Day in the Life
School as a Journey
There is now a growing understanding that education is a journey rather than a race*. This journey is based on quality and depth of teaching, alongside a broad and rich curriculum. The curriculum is distinctive, and in particular, because the age at which topics are introduced corresponds to the developmental needs of the pupils.
In order to achieve this quality and depth of teaching, the first two hours of each day are devoted to the main-lesson, in which a curriculum theme will be studied for three to four-weeks; in Class 5 for example, four weeks of studying Ancient Civilizations might be followed by four weeks of Decimal Fractions. Throughout the Lower School, the curriculum is designed to support and encourage the pupils’ healthy development, both in terms of academic outcomes and in terms of their social and personal growth.
The Class Teacher
Another central feature of the educational journey of the Lower School is that of the Class Teacher. When a group of children make the transition from the Early Years kindergartens to Class 1, they are assigned a Class Teacher. This teacher is responsible for the main-lesson each day, but also for the general pastoral care of each child within the class.
The class teacher accompanies the class for the eight-year journey through the Lower School from Class 1 through to Class 8. This unique approach enables the individual learning styles of each child to be thoroughly understood; only then can teaching can be highly effective. The continuity of having a class teacher for eight years promotes a strong class identity and sense of belonging for each pupil within the group. Although many class teachers do complete the ideal of an eight-year journey with their class, there are also circumstances in which a class may have a number of class teachers during their time in the Lower School.
Curriculum and Subject Lessons
The Lower School curriculum, offers a broad range of subject lessons that include: modern languages, painting, handwork, woodwork, eurythmy, gym, games, gardening, religion and music. As with the main-lessons, the content of the subject lessons is carefully designed to meet and support the growing child at each successive stage of his or her development. There are two subject lessons after morning break and three lessons after lunch.
The Progression of Narrative
Underpinning the main-lesson content in the Lower School there is a strong emphasis on story-telling and each school year has a distinctive narrative theme (see picture below). There is a natural progression to these themes that begins its journey in the realm of the imagination, gradually becomes more factual, and leads finally to a causal understanding of modern history and the present day. This progression is directly related to the developing child, and is based on the particular quality of narrative that ‘speaks’ most deeply to pupils at a given stage of their development.
Some of the guiding themes of Lower School curriculum and narrative themes are represented beautifully in the picture below. Click on the picture for the full explanation behind the picture.
Character of the Education
Teaching and learning in the Lower School have a strong emphasis on oracy. Through class-discussions, recitation of poetry and daily singing, pupils become confident and skillful users of the English language. Pupils also learn two modern languages such as French, German or Spanish.
A key insight of the Steiner Waldorf approach is that pupils of Lower School age respond particularly well when learning has a strong visual focus. With this in mind, pupils devote a considerable amount of time to creating beautiful illustrations in their main-lesson books based on curriculum topics
More generally, the overarching aim of the Lower is for each pupil to develop a passionate curiosity and resilient enthusiasm for learning. These qualities or outcomes, are expressed as a genuine interest in every subject studied. This Steiner Waldorf approach to education reaches beyond the specifics of what is learned; it creates a life-long enthusiasm for learning, a deeply held belief that the world, human beings and every academic discipline, all afford wonderful opportunities for further learning.
*We are grateful to colleagues at St Paul’s Steiner School in London for the formulation of this statement.
Lower School – Classes 1 to 3
Formal learning begins in Class 1 (age 6/7) when the ‘learning through doing’ experience in Kindergarten transforms into teacher-led learning. The child’s capacity for independent, representational and pictorial thinking is now beginning to emerge clearly and the method of education responds accordingly. Movement and rhythmic activity are strong aspects of Classes 1-3 (for example: skipping, clapping and stepping games) and these support the development of numeracy, literacy and artistically-presented work.
In keeping with the age of the child, the overall mood is one of immersive wholeness, with new material presented largely through picture and story. The archetypal images of fairy stories nourish the child’s holistic experience of their external environment. The Kindergarten’s principles of imitation and repetition-based confidence in memory are continued alongside reverence for nature, respect for the environment and for each other.
In Class 2 (age 7/8), skills are developed through artistic and imaginative work which foster the growth of the child’s capacity to form clear thought-pictures. The curriculum cultivates a sense for the breadth and richness of language, and of the feelings and emotions it conveys. Short fables, with their humorous one-sidedness, and stories of the saints, as an image of humanity, are told and recalled orally. This work leads into short written pieces. Gross and fine motor skills are cultivated and refined through flute playing, handwork and rhythmic work.
In Class 3 (age 8/9), there are significant changes in the child’s physiological, psychological and cognitive makeup. Experiences are felt more strongly, and a growing sense of objectivity develops. Questions, doubts, aloneness and a tendency to criticism may emerge, changing both behaviour and the psychological landscape fundamentally.
The children begin, unconsciously, to question the authority of the teacher but through security in the teacher’s knowledge and experience of the world, they are guided through a time of change. The Class is moulded into a “we”, as a basis for the challenges of Class 4 (age 9/10).
Lower School – Classes 4 and 5
This is a period when the child separates from his or her surrounding and the ‘I-You’ polarity strengthens. The child begins to understand and think independently of his or her sense-experiences, to formulate concepts and to classify the world. One sees the child beginning to learn to think and reason logically, and showing an eagerness to learn about the world, namely ‘this world’ versus ‘his/her world’.
At this age in particular, the class is taught in a way which creates a strong group identity and this sense of “we” provides a secure context for the challenges of the emergent individual that began in Class 3 and deepens in Class 4 (age 9/10). The child begins to understand and think independently of his or her sense-experiences, to formulate pictorially-based concepts and to classify the world. One sees the child beginning to learn to think and reason logically, and showing an eagerness to learn about the world.
The child’s body gains strength and sustained physical effort is possible. Stamina combined with skill shows itself in beautiful movement, poised between levity and gravity. The transition from early childhood is complete and harmonious balance is achieved as the child stands mid-point between Class 1 and 8, and midpoint between birth and maturity at the age of 21.
The aims and objectives of this period are to build on and develop the basic learning skills (reading, writing, attention, numeracy, social, independence), acquired in Classes 1 to 3 and to develop an independent focus and the beginnings of independent learning.
For more information you can read the What to Expect in the Lower School Booklet.
Lower School – Classes 6 to 8
In these years the limbs begin to lengthen and the child starts to experience a ‘fall’ into gravity. Physiologically, pupils enter into puberty and the first birth pangs of individuality are felt. The child experiences a yearning for independence together with underlying anxiety, emotional vulnerability and mood swings. Authority is openly and critically questioned and parents and teachers are challenged accordingly.
The teaching moves from myth to history – and to learning the inter-relatedness of life through the introduction of the physical and earth sciences in Class 6. The scientific and artistic developments of the Renaissance are a central theme for Class 7. The Geography of the World is introduced through studying the Great Age of Exploration; widening geographic horizons corresponding to the broadening outlook of the young adolescent. In Class 8, the gradual progression of main-lesson topics finds its completion in stories of industrial, and social revolutions. These themes lead to modern history and a grounded understanding for each pupil of the technological developments and historical context of the present day.
For more information you can read the What to Expect in the Middle School Booklet
“The education allows the child to unfold at a natural pace without the pressure and hot housing of state and other independent schools. The learning is age appropriate with a diverse range of creative and academic subjects.”Parent