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.

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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.

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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.