Steiner in practice - Honeybee Cottage

Library Home  >  Profiles & InterviewsApproaches to Early Childhood Education
  Published on Tuesday, 08 May 2018

Steiner in practice - Honeybee Cottage

Library Home  >  Profiles & InterviewsApproaches to Early Childhood Education
  Published on Tuesday, 08 May 2018

What is your background and professional experience in the early childhood sector?

I began my career as a live-in nanny at age 18, which made me realise I wanted to work with children. I completed a Certificate III and a Diploma of Children's Services at TAFE, working casually at long day cares as I studied. I then went onto university and studied for a Bachelor of Teaching in Early Childhood, and then a Bachelor of Education.

I was also working in preschools and long day cares during university. I began teaching casually in primary schools, and studying the Foundation year in Steiner Early Childhood Education, when I landed a fulltime job at a Steiner preschool in Sydney. After a few years there, the Steiner school asked me to apply for the kindergarten teacher position, and I worked as the kindy teacher for six years. Since moving north, I have worked at Steiner schools running playgroups, working in the kindergarten and preschools. I now run my own home-based Steiner Early Childhood Education and Care, Honeybee Cottage.

What drew you to the Steiner approach?

I visited a Steiner school after I finished my diploma, and remember thinking "Wow, is this what learning can be?" An environment steeped in beauty, natural surroundings, and the content presented with such warmth and aliveness encouraged me to find out more about the Steiner approach.

How did you train or qualify to become a Steiner Teacher?

In Australia one needs formal qualifications such as a certificate or teaching degree, and then a Steiner education certificate on top of that.

I trained for a few years at Sydney Rudolf Steiner College for my early childhood qualification, and have also completed short courses and workshops on particular topics. Melbourne also has a wonderful training college, as does Perth and New Zealand. Many Steiner schools offer workshops, seminars and talks that anyone can attend, and I recommend contacting your local school to find out about these.

What are the key teachings of the Steiner approach for early childhood?

The three Rs are most important - rhythm, repetition and reverence.

We follow a daily, weekly and seasonal rhythm, that is, the same things in the same order each day. A weekly rhythm, in that our daily activity may change, so we may do painting on Mondays, baking bread on Tuesdays, bush walking on Wednesdays etc. And a seasonal rhythm, in that our songs, stories, festivals and activities reflect the season and what is happening in nature at the time. When the rhythm is the same each day, it allows the child to really feel safe and secure, to let go and relax so that they can learn.

Repetition, meaning that we may sing the same group of songs, or tell the same puppet story for three weeks, and we will repeat the same activities over and again, so that children can gain a sense of mastery and skill, and build on their memory.

Reverence, meaning that we move slowly with gratitude for each other, for nature, and the world. We pause to sing a song of gratitude for our food before each meal time, we light a candle before telling our story, and each child is treated with such respect and reverence at all times.

What does a child learn in a Steiner early childhood setting?

The young child is allowed to unfold slowly, and given unhurried time and space to grow and develop. There is no rushing in a Steiner setting, no hurrying up!

The teacher trusts that the children are capable learners, and the repetition of daily activities really allows the children to gain skills and self confidence in their own abilities. The young child learns everything through imitation, so the teacher engages in meaningful activities that the children can imitate from. Simple everyday tasks that are natural and meaningful, like cooking, cleaning, sewing, gardening, caring for animals, woodwork, making toys. The children's main activity is play, where they can practice everything that they are learning.

How is play viewed in a Steiner early childhood setting?

Play is the most important task of the child under the age of seven. Play is the child's work. By play, I mean self-directed, unstructured and uninterrupted play. In a Steiner setting, all of the toys and materials are set up beautifully and in order. The teacher does not create contrived activities, or make any suggestions to the children about what they should play that day. There are not any table activities, just toys and natural open ended materials so that the children can use and strengthen their imaginations, and immerse deeply into their play. The teacher engages in her own work during playtime, and may hum or sing quietly. It is the teacher’s role to create and hold a space with their presence so that the children can relax into their task of playing.

Is the Steiner approach spiritual on a day to day basis?

Part of our work as educators is the knowing that everything that surrounds a child can and does have an effect on their whole being, body, mind and soul. The way we speak to a child, our words, our tone, what the child touches, what the child eats, the colours used in furnishings, what the child is surrounded with all has an effect.

We strive to create a beautiful, peaceful and calm environment, eat healthy food, and speak good words, have respect for each other and for Mother Earth. Our actions become the children's actions.

We acknowledge the child as a whole being connected to everything.

In your opinion what are the main advantages to the Steiner approach for children?

  • Children are allowed to have a simple and magical childhood.
  • Children develop a deep connection and reverence for nature and sustainability.
  • Children develop self-regulation and a connectedness, or knowing, of themselves as human beings.
  • Children develop a sense of community and care for others, as we work towards cooperation, not competition.
  • Through our rhythmical days, children's body rhythms develop healthfully.
  • The educator teaches with, and through love for each child, what could be better than that!

How important is the physical environment, toys and equipment in a Steiner setting?

Remembering that everything that surrounds a child has a profound effect on them, a Steiner setting strives to have peaceful and relaxing colours and tones on their walls and furnishings and toys, so that this peace and calm surrounds the young child. The toys are usually all handmade, knitted, sewn or crafted from wood, and there are many baskets of natural open ended materials, such as baskets of shells, stones, tree branches, wooden beads, pinecones and seed pods.

Children are able to use their imaginations to play with these items in so many varied ways, that a shell can sometimes become a cup for a dolly to drink from, money to be used in a shop, a telephone to call mum, or a little home for a fairy to live in! We also spend a lot of time outdoors, in nature, so simple toys here too, maybe a few buckets and spades for the sandpit, some water, some mud, rocks, sticks, something to climb, something to nibble in the garden. Research has shown that being in nature has a profound effect on calming our nervous systems and reducing stress, so here, less is best.

How does a day in a Steiner setting differ from conventional programs?

We follow a very strong rhythm. This is different from a routine, which is usually following a clock, and always quickly hurrying to get to the next activity. Here, we have a slow unhurried space that really allows children to have time to daydream, to go deeply into their play, to master a new skill. We gather together for a morning greeting song, and then maybe something to eat. The day is predictable and easy, flowing from activity to activity naturally, just like our breath.

Something else most notable, which I briefly mentioned above, is the role of the educator, being present and attuned to all of the children, being right there if they are needed, yet, not interrupting the child's play. Often educators in conventional programs might believe that they need to be "doing something" or "extending the children's learning" with their adult ideas. If we allow the child time and uninterrupted space, we see that they extend their own learning, and have the most wonderful ideas, and even the very youngest child plays independently for long stretches of time.

Everything is done as gently as possible to allow the child to live into their dreamy childhood.

How can non-Steiner early childhood settings incorporate Steiner practices to benefit children?

There are many simple and wonderful things that can be incorporated into all early childhood centres for the benefit of children and adults. Here are some simple ideas:

  • Removing 'closed' toys, toys that are too formed and only have one function (such as a plastic carrot in the home corner) and replace with more open ended items made from natural materials, like baskets of shells, seedpods, gumnuts.
  • Try to remove plastic items and replace with toys made with love from natural materials.
  • Telling stories with good moral content, simple, real life stories the children can connect to.
  • Having a nature table in the room, a special place, covered with a cloth that represents the current season, with a scene representing what is happening at this time in nature. Currently it is autumn and I have an orange cloth, a few felted pumpkins, an apple tree and some cheeky hand sewn mice on my nature table.
  • Remove any screen time, and encourage your families to do the same, instead connect with nature, just go outside, watch the breeze in the trees, sing a little song about the wind, maybe see a bird fly overhead. These simple real life things, without any explanation are what children need.
  • Stop testing children and asking them silly questions that you already know the answer to (like "what colour is your shirt?"). Engage in respectful conversations, you can find out a lot about what children know by observing them and speaking to them normally.
  • As an adult, engage in skills and crafts in front of the children, that are meaningful and for a purpose. Knitting a blanket for a dolly in the wintertime, grinding wheat to make flour to then bake bread or muffins, planting seeds in the garden, using hammer and nail to make a bird feeder.
  • Treat children's play seriously, it is vital.
  • Catch yourself when you feel the need to interrupt or direct a child's play, and wait. Then wait again. You will be surprised at how capable children really are.
  • Read and research more about this wonderful style of education.

This child care article was last reviewed or updated on Friday, 24 January 2020