An Introduction to Steiner Education by Francis Edmunds

Edmunds’ introduction to Steiner education is weighty enough but every bit worth the read. It’s informative and doesn’t leave many questions you might have about Steiner education unanswered.

The early chapters are structured chronologically and bring you through the developmental years of a child’s life, from preschool up to secondary school and examinations. He doesn’t shy away from pitting Steiner education against other more conventional education systems and uses plenty of anecdotal evidence to illustrate various idiosyncrasies of the Steiner approach.

In his consideration of what he calls the over intellectualisation of children today, Edmunds says that “spontaneous child fantasy forces have begun to dry up”. The result is that “humans are unable to beset problems they are faced with”, as we have not been given the appropriate chance to let our imaginations develop freely enough to be creative. He warns against bringing a child too soon into her wakefullness or nerve senses, describing ways the child can be guided less abruptly through to their next stage of development by painting, modeling, cooking, sewing, building, nursery rhymes, action songs, eurythmy, simple fairy tales and little plays.

Regarding the developmental stage of age 7 to 14, Edmunds talks about the Steiner idea that this period of childhood is a unique gift to man. He refers to ‘feeling and heart’ learning, where teachers use ‘picture’ as opposed to bare fact. He discusses the social instinct in us and how Steiner education tries to overcome egotism and foster a sense of being sociable. The teacher doesn’t need to focus on either marks or rewards but help and guidance. This facilitates a ‘spirit of emulation’ instead of competition. A focus on success is replaced by a focus on sound results.
In a dedicated chapter, Edmunds answers questions on discipline, eurhythmy, religion, changing schools, coping in a modern society after Steiner schooling, games in Steiner schools and so on.

Overall the book presents Steiner education as a sensible and practical way to approach the education of children.

Previous Events

Steiner Open Information Evening

On Wednesday, the 25th of March, 2015 at 6.30pm in Westside library, an information evening on the new Galway Steiner National School was held. Lindsay Myers began, giving an overview of the six key elements of the Steiner pedagogy, and discussed how it relates to the Irish curriculum.

March 25th, Westside Library

These key features are:

  1. An integrated curriculum- with learning happening in an integrated way (e.g. with projects) rather than in discrete subjects.
  2. The class teacher and the centrality of the relationship of the teacher and child.
  3. A child-centered approach. Steiner education looks at age appropriate learning, thinking about what a child can do based on their developmental stage, and experience of the world.
  4. Oral language, with an emphasis on storytelling, discussion, confidence in speech.
  5. The importance of the early school years- play, movement, and freedom to explore the world in art, music and nature in a non-prescriptive way.
  6. The parents as primary educators, and the special relationship they have in the school, being involved in every possible way.

She also noted that the school has confirmed a temporary location in Brooklawn House, in Galway West Business Park, Knocknacarra (behind Dunnes and B&Q). The venue is a bright and airy building and the Educate Together School are housed on the ground floor of the same building, and will share some of the outside space.

Pearse O’Sheil from Lifeways Ireland spoke next.

Pearse O'Sheil from Lifeways

He gave some context to how Steiner Education began in Ireland. The first primary school started in 1987, in East Clare [Raheen Woods and Mol an Oige in Ennistymon], by two groups of approximately 30 parents, in all. Some were seeking to do something radically different in education, and others had children that weren’t doing well in mainstream schools. Initially, in Raheen Woods, a little school started, with 12 families, who essentially started it themselves. It was very much a parent-driven initiative. Therefore, Pearse noted that this [Galway Steiner National School] is a process of moving towards something very new in Ireland, with state support. It is a big move for an education system that is slow to change. Also, this year, both schools in Co. Clare now have permanent recognition from the state.

Pearse went on to outline some important aspects of Steiner schools. Firstly, the values in a Steiner school relate to a central concern for child development. Often, traditional education is a curricular-based education rather than child-centered. Instead, Steiner asks what is a child’s experience as they grow through the years. So, being interested in children is of primary importance to a teacher, not knowing the curriculum. A good teacher is a wonderful thing to see. There are constraints in that you have to follow the curriculum, and you have to meet requirements of the state, but any curriculum is subject to interpretation.

Secondly, Pearse spoke about how teaching four year olds to read and write at such a young age is not supported by evidence. There is no formal teaching of children in this respect until they are closer in age to seven, in many countries around the world. Then they are ready. And they can do it.

Thirdly, another feature of Steiner education, mentioned by Pearse, is the use of large format blank books rather than textbooks in Steiner Schools. The rationale of what is taught is derived from understanding the children, and from recognising that at a certain point that children realise that words are made up of certain sounds. When they awaken to that reality-  that is when reading and writing should be taught. So Steiner is a developmental approach that uses the curriculum to meet those needs. Steiner education should be active, and real – doing real things that have real meaning for children- making, baking, and creating. Play is the most child appropriate activity. Informal learning. Children live in the world as a continuum. The children learn from the heart in primary education, not the head. In the affect. “What was it like in Norway in the middle ages” – it’s not information in a dry form, but information in an experience.

Fourthly, teaching in a Steiner school is like being an artist, according to Pearse. The presentation of material is an artistic activity. The arts are a key component [of Steiner pedagogy]. Schooling has a tendency to narrow down. You need to work to keep the space open for freedom, expression, and creativity. The language of that space for children where they can retain their autonomy is the arts. These artistic elements should permeate the school. The main lesson – of one hour and a half duration- is done through the weaving of the material by the teacher, including music, story, movement. It means that the children’s experience is taken into account. The children are addressed in themselves in how the lessons are put together artistically.

Finally, Pearse spoke generally about learning with heart. Pearse noted that we are born into the world as learners. The importance of informal learning needs to recognised by educators. The curriculum, teachers and school need to be alive. Also, the practice of the same teacher staying with the same children for a number of years- where adopted is a tremendous benefit, to really know the children. A school is a place of learning and teaching, but also a place for care. Teachers have to care. And that speaks to who the teacher is a human being, not who they are as a professional. These are human relationships. You need to facilitate not instruct. Children want to learn.

Pearse quoted an interview with the educator Paulo Freire: “If you ask me Paulo, what is in being in the world, that calls your own attention to you? I would say to you that I am a curious being.”

That is the natural orientation of human beings, according to Pearse. We, teachers and parents, facilitate that curiosity, so they remain curious. Even in our spiritual lives- we are here to learn. We don’t need to be externally motivated to learn, or have fear to learn.

Felted Easter Crafts

Irish Steiner Education Conference-November 2014


Date: Saturday Nov 15, 2014
Time 9.15am -5.15pm
Venue: Rooms G010 and G011 in The Hardiman Building, NUI Galway

Conference Schedule:
9.15 – 9.45    Registration

9.45 – 10.00   Welcome Address – Dr. Lindsay Myers

10.00 -11.00 ‘Steiner Education: A Holistic Response to the Developing Needs of the Growing Child’ – Pearse O’ Shiel

11.00 -11.30 Coffee Break

11.30 – 12. 30 ‘Introduction to the Steiner National-School Curriculum’ – Eileen Lydon

12.30 -1.30 Lunch

1.30 – 3.00 Workshops (2 parallel sessions – CHOOSE ONE)

  • ‘The Art of Teaching Literacy: The Steiner Waldorf Approach to Writing and Reading’ – Jonathan Angus ‘
  • Drama at the Heart: Activating Learning’ – Nell Smyth

3.15 – 4.45 Workshops (2 parallel sessions – CHOOSE ONE)

  • ‘The Art of Teaching Literacy: The Steiner Waldorf Approach to Introducing Writing and Reading’ – Jonathan Angus
  • ‘Drama at the Heart: Activating Learning’ – Nell Smyth

4.45 – 5. 30 Q and A with the Panel (Eileen, Pearse, Jonathan and Nell)

Detailed Information on Workshops:
Jonathan Angus – The Art of Teaching Literacy: The Steiner Waldorf Approach to Introducing Reading and Writing
What are the hallmarks of a pre-literate experience of the world? Why is a strong foundation in orality important for later learning? How can we get the timing right, teaching writing and reading such a way as to satisfy children’s developmental needs and harness their innate interests? In this workshop we will consider the theory and practice of helping children to make the first leap into literacy. Through a process of cultural reconstruction, we will find supports to help answer the above questions. By engaging in movement, recitation and drawing exercises, we will reconnect with the experience of starting off on a lifelong journey of written language.

Nell Smyth – Drama at the Heart: activating learning
This workshop will work with two great stories, The Brendan Voyage and Monsieur Prony’s Plot to illustrate how different learning styles can be met and orchestrated for vibrant learning in the classroom. Integrating the threefold approach of thinking, feeling and willing we will work with games, movement, observation and play to bring alive key themes and activities for the 8/9 year old and the 14/15 year old.

Creative Play for your Toddler by Christopher Clouder and Janni Nicol

by Rachel Hilliard

(Gaia Books, 2008).

This is a delightful book, packed with projects, some simple, some more demanding. Not only that, but it is structured around an understanding of children’s development, bringing you through chapters on the self, imagination, interaction and discovery. The projects are carefully chosen to support the role of play in children’s learning, and the play value of each toy is explained.

There are about 25 projects, ranging from fairly simple but satisfying projects like making a felt ball, a hobby horse or felt animals, to more involved projects like a soft doll, a wooden dolls’ house and furniture.

I really enjoyed this book. I used it to make a pair of hobby horses for my girls. These are toys that encourage physical skill – balance and rhythm, as well as developing imagination.

There is a very special satisfaction in seeing your children play with something you have made, and they really respond to the care and effort you have taken.

Creative Wool: Making woolen crafts with children
By Karin Neuschütz (Floris Books, 2011)

Handwork is one of the key elements of the Steiner approach to education. As Karin explains in her introduction, handwork offers the opportunity to develop physical dexterity and creativity but also important skills of perseverance, logic and calmness.

This book is full of interesting projects to make with children of all ages. There are almost thirty projects, from the very simple such as pompom making to the more complex, like knitted dolls and doll clothes. It covers a wide range of creative techniques using wool: spinning, plaiting, felting, weaving, knitting and crochet.   The instructions are clear, though you are left to make your own judgement about the age suitability of the projects.

The book starts with very simple hand spinning, showing you how to make your own yarn with nothing more than some carded fleece and a pair of hands, which children of all ages would find very engaging. For younger children there are projects for spinning, pompom making and finger knitting. Any child that got into loom bands would enjoy the plaiting projects which can be made into lovely friendship bracelets. There are toys to make as presents, to experience the particular joy of giving something you have made yourself as well as projects a child would like to make for his or herself, such as animal masks and puppets.


Book Review of “Will-Developed Intelligence”

Book Review

David Mitchell and Patricia Livingstone, Will-Developed Intelligence: Handwork and Practical Arts in the Waldorf School. Elementary through High School (Fair Oaks CA, ASNA, 1999)

Review by Lindsay Myers

Waldorf education is characterised by its holistic and integrated approach to teaching and learning and Mitchell and Livingstone’s Will-Developed Intelligence: Handwork and Practical Arts in the Waldorf School provides an excellent overview of the role of handwork and the arts in elementary and secondary schools. The aim of the practical arts curriculum is to stimulate the creative powers through a conscious guidance of the student’s developing will, and the theoretical introduction to this volume describes in a detailed and highly informative how activity and movement enhance cognition in students.

Handwork and crafts are imaginatively and artistically taught in Waldorf schools, and the lessons in painting, form drawing, knitting, crochet, embroidery, felting, beeswax carving, sewing, woodwork, metalwork, weaving, leatherwork, basket making, bookbinding, and pottery are all introduced in an age appropriate manner so as to support and complement the other subjects in the school. The aim of the practical arts curriculum is not to create artists but to strengthen and harmonize the rhythmic systems of the body, and Livingston and Mitchell’s first-hand accounts of how they, as teachers, encouraged their students, regardless of ability or temperament to share and develop their aesthetic confidence is an inspiring read.

Divided into 24 chapters, each of which explains in a chronological sequence the various practical arts taught in each year of the Steiner curriculum. This book is easy to dip into, and I would recommend it to anyone who wants to know more about the place and purpose of the practical arts in Waldorf schools. Practical subjects, artistic lessons and activities involving the hand should not be decorative factors in the school curriculum but integral components of a balanced education for it is only be experiencing the world first-hand that students can develop the security, confidence and self-esteem necessary to survive in our complex and changing world.