Written by: Jenny Smith
What is Steiner education
Steiner Education is the largest alternative and independent education movement in the world. This education grew out of the Austrian philosopher Rudolph Steiner who also founded something called Anthroposophy (a particular form of thinking that includes a spiritual perspective).
The main focus of Steiner education is to offer a more individualistically based approach to learning rather than a conveyorbelt same for all approach. The teachers work closely with three aspects of the child’s personality, their thinking, feeling and willing and develop all three of these equally through classes from pre-school right through to sixth form. Rather than asking ‘what does a child need to know in order to fit in with the existing society?’ they ask ‘what lives in each child and how can this be developed?’ This approach comes from a perspective of how can the qualities of each new generation of young people best be fostered so that they can emerge and play their part in the world.
Steiner pupils are taught traditional academic skills but in different ways to mainstream education. There is a very strong focus on practical and creative expression. The same teacher stays with the class for several years to facilitate a much deeper and more personal relationship building up between them and their pupils and the teaching is split into three seven year periods which follow a similar system to that of well known child psychologist Piagets work on child development.
During the first stage of up to seven years old children learn through being given exercises that are designed to strengthen their empaphy to others. The teaching will aim to stimulate the childrens desires to engage with the wider world by offering lots of practical activities and will also spend time each day in creative and imaginative play. This stage of early years education also aims to give a strong message and experience that the world is essentially good. This is done through teachings of people and work that has inspired positive change in life.
In the second stage, from age seven to fourteen the emphasis changes to activities that appeal to childrens feelings and imaginations. Activities such as story telling and artistic work are used to support the students connect more deeply with the academic content. The main task of the teacher is to work in such a way that they become a role model that the children naturally want to follow. This middle stage aims to teach that the world is beautiful.
The third and final stage of Steiner education from 14 upwards teaches through activities that develop thinking and judgement. They work with more abstract ideas and are encourage to form their own opinions and ideas using their own judgement. The main aim of this phase is to teach children that the world is true.
In the Steiner system children are introduced to certain academic practices later than in mainstream education. They start reading from age six and start using computers in early teen years once they have experience of discovering information from practical activities and books. Each days tends to open with something called a main lesson which lasts for two hours and focuses on one core subject that is drawn from a wide curriculum. Games and sport play a strong part in Steiner life. They are included to support children to learn physical agility, social awareness, grace, self-esteem and cooperation. As children get older they are introduced to the idea of competition and teams are entered into wider sports competitions.
Their approach to different learning needs is basically one of viewing that a weakness in one area such as cognitive or emotional is usually balanced by strengths in other areas. Part of the teachers job is to support the children to come into balance and to offer a varied enough approach to the classroom that meets a wide range of abilities and most schools employ SEN (special educational needs) staff to support the teachers and the class.
There are varying opinions of this approach to education. Some people feel that it is an amazing opportunity for certain types of children who’s creativity and imaginative flair may get missed in mainstream, whereas others criticise the system for holding children back in some way.