Considerations & Contemplations on Waldorf & Steiner Education
Whether you are thinking of venturing onto the wonderful path of home educating, or whether you have already embarked on this adventurous and incredibly rewarding Journey, Steiner’s approach to education is definitely well worth your consideration.
Admittedly, it’s not ‘unschooling’, ‘deschooling’ or ‘autonomous’ education (in as much as your child is able to tell you her or his need) ~ but it can be seen as child led in a different way. Steiner education does not care as much about what society, with its incredible pressure demands, as it cares about where the child is at, in her or his development. It is certainly true that each child has his or her own pace of development, it is also true, however that there is an underlying red thread in childhood that children follow in their own, individual way.
I am referring to the way the subjects are taught in this very special approach. What most people know about Steiner education is that there is a lot of art… maybe even that everything is taught in an artistic way or through art… however, less well known is that before the art there is yet another foundation on which this teaching is built. And this foundation consists of the storytelling part of each day.
Every single day contains a storytelling part ~ whether the child is six or fourteen. Now don’t get me wrong: there is no place for fairy-tales in a fourteen year old child’s academic education, no, the stories change over the eight years, following this red thread that I mentioned before.
So, in the first year (The Golden Key), there are, indeed many fairy-tales and nature stories, out of which, for example, the letters of the alphabet are drawn (literally: the Magic Mountain, with its two sharp peaks, is drawn and the M is discovered, the snake, slithering through the grassss, gives us the S…etc ~ and A really does not come from ‘apple’!). Also the Numbers and the four mathematical operations are introduced through these stories and pictures.
In the second year (The Holy and the Lowly), when the child is seven and eight, and in a stage of his or her development of finding themselves, two contrasting types of stories are told: Saint stories (not just Christian saints and wise men and women), representing our higher, idealistic selves, and animal stories, representing our lower, very much human self. They are meant to be a guide for the child, to finding her or his very own middle ground. Writing and Reading are practiced daily, the first rules of grammar are introduced, and arithmetic becomes more advanced.
Year three (Earth Journey), when the child is eight and nine, a very individual development takes place. For the first time, she sees herself as separate from the world around her, for the first time he feels a loneliness never known before. This process is accompanied by the stories of the Old Testament, in which human kind arrives on the earth for the first time and has to learn to cope with all the demands that they never even dreamed of before, in Paradise . So, the stories mirror the need to learn about measurement, house building, farming, clothing etc. (as the first human beings had to learn).Sometimes parents have been put off by the apparent religious undertone of these stories, yet, if one sees them as just that: stories that accompany the child’s development for that particular year, then that need no longer be an obstacle ~
…just as in the fourth year (Gods and Giants), nine and ten year old children hear the Norse Myths and Germanic Sagas, without the wish to indoctrinate them at all. At this stage of development, children have truly ‘arrived here on earth’ and real battles begin ~ both within them and with the people in their lives (questioning authority, like the Norse people questioned and fought the gods). The countless battles between good and evil, light and dark, strong and weak, represent the inner battles he or she experience during their process of growing up ~ growing older and wiser.
The fifth year (Orient and Occident) is, very much a golden year. Even physically, at the age of ten and eleven, breathing and heartbeat are in perfect harmony, and the children have arrived at a state of peace within themselves. This is the year when mythology turns into history: there is a gentle thread leading from Indian Mythology (including Hindu stories and the life of the Buddha) and Persian and Babylonian stories (the wheel, writing and also dividing time into a system of sixty, was invented in Ancient Mesopotamia, for example) to Ancient Egypt, where we arrive at history ~ real history with physical pyramids to witness its material reality. The last term tells all about the Ancient History of Greece where democracy and philosophy were discovered, and, in secret societies even the possibility of an ‘irrational number’ was discussed (opening up all kinds of possibilities to the next steps in mathematics and geometry lessons!)
And so it carries on: the sixth year (Roma Nobilis) tells all about Roman History and Medieval Times, reflecting the eleven and twelve year old child’s new stage of establishing her/himself in the world around; the seventh year teaches about the explorers, mirroring the child’s wish and need to explore the world more and more and make it her or his own; and the eight year in which all of modern history is taught, ending with the newspaper of the day.
Of course there is much more to each year, like the introduction of biology (animal and human beings) and local geography lessons in the fourth year; botany and geography of Great Britain in the fifth year; geology, geography of Europe, and physics and astronomy in the sixth year… Yet, everything is taught, emerging from this account of the development of human kind that is such a mirroring to each individual child’s development.
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