What is the relationship of Steiner education to Waldorf education?
Steiner education and Waldorf education are one and the same. The first ‘Steiner’ school was created by Dr. Steiner for the children of workers in the ‘Waldorf’ factory in Stuttgart, Germany, in 1919. There are now 874 Steiner Waldorf schools worldwide. Individual schools choose whether or not to incorporate ‘Steiner’ or ‘Waldorf’ in their titles.
How large are the classes?
Class numbers are optimally around 25 children per class. However, it is at the school’s discretion (in consultation with the teacher) to state the size of each class, depending on the needs of a class.
Why does the same teacher stay with a class for seven years?
Young children need stability and security. They need to trust and form a relationship with those who care for and teach them. Only then are they able fully to give themselves to the learning process. If a child has to get to know a new teacher every year that process is being continually interrupted. In the course of a seven year relationship a bond can grow between teacher and pupil that cuts through much unnecessary and time-consuming getting-to-know and trying-out rituals. The teacher soon comes to know a child’s strengths and weaknesses and can therefore give the right assistance and stimulus, as and when it is needed.
A second advantage of having the same class teacher for such an important period in a child’s life, is that much of what is taught draws on knowledge and skills they have developed in previous years. Having the same teacher means that themes can be followed, drawn out and cross referred so that a holistic view of the world is given.
What happens if a child does not get on with the class teacher?
This is a question many prospective parents ask, and yet it is something which very rarely happens. If a teacher knows that a child is only going to be under his or her care for a year, there is a temptation to say: “I’ll put up with it for a year and then it’s someone else’s problem.” In our system that doesn’t work. Problems have to be faced and worked on. Very often, if a child is experiencing difficulties, there is a reason – a family split or other disturbing factor. The close contact which we encourage between school and home means that teachers know and understand what is going on, and with understanding a lot can change.
This is not to say that every problem is the fault of the child. Teachers are constantly encouraged to look at themselves and to develop as human beings. Conflict can be positive if it highlights the need for change in either party.
Do you have computers in the school?
We do not have computers in the school for use by children. We believe that the human relationship between teacher and child is the key to healthy learning. Only another human being can respond to expressed interest, fire with enthusiasm, and lead by example. We also discourage the use of computers at home by our children.
Older pupils in the high school however, not only have access to computers, but are encouraged to use them. Many pupils use the internet to research Main Lesson topics, and several have had success with web page design. Computing is a useful skill, which can be picked up quickly when it is needed. The life skills that we teach here – social, artistic and intellectual – cannot be so easily assimilated and are vital for a fulfilling life.
How much do you expect of parents?
The stronger the child-teacher-parent triangle can be, the better the educational experience will be for the child. If home and school can work together, the foundation will be strong: if they do not work together, the child will be the one who suffers. It is necessary then, that parents familiarise themselves with the aims of Steiner Waldorf education, and agree to support these aims in principle. We run a course of adult information evenings every year, which new parents are expected to attend, and existing parents are encouraged to attend.
The Parents Evening every term is a chance to find out more about our education and to ask questions of teachers, and it is very important that at least one parent attends these events. Beyond that, obviously, the more you are able to do, the more the School, and your child, will benefit. We understand that many parents have full-time jobs, and are unable to commit themselves to a lot of time. If you can manage to be your child’s Parent Liaison for a year, to help out at our Harvest Fair, or to serve on the Board, this would be much appreciated, and would provide an opportunity to become a more visible member of the School community.
What is your philosophy? Is it religious?
Rudolf Steiner lived and worked in a time of great intellectual curiosity in Europe. The First World War had just ended when, in 1919, he was invited to put his educational theories into practice. Across Europe humanitarians struggled to make sense of human nature and behaviour. Many theories about the nature of man and his relationship to society and the universe were debated. (Jung, for example had argued that individuals shared a common memory.) Rudolf Steiner outlined a theory based on the social codes of Christianity – but incorporating the Eastern belief in reincarnation. He called this theory ‘Anthroposophy’. There is an Anthroposophical Society in New Zealand, and several of our parents and teachers are members. As a school however, we regard our child-centred, environmentally aware, socially responsive curriculum as an entirely separate benefit which grew out of Anthroposophical thinking. The school does not teach Anthroposophy, nor prosletyse it in any way. the school does not teach religion, either. All religions are welcome at a Steiner Waldorf school and many world religions are studied at High School as part of the upper school curriculum.