The Infancy of a Waldorf school

Bob and Shirley Routledge
Second Edition


Bob and Shirley Routledge wrote The Infancy of a Waldorf School out of their experience of founding the Toronto Waldorf School, which opened in 1968. In this revision I have tried to retain the principles by which they worked, while removing references specific to time and place. The budget sheet at the end I left as it was, as the items and the proportions can still be enlightening.

Since the late 1990's there has been much discussion in the Waldorf movement about the extent to which the faculty should "control" a school. In 1977 it was taken as a basic principle that the teachers would run the school, of course with help. As our society has developed, most teachers no longer have the time or the skills for this to be possible, whether or not it would be the ideal. Some authorities, looking back to the first Waldorf school, see "self-administered" as a more valid principle than "faculty-run". That "support for the faculty" which the Routledges suggest is now likely to include delegation of financial and legal matters to a board, which is mandated to make policies and decisions. Board and faculty work closely together. The faculty is consulted wherever appropriate, and most boards include teachers as up to half of their membership. In any case, in a beginning school the teachers should be fully in accord with whatever is done.

In spite of changes in our society and in the way Waldorf schools fit into it, the principles and experience contained in The Infancy of a Waldorf School continue to be valuable to those considering starting a school, or already in the throes.

When the Routledges wrote this guide in the 1970's, they hoped that the Toronto Waldorf School would be the first of many Canadian Waldorf schools. In fact, they began by founding the Waldorf School Association of Ontario which, once the Toronto Waldorf School was established, supported the opening of other schools. These schools now give each other mutual support through AWSNA. Anyone starting a Waldorf school in a region where there are none could well follow this example.

Christine von Bezold


What really marks the beginning of a Waldorf school? Perhaps it is that decisive moment when an individual or a group of individuals voice the resolve, "Let us do something". Others might see the beginning differently. For the purpose of these notes, we are starting at this point as the moment of birth. The "infancy" we have carried to about the seventh year of the school.

These notes are based on the experience of a particular group of people in a particular situation - namely that of the Toronto Waldorf School, founded in 1968. In Toronto, study of Rudolf Steiner's educational philosophy by small groups of people and periodic public lectures on it continued for some 13 years before the actual opening of the school. The school was, one might say, a reality in the thought world before any concrete action succeeded. The first school in Canada having now broken the barriers of anonymity, it should be easier for other schools to arise.

Each Waldorf school comes into being in its own way according to the individuals involved. It is intended therefore that these notes be taken merely as a sharing of experience. They are given in the hope of furthering the work of Rudolf Steiner through the founding of more Waldorf schools for children.

Shirley and Bob Routledge


Waldorf education has been in existence since 1919 and has demonstrated its integrity and its success.There are hundreds of Waldorf schools around the world, all striving toward the same ideals. Rudolf Steiner's educational impulse carries important leadership for the spiritual future of humanity.

For these reasons, every independent new beginning needs to consider not only its own particular constellation but also its connection with all others with whom it is united in spirit through this work. We cannot afford to be amateurish. We cannot afford to fail. We need to work together in mutual trust.

The initiative group founding a school undertakes a moral responsibility and commitment to ever widening circles of people affected by their deed:

  • to the children for whom the school exists, whose karma draws them together
  • to the teachers who undertake this life task together
  • to the parents who put their trust in the teachers
  • to the other Waldorf schools already in existence, whose support can be a source of strength
  • to the Anthroposophical Society, of which every true Waldorf school is a part
  • to the Pedagogical Section of the School of Spiritual Science centred at the Goetheanum, Dornach, Switzerland, whose awareness of a new beginning is important for its connection with the world stream of Anthroposophoical movement.

It is actually quite easy to start a school. But it is extremely difficult to sustain it through the formative years. Every parent knows what is involved in raising a child through infancy, childhood and adolescence. A school goes through a similar maturation process. An initiative group should consider quite objectively whether its initiative is sufficiently substantial, or whether in reality it may be a radiant, floating bubble of enthusiasm. A bubble may soon burst and leave a bitter disappointment. No Waldorf grade school should be started without assurance that it will continue. A kindergarten only can be undertaken without the same commitment to the future.

An initiative group should first of all ask itself three basic questions:

1. What really is a Waldorf school?

Superficial observation might suggest it is a nice school where lovely people teach beautiful programs. Any school could use Waldorf techniques and methods and be a very fine school. It becomes a Waldorf school when its teachers are united in a common inner commitment to spiritual realities of life, that is, to Anthroposophy.

2. Why do you want to start a Waldorf school? What is your motivation?

It could be the need of a group of parents, or the destiny of a group of teachers, or a model school for public demonstration, or a social impulse for the good of humanity, etc. Someone has been moved by an idea, a vision. The nature of this vision will influence the forming and character of the school. It will draw the people together.

3. What does it mean to be responsible for starting a school? - for bringing a new 'being' into the world?

Certainly it is a deed which goes far beyond the needs of the personalities of the moment. It is a creative act, setting something in motion which cannot be casually abandoned. One can expect trials and obstacles which test the strength of commitment of the group. Dedication, hard work, and some self-sacrifice cannot be avoided. If the motivation is selfless and in tune with the guiding spirit of the time, help will surely appear when needed.

Further comments in the next sections may give further guidelines for making the most difficult decision: How does one know when it is right to begin?


A Waldorf school is not just a better school system for the education of our children. It is the embodiment in a practical way of a spiritual undertaking toward the fulfilment of human evolution - a centre for spiritual and cultural renewal. The initiative of beginning a new Waldorf school requires a conscious recognition of the deeper significance of this deed, and a willingness to accept responsibility for it. Without the spiritual reality coming alive at its centre, the potential of a Waldorf school cannot be achieved. This is a free, creative, human deed, requiring a selfless inner striving and study together by those who undertake the task. The school will be born, the karmic threads will pull together and the necessary assistance will become available when the time is right. The right time may not be determined by the particular wishes or needs of the people in the group. Confidence in the greater wisdom of the guiding powers of evolution must temper our eagerness. Nevertheless, we must step forward; only then can the spiritual world respond and act with us.

From a common understanding of the nature of the human being and the world, and from uniting together to work toward a greater ideal, will come the energy to achieve the goal and to overcome the obstacles and problems along the way. Each step is a growing process for the people involved and a test and preparation for the next step.

A thorough understanding of Rudolf Steiner's work and the spiritual foundation of the school need not be a commitment of every person who becomes involved with the practical work. It must, however, be carried by the responsible members. These 'responsible' persons include the teachers. An inexperienced group would be well advised to enlist the help of mature Anthroposophists to help keep the right perspectives in the making of decisions.


Out of several hundred interested persons, a small percentage will be sufficiently motivated as parents to investigate what the school can offer. Of these an equally small percentage will be courageous enough to actually enrol their children. Therefore, a broad base of interest and support needs to be built up, forming a pyramid from which only a few carry their interest all the way to the peak. This requires a long-term public relations effort of public lectures, study groups, exhibitions, seminars, literature distribution, interviews, etc. etc. to spread awareness of Waldorf education and reach those people who are seeking this kind of educational philosophy. The form of this publicity activity will depend on the people involved, to make best use of their particular talents and the voluntary time and energy they can give.

In North America it is difficult to sell only an idea. Most people are pragmatic. They want to see the 'real thing', something tangible.

Personal, human contact is important. "What kind of people are these Waldorf types" is a question you will have to face, as people will in part judge what you represent by what they see you to be.

Though we may shudder at the expense, the image and quality of the printed page will speak its own message, even if the recipient does not read its content. Every piece of paper should be truly representative in its professional and artistic quality.

There are elements of risk in publicizing Steiner's work. Unsympathetic media can distort, ridicule or sensationalize very easily. Be careful in choosing your media for publicity. Don't hurry.

Word of mouth is the most effective publicity. Once a school is started, Yellow Pages advertising is the second most effective publicity.

There can be no better guide for public outreach than the philosophy, "If you are going to do something, do it right."

In our enthusiasm for Waldorf education and for the school we want to bring to reality, there may be many disappointments when people do not respond with answering enthusiasm or when early enthusiasm peters out. The first introduction can rest in a person's mind for quite some time - sometimes seven years - before it stirs their soul and they return to take another look.

What lives in Waldorf education is a spiritual reality which either meets a need or question in the soul, or passes a person by. There are some people whose innermost being is seeking and ready to meet Rudolf Steiner and Anthroposophy. Their enthusiasm for Waldorf education may be a first step in this direction. On the other hand, it can be quite a surprise that someone who appears sympathetically inclined is not at all stirred. 'Spiritual tact' is required to meet what lives in another human soul; not to answer deeper questions that have not been asked.

There is great value in publicity solely intended to illustrate the Waldorf approach to education, to awaken a new thought in people's consciousness, expecting no tangible results from the publicity such as response, enrolment, money, etc.

Those responsible for a new beginning must steel themselves against the inevitable pressure by a few eager parents to begin a grade school prematurely. The need is so great and the children so ready. But this situation prevails everywhere. We can only do a very little in the face of the world situation; we are very few people spread very thinly. We cannot respond in quantity; we must respond in quality. Care should be taken not to tempt or excite parents to expect more than can honestly be accomplished.

There is real merit in proceeding carefully, step by step, in bringing a school into being. While you may start as simply a group of people sharing a common objective, you will soon find that a more formal committee structure is beneficial in clearly assigning individual responsibilities to assure that the many, many tasks are carried through.

At some point, and really better sooner than later, it is wise to form a legally incorporated association. Such a legal entity has specific advantages: it has perpetuity, even though the people forming it may change; it can do things in its own right, such as entering into a contract; it has an aura of reality and continuity which is generally acceptable to the public; and finally, the directors are protected from personal liability.

The association should be chartered with quite broad and obviously public-benefit objectives, and should immediately obtain charitable status so that it may give tax-deductible receipts for donations from individuals, foundations and corporations. The latter two groups will probably be much more inclined to donate to incorporated, recognized charitable bodies than loose groupings.

You will need the advice of a lawyer for these two steps, but frequently the group or the interested parent body will contain a qualified person. Make sure you fully understand the obligations involved in your own situation, as these can vary.

In the final analysis, the Faculty must control the school. Yet the faculty will need the continued support, in all manner of ways, of parents and friends. How to suit both of these requirements can be a challenge. In Toronto, our solution was to create two legally incorporated bodies. The Waldorf School Association of Ontario (registered as a public foundation) was founded as an open, public, democratic body to invite participation of parents and friends in supporting the school and in furthering public awareness of Waldorf education. This body also founded the school and later spun off a second corporate body, The Toronto Waldorf School, to own the school. This second body was governed by a self-perpetuating board of seven trustees of whom the majority were faculty members. It was registered as a charitable organization and thus could receive gifts from the public foundation, Waldorf School Association. This is, of course, not the only way to do it, and your regulations covering incorporation and charitable status may be different; but do think about what is required for the long term and structure it early, before other patterns are set.

The Waldorf School Association of Ontario, having achieved its first major task of starting the school, was later able to turn its focus of attention outward, to continue the furthering of Waldorf education generally and to encourage future development of new schools in Ontario.


If a group has reached the point of talking about actually founding a school, it should by now have a pretty good idea of what a Waldorf school is. The question focuses on the 'idea' by which the group is motivated. The group's vision of the future may be a city school for deprived children, a country school close to nature, several kindergartens feeding one grade school, several grade schools joining in one high school. It may be a model demonstration school contributing to general education development, or a small school to fulfil the needs of a particular community, or many other possibilities. Each school is unique. The initiative may have been set in motion by teachers, or parents, or Anthroposophists, or interested people with a social healing impulse.

Somehow the group has gathered: inspired by an idea, moved to respond, and ready to act.

Ideally, the group becomes united, working together on a task far greater than could be accomplished by any one individual. In reality, differences in style, motivation, dedication, interpretation, knowledge, temperament, and so on can flare up causing conflict and stress, testing the strength of the members. The extent of commitment to the goal and selflessness of motivation may be revealed. Such trials will repeatedly present themselves but should not be allowed to deter the group from persevering toward its goal. They are in fact part of the growing process and are a kind of protection against plunging into something unprepared. If a group is unable to overcome minor crises, it is probably insufficiently established to undertake the greater pressures of a new school.

It requires both objectivity and imagination to survey a situation at a particular moment and set a reasonable, attainable goal for starting a school. When it is felt that sufficient groundwork has been done and that the interest is alive, a projected starting date can be chosen, giving a framework for positive action.

Planning for the practical needs of a grade school should be started two or three years before opening. It will be a rare occasion when all the needs outlined under "Practical Steps" can be realized more quickly. Someone must always be thinking ahead, envisioning the needs of the future. It requires a special capacity of imaginative thinking to see the vision and translate that into the step-by-step practical necessities and realistic time allowances needed to achieve them.


Having prepared the way and taken the decision to be responsible for this spiritually creative deed, everyone's will forces now become fully engaged in the myriad practical details concerning the physical reality of the school.

The practical steps can be divided into four basic areas:

1. Teachers
2. Children, parents and public
3. Buildings and equipment
4. Finances

All four areas should be in control before opening a school.

We might take a dictum from the business world for all of these: manage - or be managed. For if we do not think ahead, plan ahead and work to carry out our plan, we will find ourselves the victims of circumstances and surprises. And we will end up being much less good schools than we should.>

1. Teachers

Without this first - the teachers - there can be no school. This matter is therefore of primary importance above all others. It should be addressed at the earliest stage of planning: ideally at least a year before the date the school will start.

In starting a new school it is of immense value to have at least one experienced Waldorf teacher with the kind of depth of understanding of Steiner's philosophy of education attained only by maturity and experience. Parents are naturally wary of a new school with new ideas. Their children's future is at stake. Teachers will have to be competent to interpret the reasons for their decisions and the long-range benefits of Waldorf education. The teachers themselves will need all the moral support they can get in their new task, relying on each other for encouragement and guidance.

To be a true Waldorf school, all class teachers must be fully committed to Steiner's philosophy, united in their philosophical world view. They should work together regularly on further study of Anthroposophy. The aim is, of course, that all teachers entering the classroom are similarly committed. It is possible to bring in an occasional specialist teacher who is a naturally sympathetic person.

Considering the world-wide shortage of Waldorf teachers, it is important to ensure that teachers will be available for future years in addition to the first year of the school; ideally people with some connection to the location.

As soon as one school year begins it is necessary to begin considering applicants for class teacher for the next year. A decision should be made by the end of the winter term. In other words, the opening of a school should be carefully thought through well in advance; it is a rare situation where it could happen spontaneously. Waldorf teacher training centres appreciate being informed of teaching positions available so they can assist students to find their right place.

It can happen that a person sets out to obtain training, intending to return to your school, but along the way something changes and they do not return. This of course can be a great disappointment. It should be recognized, however, that commitment to teaching is a matter of individual karma and destiny, which must be left to the free decision of each person without outside pressure or financial obligations.

It could happen also that a school simply must begin and no Waldorf teachers are available (such as happened in Toronto with the nursery school, founded in 1965). A very good school or kindergarten can be established, incorporating as much as possible of Waldorf ideas. Care should then be taken not to misrepresent the facts.Give the school another name: add the Waldorf only when it has achieved this goal.

In the first year or two a new school is usually a homey, friendly little school with perhaps 10-12 kindergarten children, 6-8 in Grade 1, and a minimal teaching staff assisted by part-time (or even voluntary) helpers. All too quickly this will change. A school's needs expand rapidly as new grades are added.

In addition skills will be needed in administration, legal, financial, architectural and future planning. Teachers should not be over-burdened with this kind of work, though they must carry ultimate responsibility for all aspects of the school's development and well-being.

It is a fundamental principle of a Waldorf school that teachers have the authority and freedom to educate children on the basis of their life convictions. As a teacher, an individual comes to a Waldorf school to work because of life convictions founded on Anthroposophy. In such a setting there can mature an understanding of the true nature of freedom and responsibility.

2. Children, Parents and Public

One of the best ways of contacting parents and children is to set up a pre-school program in the same geographical area where you intend to start a grade school. A pre-school program provides a good introduction to Waldorf education. It is also an extremely valuable service to children, especially in our time when so many destructive influences can assail the child in the early formative years. A program up to kindergarten level can be continued for many years without requiring any commitment to a grade school. It can be carried by a small number of people.

Summer programs for children serve a similar purpose; likewise Saturday artistic programs, touring puppet shows, story-telling at a community centre; or exhibitions of children's work, kindergarten toys, books, etc. Weekly programs for parents together with their young children serve a growing need for parents looking for healthy ways to relate to their young children. Other publicity programs were indicated in a previous section. (See "Preparing the Ground", p.10.)

When the first contact is made, an attractive information brochure can be available, with an enclosure by which further information can be requested. In the preparatory work, names of interested people should be gathered and a mailing list built up, recording where possible any pertinent information that could be useful. (We always think we will remember but we don't, especially as the numbers grow.) A log record of all queries, phone calls, letters, etc. will be found useful, and particularly a special file of prospective parents. Follow-up on all these contacts will be important when gathering children for the first classes.

Before a school actually begins, the problem still exists of no visible functioning reality for parents to see. Visits to open houses at the nearest established Waldorf school may be arranged. It may also be helpful to set up an office or information centre, suitably decorated with displays of borrowed children's work. In Toronto we rented a store front in a shopping plaza near the school location for six months prior to opening. The window displays made an impression which sometimes came into the person's consciousness much later as something they wanted to know more about.

Interviewing for enrolment is almost an art in itself, and a great deal can be learned from experienced teachers. Some basic considerations might be helpful. Both parents should be interviewed, together if at all possible, to prevent misunderstandings and to ensure that the parents agree on the decision to enrol their child in a Waldorf school. And of course the child should be seen alone also by the teacher before acceptance. After a school is started an applicant can visit the school for a few days of observation before enrolment. Doubtful children could be accepted on trial for a term.

Parents should be informed of what they can expect from the school, and what will be expected of them. They should understand the role of the teachers as 'authors' of the rules and methods, and how responsibility for the life of the school is carried. Their opportunities for involvement in the community of the school and for furthering their own education and development can be indicated, stressing the free initiative of the individual.

Parents will come with widely varying degrees of understanding and commitment to the philosophy, and all should be welcome. It is because of the child's destiny that they come to the school. It is important to be candid and open; hesitation or avoiding direct answers to questions from parents or public produces an unspoken suspicion that "they are hiding something", or "they don't know what they are doing". In the long run it does not help to avoid or disguise the basic spiritual and philosophical background of the school. If we are sufficiently confident in our own convictions, it should be possible to openly state that they exist; that there is a basic spiritual view of life behind the school. Parents should know that this exists, and be free to pursue it further if and when they are ready to do so.

Many other particulars could be covered in interviews for enrolment, such as:

  • Who makes the decisions in the home - parent or child?
  • Does the child watch any television?
  • Has the child been given any drugs or medication?
  • What are the child's sleeping and eating patterns?
  • What is the medical history?
  • Are the parents willing to change and grow along with their children?

It is unwise to accept children into a beginning school who have abnormalities, disabilities or serious learning and emotional problems. Even though the need to increase enrolment presses heavily, in the long run it is not worth it. The reputation of the school can be quickly soured. Curative education based on Steiner's work is a different task. Acceptance of children is the decision of the teachers, however, and exceptions have been made successfully in particular situations.

For the stability of the school's operation it is only fair and reasonable to ask parents to sign a contract for tuition each year, for one school year, so that the school's income (and teachers' salaries) is guaranteed. Such a contract could be terminated mid-year if the teachers recommend the withdrawal of the child. Terms of payment for the fees would be stated in the contract. It is important to be firm in the collection of fees, so that all parents are carrying their fair share of responsibility. We made it a rule that no child could return to school in September if fees from the previous year were outstanding. In particular situations some kind of extended payment program can be worked out if the school feels the parents will be reliable. For families unable to pay the full fees, see item (c) under the "Financial" section.

After a time in a Waldorf school some parents find their established life values become insecure and their own inner life tormented with new questions. This can be a traumatic experience, manifesting sometimes in conflicts with the class teacher. A wise teacher will watch for the needs of parents too, since this ultimately comes back to problems for the child.

Most criticism or opposition arises from lack of understanding through not being fully informed. In this teachers can be just as guilty as parents! It generally requires the teacher, however, to take karma consciously in hand and turn the difficulty into something positive.

Public relations for the school must be an ongoing, conscious effort. Lack of outreach effort can result in a later drop in enrolment. The image of the school in the eyes of parents and public must be considered in decisions by the faculty on school policies and programs too. The faculty will need to come to agreement on their position concerning behavioural patterns of society such as television viewing, early reading, dress codes, parental responsibility, hallucinogenic drugs, competitive sports, eating and sleeping rhythms, etc.; and they must be prepared to explain their position to parents.

Effective communication is an eternal problem, both within a school community and more broadly to the public. The fact is that many people do not really read what they receive, or read it in a half conscious way and do not remember. Advertisers know that one magazine ad is not enough; the message only becomes conscious when the same image is seen over and over again. For effective communication, therefore, we can only say: repetition, repetition, repetition... Say it again another way! Direct personal contact is always the most effective.

The modern mind has been either darkened or dazzled and often needs help and healing to find its way to a meaningful human way of life. The comment has often been overheard, "In the Waldorf school you meet such genuine, understanding people."

3. Buildings and Equipment

Because a Waldorf school tries to reflect its philosophical values in every aspect of its work, the outer appearance and environment of the school are important. While a good teacher can educate in a barn or under an oak tree, outer forms can have a long-range effect on the developing child. Ideally one should have a building which expresses architecturally the underlying philosophy. This is of course not always possible, especially in the beginning.

A Waldorf school should be seen as an institution of high reputation by conventional standards as well as our own. It should demonstrate that we are practical, capable, caring people who recognize the need for, and value of, conventional customs and regulations, and can abide by them where necessary. It is unwise to disregard the applicable local regulations. To oppose them is not worth the damage it may do to the image that parents and public will have of the school - quite apart from endangering its very existence. While accommodating those regulations, however, we can become distinctive by greater dimensions of imagination, human warmth and artistic sensitivity in how we use or embellish our facilities.

Local regulations for schools generally govern such matters as land-use bylaw conformity, floor space per child in classrooms and in playgrounds, washroom facilities, public health inspection, parking space and transportation access, and fire regulations. The fire regulations are usually the most stringent. Care should be taken to determine applicable regulations from official sources; do not rely on hearsay. Usually the authorities are reasonable and helpful if approached early with tentative plans and questions. It is helpful if one of the group has some experience or special ability in talking to these people - a lawyer, say, or a builder.

In choosing a location, there are many factors to be considered: accessibility, population of children short-term and long-term, quality of the environment in the neighbourhood, long-term possibilities for permanent premises, financial aspects, and so on. Nevertheless, if the nucleus of the people initiating the project and carrying the responsibility for it are located in a particular area, that is the place to begin. Once an area is selected, publicity efforts can focus there to build up local interest.

Children should not be required to travel long distances if at all possible. More than 20 minutes is already troublesome, especially for little children. The concept of several nursery or kindergarten groups in surrounding areas feeding into one grade school can have many advantages - or even several grade schools feeding into one high school. An area with a high percentage of young families today will not necessarily always be that way; children grow up but families stay there.

Rarely will a new Waldorf school be able to buy land and build, or to buy a building suitable for its needs. Rented (or, even better, loaned) space will more likely be used. Try to find space large enough to fill the needs for four to five years at least, so that you have the opportunity to grow with the least possible financial burden, insecurity and disruption. A church building can often provide classrooms for weekday programs, and has the advantage of washrooms, larger rooms for assemblies and plays, outdoor space for playgrounds, and sometimes even furniture. Some are not permitted to rent space because of tax considerations, but may be willing to provide it in return for an annual gift. With fluctuations in child populations, some public school buildings become available. Children need room to run; if a property has no space, a nearby park might be considered.

When the school is established and growing strongly, after two or three years, the search for a long-term home must begin in real earnest. This is not to say that some thinking, looking and planning has not been done earlier; but now it becomes a priority item. Now is the time when the small faculty and its circle of parents and friends must really plumb the future: what form will this school take, which is being shaped now for its faculty and students of the future? Single or parallel classes? Separate buildings for pre-school, grade school and high school, or all under one roof? What special purpose rooms and facilities? What playground, gym and auditorium space? All these questions will require a lot of discussion within the faculty, with other schools, and with the architect or consultant. Each decision will have long-term ramifications and must be really thought through by the whole group. There are many examples of beautiful yet practical Waldorf school buildings around the world; talk to all of them you can, to find what will best suit your own needs.

As for the interior space and furnishings, there are many thoughts and preferences, though not all are possible.

Kindergarten rooms should be bright and airy, but with one or more quiet corners or spaces. Floors should be carpeted so that little hands, knees and bottoms are warm and sound levels are moderated; although this will require frequent vacuuming and some cleaning of juice and paint spills. The room should be darkenable for special activities. Electric lights should be incandescent, not fluorescent, and equipped with dimmer switches. Much of your equipment - shelves, stools, chairs, tables, sand-box - can be made by parents and friends, as can many of the simple wooden toys: big and small blocks, rocking horses, etc.

Grade school classrooms should ideally be other than rectangular; if you have to start with that, a slanted closet or some irregular corner will help. So will colour. Rudolf Steiner gave indications of the colours most appropriate for each grade, and these can be applied in an alive way - such as lazure - to transform flat planes. Again, good daylight and incandescent electric light are desirable. Lots of storage space is needed: shelves, drawers and closets. Blackboards may be easily and cheaply created by painting wall-board walls with a minimum of two coats of blackboard paint and adding a wooden frame and chalk-rail; repaint as necessary, and after a few coats there is an excellent surface for chalk. School furniture can sometimes be obtained second-hand from public school boards as they upgrade, and old wooden desks can become beautiful again with a little tender loving care.

There are a thousand and one details to settle in starting a small school, and they multiply when you start to grow and plan your own building. The older, larger schools can help you immensely.

4. Finance

Availability of money and good financial management will not create a Waldorf school, but shortage of funds or poor financial management can prevent it from being healthy, or from growing, or even cause its death. Would-be schools have failed, and others have had very difficult struggles, because of financial mismanagement or ignorance. Financial concerns seem to frighten some people, even to the extreme of seeing some Ahrimanic evil in relating money to human needs. Some drift in the dream that if they think right the money will just appear. Others regard money as an earthly counterpart to spiritual initiative. We favour the latter view. Finances are a necessary component of life and we must be masters of the balance.

Specific sources of funds may vary from school to school, as will specific financial problems, but some aspects are, or should be, common to all.

All planning - for faculty, other staffing, premises, equipment, supplies, enrolments and fees - can and should be worked down to dollars in and dollars out. Assumptions and guesses will be necessary, but even at the beginning a fairly realistic picture can be made, to be updated and corrected as information becomes available. In Toronto we did our first budget three years before the school opened; it proved to be surprisingly accurate in total, if not in every detail.

There are two benefits to all this financial planning. First you get an idea of your net needs in advance. You get fewer nasty surprises later. Second, those people you approach for financial assistance will be more likely to support you if they see this good planning; they will feel that their contributions will close a specific gap, rather than disappear into a bottomless pit.

The elements of good budgeting, book-keeping and control reports are simple. Any accountant can set up a simple synoptic ledger system and reporting procedure, and almost anyone can learn to operate such a system.

These are some principles that we found invaluable to establish at the outset and to never violate in spite of all temptation:

  • The school must not be based financially on extreme sacrifice on the part of the faculty.It is not likely that you will be able to pay at the scales of the public schools or industry, but you must set salary levels which permit a decent standard of living in the community.This must recognize the need for savings, car, vacation, insurance etc. as well as food, shelter and clothing.A teacher burdened by financial worries cannot do all that a Waldorf teacher should.While each school will make its own policies, which must conform to applicable legislation, we think it appropriate that salaries in a Waldorf school be more related to need than to academic qualifications, status, or the like."Need" can be specifically determined for each individual, or more generally established for single teachers and increments added for dependents.
  • Your fee structure will simply have to reflect these decent salaries, which will probably make up anywhere from 65% to 85% of your expenses.It should also reflect the value of the education you are offering.That is, it should be at least in the range of the fee structures of those independent schools in your area which have good quality images.You gain little by selling too cheaply, and can lose a great deal by doing so.
  • The school should receive the full applicable fee for every child enrolled, except for the children of full-time faculty members, who are granted a "bursary" by the school.Only on this basis can the school set fair and reasonable fees, predict its income, and control its financial affairs - in other words, balance its budget.If some families cannot afford the full applicable fee and the child is acceptable to the faculty, then an independent committee should determine how much the family can pay, and undertake to raise the difference.The faculty should not be involved in financial arrangements with parents, especially where tuition fee assistance is involved.Their close human relationship to the child and perhaps the family can prevent objectivity in confronting financial problems.
  • The financial management of the school is the responsibility of the Board of Trustees and the administrative staff.Confidentiality around individual financial matters such as salaries is a legal requirement, but the school's budget is open to faculty and usually parents.
  • You should be scrupulous in all your business dealings: that is, fair, honest, living up to your word, paying bills on time, etc., so that we are recognized as people of the highest ethical standards.This will require that you cause others to honour their obligations to you, which will probably be most difficult, but most necessary, in the matter of parents paying fees on time.Mature Waldorf schools have learned that it is best in all respects to be very firm from the beginning, and to permit delays in payment only in the most exceptional circumstances.
  • Make sure that administrative and financial control functions grow as the school grows.What starts as a part-time effort for one person will too soon become full time, and it will be impossible to know and keep track of so many families.You will at some point want to hire an auditor; you may find as we did that the auditor can help you set up your business procedures to simplify the auditing, and thus save costs.Most jurisdictions demand complete and meticulous records, especially on your students.This time-consuming and demanding work must be planned and staffed for, otherwise the teachers become overburdened.
  • Your fee income will almost certainly never cover much more than your operating costs, so that funds for land acquisition, construction or major equipment will have to come from gifts or borrowing.In either case, if you are able to present a clear financial picture of your growth, your present operation and your future expectations, you will have more likelihood of success.A new school will likely have a substantial deficit for the first four years of operation.A guarantee from financial sponsors should be sought to cover this before opening the school.

Some schools have established fund raising as an ongoing activity, while others have conducted specific campaigns for specific purposes such as buildings. These schools can tell you of their experience, but as a general rule this effort should not be added to the faculty's burdens but handled by dedicated parents or friends.

Borrowing is less attractive because the money must be repaid with interest. But in one sense this is fairer, because future parents will thus share the load with present parents. Conventional lending sources will consider an application only if the school can demonstrate stable financial management and operation. Initially, therefore, funds have to be sought from individuals who are in sympathy with the ideals of the school.

  • Budgeting is the second most important of your financial activities, second only to managing within your budget.There is nothing mysterious about budgeting: a budget is simply the financial reflection of your plan for the year.A budget should not be derived by looking at the figures for the past year and adding something for inflation and growth; it should start "clean" each year, and be built to reflect what you really expect to happen or will try to make happen.

Every school will do it somewhat differently, as there is no best way. For your reference, a sample of the form of budget used in the early years of the Toronto Waldorf School is appended. In addition to belonging to a specific time and place, it reflects our particular situations in year 2 and year 7, and the decisions we made: family discounts on fees, faculty salary structure and benefit plans, our own particular debt situation, etc. It also shows how fast a complex a school can grow, and the amount of detail we put into our budget so that we could control our expenditures by monthly review. In addition to this annual budget, we also had a ten-year plan which looked forward to the financing of further capital improvements and additions.

Even those schools which wish to work on the basis of parents giving what they can, and faculty taking just what they need, should budget; cash must flow, supplies and services must be paid for, and faculty needs cannot be absolute zero.

One last word: The financial and administrative aspect does not control the school. The faculty group in the final analysis makes the decisions. But with good financial data available, permitting full understanding of the ramifications of all decisions, the faculty is able to make better decisions. Any financial advisor must understand this role, in order to be effective. But the faculty must recognize that a good financial advisor is of real value to the school, and that the advice of such a person should be carefully weighed.



  1. In negotiating for premises try to show the church that this is a valuable service to the community, not a profit-oriented venture. Perhaps their buildings are sitting vacant all week and should be put to worthwhile use. It may also affect their thinking on rental rates if you are obviously a dedicated group, struggling to get established, concerned about quality in education and the spiritual welfare of humanity.

    In fact we did not pay rent. We made a monthly donation to the church. Our agreement was quite informal, in writing in the form of correspondence only, not a legal document. This was for their tax situation. Our agreement was on a year-to-year basis, though either party could give notice by January 15 if the school would not continue in September.

  2. Do not try to go too deeply with the church people into the spiritual or philosophical ideas of Rudolf Steiner lying behind the education. It can easily lead to the discovery of apparent conflicts with their dogma and traditions, and in practice is not essential to harmonious relationships. We simply stated that we believed the human being to be of divine origin, and that in Waldorf education we did not teach any religious dogma, nor any anthroposophy, but hoped that when the children left they would carry within them the openness and the confidence that there is something of the divine in each human being. The philosophy is basically human and Christian. You may, of course, find someone who really is open to Steiner's spiritual science; if so, let them pull it out of you.

    The church people with whom you work can find themselves torn between their attraction to you and your work, and their disagreement with aspects of anthroposophy. They may envy the dedication in your community. One must also watch for suspicion on the part of the parish as to just what your group is about; prejudice can arise purely out of lack of understanding.

  3. Always remember that the building and the property belong to the parishioners of the church, not to the school. When one has been in the building for some time, the school is established there, you have taken good care of the premises and decorated the rooms beautifully, dedicated teachers are working very hard… one begins to feel like the owner, rather than the guest. Then the conflicts begin. The teachers begin to take things for granted and perhaps forget that the parishioners have the first right to use "their" building. They expect it to be left ready for them. If the church leaves it in a poor state, not ready for you, this has sometimes to be quietly accepted with a good grace. No matter how hard one tries, there are always occasions when "nobody" has left the mess, but the school as tenant will usually be blamed. Try to be above reproach by always doing your part properly, regardless.

  4. No matter what the problem, it can usually be resolved by sitting down with the church officials and talking it out. Be ready to understand and accommodate their needs as far as possible.

    We found it best to keep teachers away from all dealings with the church. The Rector and church staff brought their problems to our business manager or Board Chair. The teachers did likewise. Most often, problems were amicably worked out between the church secretary and the school secretary or business manager. Some person as a go-between makes life much easier, especially if you have people in either group who are intensely dedicated to their work and have a quick temper or outspoken nature.

  5. Janitorial service is always a problem, whether it is provided by the church caretaker or whether you hire you own. If you use the church's, you may need to pay extra to be sure of adequate service. They are not accustomed to children daily, and the level of dirt an active group can create. Nurseries usually require wet-mopping every day. We started by using the church caretaker, but as the school grew we found it necessary to hire our own. They each did only their own part of the building, and had their own equipment.



In our experience, the success of fund raising depends on a direct personal approach. For a new initiative, general appeals by mail yield very little. Any success we had with foundations, corporations or wealthy individuals only succeeded where we had a direct personal connection. However impressive our brochure and presentation, the principle deciding factor was the human confidence in the people involved.

A second factor is sound financial planning. Major benefactors are generally astute business people who want to see behind the idealism and enthusiasm a practical, feasible financial plan and evidence of good management of business affairs.

We found little success with corporations or foundations. In their eyes we were seen as a private school, and not something obviously in the general public good. Most major corporations have restrictive policies in charitable giving, supporting public institutions such as universities, hospitals, art galleries, research, and so on. Smaller corporations where directors choose the charities to be supported are more likely prospects.

It is essential in going to major donors to be able to say that the school community is giving its utmost. Try to get 100% participation in donating - even if the amount is only $2.00. Major donors will also expect the school's board members and volunteer fund raisers to have dug deeply into their own pockets.

There are always hundreds of ideas for fund-raising events and activities. Each must be carefully considered from the point of view of the image and dignity of the school, and the time and energy required in proportion to the financial return. These criteria seem to rule out 90% of the fund raising ideas! On the other hand, some are worth doing for their public relations value, or to stimulate enthusiasm and involvement, even if the financial returns are minimal.

The most effective fund-raisers are people who are deeply committed to the philosophical basis of the school. They radiate a dedication and enthusiasm that are clearly deep and sincere. The task of the fund-raiser is to touch that inner imagination which releases the will, and moves the benefactor to give.



YEAR 2(1969-70)
SIZE OF SCHOOL Grade 1-3 (39) Grade 1-8 (172)
Kindergarten (20) Kindergarten (20)
Pre-K. (72) Pre-K. (57)
FACULTY & STAFF 4 full-time 12 full-time
9 part-time 10 part-time
SPACE 3 rented locations own building +
1 rented Pre. K.

Fees (net after family discount) 49,600 196,460
Other (materials billings, interest) 1,400 7,150
51,000 203,610

Salaries and specialist fees 43,170 127,250
Benefits 900 4,500
Rents 4,450 1,450
Heat, light, power, water - 11,000
Janitor services and supplies 1,900 5,400
Telephones 730 700
Legal audit and professional services - 4,000
Supplies (classroom, office, yard, gym) 2,250 7,100
Building repairs 250 200
Advertising (mostly Yellow Pages) 200 800
Printing and stationery 100 3,000*
Postage 150 600
Teacher training - 600
Events (Open House, etc.) 80 400
Insurances 200 1,700
Library and subscriptions - 150
Food (soup, milk, juice, cookies etc.) 900 2,200
Teacher moving - 950
Miscellaneous 300 350
Debt servicing - 31,260
55,580 203,610
Net Income or Deficit -4,580


*Included new printing of prospectus


Budget was set to break even (since we were a charitable, that is, non-profit organization). Salaries were set on a basis of need (in a general, relative sense rather than specific individual situations). Other expenses were budgeted on the basis of plans and expectations for the year, and fees were set so that, with the expected enrolment, we would break even.

A preliminary budget was done February-March, fees were set and announced in April, and contracts sent out by May 1 for return by June 30. (If you can bring this time-line forward , so much the better.) The budget was fine-tuned in September when actual enrolment was known. Discretionary expenses would then be modified, and expenses controlled to live within the revised budget. Capital costs such as new equipment and building construction are not included in these figures.

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