Melissa Grella, Ph.D., is a 2015 graduate of the Ph.D. Program in Environmental Studies at Antioch University, New England

Dissertation Committee:

  • Tania M. Schusler, Ph.D., Committee Co-Chair
  • Joy W. Ackerman, Ph.D., Committee Member
  • Candace J. Stout, Ph.D., Committee Member


environmental education, Waldorf education, art, aesthetic experience

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The purpose of the study was to explore the aesthetic foundation of the Waldorf pedagogy in order to understand how art and aesthetic experiences may develop care toward the environment. A form of humanistic education developed by Rudolf Steiner in the early twentieth century, Waldorf education is a learning model envisioned as a framework for moral education. Waldorf education is known for its intentional use of art and aesthetic experience as well as its focus on developmentally appropriate curriculum and teaching methods. As in other forms of holistic education, Waldorf educators focus on the head, heart and hand of every child, which they call the thinking, feeling and willing realms. However, it is the feeling realm which makes Waldorf unique. In Waldorf, the feeling life of the child – the affective domain – is included in all aspects of the educational process. Waldorf educators believe that it is the feeling realm where care is nurtured, and that for a child to fully learn – to move over the threshold from knowledge into action – a child needs to care about what is being learned. With this in mind, it is through art and aesthetic experience where Waldorf teachers touch the affective realm of their students – infusing feeling in order to connect them emotionally, experientially, and imaginatively to the content being presented. Through art and aesthetic experiences in Waldorf classes, are students indeed developing care and does that care extend to the environment? How are the students affected by the teacher’s methods? What is the students’ concept of care? Is there a connection between the students’ concept of care and how they learn? In order to explore these questions in depth, I conducted a qualitative case study with an Early Childhood Center (ECC)-12th grade Waldorf School. Throughout the study, I conducted classroom observations and interviews with teachers and students collecting data that helped depict students’ concept of care, as well as explored possible linkages to students’ learning of care through the teacher’s use of art and aesthetics. When analyzing this data, I found that Waldorf Education has the capacity to promote care for the environment through morality, empathy, and appreciation. These three related and overlapping categories work together through aesthetic experience to form the foundation of such care. My specific interest in conducting this study was how it may relate both theoretically and practically to the field of environmental education (EE). The intersection of John Dewey’s aesthetic experience and Nel Noddings’ ethic of care formed the basis for the study’s theoretical framework. Theoretical contributions include further understanding the development of care in educational settings, and specifically how art and aesthetic experiences may be included in the field of EE. Practical contributions include new ways to present and integrate EE in both formal and non-formal settings to the child participant, as well as considering the importance of developmentally appropriate curriculum. In addition, the study may help develop the environmental educator’s role in nurturing care toward the environment. Furthermore, I hope that this research will act as a bridge of communication between the cultures of Waldorf education and EE, and possibly with other educational settings.


Melissa Grella

ORCID Scholar ID# 0000-0002-6866-0393