Kindergarten after perestroika and glasnost: birthday in Moscow

By Peter Lang, October 2012

The kindergarten seminar in Moscow celebrates its twenty-first birthday this year. Peter Lang reports about its history and the situation of Waldorf education in Russia.

When Mikhail Gorbachev became president of the Soviet Union, the situation in the country was dire. Agriculture was unable to feed the population properly, technology was lagging behind, general corruption was rampant and the black economy widespread. Gorbachev introduced social reforms, “perestroika”, which included lifting restrictions on freedom of expression and the press. “Glasnost” (openness, transparency) speeded up the democratisation process enormously. 

The easing of travel restrictions on Russian citizens and foreigners and the increase in freedom of expression and information meant that ideas about a free education flowed to Russia and Russian citizens were able to visit Waldorf institutions as well as kindergarten and teacher training seminars in the West. A dynamic and intensive process was initiated and the demand for Waldorf education and training grew. Waldorf teachers from Germany and other countries started working in Russia. In this situation, and against all the odds, proactive people from Russia and Germany established a Waldorf kindergarten seminar in Moscow in 1991.

Waldorf kindergarten seminar in Moscow

The travellers also included Regina Hoeck, a qualified teacher and Waldorf kindergarten teacher from Überlingen on Lake Constance. She speaks Russian and had already worked in south-eastern Europe as a Waldorf education “development worker”. Soon Moscow became her new home. In 1991 she took over the leadership of the seminar – the start of many years of successful work. Russian colleagues joined her. A few years ago Sevtlana Efremova took over the leadership, supported by Elena Gramotkina. At the beginning, lecturers from Germany and other countries came regularly. The International Association of Waldorf Kindergartens and the German Association of Waldorf Schools supported the training and further training of kindergarten teachers and school teachers as best they could. The collegium of the Moscow seminar has grown so much in recent years that colleagues from abroad appear less and less frequently.

Future concerns despite successful work

Many obstacles placed by the authorities, financial problems and political restrictions made and make life difficult for the activists in Moscow. But there was also support. Vera Lapatina, head of a large Moscow authority which is responsible for kindergartens, supported the seminar to the best of her abilities although she had got to the top in the old Soviet system. In 2000, the collaboration with the “Russian Academy for Advanced Training and Retraining of Teachers in the Education System” began, in 2001 the “Methodological Guideline for Waldorf Kindergartens” was recognised by the education ministry of the Russian Federation.

So far the seminar in Moscow has trained more than 300 teachers to become Waldorf kindergarten teachers in its three-year courses. There are currently 260 Waldorf groups throughout the country, mostly within state kindergartens, but also as independent Waldorf kindergartens.

The Moscow seminar offers education courses for parents, and an annual conference for Waldorf teachers lasting several days provides further training. Russian teachers regularly participate at international conferences.

The Waldorf kindergarten seminar in Moscow has long become a respected and defining part of progressive education in Russia. On occasion of its twenty-first birthday it organised a public education congress at the end of June on the subject of “The future of our children is made today”. The Moscow Waldorf school no. 1060 in the centre of the city made its premises available. More than 140 people, some of them from as far as distant Siberia, made the journey to attend. The congress was a success which made an internal and external impact.

With growing concern, Waldorf teachers – and not only they – watch as the Putin government gradually restricts or abolishes basic rights such as freedom of the press, freedom of expression, the right to demonstrate and accuses staff of NGOs financed from abroad of being agents.

Currently there are not yet any direct restrictions on the work of the Moscow seminar and in the Waldorf kindergartens, but for them, too, the future is viewed with concern.

About the author: Peter Lang is a lecturer of education, psychology and Waldorf education and a member of the council of the Vereinigung der Waldorf-Kindertageseinrichtungen Baden-Württemberg e.V. (Association of Waldorf Child Daycare Facilities in Baden-Württemberg)


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