart is that its true basis lies in the importance of following the major developmental stages of the child to provide age appropriate and experiential learning. In order to raise well-rounded human-beings, the whole child – head, heart, and hands – needs to be nurtured and educated. This is why the Waldorf system strives to develop social-emotional intelligence in students, not just academic ability. Education is a life-long journey, and so it is vital to nurture the child’s innate curiosity, creativity, values, and insatiable thirst for knowledge.
Waldorf education takes an interdisciplinary approach to education, integrating art, academics, ethics, and practical skills. Students are exposed to a spectrum of knowledge and activities, allowing them to discover their unique interests and capabilities. Because learning is academically rigorous and engaging, there is no need to memorise isolated facts and undergo competitive testing – Waldorf students develop an intrinsic joy and motivation for learning, which is reflected in their life-long accomplishments.
The students are not only prepared to meet standardised academic requirements, but also to be equipped with skills and qualities vital for the future. While there is no knowing what professions may be in demand in the future, the modern challenges of society will certainly require individuals who are resourceful, confident, level-headed critical thinkers; able to adapt to the ever-changing, complex environment while still preserving a spirit of empathy, tolerance, and collaboration.
Waldorf education provides students with a set of transferable skills and the ability to directly engage with the world from numerous points of view.
Baby care to nursery school
Young children learn primarily through imitation and use their senses to discover the world around them. Touching, tasting, seeing, smelling, hearing, and perceiving are the most impactful forms of learning. Having active experiences in a safe environment allows children to identify their own place in the world.
Because children aged six years and younger are so malleable, it is vital that very young children are surrounded by positive influences, as these are internalised for a lifetime. Subsequently, parents, caregivers, and teachers all are responsible for providing a nurturing, predictable environment which encourages discovery and a love of learning through creative play.
At MMWS, we draw the intention away from the pressures of meeting premature intellectual demands and allow the young child to develop an innate intelligence through song, stories, play, baking, art, handwork, and quiet times. These activities are designed to advance skills in concentration, curiosity, communication, and self-confidence at an early age, appropriately preparing the child for the classroom later on.
At the age of six, once children leave their nursery school sanctuary and move to Grade 1, they are ready to start experiencing and re-learning the world on a more conscious level, specifically through the use of imagination.
Subsequently, it is the teacher’s role to transform knowledge into a language of imagination, where morals, mathematics, nature, and practical work are learnt through the experience of folk tales, fables, biographies, mythologies, and imagery. Anything that can be clearly pictured by the child at their developmental stage, activates an emotional connection, making it effortless and enjoyable to learn and remember the information being taught.
For this reason, MMWS children are guided through the process of creating their own workbooks using the knowledge imparted by their teacher themselves. The method instils within each child a sense of direct engagement with the material and allows them to comprehend the information in a format that suits them the best.
In addition, our students feel that they own the knowledge they are acquiring and experience purpose, responsibility, and satisfaction. This form of notetaking is particularly paired with the Main Lesson, with which our students start each day. In these sessions, they spend time concentrating on one subject for three to four weeks.
The subject matter varies across all academic disciplines, from history and mythology, to science and mathematics. Having a Main Lesson allows students the opportunity to become thoroughly immersed in a specific topic, making learning a more holistic and enjoyable experience.
Music, drama, handwork, and rhythmic movement form part of any Waldorf curriculum. However, while obviously igniting the creative spark in our students, these practices also serve as a means to present school subjects in an impressionable way, simultaneously developing the child’s will, moral understanding, and awareness of their position in the world.
At our school, teachers are entrusted with the same class from Grade 1 to Grade 8, which provides the children with a consistent guide through their schooling. The teacher integrates formal academic learning with the individual development of each child in their care, with the intention of preparing well-rounded, confident, intelligent individuals ready for the complex learning required in high school.
MMWS students continue to follow the Waldorf curriculum as they enter the high school. Main Lessons and the making of personal workbooks are sustained practices, although the content becomes far more complex, and is directly connected to the subject matter required to prepare our students for writing the IEB matric examinations. During this period of preparation, imaginative learning is paired with rational, complex, and independent intellectualism.
Our students are given increasing autonomy over their learning, practising discernment and critical thinking. They are placed under the guardianship of teachers who are specialists in their fields and who are well-equipped to guide their students on their path to independence.
High school education at MMWS is distinctive in that the focus continues to be practical. The sciences are taught using active experimentation, discovery and observation. These practices are applied in context with the necessary theory. Concepts are explained first as a whole, and are then broken down into the parts that make up the full picture.
To ensure that education does not produce one-sided individuals, MMWS uses a multidisciplinary approach and continues to use the arts and practical skills in order to educate the mind and to nourish and guide our students into becoming healthy, self-reliant individuals.
The culmination of the Waldorf curriculum occurs in Grade 11, when our students are mentored by their respective teachers on a one-on-one level as they carry out their Grade 11 Projects. Each student chooses a topic which interests them deeply and spends time both researching and experiencing their subject matter first-hand.
Ultimately, they are required to write a university-standard mini-thesis (six to eight thousand words), create a hand-made, leather-bound book recording their experiences and findings, and publicly present their project to the community. This project encourages our students to gain self-discipline and equips them with the skills they will need for tertiary education, setting them apart. Additionally, it is a time for profound self-discovery, for gaining direction and challenged physically, intellectually, and mentally.
Thereafter, our students follow the IEB matric syllabus and find that they have been more than sufficiently prepared for the task of excelling in the final examinations, due to their well-rounded education.
Extra-murals and festivals
MMWS offers a wide range of extra-mural activities, ranging from art, music and drama, to basketball, swimming, cricket, athletics, and more. Our high school students also have the opportunity to join the Student Representative Council, and can choose to participate in debating and Model United Nations conferences. Because there is no overwhelming pressure on our students to excel in a certain field, they are able to naturally gravitate towards that which interests them, making them far more content and successful in their choices.
MMWS also celebrates numerous seasonal Waldorf festivals throughout the year, in which all members of the community are included. These include Easter celebrations, as well as the St John’s Festival, Michaelmas, and the Advent season, all of which expose our children to the natural rhythms of life and our connection to each other and the world. Despite their names, our celebrations are adapted to our diverse South African society to include traditions from many cultures and creeds.