The Steiner Education Approach

Not sure what the Steiner approach to education involves or how children in Steiner schools learn? We’ve got the lowdown on this approach to education and learning.

The Steiner approach to education was formed by Rudolf Steiner, an Austrian philosopher, artist and playwright (1861 – 1925). Steiner developed a spiritual movement that he called anthroposophy, which is based on the idea that a child’s moral, spiritual and creative sides need as much attention as their intellect.

As far as education goes, he strongly believed in the idea of developing the whole person. Steiner first founded a school in 1919 and, as it was for the children of the Waldorf Astoria factory workers, the schools have continued to be known as Waldorf schools.

The education approach differs from mainstream education in several ways. For a start, Steiner schools put a strong emphasis on the important of spiritual values and social skills and the teaching method is based on a balance of intellectual, practical and artistic teaching.

Physical development is regarded as important too and the schools use a dance form called eurythmy to help children’s physical development. Steiner also regarded colour as important, especially for helping a child with their imagination skills, and teaching about the colour spectrum is an important part of the education philosophy.

In schools, children tend to have the same teacher from age of six or seven years old until they’re 14 years old (there are also kindergartens or nurseries available too). It’s also normal for them to remain in the same class for this time, so there’s quite a mix of different age groups, although classes generally tend to be small. When lessons are being taught, it’s a case of teaching everyone in one go and there’s a mix of the teacher teaching the whole class, group discussion and then individual work on the subject. The method of having only one teacher for so many years doesn’t work for everyone, as if you don’t get on with your teacher, there can be difficulties.

Development of imagination is regarded as very important, so for younger children, wooden toys are favoured instead of plastic ones and computers are generally avoided until children are older.

Generating Enthusiasm

Fans of the Steiner approach often say that this form of education is ideal for generating enthusiasm within children. It encourages them to enjoy learning, especially as there’s not so much of a competitive or testing nature involved in early education, and children are helped to develop their own abilities and excel academically.

The other dimensions involved in the philosophy behind the education help children to develop a healthy sense of awareness, concern for other people, respect for the world and their own sense of meaning and purpose. The spiritual aspect doesn’t sit right for everyone and, as there is a certain degree of spirituality involved in time at school, it needs to be something you’re comfortable with.

Art, creative crafts and eurthymy play a part in the day too, and many children finish their education with a fantastic grasp of art, a gift for being practical and creative.

In the UK and Ireland there are over 30 Steiner schools, but compared to Steiner schools in Europe, they’re mostly regarded as alternative and have to come up with their own funding to survive, whereas European schools tend to receive funding.

Children do study for GCSE exams, like mainstream schools, but often not as many subjects and there’s not so much of a pressure on them to do exams. Some schools also add other qualifications in, often in creative subjects, through organisations such as the Open College Network.