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What Is Steiner (AKA Waldorf) education?

Choosing a childcare service or school for your little one is tough work, mama. Good on you for doing your research! Looking into the different styles of education is a great start, and may help you decide what you want for your child.

If you like the idea of them learning about the world through creativity and a focus on the arts, then the Steiner education philosophy might be the go. It’s a play-based learning model that encourages kids to develop at their own pace in a home-like environment that isn’t actually your home. (Although you can incorporate some of these learning methods at home too.)

Also known as the Waldorf method (no relation to the salad), Steiner learning aims to build moral and environmental awareness in kids. So they pop out at the end not just as smart cookies, but decent people too.

Read on to get the basic rundown on the Steiner childhood education philosophy.

The philosophy

At first glance you may think, “Oh, this seems a bit ‘woo woo’”. Austrian scientist and philosopher Rudolph Steiner developed this approach to education in 1919, looking to create an environment for children that inspired a ‘unity of spirit, soul and body’. Oooh! Sounds like yoga classes, herbal tea and card readings to us. (Don’t worry – it’s not that.)

The core belief is that kids have all the capabilities they need to get through life already, they just need to be awakened at the right time. There’s no real need to rush the process.

Similar to Montessori, the Steiner philosophy believes that kids learn best by connecting with the world around them. However, while Montessori focuses on real life experiences, Steiner emphasises imaginative play and fantasy. Abstract learning and academic subjects aren’t introduced until well into school age, so your five year old won’t be expected to recite the periodic table just yet.

The classroom setup

When it comes to classroom setup, Montessori and Reggio Emilia inspired rooms are as carefully laid out as an influencer’s Instagram feed. The aim is to encourage children to interact with the certain activities on offer at their own will. Steiner classrooms are a bit more chill. They’re still bright and colourful, but the learning environment isn’t quite as ‘staged’.

Classrooms will often be decked out with homey touches like soft furnishings and pastel-painted walls. There aren’t usually any desks, and technology is kept to a minimum. You can expect different aged kids grouped together in classrooms, and for teachers to stay with their class for several years at a time to develop a strong relationship.

The materials

Steiner educated children are encouraged to play with low-tech toys, crayons and building blocks. This slightly Amish vibe is designed to get kids to use their imaginations and play creatively. 

Another important feature is the association between nature and education. Kids learn about the external world and build an appreciation for our glorious Mother Earth by gardening and interacting with natural materials in the classroom.

The learning style

A lot of the learning in a Steiner classroom happens through imaginative play. “How does anyone learn anything when they’re playin’ all day?” we hear you implore. Well, play is seen as a catalyst through which children learn and grow, which is why it’s such a core focus.

Teachers do work to a curriculum, but concepts and knowledge are introduced in creative ways. For example, writing and maths might be taught using music and movement. Like Montessori and Reggio Emilia, learning is self-paced so kids dictate when they’re developmentally ready for new subjects. But by contrast, Steiner kids will spend more of their days amongst music, arts and crafts. Cultured AF.

Classes follow a dependable routine too, so there may be set days and times for certain activities. This education approach suits children (or parents) that love a bit of structure.

The role of teachers

Steiner teachers initiate learning activities and playing, but their role overall is to model and observe. Their goal is to engage children’s ‘head, heart and hands’ through particular activities. They’re not just passing on information, but helping them explore and understand concepts holistically.

Because teachers often stay with classes for a few years, they build a close bond and learn to pick up on what kids need. For example, when your kid shows signs that they’re ready for more complex learning, their teacher will introduce relevant activities. 

The benefits of Steiner learning

The proof is in the pudding, as they say. But there sadly isn’t any pudding here – just proof. Based on a 2007 study of Steiner-educated graduates, future success in life is almost guaranteed. Nearly 94% attended university and 50% went on to receive a Masters or Doctorate degree. So despite this learning style being play-based as opposed to academic, it obviously sets kids up for academic success. 

This could be because subjects are introduced in a fun and engaging way, so kids develop a lifelong love of learning. Rather than being taught to be motivated by rewards like praise and report cards, they engage in activities they’re genuinely interested in. 

This style of self-directed learning is becoming really common in education settings. We think it’s awesome! It’s about time people realised that not all kids develop at the same rate or want to achieve the same things. Rather than being assessed according to a set checklist, the focus is on individual development and meeting kids’ differing needs.

Like what you’ve learned? Share this article with a fellow mum to get her take on Steiner education.

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