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I believe this book was written for parents who are considering Steiner education for their children. Although I would very much like to be in that target audience, I'm afraid tuition fees at £325 for the first child and a slight discount for the second, in addition to material fees for each term and transportation costs means Steiner education would never be an option for my family. That does not mean this book doesn't have it's uses. While Montessori methods have been adopted by a very large number of home educators, many of Steiner's methods are every bit as suitable as for parents who teach at home. In fact one of the goals of Steiner education is to make school as much like home as possible - I've certainly got the edge on them in this department - our school is exactly like home - as it is our home :)
This book is not an introduction to Steiner philosophy, in fact Rudolph Steiner is mentioned only a few times. Nor is there any background information on the development of Steiner schools. Instead this book focuses only on what Steiner Education should be like in a modern ( American ) Steiner School. I say should be, because I did find the book very idealistic, and I may be a pessimist, but I don't believe everything always works out so completely filled with sunshine and light in the real world. I'm not slamming the schools, quite the contrary, they sound absolutely wonderful, but I don't believe everything runs quite so perfectly in real life, and I do feel this is the rose coloured version, to sell parents on the idea.
This book describes in very simple but brief terms the school's ethos, which is to educate the whole child. Rather than focusing primarily on the academic, as most schools do, Steiner schools place equal importance on emotional, artistic and even spiritual development. That is not to say this is a religious school. No one religion is taught, but there is a very spiritual ( which is not the same thing as religious) emphasis on education. Steiner schools emphasis head, hands and heart. In other words they balance intellectual activity with hands on activities, play, art, music and more. Some key features mentioned include the fact that a Steiner Kindergarten - (ages 5 -6) does not have desks. The whole curriculum is based on play and nature at this age, an idea which I do find refreshing.
Another unique feature to Steiner schools is that teachers work on 8 year cycles. When a student starts school in year 1, the same teacher will move up a grade each year with them, giving an real sense of continuity, and allowing deep and lasting bonds to develop between the student and teacher. Of course their are two down sides to this. The first is played down by the author, but I'm sure every reader remembers at least one teacher who made their life miserable. Teachers are people, just like any other group, some are kind, some are cruel, some are down right creepy, and some people just clash. The ray of hope for a child who just is not getting along with a teacher is that it will only last 1 year. If you happen to be the teacher's least favourite student for 8 years though, it would certainly have a negative effect. Another problem would be if you end up with a teacher who really couldn't be bothered anymore. You can get by with a limited education for 1 year. With eight years it could be very serious.
Another aspect to this is that the teacher may very well be spending a great deal more time with the child than the parent. On the plus side, this means a child has a stable relationship with what in effect becomes the primary caregiver, but again, if this relationship is negative it could have severe consequences, the values the child internalises may well be those of the teacher rather than the family unit, and finally separation is bound to be traumatic for many, but that is just my take on this.
After this we move on to a description of a typical programme foe the three main age groups for Steiner Schools: kindergarten, lower school ( years 1 -8) and upper school or high school in American terms. Very little is mentioned on the Steiner philosophy of not teaching reading before age 7. We are told that children will not learning reading before this age, or even really be exposed to books, but not really given the reasons as to why. This wasn't an issue for me as I am very familiar with Steiner philosophy on this point, but I do feel this book assumes that the reader already has a fair amount of background information on Steiner education, which for a parent just checking out different schools really may not be the case.
The book mentions that children in the lower years are taught through stories, and the author gives a few examples. Although brief, this section made the entire purchase of £6.99 worthwhile. There were some wonderful stories explaining why c and k are used to make the k sound, why k is silent next to n ( who makes so much noise himself that k remains silent) and so on. I would truly love a book just on these stories. Other sections, such as including music in lessons, the value of art, of nature and most of all the value of play are all relevant to many readers. These ideas can be adapted to the home education programme, the ordinary classroom, or to some extent, to raising children in general. One aspect I really like about this book is the emphasis on balance, and nurturing the whole child.
I have not faulted this book for the fact that I disagree with a number of aspects of the schools philosophy. After all, whether I agree or not does not make a good book. Steiner schools tend to be very anti technology, but at least he did mot make a point that Rudolph Steiner never used a computer. I'm afraid when I hear that Steiner and Montessori did not advocate the use of computers or television, I want to shout at the person "They weren't invented then you imbecile!" Although I feel there is much of value in the Steiner philosophy, I also feel that the danger of subscribing to heavily to the views of one person over a century ago is that we get locked into a time frame that no longer exists. I think education needs to grow and change to suit the students of today, not those 100 years ago. Rudolph Steiner's first school was for the children of factory workers in 1919 Germany. I can't help but wonder if his limited use of books with teh very young could have been due to the fact that books were expensive. The fact that he focused on fairy tales and the lives of saints is also likely due to the fact that these were the stories most readily available at the time. Of course he didn't read the Gruffalo, Where's Spot, or even Spiderman, but that doesn't there is anything wrong with these books - they just did not exist. I sift through books like this and choose ideas that I feel are relevant to my children - and ignore the rest.
Where I have faulted the book is in what I perceive as the author's rose coloured view of Steiner education. He seems to feel all Steiner teachers are devoted, selfless, superior teachers. I can see how this system might attract high quality teachers, but it doesn't change the fact that they are human and not all will be as wonderful as he feels. Of course teacher's shouldn't have favourites, and he feels Steiner teacher's don't - but again we are all human. I always tried to avoid showing favouritism in my youth groups, but there are certainly some children that I did feel more strongly towards. I always really enjoyed those who were so full of life. Many were classed ADHD - but they certainly were not boring. I could tolerate a fair amount of honest mischief - boys will boys, but was less warm towards some with perfect behaviour who never missed a chance to express their superiority over others. Other leaders would feel exactly the opposite. We can make ourselves feel the exact same emotion for every child. I don't think this makes me a bad person, it just makes me human.
I was also sceptical of his report how children on a school trip would try any new food cheerfully and happily. I've had enough youth trips to know that children are often very unhappy about drastic changes in diet. Of course the Steiner child is meant to be so advanced in all areas, they do not experience negative emotions like this. if you believe this, ignore my four star rating and consider this a 5 star book. Finally, I felt this book was rather rigid in it's philosophy. There seems to be no question of every aspect of Steiner education being "the right way", and no thought given to the fact that the first Waldorf school served a very different group of children. In some ways, I found this almost like a religious doctrine, not open to growth or change.
For my purposes, this is an excellent book with some wonderful ideas on education, that is sure to at least make any educator look at things from a different perspective. It gave me a number of helpful ideas and I did enjoy reading it. On the other hand, I found it overly idealistic, and lacking in significant background information, as well as any scientific results of this education method - and there are plenty of studies out there. It was useful, but does require further research. On this basis I am giving this 4 stars. I would recommend this very highly if you are considering Steiner Education for your child, or even considering teaching in a Steiner school at some point. I am glad I bought this for myself, and do feel this still has a fair amount to offer the average home educating parent, or primary school teacher. Although there are some ideas which do apply to child development in general, if you are not considering Steiner education, and do not teach or home educate, I can not see buying this book.