What is Steiner Education?

What is Steiner Education? Steiner Education is a philosophy of teaching and learning that has spread across the globe. Read on to learn exactly what Steiner education is and how it works in practice.  

Introduction

Across Australia, there are a number of unique schools that are underpinned by different values, ideas and philosophies than those of typical mainstream public education facilities. Steiner education has grown in popularity over the years and has captured attention by promoting education that is holistic in nature with a strong focus on inclusion and relationships.

Whilst some might consider it very alternative, Steiner education has seemed effective at growing learners who are creative, confident and self-motivated in their learning. Below, I explore what Steiner education actually involves and the principles and values that make it so unique.

Who was Rudolf Steiner?

Rudolf Steiner was born in 1861 and was an Austrian scholar with a strong interest in the areas of philosophy, art, and social reform. Rudolf was a prolific writer and penned fifty books across his lifetime and gave close to 6000 lectures in the UK and Europe. Foundational to much of his work, Steiner believed in anthroposophy – the practice of using natural means to optimise both physical and mental health and wellbeing.

Whilst Steiner was interested in a wide range of fields of study, following the first World War he felt strongly about the need for social reforms and believed the way to go about this was by changing the education system. The first Steiner school was opened in 1919 in Stuttgart and provided education for the children of factory workers at no cost. Steiner was tasked with leading the school and his unique approach and focus on human values and meaningful teaching quickly spread across the world.

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“Our highest endeavour must be to develop free human beings who are able of themselves to impart purpose and direction to their lives.”

Marie Steiner, 1923 (wife of Rudolf Steiner) – Steiner Home Education Australia

What are the principles of Steiner education?

There are 7 core principles of Steiner education:

1.      The recognition of the unfolding spirit of each individual informs all aspects of the school.

This philosophy recognises that each individual person is a ‘threefold being’ which is made up of body, soul and spirit. It celebrates individuality and recognises that each person has a purpose to their life and a unique potential that should be guided and nurtured.

2.      Steiner/Waldorf education fosters social renewal by cultivating individuals who serve an ethical world future.

The Steiner approach encourages cooperation and inclusion across nations, cultures and identity groups. It aims to develop the potential of all humans and acknowledges that each and every human is uniquely wonderful regardless of race, socio-economic background or culture. Students in Steiner education are taught the importance of doing their part for supporting and respecting diversity and equal rights for all.

3.      Anthroposophical insights into child development guide the educational program and practice.

Within the Steiner philosophy, all aspects of the whole child are considered important – including the physical, soul, and spiritual elements of human beings. This means that a focus on the development of healthy life habits is applied, along with emphasis placed on imagination creativity, nature and the arts.

4.      Steiner/Waldorf schools support creative freedom to teach within the shared agreements of the schools ‘collegiate.

Collaboration is essential within a Steiner education facility and teachers work together to develop educational programs that are deeply considered and highly contextualised. Teachers are also given freedom to be creative with and adapt curriculum, pedagogy and assessment in innovative ways that demonstrates the valuation of knowledge, skills and perspectives of teachers as individuals.

5.      The conscious establishment of human relationships fosters individual and community health.

Strong relationships between all stakeholders within a Steiner education setting are considered essential for creating a place where children can learn and thrive.

6.      Spiritual development for sustaining professional growth is an ongoing activity for the collegiate of teachers and staff and is supported by the board

In addition to developing a culture of ongoing professional learning, in Steiner education teachers are supported to nurture their personal and spiritual development as well.

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7.      Collaboration and shared responsibility provide the foundations of school leadership and governance.

Steiner schools within Australia are all part of an association of schools, however the governance of each individual school and the decision-making processes within it operate independently. Each school works collaboratively with their management committees to ensure effective governance and clear vision for the school.

You can find more information about these Steiner core principles at Steiner Education Australia.

What is Waldorf education?

Steiner education is also known as Waldorf education. Both Steiner and Waldorf schools are based on the educational philosophy of Rudolf Steiner and operate in very similar ways. The name Waldorf dates back to the very first school that Steiner opened in 1919 in Stuttgarg, Germany.

The school offered free education for the children of employees of the Waldorf-Astoria company and therefore as the popularity of Steiner’s philosophy grew and more schools opened, they were often known as ‘Waldorf schools’.

“In Steiner (Waldorf) Education, the learning process is essentially threefold, engaging head, heart, and hands—or thinking, feeling, and doing. Steiner teachers work from this foundation to nurture and engage each child through a curriculum and methodology that integrates knowledge, arts, and practical skills. It encourages children and young adults to flourish in a culturally-rich, holistic learning environment oriented towards moral growth, social consciousness and citizenship.”

anthroposophyau.org.au

What is the Steiner approach to early childhood education?

The early years are a critical time of growth and development for children and the Steiner approach seeks to nurture children to become critical thinkers who are innovative and imaginative – thus creating the designers and inventors of tomorrow. In a Steiner early learning program, children will be exposed to creative and self-directed play opportunities to inspire initiative, create autonomy and develop learners who are taught how to think rather than what to think.

Within a Steiner program, the self-directed nature of play allows children to follow their own ideas and interests and to be masters of their own learning. Play is considered essential for healthy child development and Steiner educators believe that by providing a nurturing environment with play-based learning at its core, children are given the skills they will need to become adults who can problem solve, think deeply and innovate.  You can learn more about Steiner education in the early years at SECA (Steiner Early Childhood Australia).

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What is the Steiner approach to the primary curriculum?

Within a Steiner environment, strong and trusting relationships between children and educators are considered essential. A primary Steiner classroom develops values such as gratitude, responsibility, inclusion and collaboration. Often within a Steiner school, children will keep the same teacher for many years which means that teachers are able to get to know their students deeply and form strong connections with each child’s family.

The Steiner education curriculum encourages and supports learning in the arts and aims to enhance the natural sense of awe and wonder that children have.

Steiner education involves an unhurried approach where the curriculum presents as a flexible set of guidelines that supports each child to develop, learn and thrive holistically. There is equal focus given to each child’s physical, emotional, intellectual, cultural and spiritual needs thus meaning that academic results and standardised testing are not at the forefront of children’s education.

In Australia, Steiner education is guided by The Australian Steiner Curriculum Framework which has been designed to align with the Australian Curriculum that is mandatory for all schools.

What are the benefits of Steiner education?

Steiner education offers a range of benefits including but not limited to the below:

  • A focus on the whole child means that programs are developed to support each child’s body, mind and soul.  
  • Music and art are highly valued as part of the learning program
  • The daily routine is more flexible and guided by the needs of children.
  • Imagination and creativity is highly valued to support children to develop thinking skills to support innovation.
  • Children are viewed as individuals with unique skills, dispositions, knowledge and needs.
  • Staffing is often more consistent with children sometimes having the same teacher for several years.
  • There is less pressure for children to achieve benchmarked standards.
  • A non-competitive environment is provided for all learners.
  • Children are able to learn at their own pace.
  • There is space for children to follow their interests in their learning which can positively impact their motivation to learn.
  • Children are supported to be themselves and celebrate their own uniqueness.
  • Connections to nature and the environment are fostered.
  • A focus on family and school community provides a secure and connected environment for each child.  
kids playing with playdough, what is steiner education

Are there any drawbacks to Steiner education?

There are certainly some aspects of Steiner education that can be considered cons. Some of these may include:

  • Tuition fees can be very expensive
  • Technology is significantly limited and the use of media is not allowed for young children.
  • There is a risk that students might not learn the basic skills needed for particular careers or life choices in their future.
  • Vaccinations are considered controversial and not completely supported in some Steiner/Waldorf schools.
  • A lack of standardized testing could mean that children are not gaining some of the skills that experts consider important for all learners.
  • Some believe that Steiner education is now considered an outdated concept that is not based on current research.

What is the difference between Steiner and Montessori?

Both Steiner and Montessori present alternate styles of education that are focused in individuals and developed to differentiate learning for each and every child. Whilst they are similar in this regard, there are also marked differences between the two.

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Under the Montessori philosophy of education, a high emphasis is placed on students learning practical skills for life whilst the Steiner approach is more centred around flexible thinking and moral growth. Additionally, within a Montessori school children are grouped based upon their ability levels and it is not unusual to have different aged children within the same classroom. In a Steiner school, children are grouped by age and may stay in the same classroom with the same teacher and children for many years.

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How many Steiner schools are in Australia?

There are currently over 1300 schools across the world who identify as being either Steiner or Waldorf schools following the philosophies of Rudolf Steiner. Additionally, there are approximately 2000 early childhood education centres in over 60 countries. Each country adapts the curriculum to their own culture and context but the underlying principles mostly remain unchanged.

In Australia, there are currently over 50 Steiner/Waldorf schools. Whilst each of these operate independently, the Steiner Education Australia organisation exists to promote and support Steiner education across the country.

How much does it cost to go to a Steiner school in Australia?

As with all private schools across Australia, Steiner schools are significantly more costly than public schools. Whilst each school is able to set its own fees independently, here are the yearly fees charged at Melbourne’s Rudolf Steiner School: School fees at Melbourne Rudolf Steiner School (goodschools.com.au)

Conclusion

In Australia, whether or not Steiner education is a good model for learning remains somewhat controversial. A lack of clear data due to the reluctance of Steiner schools to engage in benchmark testing means that it is difficult to really determine how successful the teaching methodologies are. Whilst those that attend Steiner schools seem to report benefits such as higher self esteem and greater levels of creativity, there doesn’t seem to be clear evidence to place it as a ‘better’ model of education than others. That being said, Steiner teachers are deeply dedicated professionals who are highly invested in the lives of their students.

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Personally, I believe that there is no ‘one size fits all’ method of education and whilst Steiner education might work really well for some, it might not for others. If you are interested in learning more or becoming a Steiner teacher, check out Sydney Rudolf Steiner College.

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