The Rightful Role of Digital Devices at Home and in School December 14 2018

As an education for our time, Waldorf pedagogy embraces the contributions of modern science and the technological tools it has developed. Our challenge is to find the appropriate place for these tools within the curriculum and the life of the developing child.

Digital devices––such as computers, tablets, smartphones, and the like––enhance many human cognitive capacities, but they can equally well diminish or even supplant them.

The golden rule in any healthy education is: First develop the skill, and only then use the tool that enhances that skill. To the degree that one is fluent in mathematical operations, for instance, a calculating device can be of immense help. It can have the opposite effect, however, if it is introduced before the appropriate mathematical skills have been adequately developed.

The most effective way to prepare children for their mastery of digital technology is to cultivate first their imagination and confidence through experiential, creative learning, as well as through healthy human relationships.

A fundamental question regarding the use of digital technology, therefore, is: How to develop in children the full range of human senses and a rich inner life so that digital devices can enhance rather than curtail their further learning?

In an attempt to address this question, Douglas Gerwin, executive director of the Research Institute (RIWE), has drafted the following talking points to stimulate discussion of this question:

  1. Children learn best from direct contact with other human beings.
  2. Children learn differently at different stages of their development.
  3. Children need to move if they are to learn. The younger the child, the greater is this need.
  4. The development of gross motor skills precedes the development of fine motor skills. It also enhances them. Unscripted play is the most productive work of childhood.
  5. Children should complete, in large measure, the physical development of their perceptual organs before these are applied to digital devices.
  6. Learning is more about developing human capacities than accumulating information.
  7. Children need to develop life skills long before they need to acquire digital skills.
  8. The earlier children gain access to technology, the sooner must be developed their sense of responsibility. However, a child’s powers of objective perception and thinking––which alone constitute the basis for freedom and responsibility––need time to mature.
  9. Therefore: “Wait till (grade) eight!"
  10. Education must be guided by pedagogical values, rather than by economic or political interests.
  11. Children learn more from being bored than from being entertained.

We call on parents, educators, health and social workers, policymakers, and the corporate world to help us develop a future in which artificial intelligence in all its forms remains at the service of humanity rather than becoming its ruler. In this context, establishing the rightful place of digital technology in our society begins in the way we raise and educate our children.

––– document prepared by Douglas Gerwin
November 2018

For more information about healthy child development, visit and in particular, the book, Helping Children on Their Way, edited by Elizabeth Auer.