A plea for the Waldorf school

By Jumana Mattukat, November 2015

People keep asking me why our children go to a Waldorf school. The questions come above all from parents who themselves are facing the decision: Waldorf – yes or no?

Photo: © Charlotte Fischer

From sheep to sock

I like to begin my explanation with a story from the first year in school of my daughter Emilia who is meanwhile in class 6. At the time she joined the first class of the Wuppertal Rudolf Steiner School. There the children – before they learnt to knit – first visited the sheep from which they were to get the wool. Then they cleaned and spun the shorn wool and finally still made the knitting needles out of wood themselves. Only then was the first stitch cast.

In a world in which the connections are increasingly difficult to see even for us adults, that is precisely what I want for my children: that they learn with all their senses how the end product comes about.

It might appear old fashioned to let the children make use of a quill and inkpot before they write with a fountain pen, yet I believe that children have a more sustained relationship with what they learn if they are allowed to experience a piece of “human history” behind today’s product.

The teachers

Waldorf teachers are not saints either, of course, and I do not agree with everything they do. Yet I am willing to give them “the benefit of the doubt” because it seems to me that this profession is only chosen out of conviction. The teachers have taken a conscious decision in favour of this system of education, and they have done so although the classes are larger and the pay is worse.

And when I am told at the parents evening for my second child who is about to start school that the teacher is concerned above all to allow the children to learn something about themselves during their time at school and in doing so to find out how they learn best, this affirms me in my decision and warms my heart.

The special subjects

The typical Waldorf subjects such as handwork, eurythmy and gardening are the subjects of the future for me. In my work as a coach und seminar leader I recapture the access to our inner space with my adult clients. I have noticed how separated we human beings have become from parts of our being and from nature. There is a good reason why yoga, meditation, nature work and artistic and craft activities are growing in importance in the adult world. We might say that this path to our centre and essence is on the curriculum in Waldorf schools.

How lucky are Waldorf pupils when they can experience at firsthand how something grows in the bed they have cultivated themselves, when their knitting actually turns into a sock and when they learn to experience their body in eurythmy.

Our grandparents would probably shake their heads in disbelief at this point: handwork, gardening? That’s simply what people do. No, in 2015 this is no longer something natural in the everyday life of children.

The reports

The special way that the teachers do their job can also be seen in the quality of the reports. Not just in their scope, which shows the detailed way in which the class teachers concern themselves with the children, but also in the affectionate way in which the children are observed.

How much nicer is it for me as a mother to read in detail about the way the class teacher observes the child in their interaction with their classmates, or how they dealt with the set tasks in the individual main lessons, than to see the pupil reduced to just a mark with a “very good” or “needs to work harder”.

Personal verses

At the same time as the report at the end of the year, Waldorf pupils receive a personal verse – a verse or small poem, sometimes written by the teacher themselves. I would describe it as a kind of poetic message to the child. For me this tradition is one of the highlights of Waldorf education because it contains so much appreciation. “I do not tell you how you are” but “when I read this poem it seems to me that it suits you” or alternatively “I wrote these lines for you”.

That is a crucial difference for me. I see the verse as a kind of affirmation of the character traits which the teacher finds good and at the same time as a kind of encouragement for the child perhaps to let go of something of which the teacher thinks it is no longer helpful for the child.


Pupils from class 8 or 9 are allowed to choose a future pupil as their protégé whom they will from then on accompany to their class in the morning and into break and on whom they will in general keep an eye in the initial period after they start school.

This tradition, too, I like a lot because I am sure that the little ones feel so much more accepted into the school community and the young people will undoubtedly remember how helpful it was for themselves right at the start of their school career.

I keep being surprised by the incredible number of pupils from all classes who know my children by name. Pupils play across classes during break times and six to sixteen-year-olds may and must get on with one another. Who says that Waldorf schools fail to prepare their pupils for real life!

This is me

The day on which the Waldorf pupils start school is the moment when they go on the stage for the first time. After that they will do so many times more – above all during their regular performances at the monthly school gatherings. The feeling of knowing something, of being able to appear before an audience with what we can do and what we are, is one of the most important things for me in today’s world of work.

That is what job interviews, giving a presentation or making a customer pitch are all about. As a presentation skills trainer I know: Waldorf pupils are less likely to be among my clients.

Biodynamic agriculture

Since the birth of our children our shopping has gradually changed and we are almost completely organic now. That Rudolf Steiner is the founder of biodynamic agriculture thus represents a further argument in favour of Waldorf schools for me.

The community

On those Saturdays when the call goes out to come to the “odd job day at school” my first thought is that I do not happen to particularly feel like weeding or painting walls. But when I arrive at the school and see how everyone is busily engaged in a multitude of tasks then that feeling changes abruptly and I am pleased to be able to lend a hand. Such a lot is achieved in a short time that I ask myself why we don’t actually put our own houses and gardens in order communally.

And when we have once again mounted a festival like the Advent bazaar and in that way make an important financial contribution to the school, I am happy that my children can experience how their parents involve themselves and work to support their school.

It is on days like this that I feel that my children are not just attending a school but that in the Waldorf school they are growing up in a community made up of parents, teachers and pupils.

Let me conclude my response to the question “Why a Waldorf school?” with an anecdote: a few months ago my daughter was chatting with two 16-year-old girls who attend an academic high school. When they heard that there were no marks, they asked: “Why do you do any school work at all then?”

My daughter looked at them with irritation and said from the bottom of her heart: “Because I want to learn something.”

About the author: Jumana Mattukat works as a consciousness coach in Bremen and is author of the book Mami, ist das vegan?