Literacy and Numeracy in Steiner schools
Steiner education supports a slower start to formalised academic learning
Steiner's picture of child development supports the view that young children need more time and space to develop and learn through physical activities, exploration, social interaction, collaboration and communication before their formal education begins.
Our experience is that a slower start results in higher levels of academic achievement and wellbeing in later years.
In Steiner schools, this means that children do not commence their formal literacy and numeracy lessons until the second year of primary school (Year 1). However, oral literacy and numeracy is fundamental to the Kindergarten curriculum, providing a strong foundation.
Over their educational journey in the primary years, students follow the evolutionary path of literacy - from oral literacy through cultural literacy to digital literacy. Similarly, they experience the evolutionary development of numeracy through different historical periods. This leads to a deeper appreciation of both areas.
Our definition of literacy is a wide one
"Literacy is a powerful, wide-ranging life skill beyond traditional notions of talking, listening, reading and writing" - Australian Literacy Education Association, 2015
"Literacy incorporates a range of modes of communication including music, movement, drama, story-telling, visual arts - as well as talking, listening, viewing, reading and writing" - Early Years Learning Framework
The benefits of Play
An extended period of experiential learning (as opposed to instructional learning) has been recognised in a number of longitudinal studies as being very important in the healthy development of young children. It is not a matter of not being able to teach a child of 3-4 reading and writing, but rather a question of at what cost to the development of other foundational faculties that may need to be developed first.
In a Steiner school, kindergarten children are very busy and experience a broad range of activities: storytelling, music, visual arts (painting, drawing, modelling), drama (informal role plays, puppet shows), outdoor activities (gardening, building), physical activities, movement etc. Oral literacy and numeracy are incorporated into many of these activities.
Neuroscientific studies have shown that playful activity leads to synaptic growth, particularly in the frontal cortex - the part of the brain responsible for all the uniquely human higher mental functions. It is therefore important to allow time for that growth to occur.
Physical, constructional, social and 'pretend' play supports children in their skills of intellectual and emotional 'self-regulation', skills that have been shown to be crucial in early learning and development.
Evidence / Research
A campaign letter, 'Too much, too soon'', was sent to the Daily Telegraph (UK) in 2013 from 130 educators and child psychologists advocating a delay to the start of formal schooling until the age of 7. This is in line with a number of other European countries, notably Finland and Denmark, that currently are achieving higher levels of academic achievement long-term and child wellbeing.
A UNICEF report in 2017 placed Australia 39/41 countries in the quality of education. Three Scandinavian countries - Finland (first), Denmark (5th) and Norway (9th) were in the top ten. The education system in all three countries focused on a slower start to formal instruction, inclusive education, emphasis on curiosity, experimentation and discovery, shorter school days and more extra-curricular activities. In Australia, there is a very set curriculum and outcomes. However, it would not appear to be delivering a high quality of education overall for our children.
The focus in Steiner education is always on the pathway to the healthiest possible development of the whole child.
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