Who is Rudolf Steiner?
Rudolf Steiner is an Austrian philosopher and social reformer who is known for his work and research efforts to link science and spirituality. He established an esoteric spiritual movement, anthroposophy.
Rudolf Steiner founded the Freie Waldorfschule (Independent Waldorf School), the first Waldorf school in Germany in 1919. The first Steiner school was named after the cigarette company where it was built, Waldorf-Astoria Cigarette factory in Stuttgart, Germany. Children of factory workers attended the original Waldorf school.
What is Steiner’s theory and method of teaching?
Steiner education also known as Waldorf education is grounded on the principles of holistic theory of development. Waldorf schools believe that students learn with their head, heart, and hands. The Steiner pedagogy aims to develop a child’s intellectual, artistic, and practical skills in an integrated and holistic way.
Steiner’s philosophy is an aftermath of the First World War. The aim of his educational ideology is to inspire children’s creativity, intelligence, and well-roundedness.
Steiner schools are non-academic in setting during the early childhood education years. Unlike in regular schools, a Steiner school would focus on creative play, imaginative education and experiential learning that lead to developing skills valuable to literacy, numeracy and academic learning in general.
Steiner educators strive to foster a child’s development and growth through holistic education, so they grow up to become good members of the society that bring meaningful contributions.
What’s the difference between Steiner and Montessori’s methods?
Waldorf education: ‘Head, heart and hands’
Steiner Waldorf early childhood education is different from mainstream schools, formal education comes in the latter years. Following the Steiner philosophy, they believe that young children learn with their head, heart and hands.
The Steiner approach focuses on integrating lots of creativity in their curriculum. Steiner schools educate children with a creative and artistic approach. Steiner Waldorf Schools’ class teachers inspire a child’s creative thinking and deep learning through storytelling, visual arts, poetry, speech, games and crafts.
Steiner Waldorf schools allow children to spend a lot of their play-based learning time outdoors to enable children to engage in activities involving physical movement, social interaction, self initiated play, and emotional development.
Steiner Waldorf Education encourages preschool and kindergarten students to have imaginative play and pretend, they are provided with toys, art materials and games.
Montessori school: ‘Follow the child’
The Montessori approach is student-centric. Teachers follow the child, they keenly observe the learners to understand their interests, strengths, and potential. The teacher enables children to choose their activities and learn on their own pace.
Teachers rarely give lectures to the class, children have the freedom to move around, work on their individuals tasks. Concrete learning is a very important component in a Montessori primary school. When they reach secondary education or middle school they move to more abstract learning.
Montessori has very minimal pretend play and it’s usually not encouraged even in preschool. They lean more towards task-oriented work or practical skills over imaginative play.
Instead of pretend kitchens our doll houses, a Montessori school would have a real kitchen, actual child-sized furniture, real food and cooking utensils. They provide practical materials that are used in daily life.
Curriculum content and teaching method
Typically, Waldorf education classrooms have students of the same age. Anchored on Steiner’s pedagogy, Waldorf education teachers uses multidisciplinary teaching methods, such as art, music, and craftsmanship to help children develop a lifelong love for learning. Steiner education class lessons are also language rich, some levels for older students even teach foreign languages.
Steiner education schools also practice teacher looping which means from early childhood up to elementary education grade levels, children have the same teacher. This allows teachers to develop deep learning and understanding of a child, they see their personal development, physical development, spiritual development and human development in general.
Having one teacher also brings a special bond between the child and the educator which plays a crucial role in child development. Children and teachers work hand in hand. They collaborate with one another.
On the other hand, unlike in a Rudolf Steiner school, Montessori classrooms are multi-graded or have mixed age students. Teachers encourage independence among the students. Montessori classrooms are child-centered where kids immerse in a self-driven learning.
Children focus on their own tasks and teachers do not intervene when a student is focused on their individual work and tasks.
Main features of the Steiner approach
Steiner Waldorf education gives utmost importance to the relationship between the students and their teacher. It’s of as great value as the material and curriculum content that’s why Steiner education is looping the class teacher to allow them develop strong bonds with their students for a couple of years.
The teacher moves with the class in the lower school grades every year. In a Steiner school, children have one teacher from first to eighth grade. This practice enables the teacher to know their students’ strengths, interests, challenges and character.
They would also know well each students’ parents and can work hand in hand with them in the children’s learning journey. As with music, physical education and the arts, subject teachers also work closely with students over time.
Holistic approach to development
The goal of a steiner school is to cultivate intellectual freedom and moral responsibility among their students so they become adults who promote human values and bring a positive difference in society. Waldorf schools have a holistic approach to education acknowledging that children need to hone and look after three major aspects of themselves– heads, hearts and hands.
In the early years of learning in a Steiner school, students learn core subjects like math, science, literature and history through creative methods that inspire them to listen and participate.
Rudolf Steiner felt challenged by the European education system and developed an alternative method where children’s imagination and creativity will be encouraged and their social and emotional needs will be nurtured.
Rudolf Steiner encouraged teachers to look for creative ways to develop the academic skills of children and to infuse art in the curriculum to better inculcate the core and concept of the subjects. Teachers also strive to help students develop their social skills and a sense of community that thrives on working together for the common good.
Steiner education uses a play-based approach in catering to the young learners’ needs. In a play-based program, children learn through exploration, experimentation, discovery, and problem-solving.
Learning is initiated by the child and supported by the teacher. They motivate children to learn through play. Children can develop social, emotional, physical, and creative skills through play.
Through play, teachers guide children as they learn the skills of cooperation, sharing, negotiating, and conflict resolution through social interactions.
Rhythm, repetition and reverence
Rhythm, repetition, and reverence are the three R’s of Waldorf Early Childhood Education.
Rhythm brings a sense of peace nd natural order to a child’s world. Having a healthy rhythm is essential for children so they won’t be left wondering, anticipating, or questioning what is next. In this way, they can seamlessly switch between activities. Rhythm is different from routine, it does not become stale, it is alive and dynamic.
A sense of security and well-being is positively impacted when children are able to predict what will happen during each part of their day. They learn and retain information better when repetition is in place.
Seeing each activity as worthy of honor, a young child learns through experience to revere each process and activity. As a result, they develop a sense of reverence for their family, community, and world. During this process, a young child learns how to be a steward of the environment.
Experiences in nature
Narure and natural materials are very important compnents to Waldorf education. In fact they have a very well-thought out outdoor curriculum. Some school would have forest and farm studies, school-based gardens, environmental work, and extensive outdoor play to help a child become a human being connected to the natural world.
The limitations of Steiner’s approach
Some families want to integrate technology into their children’s early years of learning. If you’re a parent who wants to start your kids young in being exposed to tech and other gadgets, Steiner education might not be for you.
The use of technology, electronic media, gadgets and tools is not allowed until a child reaches at least fifth grade. Some Steiner schools would even have parents sign an agreement that is binding to ban the use of tech for students.
Waldorf education students are only given permission to watch movies and TV shows when they reach sixth grade and even then watch time is limited. They’re not allowed to play video games and use the Internet until they reach high school.
Some families are also more comfortable with the traditioanl approach to core subjects. They want to follow the typical learning process for reading, writing and mathematics. If you’re the kind of parent who’s leaning towards such a direction, Waldorf education might not be for you and your child.