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Here's What Steiner Schools Are All About

Everything you need to know about this whole-human approach to teaching.

When it comes to education for your child, it might seem like you’ve pretty much got two options: public or private. But if you do a deeper dive, you’ll find different types of instruction that might be better suited for your little student. So get ready to get schooled on what a Steiner school is, because this info just might get you (and your child) to the head of the class.

What Is A Steiner School?

Steiner schools are based on the principles created by Rudolf Steiner, an Austrian esotericist, Steiner Waldorf reported. Steiner is credited with being the founding father of Anthroposophy, which is a belief in using natural ways to attain optimal mental and physical well-being, as well as understanding the whole self.

So how does this relate to your kiddo’s education? Well, Steiner Schools (or Waldorf Schools, as they’re also known), teach children in an entirely unique and hands-on manner, Marisha Plotnik, an upper school coordinator at the Rudolf Steiner School in New York City tells Romper. “One of the hallmarks of a Steiner school is its early childhood education, which is distinguished by its play-based program,” says Plotnik. “There is no formal academic instruction in early childhood education.”

That’s right, a Steiner school education (particularly for the elementary school set) doesn’t focus on memorization as a means to learning. “In a Waldorf school, the promise is that children will learn to absorb and reflect on information rather than just memorizing facts and taking tests,” Emily Green, an education advocate and author of School, Disrupted: Rediscovering the Joy of Learning in a Pandemic-Stricken World tells Romper.

We know what you’re thinking: how do students actually learn, then? Well, be prepared for play — lots and lots of it. “It calls for a deep immersion in the foundation of language arts through songs, poems, and play,” explains Plotnik. ”There are no workbooks, no math with pencil and paper.” And if your child is learning to count, they might do it via sorting, organizing, hopping and skipping, or even play number games without formal instruction.

Before your child gets too excited thinking that they’ll never have homework, they will... eventually. Usually starting in 3rd or 4th grade, students will be given at-home assignments as well to complement what they’re learning in class, Plotnik says, while simpler assignments might be sent home for earlier grades.

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What Are The Costs Of A Steiner School?

In many ways, a Steiner School education sounds idyllic, and it is. But does all this play come at a big price? Not necessarily, says Plotnik. “Every Waldorf School makes an effort to educate as broad a community as possible,” she says. “They offer financial aid at different levels, and tuition varies depending on where you are located.” Some Steiner schools even offer full scholarships, too, so if you’re interested in sending your child to the school, you should find out first what financial options are available to you and your family.

What Are The Benefits Of A Steiner School?

Unlike many other schools (both public and private), where students get a new instructor every year, Steiner Schools ensure both continuity and creativity by having one teacher stay with a student and a class for many years. “In grades 1-8, a hallmark is that the central classroom teacher stays with the class for a number of years,” says Plotnik. “A teacher could be with some students from 1st to 8th grade, creating a very deep community that is formed among the teacher, parents, and children as they travel on a journey together.”

And there’s a reason for that. Steiner schools view a child’s academic growth as a long-term project that both the teacher and parents work on together. “The child is viewed as a developing human being,” says Plotnik. Steiner schools also keep class size to a minimum, which is probably why you’ll find most classes capping at around 20-ish students, says Plotnik. Some schools are strictly focused on early education, while others might offer a K-8 program, or even go straight through high school, and there is only one class per grade.

But if all this play-based education sounds like your child might not be prepared for actual higher education, think again. “Our schools offer a very academically rich curriculum, including a full college preparatory program,” says Plotnik. “Even though we start off in a non-academic way, children are very well prepared for college or competitive high school.”

Steiner schools are also heavily focused on making sure that the parent-child connection continues well past 3:00 p.m. “The foundations for academic work are best served by daily life and play,” says Plotnik. For example, students are encouraged to help out in the kitchen cooking and measuring ingredients (woot, building basic math and chemistry skills!) and even sweeping up those cracker crumbs to enhance gross motor skills. “Learning is done in an experiential way, because neurological connections are formed through deep sensory engagement throughout the curriculum as well as through direct sense experience,” she says

In addition to experience, a Waldorf education gives your child the ability to learn the best way for them. “A Waldorf program is inherently more flexible, giving kids of all ages the space to be creative, try new things, follow curiosities, and take risks,” says Green. “This 'freedom to be' leads to happier and more inquisitive learners with more diverse interests.”

And for students (and parents) who might feel pressured on making the grade, you won’t get any of that with a Steiner school education. “Many Waldorf programs do not focus at all on extrinsic measurements like grades, but instead focus on intrinsic motivation and joyful life-long learning,” explains Green. “So parents who expect traditional measures of grades and test scores to affirm their child's academic progress could feel unsettled in this type of fluid and child-driven program.” And since you won’t see test scores to understand how your child is doing, it’s going to require some parental patience. “Just as one cannot watch a flower bloom overnight, Waldorf learning takes time to bloom,” says Green. “If you can sit back and enjoy the journey, the Waldorf method might be a beautiful option for your family.”

Overall, a Steiner Waldorf education means less memorization, and more focus on making memories and positive experiences. “In a word, Steiner schools are known for prioritizing imagination and curiosity,” says Green, “In an age of information overload and digital device addiction, the Waldorf approach encourages kids to be kids, delving into creativity, play, exploration, and natural curiosity.”