What is Steiner Education?

Steiner education is a unique and distinctive approach to educating children that has been practiced in Steiner schools worldwide for almost 100 years. Steiner schools collectively form the largest, and quite possibly the fastest growing, group of independent schools in the world. Currently, there are more than 1100 Steiner schools and 2000 Kindergartens in over 70 countries. Each is administratively independent and supported by established associations, such as Steiner Education Australia that provide resources, publish materials, sponsor conferences and promote Steiner education. Steiner schools share a common pedagogy derived from an understanding and respect for the developing and unfolding human being, inspired by the work of Rudolf Steiner.

What are the origins of Steiner / Waldorf education?

In 1919, Rudolf Steiner, the Austrian philosopher, scientist and artist, was invited to give a series of lectures to the workers of the Waldorf Astoria cigarette factory in Stuttgart, Germany. As a result, the factory’s owner, Emil Molt, asked Steiner to establish and lead a school for the children of the factory’s employees. Steiner agreed to do so on four conditions:

  • The school should be open to all children;
  • It should be coeducational;
  • It should be a unified twelve-year school;
  • The teachers working directly with the children would take a leading role in the running of the school, with a minimum of interference from governmental or economic concerns.

Molt agreed to the conditions and after a training period for the prospective teachers, the first Waldorf school was opened in September 1919.
The names Steiner and Waldorf Education are inter-changeable, the latter referencing the very first school.

Who was Rudolf Steiner?

Dr. Rudolf Steiner was a highly respected and well-published scientific, literary and philosophical scholar who was particularly known for his work on Goethe’s scientific writings. He later came to incorporate his scientific investigations with his interest in spiritual development. He became a forerunner in the field of spiritual-scientific investigation.

His background in history and civilisations, coupled with his observations of  life, gave the world the gift of Steiner Education. It is a deeply, insightful application of learning based on the study of humanity with a developing consciousness of self and the surrounding world.

What is the philosophy behind Steiner education?

Anthroposophy refers to the wisdom of the human being. Steiner designed a curriculum responsive to the developmental phases in childhood and the nurturing of children’s imagination and curiosity. He thought schools should cater to the needs of children rather than the demands of the government or economic forces, so he developed an education that encourages creativity and develops freethinking young adults.

Why would I choose to send my child to a Steiner school?

Steiner schools honour and protect the wonder of childhood. Every effort is expended to make Steiner schools safe, secure and nurturing environments for children and to support their need to play, be a part of nature and build strong foundations for future success. Steiner education has a consistent philosophy of child development underlying the curriculum. All subjects are introduced in an age-appropriate fashion from Kinder to Year 12. Steiner schools produce well-rounded graduates who are academically advantaged and who consistently gain admission to top universities.

How is reading taught in a Steiner school?

Steiner education is deeply bound up with the oral tradition, typically beginning with the teacher telling the children stories throughout the early childhood years and first grade. The oral approach is used all through Steiner education. Mastery of oral communication is seen as being foundational and integral to all learning.
Formal, explicit reading instruction is slightly deferred. Instead, writing is taught first. During the first grade the children explore how our alphabet came about, discovering, as the ancients did, how each letter’s form evolved out of a pictograph. Writing thus evolves out of the children’s art. Their ability to read likewise evolves as a natural and often effortless stage of their mastery of language. A dedicated Learning Support team works in collaboration with class teachers to monitor and ensure student progress.

How successfully do students transition between mainstream and Steiner schools?

Students across all age groups seamlessly transition between schools.
Students transferring to a Steiner school between the ages of six to nine may have received more intensive reading instruction. The skills of watercolor painting, handcrafts, recorder playing, music, form drawing and modelling provide new and interesting challenges however and the narrative based curriculum and rhythm of the day enable students to engage fully in their learning. By the end of Class 3 student literacy development is on a par with their mainstream counterparts.

Why are festivals and ceremonies celebrated in Steiner schools?

Festivals are a vital part of Waldorf Education. They provide nourishment to the individual and bring the community together in meaningful ways. The festival is an anniversary that brings to a community the richness of story and song, light and food and celebrates our shared humanity. A festival is a joyous celebration of life, and has the quality of lifting us out of the ordinary and into the mysteries and magic of the rhythm of the seasons. Each festival is a mood, an attitude, an experience; it is a social expression that reflects and celebrates an entire season. Celebrations are interwoven with the life of the earth and the cycles of nature.

Festivals are of special pedagogical significance for the development of the child. They help the child to increasingly find orientation in time. For the younger child, time is still passing slowly. Festivals help to subdivide time into different qualities and provide a sustainable experience of being at home in time. Festivals can reflect the rhythms of the surrounding nature and provide mirrors of local and religious traditions as well as the cultural customs of the area. For older students, the experience of being able to present the results of learning efforts to the parents and to the rest of the school community at school festivals is significant. Presentations on stage within the protection of the class community strengthen the child´s psychological development through the growth of self-confidence.

How does a Steiner School policy on student use of media and technology differ from other schools?

At Willunga Waldorf School you will not find ipads, laptops or computers in the Kindergarten or the Primary School classrooms. From Class 8 onwards, computers are used as a tool to support learning on a regular basis. There is increasing research about the impact of excessive screen time upon the development of healthy imagination and play.

What kind of training do Steiner teachers have?

All of our teachers are fully trained and state registered. In addition, while requirements within individual schools may vary, class teachers may have also completed training from a recognised, Steiner teacher training college or institute. Some Steiner training programs can also grant degrees in conjunction with Steiner teaching certification. High School teachers are selected for their expertise in specialist subjects.

Do students stay with the same teacher for all their primary school years?

At Willunga Waldorf School the class teacher period extends from Class 1 to Class 5.
Between these ages, children learn best through warmth and authority, just as in their earlier years they learned through imitation. In Primary School, particularly in the lower grades, the child is just beginning to expand his or her experience beyond home and family. The class becomes a form of extended family with its own authority figure, “the teacher”. Students move into the Middle School with a new teacher to complete Class 6 and 7 before entering the High School. A broad range of subject specialists teach in the High School. Two class guardian teachers accompany each High School class from years 8 to 12. Class Guardians meet with their class once per week and conduct parent teacher meetings termly.

What is Anthroposophy?

The term “Anthroposophy’ comes from the Greek “anthropos-sophia” or “human wisdom”. Steiner’s investigations into spirit, known also as Spiritual Science provide a complement to the Natural Sciences. It should be stressed that while Anthroposophy forms the theoretical and philosophical basis to the pedagogy used in Steiner schools, it is not taught to the students.

Through study and practiced observation, one awakens to his/her own inner nature and the spiritual realities of outer nature and the cosmos. The awareness of those relationships brings a greater reverence for all of life.

Steiner and many individuals since, who share his basic views, have applied this knowledge in various practical and cultural ways in communities around the world. The fruits of Anthroposophy grow into all fields of human life and action. Most notably, Steiner schools have made a significant impact on the world. Curative education, for mentally and emotionally handicapped adults and children, has established a deep understanding and way of working with people who have this difficult destiny. Biodynamic farming and gardening has greatly expanded the range of techniques available to organic agriculture. Anthroposophical medicine and pharmacy, well established in Europe are subjects of growing interest in Australia.

Are Steiner schools religious?

Classes in religious doctrine are not part of the Steiner curriculum and children of all religious backgrounds attend Steiner schools. Spiritual guidance is aimed at awakening the child’s natural reverence for the wonder and beauty of life and a corresponding, age appropriate social responsibility. In the Senior School, students undertake a course in spirituality that explores all the religions of the world.

Steiner’s approach to Christian spirituality is not taught to students and cannot be judged by the standards, established practices or doctrines of traditional Christian churches yet he wrote extensively of a cosmic or universal Christ, described as an expression of the highest self or a manifestation of the potential of humanity. This includes the potential to transform the freedom of egoism into the freedom of love. Steiner describes individual freedom as the goal of our spiritual evolution. The purpose of contemporary Steiner Education is to help develop what matters most, the capacity to sense and bring into being our highest future possibility.

How does your school deal with students with learning difficulties?

Willunga Waldorf School has an outstanding Learning Support team. Members work collaboratively with class teachers and parents to design individual learning and student support plans as required. A given child’s challenges in one area, whether cognitive, emotional or physical, will usually be balanced by strengths in another area. It is the teacher’s job to try to bring the child’s whole being into balance.

What post school pathways do Willunga Waldorf School graduates undertake?

Students at Willunga Waldorf School are able to complete a full K to Twelve, Steiner curriculum. The final, non-standarised Year Twelve still has to meet all Australian national curriculum guidelines in its own way. Graduates are then eligible for acceptance into South Australian universities on the basis of their grades, moderated as an ATAR score. Every Willunga Waldorf School student who has applied for university entrance in the last decade has been accepted into a course of his or her choice. Equally valued and supported are pathways to the technical vocations.
Amongst our alumni we have lawyers, doctors, artists, social workers, nurses, actors, computer engineers, educators, animators, photographers, fashion designers, sign writers, architects and more.


We recognise that choosing a school is a big decision. We invite you to visit us and learn more about how a Waldorf education at Willunga Waldorf School can benefit your child.

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