The following article was written in cooperation with Friedhelm Garbe, the director of studies at Fernstudiums Waldorfpädagogik.
Rudolf Steiner –
Learning to understand
Rudolf Steiner (1861 – 1925) became particularly well known for his stimuli towards a holistic understanding of children and their manifold development steps. They can now be found on all continents on earth under the name of Waldorf Education. Organic agriculture (Demeter), holistic medicine and cosmetics (Weleda, WALA) and socially and ecologically responsible handling of money (GLS-Bank) also owe their basic ideas to Rudolf Steiner.
Every child is a unique personality
The predominant opinion in the 19th and at the beginning of the 20th century was that children were not yet independent individuals but first had to be brought up to be so. However, Rudolf Steiner started from the premise that unique personality traits can already be felt with babies and infants and that each child already comes into the world with an autonomous will to live and to learn.
But where does the child’s individual will to live and learn come from?
As a result of his spiritual investigations Rudolf Steiner came to the realization that people repeatedly return to earth after various time intervals and that we already bring with us something from our previous lives and are not born as blank slates. Associated with this, Rudolf Steiner proceeded on the assumption that every person has an individual task on earth among the people around him and in his time. There is a reason why we speak of a calling.
People’s real endeavour is to be able shape their lives meaningfully for themselves and for others and continue to develop. The feeling that one can make positive changes in oneself and one’s environment and that one is working towards the common good is what ultimately brings fulfilment and satisfaction. To make it possible for people to find their calling and develop a basic trust in their abilities, it is helpful if they are raised as children in an appropriate free and tolerant way.
The aims of parenting are orientated on the child
If parents want to enable their child to develop his individuality step by step, their aims can only be orientated on the child himself. Here it is important to know the phases of child development and their principles, e.g. that talking develops from learning to walk and thinking then develops from talking. The way in which a child accomplishes these steps, and with what intensity this happens, are an expression of his individuality. It is important to trust in the child and give him the time that he needs to unfold his potential.
Relationship building already begins before birth
Rudolf Steiner started from the premise that each person chooses his social environment, his parents and the family into which he is born. Nothing is left to coincidence. The consequence of these thoughts is that the unborn child already has a spiritual-emotional relationship to the people who will one day be his parents.
Limitless openness – all experience shapes and influences
The child commits himself to his parents’ care in full trust. A new-born baby is extraordinarily sensitive to what is happening in his surroundings, not only what can be seen and heard but also the spiritual and emotional energies in play.
Nowadays in alternative medicine the assumption that everything we experience is stored in every cell of our bodies is taken for granted.
A hundred years ago Rudolf Steiner professed that through their limitless openness everything that children experience is imprinted in them as far as physical level. All the adults’ behavior and social interactions as well as everything external such as room decoration, color and light conditions, materials for play etc. all have an influential effect.
This also includes an atmosphere surrounding the child that is as harmonious as possible with joy and cheerfulness in everyday situations. The quality of human social interactions is particularly important and also that these match the quality of the child’s untroubled mind. This does not mean that children should be jollied along or entertained. Very small children already have a precise grasp of differences in quality: for what is artificial or what comes from real human joy. (For more on this see Rudolf Steiner’s book, The Education of the Child.
Learning through example and emulation
Already in the first years of life a child learns the most important and difficult things: walking, talking and thinking. Nobody can teach a child this. A child does not rely on his eyes, otherwise blind children could not sit up. It is enough that children grow up among people who walk, talk and think. It is a matter of lovingly accompanying this learning – without interfering in the child’s development – and being honest and authentic. As the child grows older this ability to imitate shows itself in the small events of everyday life. He will behave in the same way that he is treated himself or experiences other people being treated. He will encounter his world with the same love, respect and care or impatience. When playing with a doll, for example, children emulate what they experience themselves or have seen happening.
Children do not learn intellectually
In around the first seven years children do not yet learn intellectually but through autonomous exploration and emulation. By perceiving the things in their surroundings with all their senses and imitating the conduct, values and norms of the adults, they get to know everything profoundly and comprehensively. What can permeate the senses and children can holistically internalise later becomes knowledge. (For more on this topic, please see Learning through holistic experience rather than explanations).
Education as self-education
When one realises what a strong effect emulation has on a child and how influential it is, it is also clear why Rudolf Steiner placed so much value on the self-education of adults. Both the child and the adults are learning; development never stops. Consequently the adult is also in a state of becoming and cannot demand more of a child than of himself – assuming that he wants to be authentic and credible.
The whole of Anthroposophy, which was founded by Rudolf Steiner, can in this sense be seen as a path of self-education. The aim is to awaken the spiritual and emotional powers that are latent in every person. Ultimately it is about people being able to shape their lives meaningfully with strength and confidence.
Rudolf Steiner’s ideas go far beyond early childhood development. Also at Steiner schools the aim is to take into account the individual development steps and needs of children and young people. Education is not seen as the pure conveyance of knowledge but as help in development.
Frans Carlgren: Education towards freedom: A survey of the Waldorf schools throughout the world. More information …
Peter Selg: The therapeutic eye. How Rudolf Steiner observed children. More information …
Peter Selg: The essence of Waldorf education. More information …
The Child from birth to three in Waldorf education and child care. More information …
On Rudolf Steiner:
Christoph Lindenberg: Rudolf Steiner. A biography. More information …
For further books
More about the beginning well topics, please click here …