What is Steiner Education?

Waldorf education is taught according to the curriculum and teaching methods introduced by Rudolf Steiner in the first Waldorf school in 1919. The curriculum has since been developed in over 1000 schools in 55 countries. The complete curriculum is for K-12, though many smaller schools, including our own, prepare students to transfer to other Waldorf or mainstream high schools.

Most Waldorf schools, including our own, are independent, though there are a growing number of state-sponsored Waldorf schools around the world.

How is Steiner education different from other forms of schooling?

The goal of Waldorf Education is “to produce individuals who are able, in and of themselves, to impart meaning to their lives”.

Waldorf education seeks to educate the whole child, “head, heart and hands”. The curriculum is as broad as time will allow, and balances academic subjects with artistic and practical activities.

Waldorf teachers are dedicated to creating a genuine love of learning within each child. By freely using arts and activities in the service of teaching academics, an internal motivation to learn is developed in the students, doing away with the need for competitive testing and grading.

What are the distinctive features of Steiner education?

In the early years of schooling, academics are presented through artistic and practical media. There is no academic content in the Waldorf kindergarten (although there is a good deal of cultivation of pre-academic skills), and minimal academics in year one. Reading is preceded by a rich program of oral language in which the children retell stories and fairy tales, recite verses and perform plays. Reading develops out of the children’s writing, and reading from printed books is not taught until second or third grade.

During the primary school years the class teacher ideally stays with the same class for the entire six years.

Certain activities which are often considered “frills” at mainstream schools are, at Waldorf schools, essential parts of a balanced program: art, music, gardening, and foreign language, to name a few. In the younger grades, all subjects are introduced through artistic media, because the children respond better to these media than to dry lecturing and rote learning. All children learn to play recorder, and in year 4 they learn the violin, viola or the cello. All children learn crafts, from knitting to woodwork.

There is little use of “textbooks”. The children produce “main lesson books”, in which they record and illustrate their experiences and what they have learned. Upper grades use textbooks to supplement their main lesson work.

Learning in a Waldorf school is a non-competitive activity. Although the government requires that grades be given, reports include comprehensive accounts of the individual child’s activity and development, written by each teacher.

The use of electronic media by young children, particularly television, video and computer games, is strongly discouraged in Waldorf schools.

What is the curriculum at a Steiner School like?

The Waldorf curriculum is designed to be responsive to the various phases of a child’s development. The relationship between student and teacher is crucial, and the relationship changes through the course of childhood and early adolescence.

The main subjects, such as history, language arts, science and mathematics, are taught in main lesson blocks of two hours per day, with each block lasting from three to five weeks.

The total Waldorf curriculum has been likened to an ascending spiral: subjects are revisited several times, but each new exposure affords greater depth and new insights into the subject at hand.

Class 1 – 3 curriculum would likely look like the following:

Pictorial introduction to the alphabet, writing, reading, spelling, poetry and drama.
Folk and fairy tales, fables, legends, Old Testament stories.
Numbers, basic mathematical processes of addition, subtraction, multiplication and division.
Nature stories, home building and farming.

Class 4 – 7 curriculum would likely look like the following:

Writing, reading, spelling, grammar, poetry and drama.
Norse myths, history and stories of ancient civilizations, Greek, Roman and medieval history.
Review of the four mathematical processes, fractions, percentages, and geometry.
Local and world geography, astronomy, geology, comparative zoology, botany and elementary physics.

Special subjects also taught include:

Handwork: knitting, crochet, sewing, cross stitch, weaving and woodworking.
Music: singing, recorder, string instruments.
Foreign Language: German.
Art: wet-on-wet water color painting, form drawing, beeswax, clay modeling, drawing.
Physical Education: Kayaking, archery, group games and sports.

Where did Steiner Education start?

In 1919, Rudolf Steiner, the Austrian philosopher, scientist and artist, was invited to give a series of lectures to the workers of the Waldorf-Astoria factory in Stuttgart, Germany. As a result, the factory’s owner, Emil Molt, asked Steiner to establish and lead a school for the children of the factory’s employees. Steiner agreed to do so on four conditions: the school should be open to all children; it should be coeducational; it should be a unified twelve-year school; and that the teachers, those who would be working directly with the children, should take the leading role in the running of the school, with a minimum of interference from governmental or economic concerns. Molt agreed to the conditions and, after a training period for the prospective teachers, die Freie Waldorfschule (the Free Waldorf School) was opened September 7, 1919.

How many Steiner Schools are there?

Currently, there are more than 900 Waldorf schools in 55 countries serving approximately 150,000 students. There are more than 50 Waldorf schools in Australia.

What is the philosophy behind Steiner Education?

Consistent with his philosophy of human development, called “anthroposophy,” Steiner designed a curriculum responsive to the developmental phases in childhood, which would be nurturing the children’s imaginations. He thought that schools should cater to the real needs of children, preparing them for lives of freedom and social responsibility.

Why should I send my child to a Steiner School?

Waldorf schools provide a nurturing environment and protect children’s sense of wonder, allowing them to fully experience the beauty around them. This conserves their strengths and enables their ongoing physical, educational and social development.

Waldorf education has a consistent philosophy of child development underlying the curriculum. Subjects are introduced when they are most meaningful to the child. This fosters a love of learning rather than education under the threat of grades and exams.

Waldorf schools work to produce graduates who are academically advantaged, creative, resourceful, adaptable, and prepared to take a positive role in the wider world.

Who was Rudolf Steiner?

Born in Austria, Dr. Rudolf Steiner was a highly respected and well-published scientific, literary and philosophical scholar who was particularly known for his work on Goethe’s scientific writings. He brought his scientific interests to his investigations of in spiritual development. He worked, published and lectured across a number of fields, including architecture, biodynamic agriculture, homeopathic medicine, social organization and various arts, as well as education. His underlying interest was the evolution and development of human consciousness.

Why do Steiner students learn to read from Class 1?

Waldorf education draws on the power of the oral traditions. The teacher tells the children fairy tales throughout kindergarten and first grade. The children take a greater and greater role in retelling and enacting the stories. Mastery of oral language precedes written language culturally and historically as well as individually. The richer the experience of oral language, the easier and fuller will be the mastery of written language.

Reading instruction as such is deferred. Instead, writing is taught first. Writing is a practical, physical activity that can be learned by imitation. As the ancient peoples did, the children draw their first letters out of pictures. Writing thus evolves out of the children’s art, and their ability to read likewise evolves as a natural and, indeed, comparatively effortless stage of their mastery of language.

The reading of unfamiliar texts involves the decoding of abstract symbols and is a highly intellectual exercise. It is best to leave this to emerge gradually, as the written language is explored from the child’s side.

Why is so much emphasis put on festivals and ceremonies?

Seasonal festivals serve to connect humanity with the rhythms of nature and of the cosmos. The festivals originated in ancient cultures, yet have been adapted over time. To join the seasonal moods of the year, in a festive way, benefits the inner life of the soul. Celebrating is an art. There is joy in the anticipation, the preparation, the celebration itself, and the memories.

Why do Steiner Schools discourage media?

The reasons for this have as much to do with the physical effects of the medium on the developing child as with the the questionable content of much of the programming. Electronic media are believed to seriously hamper the child’s sensory development and concentration, as well as interfering with the development of the child’s imagination — a faculty which is believed to be central to the healthy development of the individual.

Waldorf teachers are not alone in this belief. Several books have been written in recent years expressing concern with the effect of television on young children. See, for instance, Endangered Minds by Jane Healy, Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television by Jerry Mander, or The Plug-In Drug by Marie Winn.

What kind of training do Steiner teachers have?

Teachers are required to have a full teacher training and be certified by the State authorities (in Western Australia this is WACOT). Most teachers have completed an additional course of study in Waldorf teaching. The teachers also undergo regular programs of professional development, study and attendance at conferences in WA, interstate and occasionally overseas.

Rudolf Steiner, speaking in Oxford in 1922, defined “three golden rules” for teachers:

“To receive the child in gratitude from the world it comes from;
to educate the child with love;
and to lead the child into the true freedom which belongs to man.”

Why do Steiner students stay with the same teacher for 6 years?

Between the ages of seven and fourteen, children learn best through acceptance and emulation of authority, just as in their earlier years they learned through imitation. In primary school, particularly in the lower grades, the child is just beginning to expand his or her experience beyond home and family. The class becomes a type of “family” as well, with its own authority figure — the teacher — in a role analogous to parent.

With this approach, the students and teachers come to know each other very well, and the teacher is able to find over the years the best ways of helping individual children in their schooling. The class teacher may also become like an additional family member for families in his/her class.

It’s worth noting that this approach was the norm in the days of the “little red schoolhouse”.

How are personality conflicts between students and teachers handled?

This is a very common concern among parents when they first hear about the “Class Teacher” method. However, in practice, the situation seems to arise very rarely, especially so when the teacher has been able to establish a relationship with the class right from the first grade. Given the sort of person who is motivated to become a Waldorf teacher, incompatibility with a child is infrequent: understanding the child’s needs and temperament is central to the teacher’s role and training. If problems of this sort should occur, the faculty as a whole would work with the teacher and the family to determine and undertake whatever corrective action would be in the best interests of the child and of the class.

Are Steiner Schools religious?

In the sense of subscribing to the beliefs of a particular religious denomination or sect, no. Waldorf schools, however, tend to be spiritually oriented and are based out of a generally Christian perspective. The historic festivals of the Christian tradition, and of other major religions as well, are observed in the class rooms. Classes in religious doctrine are not part of the Waldorf curriculum, and children of all religious backgrounds attend Waldorf schools. The methods of Waldorf education aim at awakening the child’s natural reverence and wonder for the beauty of life.

How do Steiner children fare when they transfer to other public or private schools?

Generally, transitions to mainstream schools, when they are anticipated, are not problematical. The most common transition is from the Waldorf primary school to a more traditional high school, and, from all reports, usually takes place without significant difficulties.

Transitions in the lower classes, particularly class one to three, can potentially be more of a problem, because of the significant differences in the pacing of the Steiner and mainstream curriculum. A class 2 from a traditional school may be further ahead in reading, however, the Steiner-schooled child will be ahead in arithmetic.

What is anthroposophy?

The term “anthroposophy’ comes from the Greek “anthropos-sophia” or “human wisdom”. Steiner proposed a discipline and method by which individuals could research and develop their consciousness of themselves and the spiritual world. The investigation, known also as Spiritual Science is a complement to the Natural Sciences we have come to accept. Through study and practiced observation, one awakens to his/her own inner nature and the spiritual realities of outer nature and the cosmos. The awareness of those relationships brings a greater reverence for all of life.

Steiner and many individuals since have applied this knowledge in various practical and cultural ways in communities around the world. Most notably, Waldorf schools have made significant impact on the world. Curative education, for mentally and emotionally handicapped adults and children, has established a deep understanding and work with people who have this difficult destiny. Bio-dynamic farming and gardening greatly expand the range of techniques available to organic agriculture. Anthroposophical medicine and pharmacy, although less widely known in Australia, are subjects of growing interest.

It should be stressed that while anthroposophy forms the theoretical basis to the teaching methods used in Waldorf schools, it is not taught to the students.

Where can one get more information on Anthroposophy?

There is an Anthroposophical study group which meets at the school and parents are welcome. Please enquire at the office for further information.

How does Steiner Education approach children who struggle academically or who are gifted?

Waldorf schools hesitate to categorise children, particularly in terms such as “slow” or “gifted”. A given child’s weaknesses in one area, whether cognitive, emotional or physical, will usually be balanced by strengths in another area. It is the teacher’s job to try to bring the child’s whole being into balance.

Cases of learning difficulties are taken under review at Faculty meetings. A child having difficulty might be given extra help by the teacher or by parents. Tutoring might be arranged with the school’s Education Support teacher, or referrals might be provided to specialists outside the school.

Correspondingly, a child who mastered certain material quickly might be given similar but more challenging exercises, or might be allowed to help other children.

How well do Steiner graduates do in further education?

A recent study in England indicated that students at Waldorf high schools tend to achieve higher exam scores than students from state schools. An older study from Germany gave similar results. In the United States and Europe, significant numbers of graduates from Waldorf schools are found in notable positions in business and government. Waldorf graduates have been accepted as students at, and have graduated from, some of the most prestigious colleges and universities.

No systematic studies have been carried out in Australia, but anecdotal evidence suggests that Waldorf students tend to do well in various careers. The students who have completed their primary schooling at Silver Tree Steiner School have adapted well in a wide variety of secondary schools.

Is Steiner Education relevant to special needs children?

Waldorf education is relevant to any child who can be integrated into the classroom environment.

The Anthroposophy-based Camphill Movement has a particular focus on special-needs individuals. The social, cultural, and economic principles of the International Camphill Movement were developed by Dr. Karl König (1902 – 1966). Unfortunately there are no Camphill or Anthroposophical curative schools in WA.


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