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Steiner approach – environment and materials

Janni Nicol (Early Childhood Executive – Steiner Waldorf Schools Fellowship (SWSF)) talks about the qualities that create a Steiner kindergarten environment and about the materials they consider important.
In order to become true educators, the essential thing is to be able to see the truly aesthetic element in the work, to bring an artistic quality into our tasks, such as the creation of play materials.

Rudolph Steiner. The Child's Changing Consciousness, 1923

 
What a difference there is between... playthings that leave as much a possible to the power of imagination and giving finished toys that leave nothing for the own child's inner activity.

Rudolph Steiner. The Roots of Education, 1924

 
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When you walk into a Steiner kindergarten
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you really sense that there is an order to everything.
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It's calming.
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Everything has a place and there is a place for everything.
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Steiner said that all education is self-education.
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Therefore, everything that the child sees or hears
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or touches has an effect on them.
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It must be calm and beautiful and provide experiences
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in touch and balance and joyful movement,
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but also give space for a quiet listening.
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It's a harmony in the environment.
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It works on our feeling life.
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We nurture the outside as much as we nurture the inside.
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We would be planting the seed in the spring,
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we would be tending for the produce in the summer
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or the flowers, and then picking them, bringing them inside,
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bringing in the food, and that would be used for cooking,
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and something like that, in the daily interaction.
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Whether it's inside or outside,
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there is an immersion in nature.
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You can see the change of the seasons
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reflected in the room.
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The materials we use are all-natural.
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They're things like wool and cotton and wood.
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For instance, sawlogs, so that they can be
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sanded by the children, and maybe oiled,
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and these would become play things in the kindergarten.
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These things are cared for and tended
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and made by the children and the teachers themselves.
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We're going straight.
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We're going this way.
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No, we're going--
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It's important that the materials also encourage
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the use of imagination, that they're open-ended,
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and that they don't have any limits
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on the child's imagination and creativity
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or problem-solving skills,
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and that all enable social interaction as well.
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So things like a conker could be money,
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or it could be a biscuit, or it could be
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anything that the child wants it to be.
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And a shell could be a plate,
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or it could be a credit card for the shop.
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I've seen children swiping a shell as a credit card
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when they're doing, making a shop or selling something,
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and they go beep with it, which is really rather lovely.
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But again, it's open-ended.
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It can be anything that the child wants it to be.
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So it really asks something of the child,
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to be inwardly creative and to think very broadly,
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but unconsciously, if you like,
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about what they're playing with.

Steiner, Rudolf. The Child’s Changing Consciousness  as a basis for pedagogical practice, 18/04/1923. Vol.16, Steiner Books, Great Barrington, MA, 1996

Steiner, Rudolf. The Roots of Education, 17/04/1924, Rudolf Steiner Press, 1998