Jill Tina Taplin describes the principles underpinning the Steiner Waldorf early childhood environment, as well as offering “examples of the practical methodology, covering: imitation and example; purposeful activity and free movement; imagination; rhythm and repetition; and child observation.” (p.86) Here is some of what she writes….
She begins by writing: “What might you see if you visit a Steiner Waldorf kindergarten? There will be children using furniture and blankets to build dens, others building small-world scenes, not out of Lego, but with logs, pine cones and very simple home-made dolls. There will be no evidence of adults directing this play or leading it towards any pre-planned educational aims. The adults in the setting will be busy with necessary tasks, such as food preparation, housework and washing up, and there will be children helping them. There are no computers or programmable toys.
Outside in the garden, you may well find adults involved in traditional handcrafts such as spinning or wood carving. These are not tasks that the children can do themselves, but the children are near the adult ‘helping’ or playing with the off-cuts or materials in their own ways. Later in the morning, all the children gather around an adult who is telling a traditional fairy tale, learnt by heart. No DVDs or story tapes are available and no picture book is in use, although there may be some beautiful picture books in the room for the children to enjoy at other times.
What is happening here? Where are the visual aids to early years education – the bright colours, opportunities for electronic interaction, informative labelled displays and questioning conversations? They are not present in the cosy room decorated in muted colours and furnished and equipped with predominantly natural materials and simple playthings. How does this setting meet the needs of the young child?” (pp.86-87)
“According to the Steiner view of self-development, young children learn primarily through imitation, and whatever is happening around the child becomes part of that child as she absorbs not only the outer actions of the adults, but the inner attitudes too.” (p.88) Taplin goes on to quote Steiner here:
“Whatever a young child is told to do should not be artificially contrived by adults who are comfortable in our intellectual culture, but should spring from life’s ordinary tasks. The whole point of a kindergarten class is to give young children the opportunity to imitate life in a simple and wholesome way.” (Steiner, quoted p.88)
“Teaching by example is the preferred Steiner approach up to [the age of 7] because it does not stimulate the child’s intellect, but allows them to spend their time in a mood of unself-conscious participation. In this mood, they learn in the same way that they learnt their mother tongue.” (p.89)
Activity and movement
Taplin explains that “The Steiner Waldorf curriculum focuses on the ability of young children to learn through imitation and through activity.” (p.90) Quoting Goddard Blythe, she elaborates: “Movement facilitates integration of sensory experience …Actions carried out in space help us literally to ‘make sense’ of what we see. Sight combined with balance, movement, hearing, touch and proprioception …help to integrate sensory experience and can only take place as a result of action and practice. Movement is the medium through which this takes place.” (Goddard Blythe, quoted p.90)
“Young children have a capacity for fantasy that allows them to transform endlessly and this provides another tool for the practitioner. Many of the toys in a Steiner Waldorf kindergarten are ‘open-ended’ – the logs, pine cones and simple puppets that are part of the small-world play allow the child’s own imagination to flourish.” (p.91)
Rhythm and repetition
“Steiner practitioners observe that young children are nurtured by the security of rhythm and repetition – within which their inherent skills and abilities can flourish. [Quoting Oldfield, she continues:] ‘The ordering potential of rhythm gradually guides the child’s movements and contains his energy until such time as he himself can be the guide’ (Oldfield).
In the kindergarten, rhythm is an essential tool of the practitioner.” (p.92)
A little Steiner history
“In 1917, during the chaos in Germany at the end of the First World War, [Rudolf] Steiner was asked by the Stuttgart industrialist, Emil Molt, the director of the Waldorf Astoria cigarette factory, for help in founding a school for both the children of his workmen and for children of well-off families, employing a new kind of education based on the ideas of the development of the human being that Steiner spoke about.” (p.87)
Ref: Jill Tina Taplin ‘Steiner Waldorf Early Childhood Education: Offering a Curriculum for the 21st Century’ pp.86-98 in Eds. Linda Miller and Linda Pound (2011) Theories and Approaches to Learning in the Early Years. Sage: Los Angeles, London, New Delhi, Singapore, Washington DC