Rudolf Steiner gave six exercises which are fundamental to his meditative work.

No. 1 – The Control of Thought

The first exercise has to do with the control of thinking. It is designed to keep our minds from wandering, to focus them, in order to strengthen our meditative work. There are several versions of this exercise. Here is one version:

Select a simple object – a pin, a button, a pencil. Try to think about it exclusively for five minutes. You may think about the way the object is manufactured, how it is used, what its history is. Try to be logical and realistic in your thinking. This exercise is best if practiced faithfully every day. You may use the same object every day or a new object each day, as you choose.

No. 2 – The Control of Will

Choose a simple action to perform each day at a time you select. It should be something you do not ordinarily do; it can even be a little odd. Then make it a duty to perform this action at that time each day. Rudolf Steiner gives the example of watering a flower each day at a certain time. As you progress, additional tasks can be added at other times.

This exercise is as hard as it is simple and takes a very strong intention to complete. To start you might think of it as you think of a dentist’s appointment – you do not want to be late. It can be helpful to mark your success or failure on the calendar each day. If you completely forget at the time, but remember later, do it then and try to do better the next day.

No. 3 – Equanimity

The third exercise is the development of balance between joy and sorrow, pleasure and pain, the heights of pleasure and the depths of despair. Strive for a balanced mood. An attempt should be made not to become immoderately angry or annoyed, not to become anxious or fearful, not to become disconcerted, nor to be overcome by joy or sorrow. Rather should your natural feelings be permitted to be quietly felt. Try to maintain your composure. This leads to an inner tranquillity and purer feelings of the soul.

No. 4

This exercise is the development of a positive attitude to life. Attempt to seek for the good, praiseworthy, and beautiful in all beings, all experiences and all things. Soon you will begin to notice the hidden good and beautiful that lies concealed in all things. This is connected with learning not to criticize everything. You can ask how something came to be or to act the way it is. One way to overcome the tendency to criticize is to learn to ‘characterize’ instead.

No. 5

For this exercise, make the effort to confront every new experience with complete open-mindedness. The habit of saying, “I never heard that” or “I never saw that before” should be overcome. The possibility of something completely new coming into the world must be left open, even if it contradicts allyour previous knowledge and experience.

No. 6

If you have been trying the earlier exercises of thinking, will, equilibrium, positivity and tolerance, you are now ready to try them together two or three at a time, in varying combinations until they become natural and harmonious.

For more information see Guidance in Esoteric Training, by Rudolf Steiner


By Donna Simmons
For science [with my then 10th grader–this was written about 10 years ago!] this semester, we are focusing mainly on physics. For a number of years I have been aware of the Teaching Company, an organization which produces lecture series on every topic imaginable, delivered by hand-picked college professors. Many homeschoolers use these courses as part of their children’s high school educations, and I was eager to see what the lectures were like.
So…. knowing that neither my husband nor I would be up to giving a properly Goethean (ie Waldorf) physics course to our son, we bought the lecture series Great Ideas of Classical Physics. There are 24 thirty minute lectures and three mornings a week, husband Paul, Gabriel and I watch a lecture and then discuss it a bit after.
The lecturer is Professor Steven Pollock, Associate Professor of Pysics at the University of Colorado at Boulder and he is magnificent! He is clear, thorough, animated and has such great warmth and enthusiasm for his subject that one can even feel this from the screen – it must be a real treat to attend his live lectures!
Professor Pollock begins with some ideas that the Greeks, especially Aristotle, had about the world around them and then spends quite a lot of time discussing Isaac Newton, whose ideas are, after all, the foundations of Classical Physics. He goes through Newton’s laws and in a very accessible and straightforward way, talks us through Newton’s discoveries and how he condensed his findings into his laws.
Pollock takes a historical view to Classical Physics which definitely makes it a bit easier for the lay person and student to follow. He also takes great care to often double back on what he said, to pick up threads he left dangling, and to draw the lectures together into a coherent whole. From Newton he takes us on an exploration of magnetism, electricity, wave and particle theory and, finally, the atomic hypothesis.
I heartily recommend this lecture series for motivated and strong student. Other families might also want to do as we did, watching these lectures together and discussing them. Although the professor was extraordinarily clear (and there was just about no math!), not all students find physics ideas readily digestible. Also, if one is trying to keep any whiff of a Waldorf flavor to what you are discussing, parents can help raise questions and bring further issues to deepen the experience.  The ideas of classical physics are integral to a historic understanding of our world  – but they are not the end of the story. We read an excellent article by Steven Talbot called Do Physical Laws Make Things Happen?  We felt that it is crucial for our son not to feel that laws of physics are the be all, end all to explaining life. And Professor Pollock definitely, like many conventional scientists, goes in that direction. The game is not its rules – and Steve Talbot, researcher at the Nature Institute, a Goethean science center, raises many questions to help us think this through.
Back to the physics video, we bought the text to accompany the dvds and found they really weren’t necessary as the course notes were very detailed. To accompany the course, there are recommendations for “sims” at the computer lab at the University of Colorado at Boulder which we found to be a waste of time. Sims are computer sims – simulations of various experiments. All were disappointing. Instead, we worked with a special K’nex set Gabriel had gotten last Christmas. It is a deluxe roller coaster model, complete with teaching notes for high school physics. Many of the concepts covered in the lectures could be experienced using the roller coaster set (conservation of movement, F = MA and so on) much more satisfactorily than by manipulating computer images.
Giving the child confidence to “know and love the world”
(Reprinted with kind permission from Steiner Education, Vol. 34, No. 1)

By Liz Braun

Enmeshed in a latticework of brown and cream, caught in a tangle of unbelievably long necks and longer legs, we were unheeded in the school bus as the giraffe limbed and lollopped around us…

Taking a break from preparation for the Easter 1999 Conference for Steiner Teachers in East Africa, a group of teachers, including visitors from abroad and also some children, had crossed Mbagathi River which forms a natural boundary between the Rudolf Steiner School Mbagathi Nairobi and the Nairobi National Park. We found ourselves in the midst of the largest herd of giraffe I had ever witnessed, more than twenty of these mighty beasts in playful mood. These were Masai giraffe, every patch a golden-brown starburst, with ‘feminine eyes’ reflecting back our own startled wonder. An hour easily could have passed, till the light, like honey spreading over the plains, reminded us that evening was approaching and the sun would soon set. A last glance before returning to school at the movements of the giraffe now in the distance, like water flowing in slow motion; the distance let us see how fast their long-legged gait really was, how much of the hard-baked soil of the African plains was consumed be each effortless step of the giraffe (‘the one who walks swiftly’).

One of the workshops in the Easter Conference was about writing our own stories. ‘Stories: Seeking, Creating, Telling’, was its title on the programme. Small groups each chose another character from the plains to join with the giraffe; and so we began to look forward to hearing the stories of ‘The Giraffe and the Warthog’, ‘The Giraffe and the Butterfly’, ‘The Giraffe and the Zebra’. My group, two teachers from the Nairobi School, one from Kampala in Uganda and one from Hoima, Uganda, decided to tell the story of ‘The Giraffe and the Acacia Tree’.

Our workshop leader explained to us how, in the nature story, the characteristics and qualities of the animal or plant in focus can be brought out by another—the acacia by the giraffe, for example, and how the mysterious facts of the natural world breathe a life of their own when they can reveal themselves in the clothing of conversation and drama. Twelve groups filled the room with busy noise as the normally mute giraffe spoke with warthog, butterfly and tree in many different accents, trying to understand each other’s secrets. The rest of the week brought daily dramatic presentation of nature stories which just would not stand still. Here is ours.

The Giraffe and the Acacia Tree

Once upon a time, long, long ago, a lone acacia tree stood on the African plains. All around was as dry as could be; no rain had fallen for months and months. The grass was shrivelled and brown. There were no green leaves on the trees or bushes. No water gathered into a welcome pond for the animals.

Indeed, all the animals had left the acacia tree in search of food and water. The fat zebra, the slender gazelle, the warthog, the wildebeest, all had wandered away and left the acacia tree quite alone.

Suddenly, the acacia tree noticed a cloud of dust on the horizon. It watched uneasily as a giraffe appeared and swiftly came up to the acacia.

“Hello,” said the giraffe to the acacia. “Where are all the animals who used to shelter under your far-spreading branches?”

“Oh, they have all gone away in search of food and water and left me alone,” said the acacia sadly. “It is so quiet without my friends, I only hear the wind as it rustles up the dust and stirs the dry grass.”

“I, too, am hungry, so hungry,” said the giraffe, eyeing the acacia’s topmost branches longingly.

“Oh,” squealed the acacia, “don’t eat me!” And in her terror, she pushed out sharp white thorns along her branches.

“No, no, I wouldn’t hurt you;” said the giraffe, “—only, just a small mouthful?”

The acacia began to tremble and the hungry but kind giraffe spoke again: “I am so lonely, too,” he said. “You who are the home to so many animals, won’t you just be my friend?”

The acacia tree in her great compassion put out many small green leaves. “Here, my friend: something small for you to eat, but don’t take too much!”

The giraffe gratefully ate some of the acacia’s new leaves and the two became the best of friends as they are to this day. And ever since then, the acacia tree bears small green leaves in the heat of the dry season when all else is bare.

After qualifying as a trained Steiner teacher, Liz Braun taught for some time at the Rudolf Steiner School of South Devon. At present she combines raising a sizeable family, administrative responsibilities and part-time teaching at the Rudolf Steiner School Mbagathi Nairobi.

Footnote 1: From the last verse of A.C. Harwood’s The Sun is in my Heart.

by Lisa Marshall

I have such fond memories of my childhood birthday parties: my mom knew how to make our birthdays really special.  Now I love to throw parties for my own three children.  I’d love to share some of the tips I’ve learned for a successful party.  The key is to really evaluate what is appropriate for your child’s age and temperament.  One wants to make the party special but not to go overboard (or at least not too far).

When my children were very little, I realized that the party was more for us than for them.  I would invite several other families, good friends of ours and we would have a champagne brunch (winter birthday) or a cookout (summer birthday).  The adults would enjoy these gatherings and the children would interact as they would at any other gathering of friends.  There was not a big to-do made over the child except for singing Happy Birthday and of course some sort of cake.

As my girls got older, say from 4-7, we had lovely small gatherings (a nice rule of thumb is that the number of children should be the child’s age plus one).  I did most of the planning for these parties with very little input from the child although I did my best to do something I thought they would enjoy.  Whenever possible, I had parties outdoors or at least partly outdoors which made them feel less stressful.  The parties would last no more than 2 and a half hours and there was a rhythm to them something like this:

30 minutes free play
Snack served (little sandwiches, carrot sticks, juice box)
Circle time
Light the birthday ring, sing happy birthday and serve cake

You’ll notice I didn’t include opening presents.  For young children, both the birthday child and the other children, this can be very stressful.  For many years I didn’t do present opening during the parties.  Until age seven, I had at least some of the other mothers stay for the party.

I love to do circle time at parties.  For toddlers, I would do a very simple circle, a few hand rhymes and Ring-Around-the-Rosy.  For older children I would lead them in old fashioned play-party games and then dance the Hokey-Pokey.  I always tried to include something for the season.

Where I presently live, I am lucky to have a mother who is a story-teller.  When she is around, I ask her to prepare a story or two for the party.  The children always love hearing her stories and this is a great way to calm everyone down towards the end of the party.  She is so good at choosing the right story for the age of the children.

My children each have a sort of signature for their party.  My oldest is born very close to Christmas so her special thing is gingerbread men.  Depending on the age and number of children, they may roll out the dough, cut the cookies and I bake them and later they decorate.  When they were smaller, I made the cookies in advance and they decorated them at the party.  Usually this also served as their gift to take home.  Sometimes they also get an ornament or a candy cane.  One year we made little aprons with gingerbread people on them for each child but that year I had my mother and step-mother both helping me.  My oldest is somewhat melancholic and finds large parties unpleasant.  One year we invited some other girls and their mothers to a Christmas concert and then had dinner at our house afterwards.  She loved this “party”.

My middle one is a May birthday so we usually have warm weather.  We get out the old hand-crank ice cream churn and all the children help us make the ice cream for her party.  In place of the traditional goody bags, one year I gave out sand buckets and shovels, bubbles and sidewalk chalk, another year it was beach towels, and one year I made bean bag frogs for all the children in her class (I definitely over did it that year.  I was up at 3 a.m. sewing eyes on frogs!).  One year we had a tea party with 2 other families’ girls and decorated straw hats with tulle, ribbons and silk flowers.

My son has had very low key parties, usually just the family – until recently he was shy around other people.  Last year, when he turned 5, his birthday was on Thanksgiving.  We had a very small party for him at the park with two other families and their children.  It was a beautiful warm day (we live in Florida) and so we made felted balls in fall colors in a big vat of warm soapy water.  I told his birthday story for the first time.  It was lovely and very simple.  The kids were of mixed ages so there was someone for everyone to play with and the park and playground provided plenty of entertainment so I didn’t have to do much.  We also had our new puppy along for added fun (and chaos).

Whatever you do, consider carefully the age and temperament of your child.  Also be true to yourself, if you don’t like it, don’t do it!  Don’t hesitate to ask for help from friends and family.  And remember that often, less really is more.

by Krista Clement


The Sparrow, Sunday, with wings to fly,
One time the sun moves across the sky;
The Mockingbird, Monday, with wings to fly,
Two times the sun moves across the sky;
The Turtledove, Tuesday, with wings to fly,
Three times the sun moves across the sky,
The Whippoorwill, Wednesday, with wings to fly,
Four times the sun moves across the sky;
The Thrush, Thursday, with wings to fly,
Five times the sun moves across the sky;
The Falcon, Friday, with wings to fly,
Six times the sun moves across the sky;
The Sandpiper, Saturday, with wings to fly,
Seven times the sun moves across the sky.

Seven times the sun, Seven times the day,
Now the week is done, and the days fly away!
Fly away! Fly away! The days fly away!


Every time I read this poem I get choked up. The feeling this poem evokes is especially keen when I am “in the moment” with the babies and I touch Sarah’s fleecy head or kiss and bite at Samuel’s fat legs. In a few weeks they will be fifteen months old. They are already leaving babyhood behind. The days fly away.

What Waldorf education has given me is a way to enjoy my babies and children more – to really experience the world of parenting with heart, imagination and understanding. The principles guiding Waldorf have helped me slow down and awaken to the power and beauty of the moment instead of rushing my children, and myself, into the future.

How does a Waldorf babyhood look like?  No Baby Einstein, push button books, and and cacophonous entertainment centers.  Instead the baby is nurtured with lambs wool, plenty of parent child interaction and a mother’s melodies. No rush.  No push.  No worries about competition. Waldorf principles allow the child to unfold organically and in harmony with household and earthly rhythms.

I discovered Waldorf when I married my German husband. At the time we met him he had finished doing a Waldorf teaching seminar and was more than happy to introduce me to this new world. A year after we married we had our first baby and I was confused by some of his ideas about child rearing. Specifically I was put off, even incensed, that my husband wasn’t grateful for the plastic flashing baby toys my parents gave us. Why was it such a big deal to let our baby watch the Tele-tubbies?  How could you ever get a shower break if you didn’t set the baby in front of a television?  Waldorf stuff seemed a bit “woo woo” to me.

But I loved my husband and wanted to understand his point of view do I delved into the Waldorf realm by reading books like Torin Finser’s School as a Journey  and Rahima Baldwin Dancy’s You Are Your Child’s First Teacher. Could school be a place of beauty and nurture?  Could motherhood be better than I imagined?  But it was hard mothering-especially at first.  I understood why women went back to work after having babies; to be constantly needed and wanted left me reeling with depression and frustration.

It was only after I almost lost my life a few years back that I was ready to embrace Waldorf lifestyle and ideas.  Why?  Because, as I lay in the MICU of a major university hospital, I knew that what my husband and I had created, our family, was the best and only reason to live. This experience also helped me question the status quo and what it means to mother and nurture.  I knew I was supposed to be more than a glorified maid.  Why hadn’t I been enjoying the journey?  What was holding me back from truly enjoying my role as a mother?

The year after my hospitalization I attended a Waldorf in the Home conference in Boulder, Colorado.  I was amazed, delighted, and stunned by what I experienced.  It was then that I knew Waldorf was a path that I should embrace for the betterment of our family life.

November of 2006 we were blessed with twin babies. Many people were happy for us but wondered how I could handle the intensive mothering that twins require-especially because I already had three young children at home. But the truth is, and was, that I knew these two babies were a miracle and blessing in our lives.  I knew that approaching life and motherhood from a more holistic viewpoint would give me strength. And it did. Oh, the diaper changes and the zombie days after nights without sleep were still hard, but a shift  had occurred – I was completely immersed in the work of motherhood and loving it.

The following is a journal entry from October of 2007 that illustrates the way Waldorf methods have infused and enriched our home life.  We have chosen to homeschool now that we are back in the USA and this is characteristic of a typical day:

 We are now hip deep into our Language Arts block and the girls are progressing nicely. We are learning phonics, the letters, and reading through a story that I tell them everyday about the King’s son the Prince and the Quest he takes with the Wise Woman of the World of Waves. It is amazing how receptive children are to their surroundings and how easily they can make connections between symbols and ideas. While we were spinning our own alliterative sentences (Greedily the Ghastly Goblins Gathered Gold) Anna said, “hey I know a word that begins with G!!! GOOD!”

Our walls are plastered with their wet on wet watercolor paintings. Today I told them the story of the end of summer-how the trees have gone to the great summer ball wearing their most dazzling green frocks. Painting is fun and my three year old loves to watch how the blue, green, and yellow fans out across the paper-like magic. We, all of us, become the sorcerer’s apprentice as water spills onto the table. They wistfully told me they wished they will paint like I do when they grow up and I laughed. Someday the curtain will be drawn and they will see the great and terrible Oz for who she is.

We also have a huge tree made out of brown butcher paper taped to our wall. This is our science experiment, our weather tree. Each day we choose a pre-cut leaf-yellow for hot and sunny, green for cold and sunny, grey for overcast, blue for rainy, and white for snow. Last Saturday it snowed so we have one white leaf on our autumn branch. We put on our gas fireplace and my husband smirked and said to my oldest, “so when will your Grandpa finally believe in global warming?”

I am tired but there is a pulse, an energy that we have unleashed since we began to homeschool. Like the quick intake of breath when Lea realizes the tree across the street is beginning to turn orange. The energy of childhood lived and relived. Maybe this energy has always been in our house but this is the first time I am noticing it. Details are crushing my heart with their beauty. Why don’t people know life when they live it?  I understand Wilder’s Emily now.

It might be cliché but it is a cliché that is based on truth: our babies and children are only young for such a short window of time.  Now is the time to love.  Now is the time to joy.

by Melinda Fischer

For years I was fascinated with homeopathic medicine.  After suffering with debilitating  migraines for years and having no relief from traditional medicine a friend suggested I try a homeopath.  I didn’t even know what a “homeopath” was but my friend had recently become pregnant after going through years of infertility by going to a homeopath so I made my appointment.  I was also having light sensitivity problems and after an 1 1/2 long interview I was given little tiny pills.  The prescription in homeopathy is called a remedy and I knew what my remedy was called but had no idea what it meant.  Frankly, I didn’t care because within 10 minutes I could go out into the light again which I hadn’t been able to do in 3 months and I was hooked.

It took me another 5 years to finish my education to become a homeopath and with it all the traditional psychological courses that would go with becoming a pediatric homeopath.  One of the greatest joys for me has been helping little people overcome illnesses that traditional medicine couldn’t help.  And specializing in pediatrics means  that I have heard the usual barrage of questions regarding how to raise kids.  From potty training to what to feed kids I’ve answered them all.

And then I had my own “spirited” son and all my answers disappeared.  Nothing I had been trained for prepared me for the assault course known as parenting.  I had always known there were compliant children and non-compliant children but all the training and books I read really just dealt with compliant children.  I understand what it’s like to parent a 2 yo and all the drama those little people are capable of but no one prepares you for a child that knows how to unlock any type of baby gate, doesn’t eat, doesn’t sleep, cannot be redirected and for who time outs don’t work .

While homeopathy can help a child to better come into balance it doesn’t change their temperament.  For spirited children they are more of everything.  More intense, sensitive, persistent and energetic.  With the right remedy my first born changed almost overnight.  Even my playgroup friends noticed right away that he was more settled and calm but what it didn’t change was how to discipline a spirited child.  My search began for something that would give me the tools to help my little guy and myself.

I knew from the very beginning that I would homeschool my children.  I just felt that I was the right person to help guide my kids on the path to who they were born to become.  For me public school simply meant bad behavior and killing the spirit of learning.  I had seen plenty of little kids in practice that as soon as they were put into daycare or preschool they completely changed.  I had friends who were nannies who also echoed this exact thing so there was no question that I would give my children the chance to be little kids with all the wonder that meant without the pack animal socialization that occurs in public school.

But what was the right curriculum?  That was my next question.  What blended in with my idea of wholesome, wonder filled childhood?  And what would help me lead and discipline my older son in a way that kept both of us from killing each other?  I was, from the very beginning, drawn to Waldorf for these very reasons.  I loved the idea of letting a child bloom slowly.  Of the wonderful wooden heirloom quality toys and the idea of not starting too early, handcrafts and the arts.  But there seemed to be two things holding me back: one was that I couldn’t for the life of me figure out how to have two children doing two different levels and it seemed like Waldorf was better suited to compliant children.  The few Waldorf parents I had run into seemed to have children who enjoyed sitting for hours and I had never met anyone who had boys.  It seemed that it was particularly of interest with moms with girls and I had boys.  Really, really energetic boys.  So I gave up on it.

I continued to struggle with my son over discipline to the point that my husband and I were beginning to wonder what type of life my son would have.  The time outs didn’t work, explaining to him didn’t work, leveraging him by taking a toy didn’t work and pretty much all the things my education had taught me just didn’t work.   I was left with the only thing that I swore I would never do: spank.  And sadly, for me, it worked.  I prided myself on being an attached parent and here I was left with the one thing I never wanted to do.

Meanwhile I started coming back to Waldorf.  Slowly stepping my toe into the water, I had heard of Christopherus and navigated through the online site.   I was thrilled with the wealth of information for free and when I got to the download section I couldn’t believe that finally someone in the Waldorf community was tackling the subject of discipline.  I downloaded all three of the early education series and I like to tell you that I totally got all of it, but well, I didn’t.  I couldn’t see how just not talking about what they’d just done wrong would work.  So I shelved them.

Keeping Christopherus in the back of my mind, I bought some of the Waldorf pre-k curriculum packages to see what might be a good fit for my family.  None of them really spoke to me.  It seemed they were either a bit like doing school at home or so many rules that I just couldn’t get my head around them.  And of course, there was nothing about discipline in any of them.  Finally I bought Christopherus’ Kindergarten With Your Three To Six Year Old and for the first time things started clicking. I read and read and reread this little gem.  Donna really seemed to understand what I was feeling about home being the best place for my kids and all the unique situations that arise out of being at home.  But most importantly there was a section on discipline.  Slowly I started getting my thoughts together and understanding what discipline could look like without the filter of my education to hinder me.  I found my downloads on early education and listen and listened and listened and again things began clicking.  Then I joined the form and went through the old posts and just dumped all that wonderful information into my head.

I could finally see what it meant to not let my son get too much into his head (intellect)and what the consequences of that were.  I could see how to talk to him pictorially and  stop his behavior problems before they started.  How to get a rhythm to my day that was just for us, not someone else’s idea of what it should be.  But most importantly for me, I was given tools on how to help me discipline my son without spanking and having it work for the first time!

I’d like to tell you everyday is just Zen but it’s not.  That’s just life with kids but everyday we’re closer and loving this journey called homeschool.

The two biggest gifts that the Waldorf philosophy has given me are time and freedom.

I used to think that I needed to start teaching my babies to speak and to read right away. I didn’t see the value of play especially of nursery rhymes and pat a cake type games. I thought I needed every baby gadget I saw. After the birth of our first child, I started down a very mainstream parenting path and he was an unhappy baby and I was a nervous wreck. I worried about him not talking or signing and about meeting other physical milestones early. I fell into the trap of comparing him with every other baby we met. I spent all my time with him, but I found it difficult to really relax and just be with him or to get anything else accomplished for that matter. He cried a lot, especially after a busy day, he developed a rash everywhere his disposable diapers touched him, and he screamed in terror at some of the wonderful plastic toys we had gotten him. I didn’t understand that since these were what every baby was supposed to have, but the lights and music just sent him into a fit of crying and shaking his little fists while he kicked and kicked his legs. I started looking for answers and was introduced to Waldorf and anthroposophy through an online natural parenting community. I started learning all I could and it was like a light went off inside of me. He needed me to play with him and sing to him not just sit and try to get him to say mama or dada or dog. He needed me to wear him and make him part of my day and to get things done like taking care of our home. I switched to natural fiber cloth diapers and clothing and his eczema improved so much. I started to sing to him and play baby games like bouncing him on my knee while saying a verse or poem or pat a cake and itsy bitsy spider. He thrived. He started talking and crawling and didn’t cry nearly as much. We bonded in ways I didn’t think possible. It was a wonderful transformation and helped us both so much. I was finally free from worrying that if he didn’t count to 3 by 18 mos, he would never get into college. By wearing him and making him part of our life and daily work, I got back the time I needed to take care of myself and our home.

When we were blessed with our second son, I was much more able to relax and to let him be a baby. I did fall into some of the same worry, but came out of it more easily. I included my older son in taking care of his baby brother by telling him stories and doing finger plays together. With the baby in the sling, I was able to spend time playing with my older boy that he needed too.

We now have three beautiful boys, our youngest is 14 months and raising a waldorf baby has become more natural to me. Now my challenge is building on the foundation and continuing to give the boys time to become who they are without rushing.

Kristi, Germany

Raquel writes from Spain where she has been running an in-home day care service. I think it is wonderful that she is in a position to be able to help mothers think about the ways they parent and perhaps help empower some to make the decision to keep their little ones at home.


I want also to thank you for your encouragement, I think it has been digesting in me some of your ideas and I am doing once a week open-house at my home for moms and children in the afternoon, to establish bonds between the mothers who stay at home and help if possible in their decision so it is not being casted away because of the roaring stream of the society where I live.

When I started creating a family I did not know about homeschooling, and it has been a decision that is evolving and has changed many times. I started the baby journey with a background from my family and country that encouraged working mothers and leaving babies at nursery centers at three months, also letting them sleep in their cribs since the beginning and nursing also for about three months. It is really a disgrace from where I come from to co sleep with babies, nurse them sooo long and be in the house with them all day. Saying all that I have to say that little by little I changed my points of view from those just mentioned to almost opposite ones.

When my firstborn Maria was born I knew already that I would stay with her, at least the first year, and I would nurse her. We slept and nursed together like the nurses have shown me at the San Francisco hospital until she was 4 months and then I transferred her to a crib in another room. From then on I was very exhausted, not just for having had a colicky baby to start with but also because waking up twice or three times a night and going to another room to feed the baby while sitting in a rocking chair was really hard. At nine months I needed to make a change, and the only option that appear to me at that moment was to let the baby cry it out, so every night I would put her to her crib and wait for the cry to extinguish with my book of Dr Sears in my hands. It was very painful and it lasted longer, over two weeks for a duration of 45 minutes to an hour at night, and I am not counting what happened at nap times. It was during these times that I began searching for other answers: I discovered Montessori and magical child and Waldorf almost at the same time, and when Maria was one year old my inclination to the latter was felt. I just saw that the principles worked, and that what I was learning from Waldorf was helping us be better, for example going back to natural materials. I used to have those rooms with red and bright color plastic toys, and the bouncer while I made supper, and the TV Sesame Street on in the morning while I could put myself together in the bath for the day, and the sugary snacks for her and for me, especially again in the morning and late at night. I found first of all that there was somewhere where people dealt with kids in a reverent way, in a very gentle intelligent way, and I was really attracted to that. I think the fact that my child was difficult for me to be with gave me the opportunity to look beyond my horizon and discover new things, in Waldorf I found light.

The second baby slept in my bed all through her nursing time, but again I felt left of strength – this time later though – and at about 14 months I started again putting her in her crib and letting her cry. I was in Spain in those days and my family really helped me to align myself with that line of thought again: I even worked outside the home for about one month! I am grateful I did not continue and so more or less I kept breastfeeding my child and sleeping with her until one year and a half. By that time I also felt strong about being with both children at home and I spent beautiful days doing the rhythm that I liked: morning breakfast, getting ready to go to the park, outing at the park looking at nature and people and other kids, the little baby many times in the sling (ergo baby), coming back home for lunch, little nap time of one hour, snack and play time after that or going shopping along the streets of the city. coming back home for preparing supper and reading or playing more until bathtime, then after time to go to bed, usually before eight. I was able to go happily into this life pattern and I had most of the afternoons breaks while my husband took care of the kids and I would teach some students or get together with friends.

But for a while, and after moving to a very cold winter country, I felt desperately in need of putting the children to school, I could not go on with the day and stay mostly calm, but I was nervous with them and felt very bad to be yelling at them. so I did look at a school and finally enrolled them in a kindergarten. it took me just one week to be uplifted again and with strength to carry on being a stay at home mom!  for the third baby I was able to have a homebirth, something I really wanted from the beginning but I did not had courage to do so. I also really made changes in my diet, going to organic foods and eliminating sugars. I was breastfeeding and co-sleeping and  it had evolved in a more natural way this time for both of us. I used the sling again but not as much, I purposely tried to leave the baby more time on the floor, and I did not  stay outdoors as much as in Spain. I also finally found the inner stage where I can be inside the house if I must to, a whole day or week, without going insane. and even though I enjoy the outdoors I find very comforting that if the need arises I can trust I will not go nuts inside with three little children. I think this is something that Waldorf has taught me, as I leave open space for play around the house while I do my chores, I keep in mind the rhythm of the day and if not the kids will remind me of it by their behavior!

When my older daughter was 4 3/4 we started her in a Waldorf kindergarten, first 4 days a week and then after a short time I also had to cut it. This time I decided to not withdraw completely and let her be for two days a week and see the effects. It was difficult to see every day she needed an hour or two after school before she was able to relate with us normally, she was angry and would cry or have non responsive times, until she was adjusted again to family life with her brother and sister. There was a lot of good things in the class, and we remember very warmly the teachers and the parents, and the other kids too, as we struggled through the year and learned a lot of things, but at the end I was left with a girl that was biting her nails, and was way older than before. This next year she stayed with us at home, and she has recovered her nails back! I feel it was necessary for her to stay with the whole group and as much as she also seeks for friends to play and teachers to imitate, I think there is  a lot of wealth that she is learning with us. I am still debating whether it is better for us to homeschool or not, and again this is related to a very strong tradition of schooling children in my country, but on the other hand I have seen a lot of beneficial things coming to our life for the fact of trying something different, something that calls strongly to your soul, to your common sense.

I did travel a lot, not just physically, but mentally, the house and environment that my family was living in the beginning of having children is very different from the house we are living right now, and as the house is the extension of one’s own body, I can assert that we have gone through a lot of changes, and many of them I can thank Waldorf and anthroposophy  to be the motivators of that change, as much in the inside as in the outside, and I want to give special thanks to all those other moms or individuals that I have met on my journey, the ones that just for sharing their stories have made such terrific impact on my life, the ones that by example or by asking me questions have awakened questions on me, the ones that have gone the road hand by hand with us, with the laughter and the cries, and the ones that are to come; because there is a saying very present in my mind that says that life is full of hardships but if you have a friend half of the hardships disappear.

“You should go out more, you need time for yourself! “, those words resonated in my ears like a mantra. I just had twins and I was exhausted from the very difficult birth and from all the work that having two babies requires. Everybody had a piece of advice, and it was mostly to leave the babies to someone and to go out, or to get out and about with the babies. But it didn’t feel right. I just wanted to be home with them and my husband. I wanted some quiet time and some time to read in my hammock or to simply knit on the couch. But it seemed like nobody was truly listening to what I was saying, to what I deeply felt emerging inside of me as I was becoming a mother : I wanted to be home, to inhabit my home, to make it a sacred place, a safe haven for all of us. Something inside of me was changing deeply. The extroverted social woman that I once was felt like she had to weave a special nest.

Since I was expecting twins, I benefited from an early leave from work and I was home at 5 months of pregnancy. I had plenty of time to read and that’s when I stumbled across Waldorf through Rahima Baldwin’s You are your Child’s First Teacher. I can say that since that very moment a little light was turned on in my heart and I started devouring tons of Waldorf books, as well as Jean Liedloff’s Continuum Concept and Dr Sears’ attachment parenting book.

I was also lucky to have a friend who was a Waldorf teacher with whom I spent a lot of time, knitting, making dolls for the babies to come and learning songs to sing to them. She also had an amazing library of books that I could borrow. Through our meetings, I learned how important it was that I keep my little babies’ heads covered and she even lent me some woolens for them to wear. She told me how important the first 6 weeks were and how their little senses were so open, and that they were just like little sponges that absorb everything from their surroundings. It resonated with what my midwife was saying about staying home a lot, in bed, naked, skin-to-skin with the babies, especially in the first little while after birth.

So there I was, with my pile of books, my healthy diet, my beautiful quiet routine, expecting my little angels as naturally as can be. But, surprise! Severe pre-eclampsia was diagnosed at 39 weeks of pregnancy and the twins were born at the hospital through an emergency c-section that led to a nearly mortal hemorrhage. Since my body was so in shock, breastfeeding failed and finding instructions on how to bottle feed babies in this area of the world (Northern Canada) was quite a challenge. We came back home 8 days after the birth, scared and disillusioned. It was very hard.

Our families live 6 000 km away, but we were lucky to have an amazing community of support. For one full month, people came everyday to bring us warm meals, with letters, little gifts and offers of help… Some people, we  barely even knew… My midwife friend, who was nursing her baby, faithfully brought me some of her milk every time she had some extra. All that support helped me to heal much quicker that the doctors promised…

The first months are a blur. Days are mixed with nights, piles of cloth diapers to clean, and that awful smell of formula that Mara and Aïsha kept spitting up because it was so hard for their little tummies to digest… I can still see them, all wrapped up, face to face in their  tiny little crib near the woodstove. Our bedroom was turned into one giant bed. We would wear them in  long mayan slings most of the time and go for walks together in the nearby forest. But mostly, we were home. A lot. And that’s when people started to worry. It is so unusual to be home in our modern society! There is always a mothering group to attend, a sing-along group to go to or a parents-and-tots swimming class to join. I stuck with what I read in all those Waldorf books, not only because I believed that it was the best thing to do for all of us, but because it felt right.

I can remember draping their day bed (a little bassinet in which we put their lambskins) with the pink and blue silk to protect them for the harsh light. We only chose natural materials for their clothes and always kept a couple of layers on them. They practically never had their legs exposed. I see so many children going barefoot all day long on cold floors… And we tried to keep a hat on them at all times. We were quite serious about the noise that surrounded them, no radio or TV (we actually decided to sell the TV when they were 5 months old), and the very occasional lullaby CD. We didn’t drive much, but we walked a fair bit with them in the slings or in a nice enclosed stroller in which we put their lambskin. A friend of ours was showering them with books and « educational toys » that mysteriously found their way to the second-hand store. We had very few toys. A rainbow silk fairy mobile that I made, a simple knotted doll, some blocks, some silks and plenty of pots and pans!

The decision to stay home was an easy one for me after reading all those books and since the cost of daycare was so high. Plus, I was lucky enough to have a job (translator) that I could do from home, part time, when the girls were sleeping. I had never been a career woman and never liked the office life anyways. Making that decision was easy, what was much harder was the reality of it. I can remember numerous times when I called a friend or my husband at work to come and take over for a couple of hours. I remember walking in the neighbourhood, crying, wondering when it would become easier. Being home full time is hard – much harder than working outside of the house sometimes.

When people find out that I am home full time with the girls and that I am planning on homeschooling them, I hear lots of comments: from the «I don’t know how you do it, I never could!” (which I find very worrying) to the typical «How will you socialize them” (as if they were pups!)?. I heard them all. But again, even during the hardest times, I knew that it was the best thing to do. It is still not easy financially, but we try to make decisions that allow us to follow that path. It is so worth it! I simply keep in mind that I had bad days when I worked in an office too, but I never ever felt that deep feeling of satisfaction, of true accomplishment, of meaningfulness.

After a couple of months of being home with Mara and Aïsha, a rhythm finally started to emerge. After the usual morning cuddles in bed, we would get them all changed in day clothes and make breakfast, then we would go outside a bit and come back for the morning nap. I always laid in bed with both of them singing the same song everyday, rocking them gently, and by the end of the song (it was quite a long one!), they were both sleeping peacefully (most days!). I was pretty much always napping with them. Then, after their nap, we would get up and I would prepare lunch with one in the sling or with the two of them playing at my feet with the pots and pans in the kitchen. Then, we would eat and nap again. When I didn’t go outside in the morning, I tried to go in the afternoon (if I felt like I had the energy to do so!) and we would simply come back in for daddy’s arrival from work, cook dinner, eat, take a bath with mommy or daddy, sing, put on our pj’s and go to bed (by six months, they mostly were in bed by 7:00). Then, it would be my special time for me (reading, knitting, meditating, dance classes). And I would be in bed by 9:30-10:00. It seemed like our days flew by without my realizing it was that late already. It sure seemed like I wasn’t doing much, but I was nurturing two little souls, and this was huge!

When my back was so sore from carrying them in the sling, I would lay their lambskins on the floor in front of the woodstove and give them a silk or a knotty baby to chew on and I sat on the couch, knitting and singing. It seemed like most of the time, it kept them happy for a little while. When they were between 8 and 10 months (not crawling yet), they would get bored easily and I remember spending a lot of time in the bathroom, sitting on the toilet and knitting while they were splashing in the tub. Most days, I would simply sit them at the table with me while I was chopping veggies for the soup or apples for their apple sauce and I would give them a piece to chew on while I was cutting everything for our meal.

Some days, we would be out and about and they would nap in the car or on us in the sling. Some nights, we would go visit some friends and they would go to bed later, but we mostly invited friends over for dinner instead so we could keep their routine intact. To this day, I still believe that it played an important role in the fact that all 3 of our children were very good sleepers (even the breastfed one!).

When the twins were 10 months old, I found out I was expecting # 3 (natural contraception methods make for big families!). It came as a shock and I was panicked.

At 6 months of pregnancy we found out that she was breech and that I would need to have another c-section (the risk of hemorrhage was then over 25 % because of the 1st pregnancy). The birth went well and breastfeeding was established. I was so happy! However, Mara and Aïsha reacted very strongly to Mathilde’s arrival by wanting to be held all the time. It was very challenging. At that point, at everybody’s suggestion, I took the very hard (for me!) decision to put the twins in daycare 2 mornings a week (their educator was a very close friend that they knew since they were 4 months old). Even if it was pretty much the best possible situation, it felt awful. I just felt like I was pushing them away  when they were only 19 months old! They were still babies! They were in a group with 4 other children that all had older siblings, so they constantly got pushed and toys were grabbed from them… Some people around us simply said that they would learn to live in society… I could not help but reply: «But this is not society, this is 6  18 month-old children together in a double bedroom size room. There is nothing normal about it! Nowhere in real life do we see 6 children the same age caged up together like that!»

Each morning we would drive them there, my heart sank. I felt that I was not being true to myself, to my core values. I felt that it was so unfair to them. And when they would come back home, they would be wired… and sick all the time. It went on for 2 months until I decided to stop sending them there. What a relief! That whole experience drained me much more than it recharged me and through it, I learnt that only I know what I truly need. Nobody else does. Our experiences are all so unique and different. Just listen to what you feel inside. Do you feel like putting your child in a daycare at 12 months to go back to work is the right thing to do? Does it feel good when you think about it? I have heard so many moms around me go through that awful adaptation week (or weeks!) of transitioning from home to work (or home to daycare for the child) against what they deeply felt inside, only because this is what we do, this is what every body else around them is doing, so they must do it to. What if there would be an alternative? What if you would not have to go through that heart breaking transition? Many women around me think that the ideal situation is to work part time. Ideal for whom? Surely not for the child! What worries me is that we do not question sending our children to daycare. We do not wonder what truly is best for the healthy development of their senses . Because everybody does it, because we don’t know what our children really need anymore. Most people seem to think that socialization (at 12 or 18 months) is more important than the nurturing of the senses or the need for a quiet and calm family environment!

I have changed so much in the last 4 years, it is unbelievable. Our children truly are our best teachers, but only if we truly take the time to listen to them, to make sacrifices, yes sacrifices –  that scary word that makes women around you think that you are anti-feminist and that you have become a door mat for your family. But who will ensoul our homes, who will raise our family if we don’t? Who will create a sanctuary for our families to evolve, to grow and to discover their true essences?

Catherine Forest

A rhythmic, ordered life is nourishing to the young child.  This includes the littlest children as well!  Bringing rhythm into your baby’s days and life will benefit both you and your baby, as well as the rest of your family.

Remember that a life of rhythm and routine is not about harshly scheduling your baby.  Rhythm is more natural, organic, and can flow.  It is always there to hold the family, and to carry the family – but it does not bind the family.

If you are still pregnant and preparing for your baby’s birth I urge you to let go of all expectations for your baby’s first few weeks of life.  This is a time when you will be getting to know your baby and he or she will be adjusting to life outside of you.  Spend lots of time talking to and bonding with your baby, and get as much rest as you, yourself, can possibly get.

Once your baby is two weeks old or so is a good time to begin working with rhythm.  Begin before or after based on your own feelings about it – just don’t try to tax yourself too soon after giving birth.

Start by deciding a guiding rhythm for your own day.  If you have older children this may be easy since you probably already have set waking, eating, and bedtimes (if not, this is a good time to work on it!)  If this baby is your first you will need to have more discipline with yourself.  It was far easier for me to give my second and third child a rhythmic babyhood than it was with my first.

But begin by setting a time to wake (or to wake baby if you prefer to rise earlier) in the morning, a time to eat your meals (and you should really be getting snacks too!), and a time put baby to bed.  You do not have to be rigid about these times.  A general “around 8 o’clock, around noon, etc.” is good.  I do recommend you research bedtime and choose an early bedtime for your baby.  My own children go to bed at 7 o’clock!

Now that you have those cornerstones begin to live life with your new baby – or older baby!  Wake in the morning, dress or freshen up.  Get baby ready for the day.  Eat breakfast and nurse baby.  Then you may want to do some housework with baby in the sling, take a walk outside with baby, or nurse baby some more 😉

When you sit down to have your snack, nurse baby.  Your baby will come to associate this snacktime with nursing.  Gradually you can work towards the morning nap being just after this snacktime.  It’s a matter of gradually adjusting your baby into this rhythm and routine.  My second baby fell into this quite by accident because I simply always had the morning snack and nursed him.  I encouraged it with my third baby!

The same is true for lunch.  Nurse your baby right after lunch, or during lunch.  I set out a meal for my first and then nursed my second on my Boppy at the table while we ate lunch.  Then I put my second into the bouncy set next to me to sleep and had my lap free to rock my first for her nap.  I did the same with my third.

As a young baby my second would nap in his bouncy seat for about an hour while I napped in the chair.  He would then wake and I would pick him up and nurse him again, then put him back down in a bassinet where he slept for another two hours.  Yes, a three hour nap!  My first and I got some nice time together in while he snoozed away nearby.  It was similar with my third child.

Again, this is a gradual, gentle process.  Hold the truth that this is your family’s rhythm and pattern for the day.  Know that your baby will gradually join into this family pattern.  If you hold that expectation within you’ll watch with delight as your baby falls into this rhythmic day!

Have your baby in a sling as you work around the home in the afternoon and have her nearby during supper – or at supper if she’s an older baby!  Your young baby will probably want to nurse upon waking from the afternoon nap and during the evening time, but do try to encourage him to stay awake in the couple of hours before bedtime.

Begin a soothing bedtime routine early.  A small baby can wake at Four in the afternoon and still be ready for bed by Seven.  You’ll find a routine that you like and works for your baby.  The picking up of toys together, closing the curtains, washing hands and face, a fresh diaper and pajamas, and lullabies and rocking will help your baby to know bedtime is coming.

Rock and nurse your baby, then lie him down to sleep.  If you have a family bed you may want to lie down with your baby and nurse until he is asleep, then get back up.  I always preferred nursing my young babies down and then putting them into a bassinet near me, out front, while I read or worked for a bit.

If your baby wakes again, simply nurse her to sleep again and put her back to bed.  This early bedtime will give you time for you.  To bathe, shower, spend time with your partner, read, chat with friends on the phone or computer, or just have some silence.

This gentle start will develop as your baby grows.  Keep the cornerstones of your day and other rhythms will develop with it.  Of course there will be days when you are dancing the entire day through with a fussy baby, or nights where your baby will not sleep – these are part of having an infant!  But a rhythmic day will be wonderful for you and your baby.

It will also encourage you to be home with your baby!  Schedule your errands for one or two weekday mornings and honor baby’s routine. Honor the afternoon nap and especially bedtime.  This is sacrifice on your part but it’s best for your baby, and it will be best for your child for many, many, many years.  Happiness for your baby is being with you, riding in the sling as you do housework and taking walks in the neighborhood and nature.

This simplicity of life and peacefulness of rhythm is a gift that comes with having babies and young children.  I also encourage you to cover your television with a pretty cloth.  Your baby and your young child does not need it.  Show your baby your home and neighborhood instead.  Include baby in your life – not at the center, and not occupied by a television at the edges of it – and your baby will be happy.

Sing to your baby as you move throughout the day.  Your baby loves it and doesn’t care how good your voice is!  You may also like to learn some simple nursery rhymes and children’s verses to associate with your rhythm.  For instance – Three Men in a Tub at bathtime, Polly Put the Kettle On at snacktime, and so on 🙂

Know your cornerstones and gently guide your baby into your daily routine.  Honor baby’s rhythm.  Sing some songs and learn some verses.  Let baby see your home life and nature from the sling.  Remember there will be some days that are hard.  And trust that this life will nourish and uphold your baby, and you, too!
Kristen Burgess

One aspect of parenting that I find people put an astonishing lack of thought into is properly clothing children. It is an important consideration throughout childhood, but it is of grave importance during the first year of life.

There are several key issues to take into consideration while planning your baby’s layette.

  1. Is respect for the child’s senses, which are very open to stimuli at the time of birth.
  2. Is respect for the baby’s comfort, including her need for warmth,
  3. Is respect for the child as a holy being.

Some people may be surprised by my use of the word “respect”, in the end, that’s what it boils down too. Your little one does not have a say in how she is handled. If you choose to parent in awareness, you will try to meet both the unique, personal needs of your child, as well as the universal needs that all babies share. This is a show of both love and respect.

Babies come into this world with an exquisite sensitivity to all that surrounds them. This is both a literal, physical reality, as well as a less palpable notion, a sense of spiritual sensitivity and openness. This needs to be considered in all aspects of parenting, but let’s take a look at how this knowledge effects our choices in the area of clothing. Following are some guidelines that I consider in line with this standard of thinking. Some of them are well accepted within the Waldorf and Natural Parenting community, other’s are perhaps less so.

Natural fibers are the safest, purest, and most appropriate choice for a young child. If you can afford to buy organic, then all the better. Making some (or all!) of your baby’s clothing is sometimes a more cost effective way of introducing organics. Organic or not, there is also something quite profound to be said for the love and warmth that infuses a homemade item, especially one that is made with a beloved recipient in mind.

Wool, cotton, and silk are all excellent choices. Hemp and linen are also versatile fibers that may play an important role in your little one’s wardrobe.

Comfort should be of paramount importance when dressing a young child! A little baby’s skin is far more sensitive then an adult’s and care should be taken not to irritate it. Seek out the softest materials you can find. They should be flexible to allow for exploration and not stiff or binding. Merino wool and combed cotton are a good place to start. If you have any question as to the softness of a particular material, try holding it close to your own skin, before you try it on baby. Placing your arm into a pant leg, for instance, and wearing it thus for a couple of minutes, should give you an adequate experience of the article in question.

Also, please look for clothing that is easy to put on and take off. Babies require frequent, often times unexpected changes. You don’t want them to end up being unpleasant for both of you.

While we are on the subject of comfort, large metal clasps and the like, should be avoided as much as possible. Remember that a little one will frequently seem to ‘curl up into himself’, meaning that anything hard is libel to dig into him at one point or another, even when it seems perfectly harmless on a hanger. One popular baby item that springs to mind immediately, are denim overalls with the clasps in front of either shoulder. While these may be a good choice for an active preschooler, I would ask people to reconsider their appropriateness when used on an infant. I can’t even begin to tell you the number of times I’ve seen some poor little child wake up from a nap with a horrible red imprint on his check or neck! When looking at an outfit for your baby I would urge you to consider how you yourself would feel wearing it. Is it something that you would be looking to change out of at the end of a long day? Or is it just the thing that you would want to slip into for lounging about? If it’s not something that you would be happy to sleep in, then it’s totally unacceptable for an infant, period.

Regarding age appropriateness, there is a difference between dressing a baby and dressing an adult! Many people don’t seem to grasp this concept. Furthermore, there is a difference (or should be!) between dressing a baby and the way that you would dress an older child. I’ll be the first to admit that I am extremely old-fashioned in this regard.  I’m a strong believer in bonnets and gowns (both for girls and boys) and sleepers. Miniature adult clothing makes me cringe. Babies aren’t tiny adults. They are something entirely different, and they should be treated as such.

Another thing that babies are not is billboards….plastering your child with various advertisements and sayings is unfair at best and demeaning at it’s worst. For starters, it seems rather impolite, to me anyhow, for one person to project their own beliefs or likes onto another without their consent. Secondly, Nike, Disney, Harley Davidson and the Lakers all spend lots and lots of money on advertising, they are not going to go out of business because of your child, I promise. Third, there is something to be said for shielding our children from the dangers of commercialism for as long as possible.

The other “billboard” type scenario is all the wacky sayings that people seem to find so amusing when printed on a baby’s tee-shirt. I, for one, have felt very strongly that each of my babies came to me with a strong and glorious soul, deserving our utmost compassion, love, and guidance. Such a blessing it is to be entrusted with this gift! What of this heart-felt conviction is conveyed in dressing an infant in a bib that reads, “No, I’m not in deep thought, this is just what I look like when I poop!”? Get my drift? Again, it’s a matter of respect.

Warmth is a hot topic (no pun intended) in Waldorf circles, especially as it applies to the young child. Babies often times have difficulty regulating their own temperature. It is up to us, as their caregivers, to ensure that they are kept warm enough so that their small bodies don’t have to waste precious energy and calories trying to keep warm. Having a variety of hats on hand, and actually using them, goes a long way towards meeting this goal. Cotton caps and pilot style hats for inside and outdoors on mild days, wool hats or bonnets that wrap around the ears for cold days and sun hats for the summer sun. I would venture to say that a baby, and surely a newborn, should have something on her head at all times. Since I know most people will disregard this advise, then at the very least I would say that if it is cool enough for an adult to be in a long-sleeved shirt, then baby needs his hat! I make sure to have a couple of appropriately sized cotton caps around all year long (this has been true for my babies, toddlers, preschoolers, and yes, even elementary aged children, they all have at least one cotton cap.). You never know when you might have an unusually cool evening, your child might become ill, or just be chilled. Sun hats are an interesting thing, as they often seem to be donned more as a fashion statement then as legitimate sun protection. Wide-brimmed hats or old-fashioned sunbonnets seem to be the most effective at protecting a wee one’s sensitive skin. Bucket hats look cute, but often times their brims aren’t wide enough to provide adequate protection. They may, however make a reasonable covering on a shady day.

Diapers, being the closest thing to most babies skin are worthy of a good deal of thought. Organic or unbleached cotton or hemp cloth diapers, coupled with wool soakers or longies make an ideal combination. If you decide to use disposable, do look into the unbleached cotton varieties and avoid the constant chemical exposure of ordinary disposable diapers.

For families practicing Elimination Communication, wool bottoms still provide a lovely basis for baby’s wardrobe. One note for parents choosing to ‘EC’, do be sure to try to keep baby warm while toileting! So many times I’ve seen it happen that baby needs to go while you’re out standing in the snow! Do your best under the circumstances, whatever they may be!

Baby clothes should never, ever be washed with fabric softeners, dryer sheets, bleach, or any scented detergents! I can not emphasis this enough.  It’s an assault to a little one’s senses and a genuine danger to their health.  A mild, unscented detergent from your local health food store, a combination of baking soda with a vinegar rinse, or plain castile soap, are some of the many viable alternatives.

With all of this in mind, what should a baby’s wardrobe look like? The possibilities are infinite and as varied as the varied families doing the dressing. In my own home, over the years (and several babies J), I’ve refined what works best for us. Cotton or wool gowns, depending on the season, over undershirts, a cloth diaper and longies, make up the basic day to day uniform for sleeping and around the house. And hats of course! A sweater may be layered on in cooler weather. In warmer weather a soaker under the gown may suffice.

A couple of warm and comfy sweaters are invaluable. Cardigans are particularly nice because they don’t require going over baby’s head. At my little one’s dressing table I have hanging one cotton sweater with a cotton pilots cap tied about the hanger, for those in-between days, and one thick wool sweater with a wool hat for the decidedly cool ones.

I’ve found the use of a couple of sweater sets for visiting or other more formal occasions to be just darling, while still meeting all of the above listed requirements. Longies and coordinating tops, knitted overalls with wooden buttons, and fully knitted rompers all look adorable and are quite dressy enough for a baby attending even the most posh affair.

Socks and booties are really quite suitable for a baby until they begin to walk, at which point a nice pair of soft-soled moccasins will serve nicely.

If all of this is not a foreign concept to you and you’ve already acknowledged all of the above points, you may wish to take things one step further and consider the source of your child’s clothing. Did it’s creation cause suffering in the world? Was it a purchase that you can feel good about? What kind of chemicals did it pick up along the way? Are you pleased to help support the retailer you purchased from? When you’ve found something that really agrees with you and fits your view of how you want to move through this world, then you should honestly feel joyous when you dress your child in it. Seriously! Suddenly, this mundane everyday act becomes so much more and transcends the practical, becoming a whole new level of nurturing. This is not about guilt!! I want to be very clear on this point. The world that we all live in can be toxic in many ways and there is only so much that anyone person can do. A stressed and anxious parent is far more departmental to a child then a life of polyester suits! I’m not telling you to go out and by hand-made boutique clothing, when you are having trouble putting food on the table! All I’m asking you to do is to every once in a while consider whether your actions are in line with your heart. Whether that means checking out the second-hand store before hitting that big box store again, or learning to cherish hand-me-downs, supporting another mother in her pet project, or sitting down with the sewing machine or knitting needles yourself.

There I was, surrounded by my midwife, her assistant, my husband, my step mother and my mother-in-law, all looking down at this beautiful creature that had just entered the world and took his first lungful of oxygen. It was a magical moment. Maximillian seemed bathed in light to me, olive-skinned and wide-eyed, looking up at me in a way that seemed as old as time itself.

We were well prepared for this moment. He was planned, our first child. And down the hall in the other room sat a white crib, bought by one of his grandmothers, draped with homemade blankets, a small mobile with soft woolen sheep hanging just above. Max is fortunate. He has relatives to spare. On his father’s side of the family he comes from Mexican-American lineage, a large family with many aunts, uncles, and cousins. And for his baby shower they had fully stocked his room with special lamps and decorative pieces, a rocking chair and stuffed animals, toys galore tucked away in the closet. It was a mother’s dream nursery.

But it would be a room that Max would never use.

For the first week he stayed in my bed, by my side, every night. It was a worrisome time for us. Am I doing this right? Is he getting enough to eat? What’s that noise? Is that normal? Is he comfortable? Will I roll on top of him in the middle of the night and squish him? I slept with one eye open, and even the smallest audible nuance did not escape my ears. But when I had adjusted to the routine and settled in to motherhood, nights were peaceful. When he was hungry, I’d simply open my pajamas and let him drink, then we would both drift back to sleep. If he was wet, I could change him without leaving the bedside. And we didn’t have to miss one moment of his growth. But it was also time to discuss the dreaded crib. The family expected us to use it. Certainly it wasn’t cheap. And wasn’t that what parents did, anyway? Put their babies down in the crib and get a good night’s sleep?  “If you don’t get him used to it now, you’re going to have major problems down the line,” came the warning from relatives.

We tried it. One night after Max had fallen sound asleep with a belly full of Mamma’s milk, we scooped him up and quietly moved down the hall, gently laying him in the crib. His eyes immediately opened. The crying began when we took our first step back into the hall. We tried, and tried, and tried, but it always ended the same way. With crying that wouldn’t stop. “Let him cry it out,” relatives told us, “He’ll get used to it.” Get used to it? Let him cry it out? I was baffled. This went against every mothering instinct-bone in my body. And the few times that it did work, and he stayed asleep, it wasn’t long before the monitor chirped with his voice as he awoke hungry, needing to be fed.  Or wet, in need of a diaper change. As I stumbled down the hall to the crib to feed, exhausted and in a daze, I thought to myself, what am I doing? Why am I doing this? I remembered the week before, lying in my bed, with Max’s warm little body by my side. I remember the ease with feeding. No getting up, no walking to the another room. He would simply roll over and feed as I slept on. There was no staying up all night listening to every squeak and chirp of the monitor, wondering if he was okay, listening for breath, for life from lifeless machine. When he was sleeping next to me, our breath, it seemed, became one, moving in and out in unison. Why couldn’t it be that way again? Why was I doing this?

The answer came back loud and clear. It didn’t have to be this way. We didn’t have to do what the relatives expected us to do. We listened to our own voice instead, listened to our hearts. From that moment on, Max slept in our bed. For five years until his sister was born. By then he had his own room with his own bed. But that didn’t mean we stopped him if he had a bad dream or needed comfort and wanted to climb into our bed. He was always welcome. It just seemed natural. We did the same with my daughter, and she started sleeping in her own room about the same time that he did. She’s seven now, but still comes into our bed every once in a while if she awakens in the middle of the night and needs comfort, or when we travel. Both of them are well adjusted. Confident. Secure. And I didn’t have to sacrifice years of bonding and closeness with my children.

I remember once, going to a pediatrician. He had asked if we co-slept. I told him yes. I told him that it just wasn’t working out the other way. I mentioned the crying. I told him that I wasn’t comfortable having my baby sleeping in a room down the hall. He made a suggestion. He said, you know, you can put him in the closet.

Put him in the closet? Is that why I had a child, so I could put him a closet?

No. I had a child so that I could love him, and nurture him, and let him know that I will always be there for him. To give him the gift of love and security. For us, co-sleeping was the most natural, fundamental thing to do. And the crib? The beautiful unused crib made a perfect storage bin for all those toys and clothes.

Kimberly Torres

When I was pregnant with my first daughter I never imagined I would end up being a Waldorf/Attachment Parent. I was determined to do things ‘by the book’. In my corporate life I was about efficiency, effectiveness, results. Parenting, surely, wouldn’t be that different – I had already worked out a schedule for feeding, bought bottles so that I could express milk for baby sitters and looked into childcare options.  Her nursery was filled with stimulating toys, black and white flashcards and CDs of music to develop her tiny brain.

But when my daughter arrived  I quickly realised that all this stuff – well it just didn’t sit right for me or for this tiny bundle of love. My place was with my daughter, and she made it very clear that her place was with me – screaming blue murder if I left her, while content and delighted when at the breast or in a sling. Her happiness gave me the confidence to ignore those who warned that she would never be independent, that she would still be breastfeeding at ten, that I would never get her out of my bed.

When I discovered ‘attachment parenting’ with its support for extended breastfeeding, baby wearing and co-sleeping I actually cried  – I wasn’t the only mother in the world who felt this way. Yet, at the same time I knew there had to be more. For me, mothering was a deeply spiritual task, and I searched for answers as to how to honour and develop this.

My daughter was one when I came across the work of Rudolf Steiner, and joined a Steiner/Waldorf parent and toddler group. From our first morning, I knew we were in the right place. Copies of ‘The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding’ and ‘Mothering your Nursing Toddler’ sat next to ‘Lifeways: Working with Family Questions’ and ‘You are Your Child’s First Teacher’. As I learned more about Steiner’s teachings that babies are still very connected to the  spirit world, and the mother’s role as a ‘shield’ to help them come in to this world gently, light bulbs kept turning on in my head.

What a different way I approached my son’s early weeks, with so much more love, more confidence, and so much more respect for this brand new soul that had arrived on earth.

So what does Waldorf baby care look like? Essentially it means deliberately protecting all of the baby’s senses. So we sleep him in a pure cotton hammock with merino wool blankets, and a pale pink muslin creating a veil over his sleep space. At night he comes into bed with me, sharing my rhythm and he quickly learnt night from day in this warm haven.  His room is kept calm, no brightly coloured pictures or singing mobiles – but a simple mobile of pastel coloured silk fairies hangs in one corner

We keep him dressed warmly in layers of wool and cotton. His feet are always covered, as is his head.  We refused a hospital baby bath with their strong chemicals and bright lights –  in fact he had his first bath with me at ten days old and only weekly after that.  Also, we insisted that he be weighed with his clothes on – keeping him warm and protecting him from the harshness of being thrust unprotected on to cold scales.

As far as possible we keep him at home, and away from anywhere with fluorescent lights and too much noise. When we do need to take him to the supermarket I either have him facing into me or his father in a baby wrap, or we cover his pram with the pink cloth from his hammock.We sing and hum softly to him, which he is beginning to respond to with his beautiful baby laughter.

Most of all though, we remember that he is still so new to this world, that as Rudolf Steiner said, he is “all sense organ”. Our responsibility as his parents is to protect those senses, and allow him to wake up into this world gently and with my love surrounding him.

Being a full time mother to two children is extremely challenging, and all the more so because there is a lot of societal pressure to put children into care. I couldn’t even count the number of conversations I have listened in to about the wonders of nannies, or how amazing such and such a daycare is. So many mothers, even those who don’t work, put toddlers into care so they can have a break, and I am looked at strangely for not doing so.  But only a mother can do what a mother does: I truly believe I have a spiritual calling to be  mother to my children.  This means being with him, and my daughter, creating a warm ‘nest’ for us to all be together as a family.

Gypsy (New Zealand)

Adopted children from China have needs for emotional support at night that may be more intense in some areas than our birth children. In some of these children it could even rise to the level of a post traumatic stress disorder with some fairly long term issues with night time sleeping. Many of these baby girls are abandoned at night, perhaps increasing their stress associated with peaceful night time sleep.

I have been a birth mother to three sons and have two daughters adopted from China at ages 9 months and 11 months. They both had quite different abandonment issues. My younger daughter was immediately taken into foster home care by the retired orphanage worker who found her at her abandonment site. She slept every night with the lady in her bed and lived what would be called a typical traditional Chinese village lifestyle, surrounded by family members. It took her a bit longer to “fall in love with me” than my older daughter since I was her third mother but she was a healthy baby and had no serious  night time issues once she got over her anger and fell in love with me . That process took about two and a half months and did involve some screaming in rage in the night and I walked her and held her in a rocking chair until she could fall back to sleep. We shared a family bed with her as an infant which was peaceful (except she is a bit of a thrasher!) and she transitioned easily to a bed downstairs with her sister as an older toddler.

My older daughter was a different story. She was in the orphanage after her abandonment and was given attention every few hours by the female nannies. She was described as active and wakeful at night. That was an understatement. The first night I had her in the hotel room in China she banged her head against my leg for hours since that is how she pacified herself to get to sleep. I honestly don’t remember how long the head banging continued but I think it subsided as she became physically well again. (She came to me with scabies and a fairly severe ear infection and was in treatment with a homeopathic physician almost every week for several months).   She remained, however, a light sleeper and had night terrors. Once she could walk, she would even get out of our bed and pull books off of the shelves. Eventually that subsided too. It also helped that I took her to regular sessions with a cranial osteopath which she screamed through but which seemed to help her a great deal. She graduated from a family bed to sleeping on a mattress by our bed once our younger daughter slept with us. Still she would often crawl back into bed with all of us. Since about age five, she and her sister have been downstairs in their own bedroom. They slept together in a queen size bed and then at age 7 we redid their room and they each had their own bed.

They are now ages 9 and 11 and I still read aloud at night to them and cuddle with each of them briefly before bed. I think that the family bed was essential to my older daughter’s recovery of normal childhood development and was a happy continuation of good development for my younger child. The only residual  nighttime effect that I notice in my older daughter now is that she is often reticent to sleep over at a friend’s house. She has done it, but she considers carefully whether or not she will stay overnight when invited by a friend. Her friends have been great about this and simply respect her decision whatever she wants to do.

For us the family bed was a familiar parenting style with our sons and youngest daughter but it was an essential therapy for my older daughter.
A friend from the Midwest

I did not immediately warm to the idea of sharing my bed with our baby.  At the time, I only knew a few radicals who practiced bed-sharing and I felt that these mothers did so in order to put their child first and keep their husbands at bay.  That was certainly not what I wanted!  My husband and I had only been married for 9 months when we conceived our first child.  Although I couldn’t wait to become a mother, I also did not want to start off motherhood by pushing my husband out of our bed.  A child of divorced parents, I was not about to let anything get in the way of a healthy marriage.  Yes, of course I planned to breastfeed.  I loved the idea of gathering up my wee angel from her bassinet and settling in the rocker while she suckled to her heart’s content.  But like so many pre-conceived notions of what motherhood looks like, this one went right out of the window when our daughter arrived.

Grace was born on a sunny and cold December day the week before Christmas.  After several visits to an OB/GYN office where my list of questions and concerns were brushed aside like so many pesky flies, my husband and I abandoned modern medicine, and opted for a home-like birth with a local midwife.  The birth rooms at the midwife’s house were decorated with local antiques and Amish quilts and had lovely little cradles in them.  One day I commented on the cradles and Nancy, our midwife, explained that she was required by law to have them in the rooms but that she didn’t really let her parents use them.  If parents lay the baby in there, she told us one day, I just scoop the baby up and hand it back to them in the bed.  Clearly our midwife was an advocate of bed-sharing but I still had my doubts.

So Grace slept with us at the midwife’s place but on our first night together at home, we were getting ready for bed and I tenderly laid her down in the bassinet I had prepared.  My husband came in and said, “What are you doing with that baby”? picked her up, and brought her over to our bed.  It suddenly dawned on me: this is a man who carries the dog upstairs up to bed each night, no wonder he won’t let the baby sleep alone.  I didn’t have it in me to object.  After a long labor and delivery, I was happy to sleep with our baby by my side and not have to get out of bed each time she needed to nurse.  I figured this arrangement was alright, for a little while, it was certainly easier than getting up several times a night.  I figured I would soon have her sleeping in her own crib.  In the meantime, I was a very happy mother.  My baby got enormously fat and seldom cried.  I got plenty of sleep as I had gradually learned to nurse lying down and hardly even woke up as Grace and I learned that she could latch on and nurse in a state of semi-consciousness.  Our family bed was so peaceful that I overheard my husband tell someone that the baby was “sleeping through the night”: no, I thought, the baby isn’t but I guess you are!

I was still a bit concerned about what others might think of our sleeping arrangements.  Once I spoke to my mother-in-law on the phone and she said “You’re not letting that baby sleep in your bed are you?  And before I could think of how to answer she went on to say “I slept with my parents until I was six and my baby brother was born and I still remember how mad I was at him for taking my place”.  On the one hand, she most definitely didn’t approve; on the other, she had given me a new insight, this was not some new-fangled hippy notion, this was something parents had done for years.  Moreover, despite her objections, she had fond memories of sharing her parents’ bed.

Nine months passed and there I was expecting another baby (so much for nursing as birth-control).  Now the pressure was on, I was not going to sleep with and nurse two babies!  I started a new bedtime routine putting Grace to sleep nursing in the rocking chair and then slipping her into her crib.  When she would wake in the night, I would bring her into the bed and I thought this arrangement was workable.  After my first trimester, I weaned Grace (then 12 months) from the breast but the bedtime routine remained otherwise the same.

On a beautiful day in May, Katie was born into our family.  Soon after we brought her home (and I’m not even sure how exactly this happened) I ended up sleeping with Katie in the spare room and my husband and Grace were sleeping together in the big bed.  I was not happy with this arrangement but it was working well in that everyone was sleeping.  Well one day, little Grace referred to the guest bed as “Mommy’s bed”!  That was too much for me, I didn’t intend for my husband and I to start having separate bedrooms at the age of 30.  I started sleeping in our room again with baby Katie and Grace was back to being put to sleep in the crib and being brought into our bed when she woke at night.  The sleeping arrangement was: Bed-railing – Grace – Me – Husband.  And that worked fairly well, I was satisfied to have part of the night next to my husband if not the whole night.

The next several years, various sleeping arrangements were tried depending on what else was going on.  My husband is a Naval Officer and his duties took him away from home for months at a time so of course, when he was gone, it was easier for us all to sleep together.  There were times when I felt the need for my own space and I would try to enforce separate sleeping.  I spent many nights resolutely putting girls back into their own beds.  Looking back, I think we would all have been happier to give into their desire (need?) to be close to us but one doesn’t always have such perspective, especially in the middle of the night.   As the girls grew, they also enjoyed sharing a bed with one another.  Now we had a whole network of friends who also co-slept so I did not feel that we were doing anything odd.  My children were so healthy and happy, bedtimes were not a struggle, our girls were attached and self-confident, we knew we were on the right track with what we were doing.  And, crucially, my husband and I still found time to spend with one another.

Our son, Charlie, was born in a rented hot tub in our living room one fine November day.  By this time the girls (ages 3.5 and 5) were sleeping together in their own room and mostly coming into our room in the early morning hours.  Charlie never spent so much as a single night in a crib.  By this time, I was convinced that co-sleeping is a precious gift of warmth and love that imbues a child with a deep feeling that all is right in his world.  Charlie is 5 now and has been the most stalwart of nurslings and of bed-sharers.  Around the age of 4, we started putting him to sleep in his own bed in order to catch some adult-only time and just to be able to stretch out a bit more.  One of us will put him to sleep in his own bed each night, lying there with him until he is asleep, and around 2:00 he’ll come padding across the hall, climb in next to me, and entangling his little fingers into my hair, whispering “I love you Mommy” in my ear as he falls asleep for another 4 hours.  Blessed with the perspective that our marriage has survived 12 years, 3 kids, 4 moves, and a mid-life crisis and is more-or-less in fine shape; that our girls (now 10 and 8) are happily sleeping in their own beds; and that Charlie is our last child, I look back without regret on the sacrifices we made.   It is easy for me to welcome Charlie into our bed whenever he needs to be there and to relax and enjoy this time with the full knowledge of how short it really is.

Lisa Marshall
April 3, 2008
Pensacola, Florida

by David Mitchell

(Reprinted with kind permission from Child and Man, Vol.22, No.1, Jan 1988)

The 15-year-old Ninth Graders stand before us. When we observe them, what is it that we notice? Quite fast we may see that they are filled with emotional energy. They don’t seem to think, but rather they ‘do’ things and then watch the results. They are passionate, irascible, and apt to be carried away by their own impulses; and, yet they have high aspirations. At this point in their life they have met few humiliations and can be brazen and all-knowing. They can carry everything too far whether it be their love or hatred or anything else. They are compassionate and suppose all people to be virtuous, or at least better than they really are.

Riding the waves of advancing adolescence they can at any given moment be lonely, moody, argumentative, depressed, ecstatic, and challenging to all authority. Adolescence is a time of tremendous physical and chemical change. The body is in revolution and the soul is in conflict. Rudolf Steiner refers to the onset of adolescence as ‘a gentle sprinkling of pain that never goes away!’

What is it that is going on inside of our Ninth Graders? Physically their heart is doubling in weight. Their blood pressure is increasing. Their lymphoid system is shrinking which may open up infections to the throat area Boy’s voices are changing (they drop a full octave while the girls drop only one tone). The limbs, starting with the feet and legs are beginning to elongate (this can cause pain and restlessness). The lungs are increasing in size and the breathing is changing – costal in the girls and a deeper diaphragm breathing for the boys Two dozen different hormones are being released leading to the emergence of individual sexuality – fat becomes distributed over the body, lips thicken, thighs firm up, and the hips take on adult curves. There is a rapid acceleration and deceleration of the skeletal growth and there is a need for lots and lots of sleep – usually saved up for Saturday and Sunday mornings!

The alpha waves of the adult become added to the low frequency waves of the young chi d as the brain experiences change. The child feels alone, restless, sometimes angry and begins to formulate questions for their teachers such as ‘What really matters? What is the point of it all? Who am I?’ It is a difficult passageway in life and calls for a lot of compassion from adults.

The end of the 14th year is that point in time when the intellect is being born and the individual begins to find enjoyment in logic. Teachers and other adults become the whetstones upon which the teenagers can sharpen this new found ability to reason. They must be met in their school experience with subjects and teachers who challenge them.

The curriculum of the Waldorf School attempts to meet and exercise these forces. For the Ninth Grader ‘what’ has become he significant question, and proper directed activities such as a phenomenological approach to science is one of the answers.

Rudolf Steiner organized the Waldorf curriculum so that the chemistry in the Ninth should be carried forward from what was done by the class teacher in the Eighth Grade. This recapitulation involves experience and prepares for an intellectual grasping of the subject which is not abstract. It becomes then a living knowledge.

This age group benefits from a comparison of contrasts: black with white, inhaling and exhaling, heat with cold, anabolic with catabolic and acidic with basic. A key to working with this age is to have them summarize as much as possible. This helps to centre and pull the pupil in.

Organic Chemistry is one of the Ninth Grade main lesson blocks. Chemistry is the study of the inner nature of substances. The organic is the world of the living. Everything we refer to as organic has carbon in it and has had to be living substance at one time. As said before the Ninth Graders are confronted by the task of maturing not only with regard to sex but also to earth-life. Organic Chemistry is placed at this point in their blossoming self-knowledge for very specific reasons. The teacher must invigorate their awakening in their surroundings in order to help them retain their health. This will help to regulate their impulsive jumping into activity.

Their thinking is however a ‘willed thinking’. They learn by doing. Science is filled with activities which when structured properly lead the students into discrimination in their thinking.35fda368d9

The material covered should include the symbolic relationship of man and the plant world, a deep understanding of photosynthesis, the assimilation of carbon dioxide, the carbohydrates and their two pole direction toward solidification on the one hand (cellulose) and toward rarefaction (alcohol) on the other.

The contents of this block should be discussed in relation to the physiological process going on in the student’s bodies. They should experience the respiration of the plant in photosynthesis and contemplate nature s manufacturing factory for making carbohydrates. The technological process of making paper as well as artificial silk (rayon) can be demonstrated. Finally vegetable and animal fats can be examined as well as mineral oils rubber and petroleum. Joseph Priestly’s achievements and studies of phlogistron are studied as well as the nature of Oxygen and Carbon Dioxide. Van Helmondt’s observation of the plant and Ingenhousz’s discovery of the oxygen-carbon dioxide respiration cycle in plants can be read to the class.

In the teaching of chemistry there are four general rules which Frits Julius suggests we follow:

(1) Everything we present must be in correspondence with what is happening within the child.
(2) We must develop an all-embracing world outlook.
(3) The students must understand and remember the material we present.
(4) We must allow breathing space. Present a phenomenon, give it a chance to breathe and then bring it back. This is the fundamental rule within our block schedule We present a block of chemistry, or physics or astronomy etc., we let it rest and then we bring it back later.

In my class I like to keep the students actively involved in the experimental process. Besides demonstrations I involved them in 19 different experiments over a three week main lesson block. These experiments involve chromatography, the making of synthetic rubber, the fermentation and distillation of alcohol, the making of rayon, the creation of esters, saponification, the chemical identification of sugars (both monosaccarides and disaccarides), starches, cellulose, and photosynthesis to name a few. The starches corn, wheat and rice as representatives of the West, Europe and the East were discussed We did solubility tests, density tests, flame tests, fractional distillations etc. We did microscopic tests distinguishing between vegetable, animal, mineral and synthetic fibres. Every student concocted a synthetic rubber ball of their own after our study of rubber. The students were asked to write reports in their main lesson books on these experiments to include:

  • a list of apparatus,
  • a sketch of the setup,
  • the procedure,
  • their observations, and
  • whatever questions (at least two) that this particular experiment arose in them in the evening as they reviewed their main lesson work.

The next day in class we review the experiment and try to evolve any conclusions which are then written down in their block books. The conclusions, concepts and questions are drawn from the experiments. The airy side of the carbohydrates (alcohol and esters) can now, after a night of contemplation, be contrasted with the earthy side (cellulose and starch).

One assignment I like to do with my students is to have them research a biography of a modern scientist for both an oral and a written report. In the oral report I ask them to include where the scientist lived, what his or her upbringing was like, what their physical appearance was like, how they became interested in science, give an explanation of their most significant discovery and what it meant to the development of 906b829e33science, describe what difficulties they encountered in life and how they overcame them. I also ask them to include one humorous anecdote from the life of the individual they research. Scientists included have been Nobel, Boyle, Newton Cavendish, Priestly, Dalton, Pasteur, Curie’ Einstein, and others. I first contemplate each child and then assign a specific biography that I imagine will enkindle their interest. Then I hand them a photocopy of a brief biography and a picture from Isaac Asimov’s book Asimov on Chemistry to get them started. They are required to write notes from each others reports.

It is beneficial for the teacher to plan one or two field trips during the block so that they can have a first hand experience of an industrial process created by human thinking and borrowed from man’s observations of the activities of the plant world. I like to visit a local distillery and schedule a brewmaster to give a talk on fermentation some days after we have studied it in class.

The Ninth Grader needs to experience the world as their own, and should feel that the world is an important and fine place to be the task of the teacher is to bring the students of this age down into their physical bodies… to plant them firmly on the earth. We must invigorate their awakening in their surrounding in order to help them find their own personal health and balance which they will need in their adult life.

As described above the building up and the breaking down of the natural world is experienced through Ninth Grade organic chemistry. By describing the physiological process one can come to questions like alcoholism from an objective point of view at a time when the students are still open to such observations. They can see how sugar develops warmth in us while alcohol overheats us. Instead of stimulating our forces the alcohol creates a bluff and develops exaggeration and illusion. When they meet these realities through their own observations and experiments within the chemistry lab then they have learned objective lessons for life.

The 15-year-olds entering the Ninth Grade should be taught in such a way that they are led to the feeling that everything in the world is important. They must learn to trust human thinking and they should experience that thinking is capable of dealing with inner as well as outer problems. In their science courses, in particular, they should realise that it is human consciousness which awakens technology and that a proper, moral technology can provide us with a better world to live in.

After years of Waldorf class-teaching David Mitchell taught Life-Science, Chemistry and Geometry in the High Mowing High School He is currently at the Pine Hill Waldorf School and adjunct Professor of Education at Antioch College which offers an M.A. in Waldorf Education. [Biographical note from 1988!]

by Hans Gebert

(Reprinted with kind permission from Child and Man, Vol.22, No.1, Jan 1988)


Physics was first introduced to Waldorf children in Class 6. Usually all branches are started except mechanics. In each case the point of departure is some familiar phenomenon, familiar from everyday life or from previous work at school. Each branch is developed until some regularity or conceptual pattern appears which is part of accepted scientific knowledge. If it has practical application, so much the better. In the process, pupils should experience the joy and aesthetic satisfaction which accompany deepened insight and understanding.

I shall describe a possible introduction to light and colour. The example shows clearly all aspects of early physics teaching mentioned above. Naturally, many other introductions to this branch of physics are possible.

Waldorf School pupils learn painting from the time they start attending the school. They are, therefore, familiar with the way in which mixing paints produces new colours: yellow and blue produce green; red and yellow produce orange; red, blue and yellow make some kind of brown. The children have experienced also that some colours are good neighbours and others are not. Red comes naturally between violet and orange, while it has no neighbourly relationship to green. If children have not already painted a colour circle, in which good neighbours are next to each other, they can now do so. Starting with red and going around the circle we get orange, yellow, green, turquoise, blue, purple and we end up with violet on the other side of red. In each section there is a graduation. The green section, for instance, starts very yellowish and ends nearly turquoise.

So far the colour circle simply shows neighbourly relations. The space occupied by each colour section is arbitrary. The following experiments show that the circle can be arranged so that opposite colours are also significantly related.

Paint a strong patch of colour near one edge of a white sheet of paper. Gaze at it until a luminous halo appears around it. Then shift your gaze to another part of the paper. A luminous patch of colour, the so-called after-image, appears. It is lighter than the paper to the same degree to which the original colour patch is darker than the paper. If the original colour patch is, let us say, red, the after-image is bluish green. Now try to paint the hue of the after-image. It is, of course, impossible to capture its luminosity and brightness because all pigments darken the paper. If you have succeeded reasonably well, the after-image of the second patch of colour will have a hue very similar to that of the original one. This experiment should be repeated with several colours. The colour pairs thus obtained are physiological complementary colours. (The term ‘physiological’ is necessary because slightly different colour pairs derived from the spectrum are called ‘spectral’ complementaries.)

Perhaps some pupils have experienced a similar pairing of colours when observing shadows. The phenomenon is particularly pronounced in snowy landscapes just before sunset. When the setting sun tinges the snow yellow to pink the shadows appear violet to green respectively.

The phenomenon of coloured shadows can be produced artificially if two similar light sources are available, one coloured, the other white. It helps to fit dimmer switches so that the brightness can be changed. With the coloured light source cast the shadow of a simple object onto a screen. If the light source is red, the screen appears red also and the shadow is black or slightly tinged green. Arrange the other light source so that it does not throw a shadow on the screen but just illuminates it with ordinary, white light. Gradually increasing the brightness will lighten the red colour of the screen as the shadow, illuminated with the white light, becomes unmistakably green or turquoise. If possible, continue the experiment by shifting the non-coloured light source until it also casts a shadow of the simple object onto the screen. This new shadow is illuminated by the red light only and therefore appears red. The two shadows are coloured in physiologically complementary hues while the background is pink.

It is now possible to arrange the colour circle so that good neighbours are next to each other and complementary colours opposite to each other. The arrangement is shown in fig. 1 in which arrows indicate pairs of complementaries. Cyan is the technical name for a light, icy blue, while magenta is a bluish pink; the latter is the colour which Goethe sometimes called peach blossom.

The colour circle or a similar scheme is used in very many applications of colour technology in television, photography and interior design. It is an aspect of all colour-specification methods. In the continuation of the lessons it is exciting to show how it applies to colour mixing. In this way the work can be lead back artistically to its starting point.

We continue by showing how colours mix when they are produced on a screen by coloured lights rather than by paints. Produce two partially overlapping light patches on a screen which can be coloured independently of each other. This is most easily done with two projectors, each fitted with one opaque slide with a central hole. The light patches produced on the screen by the projectors can be coloured by a filter.

Make one projector light yellow and the other blue and show each patch of colour alone. When both are then shown partially overlapping there is no trace of the green which most people would expect. The area of overlap is a light grey. However, when the patches are green and red the overlap is yellow. Most pupils wil gasp with surprise when they first see this.

Different colour pairs can now be tried out, to show that saturated green, red and blue hues are best for producing new colours in this way. If three projectors are available, green, red and blue patches can be produced, arranged so that there are areas on the screen illuminated by one colour only; other areas on which pairs of colours overlap; and a third area illuminated by all three colours together. A suprisingly large gamut of colours is seen as the brightness of the three so called primary colours is varied. Examining a colour television screen, it is often possible to see the separate green, red and blue dots which make up the picture. This is particilarly easy if the set has separate controls for the brightness of each colour. (Readjusting the set after such an experiment may be difficult!)

It is clear that colour mixing by lightening, which has just been described, follows quite different laws from those governing the mixing of pigments. Adding paints to any coloured patch always darkens the colour. The colour mixing described at the beginning of this article is, therefore, an example of colour mixing by darkening. Mixing by lightening is scientifically called additive mix-ing because light is subtracted; this is to say, every new pigment absorbs its share of light.

Subtractive mixing can also be demonstrated with a projector. Use the projector for producing a red spot on the screen. Now use an additional green filter in front of the same projector. The green filter darkens the light patch produced by the red one. Far from being yellow the resulting colour is nearly black. However, if yellow and blue filters are used in a similar way the result is green. Further experimenting with the one projector shows that the best filters for producing new colours by darkening are magenta, cyan and yellow i.e. the complementaries of green, red and blue. Magenta, cyan and yellow are called the subtractive primaries. Printers use these colours together with black for producing relatively cheap colour prints. For really good prints more colours are used. Older physics books and encyclopaedias sometimes show what prints look like when only two of the primaries are used. If a school parent is connected with a printshop she or he may be able to provide similar examples which are intermediate products in producing the final colour print. The subtractive primaries are also used in colour photography.

We can sum up the whole main lesson block by superimposing on the colour circle the triangles corresponding to the primaries for mixing by lightening and by darkening, as shown in fig. 2.

The question arises: which of the many reds, blues and greens are the correct primaries? Actually there is a reasonably wide choice. Colours from the spectrum are often chosen. No three colours, however carefully chosen, give all other colours. To produce all colours, arrangements too complicated to be described here, have to be used.

Let us review what has been accomplished. The starting points of the work were two well known experiences, in our case the results of mixing paints and the neighbourly relations between colours. Next we discovered conceptual, almost mathematical, relations; in our case the polar relations shown by pairs of complementaries. Next we saw how colour responds differently to polarically opposite processes, such as darkening and lightening, in polarically opposite ways: we showed that the primaries for the two processes are complementary to each other. Finally we arrived at a geometrical pattern illustrating the laws used in all colour mixing. The fact that the conceptual scheme, beautiful as it is, fits reality only approximately shows an import-ant feature of all physical law. In branches like mechanics and electro-magnetism the fit is very good, when it comes to colour and sound, reality is too complicated to fit exactly into the simple mathematical laws.

Similar familiar starting points can be found for other branches of physics. Acoustics, for instance, can be started by studying the well known family of stringed instruments or of recorders of various sizes. It can then be shown how pitch, loudness (‘dynamics’) and quality of notes (timbre) relate to properties of the instruments and the way in which they are played.

Similarly the study of heat could start with the well known air movements (draughts and winds) produced by temperature differences and could continue by showing their effects on motion, size, density and pressure of different substances.

A little thought and imagination yield a number of different points of departure for each branch of physics.


Hans Gebert, since retiring from his Assistant Professorship at Mercy College, has lectured on Waldorf Education in the United States and U.K. [Biographical note from 1988]

by Martyn Rawson

(Reprinted with kind permission from Steiner Education, Vol.30, No.2, July 1996)
Herodotus, the Greek historian, records an experiment designed to reveal what the original language of mankind was. The Egyptian King Psammetrich I ordered two newborn children to be removed to the desert wilderness and placed in the care of a goatherd who was forbidden to speak to them. The children grew up in this environment with only the dumb goatherd and his goats for company. The experiment was designed to see if the children would develop language out of themselves. After two years the children were recalled and examined. All they said was “bek bek”, presumably in imitation of the goats. The King made inquiries among his more travelled and learned courtiers and established that the Phrygian word “bekos” meant bread. Thus, the royal psycholinguist deduced, Phrygian must be the original language of mankind. Modern linguistic research has not borne this discovery out.

The Old Testament recalls (Genesis 11) that “the whole earth was of one language, and of one speech”, but that in the midst of building the tower subsequently known as Babel, the Lord went down and confounded “their language that they may not understand one another’s speech.” Following this stage of language development the scattered peoples of the earth expressed them-selves in various tongues and dialects.

The Acts of the Apostles (2) recalls how at Pentecost the Apostles “were filled with the Holy Ghost and began to speak with other tongues” and when the cosmopolitan multitude of Jerusalem gathered on hearing the commotion, they “were confounded because that every man heard them speak in his own tongue”. Out of the Babel of diversity each individual heard and understood, as if they had been addressed in their own language.

At an elementary level we can all experience our ability to comprehend, however approximately, a person with whom we share no common language. Body language, intonation, the clouding or sparkling of the eyes, are all means by which we can understand each other. Whatever subtleties are lost in translations, the very fact that it is possible, to an exact degree, to translate languages, implies the existence of a universal human language. In principle all spoken languages can be translated into any other. Even some languages only known by their script can be, at least partially, translated.

The other Biblical experience (Babel) is also an all too common one, even among people who nominally retain the same formal language. How many industrial disputes, marriage break-downs and social conflicts involve people simply not understanding each other in spite of a common language?

The lessons implicit in these mythological pictures are instructive. The brutal experiment of the Egyptian king at least demonstrated what modern linguistics has confirmed, that language does not arise of itself, in-born or ‘hard-wired’ into the brain. It also points significantly to the element of imitation in language learning. The Biblical images remind us that a universal language of human understanding has been lost and can be found.

At a time when the international endeavours of political institutions such as the United Nations or the European Union are committed to encouraging internationalism, multiculturalism and ethnic tolerance, the counter forces of xenophobia and ethnic conflict remain as potent as ever. The breakdown of the superpower control mechanisms has unleashed suppressed and latent tensions that all too often find expression in an acute need for peoples to assert their ethnic identity. And thus identity is profoundly tied up with language. It shouldn’t surprise us to see with what tenacity people cling to their language in the face of generations of education programmes designed to suppress it. Culture is to language what a glove is to a hand; and language is the bond which holds a people together.

We know from human evolution that language ability as we now possess it was one of the key, if not the key, determining factors in the making of mankind. With the ability to communicate, as we now can, our ancestors not only had the means to express their full humanity but they also possessed the essential tool to colonize the world from the Arctic to the Antarctic Circles. Language bonds, facilitates and expresses the group. It also identifies ‘them’ from ‘us’.

One of the things that research into foreign language learning has identified is that, as a rule, only languages learned before puberty, and especially in early childhood, are spoken without a ‘foreign’ accent. Language almost always betrays the outsider. Almost invariably accent identifies who ‘is not from round here’. This is even true of dialect. It is rare for someone beyond puberty to be able to plausibly sustain another regional dialect of their own native tongue. The locals will always be able to tell. Those with an aptitude for these things can tell a Hull from a Grimsby accent, two towns separated by the River Humber.

Language then has to do with people, the work they do, the lives they lead, the songs they sing and the place they live in. Languages tell us how a people think and experience the world, what their priorities are; whether they have one or twenty ways of saying hello, or have 40 words for different qualities, forms and types of snow but no general word for snow, or whether they appear to understand each other despite the fact that most spoken sentences are fragmentary, un-finished and the words interspersed with the meaningless syllables ahm or er.

Learning a foreign language usually doesn’t make us ‘one of them’ but it does give us more or less insight into how ‘they’ experience them-selves and the world. The more one has imbibed a language at a formative stage i.e. when one is young, and the more one has been immersed in the cultural ‘waters’ of the people and the place, the nearer one comes to think and feel like them. People who can move effortlessly between several languages often find that some experiences can best be formulated in say, German, while other thoughts in French have a certain ‘je ne sais pas’. The Englishwoman who prefers saying “ciao” on leaving, clearly has a different experience in mind than if she would say “ta’ra luv”. Our response to either farewell will be correspondingly varied.

Other languages not only give us windows into the soul of other people, they also expand our own realm of experience. Furthermore, learning even one other language awakens us to our own language, thus giving us another dimension to our own self-knowledge.

I stress these aspects of language learning not because I feel anyone needs to be persuaded that foreign languages are a good thing but to draw attention to the pedagogical implications for how we should learn and teach them. The usefulness of speaking some foreign languages in today’s world goes without saying.

One of the unique features of Steiner Waldorf Education over the past 75 years has been that children are taught two modern languages from the age of six onwards. (Schools who only offer one language are usually limited by resources or lack of staff and would if they could.) In so doing, the pragmatic viewpoint of the utility of foreign languages is complemented by a whole range of other educational intentions. The obvious ones of inspiring a genuine multiculturalism, in the sense described above, and of deepening the awareness for the native tongue are supplemented by other educational ‘spin-offs’.

Learning a language means learning to be still, to listen and to concentrate. It means being open to the challenge of the unknown, the unexpected and it means having the confidence to have a go, to try the unfamiliar, to learn from mistakes in an active willing way. In listening to another person we have to let go of ourselves a little and slip into the other’s train of thought, if we want to really understand them. The foreign language demands this of us to a heightened degree. In response when we speak, and especially when we try to use a foreign language we have to wake up to our own feelings, thoughts and intentions. Language learning strengthens the ability to listen to the other person as much as it helps us to clarify what we actually wish to say – both qualities that are often not in evidence in much of our social intercourse.

Only if we can follow, understand and grasp what the other person is saying (whether in a foreign language or not) can we empathise or make a balanced judgement. There are no more important qualities in social life where we are called upon to understand increasingly complex human situations. We not only have to comprehend but we may also have to act on behalf of or in defence of others. How else can we really welcome the outsider, the immigrant, the alienated, the inarticulate, the physically, emotionally or spiritually homeless into our literal and metaphorical homes?

The method used for teaching foreign languages in Steiner Waldorf schools adapts to the changing developmental needs of the children. In the first 3 or 4 years the children learn their languages orally in a way analogous to the learning of the native tongue. Since the children are no longer babies this is obviously done with more consciousness. Nevertheless, imitation plays a very significant role in language learning. Recent physiological studies have shown how important muscle movement and tension are for language acquisition. The American researcher William Condon filmed children both speaking and listening and noted that the hearer accompanies the speech intonations and rhythms of the speaker in tiny, but perceptible micromovements of the whole muscle system but particularly the larynx. Condon referred to both speaker and listener “dancing to the same rhythms”. Many other studies have confirmed Steiner’s view that speaking is concentrated and internalized bodily movement.

The foreign language is strongly and warmly identified with the personality of the teacher who works consciously with the role of representative for both language and culture – in short for the quality of’ Frenchness”, “Germanness” and so on. Even the non-native speaker can do this through his or her use of material, gesture and teaching aids (such as cakes or other appropriate delicacies typical of the culture, puppets or dolls, items of costume and shopping basket items, to give only a few examples). The warmth is important, for as the linguist Harald Weinrich established in 1981, the ideal psychological state for learning language is one of “relaxed awareness”.

The children participate in a fluent series of songs, poems, counting rhymes, skipping chants and games designed to engage them and to carry them in the stream of the language. As well as oral work the children also enact situations in a free and lively way. Whole exchanges of dialogue can be learned by heart and an extensive range of vocabulary and grammatical structures are acquired in situ, as it were, rather than in an abstract, conceptual way.

Grammatical structures form the basis of all speaking. Thus all the basic forms are learned through actual use, though the children will have as little knowledge of grammar as they had in learning their mother tongue. Modern research has established that children learn language, either their first or subsequent ones, initially in the form of ‘chunks’, that is combinations of sounds that form a semantic unity, without realizing that these may consist of a series of separate words and parts of speech. The process of analysing this synthesis of sound and association belongs after the age of 10 when children have begun to develop the cognitive ability to recognise speech functions such as verbs, nouns, adjectives etc. in their own language.

This process begins with learning to write some of the things the children have already learned orally by heart. They read what they have written themselves in the security of already knowing what it means. There is a tangible joy in the encounter and recognition of the familiar and unfamiliar form – an attitude which if retained into adult life in other realms, encourages an inquisitive mind. Much of the fourth school class (age 9-10) language lessons are taken up with mastering the basic orthography of the foreign languages. De-pending on the languages, this takes more or less time. Russian, with its different alphabet is a long haul, German with its basically phonetic spellings takes less time.

Because language is such a personal experience the children take great pride in Mon Grand Cahier de Français, Mein erstes Deutschbuch, self-made, hand-written text-books containing everything we know. It may not contain literally ‘everything’ but it does contain the essentials. As the pupils move on up the school, the one book will certainly be replaced by specialised books for grammatical rules, vocabulary, written exercises, diaries, poetry-books and so on. A difficult spelling or particularly tricky verb form are best remembered when the pupil has had the opportunity to grasp its use and then is given the time to formulate their own ‘aide de memoire’. These are far more useful then most drily written books of syntax. At the right time the pupils may be introduced to their first reader.

There is not the space here to enter into a detailed account of language teaching methodology in the Middle School (age 11-14). Recitation, singing, dialogue, conversation, play-acting and improvisation remain the core work, though this is naturally supplemented by a systematic learning of the formal use of language. Vocabulary and the application of grammatical form need to be regularly exercised until they become faculty.

Inasmuch as the Upper School (14-18) examination syllabuses allow a Waldorf language curriculum ‘room to breathe’, the new interests and abilities of this age group will require new approaches. It is usually found very fruitful to make concentrated and comprehensive review of all the main grammatical elements so that the young people can find a new conceptual relationship to the languages.

At this age the students will have great interest in historical and cultural aspects of the nations where their chosen languages are spoken. Their interest will be particularly stimulated by discussions on recent socio-political issues as well as the artistic expression of other cultures. As with the approach to literature, a good foundation in the geographical and historical background is essential. Where interest has been awakened, even quite challenging literature can be tackled.

Many Steiner Waldorf pupils have the opportunity to visit or attend a Steiner school abroad. One of the many advantages of being an international schools’ movement is that contacts can readily be made and the shared Waldorf curriculum makes integration relatively straight forward. On leaving school, many pupils take the opportunity to travel, or to work abroad as volunteers in communities working with handicapped or socially disadvantaged people, or for aid organisations. It’s not only that their languages come in handy, it’s more their openness to the challenging and unfamiliar, that stands Waldorf pupils in good stead. To be able to listen, understand and communicate with other people in radically different life circum-stances and cultures is what makes a person a world citizen.

And so perhaps future generations will be able to work from the Babel experience to the Whitsun experience more effectively than we have done. There is no better way to cultivate our universal humanity than to help children to liberate them-selves from the narrow confines of one view of the world, and develop an interest, an enthusiasm – a love even, for the ‘other’. In the global disaster that was the First World War, Rudolf Steiner realised that the only way to prevent it happening again was to encourage cultural awareness among children and young people, particularly through language teaching. Language teaching in the Waldorf schools should be, he felt the schooling of the ability to empathise with other people; it is social pedagogy; it is education towards peace, not through discussion or being informed alone, but through the development of the ability to perceive, because even between people who speak different languages, that which separates them will be swept away, if each person vividly experiences what the other person experiences through their language.

Martyn Rawson has teaching experience both in Germany and England, as class teacher, language teacher and Upper School specialist.

by David Tasker

(Reprinted with kind permission from Child and Man, Vol.28, No.1, Jan 1994)
A good friend of mine once surprised me by remarking that the nearest he has been to seeing angels is when he is in the bedroom of his sleeping children. Now this friend had until this moment not given the impression of any interest in the ‘spiritual’; and it now occurs to me how many people, who may appear to have a very hardened, materialistic approach to life, are able to experience a sense of wonder, of the sacred, in the presence of the sleeping child. Sleep, like its counter-point of death, remains one of the enigmas of our age, far beyond the description, let alone the understanding of our modem scientific methodology.

It is an interesting reflection on this methodology (based as it is on repeatable experimental measurements and results) that scientists should concentrate their study of sleep by the measurement of electrical discharges from electrodes attached to the heads of sleeping ‘laboratory patients’. Whilst it is comparatively easy to see the short-comings of this scientific method (because the intangible nature of sleep cannot satisfactorily be described by constrained tangible nature of physical science), I can personally vouch for the difficulties in embarking on the transition towards a science of the metaphysical. How can we understand and experience sleep and give meaning to this integral part of our life? It seems, at first hearing, to be a contradiction in terms to ask if we can be conscious in our sleeping life even though we have had glimpses of this consciousness in our dreams.

Sleep can be seen as some kind of voyage; we say ‘goodnight’ to someone, as when they are setting off on a journey. We trust that just as we ‘lose ourselves’ when we enter sleep, we will regain ourselves again on waking and, moreover, so will our family and loved ones. This trust is reinforced by our experiences which tell us that good quality sleep refreshes and invigorates our physical body as well as our thinking faculties. It is the great healer, not only for physical ailments but also for our feelings when they have been hurt; problems which have been slept-on can often be seen in a new light – in a more rounded and mature way.

Ask most parents about bringing up young children: and the trials of broken nights and poor sleep invariably figure in the conversation. The importance of good quality sleep is only fully appreciated when it is denied us and for many this situation arises after the birth of our first child. Just as we have to learn to cope as best we can with too little sleep and our resulting tiredness, irritability and loss of performance, we also find ourselves at the same time responsible for the ‘management’ of the sleep of our new offspring – in much the same way as we are responsible for managing their feeding. Both are concerned with different aspects of the child’s basic nourishment although good quality food and nutrition, perhaps because it is more readily understandable, tends to figure more prominently for parents than good quality sleep. Ingesting, digesting and excreting is the readily recognisable process for the nutritional cycle, and although few of us are able from our own experience to describe what happens when we sleep we can see that this process too is threefold, namely the preparation, the sleep (which itself has a threefold composition) and finally the recovery or restitution. Parents tend to have set views and procedures not only on the quality of food but also its preparation. Rhythms and regularity of mealtimes become important and children will usually be sitting still, often in a social grouping around a table and detached from the hurly-burly of life’s activities. We organise the food carefully and sometimes artistically on the plate and table. Most importantly we realise that good digesting, good nutrition and good health and development is contingent on what we eat and how we eat. Could we say that good sleep is equally contingent on preparation, and most importantly what of the day’s experiences we take with us (ingest) into sleep as well as how these are taken?

Bedtimes are notoriously difficult occasions for parents to aspire to heights of child-rearing excellence! One’s own tiredness, coupled with an over-tired child, or a child distracted by outside events – the comings and goings of older siblings, unexpected visitors – these can all be obstacles to the calm peaceful space of good sleep preparation. With the humility that comes from my fair share of bedtime ‘scenes’ with my own children I offer some observations on bedtime preparation. Regular routines and rhythms seem to be the primary goal, particularly for the child who finds sleep a lonely, frightening journey. To engender a bedtime mood, a mood which can encourage the journey from the full waking life to the realm of day-dreaming, is for me the greatest challenge. Withdrawing from the main living areas of the house to the bedrooms, often a problematic first step, can be lightened by making this into an imaginative game – a boat or train setting off and chugging its way along passages and stairs.

The most beautiful way of accompanying the child into the realm of day-dreams and to the frontier of sleep is through our singing – the lullaby. Even the most rudimentary singing voice seems to provide all that is needed, although I have personally found that this is difficult to sustain with my children once they have reached Class Two. Somehow they seem to be too self conscious and singing to sleep belongs, they feel, ‘to babies and Kindergarten children’. A quiet, appropriate bedtime story, preferably told afresh or by memory also allows the child to withdraw from the hard physical world to a day-dreaming imaginative landscape. As with singing, I have found this hard to sustain and have resorted to reading directly from the books. The choice of book is, of course, important and quite often I find myself reading so-called bedtime books which are either too old or too young for the child; sometimes it becomes apparent that the content is unsuitable, perhaps too emotional, threatening and brutal or, some-times, particularly in contemporary children’s books, rather banal and unimaginative. I am sure that this is one area where our class teachers can help with recommendations to enable the bedtime reading to be complementary to the day time teaching.

The reality in this country is that the majority of children (but not, hopefully, in Waldorf schools) will go to sleep having watched a number of television programmes -sometimes for as long as two or three hours and the arguments surrounding television watching have been well raised in Waldorf circles. At present, with my oldest child at 10 years, I personally feel no necessity to introduce a television into our house. My own questions are what mood and what picture experiences do we want our children to take with them to sleep? Can television provide something positive to effect the transition into sleep? My personal experience is that, for young children in particular, television does not enliven the active inner life of imagination and, moreover, the powerful outer sense images which characterise television can often overshadow the more subtle, delicate impressions of school lessons and the living impressions of the actual world, the world of actions. The thought of the contemporary child being lulled into sleep by a radio cassette or television is uncomfortable.

I am often surprised at the disturbance which our children can sleep through. This ability varies from child to child with conversations with visitors in the bedroom, lights switched on and off rarely causing any stirring for the child in good healthy sleep. It serves as a reminder of how completely the child has ‘left’ its body and embarked on the journey into sleep. I have often wondered to what extent the state of the bed and bedding after a night’s sleep is indicative of the quality of sleep, or kind of sleep footprint? The recovery from sleep in the child is generally easier for parents to deal with, possibly because we too, first thing in the morning are day-dreaming and not normally in the mood for over sensory stimulation. I have noticed considerable variance in my children after a night’s sleep, sometimes with that fresh, silvery, sparkle and bounce of wakefulness and at other times with a more slow, dreamy, sluggish air. Quite often the difficult, conflicting situation occurs when reconciling the slow gradual move out of day-dreaming and the need to arrive at school on time! This can be particularly galling for the young Kindergarten children.

I recently heard Waldorf education characterised as the ‘lighting of fires’ and not the ‘filling of buckets’. What a wonderful vision for this education: a fire with its unpredictability and uncertainty, its own inner life and abundant energy. Is this a glimpse of the freedom that our education seeks to give to our children? When we hear Waldorf teachers saying that education only really happens in sleep, we as parents must surely feel some sense of responsibility and play our part in this total education of our children. They need our love and care in sleeping as well as in their waking and day-dreaming lives.

David Tasker is a parent at the York Steiner School [U.K.]

by Liz Braun

(Reprinted with kind permission from Steiner Education, Vol.34, No.1)
Enmeshed in a latticework of brown and cream, caught in a tangle of unbelievably long necks and longer legs, we were unheeded in the school bus as the giraffe limbed and lollopped around us…

Taking a break from preparation for the Easter 1999 Conference for Steiner Teachers in East Africa, a group of teachers, including visitors from abroad and also some children, had crossed Mbagathi River which forms a natural boundary between the Rudolf Steiner School Mbagathi Nairobi and the Nairobi National Park. We found ourselves in the midst of the largest herd of giraffe I had ever witnessed, more than twenty of these mighty beasts in playful mood. These were Masai giraffe, every patch a golden-brown starburst, with ‘feminine eyes’ reflecting back our own startled wonder. An hour easily could have passed, till the light, like honey spreading over the plains, reminded us that evening was approaching and the sun would soon set. A last glance before returning to school at the movements of the giraffe now in the distance, like water flowing in slow motion; the distance let us see how fast their long-legged gait really was, how much of the hard-baked soil of the African plains was consumed be each effortless step of the giraffe (‘the one who walks swiftly’).

One of the workshops in the Easter Conference was about writing our own stories. ‘Stories: Seeking, Creating, Telling’, was its title on the programme. Small groups each chose another character from the plains to join with the giraffe; and so we began to look forward to hearing the stories of ‘The Giraffe and the Warthog’, ‘The Giraffe and the Butterfly’, ‘The Giraffe and the Zebra’. My group, two teachers from the Nairobi School, one from Kampala in Uganda and one from Hoima, Uganda, decided to tell the story of ‘The Giraffe and the Acacia Tree’.

Our workshop leader explained to us how, in the nature story, the characteristics and qualities of the animal or plant in focus can be brought out by another—the acacia by the giraffe, for example, and how the mysterious facts of the natural world breathe a life of their own when they can reveal themselves in the clothing of conversation and drama. Twelve groups filled the room with busy noise as the normally mute giraffe spoke with warthog, butterfly and tree in many different accents, trying to understand each other’s secrets. The rest of the week brought daily dramatic presentation of nature stories which just would not stand still. Here is ours.

The Giraffe and the Acacia Tree

Once upon a time, long, long ago, a lone acacia tree stood on the African plains. All around was as dry as could be; no rain had fallen for months and months. The grass was shrivelled and brown. There were no green leaves on the trees or bushes. No water gathered into a welcome pond for the animals.

Indeed, all the animals had left the acacia tree in search of food and water. The fat zebra, the slender gazelle, the warthog, the wildebeest, all had wandered away and left the acacia tree quite alone.

Suddenly, the acacia tree noticed a cloud of dust on the horizon. It watched uneasily as a giraffe appeared and swiftly came up to the acacia.

“Hello,” said the giraffe to the acacia. “Where are all the animals who used to shelter under your far-spreading branches?”

“Oh, they have all gone away in search of food and water and left me alone,” said the acacia sadly. “It is so quiet without my friends, I only hear the wind as it rustles up the dust and stirs the dry grass.”

“I, too, am hungry, so hungry,” said the giraffe, eyeing the acacia’s topmost branches longingly.

“Oh,” squealed the acacia, “don’t eat me!” And in her terror, she pushed out sharp white thorns along her branches.

“No, no, I wouldn’t hurt you;” said the giraffe, “—only, just a small mouthful?”

The acacia began to tremble and the hungry but kind giraffe spoke again: “I am so lonely, too,” he said. “You who are the home to so many animals, won’t you just be my friend?”

The acacia tree in her great compassion put out many small green leaves. “Here, my friend: something small for you to eat, but don’t take too much!”

The giraffe gratefully ate some of the acacia’s new leaves and the two became the best of friends as they are to this day. And ever since then, the acacia tree bears small green leaves in the heat of the dry season when all else is bare.

After qualifying as a trained Steiner teacher, Liz Braun taught for some time at the Rudolf Steiner School of South Devon. At present she combines raising a sizeable family, administrative responsibilities and part-time teaching at the Rudolf Steiner School Mbagathi Nairobi.

Footnote 1: From the last verse of A.C. Harwood’s The Sun is in my Heart.

When I was a new parent I became aware that some people chose to not vaccinate their children.  I remember thinking “Are they crazy?   Everyone gets vaccines, who wouldn’t?”  It had never occurred to me that vaccinations were controversial; I had been raised among traditional medicine.

Still, being exposed to that concept started me thinking and questioning.  I did more research and reading and began to realize that many of the vaccinations were for diseases that had been considered a normal part of childhood for my parents’ generation:  chicken pox, measles, and mumps.  I of course wanted to make good decisions on behalf of my baby.

Considering ceasing all vaccinations was overwhelming and not a choice I was ready to make.  However, I had realized by this point that vaccinations were medical procedures about which the recipient needed to make informed decisions.  I would not begin any other medical treatment without investigating risks and side effects, and I felt like a wise consumer would follow similar processes with vaccinations.

Thinking about vaccinations as a whole was not logical:  each disease is different, with different risks, and so is each vaccine.  Here is the process by which I approach my vaccination decisions – and it is an ongoing process that we revisit frequently.

  1. Risk/Benefit Analysis.  Everything has a risk, even drinking too much water.  It is simply not credible for a doctor to tell me that all vaccines are equally important and that there are no risks.   I created a spreadsheet on which I compiled information on each disease and vaccination: risk of the disease, risk of the vaccine, ages and races most likely to get the disease, conflict of interest from the manufacturer, number of annual adverse reactions to the vaccine,  what the adverse reactions are, temporal pattern and occurrence, how the disease is transmitted, disease trends, and what the contraindications are (which allergies and concerns the Centers for Disease Control – CDC – states are contraindicated for each vaccine).
    • In analyzing the risk v. benefit of the vaccination, do not assume the vaccine is effective.  Vaccines are not as effective as many people think – consider the booster shots we must get to maintain immunity.  The pertussis vaccine is only about 40% effective.  The tetanus vaccine has actually never had its efficacy tested and some assert it actually increases one’s risk for tetanus.   The chicken pox vaccine increases one’s risk for shingles, and it wears off as children become young adults – when contracting the disease is truly more dangerous.
    • Do not assume that the vaccine is safe.  The new Rotavirus vaccine has been approved with death as a known complication.  It may be more dangerous than the actual disease – or it may not.  You don’t know unless you investigate.
    • Do not assume that because a disease has a vaccine for it, it is a dangerous disease. Money is a big factor. The creators of the chicken pox vaccine have publicly acknowledged that money was a driving factor in that vaccine:  preventing loss of work for parents caring for sick children.  The child’s welfare should be the primary deciding factor.
    • Consider whether the child is even in the risk group for the disease.  For example – from, the risk groups for Hepatitis B are: men who have sex with men, sex contacts of infected persons, injection drug users, household contacts of chronically infected persons, infants born to infected mothers, health care and public safety workers, hemodialysis patients, infants/children of immigrants from areas with high rates of HBV infection (view map at – US is at “2% – Low”).According to the CDC, these are the people most at risk for this disease – for which EVERY child born in a hospital is vaccinated at time of birth, unless the parent declines.
    • Be aware of the seasonal rise and fall of the diseases. For example, the pneumococcal disease (Prevnar vaccine) has a temporal pattern of winter and early spring.  Do I really need to begin that vaccine in summer? Or can I delay it until fall and vaccinate for a disease that has a more urgent need? has this information.  We may not trust everything the CDC says, but it is a starting point.  If the figures from the CDC, which promotes vaccination, indicate a low risk level for the disease, I feel safe in delaying that vaccination.
  2. Local incidents:  Statistics are important, but I want to know what is happening in my area.  A medical acquaintance advised me that I can contact the infectious diseases laboratory at my county public health office. Hearing her findings about local tetanus incidence led me to research tetanus more thoroughly and I learned that there were about 180 cases in an 18 month period in the United States, and that kitchen injuries were the most common cause – not rusty outdoor tools.  That is not at all what I was expecting to find having grown up hearing about the rampant threat of tetanus surrounding me.
  3. Interview the pediatrician:  I always interview my prospective pediatrician by asking which vaccinations he/she feels are most important, and how many cases of the diseases he/she has seen. I do this to get the vaccination information and also to select pediatricians:  if a pediatrician tells me the vaccinations are equally important, he or she is either being condescending or is not very medically astute, and I leave immediately.  No pediatrician I’ve utilized has ever had a problem ranking the vaccinations and sharing that information.  If the doctor is defensive about this, he or she obviously doesn’t view me as a peer capable of critical thought and again I leave immediately.  In our various moves, we have been with four pediatricians and none of them have seen a case of diphtheria in the past 25 years of practice, but they have seen HIB and meningitis.  That counts when I am weighing the likelihood of encountering the disease against the likelihood of vaccination reactions.
  4. Consider our biology:  Getting sick is actually an important part of immunological health, a sort of “use it or lose it” methodology (assuming that the immune system is essentially strong).   Evolution has designed our bodies to work toward healing themselves.  I trust my children’s bodies to process a natural case of chicken pox far more than I trust them to process bovine serum, sodium chloride, monosodium L-glutamate, potassium phosphate monobasic, potassium chloride, neomycin and Residual components of MRC-5 cells including DNA and protein, which are some of the ingredients in the vaccine. (  The list of ingredients was not found at, as I would have expected.
  5. Vaccination Schedule:  For any vaccinations that make it past the elimination process, I would most definitely determine my own vaccination schedule.  There is no legal or health obligation to follow the official schedule.  This schedule is created for the efficiency of the medical office and based on the low likelihood of parents bringing babies in for checkups as the babies get older.For example, I do not believe babies should be vaccinated at birth.  Newborns have just completed an exhausting and draining process (being born) and need to recover.  A newborn baby is not going to crawl over a rusty nail or engage in risky sex.  Vaccinating for diseases the baby is not at risk of encountering results in more risk than benefit.

    As part of a custom vaccination schedule, only allow a doctor to administer one vaccination per visit.  The primary reason is based on our biology.  Our bodies are not designed to encounter multiple viruses “in the wild.”  Scientists are working to make vaccines more like the “wild” viruses, but we are not there yet. We usually get one ailment at a time, unless our immune system is compromised. Administering three vaccinations (or more) at a single visit is an enormous assault on a baby or child’s immune system.  Parents are often careful to introduce a single food at a time – why would a parent not introduce a single vaccination at a time?  The second reason for individual vaccination is for tracking any adverse reactions.  If I have allowed the doctor to administer six vaccinations in one visit, it is very difficult to identify the culprit should there be an adverse reaction.  Knowing which vaccination the child is sensitive to is imperative so the parent can avoid that vaccination in the future.  For every vaccination, write down the lot number and watch the nurse draw the dose.

    My child’s safety is worth the inconvenience of my scheduling nurse appointments to receive vaccinations singly.

    Finally – if a child has any compromised immunity at the time of a planned vaccination, delay it until he or she is well. This includes colds and coughs.  This is stated at and is also stated on vaccine inserts, but is not often conveyed at the doctor’s office.  The parent can always schedule a nurse visit for when the child has recovered.

          Shannon Rizzo

by Deborah Leah

(Reprinted with kind permission from Steiner Education, Vol.31, No.2)
Steiner Waldorf education recently celebrated its seventieth anniversary: it has been practised for one whole human life-span. “How is it changing and developing to meet the needs of the times?” is a question often raised. Steiner foresaw the outer and inner turmoils humanity would face at the end of the twentieth century, also the rapid march of technology which transforms our lifestyles in every decade. What did he offer, and what still lives in Waldorf education today that meets contemporary ethical problems? How can we offer children moral education? How can we prepare them for positive actions in a society where commonly held ethical values face aggressive questioning, and adult responsibility is often undermined?

Aristotle pointed to an aspect of ethics which is relevant to any approach to young people: “Moral virtue has to do with pains and pleasures.”1 He quotes Plato concerning “the importance…. of having been brought up to find pleasure and pain in the right things. True education is just such a training.”2

The Pearl in the Class Teacher’s Oyster Shell
The class teacher in a Steiner Waldorf school is enjoined to bring living pictures to the children in all branches of teaching.

“From seven to fourteen, the image is the pearl in the class teacher’s oyster. At this age, one can truly say that a child thinks from the heart and through the heart… An outstanding quality of a good image is that it is ‘unfinished’.”3
Steiner Waldorf education aims primarily to reach and work with the children’s emotions during the central years of schooling, ages seven to fourteen. Whether pupils are absorbing new information about the world, improving their skills, or slowly developing ‘good’ habits, all teachers need to reach the children and their capacities by first engaging their feelings. “Boredom occurs when one’s feelings are not involved or aroused.”

The curriculum of Class Four (age 9-10) epitomises Steiner’s guidelines for meeting and developing the dawn of conscience. Conscience is the “still small voice” which Elijah heard in the solitude of the cave, not outside in the elements, but within the inner space of his own self.4 Nine year-olds have experienced inwardly their own ‘expulsion from Paradise’: they know temptation and their own capacity to do wrong and feel guilty, however slight the misdemeanor might appear to adult eyes.

Why Teach Norse Mythology Now?
Many a parent, or a teacher taking a class for the first time, has reached a new milestone in the curriculum and asked: why should this topic be brought just now? One hallmark of the Steiner Waldorf curriculum is the precise nature of the subject matter for each year of children’s growth. Every teacher is expected to research for him/ herself why this is so. Answers often come from the children as a new topic unfolds.

The wealth of humanity’s collective imagination lives in the many mythologies which have been handed down through the ages. Steiner recommended Norse myths specifically for Class Four. Apart from their drama, humour, high literary quality – all of which give them universal appeal – why are they received so enthusiastically by successive classes of nine-and-ten-year-olds?

The children are touched deeply by the battle between light and darkness, extremes of cold and heat which threaten Asgard, the preserve of the good and the beautiful. Over all hangs the question: will it survive? Will Ragnarok, the Last Battle, cause the eventual destruction of the home of the gods? Despite Odin’s wisdom, Thor’s strength, Loki’s inventive schemes, Tyr’s bravery, and all the ruses and alliances which protect Asgard, uncertainty underlies each drama. Uncertainty colours the child’s experience of life at this age, when cold realities of everyday existence impose themselves more strongly than the colourful world of imagination which hitherto reigned supreme.

Fairy tales, the ‘staple diet’ of Kindergarten and Class One, presented pictures of good and evil in clear polarities of beauty and ugliness, reward and punishment, success and failure. The moral effectiveness lies in the picture itself, not in conceptualised ‘moralising’:

“The child is enabled to carry the thought or idea inwards. The child thinks with it, dreams with it and sleeps with it. In so doing, the child ‘completes’ the picture and has the opportunity to ‘own’ it in an individualised , form.”5
These imaginative pictures remain in the ‘ children’s consciousness through to Class Five, when the Indian Ramayana tells how the hero fought with demons and a dragon. Graphic illustrations are proof of the psychological realities in these ancient tales. Children need to externalise the forces of darkness; then they can face and later deal with them.

Gods and Goddesses in a Fallen World
Asgard is inhabited by many different characters who seem, uncannily, to find their counterparts in every Class Four, for example:

Thor: loud, strong, respected, well-meaning, sometimes tactless to his own embarrassment;
Freya: a beautiful, willful but beloved goddess, who falls prey to greed for a necklace and behaves shamefully in order to acquire it;
Odin: the wise and noble leader, who nevertheless enjoys a teasing riddle, and makes use of cunning ruses; and
Loki: the entertainer, the mischief-maker, the witty teaser, the artful schemer. It is Loki who indulges so deeply in his own pleasures that his deeds bring evil into Asgard in the shape of his hideous progeny.

Early on we have heard how greed for gold has begun to corrupt the pure ideals of Asgard’s dwellers. Jealousy, trickery, dishonesty, mistrust exist amid the noblest deeds of sacrifice and bravery. The children follow the successive tales of Loki’s doings with feelings that range from delight and admiration to horror and disgust. Their burgeoning feeling life now gives them sympathetic understanding for the whole gamut of these traits.

But does Odin, the All-father, decree that evil-doers be expelled from the glorious garden? No. On the contrary, Loki’s children are given their own places in the order of the Nine Worlds. The Fenris Wolf, the ravaging destroyer, is brought into Asgard itself, bound in chains at the cost of the god Tyr’s sword hand. Sacrifice: this was necessary to hold the wolf in check. Sacrifice, too, was required of Odin before he could win wisdom and share it with humans through the gift of inspired poetry.

Sacrifice, self-restraint, resisting temptation, waiting patiently for the right opportunity… these seem not to be fashionable today. If they are fostered it is despite, not via, the pressures of the modem media, which promotes self-indulgence and speedy satisfaction without considering costs – to oneself and to others. Yet was there ever a time in history when young people faced so many potentially dangerous and evil invitations, which demand their judgement and inner strength, if they are to respond out of a real freedom?

Human Freedom
Studies of nature take in the fascinating variety of the animal kingdom, no longer as fables and fictional stories, but as factual study; helping the nine and ten year-olds to appreciate especially the perceptible forms of creatures whose developed bodies enable them to function in many wonderful, specialised ways. However, the Human Being and Animals main lesson is not an introduction to zoology and its classifications. As with all else in Steiner Waldorf education, one might say, it is yet another attempt to understand and better appreciate the human being, and our own possibilities and tasks in life.

Compared to the dam-building beaver, the tunnelling mole, or the milk-producing cow, we humans are mere embryos in terms of developed skills. But that is the significant point: whilst the wildcat must become a killer, the arctic tern a traveler, the salmon a leaping migrator, the cheetah a sprinter… every human being has the potential to develop in any or each of these directions.

Human hands, which are not specialised, give us the freedom to create artistically and morally, do good or unkind deeds… the children love to think of many, many possibilities.

Uprightness: Outer Picture – Inner Virtue
The fact that our hind limbs alone are needed to carry our bodies – unlike other animals – leaves our arms and hands free. Free to do nothing, if we choose. Free to do acts of generosity or cruelty. Free to serve and free to play. The aim of these first studies is to make the children aware of their own intrinsic capacities for free actions. They are reminded what slow developers humans are: they take 21 years to become mature adults, they need to be about 14 years old, and are usually much older, before they become parents, in contrast to the mouse or rabbit, or even the great cow who is a mother at three years. Her calf stands up a few minutes after birth, and feeds independently a few weeks later.

Human uprightness has to be worked for: witness the efforts of the infant to pull itself up, again and again, and its energetic totterings before it achieves a balanced walk. It takes effort, too, to remain upright, especially in later life.

Within these recognisable pictures lies great wisdom concerning the true nature of the human being. Reductionist expressions that would persuade children (and adults) that people are ‘merely’ higher apes on account of their brains derive from post-Darwinist misunderstandings. Such ideas still permeate our society, and, unfortunately, some children’s books. The image of the human being presented to children determines their evolving self-image and the expectations to which they will later aspire.

Self-Knowledge: When Does It Begin?
Am I a pre-determined set of genes, largely at the mercy of my whims and passions, or am I free to determine my path in life, able to say “no” when tempted (at least sometimes!), think independently, choose my own friends and associates, alter the world around me, for good or ill, and work upon myself and my own development? If these questions live in the teacher s/he will meet the children’s questions in ways that lead them into future discoveries about themselves, when they ask, as Class Four posed recently, What good do mice do? Does the octopus have a heart? Can it feel, like us? Do they go around in groups?

The fox cannot help killing all the chickens, even though it does not eat them. When can we become responsible for what we do? To what extent? This period is a time of many lively discussions, with earnest questions from the children. There is much reference made in the media to teaching morality with floundering public figures trying to point fingers at (failing) parents one minute and teachers the next. What lead does Steiner Waldorf education offer, through the moral maze? Self-questioning, feelings of social responsibility, conscience, a self-image of worth and respect-all these need to be underpinned by the will to put ideals into practice. What’s in a report? Ethics and ethos: how does a school foster its values as living faculties in the pupils? A Waldorf school report may express how diligently a child has done her regular classroom sweeping task as well as mentioning the careful layout of her arithmetic book. Parents new to the school might be surprised when their child brings home an ink-splashed table cloth with the request s/he wash it. The school has a cleaning staff, does it not? And all agree the stain was unintentionally made. It is fashionable to emphasise concepts of ‘blame’ and ‘punishment’, but these are neither helpful nor particularly relevant. What is real are the actual consequences: the ink splashed; the cloth has to be washed. If the child is actively involved in remedying the situation a tiny seed of inner growth has begun to sprout.

“Tell me and I forget; show me and I remember; involve me and I learn.”

The maxim holds good for discipline (i.e. discipleship, and the growth of self-discipline) as well as in mastering new subjects. Rudolf Steiner urged Waldorf teachers to train the will – their own and their pupils’. Was this ever so necessary and challenging as today, in the hi-tech labour saving world of the 1990s. Work, especially manual work, has been vilified, demoted to an inconvenience necessary in life as a mere means to earn money. Our society is learning the hard way: those who have been deprived of meaningful work when unemployed can begin to value work anew and experience how essential it is to a truly human existence.

Class Three’s farming lessons allow them to enact the whole process of basic food production from sowing wheat to baking bread. They leam to appreciate the labour and skills involved and human co-operation with nature. Waiting, as well as energetic action, are called for.


From Commandments to Parables
Descriptions of the Steiner Waldorf curriculum usually list the subject matter of each age group. Yet the essence of this renewal of education lies in the methodology: not so much what, as how should we teach? Living pictures, such as those of myth and legend, humorous fables, or self-made tales, convey images which the child can contemplate and respond to in freedom. These are more effective than any amount of moral theorising. Certainly children need to hear with clarity a few basic ‘thou shalts’ and ‘thou shalt nots’, but in the details of daily living ever new creative, imaginative initiatives are called for. Christ himself taught in pictorial stories. From the parables of the New Testament ever new meanings may be drawn. It is time to transcend rule by laws alone. The way for the future requires humanity to develop enough self-restraint to live socially and morally without recourse to codified laws.

When one child has hurt another, there is a difference between ‘making’ him/her apologise and asking “What are you going to do to help put right this situation?” The latter creates a space, where initiative, thinking, one’s own inner self are pricked into action, and what follows can approach the nature of a free deed. Every truly free action enables us to evolve as human beings. The ‘fruits’ of such deeds ripen during sleep: our waking life determines the transforming and renewing capacity of sleep. What happens when we are asleep, and how sleep affects our daily lives as spiritual beings would require a whole study to itself. This dimension of a Waldorf teacher’s work must at least be mentioned if ethics are to be grounded in spiritual realities.

“The entire educative process is deeply connected with the relationship with [spiritual beings] in the night. They do not interfere but they fructify what we bring by way of little gifts when we go to sleep. The teacher must lead the children in this endeavour. Every time that he overcomes himself even only to a small degree, this power of uprightness is present… If the teacher has cultivated this moral- religious ‘uprightness’ the sublime forces of spiritual warmth, of true egohood, will then be present within him – and he immediately has a stimulating effect on the children.”6

The thoughts which precede and determine our words often carry more moral weight to-wards children then we intend. When Rudolf Steiner lectured on education in Oxford in 1922 he challenged teachers to imbue even a subject like mathematics with conscious moral content. He described the foundation of number on the parts of a whole, so that the concept of a sum originates in the division into parts of this whole.

“In this way we get the child to enter into life with the ability to grasp a whole, not always to proceed from the lesser to the greater. And this has an extraordinarily strong influence upon the child’s whole life of soul. When a child has acquired the habit of adding things together we get a disposition which tends to be desirous and craving. In proceeding from the whole to the parts and in treating multiplication similarly, the child has less tendency to acquisitiveness, rather it tends to develop what… in the noblest sense of the word, can be called considerateness, moderation; and one’s moral likes and dislikes are intimately bound up with the manner in which one has learned to deal with number. At first sight there seems to be no logical connection between the treatment of numbers and moral ideas, moral impulses, so little indeed that one who will only regard things from the intellectual point of view may well laugh when one speaks of it. It may seem to him absurd.” 7
“Absurd”, or the seed of a new awakening, in a world that has abandoned so much conventional morality and is in danger of losing its true way? Can we begin to study and understand what Steiner meant? Many historical figures whose ideas and teachings were ahead of their time have been ridiculed by contemporaries, only to be revered by future ages.

The Steiner Waldorf curriculum is a living curriculum, ever flexible, as opposed to a fixed syllabus. It contains possibilities of inner and outer development of all concerned, teachers and pupils. What appears to be the content is actually the vessel, the vehicle on a journey from before birth to beyond death. Norse mythology, the human being and animals; these have been topics for Class Four in Steiner Waldorf education for over 70 years, maybe for the next 700 years. But every lesson will be a new event; every day’s meeting in school of teacher and pupils will be preceded by sleep, our daily visit to eternity; every morning’s work will build on the health- giving transformations of the night, through conscious recall and meditative preparation. In moral education, above all other aspects we deal with ‘wide ranges of ability’, with ‘each one progressing at his/her own pace.’ The teacher must lead the way in effort, not necessarily in attainment. The time-scale for results is unlimited. Continuous assessment is in force. There are many, frequent tests which life itself sets daily. What counts is the ongoing striving of the teacher to meet the children’s needs.

Deborah Leah has been class teaching for many years, formerly at Nant-y-Cwm in Wales and presently at Wynstones.



1 Aristotle: Ethics p.59 Penguin Classics.
2 Ibid. p.59.
3 Mepham, T., ‘The Value of Authority in Education: A Steiner Waldorf Perspective’ in Paideia, No.13, p. 16.
4 I Kings 19 vv. 9-18.
5 Mepham, T., Ibid. p. 17.
6 Smit, Jorgen, Lighting Fires – Deepening Education Through Meditation p.67.
7 Steiner, R., Quoted from Stockmeyer, K., RudolfSteiner s Curriculum for Waldorf Schools, p.59.


Parents everywhere remember the story of  “Golidlocks and the Three Bears”  from childhood:  the image of the porridge of the Little Bear that Goldilocks ended up eating because it was not too hot, not too cold, but just right resonates in our minds and hearts.

Parenting is much like finding that balance of what is not too much, what is not too little, but what is just right.  Parenting can provide us with an impulse that tells us to follow our own hearts toward what is just right, although these impulses can often be  counter to what society currently tells us that babies need.

I have worked as a developmental and feeding specialist for over ten years now in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.  The babies in our care need just the right amount of protection of their senses, a certain amount of pleasurable stimulation through the sense of touch, and the warmth of real human hands to help them on their journey in a place where things are not at all like a mother’s womb or like home.  Much of the emphasis in on protection of the baby’s senses due to an immature nervous system that cannot deal well with multiple stimuli, and the education of parents to understand that once a baby becomes “full-term”, their senses still need protection from the environment.

From this standpoint, it makes perfect sense that if we are born as neurologically immature beings, our senses would need protection.   We often think of only the five very obvious senses we can readily observe, but Rudolf Steiner postulated in his lectures that there are actually twelve senses .  Modern science has confirmed this; in some scientific literature one finds references to these as “systems” instead of “senses” but they are talking about the same thing!

We can group the twelve senses into three groups of four, including the following:  the Lower Senses of touch, life, self-movement and balance; along with the Middle Senses of smell, taste, visual sight and warmth; and finally the Higher Senses of hearing, the speech of the other, the concept/thought of the other, and the recognition of the other person’s individuality and “I”.  All of these senses are vital, and without the complete development of all of these senses, the child cannot fully develop into being a healthy, functional sensory being.

With the rates of autism, autism-spectrum disorders and sensory processing disorders skyrocketing, I am wondering why society and the media are not picking up on the need for protection of the senses.  Why has the information we use to protect and take care of premature infants not being filtered into general parenting for all children – after all, all children are born neurologically immature! When we see the way we are raising our children in this country and look at the health of our children, something is obviously not working well!

New parents are inundated with information regarding what “products” they need to buy for successful and stimulating babyhood, and there is a widespread perception that the baby needs plenty of stimulation in order to develop properly.  Babies, toddlers and preschoolers are all seen as miniature adults with the need to experience life, to be incessantly talked to and provided with explanations of life.

Even things that the established medical community has accepted as not healthful for the baby, such as the American Academy of Pediatrics’ statement that children under the age of 2 should not be watching ANY television at all seems to be falling on deaf ears within the American public .  For example, Disney’s “Baby Einstein” videos are now grossing over $200 million dollars a year!  Oh, if new parents only knew and understood what babies really need!

It is easy for newly pregnant couples or new parents to think the baby needs all the things the media and other well-intentioned parents and family talk about.  What we seem to be missing is the fact that many of our great-grandparents and grandparents were not raised in this “new” way of baby stimulation the way our current generation is being raised.  In many ways, if today’s child-rearing philosophies were in the science or medical world, they would be seen as risky treatments that could be causing harm at worst and as unproven and unsubstantiated at best.

The Waldorf parenting of the baby views the baby as a spiritual beings on a spiritual journey and that the baby (and even toddlers and preschoolers)  posses an entirely different consciousness than adults.  We see the lack of logical reasoning, the dependency on adults that the child has and will have for many years, and the need for adult protection for matters of safety and health.  These are not things to be fought against but things to work with during the time our children are small.

I can quickly think of several examples new parents could consider taking to heart as part of their parenting practices in light of the scientific evidence of neurological development within the framework of the twelve senses.  For example:

The Sense of Touch – occurs through the organ of the skin. This includes what is inside of me and what is outside of me.  Important ways to boost this foundational sense include vaginal birth, swaddling, holding, positive and active tactile experiences!

In the Neonatal Intensive Care Environment, we know that Kangaroo Care (holding a baby skin –to-skin against his or her mother’s bare chest with a light blanket covering them both) provides the infant the opportunity to stabilize their physiological systems off of the mother’s system.  This is very important, and the consequences of not nurturing the sense of touch can be seen in infants who are too sick to be held for long periods or whose parents are completely frightened to hold them can turn into “touch-me-nots”  who are medically ready to be held for feedings and to be out of bed but cannot tolerate it well from a physiological standpoint.  We also extensively use swaddling to provide a baby with boundaries and for calming.

The take-away message for new parents:  The most important thing to do is to hold your baby, and to also learn and employ swaddling techniques.  This stimulates the nervous system in many beneficial ways.  Other ways to achieve this include breastfeeding, and employing many of the tactics of ancient cultures in baby-wearing and proximity in sleeping.  Picking your baby up when he or she cries is the natural thing to do!

Breastfeeding is worth trying to get right!  I am reviewing Hale and Hartmann’s “Textbook of Human Lactation” and this book provides this rather shocking fact:

“Lactation probably evolved initially to protect the young against infection and subsequently took on a nutritional role.  However, infant formula is focused on nutrition rather than protection.  Therefore, it is not surprising that the mortality rate of formula-fed infants in the USA today is at least 21% higher than breastfed babies.”

Again, I do not think parents in our society are being armed with the information they need to raise healthy children.  That is why I so whole-heartedly believe in The Madonna Cloak Project!

The Sense of Life or sometimes called The Sense of Well-Being – this sense encompasses such things as if you can tell if you are tired, thirsty, hungry.  The best way to boost this sense is to provide your children with a rhythm to help support this whilst it is developing.  Some children have great difficulty recognizing their own hunger or thirst cues, their own need for rest or sleep. A rhythm can be a great therapeutic help in this regard.

The take-away message for new parents:  babies do not need a strict “schedule” per se, but as they grow a rhythm of naptime at the same time each day, a walk together outside at a certain time every day, provides their small bodies with physiological stability.  This is very important for such physiological systems as digestion and respiration, along with endocrine function.

Breastfeeding cannot be strictly “scheduled” as this can lead to failure to thrive in infants, but certainly many aspects of the day can have a consistent flow!

The Sense of Self-Movement – this is probably more familiar to therapists like me and in scientific literature as the “proprioceptive system”.  This sense encompasses the ability to move and the ability to hold back movement, and can also encompass such sensory experiences as containment (which can be a form of massage for premature babies) and also swaddling.

The take-away message for new parents: Times for active play once the baby is old enough is a positive experience and can in no way be replaced by passive activities.   The older baby should be trying to move against gravity and should be learning how to live in their bodies!

The Sense of Balance –this is not only the ability to balance through use of the semicircular canals of the ears  for midline balance so one can cross midline but also refers to the  balance of life and being able to be centered, which again goes back to rhythm and the idea of in-breath and out-breath.  Donna Simmons calls this one a gateway to The Middle Senses.

The take-away message for new parents:  Rhythm and active movement are again important here!

Some other important senses for babies include The Middle Senses, which strongly need to be protected.  The sense of smell , the sense of taste and the sense of sight take years to fully develop.  The best way to assist these senses is to provide protection from over-stimulating experiences.  The staff in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit work hard to limit jarring smells, provide good sensory experiences for taste and to limit over-stimulation of sight.  Many premature infants will immediately “shut down” with strong visual or olfactory stimuli.

This is why staying in the home environment is so important for young babies and children.  There is no need for field trips, or for multiple excursions to big-box retailers with overwhelming smells and sights.  A rhythm for a baby is based upon the child being in his or her home, surrounded by familiar things!  Predictability and familiarity are beneficial in children’s health.  If you ever do visit a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, some of the older babies that have had long hospital stays have rhythms posted by their bedsides that all staff honor and respect.  I treated an infant who unfortunately had to stay in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit for an entire year, and you can imagine how important this sense of rhythm, the ability to have time to play and to socially interact with other people, along with the need for rest and protection, was to this child.

Yet again, this tends to be an area which we neglect.  In the region of the country in which I reside, it can almost be a badge of honor that women can give birth and then go to a museum or to a birthday party five days later with the baby  in tow.  The baby has NO sensory filter, and should be surrounded by the soothing sounds of home for optimal health.  Some families work together so that one partner can run errands without the baby, and when well-meaning neighbors, family members and others ask what they can do to help you, provide them with a list of the items you need them to pick up when they run to the store.

An important way to stimulate these senses appropriately is to include plenty of time outside where the beautiful colors of nature are ever-changing, the smells are natural and not synthetic, and your child can hear the birds calling and other sounds of nature.

The take-away message for new parents:  Consider being outside and providing a connection to nature as a vital part of raising babies and small children, and realize that your home and your natural surroundings are the most important experiences for your baby to experience.  As mentioned above, work together as family to limit your child’s exposure to places outside the home and neighborhood.  This is a truly radical notion for this day and age, but well-worth exploring for the health of your child!

A small but important note involves the last of The Middle Senses:

The Sense of Warmth –   Donna Simmons calls this sense a gateway to The Higher Senses mentioned in the beginning of this article.  This sense does not fully develop until age 9 and lack of complete development can literally cause a hardening of creativity and new thought as the child matures, but also can refer to a literal inability of the child to be able to tell if they are hot or cold on a physical level.  Warmth implies not only physical warmth, but warmth on a soul level.  Joy, humor, love, connection are all important developers of this sense along with PROTECTION from extreme and garish sensory experiences that would cause hardening.  This is a very important sense, and often one that requires parents to work on themselves.  We tend to take everything with parenting very seriously these days and every way our children behave seems to be cause for micro-analysis.  Many parents are coming to parenting later in life, and are used to having a strict schedule that revolves around their own needs, “getting things done”, seeing how many things can be crammed into one day.  It takes our own will forces to be able to develop a rhythmic day that involves being present with our children, and the centeredness to create a peaceful home.  It takes time to develop joy, patience, humor, and the ability to be calm when our baby and small child are not.  These are all important characteristics of providing soul warmth to our children.

Children need assistance with protecting their physical warmth until the age of 9 or 10, so much longer than many parents think!  Think about the fact that in the summer places are air-conditioned and much colder than one might think and that babies need layers and hats even in the summer!  In the winter, babies need socks and hats and warm layers.  This is very important for their physical and soul health.

These are all techniques and things a parent can do to provide their baby with the very best start in life.  The twelve senses are what unites the inner and outer world of the individual and what allows us to have healthy interaction with other people at the highest developed levels in adulthood.  It takes a long time for these senses to be developed, and the Lower and Middle Senses especially need to be protected and supported during babyhood and the first seven years as these are the foundation for later healthy development.

Babies are a wonderful gift, and parents can do a great job with the right information regarding what a baby truly needs.  Hopefully these are some ideas that will stimulate discussion within your own family!

Carrie Dendtler

by Damian Mooncie

(Reprinted with kind permission from Steiner Education, Vol.30, No.1)

A late summer evening: two children at play in the garden aged four years and two years. The elder fully immersed in the pools of fantasy: driving her car (tricycle), stopping at traffic lights, buying bread at the bakers, having a chat, asking the way home, the journey home, unlocked the door to her house with stone ‘keys’. The younger has pleasure in the door to the house opening and closing, of calling good-bye and waving – a flight of fantasy beginning but still steeped in the wonder of imitation.

At the dawning of a human being’s life, many a gift is bestowed. Of these gifts one shines most splendidly amongst the rest; for in its unveiling it heralds the means by which the awakening child will manage to weave the tapestry of its unfolding life. The gift hidden beneath this glimmering shroud is that of the power of imitation. For in the grasp and weaving of its resource and possibility of imitation, the young child is allowed the means to accommodate the world about him within himself.

The ability to imitation provides the developing child the opportunity to assimilate all the manifest realities about him, to harmonise himself to the realities of his surroundings, to find security in that environment, and to harness its means for communication. The role of imitation in the developing child is to enable the panorama and sense-perceptory environment about him, to be taken in upon him, that is: it’s the means by which we orchestrate ourselves inwardly to that which occurs in our outer environment. So the realm of imitation is the architecting of our inner self; an assimilation of outward gestures and realities which ‘play upon’ the child and which the child ‘takes hold of and lays down as foundation stones within him. Examples and gestures in the environment of the young child are of utmost importance, for they are the primary steps in the disciplined lesson of self tuition, and form the bed-rock of an ascendance to knowledge. In the gift of imitation we recognise the seeds for deep understanding, and that depending on the virility of the young developing child’s immediate surroundings the abilities and potential future deeds of that child may be hindered or promoted.

For imitation is the means by which we take the living world around us in upon ourselves and in so doing with these impressions we architect within us a kingdom: the kingdom of man. If these impressions are rich and vibrant, and worthy of imitation, then the kingdom architected within will be full of all these glories.

After the unveiling of the gift of the ‘power of imitation’ another gift is received by the developing child, a gift which when coupled with the former will radiate about the child as a golden light. This gift is the ‘strength of fantasy’. Where imitation can be likened to the harp of the bard, fantasy is the sonnet which spills upon the strings. For fantasy is the outer deployment of that held within. In imitation the child ‘takes in’ the surrounding world, by fantasy the child ‘takes on’, wears as a garment the world that is within. In a child’s fantasy we listen to the depths and majesty of the kingdoms within him, and bear witness to his individual nature.

In the discourse between these two processes of imitation and fantasy in the young child we observe the advent and the rising of their individuality. For the individual nature of the child is exhibited in their marriage.

Imitation, that of taking in upon oneself, leads the individuality to security and self- knowledge; while fantasy, that of ‘taking on’ upon oneself, leads the individuality into a social realm of group interactions and relation- ships, that of an outer experience which holds the seeds of wisdom.

When these two processes are recognised and given importance two things become apparent. That the current realm of childhood and its educational applications are heavily balanced in the favour of the process of imitation. That we ask children to ‘take in’ all the things presented, and have little regard to the second process, that of fantasy, where in childhood we take on or act out that which had previously been given. The result of not sponsoring the flight of fantasy in the child is that as an adult he will lack the abilities to act out and upon his environment, both in regard to himself and others, but will demonstrate a strong inner aspect; but its social reality will be one of solitude.

Fantasy heralds the manner by which we may rejuvenate our consciousness towards others and that as a gesture and wish it speaks of freedom.

Damian Mooncie teaches at the Plumtree Steiner Nursery in Brighton, which has been established for six years. The Plumtree Nursery caters for children of 0-4 year and their families.

by Christopher Clouder

(Reprinted with kind permission from Steiner Education, Vol.28, No.1)
When teaching in the Upper School it is essential to have foremost in one’s mind the ‘latent’ questions that the students carry. These are questions which should be taken up within the fabric of the lesson, without them having to be vocalised. In adolescence they rise up from a relationship with the world that is undergoing turbulent transformation as the young persons find new faculties and feelings within themselves as well as viewing the world around them from a different perspective. The curriculum must provide a stable horizon against which these new forces can be measured but also accommodate and encourage change and creativity.

Our capacities of thought, feeling and will change as we evolve as individuals, as does our body. Yet at all times these capacities are open to ideals that too undergo transformation while retaining an element of truth. The ideal of beauty has manifested itself in many different ways since humanity first created art. Yet it remains an ever present yardstick against that which we perceive is judged. What was considered beautiful a few decades or centuries ago is not necessarily seen in the same light in the present, but that does not mean previous concepts of the beautiful are either better or worse than those we hold now. In fact older forms of art can often provide a source of inspiration for the present. Cultural background also makes a fundamental difference but we must remember that culture is an expression of something within us and is a reflection of our views of each other and of the world. Art is a testament to these changes and through the study of art we can begin to appreciate the permanence of the ideal, the struggle to attain it and its multifarious manifestations. It can provide nourishment for that which is within us and, at times of crisis, prove a solace as well as a spur for overcoming the difficulties. It is often a direct language that does not always need the medium of words, and its appreciation can enhance both perception and understanding. The Class 9 History of Art main-lesson is based on these principles.

The artistic tradition in Europe has its roots in ancient Egypt and it is here that the main-lesson begins. A visit to an Egyptian gallery in a museum and observation of the young children milling about with obvious delight is proof enough that there is a connection between this culture of the past and the present one. Yet the consciousness of those people and their relationship to their natural and social environment was in many ways very different from ours. The ancient Egyptians felt themselves closely connected to the vegetation, geography and climate of the land they inhabited. So much so that they felt that the surroundings were a divine script that could be read and would reveal the will of the Gods. They experienced their bodies as being imbued with the same forces that they beheld in the plant kingdom and their rituals reinforced this close connection. For them the preservation of this connection was the ultimate task of humanity. For three thousand years there was little stylistic change and they considered this long continuity as essential for the well being of the earth. Artistic freedom, originality, human rights were concepts that did not exist. Mankind was here to serve, and in serving he provided a proper place for himself in the afterlife. The Pharaoh was the Gods’ representative on earth and their commands were breathed into him so that an order would prevail in the Kingdom. The statues of ancient Egypt show this confidence. They are firmly planted on the earth yet the idealised portrayal and formal stance embody a quality that is superhuman.

This art originated in the tomb. Earthly abodes and earthly pleasures were ephemeral, what counted was the permanent immortality after death that could be obtained by the preparation for death and this task could occupy a whole lifetime. Egypt was a giant necropolis of a people who felt supported, nurtured and subservient to higher beings and whose art encapsulated the strength of that certainty. Yet the very insistence on this belief suggests an anxiousness. That statues were needed to ensure a proper connection between this world and the next is indicative of a split consciousness that is partly fettered to the material as well as the spiritual. Pyramids are petrified sunbeams that ensure that there was and always would be a staircase to the heavens. Here then are the first halting steps away from an authority yet simultaneously a longing to cling to it. The Egyptian soul was not tormented by logic or the question surrounding personal morality. Obedience was all, but in spite of this the Gods seemed to be slipping further and further away. In this phenomenon we can find a reflection of our own growing up where we face quandaries surrounding the need for authority and a simultaneous growing beyond it.

In the art of Ancient Greece we can trace the emergence of the idea of freedom. Archaic Greek art shows that the early Greeks attributed all initiatives to the Gods; in fact, in the early statues, the difference between godly and human is not apparent. The naked male Kouros figures and the clothed female Kore of the C7th BC are very consistent. The Kouros usually has his left foot forward, his weight equally distributed, hands clenched, arms hanging straight down and is facing forwards. Yet he is not a block and his back is as fully carved as the front. From all angles he is a human without the godly support that is found in Egyptian statues. These archaic statues have an Apollonian serenity that was somewhat removed from the earth. They all have youthful bodies, slight smiles and an extraordinary uprightness. As the classical age dawned the statues changed in that the limbs broke free into gesture, the long heavy hair receded leaving the head free to be turned and the feet were posed as if anticipating movement. Now that the bodies could be turned by the will of the individual we find the emergence of free choice. But not without a struggle, as is depicted in the Lapiths fighting the centaurs, Greeks fighting Persians and Hercules struggling in his twelve labours. The emergence of choice came with the emergence of thinking but to achieve this much had to be overcome and with it arrived responsibility. The Charioteer of Delphi stands there in full command of his horses, his hands loosely gripping his reins. His strength, however, comes from within rather than from the Gods, and is expressed in the dignity of his face and pillar-like folds of his garments.

In the last phase of Greek art the struggle become internalised. Now we can see all the human joys and griefs, the flowing movement of youth and the cares of age, the excitement of the horse race and the despair of drunkenness and loss. The faces are portraits and the dreamy look of the Classical age vanishes and becomes an expression of experience. The hair loses its regular pattern and becomes crumpled and unkempt. Pathos becomes the lot of humanity and, if there are gods, they too share all human frailties. We are entering the realm of Dionysos with both its frenzy and potential for new growth. Can we not see in this the steps of our own biography? And how much more telling is it to see the wrestling of our own souls depicted in statues that are recognisably and sympathetically human. A force of the soul is born that attempts to disregard authority in favour of its own searching and because of this reaps the rewards and penalties.

In Roman art character emerges. The Greeks could never have conceived of a portrait of a human as a bust because for them the totality of the human form was significant, a head without feet would have been an absurdity. To the Romans we all became heads for that is where our character is stamped and it was this strength of character that enabled them to conquer both peoples and lands. The otherworldly beauty is lost and we stand alone as physical individuals. The Romans stood in Tacitus’s words with “a spade in one hand and a sword in the other”.

At the point that this was most strongly felt, Christianity appeared and there is a marked contrast between the art and architecture that embellished Roman cities and the unsophisticated but joyous art to be found in the catacombs. Here in the midst of death there was hope and all the pictures of the early Christian centuries abound in the faith that there was an afterlife and that Christ could lead humanity to a new and better world. Such a message did not need luxurious illustration or magnificent constructions but could be simply depicted in a way that could speak to the hearts of all that understood it – we are not alone after all and through contemplation of Christ’s teaching and deeds we can be led away from the anxiety and despair to which our intellect is prone.

When Christianity became the religion of the Empire under Constantine, new problems were created in the conjoining of state and belief; and these questions perplexed and troubled Western Europe throughout the Middle Ages. Art turned away from everyday life on earth and tended to look towards the celestial kingdom. Old ideas were brought back into currency and much effort was put into elucidating what classical philosophers and the early church fathers had said and thought. In Egypt we were looking at the souls who felt a direct contact with their immediate environment and felt that environment within them. In the passage through Greece, Rome, Byzantium and the Middle Ages art reveals qualities of thought that were applied to humanity’s position on earth and the relationship to godly realms. This relationship was no longer something that was felt; it had to be explored with intelligence and the ramifications of this exploration are apparent in the history of those times. It is important to young people, who experience a similar inward path, to gain a sense of the difference of these two approaches without their having to experience them as abstract philosophy with little bearing on their immediate concerns.

The Renaissance then appears as a new and startling development, although the people themselves living at this time saw it as basically a rebirth of an older culture. The Florentine humanist Mattea Palmieri wrote in 1435: “Now indeed may every thoughtful spirit thank God that it has been permitted to be born in this new age, so full of hope and promise, which now rejoices in a greater army of noble souls than the world has seen in a thousand years that preceded it”. It was an age of optimism that felt it could view the world afresh and in art it rejected the heavenly qualities of Byzantine and Gothic in favour of infusing this world with an ideal beauty. To this end gravity reasserted itself: portraits were painted as an exploration of the human psyche, the laws of linear perspective were discovered and the use of a vanishing point gave pictures the illusion of depth. For the Medieval world, perspective was just an illusion and could be disproved by simple geometry. For the Renaissance artist however it was an expression of an individual “punto centrico”, an individual perspective of the world. Nature itself was considered to have a mathematical structure and the universe consisted of proportional relationships as an image of the divine order. Through having one focal point where the spectator must stand, man becomes “the measure of all things”. This is the beginning of the modern age and its emergence can be traced from St Francis and Giotto to the great Renaissance masters. Italian art still retained a sense of the sublime and it was Northern art, with its interest in the narrative, that came closest to the earth again. Pain and suffering are the lot of the Son of Man and of mankind, yet behind it all, if the observer could open his eyes, was redemption.

The main-lesson usually concludes with the paintings of Rembrandt, where darkness and light struggle but also reveal and balance each other. In this journey through art we end with a new age, with faculties that are still unfolding within us where light and darkness contend to reveal colour. The History of Art main-lesson is a reflection of historical evolution but also of our own personal pilgrimage of the soul and we can begin to make sense of this journey through the medium of ideals, as expressed in art, which can give us the strength to continue.
Christopher Clouder teaches art history in the Upper School, at the Rudolf Steiner School of Kings Langley, and as a teacher-trainer.


by Trevor Mepham

(Reprinted with kind permission from Steiner Education, Vol.30, No.2)

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”

The mighty opening verse of St. John’s Gospel sheds a veiled light on the mystery of creation and points every class teacher to one of the golden tools of teaching – the power and beauty of the spoken word; the majesty and creativity of language.

From whence come words? Reflecting on the primary experience through which a baby, with no knowledge of other languages, grasps the mother tongue, leads one to realize that this experience, or discover, is founded on the pillars of imitation, and the miracle of language and the understanding of language. The space between imitation of sounds and understanding of words is bridged in a beautiful and profound manner by the young child’s individual spiritual activity.

History, legend and mythology are strewn with examples of the power of words. Thomas Jefferson, the third President of the United States, was also the main author of the Declaration of Independence. In one sentence a vision of a transformed society is beheld, where freedoms and responsibilities are held in mutual embrace.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
Declaration of Independence, 4th July, 1776

One of the last utterances of John the Evangelist, spoken at a great age, to those gathered in his presence, stands out as an instruction and teaching the purest and most searching form: “Little children, love one another”.

In the Gospel of St. Luke, when the angel Gabriel announces to Zachariah that he and his wife, Elizabeth, are to be blessed in their old age with a son, and that his name shall be John, the priest expresses some doubt, if not disbelief. The angel then says to Zachariah: “And behold, you will be silent and unable to speak until the day that these things come to pass, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time” (Luke 1:20). It is not until the child is born and about to be named that Zachariah’s tongue is loosed, after he affirms Elizabeth’s request that the boy be named John by writing on a tablet: “His name is John.”

Between seven and fourteen, the teacher speaks to the heart of the child. It is said of Waldorf education that it reaches the child’s head through the hands and the heart. Heart-warming thinking grounded in practical deeds is the journey and the home-coming; a way of life rather than a set of acquired faculties. The ‘listening heart’ is the threshold to the child’s soul. With what care and feelings of responsibility would a knowing messenger approach such a door!

In relation to the curriculum, the class teacher stands before the class with the task of guiding the children into the story of the world. Through the teacher the children are introduced to the Book of the World and the Book of Mankind. These vast works contain other books – the Book of Science, the Book of History, the Book of Mathematics…

As narrator of tales that are imaginatively and organically true, the class teacher brings picture-thoughts before the class that are vital, heart-warmed and nourishing to the child’s thinking-heart. When the material comes through the teacher, rather than straight from a book, it enables the children to live within the authority of the class teacher and the content is enlivened by human endeavor. This means that all subjects – whether arts, science or humanities – can be taught with artistic intention and freshness.

In a narrative sense, the teacher’s motto might be: “Conjure an image, convey a world.” Another way of putting it would be to say that the class teacher seeks to cast seeds in the loam of the child’s imagination. While it is in the nature of seems to grow and develop, one could compare concepts and definitions with fruit, in that, in terms of thinking, the concept is completed and can grow no more.

The fact that Riyadh is the capital of Saudi Arabia is a useful piece of information; as a thought it is rather limited. On the other hand, to say that the prairies are the bread-basket of North America, to describe the Nile as the life-blood of Egypt, or to characterize 19th century Britain as the “workshop of the world” – as Disraeli did in the 1830’s – provides flavor and color to add to the underlying facts and render them more interesting and more memorable.

Through the eight years of a class’s life, a lot of leaves fall from the trees and a fair few feathers are shaken from the wing. How many stories are yarned and how many tales pulled out of the sleeve are statistics which might challenge a decent computer, but need not detain us further. The question is: What does a teacher set out to do in using the narrative, and how?

Opening the Book of Learning, Class One:-

“My mother she killed me,
My father he ate me,
My sister, little Marlincheu,
Gathered all my bones,
Tied them in a silken handkerchief,
Laid them beneath the juniper tree,
Kywitt, kywitt, what a beautiful bird am I.”

In “Once upon a time…” fairy tales, we glimpse scenes from spiritual history, and behold prophetic pictures expressing fundamental issues of human life – hope, courage, destiny, love, truth, goodness, sorrow, suffering, evil. In Class One the children drink from a deep well of human wisdom. In the telling of a fairy tale, archetypal human moods and situations pass before us: the Queen longing for a child – a picture of the soul longing for perfection; the twelve year-old child incarcerated at the top of the tower – a picture of pre-pubescence when the child’s astral forces and emergent faculties of logic and abstract thinking stream together in an unsettling combination of innocence and awakening. In the tale of Mother Holle(1), a majestic tableau of hardship, destiny, spiritual justice and reincarnation unfolds: “I have a longing for home; and however well off I am down here, I cannot stay any longer; I must go up again to my own people.” Mother Holle said: “I am pleased that you long for your home again, and as you have served me so truly, I myself will take you up again.” Thereupon she took her by the hand, and led her to a large door. The door was opened and just as the maiden was standing beneath the doorway, a heavy shower of golden rain fell, and all the gold clung to her, so that she was completely covered over with it.”

In The Goose that Laid the Golden Eggs, we see a portrayal of the follies and dangers that face us if we seek to snatch unripened fruits, or appropriate evolving treasures by forceful means. This is a poignant story for these times where ‘accelerated’ development and ‘rushed growth’ threaten to leave vacuums and unfulfilled capacities in their wake.

In Rapunzel, the prince – the spiritual aspect – is torn and pierced and blinded as he tries to rescue Rapunzel – in the desolate soul-being: “He escaped with his life, but the thorns into which he fell pierced his eyes”. The tears of Rapunzel – the tears of true love – provide the healing medicine that restores the Prince’s sight.

The Cunning Tailor cuts a figure who is capable of dealing with each and every problem in a clever and collected manner. Here we meet a resemblance of the detached objectivity of our modern consciousness in its positive aspect: “The little tailor… said that he had set his mind to work on this for once, and he would manage well enough, and he went forth as if the whole world were his.”

The question sometimes arises, “Is this true or is it just a story?” Well might the teacher ponder before a truthful reply is given.

* * *

[A selection of pupils’ work follows, written after the telling of a story or a description by the class teacher, or as a creative piece of writing in response to some incident in the narrative of the main-lesson. These examples are from Class 4 (The Elephant); Class 5 (The Violet and the Sunflower); Class 6 (The Life of a Plebeian); Class 7 (The Bushman); and Class 8 (The Industrial Revolution).]

The Elephant

The elephant is big and lives in the wild,
He’s sometimes dangerous, sometimes wild,
He makes a pillow for his head,
And then he lies down and goes to bed.
For his supper he knocks trees down,
And then he eats leaves from the ground,
He protects his wounded high and low,
Dragging and pulling very slow,
The cow leads the herd and the bull lives alone,
And when they mate he comes back home,
They flap their ears to keep them cool,
And the baby splashes in the pool,
Elephant lives for about seventy years,
He has lots of friends and not many fears,
He eats fruit and foliage and lots of twigs,
He charges trains that are very big,
He sucks up dust and spurts it out,
His tummy rumbles all about,
He is about eleven feet tall,
And he likes to run and jump and roll.


The Violet and the Sunflower

One day a rumbustious sunflower called Fat Fred was walking in the woods and he accidentally leant on a violet’s leaf. The little violet let out a scream and said, “Please don’t tread on me, Mr Sunflower”. Fred looked down and saw the little violet. “What are you doing down there with nobody to talk to and nothing to do?” “This is where I live and I don’t mind being in the shade, in the quiet of the wood, murmured the violet. “Well”, said the sunflower, “I could not bear it, nobody to show off to and laugh with.” “That’s true”, interrupted the violet, “But on the other hand, it’s peaceful in the wood and if you are quiet you see lots of things, hear lots of things and learn lots of things. I enjoy living in the grass with my thoughts, and after all, just because you make a lot of noise doesn’t mean you are happy. It might just mean you are loud and in need of attention”. The sunflower was silent, for once.

The Life of a Plebeian

I am a plebeian. They call me Caius. I live inside the city of Rome. I live above my small tavern – the ‘Persian Grape’ – with my wife and daughter. I had a son once, but the wars claimed him. My tavern is near the centre of trade – the forum. The forum is a great market, every important merchant has at least one stall there. The forum is good for my trade. So many traders become thirsty and come for a drink at some time of day. Even so, at night Rome can be a dangerous place. Several times I’ve had to repair the benches when young trouble makers start a brawl.

The Bushman

I am a Kalahari Bushman and I am very old now. I will tell you about my life. I go out and hunt every day. We have to be cunning. I can catch a lion, but I don’t very often. I do work with a very fierce lion. I drive my prey to the lion and he kills it and eats some. Then I drive him off and eat the rest. I use poison-tipped arrows. I kill giraffe and eland. Sometimes I find a dead ostrich and stick the legs, feathers and skin onto myself. Then I can stalk birds more easily. We use ostrich eggs as water carriers. We make a hole in the egg and eat it, then we fill it with water, plug the hole and bury the egg for the hot season when there isn’t any water.

Whenever anyone is ill – I was once – all the women sit in a circle and the men dance around them until hey enter a trance. That sometimes helps; it did for me. The evil spirits are chased off.

While I am out hunting my wife and to children stay at home and dig up plants with long sticks. Then they use a pestle and mortar to grind the plants for moisture. They scrape the skins and stretch them so we have some clothing against the cold. If we go very hungry then an animal skin is baked and we chew it for something to eat.

The Industrial Revolution

Greed, Capitalism, Exploitation

Although it could be argued that the Industrial Revolution dates back to when fire was discovered, or when the first metals were smelted, it got underway in the 1700’s in Central England. At this time the agricultural revolution was in full swing and thousands of farm-workers were being laid off as machines took their places. At the same time, large factories began to recruit large numbers of workers. Unemployed farm-workers took these jobs and moved from the land to the city.

To house the thousands of families now on their pay-rolls the factory-owners quickly threw up large housing estates. The factory-owners were interested in quick profits and low expenditure. Planning of employee-housing was seen as a wasteful luxury. The houses built were cheap, two-up, two-down buildings, often with no foundations or running water, and all extremely cramped. Almost immediately the estates deteriorated into slums, with no decent roads, and ridden with disease, particularly cholera.

The conditions in the factories were also deplorable, with children as young as four working highly dangerous machinery. The wages were a mere pittance: a day’s work – 14 to 15 hours – would barely pay for a loaf of bread. Workers were watched by overseers, who made sure there was no slacking, or even talking between workers. Unity among workers was also disallowed, the Combination Act outlawing two workers to join together to complain about factory conditions. This was an attempt to stamp out trade unions before they were even started.

* * *

“Until we learn the use of living words we shall continue to be waxworks inhabited by gramophones.” So said Walter de la Mare in 1929. Rudolf Steiner emphasized the importance of the flow of living words between teacher and pupil: “Cultivate speech in yourself and your children with the greatest care, since far and away the most of what a teacher gives his children comes to them on wings of speech.” There are many ways to try and convey the essence of the written and spoken narrative. One can talk about the part played by all the many elements – consonants, vowels, sentences, syllables, soft sounds, hard sounds; alliteration, celebration, lyricism, romanticism; imagery, comedy, tragedy, mystery; glory, thunder and woe. In truth, all attempts to define the narrative fall short. A silver thread remains for any teacher to follow, by day and by night; a quiet realization that in using a narrative that is imaginative and colorful, the class teacher can help the child to come from the sleep of infancy, towards the day-bright clarity of adulthood, through the golden land of waking dreams.

(1) All quotations from Grimm’s Fairy Tales found in The Complete Grimm’s Fairy Talespublished by Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1983.

Voices on the Green – The Importance of Play

by Sally Jenkinson

(Reprinted with kind permission from Steiner Education, Vol.32, No.1)

When the voices of children are heard on the green
And laughter is heard on the hill…

William Blake

We are increasingly conscious of the need to protect and respect the range and diversity of cultures which together form the complement of human society: and rightly so. Political and cultural hegemony is unacceptable and everyone’s voice must be heard. Yet how do you speak if you haven’t yet a voice, if you can’t yet articulate your thoughts, if you don’t yet know what threatens you? If you are a child? Who speaks for the culture of childhood?

The culture of childhood can be found in all languages and in all human communities. The child’s need to play remains the same the world over. Common to all children, the universal character of this childhood culture has something to do with the imagination, resourcefulness, inventiveness and adaptability which each child brings to bear upon the experiences he or she encounters. The child at play is a miniature artist supplied with a broad palette and an endless supply of subject material. Many of the magical games of childhood have been played throughout the centuries as an ongoing homage to the adult world. These games are framed by the cultural and social milieu surrounding the child and woven by the creative spirit of childhood itself. Art imitates life and life itself is the child’s own muse. Our words and deeds echo in the play of our children and their play reflects and bears witness to the health or otherwise of our society. There is a direct correlation between adult activities and children’s play — witness the soldier play of the children on the streets of Northern Ireland. The raw material of the observable world is taken in and after a period of incubation it re-appears, transformed and newly created, as the garment of the child’s play. Except in the formalized games which we call sport, we adults find it very difficult to play: a different spirit moves us.

Henry Bett, author of The Games of Children, written in 1929 when there were still plenty of children’s games to see, was of the opinion that nothing is more characteristic of the child than the faculty of imitation. Interestingly, he noted in many instances that this imitation dated back to earlier epochs in human history. He wrote:

Among the [American] Indians to-day it is stated that the games of the adults generally are played ceremonially, as pleasing to the gods, and with the purpose of securing fertility, causing rain, expelling demons, and so on. It is likely that the children in prehistory times imitated all the other doings of their elders, so that it is possible that some children’s games are the ghosts of these ancient mysteries.
(Bett, p.8)

This indicates a cultural/spiritual heritage of deep significance and images of the silent but monumental ring game(s) being played out at Stonehenge and other ancient sites across the globe come to mind. The children’s game, Sally Go Round the Sun, seems to resonate with echoes of our distant past. It is both an intimation and an imitation of an older solar/lunar mystery which reminds us of our abiding relationship to the cosmos, the sun and the moon. Rudolf Steiner said that the young child is a picture of heaven rather than earth, and one can observe something of this heavenly quality in the first drawings of the child, which sparkle and dance with whirling spirals and sun motifs like the planets and stars above. As above: so below. Inner realities reverberate with cosmic movements and together they find their natural expression, joyfully recreated in the wonderful movement games and songs which find their home in early childhood.

In the preface to her book, The Traditional Games of England, Scotland and Ireland, Alice Gomme also points out that, in a large proportion of their games, children are involved in the activity of imitating or mimicking the adults around them. She writes: “In many of these games we have, there is little doubt, unconscious folk dramas of events and customs which were at one time being enacted as part of the serious concerns of life before the eyes of children many generations ago.” (Gomme, 1984) In the traditional game Round and Round the Village, the children create a little village of houses by standing together and holding hands. Gomme describes this activity as forming ‘the rudiments of community’. (ibid p.133) The children then pass around the boundary of the village and wander in serpentine fashion in and out of the windows. The players act as ‘chorus’ by describing, in the words they sing, the actions of those performing their parts. The narrative in this game is one of marriage and, as Gomme indicates, the burden of the game rests with the line, ‘As we have done before’. Marriage is a recurring event, and this game, and many others like it, symbolize continuity. They belong to the body of games called ‘custom games’, where children “act in play what their elders do seriously”. (ibidp.142) Through the re-creation of these rites de passage children gradually come to understand the world and its ways. The literal meaning of the word ‘recreation’, now used to denote sporting or leisure activities, is to create anew.

If the adult world lacks dimension and depth, a paucity of rich experience for the child to imitate will result. Children need substance upon which to put their culture to work in order to transform and remake the world in their own way. In our media-drenched society – a world of simulacra and superficiality where the characters of Neighbours are as real, or in some cases more real, than the people who live next door – our offerings to the child are not always beautiful, good or true and often fall short of being worthy of imitation. Children aren’t conscious learners like adults; the faculty of discrimination develops later and signals the child’s ability to hold back, whereas imitation has its roots in trust and total openness to the world. Knowledge of the young child is caught rather than taught (the acquisition of our native language being the prime example): just what the ‘catch’ of those early years will be depends on us.

In The Education of the Child, Rudolf Steiner writes:

There are two magic words which indicate how the child enters into relation with his environment. They are Imitation and Example. The Greek philosopher Aristotle called man the most imitative of creatures. For no age in life is this more true than for the first stage of childhood, before the change of teeth. What goes on in his physical environment, this the child imitates, and in the process of imitation his physical organs are cast into the forms which then become permanent. Physical environment must, however, be taken in the widest imaginable sense. It includes not only what goes on around the child in the material sense, but everything that takes place in the child’s environment – everything that can be perceived by the senses, that can work upon the inner powers of the child. This includes all the moral or immoral actions, all the wise or foolish actions, that the child sees. It is not moral talk or prudent admonitions that influence the child in this sense. Rather it is what the grown up people do visibly before his eyes. (Steiner p.15)

It is with this knowledge that Kindergarten teachers strive to carry out their domestic activities, their sewing, baking, cleaning, gardening (all tasks required to support the healthy life of the Kindergarten community) with careful and loving attention in the presence of the ever watchful children. The teacher follows the seasons with songs and story and many activities have a relationship to the agricultural and natural cycles of the year. The celebration of festivals warms their heart, each festival providing a rich store of meanings and a deepened living experience for the child. These encounters are grist to the mill for the child to work upon.

In his introduction to Gomme’s book of childhood games, D. Webb recounts his experience of visiting a village in Portugal. It is a personal account which nonetheless strikes an all too familiar note.

Twenty years ago I used to stay with a fisherman and his family in the Algarve of Southern Portugal. Every night from the neighbouring streets children came to the flat cobbled space in front of our cottage and sang and danced for an hour. I collected sufficient singing games to fill a book on its own. Today (April 1983) following the building of several luxury hotels and tourist explosion, the fleet of fishing boats has vanished and the vast majority of cottages have been bought for holiday apartments. The narrow streets are clogged with parked cars. I visited an old lady who lived next door to our cottage, and one evening she collected a dozen or more children to come and do their singing games in the street. They did not know a single one. I asked a girl what they liked playing best, to which she replied: Raiding the hotel for empty lipstick holders. In less than two decades an entire tradition had been wiped out. (p.15)

Webb wrote this in 1983, predicting a similar cultural shift in the UK, although not on such a catastrophic scale. He reckoned without the commercial exploitation of the children’s leisure industry and its subsequent hijack of children.

Elizabeth Stutz, founder of Play for Life, has campaigned tirelessly for the rights of children to be granted time and space to really play. In an article published in 1995, she writes:

Saturation entertainment has taken over the playtime and the homelife of children, so that, not only do they suffer the consequences of being overwhelmed and brutalized by their entertainment, but they are exposed to concepts totally unsuitable for and inimical to their stage of development, and in addition they are robbed of the carefree hours in which they should be enjoying the nourishing and creative forces of play… Children’s leisure time has been made the subject of intense commercial competition. The richest and most powerful industries and interest groups — such as the ever expanding communications industry, the electronic entertainments and music industries, Hollywood and Silicon Valley, the toy and consumer goods and food empires — these have together in a loose conglomerate taken over as their domain, the market of childhood and youth; they decide what children will play, read, eat, wear, admire, hate, how they behave to each other, to their parents and authority and who their role models are to be; this contrivance is then sold as the youth culture. (Article: Play for Life 1995)

Where is the child’s voice in all of this? Is the loud-mouthed youth culture playing bully to the less powerful but far more creative childhood culture? The commercially produced youth culture breeds a herd mentality which commands everyone to eat the same grass, graze the same field. The childhood culture on the other hand gradually brings about the birth of the unique individual.

Dr Peter Blachford, a researcher at the University of London’s Institute of Education, who is currently looking at the range and diversity of children’s games, was quoted in a recent copy of the Times Educational Supplement as saying: “If the vocabulary of play is impoverished, the implications are serious indeed… we mess with playtime at our peril.” (10 May 1996) Part of this vocabulary has been usurped, as outlined above, by the ever expanding toy industry. Nowadays ‘less’ is hardly ever experienced as ‘more’. It wasn’t always so. Writing in 1916, Norman Douglas, another collector of children’s games, observed: “It all comes to this: if you want to see what children can do, you must stop giving them things. Because of course they only invent games when they have nothing ready made for them.” (A Century of Childhood, p.62) Although this is a somewhat extreme view — after all, we give toys and games to our children because we love them and there are many good games for children on the market — Douglas does have a point. A mother once told me how her child had once played a game of Postman (not Postman Pat, just Postman child). The slatted back of a dining chair became his post box; he made his own letters and tiny stamps, complete with queen’s head (of sorts), he borrowed a hat and cloak, made himself a silver foil badge and played at delivering letters to various destinations around his house for hours. A kind aunt, having seen his obvious delight in the game while visiting, later bought him a manufactured toy Postman Set from the shops nearby: he never played with it. The charm of his own play lay in his creative participation and in his ability to transform; each little invention brought its own pleasure and allowed the child to add something of himself to the game.

In the past, toys were often made of found objects. Neither city children nor their country cousins had money to spend and the creative spirit of play simply made use of whatever was to hand, as the following examples illustrate. The first, from a book entitled A Century of Childhood, is from Mary Brown, the daughter of a textile worker in Halifax, born during the First World War.

The games we played needed no more money spent on them. For a skipping rope I used to get a rough straw rope from the boxes of oranges given away by greengrocers. The boxes had two compartments and we used them for bookcases or dolls houses. We made doll furniture from matchboxes and cotton reels. We lived near the roadside and I used to copy the boys and put pins on the tramlines. When they were flattened we pushed them through bits of match sticks and said they were swords. (p.67)

The second example is from Sylvia Land, born in war-ravaged Sheffield after the Second World War. “I vividly remember playing chip shop with broken slates for fish and rubble for chips. Play shops were made out of mountains of bricks and empty cans were threaded with precious string and formed into a loop to make mini-stilts.” It would be foolish to suggest that life was easy for many of these children — it wasn’t, but they had something which children of today lack: their games still formed part of a culture independent of the adult world — the culture of childhood.

The loss of childhood, which is a consequence of the insidious penetration of the media and its attendant commercial market, is further compounded by the fact that the world today offers little opportunity for children to play without adult supervision. ‘Stranger danger’, ever increasing traffic and other potential threats all conspire to keep children confined and restricted. As Mary Ann Sieghart writes in her article, Why can’t Boys and Girls go out to Play?, “Parks, streets and open fields have been replaced by computers, television and bedrooms. Adventures have to be experienced vicariously… Virtual freedom is the best that our children can hope for.” (Times, 5 August 1995)

In my case, I was lucky enough to enjoy a carefree childhood. I played without fear through woods, lanes and streets as I roamed around with my little tribe of friends from one location to the next. Much of our learning was self-taught and experiential. Whole days were spent with other children instead of adults – the choices and the rules of play were ours; they were self-imposed and carefully negotiated. Now, sadly, these important group experiences of childhood, with their own particular mores and codes of behavior, have become subject to adult authority (albeit unwillingly). Sterile play areas, which offend, replace their more haphazard but infinitely more interesting predecessors — when was the last time you saw a genuine child-built adult-free den? — which offered a wealth of play experiences and encouraged the development of a wealth of differentiated faculties in the child. Nowadays real adventures are replaced by immobile couch odysseys of the mind. This has obvious implications for the physical well-being, social and imaginative development of the children in our care. As Neil Postman shrewdly observed, watching television requires no skills, nor does it develop any.

The Russian psychologist Vygotsky recognized play as an essential agent in the maturation process of the child. In her book Early Childhood Education, Tina Bruce (1995) writes: “Vygotsky believes that when children are involved in imaginative play they will renounce what they want, and willingly subordinate themselves to rules, in order to gain the pleasure of the play. He argues that in play they exercise their greatest self-control.” (p.42) How different in character is this activity from the alienated world of the bedroom TV watcher, whose desires are instantly gratified as programs are turned off and on at will, and whose self-control is replaced by its bogus counterpart ‘remote control’. The ability to renounce our desires for others is the bedrock of truly social behavior. The development of relationships and emotional responses, the ability to share and to take on the perspective of the other, are all played out in germinal form in the multiplicity of games which children have always played in their early years. “Let’s pretend” — the two most commonly used passwords into the world of play – are good indicators of the two-fold nature of play and its pride of place in the culture of childhood. The ‘Let’s’ signified the social aspect of the let ‘us’ that makes the game a shared social activity and experience; and the ‘pretend’ signifies the imaginative realm in which the young child lives the realm of possibilities.

Each age of life has its own secrets to impart and at each stage of childhood a unique opportunity arises for particular faculties to unfold and develop. Recent decisions in National Curriculum circles promise even more ‘top down’ pressure on the young child. Five year-olds are soon to be tested. Tested for what? Who decides what exactly it is that you are supposed to know as a five year-old? Doesn’t it matter rather more who you are and whether or not you are a happy, enthusiastic and well-adjusted child? Aren’t these the qualities which form the real foundation stones upon which the building of all later learning must rest? Children learn about life in the way most appropriate to their age; and joyful imitation and intrinsic motivation are the natural pedagogues of the young child.

Heidi Britz-Crecelius writes in her book on children’s play:

It is much less troublesome and exciting to teach the poor things to read already at Kindergarten age. One does not need to get out of the armchair. The experts who lead the battle to teach children to read as early as possible, emphasize again and again how much more quiet and well-poised early readers are than those who play – just as if quietness and poise were desirable in children! Well of course, the early readers can then read about all the things of which they have been deprived. But instead of assimilating experiences, they have information in their heads, and information is bound to be a quite inadequate substitute for experience. (p.69)

In our Steiner Waldorf Kindergartens, we are conscious of the very real threat to the world of the child and our concern is always to do the right thing at the right time — we recognize that children need time to play during their formative years. As Tina Bruce (1995) writes: “Adults reflect through discussion, through literature, through writing and meditation. Children reflect through concretely acting out past experiences, or concretely preparing for them.” (p.17)

Our adult world continues to make increasingly aggressive inroads into the playground of childhood as we flex our muscles and assert our cultural dominance in a devastating variety of ways. There are precious few places where children can freely develop their own culture, and where the creative spirit of childhood can perform its magical transformations.

A Waldorf Kindergarten tries to be such a place: a place where the echoing voices of children at play can still be heard.


Reference and Bibliography:
Bett, H. (1929), The Games of Children, Methuen.
Blake, W. (1967), Songs of Innocence and Experience, Rupert Hart-Davis Ltd, London in association with Trianon Press, Paris.
Blatchford, Dr. P.., The games that children need to play in Times Educational Supplement, 10 May 1996.
Britz-Crecelius, H. (1972), Children at Play – Preparation for Life, Floris Books.
Bruce, T. (1995), Early Childhood Education, Hodder and Stoughton.
Gomme, A. (1984), The Traditional Games of England, Scotland and Ireland, Thames and Hudson.
Humphries, S., Mack, J., & Perks, R. (1998), A Century of Childhood, Sidgwick & Jackson, London.
Postman, N. (1983), The Disappearance of Childhood, London: W.H. Allen.
Steiner, R. (1995), The Education of the Child in the Light of Anthroposophy, Rudolf Steiner Publishing Co., London.
Stutz, E. (1995), Article: Violent electronic entertainment; its effects on the development of children and the implications for world peace and some possible steps to reverse the trend, pub. by Play for Life.
Sieghart, M.A. (1995), The Times, entitled: Why can’t Boys and Girls go out to Play? in The Times, 5 August 1995.

Standing outside enjoying the pure, night air also gives one the opportunity to ‘hear’ the silence of the night. Such silence is truly ‘golden’ and comes as a refreshing antidote to the noises of the daylight hours. Not that the noises that I am subjected to are anything to lament about, on the contrary, most are ‘natural’ sounds made by bird, beast, wind or rain, with the occasional hum of the tractor in nearby orchards or paddocks, none of which generally exceed a noise level much higher than 45 decibels (dB) in my immediate environment.

Decibels (dB) is the unit used to measure the intensity of sound The hum of conversation is rated at 60 dB in a lively office or school environment. In the home, noise levels vary between 65 dB for the washing machine or dishwasher, through to 80 dB for an alarm clock, to 85 dB for an electric shaver! Walking through the city can expose us to sound in the range of 80 – 90 dB at the minimum.

The results of research, in the form of ‘hearing tests’, conducted at a university in the USA amongst a group of middle and high school students, revealed that 17% of those tested had varying degrees of hearing loss. The test results further revealed that the greatest hearing loss was in the higher ranges of pitch. Such a discovery was not in itself surprising, for initial damage to hearing usually effects the reception of high frequency sounds after exposure to excessive noise.

How does this relate to everyday life. An early indicator of partial hearing loss may be a difficulty or an inability to hear high-pitched voices. Further manifestations of partial hearing loss may be revealed in difficulties with distinguishing particular consonant blends, such as S, F or a soft C, CH, SH and H. The result is that words such as ‘sill’, ‘fill’, ‘sill’, ‘hill’, ‘hell’, ‘shell’, etc., sound almost identical!

Unfortunately, such a phenomenon is not restricted to middle or high school students, for it is becoming increasingly common for young children to be diagnosed with hearing loss, even before they commence school!! It is but a short step to make a logical connection between hearing loss and the prevalence of specific learning challenges experienced by an increasing number of children.

Noise induced hearing loss (NIHL) can occur at any age and we can experience temporary loss after as little as fifteen minutes exposure to loud sounds. Symptoms can include a diminished ability to hear sounds which one is normally able to hear. In addition there may be a ‘ringing’ in the ears (tinnitus) or the ears may have the feeling of being ‘blocked’. Hearing loss may be caused by any loud sound which continues for an extended period of time. Fortunately, our hearing will generally return after awhile, but never quite to the level of what it was previously, although we may not be able to detect any change in our ability to hear after short exposure on an irregular basis. Unfortunately, hearing loss is generally only detected after a hearing test

In children and adolescents, the greatest damage to hearing is caused by listening to continuous loud ‘pounding’ music. If the music is so loud that one has to raise one’s voice to be heard in a conversation, then rest assured that your hearing is being damaged. Attendance at discos, night clubs or other such events are an obvious source of such excessive noise.

Another source of excessive sound is through the prolific use of headphones to listen to music played on the ‘diskman’, ‘walkman’ or iPod. Young people will spend hours on end listening to music via headphones. Most of the time at a level well in excess of what could be deemed appropriate. How often do we sit or stand next to a fellow passenger in a ‘bus or train who is wearing headphones from which we are able, despite the noise of the vehicle’s engine, to hear the emanating sound? If anyone other than the user of the apparatus is able to hear the sound, then the volume is too loud and damage is being done to the user’s hearing. If the listener maintains the same volume for extended periods of time, then the hearing will suffer irreparable damage.

Let us consider for a moment the structure of the ear in an attempt to understand how hearing loss occurs (this is generally taught to students as part of their Physiology lessons in Year Seven in Steiner-Waldorf schools). We can look upon the ear as a complex organ comprised of three main parts: the outer ear, the middle ear and the inner ear. The outer and middle ear, are separated by a thin membrane called the ‘eardrum’. Sound hits this membrane and causes it to vibrate and these vibrations travel to the middle ear and are conveyed to three minute bones, namely the: malleus, incus and stapes (more commonly known as the hammer, anvil and stirrup). The vibrations are then transmitted to the inner ear to be picked up by tiny sensory ‘hair cells’ in the cochlea that transforms the vibrations into nerve impulses, which in turn are transmitted to the brain via the auditory nerve

These ‘hair cells’ are exceedingly delicate microscopic structures, arranged in ‘V’ shaped groups, that easily become damaged when bombarded by loud noise. Damage results in the ‘hairs’ becoming entangled and loosing the ability to remain upright. If this damage is the result of brief exposure to loud noise, then there is every chance that they will recover to some degree, but never totally. However, when the damage is the result of impulse noise, such as an explosion, damage may be irreversible. Irreversible damage may also occur when the hairs’ are subjected to loud noise on a regular basis. The ‘hairs’ never really have time to recover between one listening session and another, and eventually they become too weak and die, resulting in progressive hearing loss.

L. Healthy 'hair' cells - R. Damaged 'hair' cells

L. Healthy ‘hair’ cells – R. Damaged ‘hair’ cells

Our hearing is also susceptible to damage when we ‘work-out’ at the gym!! To while-away the time spent on apparatus, we may wear headphones to listen to music. However, although exercise can be beneficial for our physique, intense exercise also brings us to a state of stress, at which time our ears become far more sensitive to sound. At this stage, noise doesn’t even have to be loud to cause mild damage! Thus, the use of headphones whilst exercising is to be avoided.

‘Workplace Health and Safety Regulations’ in most western societies, require that ear protection be worn when there is a likelihood of noise levels reaching or exceeding 85 dB. Amplified music easily reaches 110 – 130 dB, which equals the noise of a jet aircraft flying overhead, but no ear protection is worn!! Many young people play their diskman/walkman at 110 dB or more for hours at a time. Much of the loud modern music which they currently listen to, has the regular ‘thud-thud-thud’ of the bass drum. These low notes have the ability to flatten hairs cells in much the same way as mature trees can be flattened in a fierce wind storm.

As educators, we have a responsibility not only to teach young people about the wonders of the world, but we also have a responsibility to instill in them a respect for their bodies and at the same time, make efforts to protect them from those things which may harm them in one way or another. The foregoing goes some way towards explaining why educators have strong reservations and concerns with regards to the use of a ‘diskman’ or ‘walkman’ by students of any age.

This concern also extends to other forms of electronic amplification of sound, especially the amplification often experienced in cinemas. Sound which is too loud contravenes most ‘Health and Safety Regulations’ and we have a duty of care, both to ourselves and our children, to bring such contraventions to the attention of the management for their timely and appropriate action.

There are of course many other sources of noise other than that caused by electronic amplification. We are subjected to noise wherever we are, be it at home, at work or enjoying recreational activities. In the home we have the TV; food mixer; vacuum cleaner; workshop tools; lawn mowers and leaf blowers. On the way to work or in the workplace we are subjected to a cacophony of sounds emanating from motor vehicles of all shapes and sizes; pneumatic drills; sirens; machinery, etc. Recreational life may take us to formula one, motor cycle or go-kart race tracks; speed boats; rifle ranges or hunting. Regardless of our environment, we can all be subjected to one form or another of excessive noise.

Noise induced hearing loss (NIHL) is preventable. Firstly, we should educate ourselves about the hazards of noise, and become alert to the presence of hazardous noise in our environment, so that we are in a better position to care for the hearing health of the young.

Secondly, the use of effective ear plugs or other forms of hearing protection, should become an acceptable part of everyday life. Appropriate forms of protection are easily obtainable from chemists, drugstores, good sporting and hardware stores. When there is suspicion of hearing loss, however slight then it is advisable to undergo an examination and hearing test conducted by an audiologist.


– but only if we are blessed with the ability to hear –


Eric Fairman taught for many years in Waldorf schools in Britain and Australia. He is the author of the Path of Discovery series.

by Donna Simmons
If I had a quarter for every time this question has come up…! But it’s so important and by understanding it fully, one may come to a deeper understanding of Waldorf education.

Waldorf is based on working with three discernible stages of childhood: birth – 7, 7 – 14 and 14 – 21. (Please see Waldorf 101 for more on this.) Obviously, 7 and 14 are thus turning points and questions arise as to whether a child should be 6 or 7 when starting first grade – or 14 or 15 when starting ninth grade. If all children in the Northern Hemisphere had their birthdays in September, and thus started first grade on the day they turned 7, then this issue would never come up! But… life isn’t like that.

So then the question of cut-off date arises. This is all far more important for people sending their children to school than to homeschoolers who can jiggle things a bit if needs be, but, nevertheless, it remains a critical question.

The rule of thumb for determining when a child should start first grade is that she or he should have experienced seven Easters on Earth. Easter falls on the first Sunday after the first Full Moon after the Spring Equinox. If one accepts that the moon, stars and planets do indeed have bearing on our lives, then one can see that working with this date in a child’s life can have important implications.

And so the cut-off time for starting first grade or remaining in kindergarten is not arbitrary. What is arbitrary is the random 1 June or similar dates used in schools, including Waldorf schools.

A child should be seven years of age for much of first grade. If her birthday is in the winter she should turn 7 in first grade, thus having half the year as a 6 year-old and half as a 7 year-old. One does not want a child turning 8 in first grade. Having said that, if a child has a late spring birthday, then she probably will spend a month or two as an 8 year old in first grade. But one would not want a child to, for instance, turn 8 in December or January and be 8 years old for half of first grade!

Many people – and Waldorf schools – use a variety of ‘school readiness’ observations and tests to determine whether a child should start first grade or not at 6. One problem I have with this list and this approach is that any idea of process is often lost. Yes, first graders should be able to do some of these activities/skills. But for the most part, they should only just be beginning to be able to do them and many will not be mastered by perfectly healthy children for some time.

So I see that such lists can cause anxiety for some people: “Why can’t my child do these things?” Equally problematic is the situation where a very young child, maybe one barely 6 years of age, can accomplish all these tasks. I would say that in such a situation, the child is skillful and advanced – but still not ready for first grade.

Why am I so conservative about this? Because I have worked with children from many races, economic classes and abilities and I see the greatest enemy to a happy, nurturing and healthy childhood to be a rushed childhood. Simple as that. And I include amongst those children those in Waldorf schools who have started school too early.

There are a variety of reasons why many Waldorf schools take children at barely past six: pressure from parents; desire to fill a class; pressure from local government especially with regard to Charter Schools; poor grounding in Waldorf methodology. One legitimate reason I have heard for taking young 6 year olds is Steiner’s exhortation to challenge children and never simply teach at the level they are at, but always slightly ahead. But I believe this can be easily – and rightly – accomplished by respecting the wisdom of the Waldorf curriculum which is clearly based on chronological age.

And for many this may seem odd! Every child is different and every child learns differently, people say. Yes, absolutely! But I would say categorically that the Waldorf curriculum does meet the discernible pattern of development that all children go through. And this is because the curriculum is not based just on skills. Rather, the secret of Waldorf education lies in the fact that it is an education of the soul. And the soul of every human being travels a clear path of development. Waldorf education speaks to this development and meets each child as she walks along her path.

So back to the question of age: for me the fundamental point is that the first grade curriculum is designed to speak to what is happening on a soul level to the 7 year-old child. Second grade is for the 8 year old; third grade for the 9 year old and so on.

With regard to skills (ability to multiply, knit a hat, read, do calligraphy, etc.) I would say this is different. I come into conflict here with many other Waldorf educators who point out the need for children to master certain skills at certain times as per the curriculum. My experience tells me otherwise though. I address these questions extensively in the Curriculum Overview and especially in Living Language. So for me it has more to do with the story curriculum (which later transforms into subjects like history) that clearly mirrors the soul development of the child.

In closing, I’d like to say two more things. One thing is that I sympathize with parents of 6 year olds who are chomping at the bit! “My child wants to learn!” they say. Of course, of course he does. And that’s fine. But academics are not necessarily what is most healthy – not yet. I encourage parents of 6 year olds to think in terms of ‘Advanced Placement’ kindergarten – more challenges, more responsibility. Crafts that take several stages and days to complete; more cooking and gardening and work with real tools; more complex quest-themed fairy tales; responsibility for a chore or a pet; and things like puzzles which can soak up some of this curiosity and desire to learn, but in an age-appropriate way that continues to support the child’s first stage of development. For those children who really are insatiable, I recommend one work with math concepts – leave writing and reading till first grade. Math is, after all, everywhere, including in the child’s body (two hands, 10 fingers, etc.) and thus is far less abstract than writing and reading.

by Donna Simmons

(This article first appeared in 2004 in The Link magazine)
Hello! Welcome to the first in a series of articles in the LINK about Waldorf-inspired homeschooling. Despite the fact that there are over 100 Waldorf schools and kindergartens in the USA (and about 1000 more in countries as diverse as Mexico, Latvia, France, Germany, Israel, India and Egypt), Waldorf education is not well known. Indeed, amongst homeschoolers, those of us who work with Waldorf are almost invisible! My hope is to address this imbalance and to help get the word out about a form of education which others might find beneficial to their children.

The following is a distillation of some of the characteristics of Waldorf education. In this first article I will mainly talk about Waldorf education as it has been developed in schools. In later articles I will look at aspects of Waldorf education more specifically from a homeschooler’s point of view.

From birth through about age 7, children live most strongly in their bodies and should be allowed to actively explore their environments. Whilst little children need to be active, it is healthy and strengthening for them if the parent frames the child’s days with strong and balanced rhythms, weaving between active and quiet times: outdoor play, followed by quiet story time, followed by a meal, followed by creative play, etc. Young children learn best through imitation and it is important for the child to be surrounded by the good example of adults doing meaningful work for her to copy: for instance, she should be encouraged to join in while her mom tends the garden and home. There should also be plenty of time for unstructured creative play. Simple playthings such as wooden blocks, sandboxes and a few pots and pans from the kitchen are best as they provide plenty of scope for the child’s imagination to stretch and grow. There is no formal teaching during this time.

From 7 – 14, the grade school years, children are viewed as living primarily in their ‘feeling life’. This doesn’t mean that children don’t ‘feel’ before this age, rather that during this period they learn best through an artistic and imaginative approach that stirs their feelings. By hearing the great myths and legends of various cultures, the adventures of heroes and explorers, and the struggles of men and women throughout history, children’s feelings are deeply affected and a moral basis to their learning is laid. By using an artistic approach to all material – drawing, painting, modeling, acting, etc. – the teacher helps each child unlock his or her artistic abilities, further deepening the child’s experience of and feelings for what he is studying. Each child makes a ‘Good Book’ for each topic studied, a beautiful record of the experiments, essays, poems and drawings created as part of understanding the topic at hand. In creating these Good Books, in exerting her will to use best handwriting and to work with care, each child sees that she is a creative person who is able to work hard and make something beautiful. This can help dispel the nonsense that only some people are artistic. We’re all artistic: it’s part of being human. Some of us may have special gifts and be ‘artists’, but, if our upbringing and education allow it, we can all create beautiful things.

During these years and throughout high school, topics from the curriculum are taught in 3 – 6 week Main Lesson blocks. The first two hours of each morning is devoted to in-depth study of the topic at hand: this is when Good Books (also known as Main Lesson Books) are created. This is something like the Unit Study approach favored by many homeschoolers.

A clear curriculum is followed from First through Twelfth Grades. Based on a careful study of how children change and develop, the curriculum speaks to the needs of the growing child. An example of this can be seen clearly in the Third grade curriculum: generally, at 9 years old, there is a change, a growing sense of separation from parents in the child. Questions of authority, of right and wrong, and of selfhood arise. In Waldorf schools, Third Graders study Building and Farming, two practical Main Lesson blocks which, on a subtle level, can really speak to the inner experiences of a child who is ‘creating her own self’. Likewise, the Third Grade block on Old Testament stories, with its themes of right and wrong and man’s relationship to God’s authority, is a subject that most 9 year-olds can really relate to (if only subconsciously).

Again, in later years, one can see the graceful way in which the Waldorf curriculum mirrors the inner reality of the developing child: at age 12 most children are very down-to-earth and legalistic in their thinking, preferring to argue in terms that are black and white. Who better to study at this time than the Romans, that most pragmatic of civilizations? And what better artistic expression than to learn to draw with charcoal, to work with black and white, shadow and light – and to learn about shades of gray.

This Main Lesson form continues throughout high school. Even though the students now use some textbooks, they continue to make their own Good Books. Many a Waldorf student who has gone on to college has referred back to the Good Books they made in high school. And the curriculum’s subtle ability to address the needs of the child, now youth, continues: it can be deeply meaningful for a 16 year-old, struggling with his own questions of “who am I?” and “what is my purpose in the world?” to study Hamlet as well as the medieval grail story of Parsival, that blundering hero who didn’t even know what questions to ask?

Now in high school, students are expected to exercise their full intellectual powers and the work is very rigorous. An artistic approach continues and there is real effort to maintain a balance in the student’s learning program, with the goal of producing well-rounded, well-educated individuals who have an ability to think independently and to function in the different spheres of adult life.

A few further hallmarks of Waldorf education include:

  • An almost Renaissance approach to education: a true liberal arts education where all children take all subjects and do not work only in areas in which they excel.
  • Activity always precedes ‘head work’. For instance, children learn to write first, copying letters and, later on, words into Main Lesson books. Reading follows writing and it is the children’s own writing which serves as their text.
  • The approach to learning is holistic – the arts, humanities and sciences are viewed as interwoven with one another, not as separate fields of life or experience.
  • Throughout the school years there is an emphasis on moral qualities such as truth, beauty and goodness. These are not sermonized to the children but rather than children are surrounded by these qualities, in the way the classroom and school is built and cared for, in the actions of the adults around them and in the content of the lessons. Fairy tales, legends from many cultures and tales of heroes and saints help lay moral foundations for the children, as do reverential celebrations of the religious and seasonal festivals of the year.
  • Electronic media such as television and computers – and especially hand-held electronic games – are viewed as detrimental to the healthy development of children, especially young children. Children need to learn from people, as ‘learning’ involves much more than the mere conveying of information. Over the years, Waldorf teachers, as well as parents, have observed the negative impact of such machines on children. Televisions, tape recorders and computers are not used in Waldorf elementary schools. Computers are used in moderation in the high schools.

Waldorf education is not anti-intellectual. It is, however, anti-early intellectual. At heart, Waldorf education aims to be therapeutic and its goal is to foster the development of healthy well-balanced individuals. It is deeply felt in Waldorf circles that premature intellectualism can drain and deplete a child, and that the recognized overlapping of the label ‘gifted’ with the label ‘ADHD’ is no coincidence. By avoiding early intellectualism and really allowing our children the time and space to develop their imaginations and to experience life at their own pace, we can allow children to develop the physical and emotional strength to really fly with their later academic learning. Waldorf seeks to avoid the scenario of hothouse flowers, plants which bloom early and bright, but often lack the strength and substance to grow and flourish over time.

And so, as homeschoolers working with Waldorf, we would, for instance, use watercolor paints with our young children, and allow the children to experiment with blue, then red, then yellow, and slowly and meditatively experience the interplay of those colors. We would recognize that our children are laying the foundations for meaningful intellectual understanding of the phenomena of color which they will study in physics when they are 12 or 13. By singing and playing clapping and finger games with our little ones, by reading to them and telling them stories, we are creating the basis for an ease with language which will make later reading, and especially writing, much easier. By helping the young child develop his ear for language, by letting him absorb the nuances of our language, much of the later agonies of phonics and grammar can be avoided.

For homeschoolers working with Waldorf education this means a relaxed approach to the early years. For those who know of them, Raymond and Dorothy Moore advocate an approach that many Waldorfers can relate to: a secure, nurturing environment with an established routine; participation in chores and housekeeping; and avoidance of television, computers and other electronic media. Add in simple playthings, plenty of time outdoors, singing and storytelling and you’ve got your own Waldorf kindergarten at home!

As our children grow, those of us inspired by Waldorf education can adapt the curriculum and Main Lesson approach in a way that suits our family. The approach I advocate is to use the curriculum as a guide, to understand the hows and whys behind it, and to be open to taking wide forays into territory dictated by the interests of one’s children. Thus in our family, we have spent a lot of time on space exploration and paleontology, topics not found in Waldorf elementary schools!

In upcoming articles I will take various aspects of Waldorf education and look at how one might work with them at home. I have worked with Waldorf education for more than 20 years: as a teacher, youth worker, parenting educator and homeschooling Mom. And I went to a Waldorf school from 4 to 18. To me, it is a beautiful and profound form of education, one which truly cherishes childhood, something that many other forms of education seem determined to get over and done with as quickly as possible.

Recently, my husband and I started a Waldorf-inspired resource company, Christopherus Homeschool Resources. Our wish is to assist parents who would like to incorporate some elements of Waldorf education into their homeschools, whether they consider themselves Waldorf-inspired homeschoolers or not. We would encourage all who would like to find out more about Waldorf education to visit our website –

Just to get you started, here are a couple of basic books on Waldorf education:

You are Your Child’s First Teacher by Rahima Baldwin, and
Waldorf Education: Rudolf Steiner’s Ideas in Practice by Christopher Clouder and Martyn Rawson

“Anthroposophy is a path of knowledge, to guide the Spiritual in the human being to the Spiritual in the universe. It arises as a need of the heart, of the life of feeling; and it can be justified only inasmuch as it can satisfy this inner need. He alone can acknowledge Anthroposophy who finds in it what he himself in his own inner life feels impelled to seek. Hence only they can be anthroposophists who feel certain questions on the nature of man and the universe as an elemental need of life, just as one feels hunger and thirst.”

-Rudolf Steiner, Anthroposophical Leading Thoughts

“When Rudolf Steiner founded Anthroposophy (a wisdom of the human being) in the early part of [the 20th] century, his intention was not to create a new sect or cult – of which we have hundreds today, some highly dangerous – but to initiate a new striving for spiritual truth which, with its detailed methodology and empirical, experiential basis (as opposed to simple faith or belief) was in the tradition of the scientific thinking of his time. In this sense he described Anthroposophy as a science of the spirit. And thus he strove – in the face of the profound materialism of the time – to communicate his knowledge of the spirit not through a vague mysticism, but in a form that could be understood with clear human thought.”

-Sevak Gulbekian, At the Grave of Civilization? A Spiritual Approach to Popular Culture


The UK Anthroposophical Society has published to the internet Waldorf educator Roy Wilkinson’s booklet Rudolf Steiner: An Introduction to His Spiritual World-View, Anthroposophy – definitely worth a look.


You’ll find more useful links for anthroposophy on our Suggested Reading and Rudolf Steiner pages.

by Eric Fairman

(© Eric K. Fairman. May 2004)

Tell me, and I will forget;
Show me, and I may remember;
Involve me, and I will understand.


Long gone are the days when a teacher could step into a classroom where students stood quietly, prepared to receive the ‘gifts’ which the teacher had to offer. No longer are students prepared to sit focused and listening to what is being offered without interruption, uninvited contributions or questions. This is perhaps no more apparent than in the later years of the middle school, especially grades seven, eight and upwards. Although boys generally appear to have the tendency for restlessness in the formality of a classroom, it is noticeable that this is even more so in the current age where youth in general, but boys in particular, have difficulty in remaining in their assigned places and sitting ‘comfortably’ on their chairs for any period of time. There is a constant restlessness with chairs tottering on two rear legs; students wriggling in their chairs; etc. And what is the standard response? To give the students even more desk work to keep them occupied, rather that looking at the causes leading to restlessness and searching for meaningful solutions to the ‘problem’!

Sometimes the simplest solution can be the panacea for a daunting problem. In this instance, maybe the simplest remedy would be to introduce more meaningful ‘movement’ into the lesson. For ‘movement’ substitute ‘activity’, for I am not suggesting extending the time spent on movement and ‘concentration’ exercises as practiced in the initial part of the first extended morning lesson* (main lesson) of each day in the early grades. [ * although commonly known as the ‘main lesson’, I believe the term tends to be rather misleading, as well as discriminatory, with respect to the other highly important subject lessons of the day.]

Regardless of the stage of development of a child, space and time should be allowed for a strong element of ‘will’ activity in all learning, especially in Steiner-Waldorf schools. This is most apparent in the years up until the age of seven, where the child is almost constantly engaged in activities of the ‘will’.

The typical Waldorf main lesson not only invokes desk study, but also brings the children into movement. From first through fifth grades, many subjects are approached through rhythmic games, singing, the playing of musical instruments, and handwork, as well as through discussion and book work. (Eugene Schwartz)(1).

Activity’ in the context to which I am alluding, takes on an entirely new connotation in the higher grades where there is generally a paucity of hands-on activities. Here the teacher will be looking for activities which in themselves act as an additional ‘Path of Discovery’™(2) and path of learning, fully incorporated into the general educational methodology.

From seven to fourteen, the child’s active participation in learning appears to decrease although there is no absence of unrelated activities!! By the end of grade six, the learning process has transformed itself into one of a more sedentary nature. It is at this stage that teachers could possibly benefit by seriously assessing their teaching methodologies, for although the syllabus for the later years introduces subjects of a more intellectual nature, it does not necessarily follow that ‘will’ imbued learning has to be relegated to a thing of the past!

The curriculum for grades six, seven and eight has a definite focus on ‘discovery’, from the political developments brought about by the Roman Empire and further into the Middle Ages; to the Renaissance with its art and music; the great voyages of discovery into the New World; the amazing discoveries in all fields of science, the Revolutions; the list is endless. When one stops to reflect on these wonderful subjects which will be shared with the students, one quickly comes to the realization that everything which was ‘discovered’ came about because of activity of the Will!

Whereas the curriculum in the primary years is more related to practical life and learning, the tendency for teaching in the higher grades is to become detached from ‘real’ life, just at the time when new ideals well-up in the young person at the time of convergence of two significance streams in their life: the loss of childhood and its sense of wonder, and the birth of adulthood and new creative powers…..a mirroring of what took place around the age of nine, but on a different level of inner development. This is a time when the young person looks out to see a world and life which both have meaning and purpose, and the dawning realization that he/she has the potential to influence both the present and future course of events. It is a time of searching for the answer to inner questions, such as:

Who am I and why do I exist?
What is my role in life and in the community?
How can I influence and make a difference in the world?

These are three major questions which confront the emerging adolescent, especially from grade nine onwards. To find the answers, requires the support and guidance of not only immediate family and teachers, but also that of friends and the wider community.

If teaching is to be effective and meaningful, then teachers have a responsibility to ensure that students not only experience an awakening of their Feeling life in presentations brought before them by articulate and thoroughly prepared teachers who are able to weave a web of soul experiences for their students, but that they also have a ‘living’ experience of the subject and are able to perceive its relevance to ‘real’ life. This can only be fully realized when students are actively involved with their Will in the learning process.

Although the ‘main lesson book’ is perceived as being central to the Steiner-Waldorf educational methodology, in that it fosters creativity and productivity with the student, it also tends to stand in isolation with regards to experiences outside of school. It is therefore not easy for the student to see any connectedness with the effort which he is expending on producing a magnificent main lesson book, to the life he will be leading once he walks through the school portals at the end of the day. I do not wish to belittle the value of the main lesson book, but I firmly believe that there are occasions when it can be dispensed with in favor of creativity and productivity in other fields of endeavor which have a greater tangible connectedness with ‘real’ life.

A teacher relates: ‘…..there is a student in one class who is extremely learning disabled and couldn’t write a research paper (if asked). The teacher for ‘Industrial Revolution’ allowed him to build a project instead of writing about it. The student built a working steam engine and took it to several lower school classes to explain and demonstrate it!

It is presumed that Steiner-Waldorf teachers recognize the central role of arts and crafts in the curriculum, an area which is generally well grounded in the lower (primary) grades. However, for a majority of high schools, it remains a big challenge to offer the broad craft syllabus as suggested by Rudolf Steiner. But even if all the proposed crafts were present within the curriculum, I doubt whether it would have any marked affect on the number of students rocking on their chairs during the sedentary lessons, filled with sedentary activities!!!

The Hiram Trust (a) in the UK has done and continues to do, a great deal to promote the arts and craft syllabus within the Steiner-Waldorf movement. Another initiative is that of the Waldorf College Project(b) which is pioneering a new Steiner-Waldorf experiential learning experience ‘….designed for students of 16 to 19…integrating the Arts, Sciences, Crafts and the environment….’ at their campus in Stroud, UK. Both of these ventures, although working with aspects of the Steiner-Waldorf curriculum, operate independently of the traditional Steiner-Waldorf schools which generally have to rely upon their own resources in respect to presenting the upper/high school curriculum, the development of which is frequently hampered though lack of facilities and funding.

As Martin Rawson(3) points out:

….a lack of resources has severely limited the development of adequate craft provision in many Waldorf schools. Most schools in the UK barely manage to provide for gardening, elementary woodwork, pottery and some textile work………For historical and social reasons education in Britain has always undervalued manual, practical work. Vocational training – as practical subjects were known – was for the non-academic pupil, those not able to pass exams, the dimbos in the cruel terminology of the pupils themselves. The Waldorf version of this was far less socially divisive, but nonetheless subtly discriminating. Crafts were seen as a healthy balance to intellectual work, somewhat like fresh air and walking, good for you but not essential. The British school exam system and the recently introduced National Curriculum place no real value on craft work, and exams take up over half the timetable of the entire Upper school. Also exams act as a force of inertia as far as innovation in the curriculum goes. For many Waldorf pupils, the exams are what much of the Upper School is about. This is most true in Classes 8, 9, 10 and 11…

What Rawson here applies to the educational system in the UK and Steiner-Waldorf in particular, can just as well be applied to Steiner-Waldorf education in other parts of the English speaking world. The lack of a full art and craft syllabus in the Steiner-Waldorf Upper/High Schools needs to be seriously addressed. Too many compromises are made with the curriculum, to the point where Steiner-Waldorf Education is being disastrously ‘watered down’ in the scramble to accommodate various national and local governmental syllabus demands, especially in some schools which have learnt to rely on government funding, as is available in NZ and Australia….strings attached!!. Continuing efforts are being made in the UK to secure funding from the state, but at the same time securing total autonomy with respect to curriculum and methodology. It would be interesting to see whether such autonomy could be a sustainable reality in the face of governmental requirements for attaining national ‘benchmarks’!

We have just to see to it that we do not allow ourselves to be persuaded to compromise…We must only see to it that we ourselves do not give up anything of our essential conceptions…we must realize that we should take a careful look at where we have gone wrong (Ed.) if we receive praise from …the present educational system…  (Rudolf Steiner) (4)

To use the words of a Waldorf parent in North America whose son spent an exchange high school year abroad in a sister-Waldorf school: ‘…..I was very disillusioned by (my son’s) experience at (the sister-school). It (the curriculum) seemed to be very watered down and ‘Waldorf’ education virtually stopped by the last term of Grade 10. After that, it was just preparing for exams.’ Unfortunately, that student’s experience is not an isolated instance.

An ex-grade twelve Steiner-Waldorf student offers the following observation:

…My parents chose to send me to a Steiner-Waldorf school because they believed in the philosophy and the rich curriculum arising from it. My early education has been incredibly inspiring and motivating; but I would have liked, and expected, that that would continue through to the completion of my education at a Steiner-Waldorf school.

…From year nine, the structure of the day changed drastically from previous years. Fortunately, main lessons continued until year eleven, although several were given by teachers unfamiliar with Waldorf, which was reflected in the lack of real substance in the lesson!!

…The grade twelve year had been even worse. The curriculum and the structure of the day were designed purely to meet the requirements of the (external) exam syllabus, in effect no different to any public school.

For myself, and a number of my classmates, the last few years were ‘empty’, lacking personal fulfillment.

Where thirty years ago no compromises were made with respect to the sacrosanct Steiner-Waldorf curriculum, now that same curriculum is being adapted and compromised so as to meet the requirements of one or another government syllabus (frequently to secure government funding). Steiner-Waldorf then gradually degenerates into just another educational methodology within the educational system, with subjects being taught by teachers with little or no knowledge of the deeper aspects of the subject, knowledge which can only be derived through the study of anthroposophy.

Together with a preponderance of classroom in-activities such as working with text books, worksheets and question papers, this becomes a matter of concern to some students, as eloquently expressed by a fourteen year old Steiner-Waldorf student:

The boredom and apathy that come from working on ‘worksheets’ and ‘question papers’, and from not being permitted to express or develop personal opinions through thoughtful conversation, is possibly more detrimental to the student’s development than teachers realize… Worksheets and question papers only increase self-consciousness and point out gaps in knowledge without giving each student the necessary support from either friends or teachers…Worksheets, far from encouraging learning and thinking, in actual fact restrict and trivialize the issues themselves and the knowledge which could be gained from cooperatively working on a subject. An educational philosophy which aspires to the promotion of the individuality of a student, can be expected to have strong reservations with regards to the inclusion of worksheets into its learning methodology.

As Eugene Schwartz writes (5):

This is a big problem … if there can’t be Waldorf schools somewhere that remain true to our principles, that don’t load young children up with homework; that don’t give them spelling quizzes when they’re young; that don’t give them tests after block studies, because the teacher can’t tell whether the children know anything or not: …then we’re in big trouble, and we might as well erase [the small stream of pure Waldorf] and just do what everybody else is doing.

Speaking with teachers at the Waldorf Schüle in Stuttgart, Rudolf Steiner(6) made the following observation:

…Head knowledge can give nothing that is of value for human inner life. And herein lies the reason why we fail to come into touch with the boys and girls who have reached this all-important moment in their lives, when they should be bringing the soul and spirit into reciprocal relationship with the bodily-physical side of their nature. How are we to find the right approach to these young people, at the hour when life itself is prompting them to try to bring their soul and spirit into connection with their physical nature?….


Quoting Karl Ege(7):

…With regard to the accelerating influence of scientific technology and academic sterility upon education, Rudolf Steiner pointed out, shortly before his death, that for the future of the new school movement it would be of great importance to turn the rudder 180 degrees in the direction of the artistic and the practical. …With this in mind, we realize how – in contrast to the emphasis which is put upon the academic – the artistic and handcraft activities are far too often carried on merely as supportive and enlivening factors. It could, however, be the other way around, that they would be the starting point, and that out of such creative, self-active and practical work the elements of knowledge and scientific understanding would be developed. …This would appear to be the change of direction indicated by Rudolf Steiner as a need for the future.

An integrated curriculum which incorporates both general learning and vocational or experiential learning is not a new concept. In the early 1900s, Europe and the US gave birth to a growing movement of progressive educationalists at a time when the tendency in educational circles was to focus more on intelligence testing, cost-management and a separation of ‘intellectual’ and ‘practical’ education. Several progressive educators, other than Dr. Steiner, emphasized the importance of an education which served not only the intellect, but one which also served the needs of the emotional, artistic and creative aspects of human development.

The foremost amongst these educators was John Dewey(8),who wrote:

…our present education…. appeals for the most part simply to the intellectual aspect of our natures, our desire to learn, to accumulate information, and to get control of the symbols of learning; not to our impulses and tendencies to make, to do, to create, to produce, whether in the form of utility or art. ……if we were to introduce into educational processes the activities which appeal to those whose dominant interest is to do and make, we should find the hold of the school upon its members to be more vital, more prolonged, containing more of culture. …..If our education is to have any meaning for life, it must pass through an equally complete transformation.

Learning, involving activity or ‘Experiential Learning’(9), should not be seen as an alternative learning method, but rather one which stands on a par with any general academic/intellectual approach. This was central to deliberations at the UNESCO 2nd International Congress on Technical and Vocational Education held in Seoul in 1999(c) :

…TVE (is seen) as the “poor relation” of general education and therefore it earns little respect. The pursuit of a long general curriculum has lead young people and their parents to believe that the only worthy path is that of general education and its coveted university diplomas. Vocational education and training, seen as the refuge of those who are not smart enough for general education, is undervalued…

Education can be a very isolationistic experience for students, when what they experience in their ‘everyday lives’ does not find its mirror image within the domain of the classroom and school, and vice versa. It is important that subjects are not taught in isolation from the ‘real world’, in isolation from life, but rather that that which is taught has meaning and relevance to life.

So one question could be:

How can subjects be presented in a manner which enables all students to see their relevance to life-outside-of-school?

And a second question may ask:

How can such subjects be actively supported by a wider community than that of the class and school?

We live in an era where the interaction between school, family and community no longer exist in the forms which they did from the 19th until the mid-20th Century. As John Kretzman and John McKnight(10) observe:

Schools have tended to distance themselves from their local communities. The vital links between experience, work, and education have been weakened. As a result, schools in many urban and rural communities have lost their power as a valuable community resource.

A newcomer to the progressive schooling movement is an educational approach known as ‘place-based’ education which is generally applicable to primary and middle students and ‘community based’ education for high school students and beyond.. The main characteristics about the ‘place-based’ approach is that it first and foremost sets out to involve the students in connecting with family, community and the local region by extending the classroom out into the community. At the same time, students are afforded the opportunity for developing and experiencing hands-on, real-life experiences. Learning is centered around authentic activities which correspond directly with tasks and life in the community, and which have an evident relationship with workplaces of today and the future. This approach enables the student to far more easily see that what he/she is engaged in has a relevance to his/her own world. It is also an educational tool that is becoming increasingly popular in primary education, especially in rural communities. However, there is ample opportunity for middle and high school classes to engage in such experiential learning programs.

Place-based education is inherently multidisciplinary, incorporating integration of the core curricula activities such as humanities, social studies, sciences, mathematics, arts and physical health. This naturally requires the involvement of teachers in bridging various disciplines, as well as giving every opportunity to call upon the wider community for work-place resources and input. As the name would imply, the content is generally specific to the sociology, geography and ecology of that particular place.

Such an approach to education not only enables the student to connect with the world in a natural manner, but also to see the relevance of what they are learning, at the same time allowing them to develop an interest in and a concern for their environment, and to become contributing citizens.

The primary value of placed-based education lies in the way that it serves to strengthen students’ connections to others and to the regions in which they live. It enhances achievement, but, more importantly, it helps overcome the alienation and isolation of individuals that have become hallmarks of modernity. (Gregory Smith) (11)

Place-based education does not necessarily mean ‘environmental education’, although it has been referred to as ‘ecological education’ or ‘community-orientated education’. I tend to believe that this approach to learning is compatible with the Steiner-Waldorf approach, in that rather than having as its goal the graduation of young people who are able to function and work in our modern highly technological and consumer orientated society, the aim is instead to prepare young people to so live and work within society that their efforts will go towards sustaining the cultural heritage and ecological integrity of the region in which they lead their lives. Such an approach to education could be conceivably referred to as ‘sustainable education’.

At the UN World Summit for Sustainable Development held in 2002, it was announced that 2005 – 2014 would be the decade of ‘Education for Sustainable Development’. UNESCO sums up the ideals as follows(d):

…This represents a new vision of education, a vision that helps people of all ages better understand the world in which they live, addressing….problems such as poverty, wasteful consumption, environmental degradation, urban decay, (etc)…This vision of education emphasizes a holistic, interdisciplinary approach to developing the knowledge and skills needed for a sustainable future, as well as changes in values, behavior, and lifestyles. This requires us to orientate education systems, policies and practices in order to empower everyone, young or old, to make decisions and act in culturally appropriate and locally relevant ways to redress the problems that threaten our common future. In this way, people of all ages can become empowered to develop and evaluate alternative visions of a sustainable future and to fulfill these visions through working creatively with others.

These ideals are definitely not foreign to Steiner-Waldorf education, for some of the ideals are already very apparent in the early to middle years of the primary school curriculum, but can become increasingly lost in the later years where teaching becomes rather ‘desk, text-book and question paper’ orientated, resulting in a loss of true human interaction.

Students need to be given the opportunity to explore the World, to see the World and to become actively and intimately involved with their immediate communities and the learning process, and at the same time, being given every opportunity to reflect on their discoveries and the processes involved. The task of any teacher is to create an environment, for students of any age, which both supports and enhances their ability to learn. Whereas in the primary school, much of the instruction was ‘teacher-centered’, in the upper/high school this will necessitate a conscious shift to a more ‘student-centered’ learning style. With student-centered teaching, it is not a matter of giving the students information, facts and figures which need mastering, but rather that students be posed the questions which need to be answered.

…questions that matter, questions that students sincerely wonder about or at least those that teachers believe students wonder about once they’re posed. These are the questions which can drive exploration and learning. (Alfie Kohn) (12)

As Christopher Clouder and Martyn Rawson write(13):

…What we can impart,….is an attitude to knowledge and learning which enhances and generates genuine enthusiasm for our social and natural environment – a form of ‘moral ecology’. Life-long learning is not only a question of accumulating knowledge but is based on the ability to learn from experience…

This supports the thoughts put forward by Rudolf Steiner(14):

…The other aspect of the social pedagogical question is to prepare people to learn from life. We do not fare well in life if we view it as a rigid and foreign object. We can place ourselves correctly in life only when every moment, every day, every week, every year becomes a source of learning for our future development. Regardless of how far we go in our schooling, we will have accomplished the most if, through this schooling, we have learned how to learn from life…

Over the years UNESCO has conducted numerous studies into the effectiveness of Lifelong Education, incorporating technical and vocational learning. At the eighteenth session of the UNESCO General Conference in 1974, revised recommendations with respect to Technical and Vocational Education were adopted. Paragraph 8 of those recommendations states

In terms of the needs and aspirations of individuals, technical and vocational education should:

a) permit the harmonious development of personality and character and foster the spiritual and human values, the capacity for understanding, judgment, critical thinking and self-expression;

(b) prepare the individual to learn continuously by developing the necessary mental tools, practical skills and attitudes;

(c) develop capacities for decision-making and the qualities necessary for active and intelligent participation, teamwork and leadership at work and in the community as a whole.

As mentioned previously, vocational/experiential learning, however one wishes to label it, is not a new idea in Steiner-Waldorf circles, for we need only to look at the Hibernia Schüle in Germany which was the focus of one of UNESCO’s most thorough investigations in relation to Lifelong Learning and the effectiveness of integration of different disciplines of education. To quote from the ‘forward’ to the report(15) :

The Hibernia School attracted the attention of the Institute (UNESCO) by the exemplary way in which three major components of the curriculum, i.e. artistic, practical and academic education, are articulated. From the very first grade up to grade 13 these three major areas are given almost equal emphasis, with the result that, at the end of their time at school, every pupil is potentially qualified to enter either university or skilled technical employment.

A recent UK education department research document entitled ‘14 – 19 Reform’ (Feb. 2004) proposes greater flexibility in learning for the 14 – 19 age group, where the emphasis will be on more experiential learning components and ‘modern apprenticeships’. This could prove to be of significant interest for teachers in UK Steiner-Waldorf high schools.(e)


The education of Head (academic), Heart (artistic) and Hands (practical) is central to Steiner-Waldorf educational philosophy, and has its reflection in the philosophies of late 20th Century educational thinkers such as Paolo Freire and Jack Mezirow who maintain that how we process what we have experienced, dictates the degree to which we achieve real learning. They describe a sequence of learning events beginning with ‘experience’ which is followed by ‘reflection’ and finally culminates in ‘action’.

David Kolb(9) describes learning as a four-part process, with (1) being observation, (2) thinking, (3) feeling and (4) doing. As learners, Kolb believes that we integrate what we sense and think, with our feelings and actions.

In experiential learning, teachers and students together agree on an authentic program or project which is best suited to the learner’s interests and abilities, leaving open possibilities for working in collaboration with other students.

Any such program/project is designed to fully engage the student in initiative taking, decision making, assuming responsibility and accountability, expectations which are of course only expected when individual students have reached an appropriate stage of intellectual development, which would not generally be before grade nine. Such demands also require that the student in wholly engaged in the program/project with all the three faculties of thinking, feeling and willing.

Programs and projects should be authentic in that they reflect or correspond to real-life experiences or needs in the home, work-place or wider community The role of the teacher is to facilitate the learning experience, support the student in all aspects of the process and to ensure that the student achieves the greatest benefit from the experiences. The process would be enhanced with active collaboration not only with teachers and peers, but also with family and mentors in the community. The design of such programs/projects will inevitably require the teacher to work individually with numerous students, which in itself demands considerable commitment from the teacher.

When experiential education is combined with place-based learning, then real-life opportunities arise for working with the community or with-in the community, such as in community-based service programs/projects which may incorporate developing work-place skills, involvement in community service or pursuing work experience opportunities within the student’s particular sphere of interests. Programs/projects can also complement subject courses in the sciences, mathematics, sociology/anthropology, environmental studies, design and technology, to enumerate but a few.

A non-Steiner-Waldorf student writes:

In my community experience, I went from learning what something is, to applying it to real life. I learned why I need to know the things that I learned in math class. I had a chance to work with some neat people who let me try out things for myself. The mentor really seemed to care about me as a person, and I had fun.

Apart from the excellent work of the Hiram Trust (UK) mentioned earlier, positive action has been taken by the Rudolf Steiner School of South Devon (UK)(f) in establishing an ‘experiential learning’ program, as teacher Jenny Milne describes in a recent article(16):

…New projects are devised each year…These projects arise out of the needs of the school or directly from the curriculum, or both. The criteria are: ‘Is it needed?’ ‘Is it real, worthwhile work?’ ‘Will the children learn something of value?’ ‘Has it a social/cultural purpose?’ But ‘Can we do it?’ comes a long way down the list…

Ms Milne also gives a brief overview of some of the activities with which the students have been involved:

…class six Romans have had a taste of drain-digging and road-building, class seven mechanics have made and repaired shave-horses and pole-lathes, a class eight experienced their own industrial revolution when expected to process the flax crop that they had grown!…


The transition from class teacher in the grade school to class guardian in the high school, varies from continent to continent, often as a direct result of government legislation regarding education and which grade constitutes the start of high school.

In the UK, North America and New Zealand, high school generally commences at the end of grade eight, whilst in Australia class seven marks the beginning of high school, even though the Steiner-Waldorf class teacher may remain with the class through until the end of class eight.

Then there are the variations to be found in numerous Steiner-Waldorf schools around the world, some voluntarily making a change to class guardian at the end of grade six and using the next two years as a ‘transitional’ period. Much debate continues to take place in Steiner-Waldorf faculties on the whole question of whether or not the class teacher should finish at the end of grade seven or eight(17).

If a program with greater emphasis on experiential learning were to be introduced into the high school, perhaps commencing with grade seven; teachers would need to engage in some serious flexible lateral thinking in order to break free of the conventions which have become established within the Steiner-Waldorf classroom over many decades.

All teachers would require an intimate knowledge of and understanding for, the interrelationship of the different subject areas so as to develop a truly integrated Steiner-Waldorf curriculum. Such familiarity with the curriculum would allow for experiential components to be incorporated across a broad range of subjects.

In considering any options for practical activities, it may be wise to firstly consider those which can be managed within the context of the class group and school. Other options can be listed which would require the assistance of adults other than teachers, perhaps initially from within the school parent community, with the possibility of extending the opportunities for active mentorship from appropriate individuals within the wider community. There are always numerous retirees who are frequently willing and importantly, also available, to share their knowledge with the younger generation.

If contemplating the implementation of any curriculum change or innovation, first and foremost in our minds must be the needs of the young people in our care. Does the curriculum, but perhaps more importantly does the methodology practiced in implementing the curriculum, recognize and complement the developmental stages of a child’s development?

Towards the end of the primary school years, we see a marked change in a child’s relationship to the world. From being a trusting, receptive children of the early years, we now meet students who are beginning to question the authority of parents and teachers, and who are showing a greater interest in the wider world and how it relates to ‘who’ they are. There is an unfolding desire to participate in life. However, teachers and parents, should take care not to awaken too early the intellectual powers needed for thinking and the formation of reasoned judgments. These powers (which Steiner calls the ‘astral’ forces) needed to develop intellectual thought, are still actively at work within the pre-pubescent child up until the fourteenth or fifteenth year.

It is only after this time, that these forces will be ‘released’ for intellectual development. There will be a gradual unfolding of the ability to form ‘real’ judgments and therefore, any experiential or hands-on learning in grade seven will need to recognize the still developing intellect of the young adolescent. As mentioned earlier, it is only towards grade nine that students begin to seek answers to the inner questions of identity and responsibility towards the community, and the world at large.

For this reason, individual work which requires significant decision making on the part of the student, is best saved for the grade eight graduation projects at the earliest, when students are in their fifteenth year. Cooperative team-work on ‘group projects’ where students are able to collaborate, should be actively pursued in grade seven. Teachers and mentors will still, at this stage, have significant input into any undertakings, especially in the areas of guidance, encouragement and final decision making!.

Rudolf Steiner(18) made his thoughts very clear when he said:

…During the ages from fifteen to twenty everything to do with agriculture, trade, industry, commerce will have to be learned. No one should go through these years without acquiring some idea of what takes place in farming, commerce and industry. These subjects will be given a place as branches of knowledge infinitely more necessary than much of the rubbish which constitutes the present (Ed. public school) curriculum during these years.

An Experiential/Sustainable educational model can be of great benefit to all participants: students, teachers, parents and the community. Enthusiastic youngsters filled with active ‘life forces’, who are challenged by formality and sedentary activities of the classroom, will find renewed enthusiasm for learning if given the opportunity to actively involve themselves in the learning process, rather than just passively listening to, and hopefully retaining, something of what is proffered to them!!

Schools and teachers have the opportunity to enliven the Steiner-Waldorf curriculum and to focus more on the arts, crafts and practical hands-on experiential syllabus in the high school. Art is well integrated into most lessons, but there is a need for practical orientated activities to also become a ‘norm’ in the lessons. I do not subscribe to the idea that all practical activities should be limited to those of a ‘craft’ nature. We live in the 21st century and all of us utilize the wonderful technology which this age offers us. It follows that older students also need to have the opportunity to work with the current tools used in modern industry and commerce, which of necessity include access to computer technology and other forms of electronic equipment, all of which are an integral part of the lives of teachers, parents and students.

Enlivening the Curriculum’ as discussed on the previous pages, will only enhance the wholistic, broad-based curriculum which is already offered by Steiner-Waldorf schools and teachers. The developmental needs of the maturing student would be better catered for and results of such experiential education has shown beyond doubt, in other educational sectors, that student’s application and participation in the entire learning process, has been considerably influence for the better by the change in teaching techniques. Other benefits are also apparent such as the resultant positive effect which this active learning has upon the social interaction and general behavior of adolescent youth,.

There is absolutely no reason for losing any of the high quality content of the vast subject areas covered in the Steiner-Waldorf curriculum. Incorporating more ‘Will’ activity into lessons where students feel that they are an active participant in the learning process, will only add to what is already a rich experience for all concerned. Maybe restlessness and inattentiveness in the classroom will become a fading memory!! All very good reasons for introducing such methodology into Steiner-Waldorf schools!! Maybe it is time to make paper aeroplanes out of worksheets and questions papers, and to recycle the text-books and teach the creative art of paper making instead!!!

Today we must learn to let people participate in life; and if we organize education so that people are able to participate in life, at the same time setting to work on education economically, you will find that we are really able to help human beings to form a living culture. This, too, will enable anyone with an inclination towards handicraft to take advantage of the education for life that begins about the fourteenth year… Rudolf Steiner (18)


We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

(Four Quartets)


Experiential Activities

Grade Seven – a few suggestions:

Integrated subjects

(not directly related to subject areas in left hand column)

Woodwork – integrated with:

Industrial Revolution

make wooden ‘spindles’ for spinning wool

Design & Technology make simple wooden spinning wheel
Physics (mechanics) make (small) weaving frames (looms)
Physics (acoustics) lyre making (pentatonic)
Mathematics (measurement) make moveable wooden toys
Ecology (timber)

Crafts – integrated with:

Industrial Revolution shear a sheep
Design & Technology carding wool and spinning
Biology (botany) collect plants for dying wool
Chemistry dying
Physics (mechanics) make simple weaving loom for Grades one/two
simple weaving

Horticulture – integrated with:

Environmental studies soil testing (alkaline/acid)
Chemistry (combustion) tree propagation/grafting/pruning
Biology (botany) organic gardening: composts
Health & Hygiene cultivation of culinary herbs (and their uses)
English (biographies – Rachel Carson or others) water quality

Marine – integrated with:

Health & Hygiene (Phys. Ed.) swimming/snorkeling
Wood/Metalwork boat maintenance
Physics (mechanics) conservation of marine species
Biology (marine) seaweed and its uses
Environmental studies

Information Technology – integrated with:

Physics (electricity) solar power
Environmental studies wind power

Industrial Technology – integrated with:

Physics (mechanics) bicycle maintenance
Chemistry (combustion) ‘lye’ and soap manufacture

Grade Eight – a few suggestions:

Integrated subjects

(not directly related to subject areas in left hand column)

Woodwork – integrated with:

Ecology (timber) make a ‘green pole’ lathe
Design & Technology make a more complicated loom
Physics (mechanics) make a simple spinning wheel
Math (measurement) joinery – learn basic joints/ make useful items
make wooden desks

Crafts – integrated with:

Design & Technology clothing design and manufacture
Biology (botany) collect willow
Metallurgy make willow baskets
copper beating

Horticulture – integrated with:

Environmental studies soil  testing (alkaline/acid)
Chemistry (food chemistry) food testing (sugars etc.)
Chemistry production of bio-fuel
Biology (botany) cultivation of nutritional foods
Health & Hygiene native foods
Horticulture cultivate medical herb garden

Marine – integrated with:

Health & Hygiene (phys. ed.) swimming/snorkeling
Environment conservation of marine species
Biology (marine) seaweed and its uses

Environment – integrated with:

Climatology build and run a weather station
Health & Hygiene research/make a healthy ‘sunscreen’ cream/lotion
Environment stream/water watch program
Ecology water recycling – use of ‘grey’ water
Biology (botany) design and construct a water ‘flow form’
Physics (mechanics) install a water driven pump
build a ‘frog’ pond to conserve species
conserve native plant species

Information Technology – integrated with:

 Physics (electricity) solar power:
Environment wind power: communication system (phone)

Industrial Technology – integrated with:

Physics (mechanics) convert a diesel engine to run on bio-fuel
Environment design and build a small wind generator to produce enough electricity to charge a battery

In addition and beyond class eight

The preceding lists are definitely not definitive in content. There are many more areas of practical, hands-on opportunities which lend themselves to experiential learning.

In class eight these could include the end of year class play, often traditionally a Shakespeare production. Whatever the choice, it opens up a myriad opportunities for student participation in overall production, from costume and set design; stage lighting; sound engineering; advertising; treasurer; catering for guests; etc.

Grade eight ‘individual’ projects where students are required to complete a project outside of school. One criteria being that they acquire a ‘new’ skill and work with a mentor (other than a parent!!).

In class eight and beyond there is every opportunity for developing skills in ‘public speaking’, commencing with the class eight project presentations to parents and guests


In the social sphere, students could undertake practical tasks within the school and wider communities, e.g. working with the aged – making music; reading; shopping; gardening, etc. Working with ‘children’s groups’ e.g. sports clubs, etc.

Charitable work – involvement with a specific charity for the year with an aim to raise a specific amount of money from class/school efforts. Preferably through truly practical efforts and not via the standard ‘re-sell’ of bought items, such as pizzas, biscuits and chocolates!! Requires the development of organizational and business skills.

Think and act ‘globally’ – especially in grade nine.

Work with community based organizations in restoring native habitat or to transform derelict land into community recreation area.

Business Management

Manage a small business enterprise as in the manufacture and sale of items for charitable purposes.

Grow and sell market produce.

Develop computer technology skills and set-up computer repair business.

Set-up a recycling enterprise.

Many of the above receive government support and encouragement in Australia under the ‘Commonwealth’s Enterprise and Career Education Program’ (2002)(g)


It would be impossible to give a comprehensive list of all the possibilities which are just waiting for teachers to discover and implement with their students.



Reference Sources

1. ‘Millennial Child – Transforming Education in the Twenty-first Century’, Eugene Schwartz (1999)

2. ‘A Path of Discovery’,  Eric K.Fairman
Resource Material for Steiner-Waldorf Grade School Teachers, Vols. 1 – 8/Grades 1 – 8

3. ‘Educating through Arts and Crafts’ (1999), edited by Martyn Rawson

4. ‘Conferences with the Teachers of the Waldorf School in Stuttgart’ (1919-1920), Rudolf Steiner

5. ‘The Changing Face of Waldorf Education’,  Eugene Schwartz

6. ‘Supplementary Course – The Upper School’ (1921),  Rudolf Steiner

7. ‘An Evident Need of our Times’ (1979), Karl Ege

8. ‘The School and Society’ (1915), John Dewey

9. ‘Experiential Learning: Experience as the Source of Learning and Development’ (1984), David Kolb

10. ‘Building Communities from the Inside Out’ (1993), John Kretzman and John McKnight

11. ‘Place-based Education: Learning to Be Where We Are’ (2002), Gregory Smith

12. ‘The Schools Our Children Deserve – Moving Beyond Traditional Classrooms and ‘Tougher Standards’’ (1999), Alfie Kohn

13. ‘Waldorf Education’ (1998), Christopher Clouder, Martyn Rawson

14. ‘The Spirit of the Waldorf School’ – Rudolf Steiner
Lectures surrounding the Founding Of the First Waldorf School, Stuttgart – 1919 (1920)

15. ‘Integrating Vocational and General Education: A Rudolf Steiner School’ (UNESCO 1979), Georg Rist, Peter Schneider

16. ‘But When Do They Do Their Lessons?’, Jenny Milne
article in: Steiner Education Vol 36 # 1, ‘Experiential Learning

17. ‘Did Rudolf Steiner Want a Seven-Grade Elementary School Configuration?’, Mark Riccio
(‘Renewal’ 2002. Vol.7/#1)

18. ‘The Social Basis of Education’ (1919), Rudolf Steiner
(Three lectures)

WWW Links:

a. Hiram Trust:

b. Waldorf College Project:

c. UNESCO (Seoul) Conference:

d. UNESCO – Education for SustainableDevelopment:

e. DfES (UK) – 14 – 19 Reform (Tomlinson report) 17. Feb. 2004:

f. Rudolf Steiner School of South Devon:

g. The Enterprising School:

by Earl J. Ogletree

(Reprinted with kind permission from Steiner Education, Vol.24, No.2  – 1990)

In this hurry-up society, can anything wait? Apparently not, when it comes to determining the appropriate time your children should begin formal schooling. The majority of schools, internationally, use the traditional criterion of age, divorced from concerns for their developmental needs. Little, if any, consideration is given to the maturational-readiness of the entering child. On the other hand, there are a minority of educational institutions that have taken the time to examine the research on the developmental needs of children and have incorporated it into their psychology of learning and curriculum.

The former type of school embraces a psychometric philosophy/psychology in which certain assumptions are made about the learner. These include such ideas as: 1) a child’s thinking is not developmental, but static; 2) his abilities are measurable; 3) learning is automatically transferable; 4) learning is governed by a set of principles (e.g., decoding whole vs. part; intermittent reinforcement, etc.) and 5) knowledge is acquired, detached from the process of acquiring it. Jerome Bruner, a nationally-known educator, summarizes an unsubstantiated psychometric viewpoint that “any subject can be taught effectively in some intellectually honest form to any child at any stage of development.”1 The resulting goal is to produce children who score high in achievement tests.

One sees this reflected in the current testing mania in American public schools, expedited by the national school reform movement, and the tripartite schools in Europe for generations. US teachers are asking themselves, when do we find the time to teach?

Those schools that have adopted a developmental psychology to learning have a different view of the learner: 1) the child has developing mental abilities that unfold in stages, 2) learning is a creative process; 3) the learner is engaged in the process of acquiring knowledge and cognition is not automatic, but a process initiated by the learner. The aim of education is to nurture the learner’s development by the creation of a conducive learning environment. Unfortunately, research on child development and the facts on school readiness, and the adverse effect of early formal schooling, have and are being ignored by educators and policy makers for traditional, political and social reasons. As a consequence, psychometric psychology dominates the thinking of educators, while development psychology is given only lip service. What does research say about the psychometric versus the developmental approach to education? The issue revolves not so much as to entrance age, but the type of education children receive in school, i.e., whether learning instruction is forced, formal and intellectual or whether it is based on their maturational needs and unique styles of learning. David Elkind, professor and a national authority on child study, says:

The miseducation of young children, so prevalent in the United States today (and traditionally so in Europe in their tripartite educational systems in England, France Germany, etc.), ignores the well founded and noncontroversial differences between early childhood education and formal education.2

Studies show that induced cognitive learning before a child is maturationally ready will reduce his learning potential. Keister found that although pre-six year olds made normal progress in reading, it disappeared over the summer months, and they appeared to have a reading deficiency in the later elementary grades.3 A recent meta-analysis of the research by Uphoff and Gilmore substantiates that the damaging consequences of schooling for children who are not developmentally ready may continue throughout their school careers.4

Another possible symptom of induced learning is that children are currently being diagnosed and misclassified by teachers and special educators as “Attention Deficit Disordered” (ADD), marked primarily by restlessness, impulsiveness and inattentiveness under the subcategories of hyperactivity and learning disability.5 ADD children will soon be classified as handicapped. Although special educators have not related the symptoms of ADD with stress and premature schooling, Elkind and others have diagnosed the origin of ADD with forcing the immature child to: 1) learn narrow categories of intellectual information, 2) be separate from its parents, 3) adapt to an unfamiliar environment — teachers and children, and 4) learn school rules and regulations.6 As a result the child is overwhelmed by the many demands made on him. In the preschool years the child sees things globally, not in narrow categories or analytically. It is not until about the seventh year or later that the child begins moving through a series of developmental stages in which he gains a concrete then symbolic understanding of the world and his experiences, according to Jean Piaget.

A substantial body of research shows children should not begin formal academic instruction until 7, 8 or even 11 years of age. Rowher’s investigations demonstrated that formal instruction, containing abstract content, could and should be delayed until the early adolescent years.7 Moore and Moore recommended that late starters should skip the first grade and start formal schooling in the second or third grade with their chronological peers.8 However, chronological age is not always a reliable index of school readiness. For instance, a child’s intersensory development — sight and hearing — is not fully developed until age 8 or later. Before age 7 a child has perceptual difficulties; he often cannot distinguish visually between b and d and q and p. He cannot hear the difference between b and d; and m and n; g and k; s and z, etc.9 Anthropometric studies of the physical and motor maturity of first graders showed that unsuccessful  pupils had lower maturation levels than their successful peers.10

Morency and Wepman suggested that children who are not neurophysiologically ready (maturity of the central nervous system — auditorily, visually and who possess intersensory coordination) will not only not do well in a traditional classroom but will probably not catch up to their more mature peers. Full perceptual processing ability may not occur until age 9. 11 Visual development, e.g., the ability to decode letters, shapes and words serially, essential to most reading programs, occurs later than auditory development.12 Most young children learn more effectively through aural as opposed to visual presentation, which doesn’t mature until after the third grade.13 Academic disabilities, in many cases, are the result of forcing children to learn sensorial-dependent information before they are perceptually ready.

Moore and Moore, in Better Late Than Early, developed a holistic index to identify school readiness. Their “Integrated Maturity Index” takes into account: 1) chronological age, accumulation of experiences, 2) cognitive ability, understanding of experiences, 3) acquired knowledge and the use of language, 4) physical development and anthropometric maturity, 5) perceptual discrimination, and 6) a readiness to read, together with other related factors. 14 Others consider a child ready for formal schooling when the co-ordinated integration of these readiness factors reach their optimum level of maturation; then the child is ready, motivated and less stressed, and less overwhelmed by school than his less mature classmates. This stage is generally not reached until ages 8-10 by most children. A recent analysis of the findings of educators and child development specialists supports the importance of maturity as a key predictor of school  readiness.  They recommended a transitional-readiness program for immature first graders.15

Child developmental research suggests that forcing a child to learn a skill or to master a subject before he is  maturationally ready is ineffective and inefficient. It takes him longer to learn it, and the learning is less complete. As indicated, formal-instructional preschool programs are not the most propitious way of preparing children for school. A longitudinal study comparing the effects of parental education vs. preschool experience on children’s later verbal ability found that although preschool experience was a significant predictor of verbal achievement scores, its power was insignificant when compared with the mother’s influence.16 Even with socially-disadvantaged children, the initial gains of improved intellectual capacity, I.e., higher IQ scores, were not sustained beyond the second grade. Although they did appear to have improved scholastically and reduced the frequency of special education placement. Moore, et. al. in School Can Wait concluded that the need for academic instruction in the early years “is open to question since no conclusive evidence suggests lasting effects of preschool instruction.”17 Seven and 8 year olds can learn the material with much greater efficiency and far less stress and frustration. Children who begin reading at age 6, one year ahead of their class peers, are often one year behind them in reading achievement at the end of the seventh grade.18 Not only do later school beginners surpass those who started school at an earlier age, but the latter group seems to have greater emotional and social adjustment problems.19

A national study of the school success of 300 children who entered school from two to five years later than the required entrance age of six or younger, showed that they had no difficulty completing elementary school at the same age as the early entrees. Other studies show that late starters quickly catch up and sometimes pass their early and regular starter peers. The former group, according to Moore, “generally excels in behavior, sociability and leadership.” Can one infer from this that the number of years spent in school affect children’s behavior and attitudes? Earlier international and national studies on pupil achievement found concomitant outcomes that “the earlier children went to school, the more negative their attitudes toward school.”20 Chicago suburban primary grade (1-3) teachers report that children who attended an instructional-type preschool and kindergarten were bored, “burned out”, “turned-off” by the second or third grade. Also the grade retention rate for immature learners is higher than that of older learners.21

Forced learning can cause frustration, anxiety, alienation and loss of interest in learning. The learning is not only inefficient and stressful, but research indicates a resultant lowering of learning capacity.

In The Hurried Child, Elkind adds that hurrying children into academics to acknowledge individual differences . . . “before they have the requisite mental capabilities” may cause them to see themselves as failures and worthless. A series of unsuccessful school experiences can lead to an inferiority complex, a lack of control over one’s life or environment, “a learned helplessness”.22 Pressure on children to learn before they are ready is very stressful. There is what Elkind calls a depletion of “clock energy” — the energy we need for daily living. The ‘ ‘early symptoms of stress associated with clock energy” are fatigue, loss of appetite and decreased efficiency.23 When pressure and the subsequent anxiety are unremittant, e.g. notable to keeping up with school work or failing, children then use up their reserve of “calendar energy” (energy that is of a fixed quality for physical growth and maintenance of the body, etc.). The resultant psychosomatic ailments can be “headaches, stomachaches, etc.” as well as making the children unhappy and depressed. Rudolf Steiner, founder of the Waldorf school movement, arrived at the same conclusion over seven decades ago:

If we force intellectual powers in the child we arrest growth . . . certain organic processes that tend inwardly to harden the body are brought into play.24

In a later lecture, he added:

 If we force intellectual powers in the child we arrest growth, but we liberate the forces of growth if we approach the intellect by the way of art.25

A student of Steiner and a medical doctor stated:

 Any disturbance or change in the etheric (energy) forces during the formative years of childhood will have an impact  on the emotional and intellectual constitution of the child. The metamorphosis of the etheric (energy) forces from physical development to emotional-cognitive development can be accelerated or retarded. There is a delicate balance between the two functions (physical and mental development) of the etheric (energy) forces.26

This latter concept of energy forces, now being arrived at by Elkind and perhaps other educators, suggests the beginning of and a need for deeper insight into child development. Just as one cannot maintain a garden without understanding the nutritional and sustenance needs of plants and flowers, one cannot help children develop without insight into their developmental needs.

It is truly surprising that our western industrialized society, based on scientific research, technology and expert knowledge, has blatantly ignored the research on child development and education. Nevertheless, child development research is clear as to the limited benefits of formal, induced learning on the achievement, learning and cognitive attainment of preschool and elementary school children. Whatever gains they may accrue are outweighed by the harm done to their self concept, health, emotional and intellectual development.

Therefore, the popular psychometric approach to education, with its intellectual heavy-handedness, will never allow children to develop and blossom naturally. It can only do damage, making children into premature, unhappy adults. Education must begin looking at the dynamic needs of the growing child and the voluminous research undergirding the maturational-readiness approach to educating children.

Our conventional psychometric approach to education of pouring knowledge into the child and “fitting him into a curriculum” that is foreign to his nature must cease. We must replace it with a developmental approach, one which examines the needs of the child and how and why he develops as he does. Then what we need is to develop a  curriculum and methods compatible with his unfolding and developing stages of growth. Waldorf education appears to have developed an educational program that includes both of these elements.



When this article was written, Earl Ogletree was a professor in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction at Chicago State University, Illinois.



1. Bruner, J. The Process of Education, Harvard Press, Cambridge, Mass. 1960.

2. Elkind, D. “An Essential Difference” in Taking Sides, ed. Noll. J.M. Duskin Publ. Group 1987. p. 221.

3. Keister, B.V. “Reading Skills Acquired by five years’ old children,” Elementary School Journal, Vol. 41, 1941, pp. 587-96.

4. Uphoff, J. K. and Gilmore, J. “Viewpoint 2, Pupil Age at School Entrance — How Many are Ready for Success?” Young Children, Vol. 41, No.2, Jan. 1986, pp. 11-16.

5. “School Inattention and Attention Deficit Disorder: A Legal Analysis,” Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association, New Orleans, LA. April 21-24, 1988.

6. Elkind, op. cit., p. 219.

7. Rohwer, W. D. “Prime Time for Education: Early Childhood or Adolescence?” Harvard Education Review, Vol. 41, 1971, pp. 316-41.

8. Moore R. S. and Moore R. D. “Dangers of Early Schooling,” Harper’s Magazine, Vol. 245. 1972, pp. 58-62.

9. Cole, L. The Improvement of Reading with Special Reference to Remedial Instruction, Farrar and Rinehart, N.Y. 1938, pp. 282-84.

10. Simon, M.D. “Body Configuration and School Readiness,” Child Development, Vol. 30, 1959, pp. 493-512.

11. Morency A. Wepman, J. M. “Early Perceptual Ability and Later School Achievement”, Elementary School Journal, Vol. 73, 1973, pp. 323-27.

12. Morency, A. “Auditory Modality, Research and Practice.” In Perception and Reading, ed. Smith, H.K. International Reading Asociation, Newark, Del. 1968. pp. 17-21.

13. Stanners, R.F. and Solo, D.H. “Developmental changes in the Recognition of Beginning Segments of English Words,” Journal of Education Psychology, Vol. 58. 1967, pp. 273-77.

14. Moore. R.S. and Moore, D.N. Better Late Than Early, Readers Digest Press. N.Y. 1975. and Moore R.S.. School Can Wait, Brigham Young University Press, Utah 1979

15. Freisen, D. “Too Much, Too Soon? Principal Vol. 63, No. 4, March 1984, pp. 14-18.

16. Helmich E “The Effectiveness of Preschool for Children for Low-Income Families; A Review of the Literature”, Illinois State Board of Education. Springfield, 111. 1985, p. 15.

17. Moore, School Can Wait, op.cit., p. 120.

18. David H M.. “Don’t Push Your School beginners,” Parent’s Magazine, October, 1952, pp. 140, 141; and Carter L B “The Effects of Early School Entrance on the Scholastic Achievement of Elementary School Children in Austin Public Schools.” Journal of Educational Research, October, 1956. pp. 91-103.

19. Moore, School Can Wait, op.cit., p. 120.

20. Rohwer. op.cit, p. 320.

21. National Assessment of Educational Progress, Commission of the States. Denver. Colo. 1982. p. 182.

22. Elkind, D., The Hurried Child, Addison-Wesley. Reading. Pa. 1981. pp. 153-59.

23. Elkind. op.cit., p. 219.

24. Steiner. Rudolf. The New Art of Education (London: Anthroposophical Press, 1928), pp. 79-80.

25. Steiner. R. The Modem Art of Education, Rudolf Steiner Press, London. 1972. p. 112.

26. Sieweke. H. Anthroposophisches Medizin, Philosophisch Anthroposophisches Verlag. Switzerland 1959. pp. 142-44.

Our Story (edited version)

She was ready, I knew it. She turned 6 in September, could already read very well, add and subtract. She could jump, follow directions and loved learning. She had lost five teeth. She was definitely ready. I was sure. I also knew it was a year early, that she couldn’t tie her shoes, finger knit or ride a bike. Her behavior was difficult, her demeanor somewhat angry. However, everyone in my life kept saying, “that behavior goes along with being gifted, you must jump in and teach her or you’ll miss the boat.”

They were wrong. And so was I.

She flew through first grade, as well as some of second, and I can say that yes, she is very bright. She also fought me most of the way. I can also say unequivocally that denying her that last year before age 7 to just be a kid, play and have fun, did a lot more harm than knowing second grade math at age 6 will ever do good.

She was moody, tearful, mad and unsure of herself. She wanted so much to please and do everything right, that she became tense, nervous and angry. Life was something of a nightmare when she was having an off day. It was affecting all of us, and it wasn’t good for any of us. I did a lot of thinking about it, and in the back of my mind was the idea that it was too much, too soon.

So I stopped. She knew enough academically, that was for sure. But she still couldn’t ride a bike, tie her shoes, or relax in a group. So I stopped doing “schoolwork” of any kind, and I just let her play. I read to her, we drew, played outside and sang songs while we made lunch. She spent an entire day playing in the mud. We all smiled a lot more, and it was good. Her older sister and I started having a lot of fun playing too, a very nice unexpected side effect.

I was amazed at what happened next. I had hoped that she would mellow a little, but I never expected that she would pick up some yarn and finally master finger knitting, that she would learn to sew, that she would spend hours every day creating play scenes and washing doll clothes, mostly self directed. She even breathes more calmly when we rock at bedtime. I am so glad that I was at least able to give her this time, even though I have stolen some of that year from her.

I have promised myself that I will never stress her out like that again, and one of the beautiful things about Waldorf education is that I wont have to in order to stay on track. The sequence of the curricula is timeless, and it can be used so creatively that it can meet a child where the child is, without pushing her forward, or holding her back.

Last night she tied her shoes.

She turns seven in September.

NOW she’s ready.

And we both can’t wait to begin first grade!

by Alicia Benoit-Clark

Studies indicate that children who start school too soon can experience a number of difficulties. Researchers James Uphoff and June Gilmore found that children who started first grade under six years three months tended to have greater difficulties than older children in the classes. These younger children tended not to do well in their grades or on their scores on standardized tests. They tended to repeat a grade more often and showed signs of learning disabilities more frequently. The academic problems of the younger children often lasted right into adolescence and adulthood. The findings of Uphoff and Gilmore make us aware of the seriousness in determining first grade readiness.

And Uphoff and Gilmore are not alone in their findings. National Public Radio’s All Things Considered recently reported on a growing national concern:

The old expression goes: ‘You’re never too old to learn.’ But maybe there’s such a thing as being too young… Child development experts now are saying that too much, too early, does not give your child a head start, and that being on the fast track may even do harm… Learning for children comes naturally, and when children are ready to learn, you can’t stop them. But it has again to do with that word ‘readiness’, and readiness is an individual matter.

There are signs you can look for to know if a child is ready for first grade. In the physical realm, the first grade child’s limbs are now in proportion with the body and head. There is a loss of baby fat and greater definition in the face. In the emotional realm the young child who once expressed strong emotions through sudden outbursts now has feelings that begin to deepen. A child will talk of “hurt feelings” and being sad. Socially, the first grade ready child begins to form friendships which go deeper than before. The child feels loyalty for friends and often expresses the desire to be with them.

In the mental realm, there is the birth of free memory. This is different than the memory of a four year old. The younger childs memory must be triggered by a sight, smell, or rhythmic verse. When the memory is freed around age six or seven the child can find the memory and recall at will.

Along with memory, children begin to develop a capacity to understand symbolic concepts. Richard Cohen studies how children learn at a special research kindergarten run by UCLA’s School of Education:
“Kids learn through their experiences. They’re not able to sit back and think symbolically, the way we like to think most of us are able to do. So most children under the age of 6 or 7 learn best by handling and manipulating real objects, and experiencing real things. They need to explore their world for a long time before they can begin to attach symbols or concepts to things.”

Another mental change is in the realm of imagination, which is different than fantasy. Fantasy play requires props. Imagination is born when a child does not need physical objects to see the play in their minds. They are happy just to sit and play with visions in their heads. First grade ready children become interested in language arts and mathematics. They love to play with words, make rhymes or change words in songs and verses.

Joan Almon, in her article, Education for Creative Thinking: The Waldorf Approach, relates a story from the childhood of the well-known Viennese kindergarten teacher Bronja Zahlingen:

As a child, she loved to play with small objects on a deep window seat in her bedroom. She would create a scene with little dolls and houses and play with them for long periods of time. She remembers that one day, when she was about six years old, she set up a scene as usual but then closed her eyes and played ‘inside’. Imagination had been born, and she was able to participate in her play in a new way.

Almon uses this story to point up the essential reason why the academic subjects must wait for the development of this inner imagination, and why imagination should be a central pillar of the first grade curriculum:

The development of imagination is an essential step in thinking, but where the development of fantasy has been curtailed, the development of imagination also suffers. Without imagination, one cannot picture an event in history, a verbal problem in mathematics, or the characters of a book. To approach academic subjects without imagination is a dull affair at best, and it is not surprising that children who are being educated without benefit of imagination at the elementary level find learning so uninteresting. Their newborn imagination is not being fed and nourished. Those who have been asked to master academics at the kindergarten level may suffer an even deeper problem, for in them imagination may be aborted before being born. There are indications that children who learn to read before age six or seven lose their early advantages, for they lose interest in reading and may eventually suffer burnout. This is not surprising when one thinks of how dull reading and learning are without the benefit of imagination to bring them alive. In contrast, in my experience, the children who are the best players in the kindergarten and have the most active fantasy tend to become the most imaginative elementary pupils with the greatest interest in reading. They also tend to be the best-adjusted emotionally, both as children and even as adolescents and adults.

As the first grade ready child leaves the world of fantasy and enters the world of imagination, she or he also leaves the world of imitation and enters the world of authority. The child looks to the adult for direction and as one who “knows.” David Elkind, a psychologist and president of the National Association for the Education of Young Children, points out some of the implications of this belief in adult authority:

I think we don’t appreciate it fully, but when we ask a child to, say, perform in reading or math and he’s not prepared to do that, he blames himself. He thinks, here’s an adult, adults know everything, they understand everything, if they’re telling me to do this, then I should be able to do it, and if I’m not able to do it, there’s something wrong with me. So they blame themselves, and if we expose them to inappropriate learning experiences at that age, then they blame themselves for not learning, and that inhibits the whole learning process and their self-esteem and so on. So it’s a very critical period for learning attitudes about oneself, about school, and about learning. And if we don’t give children opportunities to really succeed, to feel good about themselves in the learning environment, then one risk is long-term problems with learning, schooling, and self-esteem.

One can also sometimes look to children’s drawings to find a developmental readiness for first grade; drawings of people with reasonably realistic proportions, complete and upright houses, and symmetrical drawings all tend to indicate the degree of maturity needed for first grade. An additional area to look at is the child’s degree of sexual awareness. This is the age when children show an interest in each other’s bodies.

Joan Almon, in the Waldorf Kindergarten Association’s booklet, First Grade Readiness and Related Issues, concludes:

When all these changes are thoughtfully considered, one usually feels strongly that a child is either ready for first grade or needs to wait another year. Sometimes, however, the situation is less clear and in such cases my rule of thumb has been that if I am not certain, it is better to let the child wait, simply because when a child is ready it is so evident. Occasionally, though, one also needs to consider the relationship of the child to his classmates who are going on to first grade, or the relationship of the child to the first grade teacher. There can be the rare exception where the child is not quite ready to go on but life circumstances dictate that it is best for the child to move forward…

In countries such as Scandinavia, which use age seven as the normal age for first grade, readiness is not a major issue… Where age six is used, however, the likelihood of unreadiness is so great, and the price paid by the child so enormous, that one needs to be well versed about first grade readiness in order to make the best decision for the child… In the final analysis, it is knowing the child at the deepest levels that guides parents and teachers towards the right decision for that child. One hopes the child’s angel is whispering in our ear and that we are listening carefully.

Alicia Benoit-Clark has taught special education in public schools for a number of years. She is now a morning garden (pre-kindergarten) teacher at the Green Mountain Waldorf School and at her own Waldorf-inspired playgroup in Walden.
Head, Heart, Hands: A Waldorf Family Newsletter is published as a free community service and promotional effort by the Green Mountain Waldorf School, a Vermont licensed daycare and elementary school for age 3 through grade 6.
This article may be freely reproduced as long as it is not modified and this notice is included.

by The Alliance for Childhood

(Reprinted with kind permission from the Alliance for Childhood, this is the executive summary of a 99 page report)

Computers are reshaping children’s lives, at home and at school, in profound and unexpected ways. Common sense suggests that we consider the potential harm, as well as the promised benefits, of this change.

Computers pose serious health hazards to children. The risks include repetitive stress injuries, eyestrain, obesity, social isolation, and, for some, long-term physical, emotional, or intellectual developmental damage. Our children, the Surgeon General warns, are the most sedentary generation ever. Will they thrive spending even more time staring at screens?

Children need stronger personal bonds with caring adults. Yet powerful technologies are distracting children and adults from each other.

Children also need time for active, physical play; hands-on lessons of all kinds, especially in the arts; and direct experience of the natural world. Research shows these are not frills but are essential for healthy child development. Yet many schools have cut already minimal offerings in these areas to shift time and money to expensive, unproven technology. The emphasis on technology is diverting us from the urgent social and educational needs of low-income children. M.I.T. Professor Sherry Turkle has asked: “Are we using computer technology not because it teaches best but because we have lost the political will to fund education adequately?”

Let’s examine the claims about computers and children more closely:

Do computers really motivate children to learn faster and better?

Children must start learning on computers as early as possible, we are told, to get a jump-start on success. But 30 years of research on educational technology has produced just one clear link between computers and children’s learning. Drill-and-practice programs appear to improve scores modestly – though not as much or as cheaply as one-on-one tutoring – on some standardized tests in narrow skill areas, notes Larry Cuban of Stanford University. “Other than that,” says Cuban, former president of the American Educational Research Association, “there is no clear, commanding body of evidence that students’ sustained use of multimedia machines, the Internet, word processing, spreadsheets, and other popular applications has any impact on academic achievement.”

What is good for adults and older students is often inappropriate for youngsters. The sheer power of information technologies may actually hamper young children’s intellectual growth. Face-to-face conversation with more competent language users, for example, is the one constant factor in studies of how children become expert speakers, readers, and writers. Time for real talk with parents and teachers is critical. Similarly, academic success requires focused attention, listening, and persistence.

The computer – like the TV – can be a mesmerizing babysitter. But many children, overwhelmed by the volume of data and flashy special effects of the World Wide Web and much software, have trouble focusing on any one task. And a new study from the American Association of University Women Educational Foundation casts doubt on the claim that computers automatically motivate learning. Many girls, it found, are bored by computers. And many boys seem more interested in violence and video games than educational software.

Must five-year-olds be trained on computers today to get the high-paying jobs of tomorrow?

For a relatively small number of children with certain disabilities, technology offers benefits. But for the majority, computers pose health hazards and potentially serious developmental problems. Of particular concern is the growing incidence of disabling repetitive stress injuries among students who began using computers in childhood.

The technology in schools today will be obsolete long before five-year-olds graduate. Creativity and imagination are prerequisites for innovative thinking, which will never be obsolete in the workplace. Yet a heavy diet of ready-made computer images and programmed toys appears to stunt imaginative thinking. Teachers report that children in our electronic society are becoming alarmingly deficient in generating their own images and ideas.

Do computers really “connect” children to the world?

Too often, what computers actually connect children to are trivial games, inappropriate adult material, and aggressive advertising. They can also isolate children, emotionally and physically, from direct experience of the natural world. The “distance” education they promote is the opposite of what all children, and especially children at risk, need most – close relationships with caring adults.

Research shows that strengthening bonds between teachers, students, and families is a powerful remedy for troubled students and struggling schools. Overemphasizing technology can weaken those bonds. The National Science Board reported in 1998 that prolonged exposure to computing environments may create “individuals incapable of dealing with the messiness of reality, the needs of community building, and the demands of personal commitments.”

In the early grades, children need live lessons that engage their hands, hearts, bodies, and minds – not computer simulations. Even in high school, where the benefits of computers are more clear, too few technology classes emphasize the ethics or dangers of online research and communication. Too few help students develop the critical skills to make independent judgments about the potential for the Internet – or any other technology – to have negative as well as positive social consequences.

Those who place their faith in technology to solve the problems of education should look more deeply into the needs of children. The renewal of education requires personal attention to students from good teachers and active parents, strongly supported by their communities. It requires commitment to developmentally appropriate education and attention to the full range of children’s real low-tech needs – physical, emotional, and social, as well as cognitive.
© The Alliance for Childhood

The Alliance for Childhood is an international partnership of individuals and organizations committed to fostering and respecting each child’s inherent right to a healthy, developmentally appropriate childhood. Members include prominent educators, psychologists and researchers. For more information, visit their website:

by William Ward

(Reprinted with kind permission of the author from Renewal, Vol. 10, No. 1, Spring-Summer 2001)

Waldorf schools seek to cultivate positive human values of compassion, reverence for life, respect, cooperation, love of nature, interest in the world, and social conscience, as well as to develop cognitive, artistic and practical skills. The soul life of the child is affirmed and nourished as the ground for healthy, active thinking. Because of this, Waldorf schools sometimes are mistakenly perceived as religious, or, in particular, as Christian schools. Nevertheless, parents of various religious views and ethical philosophies – Catholics, Jews, Buddhists, Protestants, Sufis, Muslims, eclectic seekers, and agnostics – choose Waldorf Education for their children. They do so knowing that Waldorf schools are based on a spiritual view of the human being and of the world. However, no religion, including Christianity, is promulgated in a Waldorf school.

The inspiration for Waldorf Education arises from a worldview or philosophy called Anthroposophy. This broad body of research, knowledge, and experience holds a spiritual view of human nature and development. It sees the human being as more than a culturally conditioned, genetically determined, biological organism. Instead, Anthroposophy maintains that each individual human being has a spiritual core, or “I,” and that this I is in a continuous process of becoming, of evolving in freedom through spiritual activity toward ever greater self-knowledge. With the gradual awakening of the I, a corresponding awareness of the spiritual wisdom within the created universe arises in the soul. The anthroposophical worldview understands the historical evolution of consciousness in many cultures as the background for each individual’s path of self-discovery.

The fundamental tone of this worldview – which is not a religion – is in harmony with many world religions and philosophies. It stands in opposition, however, to the powerful, contemporary cultural currents based on materialism. In our culture a form of psychological conditioning occurs on an unprecedented scale through the cumulative impact of the 20,000 commercials that the average American child sees each year. Unchallenged assumptions about human nature convey reductionist views of the human being. These strongly influence how children form their fundamental “image of Self,” their view of the essential nature of the human being. This is distinct from the individualized self-image each child also forms.

Various one-sided theories of human development are projected through the popular media-the idea, for example, that the human being is merely an advanced ape or a biological organism that has arisen accidentally from the primordial ooze and whose ideals are epiphenomena of secretions of the brain. Other common images are of the human being as historically/culturally conditioned and behaviorally programmed; fundamentally egoistic and controlled by unconscious drives; genetically determined; a consumer to be manipulated; a unit of economic production in global competition; and a mechanism whose heart is merely a pump, whose brain is a computer. The human being is a couch potato, an action hero, a Barbie doll.

Faced with this persistent tide of subconscious indoctrination, concerned parents look for an education that offers a more uplifting view of human potential. And in the curriculum, methods, and festivals of the Waldorf schools such an alternative image of the human being is offered.

Many parents are content to see their children thrive in a Waldorf school, sensing that dedicated teachers deeply care about their children and work with effective educational insights and methods. A few parents wonder further about Anthroposophy, the philosophy that inspires the education. Some inquire out of genuine interest, others to make sure that their children are not exposed to something sectarian, parochial, or dogmatic. Parents can rest assured that Anthroposophy is not taught, inculcated, or subliminally communicated in the school. That would be counter to the purpose of Waldorf Education as “education toward freedom.” The Waldorf method is so successful in helping young people think for themselves that they develop strong independent judgment that is a defense against hidden agendas of all kinds.

The respect for individual freedom, fundamental to the anthroposophical roots of Waldorf Education, affirms that the search for wisdom, spirit, and religious connection with the divine, however variously these may be named, is a matter of individual conscience and effort. The cultivation of religious values is a choice that belongs to the family. We parents and educators may well ponder together how to fulfill our responsibility to cultivate values that open the possibility in our children to freely seek their own spiritual path when they become self-directed adults. But it is not the role of the school or its teachers to proffer a religion to the children and their parents.

In the free search for those spiritual and cultural values that give one meaning and purpose in life, many, if not most, teachers in Waldorf schools discover in Anthroposophy a remarkably insightful conception of human development and spiritual wisdom, one that is as practical as it is profound. It is important, though, that Anthroposophy does not remain ideas in books on a shelf, but becomes a work to be undertaken. For the Waldorf teacher, insight into the depth of human potential, reverence for the growing child, respect for the freedom of the individuality, enthusiasm for the curriculum, and renewing meditative work enrich the daily practice of teaching from the wellsprings of Anthroposophy. This source of inspiration is as essential to Waldorf Education as sunlight, water, air, and earth to a growing plant. If it is absent, the teacher, supported only by his or her own experience and insight, will find the challenging task of Waldorf Education overwhelming or impossible.

It is counter to the function of Waldorf schools to promote Anthroposophy to parents or students involved with the school. Some parents may wish to learn about it, though, and do so out of individual initiative. They soon discover that Anthroposophy at its root is deeply Christian in outlook. To the student of Anthroposophy, Christ’s deeds, example, and teachings offer spiritual resources and guidance toward the fulfillment of our human nature. This Christian orientation, however, is not narrow or sectarian. It perceives, despite the many religious conflicts history records, an overarching harmony among the world’s inspired religions, with each serving the spiritual guidance of humanity.

The name Christ and the word Christianity can have strong connotations, positive and negative. In the context of Anthroposophy, however, the Christ impulse is a universally available matrix of human aspirations, transformative ideals, and deeds. It does not involve theological speculation, sectarian dogma, blind faith, institutionalized ritual, or a missionary agenda. In this view-as surely as the Sun shines on each of us regardless of our religious affiliation, non-affiliation, or ethical philosophy-fundamental, human-spiritual realities, such as love, compassion, reverence for the divine, peace, healing, and freedom are essential goals of our true humanity. Such universal aspirations comprise the spirit of humanity and find expression in the multiplicity of languages, cultures, and religions. It is a tragic anomaly that atrocities, motivated by intolerance and self-righteousness, are committed in the name of religion.

While a Waldorf teacher, as a student of Anthroposophy, may find strength and insight in a worldview that sees profound significance in Christ, to particular parents the name Christ may carry negative connotations that arise from the tragedies of history. These may include religious wars of aggression such as the Crusades, persecution of other religious groups as is seen in anti-Semitism, fundamentalist dogmatism, contemporary sectarian warfare as in the former Yugoslavia, violence in the name of brotherly love, or even just a ruler-wielding nun.

In such a situation parents and teachers should communicate openly and frankly. Parents have legitimate concerns: “How does your personal spiritual search as a teacher affect what you teach my children? You profess freedom as a value, but you may hold your values and views superior to what we hold most dear. Perhaps you intentionally or unintentionally promote your view at the expense of ours.”

The question – Is Waldorf Education Christian? – may surface at key moments in the festival life of the school. While traditions vary from school to school, an Advent Garden is commonly held; Saint Nicholas may visit; there may be a Saint Martin’s festival; Michaelmas (the festival for Saint Michael) will likely be celebrated; and, along with animal fables, stories of saints will be told in second grade. At many schools there is a performance of a Christmas nativity play. With these events marking the course of the year, the obvious answer to the question seems to be: Yes, Waldorf Education is Christian.

Well, it is not so simple. We Waldorf teachers also teach the Eightfold Path of the Buddha; the Old Testament and Judaism; Islam; the teachings of Confucius; the teachings of Zarathustra; and Egyptian, Greek, and Norse mythology. Although limited by our own personal backgrounds, we enter into diverse world cultures with as much reverence and depth as possible. While there are important differences between the world religions, a remarkable common ground-what has been referred to above as the spirit of humanity-is evident. As a school movement, we celebrate festivals of many religious traditions.

A more relevant and revealing approach is to ask: What image of the human being do the Waldorf schools seek to bring to the children as a model and inspiration? Here the answer is unequivocal. It is an image of the human being as loving, compassionate, reverent, respectful, engaged, tolerant, peaceful, joyful, patient, good, upright, wise, balanced, in harmony with the cosmos, nature, and humanity. No religion or code of ethics can arrogate these fundamental and universal values as its unique possession.

For an education that is of the heart and the will as well as the head, there is the practical question of how to help children develop these qualities. Much of what goes on in a Waldorf school that is perceived as religious and Christian – the festivals, the stories and legends of the saints, the Old Testament stories, and so on – has this intention.

In the school where I teach, there is an annual production of “The Shepherds’ Play,” a medieval nativity play put on by the teachers. This play is a tradition deeply woven into the fabric of many Waldorf schools. The story revolves around the journey of Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem, and the birth of the child attended by an angel. Uncaring innkeepers reject the family; another finds them simple shelter. Three shepherds – common folk, called by the angel – reverently offer simple gifts to the Holy Child.

The play is about Christmas. But more broadly it is about the renewal of light in the depth of winter, the light of the world, and the spiritual light within. In the context of the universal spirit of humanity, the play presents the cosmic truth that the newborn child, each newborn child, is a Holy Child and comes into the world trailing clouds of glory. In each human birth occurs the rebirth of spirit in the world, and each calls for reverence and love.

For grade school children “The Shepherds’ Play” is primarily pictorial, speaking more through tableau, gesture, and archetypal character than through the rhymed, and somewhat archaic, dialogue. But the play gives them an experience of the renewal of the light, of the miracle of the spirit coming into the world, and also of their identity with that spirit. The play also offers an atmosphere comprised of reverence, humility, peace, and love, as well as of the boisterous good spirits of the shepherds, an atmosphere that for a brief moment shines as a candle in the hectic, commercial miasma of the holiday season.

This play need not be seen as an expression of a narrow, exclusive sectarianism. When I speak to the children, preparing them to see the play, I give them the following context:

This is how Christians of long ago and also of today retell the birth of the Holy Child. For those of us of the Jewish faith, the Messiah spoken of by the prophets will be born in the future, and a time of peace will at last come to Earth. For Muslims, Jesus is a prophet who taught and followed God’s will. He was in the line of prophets that led to Mohammed, who has taught us to obey Allah in the holy Koran. Buddhists understand that, as the Buddha taught infinite compassion for all beings, Christ preached love and forgiveness toward all. And for Sufis who hold that “where the heart opens to love, God speaks,” Christ’s message of love may be heard. Every child, every human being, bears the gift of light and love within. We celebrate this miracle at this the darkest time of year.

The play offers these same gifts to parents and other adult friends of the school, who are also invited. It also offers something beyond this. There is a “living in the spirit,” evident in the newborn child-an openness to creation, a joy in the light, a love of life and of the world. This ideal state of being is affirmed in each of the world’s religions as the highest goal of human striving. It is expressed in various ways: as liberating submission to the will of Allah in Islam, attainment of the pure Buddha mind, the ecstatic love of the Sufi, atonement and songs of praise to Yaweh, as Christ consciousness, and so on. In each religion is an inspired expression of the human spirit seeking the divine.

What is true of the nativity play is also true of Saint Michael’s battle with the dragon. Saint Michael, an archangel recognized by traditional Christianity, Islam, and Judaism, overcomes the dragon symbolizing evil in the world and the evil within – the lower nature of the human being. The archetypal image of subduing the dragon is a powerful imagination, more true and valuable than the empty pictures that children find in Saturday morning cartoon shows, comics, and video games. The aim of the festivals is to provide imaginations of archetypal truths about human nature, life, and experience, not to promote Christian dogma or to convert anyone.

Waldorf Education consciously nourishes the inner life of children in order to start them on a lifelong process of self-discovery. It places before them eminent persons-some of them great religious figures, some of them not-but all of them persons who overcame weakness, transformed themselves, expanded the horizons of the human heart, and inspired social change. It does this in the hope that a seed image of human aspiration will grow within each awakening I as the light within, as conscience, as the spirit of truth. Whatever may be achieved in this regard is within the context of an excellent academic education that equips young people for contemporary life with clarity of thought, wisdom of the heart, and practical skill for work.

by Dennis Demanett

(Reprinted with kind permission from Steiner Education, Vol.22, No.2)

Waldorf Education is dedicated to serving the developing child. How can we teachers do this work unless we try deeply to understand this development? Our starting point must be with a knowledge of the human being that is comprehensive and true. Only by casting all dogma and prejudice aside can we come to a true picture, one that satisfies for all mankind, regardless of religious or racial background. By breaking the confines of sectarian images of the human being, Waldorf Education strives to serve the further development of humanity.

I suppose the thing that really bothers many people is that this non-sectarian world picture we talk about is a Christian view. Or so it seems. So then, isn’t Waldorf just another sect? Isn’t this Anthroposophy another religion? I would have to answer that yes, it can seem like that. Yes, if we educators are not very careful, very alert, it can be that way. Living, evolving knowledge – growth and development of the teachers, this keeps Waldorf Education from slipping into sectarianism. Our teachers work from three main sources, all inter-related: Anthroposophy, the children we teach, and ourselves, as individuals.

Anthroposophy is the umbrella, giving us the comprehensive world view, placing child development into the perspective of whole world evolution, both physical and spiritual. Here, we find the Christ Being, spoken of often and with reverence. Here, Rudolf Steiner dares to tell us of Christ as Lord of Karma – being of the highest magnitude now united with our earth, having a daily effect whether we recognize it or not. Events of world history, shaped by spiritual beings, are presented to us and we are challenged, then, not to accept blindly, but to take up and live with, to work with this knowledge so that we can make it our own. Objective recognition of the Christ Being as an all-important force in earth evolution is one major aspect of Anthroposophy. But the importance of the Buddha, Zarathustra and many others is also emphasized. The great religions of the world are revealed by Steiner as manifestations of work that spiritual beings have done to further the development of all mankind. The time for hiding beneath sectarian cloaks is past. The time for recognizing the true nature of mankind is upon us.

Man as evolving being of body, soul and spirit stands at the centre of Anthroposophical work. The Waldorf teacher must permeate himself with knowledge, learning to recognize, if not experience, the presence and power of divine beings in world evolution and in the development of every human being. This knowledge helps him to form the education, telling him of the absolute sanctity of the human being in childhood. The Waldorf teacher strives never to indoctrinate because essentially he knows it does not work; it would be contrary to the aims of his task. Yet the teacher’s task could never be properly carried out if he were not aware in the depths of his own being of the role of Christ in world evolution and in the life of every human being. Ultimately, it is this awareness that renders the teacher incapable of indoctrinating his pupils. Christ’s mission on earth was an intervention aimed at preserving human contact with the divine so that mankind could develop the precious quality, reserved for man alone in the universe, namely, freedom.

Human beings could never be free so long as they lived completely in the lap of the gods, as was true in ancient times. Nor could human beings develop freedom if their spiritual origins were denied and materialism were to stand in the way of the ability to perceive the truth. Christ’s intervention kept spiritual windows open for those who would see, but in our own century Christ has made his presence known and felt to countless individuals in a new way. The desperate situations of this age have produced moments of such extreme suffering that Christ’s intervention has again been called forth, this time in a completely spiritual manner. Sectarian indoctrination can have nothing to do with the experiences of Christ by the individual; this must be possible even if the person has never heard of Christianity. If Christ is the supreme spiritual entity in connection with the earth, and if each human being enters earthly incarnation from spiritual origins, then it follows that mankind, wishing it or not, has a relationship to Christ. Yet this relationship is different for each single person and must be allowed to develop in a way that is right for that person. Human interference in this realm destroys the individual’s freedom. Our task as Waldorf teachers is not to interfere in any way, but to see to it, to the best of our ability, that the doors are left open so that each child will be able in adulthood to face or not face at all, whatever of a religious nature may come to meet him or her.

Anthroposophy also has important insights to offer the Waldorf teacher in relation to how our schools are seen to fit into modern social life. This is important to the discussion because the very basis of Waldorf Schools is quite different from most schools. Rudolf Steiner saw the social life as naturally forming a three-foldness: the economic life, determined by man’s relationship to his environment; the political or rights life, determined by relationships of man to man; and the cultural life, determined by the relationship of man to his higher self, to his spiritual self. Unlike most forms of education, which are based in some combination of political and economic life, Waldorf Education strives to be centered in the cultural life. Education is an art, not a means to train for industry or a means to indoctrinate children into any political way of thinking. Cultural life, too, can be seen as uniting a three-foldness – the old trinity of science, art and religion. Waldorf Education works on the premise that these three spring essentially from the same source, the soul of man, and that to educate properly we must see our task as helping the little scientist, the little artist, and the little priest which lives in every child, to unfold.

Traditionally, science and religion have been at odds with one another, while art and religion have been good friends. A new relationship, that of art and science, needs to be developed and in Waldorf Education the attempt is certainly made. It may even be so that the rift between religion and science could be healed if the artistic were allowed to work strongly in each realm. The area of child development is a natural arena for finding a true relationship between art, science and religion, because each child as he/she develops, shows us the human potential for experiencing these facets of cultural life.

The young child, before the change of teeth, has a natural devotion, an awe-filled quality that makes nearly every new experience a religious one. The young child at play, on the other hand, demonstrates a singleness of purpose that any scientist would envy; while the ability to see a bird in a scrap of wood, a baby in a tatter of cloth vies with any artist’s imaginative abilities. The secret to meeting the young child successfully lies in the recognition that the relationship to science, art or religion is not an intellectual or even emotional one, but rather a relationship based on doing. The life of will, manifest in the child’s gift for imitation, guides the young child. An intellectual discussion of world religions would never do for the little priest that lives in every child, but preparing for a festival – helping to collect greens for Advent, acting out a story for Michaelmas – these experiences meet the child’s need for activity, directed towards a natural unfolding of devotion. Watch a pre-schooler watching one of the Christmas plays and you will see a look not possible in the eyes of most adults. Witness a kindergarten class in a Whitsun procession with little white doves floating from sticks held above them and you will see unparalleled joy, the joy that comes when inner experience is united with outer expression. The images that a kindergarten teacher will select to bring the children will be carefully chosen with this in mind. For example, a candle shining in the dark, with little else, can be brought as an expression of Advent. The Gospel content of festivals is not brought to the young children, but it lies behind the images and activities that will be chosen. It should be noted too, that in Waldorf Schools all over the world, local festivals and customs, from many sources, will be brought to the children. But even these will not be selected at random simply because they are local; the teachers will always seek the activities and images that are meaningful, that will be in keeping with the young child’s development.

For the young child, whose inner and outer lives know no separation, the images we choose to bring take on a significance that charges the teacher with the responsibility of working closely with the GOOD. Goodness is the ideal striven for whenever images or activities are sought and this seeking lies at the heart of the artistic working of a kindergarten teacher. Art as a separate subject, removed from the daily rituals, makes little sense for young children, if the artist in the child is to be met. Then, of course, the artist in the teacher must be at work also. The child is actually a natural artist in play. Unhampered by self-consciousness, the little child can turn a bush into a house, a stump into a table, his friend into a pet cat! From the beginning, the child moulds and creates with delight – out of the very forces that are forming his own body. This means we cannot yet give any artistic instruction – for the body is the instructor of the child. In the same way that a leaf can be a fan or a fish in play, a scrawl of color on a young child’s page can be a tree or Mommy doing the laundry. As forms emerge in the child’s drawing, then the unselfconscious self-portraiture begins. The child directs the forces building his own body onto the page or into the beeswax. This is perhaps most dramatically seen in the case of aberrations. A little girl I know very well one day painted a series of bright red dots on her page, then carefully surrounded them with blue. Her teacher was surprised by this unsolicited work of art and put it carefully aside. Three days later the little girl broke out in chicken pox herself! The point that we must see here is that the artist in the child is still so bound up with the organism, that it is not yet free. This artist, however, can be kept intact in the child if we are careful to meet it in the non-intervening manner suggested here.

The same could also probably be said for the scientist in the young child. Again, if we allow it, this quality lives naturally, unselfconsciously in the pre-schooler. What can we imagine here? Taking our starting point in child development, then we have to see the small child as an experimenter with unparalleled energy amongst his older, white-coated colleagues. The scientist emerges in those endless attempts to do, do, do until the perfection desired is achieved to try every dangerous, hair-raising scheme: tasting the holly berries, balancing on grandma’s Hepplewhite chair, sliding down the banister, walking out on the ice – the list for one day alone could be endless! The little scientist, like artist and priest, is a doer. She is also the asker of the great question WHY? But in answering our little scientists we must again remember: this is a child speaking, not a tiny adult. Answers removed from the child’s experience will tend to alienate her, drawing her from her priest-artist reality. Keeping this in mind, we can act in two ways: Find answers that are true, while speaking to the budding artistic-religious being. Or, say to the child, “Suppose you tell me why”. Then listen carefully and you will get some surprising answers, and also some help in forming your own answers to the child’s questions. Maintaining a balance is the real challenge here. Sensing the importance of wonder and ritual to the young child, while allowing the little experimenter to carry out his work, should keep us on the right track.

It is probably apparent by now, that I see the young child living most strongly, most naturally in the sphere we would call religious. The intellectual and emotional forces required for a person to be fully engaged in scientific or artistic pursuits are not yet freed. The child’s body is being formed, but at the same time, the will forces are very active. These will forces are those which bind the child so firmly to the world around him, the world he will be devoted to whatever it contains. This content, then, is our responsibility. We can cut the child off from this natural religious connection to the world, or we can nourish it carefully, knowing and trusting that the one-sided experience of young childhood evolves into full experience later on, with important forces still intact.

As we enter the middle realm of childhood, the child’s relationship to the cultural life goes through a gradual change. Eventually the child comes to experience the world through her feelings, through the sway of antipathy and sympathy. If the young child is largely priest then the artist emerges most strongly in the child of seven on up to the age of fourteen or thereabout. The child of this age glories in experiences which speak strongly to the feeling life. Imagination, freed now from pure activity, becomes the foundation for the growing thinking capacity in the child. The Class teacher period has often been described in these pages as a time when an artistic meeting between the child and the whole world takes place. Although perhaps mostly artist, the child continues to develop the priest and scientist qualities in these years and the curriculum provides many precious moments for this unfolding. The shift away from imitation to following the authority figure takes place, charging the teacher with the responsibility of bringing the BEAUTIFUL to his pupils.

In the child’s religious life now, it’s as if all that formed in the kindergarten now becomes more conscious. The seasons, carefully noted and providing background to festival celebrations, begin to help mark the passage of time. When will St Nicholas come? Will we make candles for Candlemas this year? Can we do a play for Easter? These kinds of questions reflect the growing awareness in the children. The objective placement of festivals in the year gives the teacher opportunity for working with an important aspect of traditional religious life: waiting. The festivals cannot be celebrated, except at the right time. This waiting helps to build a strength not always found amongst modern children who seldom have to wait for anything.

The child’s development passes through the light-filled heart of childhood in these years, probably the most harmonious time in human life. The curriculum is rich in subjects that could be considered religious in nature: Old Testament Stories, Norse Mythology, Greek Mythology, and so on. Each of these is in the curriculum for one reason only – they all have to do with child development. Old Testament Stories are not given as Sunday School lessons. They reveal important qualities in man’s past relationship to his God and to life in general – a relationship not unlike that which the 9 year-old experiences. Third Graders live strongly in Old Testament consciousness. How well I recall my class at that time: Moses was a favorite and the class ringleader had all her classmates trooping around after her as the Lost Children of Israel, while she led them through deserts and seas on the playground each break time. Here the child’s own state of being is met with what lives in our own cultural heritage. This happens again and again. Later when the child is twelve and entering an awkward pre-adolescent stage, the stories of the Middle Ages, given in a wholly subjective manner, speak strongly to the soul. The heroic knight, the pious monk, the business-minded merchant – these qualities speak strongly, but never if studied from an intellectual, condescending point of view.

It may happen that an adult will have a strong opinion about a certain way of thinking: for example this adult may dislike Old Testament consciousness and think it quite wrong to bring these stories to the children. Unless we tell them that the stories are not true, this adult would not bring these stories to the children. He fears that the children will grow up with an eye for an eye as an ideal. But we don’t have to worry about that if we bring this content strongly, making it a living experience for the children. In this way, the children can be so thoroughly drawn into Old Testament consciousness that they no longer need it. The child grows, develops onward from this stage – not needing to cling to it because he has lived through it and can pass onwards. The point here is really this: bringing the children suitable content to meet some of the developmental stages needs to be understood in this context. Lesson material on its own, without an understanding for its relationship to the child’s development, could appear as if teachers were wishing to drum in a certain way of thinking. But this is not the case because Waldorf teachers recognize that the students experience lesson content deeply through the feeling life, assimilating and passing on to the next stage.

The imagination of the child, stirred in this way, is thereby kept intact as she approaches a new stage of development. It is important too, that we remember the imagination is really a cognitive faculty. The child’s ability to picture the characters and events of mythology and history help him to develop an important quality that the budding scientist in him also needs: the ability to grasp processes with thinking. For example, only through the imagination can the child really understand the life of a plant, from seed to blossom. The entire science curriculum depends on the child’s evolving ability to imagine. The objective, critical observer is not yet born, but the child-scientist is able to observe minutely and with deep appreciation for the beauties inherent in the nature studied: animals, plants, minerals, the stars, and of course, man. As we approach the second half of the eight-year class teacher period, more and more hours are given to meeting the scientist in the child. Even as the mythologies and history speak to the development of the child, so do the sciences as they are chosen and taught in the Waldorf Curriculum. The chemistry of combustion of the Seventh Grade is a wonderful example of scientific material suiting the stage of development precisely. This grade can be difficult for both the children and the teacher, but I have never known the chemistry block to fail to bring the classes to absolute attention. What bubbles and boils there in the lab in front of them is nothing less than an imaginative picture of the bubbling going on in their own souls. In this way, the young scientist is not only satisfied, but something deeper is also met in the child.

Ultimately, in the child of this age, it is the artist that is ascendant, even as the boy or girl goes through the changes that bring him or her from wide-eyed wonder in the First Grade to the youthful enthusiasm that rock nearly every Eighth Grade. This is not to say, of course, that the children paint, draw and model their way through the class-teacher period at the expense of other kinds of experience. But the way of perceiving the world is naturally artistic in that the children are moved in their lives of feeling as they face the world. The artist, after all, is able to see beyond the mere sense impressions and know the possibilities for creativity in all he beholds. The block of stone contains a statue the artist can see; the rose is a poem and the rushing brook the background mood for a symphony. The mood that brings about this kind of perception is the mood that is not misplaced when science is studied or when religious matters are considered. More and more, as the child approaches the end of this middle period, then we see the artistic actually forming to unite religious and scientific experience. The mood of wonder generated as a class studies magnetism and electricity, for example, stirs the feelings and actually helps the children to grasp the content the teacher brings. Why? Because the teacher presents this subject with dramatic demonstration, at the same time placing it in a historical and geographical context, perhaps also bringing poetry and music that express the qualities studied. Something of a religious experience emerges in the children as they appreciate the mystery of the forces of magnetism and electricity, while the scientist in them is satisfied by the grasping of the laws that govern these forces. But overall, the artistic working of the teacher makes it possible that this study, and many others beside, work out of the recognition of the whole human being unfolding in childhood.

As we pass onto the next stage of development, it follows, if the young child is mainly “priest” and the child of the middle period mainly “artist” that our High School student we can characterize as mainly “scientist”. Interesting, then, that one of the first main lesson blocks taken in the Ninth Grade is History of Art. At this age, for the first time, the role of art is looked at in a more objective way. It happens, just when the young person might be wanting to reject this artistic approach that has nourished him for eight years, that his budding ability to grasp intellectually the unfolding of processes is met by a study that shows one such unfolding in a way directly related to man’s relationship with the spiritual world. The “scientist” is satisfied by this block, but the artist and priest are not forgotten.

The “scientist” that comes to the fore in the High School student will probably be a different sort than a student who might not have had the “priest” and “artist” in him recognized. With the Waldorf Lower School behind him, the adolescent comes to his studies with some idea for wholeness, for the way things fit together or work together. Details may be sketchy, but he knows these can be filled in. And in many ways, he is ready to start filling them in.

In the High School, the relationship of science, art and religion can be emphasized. An astronomy block, for example, can take a correct scientific approach to the subject, while at the same time considering deeper questions of existence that arise when artistic and religious aspects of astronomy are looked at. What lived as mood so strongly in the younger child becomes more conscious and can form now in the teenager, not merely as thought or idea, but more often as IDEAL. Questing for TRUTH, the teenager can be more relentless than the pre-schooler in his asking of WHY? The answers he seeks must ring true: bare, skeletal, materialistic answers will not do. Recognition on the teacher’s part of the humanity growing forth so strongly now as individuality, is of utmost importance. Even when peer pressure is at its strongest, and the young people apparently want to be what is acceptable to the crowd, nonetheless the cry is SEE ME, NOTICE ME, I AM DIFFERENT!

The teacher can perhaps be helped in developing a sensitivity for the emerging individual by observing the “scientist”, “artist” or “priest” in each youngster. If the student is a “scientist”, is he a relentless experimenter, a doer? Or is he more intuitive, able to make shrewd guesses based on careful observation? Or does he ponder, carefully weighing up acts before coming to conclusions? If a “priest”, does he seem to accept blindly without question, a faith-filled sort of person? Does he become active in the pursuit of truth, questioning thoroughly? Is there a natural or developed gift for seeing those in trouble and wishing to help them? If an “artist” is he an impressionist or an expressionist? Does he make surprising and accurate comparisons? Can he get groups of people to follow him is he a social artist? The list of questions a teacher might pose to himself could go on and on. The point at which we finally arrive is this: The “scientist” appealing to the world through thinking, is ready to apply this quality to all kinds of subject matter. Life itself must be scrutinized, tested, weighed and measured. But the artistic-religious natures are also maturing, thereby balancing the situation and helping the young person to find a world view that he can make his own. Once again, our hope is that he can do this with all his faculties intact, as a fully recognized human being.

There are, of course, many ways of looking at child development in the light of Anthroposophy, both from Rudolf Steiner’s own words, and importantly, from the ongoing work of Waldorf pedagogy world-wide. It is, ultimately, the ongoing pedagogical work that makes Waldorf Education alive. This work, as mentioned earlier, with its umbrella of Anthroposophy and its focus on child development, has a third important element: the teacher’s own work on himself.

Waldorf teachers come from a variety of social, economic, racial and religious backgrounds. There is no “profile” that I could draw of a typical Waldorf teacher. But one thing is certain: all of them are working to understand the riddle of man. Their viewpoints on politics or economics may diverge tremendously, but insofar as the child, in the relation to the whole of mankind is concerned, a shared picture will emerge. A shared knowledge of what the child needs also will arise. But the ways and means of bringing the children what they need will vary tremendously from classroom to classroom, from school to school. It is clear then that the teacher’s own individuality is an important and powerful aspect of our work. Each teacher strives to the very best of his ability to meet the needs of his pupils. He knows he can only do that if he works on himself. If the teacher can be a growing, developing being himself, then he will have a far greater effect on his pupils than the teacher who learns some method and tries to implement it. The very young child will experience this in quite a subconscious way, appreciating the teacher for her priestly nature. The child of the middle period will benefit because of the artistic work every class teacher undertakes, gifted or not. Only the High School pupil will ask the question, now out of the “scientist” mentality, what is this Anthroposophy? What keeps you going, teacher?

It must be understood that when a teacher, working consciously on his own development, has an effect upon the children, that this has little to do with the teacher’s personality, if the effect is to be a truly positive one. The teacher’s personality, indeed, is the very thing he needs most to leave outside the classroom door. Reacting to the children only out of personality would be disastrous, for example, if the personality were naturally morose or grumpy! Taking his cues from the children and from the qualities of his subject matter, the teacher gives a lesson, hoping all along that his own higher being will shine through his work. By striving to serve this higher being, the teacher is aware that he serves the spiritual world at large. He recognizes the human being as a spiritual being, part of a whole hierarchy of beings. And he knows that the Christ Being, belonging to the realm of the highest gods, is now united with the earth. This being can be served, perhaps surprisingly, in ways that are in no way connected to any sacrament, dogma or sect. A teacher striving to serve the needs of the incarnating child, and basing his work on a concrete knowledge of man, ultimately serves the Christ. He does this in many ways, but among his tasks are: keeping his outlook on life fresh and alive, never growing sour; remaining ever watchful, ever wakeful to world events, being aware of what goes on in the environment surrounding him; and basing his pedagogical decisions on knowledge rather than whim.

Finally, we arrive again at the opening remarks of this article. A knowledge of child development forms the foundation of our work. In serving the child, Waldorf teachers hope they are serving mankind. These ideals of Waldorf Education are indeed lofty. The aim is towards freedom. This can only be achieved by our striving to understand the evolving human condition, and then acting out of this work. I must end by reiterating: to act out of knowledge of Christ’s work in the world, is to act so that each developing child is left free of indoctrination. To do otherwise, is to act contrary to Christ’s mission.

My twins are grown now but I still recall that endless early evening hour struggle between 5 and 6 pm when I was prone to lose my parenting patience with my three boys who were all under 6 years old. In spite of my best efforts to create a harmonious rhythm with three high energy boys each day, it all seemed to unravel in those early evening hours when I was tired. At these emotionally vulnerable moments, my children, with their unerring instinct for chaos, would alternate between fighting with each other, needing help on the potty, being bored and hungry at the same moment, or exercising their arm strength by flinging toys around the room while my back was turned trying to make dinner. Enter the witch, screaming and threatening and occasionally burning the dinner. Then one evening when I was at my lowest ebb, I realized that the wicked witch now had the whole house piled on top of her like in Oz. Something had to change. Out of great fatigue, and an off-beat sense of hidden humor, a new character type emerged and came to my parenting rescue, Eartha Brooka.

Eartha Brooka was the fantasy nanny that suddenly emerged from somewhere in the depths of my overworked brain cells. I turned and marched calmly into the playroom, the soul of efficient British crispness. I announced, in a strong British accent, that their dear saintly mother was upstairs taking a much needed nap. Eartha Brooka was now in complete charge. I told them I was no nonsense but loved a bit of fun and reminded them that I was like Mary Poppins, practically perfect in every way. I observed the obvious chaos around me with bemused detachment and a few jokes and set about getting everything into “spit spot” order. Amazingly enough, the boys bought it. We had pick-up trains that ran to stop watch schedule with one twin shoving the blocks towards the red wagon train while the other twin piled them in and the oldest boy conductor got everyone moving along the train of toys and into their proper places. Then they sat down and had a light tea time complete with little cups and tiny sandwiches that was just enough so they wouldn’t “spoil” their good dinner that their wonderful mother would soon make for them when she was good and ready. They practiced behaving like “young gentlemen” and then “scrubbed up nicely” in their bathroom sink. Meanwhile, mom would emerge from her nap upstairs, and be in the kitchen cooking dinner. The boys would come in from washing up and I would speak to them in my normal voice. They told me all about Eartha and I listened attentively, remarking that I had slept through it all, and marveling that I didn’t even have to pay her for her excellent service!

One never knew when mom would disappear and Eartha Brooka would reappear to restore household order with her, “Tsk, tsk, I see we have definitely gone a bit awry, haven’t we?” The twins were actually convinced that Eartha Brooka existed and that she could appear magically, often at early evening. They knew that Eartha Brooka looked exactly like me but couldn’t be me because she was in a much better mood and had a funny accent! I think that the twins were at least 5 ½ before they realized that Eartha and mommy were one and the same. Even then they sometimes suggested that mom go take a nap so that the amazing Eartha could come down once more and make them all behave!


Rudolf Steiner: A Sketch of His Life and Work

81b0687df5All over the world, but particularly in Western Europe, there are now to be found activities – schools, communities for the handicapped, farms, hospitals and medical practices, artists and architects, banks and businesses – whose work acknowledges a special debt to Rudolf Steiner.

His life spanned the last part of the nineteenth century and the first part of this [the twentieth century]. But his inspiration is proving capable of reaching into the end of our century with enhanced rather than diminished vigor. Who was Rudolf Steiner? And what is the meaning of this life and work for our time?

Steiner was born in Kraljevec (then in Austria, now in Yugoslavia) in 1861, and died in Dornach, Switzerland in 1925. He thus saw the end of an old era and the birth pangs of a new one. His life echoes the transition intimately. Outwardly, we see the gifted son of a minor railway official growing up in the small peasant villages of Lower Austria. He attends the village schools, and then the modern school in Wiener Neustadt. His father is a freethinker and sees his son as a railway engineer rather than as a priest (the more usual destination for bright boys from the villages). Steiner takes a degree in mathematics, physics and chemistry, and later writes a philosophical thesis for a doctorate. He supports himself through university and afterwards by tutoring. He is drawn into literary and scholarly work. The famous Goethe scholar, Professor Karl Julius Schroer, who has befriended the young man, arranges for him to edit the scientific works of Goethe for a new complete edition. He participates actively in the rich cultural life of Vienna. Then he is invited to Weimar, to the famous Goethe archive, where he remains for seven years, working further on the scientific writings, as well as collaborating in a complete edition of Schopenhauer. The place is a famous center, visited by the leading lights of Central European culture, and Steiner knows many of the major figures of the artistic and cultural life of his time.

In 1894 he publishes The Philosophy of Spiritual Activity, but is disappointed by its reception (we shall return to the significance of this work). (1) Then, as the end of the century approaches, he leaves the settled world of Weimar to edit an avant-garde literary magazine in Berlin. Here he meets playwrights and poets who are seeking, often desperately, for alternatives of various kinds. The city is a focus for many radical groups and movements. Steiner is invited to lecture at the Berlin Workers’ Training School, sponsored by the trade unions and social democrats.

On August 28, 1899 Steiner publishes in his magazine a surprising article about Goethe’s mysterious ‘fairy tale’ The Green Snake and the Beautiful Lily. The essay is entitled Goethe’s Secret Revelation, and points definitely, if discreetly, to the esoteric significance of this story…

… Steiner’s decision to speak directly of his own spiritual research was not prompted by a desire to set up as a spiritual teacher, to feed curiosity or to revive some form of ‘ancient wisdom’. It was born out of a perception of the needs of the time. As we approach the end of our century, it is perhaps easier to appreciate what Steiner meant by times which ‘begin to bring about the impossibility of life’. This lay behind what he described as “my heartfelt desire to introduce into life the impulses from the world of the spirit but for this, there was no understanding.” (2)

It took him nearly two decades to create a basis for the renewing impulses in daily life that he sought to initiate. At first he worked mainly through lectures to Theosophists and others, and through articles and books. These works remain an extraordinarily rich resource which is still far too little known in the English-speaking world. Within quite a short period of years, Steiner surveyed with clarity and intimacy the spiritual realities at work in the kingdoms of nature and in the cosmos, the inner nature of the human soul and spirit and their potential for further development, the nature and practice of meditation, the experiences of the soul before birth and after death, the spiritual history and evolution of humanity and the earth, and detailed studies of the workings of reincarnation and karma. The style is sober and direct throughout, and it often calls for an effort to realize the quite remarkable nature of these communications. For they are not derived from earlier sources, nor was Steiner acting as a spokesman for a spiritual guide. They are fruits of careful spiritual observation and perception or, as Steiner preferred to call it, ‘spiritual research’ – undertaken in freedom by an individual thoroughly conversant with, and deeply serious about, the integrity of thought and apprehension striven for in natural science.

After seven or eight years, Steiner began to add to his work in ‘spiritual science’ a growing activity in the arts. It is significant and characteristic that he should see the arts as a crucial bridge for translating spiritual science into social and cultural innovation. (We are now vividly aware of what happens when natural science bypasses the human heart and is translated into technology without grace, beauty or compassion.) Between 1910 and 1913 he wrote four Mystery Plays, which follow the lives of a group of people through successive incarnations, and include scenes in the soul and spiritual worlds as well as on earth. With his wife, Marie von Sievers, an actress, new approaches to speech and drama were initiated. In this period, too, lie the beginnings of eurythmy, an art of movement that makes visible the inner forms and gestures of language and music.

In 1913 the foundation stone was laid for the first Goetheanum at Dornach in Switzerland. This extraordinary building in wood, with its vast interlocking cupolas, gradually took shape during the years of the First World War, when an international group of volunteers collaborated with local builders and craftsman to shape the unique carved forms and structures Steiner designed. The building stimulated much innovation in the use of form and colour and is now increasingly recognized as a landmark in twentieth century architecture. (3) Yet Steiner was not concerned to build an impressive monument. He regarded architecture as the servant of human life, and designed the Goetheanum to support the developing work of anthroposophy,* and particularly the work in drama and eurythmy.

[*Anthroposophy: Steiner’s preferred term, which he once said should be understood to mean, quite simply, ‘awareness of one’s humanity’.]

An arsonist caused this building to burn to the ground during the night of December 31, 1922. There survived only the great sculpture of ‘The Representative of Humanity’ on which Steiner had been working in a neighborhood workshop with the English sculptress Edith Maryon. Steiner soon designed another building that was completed after his death and now serves as a centre for the world-wide Anthroposophical Society and its School of Spiritual Science. There is a magnificent stage and auditorium, where the Mystery Plays are given regularly as well as Goethe’s Faust in full, other plays and concerts, and frequent performances of eurythmy.

As the First World War neared its end, Steiner began to find ways to work more widely and deeply for a renewal of life and culture in many spheres. Europe was in ruins and could have been ready for quite new impulses. Attempts to realize a ‘threefold social order’ as a political and social alternative at that time did not succeed, but the conceptual basis Steiner developed exists as a seed that is even more relevant for today.

Steiner’s social thinking can be adequately grasped only in the context of his view of history, which he saw, in direct contrast to Marx, as shaped fundamentally by inner changes in human consciousness in which higher spiritual beings are actively participating. Just in this century, quite new experiences are awakening in the human soul. (Since Steiner’s time this is a good deal more apparent that it was then.) But we cannot expect to build a healthy social order except on the basis of a true and deep insight not only into the material but also into the soul and spiritual nature and needs of human beings as they are today.

These needs are characterized by a powerful tension between the search for community and the experience of individuality. Community, in the sense of material interdependence, is the basic fact of economic life and of the world economy in which it is embedded today. Yet individuality, in the sense of independence of mind and freedom of speech, is essential to every creative endeavour, to all innovation, and to the realization of the human spirit in the arts and sciences. Without spiritual freedom, our culture will wither and die.

Individuality and community, Steiner urged, can be lifted out of conflict only if they are recognized not as contradictions but as a creative polarity rooted in the essential nature of human beings. Each pole can bear fruit only if it has its appropriate social forms. We need forms that ensure freedom for all expressions of spiritual life, and forms that promote brotherhood in economic life. But the health of this polarity depends on a full recognition of a third human need and function, the social relationships between people which concern our feeling for human rights. Here again, Steiner emphasized that we need to develop a distinct realm of social organization to support this sphere, inspired by a concern for equality. Not equality of spiritual capacity or material circumstance, but that sense of equality that awakens through recognition of the essential spiritual nature of every human being. In this lies the meaning and source of every person’s right also to freedom of spirit and to material sustenance. These insights were the basis from which Steiner then began to respond to a great variety of requests for new beginnings and practical help in many fields.

Best known, of course, is the work in education and curative education. The former originated in a request from Emil Molt, director of the Waldorf-Astoria cigarette factory, for a school to which his employees could send their children. There are now Waldorf Schools throughout the world. The homes, schools and village communities for handicapped children and adults are flourishing. Biodynamic agriculture originated in a course of lectures at Koberwitz in 1924, held at the request of a group of farmers concerned about the destructive trend of ‘scientific’ farming. It has made its main impact so far in European countries, but is now attracting rapidly growing interest in many other parts of the world. From Steiner’s work with doctors, a medical movement has developed that includes clinics and hospitals and a variety of therapeutic work. From a request by a group of German pastors there developed the Christian Community, a movement for religious renewal. The art of eurythmy, which also serves the educational and therapeutic work, has developed strongly, and there are now a number of eurythmy schools where a full four-year training is given. Other training centres – for teacher training, agriculture, the arts, social work, and general orientation in anthroposophy – have grown in recent years.

Rudolf Steiner died on March 30, 1925, surrounded by new beginnings. The versatility and creativity he revealed in his later years are phenomenal by any standards. How did he achieve all this?

The last part of the twentieth century is bringing a growing recognition that we live within a deeper reality we can call spiritual, to which at present we have direct access only through altered conditions of consciousness. We are also learning to see that these realities were known in the past, described in other images and languages, and were the source of all great religions and spiritual teachings. They have been obscured and forgotten for a while as our scientific culture devoted itself to the material world revealed by the senses.

Many individuals have glimpses during their lives of spiritual realities. Some recollect a more consistent experience in childhood. A few achieve some form of enduring insight as adults. Rudolf Steiner spoke little of his spiritual life in personal terms. But in his autobiography(4) he indicates that from childhood he was fully conscious of a world of invisible reality within the world of everyday. His inner struggle for the first forty years of this life was not to achieve spiritual experience, but to unite this fully with the forms of knowledge and insight of our time, and in particular with the language and discipline of natural science. Historically, this can be seen as the special challenge and contribution of Steiner’s life and work. He himself saw the scientific age, even in its most materialistic aspects, as an essential phase in the spiritual education of mankind. Only by forgetting the spiritual world for a time and attending to the material world, he said, could there be kindled new and essential faculties, notably an experience of true individual inner freedom. Steiner indicated that his own capacities to meet, in the most practical way, the life questions and working needs of people from many walks of life had their origins in the struggles of his earlier years, when he kept almost complete silence concerning his inner experiences, and gradually learned to grasp and articulate their relationship to the mode of consciousness from which science arises. His book The Philosophy of Spiritual Activity embodies a first fruit of these struggles – he himself described it as “a difficult ascent to freedom”. Studied more intimately, this book contains the basis for a path of knowledge that can lead the soul to discover spiritual experience and reality right into the world of ordinary thought and experience. Along this path, Steiner sought to develop a spiritual science that is a further development of the true spirit of natural science.

This path led him in his thirties to awaken to an inner recognition of the ‘turning point of time’ in human spiritual history, brought about by the incarnation of the Being we know as the Christ. (5) He saw that the meaning of this event transcends all differentiations of religion, race or nation, and has consequences for all humanity; we are as yet aware only of the beginnings of these. This also led him to know the new presence and working of the Christ, which has begun just in this century, not in the physical world but in the sphere of invisible life forces of the earth and mankind. (6)

Steiner was therefore not concerned to bring old teachings in new forms, nor to promulgate doctrines of any kind, but to nurture a path of knowledge in freedom, and of love in action, that can meet the deep and pressing needs of our times. These are the ideals, however imperfectly realized, by which those who find in anthroposophy a continuing inspiration for their lives and work seek to be guided.




1. The Philosophy of Spiritual Activity by Rudolf Steiner; Anthroposophic Press.
2. The Course of my Life by Rudolf Steiner; Anthroposophic Press, chapter 30.
3. See, for example, Modern Architecture and Expressionism by Dennis Sharp; Longmans, 1966.
4. Op. cit., chapters 1 and 2.
5. Op.cit., chapter 26.
6. See especially various lectures given in 1910.

For more on Rudolf Steiner and Anthroposophy, check out the following links:

Anthroposophical Society in America

Anthroposophical Society in Great Britain

The General Anthroposophical Society – Dornach, Switzerland

The Rudolf Steiner Archive – Electronic Library

Introducing Rudolf Steiner – by noted English author Owen Barfield

The full version of Rudolf Steiner – A Sketch of his Life and Work



‘Your body is a space capsule, your head the command module’ so begins the introduction to a 3-D moving pop-up picture book on the human body now available in the U.K. ‘When you reach puberty your hormones switch on’ announces a heading in the London Science Museum permanent exhibition called ‘A Study of Ourselves’. An advertisement for beer displayed on vast billboards in the U.K. recently, showed a series of ape-like figures progressively reaching a vertical posture, the penultimate figure with a bowler hat (symbol of the English business gentleman) and the final form carrying a can of the appropriate beer. A question mark pointed to the potential evolutionary leap which awaited discerning drinkers.

These three examples are particularly gross reflections of deeply held beliefs in the West, beliefs firmly underpinned by faith in scientific objectivity. One of these is that the human body is nothing more than a highly complex machine which human beings will eventually be able to take apart and reconstruct. A second, that our bodies and our minds are subject to the outcome of a complex chemistry. The third, that human beings have evolved from a primitive animal condition and that any further evolution is in the random and arbitrary hands of environmental influences.

In teaching any science to adolescents one is aware of the forceful nature of these beliefs which are carried subliminally or openly throughout our culture.

One of the hallmarks of a good scientific theory is that it should be capable of being disproved. This would seem to guarantee the absence of dogma in science as any theory worth its salt will eventually be superseded, by definition. Human nature, however, is stronger than scientific principle, so from black holes in space to human evolution, theories rapidly harden into tablets of stone brought down from a mountain of research. If we experience surprise, displeasure or vague discomfort in reading such statements as those below, then we can be sure that we are taking current theories for granted or carry memories of school science unchallenged within us:

  • atoms do not exist,
  • human beings did not evolve from apelike ancestors,
  • life did not arise from a primeval organic soup, nor the universe in a gigantic explosion,
  • the sun is not a ball of atomic fire,
  • the heart is not a kind of pump,
  • the brain is not a kind of computer.

Any twinges? How free are we to consider alternative views or even challenge current ones in our thinking? Cemented and consolidated by years of experimental measurement, poured out in textbooks, magazines, films, games and models, opposition can invite ridicule, disbelief or the accusation of a lack of objectivity or ignorance of highly specialist research techniques. Yet the history of science is filled with the birth of ideas that ran directly counter to customary modes of thinking and the very birth of scientific inquiry was the birth of an independent and free spirit of inquiry, unconstrained by tradition and religious or social pressures and prejudices. Galileo and Darwin illustrate the struggles.

What is objectivity? Is it confined to what can be measured in mass, distance and time or can it include the faculty of observation; thinking and an open mind? There may be few technological or military applications in an open-minded contemplation of the universe but this must surely always remain the bedrock of freethinking enquiry and scientific progress. We stifle or undermine it at our peril.

These considerations are crucial to the teaching of science to adolescents in a Steiner (Waldorf) School and the main lesson periods in Human Science for Classes (Grades) 9 and 10 (14-16 year olds) illustrate this. The periods are widely known as Human Science to allow the widest possible context to the biology arising from this. How can the wealth of knowledge currently available about the human body, for example, be presented without a fragmentary succession of organs and systems, implying that all these and more constitute the whole? What meaning does the liver have torn from its context of blood and digestion? What meaning does the digestive system have, torn from the context of daily life? What meaning do any of these organs have in relation to my inner experience as a human being? A teacher could be tempted to overcome these problems and make the subject relevant to life merely by linking the study of items of popular interest; alcoholism, liver disease, digestion and a healthy diet. Such connections stimulate interest but they alone fail to meet the adolescent’s deeply held conviction that there is meaning and mystery in the world. Unless there is a context for biology which carries ‘food’ for these, an adolescent’s thinking will be confined by the practical or the popular, so deeper, less conscious questions will remain unaddressed.

One aspect of biology that has, until recently, received little consideration is that of form – why living things have the shape they do. In human science a considerable part of the work should be an experience of form by drawing and modeling, so that observation and thinking retain all the mobility which other lessons like those in music, art and movement have developed.

To illustrate how observation and thinking can create a meaningful context within which fine details and invisible processes can be studied, take the form of the human skeleton.

The form of the human head is spherical. At the extremities of the body are opposite forms, linear, angular, jointed. Between head and legs, the ribs (which are both linear and curved) create a materially incomplete enclosed surface (the rib-cage), protecting the soft tissues of heart and lung as the skull does brain and the bone, marrow. The head is still, the skull plates fused, with only the jaw bone moving, like a limb. The upper ribs move in breathing but are fused together by the sternum. The lower ribs are freer hanging, limb-like, opening up the chest cavity into the abdomen. Following these forms and their movement, the opposite qualities of skull and limb with the balancing features of the ribs are clear to see. Care in observation and a thinking faculty which can rove over the contrasts as well as remember details and named parts build a meaningful whole, not quantifiable yet not arbitrary or fanciful. Such a picture can be followed into the forms of individual bones (the ‘head’ of the femur, for example) before it fades into the detail of bony tissue and the process of ossification. This type of approach can be extended to other parts of the body as well as the systems of organs commonly considered in a quite different context in any standard textbook or encyclopaedia. The fundamental difference is that relationships between organs and systems can be considered and grasped without recourse to theories about neural/electrical transmission, nerve/muscle reflexes or sensory/motor nerves. Such considerations should follow as elaborations of thought, not be considered the foundation for understanding the whole organism.

The nervous system is centered in the head with nerves leading to and from all parts of the body. The brain rests, partly floating free of gravitational pressure in the cerebro-spinal fluid. There is no movement, impulses are silent, invisible – we feel most awake here, alert, our senses concentrated here. Below a sheet of muscle which divides the trunk, the digestive system begins metabolic processes whose outcome supplies the energy needs of muscles which meet the demands of gravity in the limbs. Movement, warmth and activity prevail here and as a complement to the senses which receive impressions from the environment, limbs reach out and impress themselves upon it. Between the two extremes of shape and activity of head and limbs (nervous system and metabolic system) are the rhythmic movements of heart and lung. Rhythm is movement and stillness in harmony. Breathing leads substance outwards into the world and receives from it. The circulation of blood gives and receives inwardly. Our experience of feeling is centered here, brought to consciousness by the head or expressed in movement through the limbs. Our inner experiences as human beings have their reflection in the form and activity of the bodily organs.

This brief and sketchy attempt to show the context within which the details of the human body may be taught to adolescents, seeks to illustrate how a sense of wholeness and meaning can be the foundation of such a study.

These pictures are neither fanciful nor arbitrary and are available to any keen observer with the controlled imagination which lies at the heart of objective knowledge about the world. They lead the adolescent to respect and have confidence in his own unaided faculties, so that further study of details and reading about experiments which explore the most minute aspects of physiology can be related to a meaningful whole. Another message received is that knowledge about the human body does not rest solely on the biochemical or genetic analyses of experts, but is a mystery open to any keen observer with clear and mobile thinking. Adolescents also have a context within which to appreciate and admire the results of medical technology alongside the deeper issues raised that challenge human attitudes to birth and death. The adolescent’s burgeoning inner life is also confirmed as a reality which the body supports and responds: I have a brain but I am not my brain. I have feelings but I am not my feelings, I have a body but I am not my body.

Another outcome which follows a consideration of form in the human body is a consideration of the balance and harmony in its architecture – observation of the animal world can show very clearly that by a one-sided emphasis of the peripheral parts of the human skeleton, for example, specialized animal limbs arise – an extreme development of the digits of the hand give rise to a bat’s wing, bone for bone. One-sided development of the forefinger alone creates the horse’s hoof, while any distortions of the balanced forms of human teeth quickly create herbivore (cow), carnivore (cat), or rodent (rat). Distortions of the human form always give rise to animal-like caricatures as the political cartoonist knows well. Such considerations leave open the question of how the human form evolved. Studies of the animal world return again and again to the human being without whom, after all, observations and questions would not exist.

In contrast to this emphasis on form comes what is usually considered the ‘real’ content of biology: details of gaseous exchange in the lungs, respiration in the tissues, hemoglobin in the blood, excretion in the kidneys, enzyme activity in the alimentary tract. These substances and processes are not directly visible and most of what is known about them is the outcome of detailed experimental investigations. They demand clear thinking and a vital exercise for the growing teenage intellect quite apart from the factual knowledge of their content. In differing degrees, with examples to stretch the ablest pupils, a whole class should experience the real satisfaction in understanding such biological processes and how each is coordinated with another, to create a harmonious balance against a changing environment. The context outlined previously makes it harder to fall into the satisfaction of the clever intellect which would anticipate that if only enough details were known and added together, like a gigantic biochemical construction kit, the whole organism would be explained.

As with all Waldorf teaching, the choice of what to study is so vast, that the question immediately facing a teacher is where to start. And so – also a Waldorf principle – the choice is best determined through consideration of the developmental age of the class. In Class 9, thinking powers are usually not so fully developed as they will be in Class 10 and adolescents live very sharply in their senses, so a beginning can be made successfully with a study of the skin and the very visible and obvious sense organs, for example the eye. Its intricacy and sensitivity awakens and challenges any tendency to superficial comparisons with a camera. Analogies usually have very limited value and, when held to as teaching aids, seriously distort accurate observation, memory and thinking, leading quickly to the false sense that the eye has been explained. Details challenge such easy paths to understanding as these considerations may illustrate.

The light-sensitive cells in the retina actually point away from the light. The act of seeing involves the whole organism, not just the eye, and the image which reaches the retina bears little resemblance to our perceptions of the world around us. We cannot see light but only the outcome of its penetration of matter. At night, outer space is filled with light from the sun but appears black until reflected by the moon. So what is it that we ‘see’? Is it a coincidence that we say ‘I see’ when we understand something? Dim stars cannot be seen looked at directly but appear when the focus of our gaze is turned slightly to one side. Is this not often true when we search our memories and thoughts? Suddenly a thought ‘dawns on us’ and we see it ‘in a flash’. The genius of language leads us to the widest considerations.

So, the opportunity arises to consider such fundamental questions as to the nature of light, or the biographies of individuals who have been deprived of sight or hearing. The widest possible considerations should be able to arise within a human science period.

In Class 10, the main lesson includes Embryology and, as far as time allows, such themes as child development, racial or cultural differences, temperaments and personality. At this age a pupil’s thinking ability and maturity is usually much more capable of doing justice to such topics, particularly to the development of the organs and the human questions that arise over abortion and embryo technology. The major organs of the body having already been considered, their development from layers of folding and enfolding tissue within a matrix of sustaining membranes is a rich and rewarding study. I have felt very privileged to experience how boys and girls of this age can be together and feel free to share some of their deepest concerns and feelings on life, death and relationships arising from an objective study of this miraculous process of development.

At an age when sexual physiology and the ‘facts of life’ as they are so inappropriately called, are outwardly known and serious relationships have often already begun, this study of embryology can come as a healing force to adolescents in their struggles to cope with the freedoms and the responsibilities our society has placed on them.

It can be a fitting end to such a period also to include the question of old age. While we talk easily of growing up, it can be quite a revelation to adolescents that to become an adult is to embark on a lifelong experience of learning and development. The ‘seven ages of man’ need not be limited to a decline from youthful vigor to dull senility but may include the pathway to self knowledge and wisdom.

There rests an opportunity here for adolescents to perceive that the excitement and the challenge, as well as the doubts and anxieties they are struggling with within, are shared by parents and grandparents, too.

© 2023 Donna Simmons

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