Steiner Education draws upon the best practice from upwards of 800 schools worldwide over a period of 80 years, providing educational diversity appropriate to the different national cultures in which it is delivered. The precise delivery of the State's Primary School Curriculum using the Steiner model of education is explained below by setting out six key characteristics of the Steiner approach alongside the Primary School Curriculum.

Integration of curricular material

It states in the introduction to the Irish Primary School Curriculum that although individual aims and objectives may appear to focus mainly on one aspect of the child's development, it is recognised that all areas of child development are inextricably linked. The Steiner approach recognises and supports this view.

The linking of subject material and the integration of curriculum areas is a key feature of the Steiner approach. The use of subject blocks in this way is a widely accepted methodological strategy to meet the experiential stance of the child for whom the world exists as a continuum and not as a series of discrete subject areas.

The Primary School Curriculum

"...recognises (too) the integrated nature of knowledge and thought and stresses the connections in content in the different curriculum areas. This creates harmony in the child's learning experiences and serves the complex nature of the learning process" (Primary School Curriculum - Introduction - Page 11).
and continues
"The curriculum envisages an integrated learning experience for children. In order to achieve this, strong emphasis is placed on planning. Within the framework of the curriculum schools are afforded flexibility to plan a programme that is appropriate to the individual school's circumstances and to the needs, aptitude and interests of the children. In the presentation of content and in the exploration of approaches and methodologies, the curriculum assumes that schools, in the process of planning its implementation, will adapt and interpret the curriculum where necessary to meet their own unique requirements" (Primary School Curriculum - Introduction - page 11).

The Steiner approach is consistent with the Primary School Curriculum, which goes on to state that... "For the young child, the distinctions between subjects are not relevant: What is more important is that he or she experiences a coherent learning process that accommodates a variety of elements. It is important, therefore, to make connections between learning in different subjects. As they mature, integration gives children's learning a broader and richer perspective, emphasises the interconnectedness of knowledge and ideas and reinforces the learning process" (Primary School Curriculum -Introduction - page 16).

The Class Teacher

"One of its essential features is a recognition of the principle that there are different kinds of learning and that individual children learn in different ways." (Primary School Curriculum, Introduction)

The centrality of the relationship between the child and teacher in learning is the second key characteristic in the Steiner approach.

On the relationship between child and teacher the Primary School Curriculum states:

"The teacher offers a wide repertoire of expertise and competence and exercises professional discretion in planning and directing the learning process. He or she has a complex role as a caring facilitator and guide who interprets the child's learning needs and responds to them. This role is informed by a concern for the uniqueness of the child, a respect for the integrity of the child as a learner and by a sense of enthusiasm and a commitment to teaching. The teacher's professional expertise enables him or her to interpret the needs of the child and the requirements of the curriculum in order to provide effective learning experiences" (Primary School Curriculum - Introduction - Page 20).

The quality of the relationship that the teacher establishes with the child is of central importance in the learning process within the Steiner approach. On this the Primary School Curriculum says:

"The quality of the relationship the teacher establishes with the child is of paramount importance in the learning process. The teacher's concern for the well-being and the successful development of the child is the basis for the creation of a supportive environment that can facilitate the child's learning. A relationship of trust between teacher and child creates an environment in which the child is happy in school and motivated to learn" (Primary School Curriculum - Introduction - page 20).

Curriculum Implementation

The third key characteristic of the Steiner approach is the application of a rich and varied teaching practice. In the Steiner approach, the curriculum delivery does not rely on set textbooks. Instead, the teacher researches the lessons thoroughly before preparing for presentation to the children. This presentation is carried out in an artistic and age-appropriate manner, then recalled and deepened using a variety of methodologies which address the whole child. Thus, each child, irrespective of preferred learning modality, gains a strong feeling for each subject.

This approach is consistent with the defining features of the Primary School Curriculum and its focus on Learning:

"The curriculum is based on a philosophy and psychology of teaching and learning that incorporates the most advanced educational theory and practice. It accords equal importance to what the child learns and to the process by which he or she learns it. One of the essential features is a recognition of the principle that there are different kinds of learning and that individual children learn in different ways. The curriculum articulates therefore not only the content to be learned and the outcomes to be achieved, but a wide range of approaches to learning. The curriculum aims to ensure that children's experience of school will be such that they will come to value learning and will develop the ability to learn independently. Most importantly, it aims to enhance the enjoyment of learning and the motivation to learn" (Primary School Curriculum - Introduction - page 10).

In addressing the principles of learning the Steiner approach and the Primary School Curriculum stress the importance of nurturing the child's sense of wonder and natural curiosity:

"The impulse for such learning is the child's sense of wonder at the complexity of the world, the desire to understand it and the spontaneous impetus to explore it through play. The sense of wonder, together with the child's natural curiosity, is at the heart of the learning process and provides the purest and most valuable motivating factor in the child's learning" (Primary School Curriculum Introduction - page 14).

The view of the child as an active agent in his or her learning underpins both the Steiner approach and the Primary School Curriculum:
"It is an underlying principle of the curriculum that the child should be an active agent in his or her own learning. The structure and content of the curriculum are designed to provide opportunities for active engagement in a wide range of learning experiences and to encourage children to respond in a variety of ways to particular content and learning strategies" (Primary School Curriculum - Introduction - page 14).

Oral Language

A fourth key characteristic of the Steiner approach is an emphasis on the importance of oral language. There is a strong focus on developing oracy which is seen as the fundamental basis for cognitive development. Talk and discussion is a key element. Stories, using a rich vocabulary, are told rather than read, on a daily basis and provide models of speech which give voice to a broad range of emotional responses. Recitation is also practised daily and opportunities are provided in which the children are encouraged to speak and listen to each other.

In the Primary School Curriculum:

"Oral language is accorded particular importance in the curriculum, as it is central to the development of the child's general language ability. Oral language is a crucial factor in the development of the child's cognitive abilities and it facilitates the acquisition of social and communicative skills. It is above all the principle integrating element in the English curriculum. Activities such as comprehension, responding to text and the approach to writing are grounded in a process of talk and discussion. It is also central to learning in other curriculum areas, where the use of talk, discussion questioning and response constitutes a key learning strategy" (Primary School Curriculum Introduction - page 45).

Early Learning

A fifth key characteristic of the Steiner approach is emphasis on the importance of the early school years. The child's entry into the formal education system marks a significant transition in the child's life. Play, language, activity and the manipulation of a variety of materials are central to early childhood learning and help in preserving a learning continuum between home and the school. The formal or didactic teaching of reading and writing is developed in an age appropriate fashion as the child progresses through the school.

Of the importance of early childhood education The Primary School Curriculum says of the curriculum in infant classes:

"It is, in the first place, based on the uniqueness of the child and the particular needs of individual children at this stage of development. The informality of the learning experience inherent in it, and the emphasis it gives to the element of play, are particularly suited to the learning needs of young children. It stresses, too the centrality of language in early childhood learning and the importance of activity and the manipulation of a variety of materials in promoting motor and sensory development."

Parents as Primary Educators

The sixth key characteristic of the Steiner approach is an emphasis on the role of the parents as primary educators and the special relationship this gives rise to between the parents and the school. Within the Steiner approach there is a strong emphasis placed on the relationship between the teachers and the parents with regular scheduled meetings throughout the year at all ages. Parents are kept fully informed of the learning plan for the year and of the progress of their child. Class evenings for parents are a forum for information exchange and discussion about general topics and also acts as an open forum for raising questions about the teaching and learning plan.

The Steiner approach shares this view of the parents' role with the Primary School Curriculum:

"Parents are the child's primary educators, and the life of the home is the most potent factor in his or her development during the primary school years. There is a continuing process through which the child's formal learning experience in school interacts with the less formal developmental experience of the home and the family."

"It is widely recognised that significant educational, social and behavioural benefits accrue to the child as a result of effective partnership between parents and teachers. Close co-operation between the home and the school is essential, therefore, if children are to receive the maximum benefit from the curriculum" (Primary School Curriculum Introduction - page 21).

In Conclusion

The Steiner approach is informed by international best practice and reflects the innovative and effective pedagogical practice outlined in the Primary School Curriculum. It incorporates a variety of learning methodologies and affords both school and teacher the flexibility to plan in an effective manner to address the learning needs of the children at the various stages of their development. In this it is in keeping with the General Aims and Specific Objectives of the Primary School Curriculum (1999).