Waldorf education came to the United States with the founding of the Rudolf Steiner School in New York in 1927. The main growth of the movement began in the late 1960’s, and the number of Waldorf schools and kindergartens increased from nine in 1967 to nearly 200 today, including kindergartens, nursery or pre-school groups, parent-child, parent-toddler and parent-infant classes, extended care and after-school programs, and child care programs in homes and centers.
Waldorf schools and kindergartens in the US do not generally receive financial support from the government. This has meant a great degree of freedom from government regulation, but also brings financial and social challenges.
Working together. The Waldorf Kindergarten Association was founded in 1983; the association changed its name in the late 1990’s to Waldorf Early Childhood Association of North America (WECAN). WECAN’s activities are guided by its board, composed of experienced Waldorf educators and trainers, and carried out by its mostly part-time staff, including a coordinator, administrator, publications manager, and coordinators for teacher education and membership. Twenty-one regional representatives facilitate activities within regions.
In addition to conferences and gatherings within the regions, WECAN hosts a major conference each February in Spring Valley, New York, attended by nearly 400 early childhood educators.WECAN also actively publishes newsletters and a wide variety of books for Waldorf early childhood educators and parents. The early childhood association is separate from the Association of Waldorf Schools of North America (AWSNA), but the two associations work closely together. Both work on a continental rather than a national basis, with members in the US, Canada and Mexico. WECAN is also an active member in IASWECE.
Training. Everyone leading a group of children in a Waldorf early childhood setting is expected to have completed a Waldorf early childhood teacher education program.There are 10 early childhood teacher education programs and institutes in the United States. Five are Full Members and five are Developing Members of WECAN. All work with the IASWECE Guidelines and WECAN Shared Principles for Waldorf early childhood teacher education. All offer part-time, low-residency training courses, often with 2-3 week intensive courses in the summer and shorter week long or weekend courses throughout the school year, over the course of two to three years. All offer a Waldorf certificate; one program is in partnership with a state university master’s degree. The training programs collaborate with one another through a membership path that includes self-study and peer review through site visits.
Susan Howard is a Waldorf early childhood trainer at Sunbridge Institute, Spring Valley (New York), Coordinator of WECAN and a member of the Coordinating Group of IASWECE.