What is Waldorf Education?
Steiner Waldorf education draws on the ideas of the early 20th Century philosopher, Rudolf Steiner on how to educate children in a way that enables them to become their true selves, be equipped to lead a life of their own choosing, contribute positively to society and be a strong force for good in the world.
To achieve this Steiner recommended that it was important to take account of children’s age and developmental stage in shaping what and how to teach them. Central is understanding that in early years children learn best through imitation and play; from around age 6 to the beginning of secondary school, engaging the imagination and artistic activity inspires strong and joyful learning; and from secondary school age onwards, cognitive learning engages in earnest. Hence Steiner schools are generally divided into four stages: Early Years (3 – 6); Lower School ( 6 – 11); Middle School (11 – 14): Upper School (16 – 18).
At the heart of Steiner education also lies the integration of the arts and physical movement in all learning, giving them equal status to the academic as a way to support the development of well balanced, multi-skilled, robust and emotionally strong adults. These ideas, developed 100 years ago and justified mainly through observation and spiritual beliefs, correspond to understanding of child development today.
Steiner Waldorf Education …….
- Works for all children irrespective of academic ability, class, ethnicity or religion;
- Takes account of the needs of the whole child – academic, physical, emotional and spiritual;
- Is based on an understanding of the relevance of the different phases of child development;
- Develops a love of learning and an enthusiasm for school;
- Sees artistic activity and the development of the imagination as integral to learning;
- Is tried and tested and is part of state funded, mainstream provision in most European countries;
- Is respected worldwide for its ability to produce very able young people who have a strong sense of self and diverse capacities that enable them to become socially and economically responsible citizens.
About Rudolf Steiner, Anthroposophy and the Development of Steiner Waldorf Education.
Rudolf Steiner was an Austrian philosopher born in 1861. He obtained a Phd from the University of Rostock and was an author, editor, journalist and latterly school director. He also considered himself a ‘spiritual researcher’. and claimed to be clairvoyant.
Living at a time of great upheaval, poverty and war (First World War) Steiner’s work focused on developing ideas for humanity to work and live together in harmony and bring peace and stability to the world. His main work was the development of anthroposophy – a philosophy which is founded in the idea that both humanity and the universe consists of both a material and spiritual world and that it was possible to develop a sense of connectedness with that spiritual world. It looks to recognise the uniqueness of each individual and provide a path to find personal growth and spiritual freedom. It is not a religion and thrives across the world in an array of belief cultures. It includes thoughts and ideas – “insights” – around re-incarnation, karma and the cosmos. There is no requirement to “believe” or follow a set of particular rules. Instead the philosophy is designed for people to draw from, either individually or with others, and assist them with their own personal development. It advocates certain practices to develop a connection with ones spiritual self, such as meditation. It is deeply personal and undogmatic.
Steiner also applied his thoughts and ideas to a number of areas of life including education, agriculture, medicine, architecture and social reform.
Although Steiner Waldorf Schools draw on elements of anthroposophy in how and what to teach children, anthroposophy is not taught nor are teachers required to be “anthroposophists” although many do study Steiner’s lectures and writings beyond his lectures on education and use them to inform their understanding of the children they are teaching and themselves. Traditionally Steiner teachers drew mainly from Steiner’s lectures and writings to inform their teaching however, today Steiner schools also draw on a plethora of modern day research and approaches to education and SWSF facilitates that with CPD opportunities on all aspects of teaching and understanding the learning needs of the children in our schools.
The Development of Schools – a worldwide movement.
The first Steiner school opened in Stuttgart in 1919 for children of workers at the Waldorf-Astoria cigarette factory. The school’s benefactor was managing director, Emil Molt, who asked Steiner to found and lead the school in its early stages. The idea was that children from all echelons of society should learn together.
From that first school and the “insights” provided by Rudolf Steiner, a worldwide movement of schools has been inspired that espouse and promote universal human values, educational pluralism and meaningful teaching and learning opportunities. This progressive, international schools movement has now spread to over 70 countries around the world by popular demand, with schools being set up mainly by groups of teachers and parents. It is the essence of a grass roots movement. The ideas and principles which inform the education provide a credible and thoughtful perspective to the debate on education and human development.
Within anthroposophy, Steiner did also espouse a number of ideas around race and reincarnation which presented white Europeans as superior to other races. These ideas are wholly rejected by the schools’ movement today. As the umbrella body for schools in the UK, SWSF is committed to being anti-racist and supporting our schools also to be anti-racist. We are a movement in the UK which is concerned with promoting social justice, fair treatment and equality.
Steiner Waldorf Schools in the UK started in 1945 with the establishment of Michael Hall Steiner School.
Steiner schools are always co-educational, fully comprehensive. Ideally they take children from age 3 to 18 however most school in the UK stop earlier. They welcome children of all abilities from all faiths and backgrounds and are truly community schools with numerous opportunities for families and teachers to enjoy community events through festivals, drama performances and school fairs.
The priority of the Steiner ethos is to provide an unhurried and creative learning environment where children can find the joy in learning and experience the richness of childhood rather than early specialisation or academic hot-housing. The curriculum itself is a flexible set of pedagogical guidelines, founded on Steiner’s educational principles that take account of the whole child. It gives equal attention to the physical, emotional, intellectual, cultural and spiritual needs of each pupil and is designed to work in harmony with the different phases of the child’s development. The core subjects of the curriculum are taught in thematic blocks and all lessons include a balance of artistic, practical and intellectual content. Whole class, mixed ability teaching is the norm.
Steiner education has proved itself adaptable. More than 100 years after the first Steiner school was started in central Europe, this education continues to inspire people from all walks of life and in all parts of the world. Steiner schools have a reputation for producing well-rounded and balanced human adults who are able to cope with the demands of a fast-changing and uncertain world. Steiner graduates are valued in further education and work place for their curiosity and unjaded interest in the world as well as their resourcefulness and ability to both collaborate and innovate.