In the Steiner philosophy, the celebration of festivals, music, song, drama, is of equal importance in the school curriculum to the teaching of the sciences. In fact, all subjects can be taught in a way that brings joy, and a love of learning to the child. This inner joy can then translate into positivity and goodwill for the future, even when the most difficult circumstances prevail.
Through story, song, art, history, and even in subjects such as maths, – which is essentially about sharing and equity – the curriculum is taught so that in addition to joy, it encourages the development of moral sympathy. The unfolding subjects foster a sense of responsibility towards the world and its inhabitants by awakening empathy in the child. Typically, Steiner pupils develop a strong moral muscle, which can later be put to use in the building of a just and tolerant society, where the strengths and virtues of each individual are recognised and can be wisely used to serve the needs of the whole community.
Among the many benefits of a Steiner Waldorf education is the unique model of stability it provides during the child’s formative years, in what is known as the “class teacher period”. Based on indications given by Rudolf Steiner from his extensive research into human needs, the class teacher in a Waldorf school remains with his or her class of pupils for up to eight years. This long-term commitment and the deepening interest the teacher takes in each pupil provides the child with continuity and emotional security. Research indicates that all children learn more effectively when they feel secure; when they can rely upon the continuing, honest unaffected love of a respected adult.
Most of us will probably remember the keen sense we had as children for recognising the people who cared about us. We knew who was loyal to us, who defended our corner, and who had our lasting well-being at heart. The comfort of knowing that people of this kind (usually including one or both of our parents), would be in our lives every day, was reassuring and gave us a sense of our own worth: we knew we mattered to them. Many of the pupils who attend the fledgeling Waldorf school at Goderich can not even rest on that assumption. Almost all have experienced high levels of sadness and loss in their young lives, and their childhood has been blighted by poverty and illness. Some are orphans.
Supported by donors, and run by volunteers, the Goderich Waldorf School has set out on a long journey to restore balance to the lives of some 74 children. In addition to providing them with an education they would not otherwise have received, the school, following the Steiner curriculum, has created opportunities for children to experience joy, a sense of goodness in the world, a feeling of security, and the certain knowledge that each one of them is valued, for now, and for the time to come. It has also created a small beacon of hope for the future of a damaged nation.