We shouldn’t ask “What does a person need to be able to do in order to fit into the existing social order today?” Instead we should ask “what lives in each human being and what can be developed in him or her?” - Rudolf Steiner
Steiner's Theory of Child Development
Steiner education enhances, enriches and supports the developmental phases of childhood. Dr Steiner referred particularly to three essential phases — each of approximately seven years duration. In each of these phases, important faculties are being developed, different growth forces are operating and the child learns in correspondingly different ways. To provide meaningful support for the child in the journey from infancy to adulthood, curriculum and methodology is based on a deep comprehension of these phases. The aim of Steiner education is to help young people develop lifelong attributes, skills, knowledge, values and characteristics to enable them to be free individuals with purpose and meaning in their lives.
The early childhood years (0-7) are characterised by children actively learning through imitation and their own creative experience. The child‘s imagination and sense of wonder is fostered, through stories, songs, creative play, interaction with nature and involvement in everyday human activity. A Steiner early childhood centre is a warm, nurturing environment filled with beautiful, natural play materials and outdoor spaces with animals and gardens to care for. The young child learns through play and structured activities to cook, paint, garden, sew, use tools, share and problem solve.
Children explore their environment, learning important sharing and cooperation skills to enhance their social and emotional well-being, foster positive self esteem and develop gross and fine motor skills. Foundational pre-literacy and numeracy skills are grounded in the early years through rich oral and practical learning experiences to prepare adequately for the more formal learning environment of Class 1.
The primary years are the optimal time for nurturing imagination. Steiner stated, ‘this vital picture-making capacity…gives life and insight to logical and conceptual thinking’. Curriculum content, cognitive development and skill building are approached through pictorial and imaginative presentation, embodying narrative, creative writing, visual arts, music, drama and movement.
Developing imaginative capacities enables students to engage with academic material and forms the foundation for future creativity, problem solving and innovation. Timing of curriculum content and lessons is matched to child developmental and emotional needs. Teaching all subjects through an arts based curriculum develops the capacity to appreciate beauty in the world.
In the primary years children form a strong social group with their class, often having the same teacher throughout their primary years. This creates a unique bond between the class and teacher and helps build strong school communities.
Steiner stated that ‘adolescents have the longing to discover that the world is founded on truth’. Adolescence is the period of transition from childhood to adulthood, characterised by rigorous intellectual development. Students are ready to move into the adult domain where their conceptual capacity and ability for objective evaluation and judgment becomes more refined and sophisticated. The high school student is able to debate, question, observe, analyse and form conclusions from his/her own experience.
High school students experience a broad-ranging curriculum, both academic and artistic, positive and optimistic, exemplifying the strength of the human spirit. This builds the capacity for courage, confidence and resilience to go out into the world with a strong sense of self and ethical values.“Those human beings who have not learnt to work in the ways of beauty and through beauty to capture truth, will never come to the full humanity needed to meet the challenges of life.”