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Steiner Education at Alder Bridge School

A blackboard in one of the classrooms

Steiner education, which is practiced at Alder Bridge, is a gentle and seemingly low-key way of teaching: it involves a lot of artistic and craft activity, physical movement and coordination, music, language and sociability. It has a rather traditional, old-fashioned feel: for example children in the school learn times-tables (typically by clapping or stepping numbers as well as reciting them) rather than using calculators. (At Alder Bridge the only computers are in the school office: in the Steiner model they're only appropriate for children at later, more intellectual stages of their development.) The class rooms have blackboards (on which teachers write and draw beautifully, rather than scrawl) and the children write and practice what they are learning in large format books of good quality paper. (They don't generally use text-books: their lesson books become their own text books.)

One of the children's plans for the chicken coop The finished chicken coop

All music in the school is made by people, not tapes or CD machines. The curriculum includes French and German, taught orally, usually by native French and German speakers. At a certain stage of their schooling the lessons include building and farming, and that year my son and his class built a magnificent chicken coop which housed some re-homed ex-battery hens! (There were articles about it in the local papers.) Despite the breadth of the curriculum and the relatively late start (children don't start school before their 6th year) OFSTED reports well on the academic standards as well as other aspects of the school: it's as if when children do start writing, reading and 'rithmetic they take to it readily, rather than it being a struggle as it can be for children pushed into it earlier by hot-housing, target-driven approaches.

A play shop in a kindergarten

Before school age, in kindergarten, children are allowed and encouraged to play without adults pushing them into early learning goals and objectives. (We had a battle with the government's Department of Children Schools and Families which wanted to push the Early Years Foundation Stage early literacy targets onto our kindergartens - despite the fact that the children are below the age of compulsory education and our kindergartens receive not a penny of government money!) However the kindergartens are far from the chaotic free-for-all found in some settings: there is a structure and a rhythm to the days, with typically an art, craft or bread-making which the children may take part in, a communal snack in which children help set table places, pass round food and water, and clear away afterwards; time to play outdoors, a story (always told rather than read) as well as free play time indoors.

The school and kindergartens cater for children from 3 to about 12–14 years. There are about 3 dozen children in the school and a couple of dozen in the kindergartens. Since it's not state-funded (only one Steiner school in this country is) it is fee-paying, though it's a lot cheaper than the for-profit private schools (and it's not in imminent danger of making a profit :-/). Even so, many of us struggle with the principle of paying for education, and I don't think any Steiner school wishes to be exclusive through being fee-paying, but would prefer to be state funded as they are in Germany, the Netherlands and parts of Scandanavia.

There are two UK-produced videos about Steiner education: Time To Learn by Jonathan Stedall (1994, 110 minutes) and What is a Steiner School? (2007, 20 minutes). Both are available from the Steiner Waldorf Schools Fellowship (SWSF) bookshop. Time To Learn is available only on VHS, and What is a Steiner School? is on DVD. Both are interesting but the longer, earlier work goes into Steiner Education in greater depth and breadth.

The SWSF website has some clips from the What is a Steiner School? DVD. These give an idea of Steiner Education, although much of it is about Upper Schools (14+ years). Alder Bridge would probably like to develop an Upper School but currently offers only Lower School and Early Years.

I've made some clips from Time To Learn to show something of Steiner Kindergarten and Lower School.

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