What is Steiner Education?
Steiner education is an internationally recognized approach to the education of children. At its centre is the holistic understanding of child development and in its methods and its interpretation of the National School Curriculum it aims to meet the needs of the children in their cognitive, emotional and physical development.
The early childhood years (0-7) are characterised by children actively learning through imitation and their own creative experience. The child's imagination and sense of wonder is fostered, through stories, songs, creative play, interaction with nature and involvement in everyday human activity. A Steiner early childhood centre is a warm, nurturing environment filled with beautiful, natural play materials and outdoor spaces with animals (where possible) and gardens to care for. The young child learns through play and structured activities to cook, paint, garden, sew, use tools, share and problem solve.
Children explore their environment, learning important sharing and cooperation skills to enhance their social and emotional well-being, foster positive self esteem and develop gross and fine motor skills. Foundational pre-literacy and numeracy skills are grounded in the early years through rich oral and practical learning experiences to prepare adequately for the more formal learning environment of Class 1.
We learn to care by being cared for and caring relationships are at the heart of the school life including care for each other and care for our environment and the natural world
We shouldn’t ask “What does a person need to be able to do in order to fit into the existing social order today?” Instead we should ask “what lives in each human being and what can be developed in him or her?” – Rudolf Steiner
The primary years are the optimal time for nurturing imagination. Steiner stated, ‘this vital picture-making capacity…gives life and insight to logical and conceptual thinking’. The interpretation of the curriculum, cognitive development and skill building are approached through pictorial and imaginative presentation, embodying narrative, creative writing, visual arts, music, drama and movement.
Developing imaginative capacities enables students to engage with academic material and forms the foundation for future creativity, problem solving and innovation. Timing of curriculum content and lessons is matched to child developmental and emotional needs. Teaching all subjects through an arts based curriculum develops the capacity to appreciate beauty in the world.
In the primary years children form a strong social group with their class, often having the same teacher throughout their primary years. This creates a unique bond between the class and teacher and helps build strong school communities.
The Main Lesson is a unique feature of Steiner education, aimed to deepen, enrich and unify the learning experience. It is a unit of work on a particular theme/subject and is studied each day for 3-4 weeks. Teachers develop a wide range of artistically and academically integrated and related activities around the central theme. Each Main Lesson relates to the students’ stage of development for that year and is linked to other subjects, building upon prior knowledge, experience and skills in creative ways that engage students in their learning. The intention is to go more deeply into the curriculum content thereby enabling students with different capacities and inclinations to connect to the material in a way the meets their learning needs.
Digital technology is an exciting and empowering field of human endeavor. Steiner schools delay the formal integration of complex digital technologies until high school. Steiner primary education is an engaging, dynamic and multi-disciplinary experience providing a natural and human environment where children learn to observe, question and express themselves fully. An ‘unplugged’ experience is seen as crucial for children to develop an uncluttered self- image and the ability to develop rich communications skills. There is a growing awareness that unbridled access for children to digital technology can have a significant negative effect on their learning.
Handcrafts balance intellectual activities through the experience of doing and making. Students develop dexterity through learning traditional skills such as knitting, sewing, crochet and woodwork. They gain a sense for beauty, quality and colour, combined with creative and imaginative use of natural materials. Students design and make beautiful, useful objects through innovative, meaningful and practical activity. Handcraft in the primary school provides the basis for further learning in the secondary school, where students quickly learn to apply digital and design technologies effectively, creatively and ethically.
Arts based education
The value of an arts rich education is gaining increased recognition and not only for the development of imaginative capacity but as a basis for more effective citizenship. Research show that it's closely linked to almost everything that we as a nation say we want for our children and demand from our schools: academic achievement, social and emotional development, civic engagement, and equitable opportunity. Steiner education is an integrated, holistic education, designed to provide a balance of intellectual, artistic, imaginative capacities and practical life skills. The Steiner approach to the curriculum is based on the unfolding development of the child at each important stage of growth, with a strong emphasis on teaching through the arts and experiential learning. Teachers tell age appropriate stories from the early years through to high school. These rich tales of magic, adventure, courage, mythology and culture, ancient wisdom, dreaming stories and biographies assist children’s growing understanding and appreciation of their world, human civilisation and history. Narrative creates living imaginative pictures, providing the foundation for learning across the curriculum. Steiner education encompasses a deep knowledge approach, using balanced and integrated learning strategies. Strong emphasis is placed on teaching through the arts; therefore painting, beeswax and clay modelling, sculpture, speech, poetry, music, drama, the movement art of eurythmy and the artistic process itself, enliven all subjects.
Students are encouraged to find their own authentic voice through the development of moral capacities. Nurturing each child’s individual potential is valued within the context of a rapidly changing society and in relation to the wider local, national and global spheres of activity.
Steiner National Schools are committed to providing (Steiner) education which nurtures each child in such a way that he or she develops into a young person with a balanced capacity for thinking, feeling and doing. We aim for the children at our schools to develop self-confidence and inner resources so that they can take their place in the community as creative, self-directed and responsible people. Steiner education provides enjoyable and relevant learning through deep engagement and creative endeavour, to develop ethical and capable individuals.
Developmental approach – the interpretation of the curriculum and the methodologies employed in the schools are directed to the developmental needs of the children
The three phases of childhood are qualitatively differentiated with an emphasis on 'doing' in the first 7 years.
Foundational pre-literacy and numeracy skills are grounded in the early years through rich oral and practical learning experience
Caring relationships are at the heart of the school life
Integrated approach - the interpretation of the curriculum, cognitive development and skill building are approached through pictorial and imaginative presentation, embodying narrative, creative writing, visual arts, music, drama and movement.
Steiner education aims to deepen, enrich and unify the learning experience.
Steiner schools delay the formal integration of complex digital technologies until high school
Narrative – where possible curriculum content is approached from a perspective of narrative thus enabling a more integrated and whole experience for the children.
Arts rich curriculum - students are encouraged to find their own authentic voice through engagement with a wide range of artistic activities
There is a number of useful and interesting articles in the Journal of the Pedagogical Section dealing with the challenges facing Steiner/Waldorf education around the world. The rapid development of Steiner Education in China for example and the issues that concern us here in Ireland - teacher training and class formation.
The term 'Steiner Schools' is more familiar to us in Ireland and in the UK but in the US and elsewhere the schools are known as 'Waldorf Schools'. This refers to the historical foundation of the first school in the Waldorf Astoria cigarette factory in Stuttgart in 1919. Steiner was asked by the owner of the factory to open a school and so the first 'Waldorf School' was established. There are now over 1,200 Steiner Schools in the world on all continents.
The website of the Association of Waldorf Schools of North America (AWSNA) has a number of useful sources of information under the heading "Why Waldorf Works" including detailed information on various aspects of the education
The website of the Steiner Schools Fellowship of UK and Ireland is also a useful source of information.
The European Council of Steiner Waldorf Schools (ECSWS) has agreed a statement of principles which 'Steiner Schools' has adopted as a statement of ethos.