In a Steiner school mathematical aptitude, scientific understanding and the love of reading and writing are developed in every child in a slightly different way to conventional education. They are combined and enriched with storytelling and physical and artistic activities, providing the strongest possible connection to the material – which stays with the child for life.
The children have the opportunity to experience different phenomena for themselves, and to make their own discoveries. This increases their understanding and enthusiasm for learning.
Recent research* shows that there are great benefits in introducing formal learning around the age of 6 or 7. This is precisely when literacy teaching is introduced in Steiner Waldorf schools. By this age children have acquired a firm foundation in language development and have the necessary physical and social skills and a joy for learning.
*For example: Dr Sebastian Suggate (2010) on “Early Reading Instruction: does it really improve reading in the long term?”
An intellectual and physical education
At the Cambridge Steiner School we strive to give children the gift of an education that will nourish the whole life of the child. To this end we educate not only the intellect, but also the child’s physical and emotional intelligence.
Through movement, coordination exercises, games, modeling, crafts and handwork, the children develop a connection to their bodies, and skill and dexterity in their hands and fingers.
A creative and spiritual education
Music, painting, drawing and stories are a key feature of the way children learn in a Steiner Waldorf school, feeding their emotional, spiritual and moral capacities. Built on this foundation academic learning can find its place in a way that grows and develops with the child’s changing needs.
Continuity and routine
Each teacher aims to stay with the class from Class 1 to (at present) Class 5. This allows teacher and pupil and teacher and parents to grow together and deepen their understanding of the child’s educational needs as they progress through the school. The day begins with a two-hour ‘main lesson’ in which the class can explore a particular theme every morning for three to four weeks. The main lesson themes develop through the classes by addressing the changing needs of the growing child as expressed through Steiner’s research.
The main lesson is supported by subject lessons given by specialist teachers, including French, German, music, painting, form drawing, handwork, games and religion.
Foreign languages are introduced in the kindergarten, and then taught in the Primary school. Currently French and German are taught formally from class 1 (age 6).
Relevant for the 21st century
The Steiner Waldorf approach is highly valued for its contemporary relevance. The economy increasingly needs people with the flexibility and creativity to think nimbly, and adapt to our fast changing world. . As a result Steiner school graduates are often highly sought-after in academia and the work place.
Class 1 (ages 6 and 7)
The Class 1 child is eager to learn and express themselves through reading and writing. Numbers and letters are presented in exciting and imaginative ways that feed their enthusiasm. They need fantasy and imaginative pictures and so learning is enriched through fairy-tales.
Class 2 (ages 7 and 8)
In Class 2 the children are growing aware of themselves and each other so they hear fables, where the characters encounter problems with others when their boastfulness, cunning or pride cloud right judgment. These themes can be explored through drawing, writing, modeling and role-play. They are balanced by hearing legends of the Saints who use their skills and gifts to aid others.
Class 3 (ages 8 and 9)
Class 3 sees the child’s awareness move further out into the world so we look at farming, building and trades to learn an appreciation for how the things we need for a comfortable life are produced for us by the hard work and effort of others. This can be accompanied by practical projects involving growing vegetables, weaving baskets, grinding flour and baking bread.
Class 4 (ages 9 and 10)
In Class 4 the children are ready for more of an academic challenge so they encounter Norse mythology, fractions and the relationship of mankind to the animal kingdom.
Class 5 (ages 10 and 11)
By the time the child reaches Class 5 they have achieved as a kind of elegant balance in the proportions of their body and the ripeness of their intellect. Thus they follow the journey of civilisation from Ancient Egypt through to Ancient Greece and take part, with other Steiner schools, in a re-enactment of some of the events from the ancient Olympic games.