Twinkle Twinkle Little Steiner

After our applications for a State school place were declined a few weeks ago, me and my ex found ourselves confronted with the disheartening prospect of our son falling behind on his education. We decided to reapply to the remaining schools in our borough – the only ones that weren’t ridiculously oversubscribed, for all that may imply. Desperate times, desperate measures.

It was upon visiting one of these schools that our hearts really sank. It just seemed wrong. As lovely as the two kids who showed us around were, the fact that this was an oversized inner city dump where there were no longer any toilet seats just could not be disguised. ‘Perhaps‘, we thought, ‘we’re being a little pompous and unrealistic‘. The truth is that children all over the country attend schools such as this and worse and hopefully turn out fine. The Ofsted report gave it a grade 3. Furthermore, parental involvement is integral to any child’s overall education and we both care too much to let him miss out.

But to send our baby to that place felt like sending a  little lamb to slaughter.

(I sound like a mum!)

So we decided it was time to change our tactics and start researching our local private schools with the hope that we might be able to send him somewhere, somehow, someday. They all seemed like shining beacons after what we had seen, and they were all hideously above our budget. And that’s when we stumbled upon Waldorf Steiner.

At £4.055 per annum for their kindergarten (ages 4-7), it was a lot cheaper than any of the other prep schools we had looked at. Still a stretch, but one that we could just about cope with.  The memories of the inner city dump made the local Steiner school’s website  seem a wholesome and rustic idyll. But upon closer inspection we began to realise that this was not your average school, nor your average educational ethos. Something about it reminded me of what I’ve heard so far about the Montessori method, but Steiner seems to go beyond that. Thus began our investigation.

The Waldorf Steiner method of education was formulated by Rudolf Steiner, according to his personal philosophy of Anthroposophy.  It began when a friend of Steiner’s asked him to open a visionary school for the children of the workers at the Waldorf cigarette factory in 1919. You can find more about Steiner’s life and beliefs here, as I cannot pretend to have any expertise on the matter.

ANTHROPOSOPHY AT FIRST SIGHT:

Anthroposophy was not a completely alien concept to me as my best friend in Brazil and her husband have been very keen to bring up their 5 year old daughter according to some of its teachings. Anthroposophy means, literally,  ‘wisdom of the human being’.

Well, I’m sure I can’t claim to be that wise because I found it all a bit radical and puzzling. Their daughter was not allowed any plastic or electronic toys; television and computers were forbidden; even recorded music was a no-no. When I landed in Rio with a 9 month old baby I felt slightly intimidated by this determination to occlude modern living. My son loved toys with flashing lights and music and I really couldn’t see how they could be so sure it was harmful. He was one of the happiest, most settled babies I have ever known —and I am not saying that just because I am his mum.

On my last visit to Brazil it was clear that they had had to relax their grip; financial and social constraints meant that raising their kid in an exclusively anthroposophical way became a bit of a nightmare — I think it also partly contributed to their break up last year. Clearly all this gave me a negative bias toward this philosophy, but I would be lying if I said I knew enough about it to refute it. All I am saying is that it probably didn’t come to me in the best light.

A HOLISTIC EDUCATION:

Nevertheless I can still see why an anthroposophical approach to education is appealing, particularly in the early years, which is the category my son falls into. It is certainly more caring and constructive than I imagine the nightmare State school could be. At best, it could help my child come on leaps and bounds in his personal development, for all that might represent. At worst, at this age, it wouldn’t harm him. I like the idea of play-based early learning; and I understand this is much of what he’d be doing at a State nursery at reception class – if he ever got into a decent one. My biggest concern over our lack of State school offers is that he would miss out on social interaction and structured activity if he was forced to spend the next year alone, particularly with mother dearest over here. Part of education is learning to be a social and moral being too and I like the Steiner focus on this aspect.

There is no doubt in my mind that the Steiner method is caring and that my son would have plenty of fun and human interaction — What else can I expect at the age of four? At a glance, kindergarten seeks to develop the senses through different kinds of play, giving the children a fair bit of autonomy with regards to their own development. Parents of young children see new milestones being reached on a daily basis and supporting these achievements makes a lot of sense. The focus on exciting children’s natural curiosity and satisfying their instinctive desire for learning is something you don’t hear often on the national curriculum. This was all interesting so I began to ask around.

FLOODED WITH FEEDBACK:

I must have been living in a hole all my life. As soon as I mentioned Steiner, people started coming out of the woodwork with their experiences and opinions. The overwhelming majority used adjectives such as ‘well-rounded’, ‘creative’, ‘free-thinking’, ‘academic’ and ‘social’ to describe Steiner kids. The educational methods were perceived as ‘effective’, ‘revolutionary’ and ‘caring’, if a bit ‘too idealistic’ and lacking in technology. At university level, a broad and unconventional approach would set Steiner children apart as scholars too. However, another friend related that some of her own Steiner friends suffered breakdowns in their late teens because they found it difficult to adapt when the ‘real world isn’t all nice and reassuring, and doesn’t value individuality or creativity’. This same friend mirrored my own concerns when she said ‘In theory, I am completely pro-Steiner philosophy, but it’s worth thinking that school needs to prepare kids for life in the real world’.

The huge response I had on the subject is one of the reasons I decided to write this all down in blog format. This has been very thought provoking on several levels, hence the length of this post and my decision to break it up into smaller segments. There is certainly a lot to be discussed and I can only hope to scratch the surface here. My realist and idealist sides have been struggling against one another. The next step in untangling what I’d heard through the grapevine was to visit the school itself…

To be continued…

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8 Responses to “Twinkle Twinkle Little Steiner”


  1. 1 San Sharma May 13, 2010 at 11:11 am

    Sounds really interesting, Karen. I read that page about Steiner and the philosophy looks pretty sound – I almost envy those Steiner kids! It’s a huge decision though, isn’t it? Good luck!

  2. 2 meyeworld May 21, 2010 at 6:44 am

    My daughter is a grade 11 Steiner student and I’ve been involved with the educational movement in various capacities since she was 3. I have heard the concern “but what about preparing children for the real world?” from parents considering Waldorf education a number of times. It puzzles me a little. The argument that Waldorf education doesn’t prepare children for the real world assumes that the world will impact them, but they won’t impact the world.I like to give them more credit than that. If the Waldorf high school guards ideals and nourishes creativity, and at the same time cultivates practical skills,cognitive problem-solving, and the will to get things done–as a Waldorf school is intended to do– then the young person is equipped to strive for his or her ideals; and can literally make changes in the world while they do that. To me the words that come to mind regarding Waldorf graduates are authenticity and integrity; two qualities that can only improve society. But, the truth is that those with authenticity and integrity will always come up against some struggles and pains in this world, and of course we don’t like to see our children feel any pain. Therefore its understandable that many parents prefer that their children are shaped to fit into society as it is presently, as flawed as it may be rather than have their own ideas and want to change the status quo. Waldorf education is probably not the right choice for those parents who are afraid, because Waldorf graduates tend to think for themselves even in the face of economic and political pressures. But, you know, the CEO of American Express and the former prime minister of Norway are Waldorf graduates..which speaks to how practical and functional–as opposed to airy fairy–the education actually is. In any case that’s how I understand it. Best wishes for your exploration.

  3. 3 Professional Housegirlfriend May 21, 2010 at 8:01 am

    Thank you so much for your comment. I am quite astounded by how hotly debated this whole process has been. Polemical and fascinating. I’m still teetering on the fence, I guess, mainly because I have not met anyone who went to Steiner – yet. I think this may have to be my next step.

  4. 4 nicknakorn June 26, 2010 at 8:39 am

    Thanks for the interesting post; I’ll read the next installment with interest. Almost 20 years ago I went through a similar process but remain convinced that the Steiner philosophy is not only unsound but immensely damaging. As I imagine you have read many of the arguments for and against, I’ll not repeat them here but will leave you with the thought that proponents of mystical systems are usually more interested in the power of the tribe than the ethics of social justice and such mysticism tends to resort to rhetoric in the face of analysis or critique.

    Best wishes,

    Nick Nakorn

  5. 5 Shalom October 9, 2010 at 4:54 pm

    It’s not just the Waldorf kids who break down because the world doesn’t like pegs that don’t fit. I broke down too and I went to a state-school in a country like Malaysia back in the 80s! And in my capacity as teacher today, 9 out of 10 students I see are broken. (The crazy ones are always the English teachers.)I’d rather break down a bit but have the strength and imagination to go on rather than break down bit by bit and then just give up on my own humanity.

  6. 7 Sune March 19, 2012 at 10:41 am

    Hello again,

    Thanks for telling about your experiences. How has the problem continued?

    Just a small note on the text: The text link from “You can find more about Steiner’s life and beliefs here” does not seem to function anymore.

    Maybe http://www.freedom-in-education.co.uk/2011/rudolf-steiner/ is the page originally found at the page you link to?

    Best wishes,


  1. 1 Twinkle Twinkle Little Steiner (continued) « The Observations of a Confused Young Woman Trackback on May 13, 2010 at 4:23 pm

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