The Steiner curriculum is based on a universal pattern of child development which provides the basis for both the curriculum content and the way in which this is presented to the children. By integrating the humanities, arts and sciences, it strives to give students a picture of the whole world and to educate not just the intellect, but the whole child.
Every aspect of Steiner education seeks to develop the proper relationship between intellectual, physical and emotional development - the head, hand and heart. Thus each activity, each day, each week and each term, will reflect this 'head, heart and hand' balance.
The approach is always from the whole to the parts, the concrete to abstract, so that learning takes place in an integrated way. Subjects are studied in relation to each other so that children perceive their unity, rather than splitting them into separate compartments.
Attention is paid to the learning process rather than the product, and engaging the child's imagination during the journey rather than focusing only on the destination. This child-centred approach is built around the natural rhythms of the day, the week and the year, and the celebration of festivals and special occasions forms an important part of the life of the school.
The Steiner curriculum is comprehensively co-educational in that all students, irrespective of gender or ability, are expected to participate in the full range of activities. The Castlemaine Steiner School is committed to supporting students from a diverse range of socio-economic and cultural backgrounds.
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The Steiner curriculum is characterised by a daily structure of Main Lessons, Middle Sessions and Afternoon Sessions. This reflects the three-fold structure of the human soul, namely thinking, feeling and willing.
The Main Lesson time in the morning represents the thinking aspect of the human body. Here all new intellectual content is introduced. As the morning session relates to the thinking aspect, the afternoon session corresponds to the will, so as far as possible intellectual activity is avoided at this time. Hand activity, whole body activity and artistic work is scheduled for these sessions, eg painting, modelling, games (Classes 1-4), gardening, bushwalks etc.
Between thinking and willing - between the head and the limbs - lies the feeling life, the human rhythmic systems of breathing and blood circulation. The middle session therefore reflects this aspect of the human body and, although other subjects need to be introduced at this time, it is also the period of the day where consolidation of learning is scheduled through repetition. The middle session is used to:
- consolidate the Main Lesson content, particularly in literacy and numeracy
- provide time for other subjects such as Craft, Music, Languages, Eurythmy, Gym and Sport
- schedule a weekly Form Drawing lesson
- in Class 1 and 2 to cater for Extra Lesson group work
- in Class 7 and 8 to cover all areas not covered in English and Mathematics Main Lessons and to allow for a weekly lesson in Geography.
As important as the Main Lesson structure is to the Steiner curriculum, it should be noted that the bulk of literacy and numeracy is consolidated through practice at this time. A raft of supplementary subjects is also timetabled during this middle session. The material covered during this time will form an important part of the assessment and reporting process for each child.
Note: Form Drawing fits well into this period of the day as it is essentially the rhythmic repetition of pure line forms which should be developed out of rhythmic movement (refer to section on Form Drawing).
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The Main Lesson
The Main Lesson is taught in the first two hours of each day. A particular subject is studied for 3-4 weeks to allow for a deep and enriching learning experience. The Main Lesson endeavours, through the use of a wide range of strategies, to unite all the powers of the soul by engaging the child's thinking, feeling and willing.
The vehicle for the presentation of all Main Lesson work, and wherever possible all practical work as well, is 'imagination'. The teacher strives to represent all intellectual work through imaginative pictures. These pictures are mobile and alive within the child, compared to their antithesis found in pre-formed concepts and isolated information, which are to be strenuously avoided. Art and artistic presentation thus become the teacher's main tools.
In general, a three-day rhythm of presenting and completing work is assumed:
Day One: Experience through narration (thinking)
Day Two: Recollection, synopsis, illustration (feeling)
Day Three: Conclusion, activities relating to theme (willing)
The curriculum is based on the major epochs of history, the folk wisdom of fairy tales, the human qualities of animal fables, the deeds of great people and their connection to nature, legends from the Old Testament, Norse, Ancient Indian, Egyptian, Greek and Roman myths and Odysseys, the Middle Ages, the Renaissance and subsequent Revolutions. Mathematics and Science are also taught in the Main Lesson, as well as language and the humanities.
We encourage the children to present their work artistically and with care. Through this experience of intellectual and practical work, they can 'live' major historical periods and stages in human development.
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The Primary School Curriculum
What are the distinctive features that make Steiner education different? Important features of the curriculum make the distinction and both the curriculum content and the way in which it is delivered assist in the natural process of human development. A holistic approach towards a healthy body, healthy feeling life and healthy thinking is paramount. Rudolf Steiner identified the process of human development in seven year stages. We are primarily concerned with the first two of these stages.
In the first phase, we educate through imitation to nurture the development of the body and the will. In the second seven years, we educate through the feeling life of the child and their imagination. We seek not merely to impart knowledge, but to help form the capacity for thinking itself.
Art in many forms - poetry, drama, painting, drawing, sculpture, music, singing and movement - is an integral part of the main intellectual and academic learning and is not considered a decorative activity.
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Child Development and the Historical Epochs
Central to Steiner pedagogy is the understanding that child development occurs according to a universal pattern based on 7-year phases. In the first 7-year phase, the development of the human body which was begun in the womb is brought to completion. This process engenders a strong and well ordered will. In education, this period is reflected in our early childhood curriculum. The second 7-year phase is the period of the primary school, Class 1 to Class 8. Here the energies previously used for the refinement of physical development become available for intellectual development, which is characterised in this phase by 'imaginative thought'. Rational, logical, abstract thinking flowers from out of this imaginative period in the third 7-year phase (secondary school).
Within the second 7-year phase, the development of the child's consciousness mirrors the progress of the evolution of human consciousness through the historical epochs. Thus it is that in Class 3 ('the crossing'), children begin to have a consciousness of chronological time. In Class 4 this experience is consolidated (past, present and future tenses are studied in English).
In the fifth class, every effort will be made to make a beginning with actual historical ideas.
Three Lectures on the Curriculum, Rudolf Steiner
Prior to the 'crossing' however, as children have not yet developed a consciousness of chronological time, fairy tale themes are used (Grimm's etc in Class 1 and Celtic stories in Class 2). The 'once upon a time' nature of these stories and their dream-like qualities match the younger child's phase of development.
Thus in Class 5 children begin a chronological sequence of epoch studies that
extends to Class 8 - India, Persia, Egypt, Greece, Rome, Medieval Europe, the
Renaissance and the Age of Revolution. At each of these stages, the soul life
of the children will be a reflection of the distinctive features of that particular
epoch, that is, a gradual change from instinctive, intuitive thinking in which
the individual is subordinate to the sense of the whole cosmos and ancestry,
to a modern self-consciousness. Here the individual is paramount and feels
a high degree of separation from the cosmos. This is dependent on a highly
developed level of abstract thinking.
We can trace the way in which child development recapitulates the progress of historical epochs.
In Class 1 and 2 the young child has not yet developed an understanding of the flow of time. They still retain an intuitive connection to nature and do not yet feel themselves as an individual strongly separated from the natural world. Fairy stories have a dream-like quality which has a total disregard for both spatial and temporal sequence. The archetypal images used in these stories speak to the child of the deeper meanings of life that is appropriate to their imaginative consciousness. The Celtic stories and American Indian tales, while still retaining these qualities, are more grounded.
At some point in the developmental continuum of consciousness, there is a dramatic shift from the dream-like state of early childhood to the beginning of the development of the awakening of adult consciousness. This happens in Class 3 and 4. In the Hebrew stories of Class 3, the spiritual dimension of life, previously experienced through archetypal images, is now portrayed as a single entity: 'I am the one God' Spiritual action on earth still occurs but it is completely mediated by the human being. Time now becomes important - generations of the family, going to the Promised Land, etc.
After the really strong experience of units ('I am') in Class 3, Class 4 is ready to broaden out. The Norse myths provide a structured multiplicity of gods and the relationship between heaven and earth. In Class 4 the unity of the world of Class 3 has been fractioned. Sequential time is indicated through the ominous presence of Ragnarok (the final battle) and is more structured through the image of the Norns (past, present and future).
We are now on the journey to the flowering of rational, abstract thinking from Class 5 to Class 8. Initially there is a new power of thinking, of 'conscience' and self-responsibility rather than obeying the will of the gods. Then causative thinking appears, leading in subsequent years to a growing independence and eagerness to expand knowledge of the wider world. This journey unfolds through the historical epochs in the following way:
India: The individual tries to escape the physical world. The world is Maya (illusion), meditation is the highest practice and the physical body is burned after death. The gods, however, do incarnate in physical bodies on the earth, ie the avatars.
Persia: The individual begins to accept the physical body. The Epic of Gilgamesh relates the power of human friendship and the consequent tragedy of human loss. The earth is ploughed (development of agriculture), and geometry, the measurement of the earth, begins here as an application of the measurement of the heavens. These developments are reflected in the establishment of cities.
Egypt: In the Egyptian epoch the physical body is respected to such a degree that it is retained into the afterlife (mummification). A god now lives on earth as the Pharaoh. Practical geometry is refined with the building of the Pyramids and Temples and surveying of the land after the Nile inundations. Physical life is a preparation for spiritual life after death.
Greece: The physical body is worshipped (classical art and architecture, sport) and the significance of the afterlife is much less important. The individual is still subsidiary to the group; an objective study of the world begins.
Rome: The individual is organised into the application and organisation of the Ancient Greek ideals. The emergence of Christianity.
Medieval Europe: A human response to the chaos of the collapse of Rome. The individual as the mediator of an external god's will.
Renaissance: The birth of modern thought. God is within the individual. Responsibility and free will become the major issues.
Please note that the order in which the Main Lesson descriptors are presented in this document is not necessarily the order in which they have to be delivered.
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Literacy and Numeracy are introduced in Class 1. Science, geography and history are introduced as the child's development can best be nourished by the relevant context.
For example, science is taught through nature stories in Class1, and animal kingdoms and biology are studied in Class 3. Botany is introduced in Class 5 and meteorology and geology in Class 6. In Class 7 and 8 students study anatomy and physiology, as well as chemistry (organic and inorganic) and physics.
In Class 3 students study buildings of the world and undertake a class building project. Many of the structures in the school grounds, such as pizza ovens, garden sheds, shade shelters and the barn, have been constructed as class building projects. In Class 3, students also study horticulture and begin the gardening program. The School has an excellent vegetable garden which provides for winter soups and summer salads. From Class 4 onwards, the study of contemporary geography, history and sociology is introduced. Asian, American Indian and Australian Aboriginal stories are introduced as planned by each individual teacher.
The rhythmic structuring of the school day is integral to Steiner education.
The Main Lesson: The morning session introduces all new intellectual content.
The Middle session: The teacher works with practice sessions developing skills from previous Main lessons.
The afternoon session: This is devoted to more specifically physical activities, including painting, craft, sculpture and sport.
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The Class Teacher
A unique feature of Steiner education is that the class teacher stays with the class from Class 1 - 8, thus playing a vital role as educator, guide and protector. The teacher endeavours to stand before the class as a representative of the human being - providing not only continuity from class to class, but an authority that the child can trust.
The teacher can therefore develop a strong relationship with, and understanding of, the child's academic, social and emotional needs. There is also an ongoing connection with the child's family which can assist with the teacher's perception of the child.
The class teacher's purpose is to enliven all that is brought to the child with imagination and creativity. As the primary school child lives in a world of pictures, the teacher uses this medium through story-telling and description. A balance is created between intellectual work and creativity.
Class Carers are parents in each class nominated by the Class Teacher as a liaison
point with the class community. The class carer assists with communication across
the class, organises 'hand to heart' meals for families, assists in the orientation
of new families and generally assists the class teacher in organising class events.
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