The Waldorf method believes that when you engage children in learning using physical and sensorial skills – using fingers, eyes and ears – the brain or intellect kicks into gear automatically. The child begins questioning everything around him and tries to find reasons for everything he is experiencing. And so he has entered the intellectual world as well.
When you allow this process to happen, children are engaged and happy, not bored and dissatisfied. They are not passive recipients of information, but an active part of the learning process.
Which traits or areas does the system lay emphasis on developing?
We are not trying to develop any one area or characteristic in particular. We just want to nurture their capabilities, affinities and morality. We are more concerned with the wholistic development of the individual – an individual who can feel and think for himself, work with his hands and help shape the world.
What sets the Steiner system apart from other curricula for early learning?
Our school – we go up to grade 12 – has a mix of children. Those who have been with us from the beginning and been through our pre-primary programme, and also children who have joined the school later, perhaps in grade 4. And we can see some differences in their attitudes, in the way they react to the world. It’s hard to explain, but I would say that children who study in the Steiner system are more accepting of differences; they observe everything that has happening around them and understand the situation, but accept it for what it is. They do not react to the politics of the situation. Steiner children are more relaxed and approach a problem without a predetermined mind-set – they are flexible and can adapt to any situation.
What changes do you see in children from the time they enroll in a Steiner programme to when they leave?
The focus in our system is on building the ideal human being. What it is to be human – this is what we are trying to articulate and inculcate in our children. In a challenging world, our students have to be equipped to handle everything life throws at them. The Steiner system is preparing them for life itself by inculcating in them respect for everything around them and gratitude for life. For instance, we don’t teach ecology as a subject, rather we engage the children in gardening. Our nursery children play with earthworms. These elements then become a part of their lives and they are automatically concerned with protecting them. They also begin to understand how everything around us is interconnected.