Initiative groups follow many different patterns in their development, but in recent years a certain trend has evolved which seems to be helpful to many groups. The initiative groups usually begin study groups for adults, and after a few years start a playgroup for children. After a year or two more they may feel ready to found a kindergarten, and several years later may have grown to the point where a school can be founded. As you can see, it takes time to initiate a school, and it can easily take seven years or longer from the beginning of the first study group to the opening of the first grade. The timing varies from one community to another, but all have found that it is essential to have a strong foundation in Waldorf Education and Anthroposophy if their school is to grow and thrive, and such a foundation is not laid overnight. A Waldorf school is not just an alternative to public schools or another independent school; its curriculum and philosophy proceed from the worldview and the insights into the nature of the child that Rudolf Steiner has given us in Anthroposophy. If there is not a core community surrounding the school initiative that is thoroughly familiar with and committed to that philosophy and pedagogy, then it is unlikely that the initiative will prosper.
Communities also find that while enthusiastic parents are essential for helping to found a school, this same enthusiasm can lead one to decide to found a school too quickly. Just as Waldorf schools are nonprofit organizations that are not created for the financial benefit of any individual, so their founding must also have an element of selflessness rather than being created to benefit certain children and their families. We know this can be a difficult thing to hear, but the pace of development is probably the single greatest factor in determining the future strength or weakness of a school. A weak, hastily built foundation remains with a school for its lifetime, and one sees the effects of it again and again. We all want schools that will flourish and thrive, and it's quite possible to found such schools if one works hard and does not rush.
Many communities have been inventive in meeting their own children's needs in the years before a school is started. They have had regular festival celebrations for families, organized puppet shows, painting classes, or other activities. Some have developed programs for elementary-aged children who are unable to go to Waldorf schools. These programs usually focus on the Waldorf story curriculum, the arts, and festival celebrations. They meet after school or on Saturday mornings. Leaders of such programs do not need to be fully trained Waldorf teachers. Often they are parents who are educating themselves about Waldorf Education through summer courses and other studies.
Returning to the basic pattern, which has evolved in recent years, we'd like to go over the steps one by one, sharing with you some of what the schools themselves have told us.