This is a message by Jeny Shepherd from the Oz-Gifted list that responds to an inquiry about the Steiner methodology and how appropriate it might be for gifted children. It is published with Jeny's permission.
I'm far from being an expert on the subject, but as a Steiner educated (until end year 9) student, I've just come across the "Steiner discussion" with interest. I left the school of my own choice as I felt frustrated with the limited peer group, as there was only a single class at each grade level, and with the lack of academic competition provided. I have not regretted the decision once, but realise, with the 20/20 vision of hindsight that there are things I do in my teaching now which relate back to my own experience of 10 years of Steiner education.
Now, as a specialist teacher of the gifted and also the learning disabled, I can also see that Steiner education has benefits, especially for students who are NOT strongly academically competitive or who have gifts and talents outside the "academic" fields. Certainly very suitable for kinaesthetically and visually oriented learners and those who need to have the opportunity to excel in non-academic areas and maybe even discover what these areas are; if they've only previously been participating in educational programs and environments which predominantly reward academic success. This is really depressing for the child who cannot succeed in these areas and who has not learned to appreciate and enjoy the other areas of endeavour in which they may be able to succeed. Waldorf designed educational units are also very useful for teaching remedial students and those who do not memorise material easily. A web site critical of Rudolph Steiner, his philosophy and Waldorf education is listed below, along with a little bit of info I lifted from these pages.
>From this site:
Today there are 100 Waldorf schools in the United States and Canada with another 115 in the process of officially becoming Waldorf institutions. The schools are also common in other countries, where they are called "Steiner schools". More than 600 Waldorf schools operate in 32 countries, serving approximately 120,000 students.
Waldorf schools reflect Steiner's education theories, which hold that children advance through three stages.
Anthroposophists believe that during the first stage, birth to age 7, the spirit inhabiting the body of the child is still adjusting to its surroundings, hence lower grades in Waldorf school offer minimal academic content. Reading is not introduced until second or third grade. During the second stage, ages seven to 14, children are said to be driven primarily by imagination and fantasy, so students are introduced to mythology. After age 14, the third stage, an astral body is believed to be drawn into the physical body, creating the onset of puberty.
Waldorf schools place a heavy emphasis on the arts. All students are taught to knit and play the recorder. Four "seasonal festivals" are celebrated in school &emdash; Michaelmas, Christmas, Easter and St. John's Day - with the aim, as Waldorf literature states, to "connect humanity to the rhythms of nature and of the cosmos".
The Waldorf approach includes some ideas that many educators would consider attractive. It is a "developmental" approach to education, in which the individual student's emotional and intellectual development is considered in the development of curricula. One teacher stays with a group of students for several years. The approach integrates art and music into the everyday curriculum, rather than treating them as "specialties" taught irregularly. There is much manual manipulation; a typical Waldorf activity, for example, is knitting, for both boys and girls. Students learn a foreign language in elementary school. Creativity is given emphasis over rote learning.
Hope this helps!
Gifted Education and Learning Support Teacher
"I have touched the future - I'm a teacher"