Our Education

Central to Steiner pedagogy is the understanding that child development occurs according to a universal pattern based on 7-year phases. In the first 7-year phase, the development of the human body which was begun in the womb is brought to completion. This process engenders a strong and well ordered will. In education, this period is reflected in our early childhood curriculum. The second 7-year phase is the period of the primary school, Class 1 to Class 8. Here the energies previously used for the refinement of physical development become available for intellectual development, which is characterised in this phase by ‘imaginative thought’. Rational, logical, abstract thinking flowers from this imaginative period in the third 7-year phase (secondary school).

Within the second 7-year phase, the development of the child’s consciousness mirrors the progress of the evolution of human consciousness through the historical epochs. Thus it is that in Class 3 (‘the crossing’), children begin to have a consciousness of chronological time. In Class 4 this experience is consolidated (past, present and future tenses are studied in English).

In the fifth class, every effort will be made to make a beginning with actual historical ideas.

Three Lectures on the Curriculum, Rudolf Steiner

Prior to the ‘crossing’ however, as children have not yet developed a consciousness of chronological time, fairy tale themes are used (Grimm’s etc in Class 1 and Celtic stories in Class 2). The ‘once upon a time’ nature of these stories and their dream-like qualities match the younger child’s phase of development.

Thus in Class 5, children begin a chronological sequence of epoch studies that extends to Class 8 – India, Persia, Egypt, Greece, Rome, Medieval Europe, the Renaissance and the Age of Revolution. At each of these stages, the soul life of the children will be a reflection of the distinctive features of that particular epoch. They will undergo a gradual change from instinctive, intuitive thinking in which the individual is subordinate to the sense of the whole cosmos and ancestry, to a modern self-consciousness. Here the individual is paramount and feels a high degree of separation from the cosmos. This is dependent on a highly developed level of abstract thinking.

We can trace the way in which child development recapitulates the progress of historical epochs.

In Class 1 and 2 the young child has not yet developed an understanding of the flow of time. They still retain an intuitive connection to nature and do not yet feel themselves as an individual strongly separated from the natural world. Fairy stories have a dream-like quality which has a total disregard for both spatial and temporal sequence. The archetypal images used in these stories speak to the child of the deeper meanings of life that is appropriate to their imaginative consciousness. The Celtic stories and American Indian tales, while still retaining these qualities, are more grounded.

At some point in the developmental continuum of consciousness, there is a dramatic shift from the dream-like state of early childhood to the beginning of the development of the awakening of adult consciousness. This happens in Class 3 and 4. In the Hebrew stories of Class 3, the spiritual dimension of life, previously experienced through archetypal images, is now portrayed as a single entity: ‘I am the one God’ Spiritual action on earth still occurs but it is completely mediated by the human being. Time now becomes important – generations of the family, going to the Promised Land, etc.

After the really strong experience of units (‘I am’) in Class 3, Class 4 is ready to broaden out. The Norse myths provide a structured multiplicity of gods and the relationship between heaven and earth. In Class 4 the unity of the world of Class 3 has been fractioned. Sequential time is indicated through the ominous presence of Ragnarok (the final battle) and is more structured through the image of the Norns (past, present and future).

We are now on the journey to the flowering of rational, abstract thinking from Class 5 to Class 8. Initially there is a new power of thinking, of ‘conscience’ and self-responsibility rather than obeying the will of the gods. Then causative thinking appears, leading in subsequent years to a growing independence and eagerness to expand knowledge of the wider world. This journey unfolds through the historical epochs in the following way:

India: The individual tries to escape the physical world. The world is Maya (illusion), meditation is the highest practice and the physical body is burned after death. The gods, however, do incarnate in physical bodies on the earth, ie the avatars.

Persia: The individual begins to accept the physical body. The Epic of Gilgamesh relates the power of human friendship and the consequent tragedy of human loss. The earth is ploughed (development of agriculture), and geometry, the measurement of the earth, begins here as an application of the measurement of the heavens. These developments are reflected in the establishment of cities.

Egypt: In the Egyptian epoch the physical body is respected to such a degree that it is retained into the afterlife (mummification). A god now lives on earth as the Pharaoh. Practical geometry is refined with the building of the Pyramids and Temples and surveying of the land after the Nile inundations. Physical life is a preparation for spiritual life after death.

Greece: The physical body is worshipped (classical art and architecture, sport) and the significance of the afterlife is much less important. The individual is still subsidiary to the group; an objective study of the world begins.

Rome: The individual is organised into the application and organisation of the Ancient Greek ideals. The emergence of Christianity.

Medieval Europe: A human response to the chaos of the collapse of Rome. The individual as the mediator of an external god’s will.

Renaissance: The birth of modern thought. God is within the individual. Responsibility and free will become the major issues.

Please note that the order in which the Main Lesson descriptors are presented in this document is not necessarily the order in which they have to be delivered.