There are many ways to educate a child. This the second in a series of articles in which we will be exploring alternative ways of learning outside the traditional state education system, and explaining what makes them different, and unique. Following our look at a Montessori education, this article puts Steiner Waldorf Schools under the microscope.
If you’re interested in educational methods that value the whole child and give equal importance to their physical, emotional, intellectual, cultural and spiritual needs, then a Waldorf-Steiner school may be for you.
So what makes them different? For a start, Steiner Waldorf schools are always co-educational. Classes comprise mixed aged students to encourage a ‘family-like’ structure where children can learn from each other. In the earlier years, less time is spent on teacher-led activity than on child-initiated activity. Different ‘moods’ are encouraged throughout the day in the earliest years: mealtime, for instance, is highly sociable; seasonal events encourage a joyful mood, etc. Teaching is primarily by example rather than by instruction and young children are encouraged to discover their own learning situations through play. The method emphasises:
- the inter-connectedness of physical, emotional, social, spiritual and cognitive development.
- the importance to play, since the latter foments good social skills and the development of empathy. It also emphasises the importance of ‘doing’ and ‘experiencing’ rather than just studying.
- the use of rhythm and repetition to help create good habits.
The Steiner Waldorf ethos places great importance on the child enjoying the learning experienced in an unhurried, no-pressure environment. Dividing the learning years into three developmental phases:
- The first (Kindergarten) stage lasts from age three to six
- the second (Lower School) lasts from age seven to 14
- the last (Upper School) is for children aged 14 and above
In Kindergarten, every day of the week is identified by a particular ‘doing’ activity such as baking, painting, seasonal handicrafts, etc. Children are only required to participate in these activities for as long as they are interested. Children also engage in ‘ring time’, joining their hands in a circle and singing songs, reciting rhythmical verses and playing spoken games in English and other languages. They also enjoy safe time outdoors, working on organic gardens, learning about recycling, climbing trees, etc. During story time, meanwhile, the teacher tells them imaginative tales and Nature stories. The Steiner Waldorf method lays great emphasis on the learning environment, carefully designing the indoor and outdoor space so the child feels as ‘at home’ as possible. Children are encouraged to bond with Nature, value its gifts and understand the seasons, and this connection is fostered by the use of natural materials and furniture in play and craft. Once children enter Lower School (aged seven to 14), they being formal schooling. Core subjects such as English, Maths, History, Chemistry, etc. are studied in three- to four-week blocks in the Main Lesson (the first lesson of every school day). In addition to the Main Lessons, students enjoy lessons in eurythmy (a unique form of movement), landwork, clay modelling, music and more. In Upper School (ages 14 to 19), students are encouraged to think independent thinking and explore new ideals. A select range of GCSE and A-levels are offered alongside the Steiner curriculum. Main Lessons at this stage comprise English Literature, World Literature, the History of Drama and Poetry. If you are looking for a school environment where the emphasis is on both the child’s individual academic and personal progress, then a Steiner Waldorf school may be for you, why not visit their website and see if there is a school near you.
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