“Life itself is the great school for life, and one only truly graduates from school when from there one brings the faculty to learn from life one’s whole life long”.
Rudolf Steiner, 19.6.1919
Education from birth onwards
From when they first draw breath, children want to learn. They have a will to learn, are alert. They want to learn, to know the earth, society; to move and to change. Education begins at birth.
Research has shown the brain to be an organ given to adapting and that the connections between nerve cells change when an individual undergoes new experiences.
Neurobiology and non-material forces
For some time, neurobiology has recognised that non-material forces have an influence on the human brain. (1) Since the start of this century, the cognitive sciences have transformed their model for researching education. It has been especially realised that children do not need lesson-based education. Gerald Hüther, Professor of Neurobiology at Germany’s Göttingen University, and Lise Eliot, Professor of Neurobiology at Chicago University, both claim that our only innate aptitudes are to move, to walk, to speak and to learn to read (and write). The genes and nerve cells for these purposes are present at birth. But the cerebral connections do not happen on their own. They develop as and when the child acquires and exercises these aptitudes. This new insight calls for an approach to education centred on the needs of the child.
Education comes from relationships
Children are not mere vessels to be filled with the kind of knowledge adults judge to be important. They learn through their links to people who are important to them, and through what these people themselves regard as important.
They therefore need teachers capable of giving children a sense of security and protection, and of helping them solve their problems. This is how they develop confidence, both in their relationships with other people and in their own ability to give form to their lives. The capacities and aptitudes that children bring with them are a veritable treasure that should never be lost.
From the foregoing we can discern the following key considerations:
• Let children decide for themselves; do not make them strangers to their own experience, especially not as regards nature.
• Encourage overall development of their senses and perception through a suitably organised educational environment.
• Give them examples that encourage them to build a relationship full of love, warmth and empathy.
• Do not overwhelm them with endless toys (designed by adults), but provide them with a rich range of materials that will serve and stimulate their innate thirst for discovery and foster their ability to develop their own identity through free play.
• Ensure repetition and rhythm; from this too they learn readily.
• Avoid stress and fear.
• Provide for music and languages early on.
Swiss Steiner-Waldorf schools have reorganised the school years by creating the ‘elementary level’, in which crèches, parent-child groups, playgroups and kindergartens share a common purpose with the first and second classes (ages 7 and 8). Conceived to correspond to the particular needs of each child they serve as education institutions for the infant years.
(1) Further reading:
G. Hüther, Biologie der Angst, Wie aus Stress Gefühle werden, Sammlung Vandenhoeck, 1997. [Biology of Fear.]
M. Spitzer, Lernen, Gehirnforschung und die Schule des Lebens, Spektrum Akademischer Verlag, 2002. [Learning, Brain Research and the School of Life.]
L. Eliot, Was geht da drinnen vor? Die Gehirnentwicklung in den ersten fünf Lebensjahren, Berlin Verlag, 2001. [What comes from within? The development of the brain in the first five years of life.]