Steiner

rudolph steiner school

A dried thistle flower. She hands it to me, sniffling, drying her eyes from some head-bang or dog lick, and tells me in a small voice, ‘it is a hedgehog’.
And it is! It has two eyes and a nose, and my heart turns to mush at the prickly little treasure she has brought back from her day.

Six weeks ago, Orla started attending a Steiner Kindergarten.

She comes home smelling faintly of wood smoke and trees, mud smears on her cheeks and filth down her fingernails. She sings songs in the car about how excited she is to be going; is sad on the weekends and Mondays that she cant.
And in truth, I would send her on those days, were it an option – this is the joyful childhood I want for her but never quite have the energy for. Scrambling through woodland, whole days on the moors. Seasonal rhymes and nature crafts; playing outside whatever the weather. And she loves it! 

waldorf steiner

I knew the first day we visited and saw the patch of earth for digging in; the mud-and-rainwater kitchen; the little fishing rods made of twigs and wool. These are the things she has always been drawn to – digging for the fun of digging, mixing daisies into water as soon as she could sit. This is pre-school as Orla would design it.

I’d built myself up for a tricky transition – Orla’s reserved in new situations, inclined to watch and stay glued to my side – and so I prepared for lot of gradual settling before she would stay. As it happened, she was ready after two days. By the end of her second week we upped her to full-time because she loved it so very much.

Even the building is a bit fairytale – an old Sunday school snuggled down in one of my favourite Calderdale valleys. They light a candle every lunch time, eat the same meals on the same days to give the children a sense of rhythm through the week. (If I still worked in special schools I’d totally be suggesting this – it makes so much sense to help orient children in their week this way, when the names of the days are meaningless).
& instead of that awful pressure to have her sat in class in time for registration, school uniform cleaned and ironed, we arrive breezily around the 9 o’clock mark. Nobody is stressed or judgemental. Nobody cares whether her socks match or not.
As it is, the kids are all in full-body waterproofs half the time anyway, a rainbow of jumpers and leggings and wellies beneath.

Gilet: Panpantaloni Wellies: Boden Leggings: Christina Rohde

I’m wary of making anything sound perfect, but this choice was the best possible one we could have made for our little family. She can stay in Kindergarten until she is six – playing and socialising, growing confident and strong. No pressure to read or write until her brain is developmentally ready. No shouting (the class teacher sings instructions that need to be said loudly enough for all the kids to hear, which I think is pretty genius). No SATS.

I should mention that the internet is awash with Steiner conspiracy theories citing some admittedly more unusual Anthroposophical beliefs – ‘black crayons are banned’, ‘dance is a way to communicate with the spirit world’.  Steiner education was devised over a hundred years ago by a a Philosopher called Rudolph Steiner, and of course, quoting his texts directly can make the system sound outlandish or outdated.

For example while 100 years ago Rudolf Steiner wrote that  “In painting, the line is a lie; the line is always part of the memory of life before birth. If we are to paint with a consciousness that extends across into the world of spirit, we must paint what comes out of the colour.”, modern Steiner teachers explain that encouraging children away from drawing outlines in black, and instead letting them play with colour and shape allows them to be more creative. Anyone who’s ever tried to do as a toddler does and freely paint and make shapes without deliberate consciousness knows how impossible it is to get this back once it’s gone. 
From an agnostic stand point, it’s hard to see why this is any more ‘cultish’ than mainstream practices like singing songs to God in daily assemblies, or all-Halal school dinner menus. It seems the most vociferous detractors are really just offended by the otherness of the system – as equally baffled by the lack of punishment (children are given a ‘time in’ instead of a time out) & phonics as they are any notion of alternative beliefs. 

& so while I personally might not think that electronic entertainment is an evil influence, or that being taught academic subjects too young damages a child’s spirit, I can’t argue with the resulting conclusions. Too much TV does delay development – I’ve worked with those kids across Manchester for a decade. Learning reading and writing later is backed up by tons of research and evidence

this is the playground! Tell me there are no fairies there.

So, we’re happy. More than happy – thrilled, in fact – and so grateful for the lovely school and the supportive community of parents and teachers who have welcomed us in. 

If you want to know a bit more, my friend Hannah wrote a great post about sending her daughter Frankie to the local Steiner school in Kent. You can also read more about the Steiner education system here.

 

What are your thoughts on Walforf Steiner and alternative education systems? Respectful questions & opinions welcome!

  • AnnaInternational

    I’ll be honest, I’d only heard the cultish viewpoint about Steiner schools, and hadn’t given any thought to what they were actually like. Reading this, it’s quite clear they are absolutely the perfect childhood. I haven’t got children yet, but I am really hoping once I do I can send them to this place (it’s probably my nearest one anyway!). I would love to hear more about it over Orla’s time there if you feel you can share. x

    • It’s definitely had a lot more publicity than the good sides, which is probably true of most things that make it into the media! It really is a dreamy setting for little ones – and so calm and relaxed that Orla never has any anxiety about going. I think that was one of the biggest draws for me originally – I can remember being so stressed and scared at nursery, crying to go home every day. I’m so glad we’ve been able to avoid giving Orla that experience!
      I’ll definitely keep you posted as our adventure continues 🙂 xx

  • Wow, I wish my parents had sent me to a Steiner kindergarten! I didn’t even know such amazing schools existed. I hope Orla has fun 🙂

    • Same! I found nursery so stressful and anxiety filled – wish I’d had such a dreamy start! ? Thanks for reading!

  • Paula Solar

    Honestly, after reading this, if I had children I would want to send them to a Steiner kind of school. Since this is not available in my country, I would probably look for something similar, there have to be kindergartens that share this philosophy. Or else I would teach them myself, like my mum did with me. Orla is a lucky girl, and I hope she learns a lot about the world there but most importantly she learns to know herself. And of course that she makes a lot of little friends, friends are very important when you are a child.

    big hugs for Orla and her mum 🙂

  • Kate X Design

    Orla’s school sounds wonderful! As a former preschool teacher, I appreciate any school that realizes the importance of muddy, wet outdoor play. It really makes for the happiest, most creative little beings. 🙂

  • This sounds so wonderful. I’ve looked into Steiner and forest schools/playgroups but the only ones in our area are (somewhat ironically) only accessible by car and would be an hour’s journey, even if I could drive. I feel so disappointed that my daughter won’t get this experience! But I’m using that disappointment to remind myself to get outdoors with her even when it’s cold and wet and grey.

    • Ha! That’s so ironic, and I suspect quite common. Like everything with parenting it’s a juggling act, isn’t it? I think what really matters most are your values and he fact that you want those things for your daughter makes all the difference. Have to say I feel pretty Jammy when I drop her off on a cold rainy day to the awesome teachers, before dashing back to my nice warm house! ??

  • Carrie

    I love this, and I love Steiner education. I trained as a teacher a few years ago and decided not to pursue it further because I just don’t agree with education as it stands, but had there been Steiner schools in my area and jobs available that might have been different. If I do go back to teaching, I will definitely be looking down that route. I’m so glad she’s getting on well and I hope she continues to love it and thrive!

  • Lucy Shipley

    I’m a big fan of Montessori, learning through play, structure and familiarity, no pressure. I wish we had Montessori primary and secondary schools like they do in other countries. I would settle for a Montessori nursery, within a half hour drive. No such luck though.

    • I was speaking to a friend from Austria, and she was telling me how Waldorf Steiner & Montessori are all accepted as normal practice over there and incorporated into the standard school system. Can you imagine? The Daily Mail masses would never let it happen here though.

  • Vicky Brown

    Sounds amazing! I’ve never heard of this either… don’t think it’s ‘a thing’ in Stockport, ha!
    Was wondering though, if they stay till 6, do you then have to put her in a ‘normal’ school in year 2, or is there a Steiner school too? Was thinking that’d be very difficult.

    • Oh good question! They can stay until 12 at the moment, just move up into a bigger class. Some Steiner schools go right up to 16, so they’re working on expanding at our local one.
      Post-six they introduce literacy & numberacy like in much of Europe. If we decided to move Orla to a mainstream school at a late point like that, I think we’d teach her some stuff at home to help her be at the same level as her peers. It’s a tricky consideration!

      & there are definitely Steiner schools in Manchester so I’m sur there are in Stcokport too! They’re just small and tend to be not very well known! ☺️ Xx

  • Jessica Greenhill

    I have a love/worry (certainly not hate!) relationship with Steiner education. Growing up I had friends who attended my local S school and have to say they all became truly lovely, confident, we’ll grounded people.

    I later ghost wrote an autobiography for someone who believes his success lies completely with his Steiner education making him an ‘out the box, creative’ problem solver. A love of learning still in tact despite the fact he is profoundly dyslexic. I spent the day with a local Steiner school & it was amazing.

    However I too have issues/concerns about the birthplace of these ideas that do work so well.

    Discovering Forest School & the Scandinavian early years method was something I could get behind 100% and so this is what I dedicated my life to doing 🙂 but even we can be seen as quite ‘fringe’ and unknown.

    It sounds that you have absolutely made the best choice for Orla & sure she will have many many happy days xx

    Ps. If anyone wants details about Forest school or Steiner in the Midlands I have lots of contacts too

    • Thanks for this super insightful comment Jessica! I did a lot of reading & thinking about the origins of Steiner for these reasons too.
      It reminded me a little of how figures like Marie Curie and the founder of the Scouts, who held some really awful beliefs too – but we don’t discount the good things they established because of this. So, while I *wouldn’t* send Orla to a school that was being run by the man himself, were he still alive, I do trust the modern day teachers to deliver the best of his ideas and leave out the rest. Does that make any sense?

      The Forest school movement is glorious. We went to look around a local nursery that included it no recommendation but were really disappointed – it was just sort of tacked on, and it was clear the staff saw it as burden and a fad. I know true forest schools are nothing like this, and it was sad to see it being used as a selling point instead of as a true philospophy for the good of the kids!

      Thanks again for the thought provoking & useful comment! x

      • Jessica Greenhill

        Oh you’re welcome, it’s always fascinated me & I always said before knowing about Forest School, if/when I were to have my own children I would home Ed or Steiner. Which is why I don’t yet! Need more money or time haha

        I get so frustrated with all the ‘not forest school’. It’s wonderful to have any kind of outdoor learning & regular access to green space but forest school is unique. But If something isn’t forest school it’s unfair to them & us as a movement to say it is. It dilutes people’s experience & gives us a further uphill struggle to prove it’s ‘worth’.

        I’m working with a lot of early years provision at the moment & also doing things like PK talks to further help people understand the nuances – learn to embrace the mud & ‘risky’ play 😉

        That being said we are an eclectic bunch from bushcraft & survival experts to ‘grow your own denim’, tye dyed in the wool hippies – the woman who trained my trainer wore a cape!

        We see the results in happy children & confidence & emotional intelligence where once there was frustration & ‘acting out’. So bring on the capes & the wet on wet painting I say!

        **I will still not wear a cape 😉

      • Lisa

        My sons go to the same school as Hannah’s daughter and I love this response. I struggle to find the words on this issue and there they are, you just said them! x

  • I don’t really know too much about the education side of things but my mother’s had a (knitwear) stall at a monthly market organised by the Steiner school in Auckland for years. And the people are genuinely lovely. It’s certainly something I would look into myself x

    • Haha! I love this strange but lovely association. They are all really lovely people – it’s such a calm and serene environment to work, so perhaps that’s why! x

      • I should probably have mentioned it’s a fundraiser for the school too! And they always had beautiful food, crafts and music. Sigh. Must go home again soon!

  • Niina

    Dear Sara, maybe the most beautiful post I have read (besides every other concluding Orla). I wish I could be little and unaffected and free and curious and free to discover again. And really wish I could have had this for my kids too. Love this post and I feel overwhelmed from your emotions. Big hugs!

  • How lovely! Lucky kids 🙂

  • I LOVE this post. I’m newly pregnant, but because I had such an awful experience at school I’ve always been interested in the Steiner system, In fact, I ordered a brochure for the Kent Steiner when I was about 9 and campaigned my parents to let me go…..they said no!

    The controversies and other people’s judgements that I’m a ‘hippy’ to have these beliefs started to seep in a little…..so this post is now my armour. I feel vindicated and very excited to send my tot to a Steiner school too.

    • Lisa

      Love your comment and that you lobbied your parents! My sons go to the Kent Steiner and they adore it ! x

  • Faye

    Oh Sara, I love this post so much. I had never really heard about Steiner schools when we were still living in the UK but when we moved to Australia we were lucky enough to settle in a small town which has a Steiner school just a ten minute drive away. It still took me a while to find out about it (Lila my eldest was already in her first year at a small rural primary school) but we went to the annual Spring Fair which someone had mentioned to me and I almost died on the spot in happiness- in the same way when you saw Orla’s for the first time, for all the same reasons. Rose was due to start kindergarten the next year and so of course I knew immediately that she had to go there. She has been there for almost two glorious years now doing kindergarten. It is everything we could have wished for and more and suits her interests and personality perfectly. I too was worried she would have a long and tricky settling in period as we had tried leaving her another pre-school type set up for a few hours at a time which had been a complete disaster, but there wasn’t even a single tear on her first day, there was no peeling her off my leg, she just ran off and never looked back. The school she is at does continue through the primary years but next year she will start at Lila’s primary school and I am pretty much heartbroken that she won’t be staying on (it’s purely a decision we’ve had to make financially- if we had more money I would’ve moved Lila over there too and all my kids would do all their primary years there!) I’m just trying to look on the bright side and be grateful for the time she’s had there and how much it has informed our family life, home and parenting. I will continue to take Pearl to playgroup there and she will do her Kindergarten there too so I’m looking forward to that. Sorry for the essay, I got carried away because I was so happy to see Steiner education portrayed in a positive light, if only all schools could be like this! xxxxx

  • Melissa

    Oh this school sounds so fun and awesome! I’m so happy every time I read your posts now and see what life is turning out for you and your family! It’s sweet to see you flourish and explore new opportunities. If I had a child I would want them to go to a school like that too! I’m sad because here we have montesorri schools but they literally cost the same as a college tuition does… it’s 10k a year, and there is just no way I can ever afford that. I wish we had something like this school here! – Missy

  • Hannah Sothern

    Wow! I have followed your journey for a long time! We both had our daughters around the same time and I discovered you on Instagram. I went to a Steiner school all my life and loved it, so I have just moved to Devon for my daughter to go to one here. Like Orla, Laira is absolutely loving it, and it was definitely the right decision. I am so happy you are also discovering the joys of Steiner education 🙂