Waldorf Education

The Essential Phases of Child Development


The First Seven Years: Imitation

Waldorf schools provide a detailed, richly artistic curriculum that responds to and enhances the child's developmental phases, from early childhood through high school.



Apparently helpless in her mother's arms, the infant seems incapable of learning. In fact, the baby is at the most absorptive stage and totally open to external influences. From birth she learns to stand, to talk, and to think. Becoming able to stand upright, to speak, and to think are remarkable achievements in a period of three or four years. And the young child does this without benefit of formal instruction through a combination of latent ability, instinct, and, above all, imitation. Imitation is the special talent that characterizes the period up to the age of six or seven. The young child mimics everything in the environment uncritically-not only the sounds of speech, the gestures of people, but also the attitudes and values of parents and peers.

The Second Seven Years: Imagination

Toward the end of the child's first seven years, various changes take place. Teachers in Waldorf Education consider the most prominent physical change being the loss of the milk teeth. It is a fact well known by biologists that it takes seven years for the transformation of every inherited cell in the body. Now, for the first time in her life, the child is wholly herself. This is manifest as the child develops: on the one hand, a new and vivid life of imagination, and on the other, a readiness for more formal learning. She both expresses and experiences life through finely tuned and delicate feelings.

As the child moves through these years, the faculty for more sequential and logical thought begins to unfold. Yet careful handling is necessary, for while this faculty needs nurturing, the ability to be fully at home in the world of imagination remains the child's most vital asset.

The Third Seven Years: Truth, Discrimination and Judgment

By the third developmental stage—adolescence—the child is on a search for truth, and she begins to experience the power of her own thinking. Two other features are present in the adolescent psyche: a healthy, valuable idealism and a vulnerable sensitivity-about both one's own inner experiences and the unfolding, insecure sense of self. The adolescent psyche needs protection, and many youngsters from puberty onwards are energetic in disguising their inner condition. Girls may become coquettish, daring and defiant. Boys' defenses may take the form of sullen or introverted behavior, apparent unwillingness to communicate, or a withdrawal into a "cocoon." In any case, they often erect barriers for self-protection. The adolescent behind the barrier is constantly seeking a role model with qualities to emulate.


This article originally appeared in the AWSNA publication, Windows into Waldorf: An Introduction to Waldorf Education. Many thanks to the author David Mitchell who generously allowed for its use.

Click here to purchase Windows into Waldorf.


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