Steiner Education is designed to enhance, enrich and support the developmental phases of childhood. Dr. Steiner referred particularly to three essential phases – each of approximately seven years duration. In each of these phases, different faculties are coming to birth, different growth forces are operating and the child learns in correspondingly different ways. To provide meaningful support for the child in the journey from infancy to adulthood, curriculum and methodology needs be based on a deep understanding of these phases. It is of the greatest importance that each stage is experienced fully and not cut short – the aim of our education is to help children develop strengths for a lifetime. Thus, the uniqueness of the Rudolf Steiner system lies not so much in what is taught but in how and when.
We shouldn’t ask “What does a person need to be able to do in order to fit into the existing social order today?” Instead we should ask “What lives in each human being and what can be developed in him or her?
The ages of 0-7 can be called the Physical phase; the time in a child’s life when they are growing strongly into their physical body. The ages of 7-14 can be seen as the emotional or feeling phase of development, whilst 14-21 can be broadly categorised as conceptual; a time when a person’s rational thinking blossoms.
Those human beings who have not learnt to work in the ways of beauty and through beauty to capture truth, will never come to the full humanity needed to meet the challenges of life.
Dr Rudolf Steiner was a highly respected and well-published scientific, literary and philosophical scholar who was particularly well known for his work on Goethe’s scientific writings. He later came to incorporate his scientific investigations with his interest in spiritual development. He became a forerunner in the field of spiritual-scientific investigations for the modern 20th century individual. It is a deeply insightful application of learning based on the study of humanity with developing consciousness of self and the surrounding world.
In 1919, Rudolf Steiner, the Austrian philosopher, scientist and artist, was invited to give a series of lectures to the workers of the Waldorf-Astoria cigarette factory in Stuttgart, Germany. As a result, the factory’s owner, Emil Molt asked Dr Steiner to establish and lead a school for the children of the factory’s employees. Steiner agreed to do so on four conditions: the school should be open to all children; it should be co-educational; it should be a unified twelve year school; and that the teachers, those who would be working directly with the children, should take the leading role in running the school, with a minimum of interference from the government or economic concerns. Molt agreed to the conditions and, after a training period for the prospective teachers, die Waldorfschule (the Free Waldorf School) was opened on 7 September 1919.
Consistent with his philosophy called Anthroposophy, Steiner designed a curriculum responsive to the developmental phases of childhood and nurturing of the child’s imagination. He thought that schools should cater to the needs of children rather than the demands of the government or economic forces so he developed schools that encourage creativity and free-thinking.
The term “Anthroposophy” comes from the Greek “anthropos-sophia” or “human wisdom”. Steiner expanded an exacting scientific method by which one could do research for her/himself into the spiritual worlds. The investigations, known as Spiritual Science, are an obvious complement to the Natural Sciences we have come to accept. Through study and practised observations, one awakens to his/her own inner nature and the spiritual realities of outer nature and the cosmos. The awareness of those relationships brings a greater reverence for all of life.
Steiner and many individuals since, who share his basic views have applied this knowledge in various practical and cultural ways in communities around the world. Most notably, the schools have made a significant impact on the world. Curative education for mentally and emotionally handicapped adults and children, has established a deep understanding and work with people who have this difficult destiny. Biodynamic farming and gardening greatly expand the range of techniques available to organic agriculture. Anthroposophical medicine and pharmacy, although less widely known, are subjects growing in interest. It should be noted that while Anthroposophy forms the theoretical basis to the teaching methods used in Steiner schools, it is not taught to students.