Beyond rote learning of facts, children need to be taught well-being

“Instead of rote learning useless facts, children need to be taught well-being.”

– Alice O’Keefe in her opinion piece for The Guardian (March 2020)

And while we may dispute that there’s such a thing as “useless facts” (can there really be?), we do wholeheartedly agree that:

“To equip young people to face the challenges of the 21st century, they need to understand their minds and bodies.”








Our curriculum connects children to their place as humans in the greater scheme of the world. This is why Waldorf students spend so much time in nature, where classroom lessons take hold and gain context.

Learn more about our outdoor program and visit us at our upcoming Kindergarten events. By appointment only, so please reserve your spot to experience a Kindergarten morning in our outdoor space, or join us on zoom and “Ask a Teacher”!

Excerpted from Alice O’Keefe’s full article for The Guardian:

In his treatise on the future of humanity, 21 Lessons for the 21st Century, the philosopher-historian Yuval Noah Harari offers the young people of today some advice.

In order to survive and thrive in adulthood, they should not rely on traditional academic skills such as solving equations or learning computer code. These will soon become obsolete in a world in which computers can perform such techniques more quickly and accurately than humans. All information-based jobs, in fields as diverse as journalism and medicine, will be under threat by 2050.

Instead, Harari predicts that the key skills they need to survive and thrive in the 21st century will be emotional intelligence (it is still difficult to imagine a computer caring for a sick person or a child), and the ability to deal with change.

If we can predict nothing else about the future, we know that it is going to involve a rapidly accelerating pace of change, from the growth of AI to a warming climate. Coping with this level of uncertainty will require adaptability and psychological resilience. These are best fostered by an education system that prioritises not traditional academic learning but rather “the four Cs”: critical thinking, communication, collaboration and creativity.

None of this will come as news to the parents of today, who instinctively prioritise the emotional and physical health of their children over academic results. A survey released earlier last week by the Youth Sport Trust charity showed that 62% of parents with children aged 18 or under feel that the wellbeing of school pupils is more important than academic attainment. Another recent study by the ethnographers Bad Babysitter into the childcare sector in the US identified a similar cultural shift, away from parents aspiring to “the reassured child”, who is rewarded with prizes and certificates, towards “the resilient child”. “Being adaptive,” remarked the researchers, “is a 21st-century skill.” Young people themselves are, of course, also questioning the value of an education system with priorities that seem out of whack with the world around them. As one motto from the school climate strike had it, “No school on a dead planet”.

There are undoubtedly excellent wellbeing initiatives within the state education system. Schools are having to invest in mental health support, and mindfulness is taught in many places. The new curriculum also emphasizes teaching children about mental health (although needless to say this is not backed up with the necessary resources). What is missing, however, is a commitment to putting mental and physical wellbeing at the very heart of education.

In 2005, Jamie Oliver created a cultural shift by pointing out that it was counterproductive for schools to serve their students junk food. But this only scratched the surface of what it would really mean for schools to prioritise mental and physical health, and promote resilience.

To create a system that equips young people to face the challenges of the 21st century, we need to look at every aspect of what they do at school. This means teaching children to understand their minds and bodies, encouraging them to have contact with nature, helping them to negotiate relationships with others, fostering excellent communication skills, and nurturing creativity. Philosophers know this, and parents know it; it’s about time policymakers caught up.

– Alice O’Keeffe is a literary critic and journalist, and author of On the Up.

A further reflection:

There is always wisdom behind the progression of Waldorf pedagogy. Every subject is designed to reach a child where he or she is at that moment in their physical, emotional, and spiritual development. Read more about Waldorf’s approach by grade and program here: 

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Waldorf Academy

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