Friday, September 04, 2015


SWAS Early Years' advisers, during 2014-15 looked at the following themes:

Nature tables in early years work 

Greetings & Farewells

Here are the summary/papers:  

  • Nature Tables

    A Barefoot Research Project by Deborah Cassidy

    My research, undertaken during my first year as an Adviser for SWAS, looked at one of the distinguishing characteristics of the Steiner Waldorf Kindergarten environment: the nature table; also known as the seasonal garden. From a brief questionnaire and empirical evidence gathered during my visits to different Kindergartens, I explored the role of the nature table, the interaction of children and visitors with the table and the relationship that Teachers create with their table. I discovered a deep-rooted love and reverence for this special feature of our Kindergartens. I found that there was no single blueprint re-produced everywhere but a rich and diverse interpretation of the season’s gifts.

    As a Kindergarten teacher it was a source of delight and soul nourishment for me to create my nature table and to observe the ways in which the children embraced it and my research has seen this reflected in the Kindergarten teachers I have met or who have filled in my brief questionnaire.

    As an Adviser I always take a little time to absorb each Kindergarten’s nature table and to acknowledge both their universality and individuality. Many teachers spoke about the joy and therapeutic value of creating their table. This was both in the handwork needed to felt, knit and crochet objects to help tell the story of the season and also in the creation of the table itself: the choice of cloth colour, the arranging of figures, crystals, shells, flowers etc and the attention to the overall mood and gesture of the season they were celebrating.

    Teachers also spoke about how the table was received by children. Sometimes it inspired puppet plays with the careful borrowing of figures from the table. It was also a place for them to dream into at story time. It enhanced the festivals and it inspired the children’s play. Often the children added to the table with gifts from their garden or journey to school and this helped reinforce their connection to nature, especially for city children and those travelling to Kindergarten by car.

    When the teachers spoke about what qualities in the children were awakened by their table they used the following words: “awe, wonder, reverence, dreamlike, a religious quality.” A few teachers kept their table in such a way that the children knew they were not to touch. Some teachers were happy for the children to touch the table with reverence. All encouraged the children to have a respect for the table as a special place. One of the key ways in which this was enkindled was by lighting a candle on the table at key moments in the morning, such as story time.

    From my observations of the tables where I have visited I have seen how the nature table feeds the children’s senses. The feel of the silk cloths as the children gently touch or are brushed as they pass by. The smell of fresh garden flowers or harvest fruits; the hush created by thick velvet Advent cloths or the glint of shells in a saucer of water. All these things nourish the senses with seasonal gifts. Sometimes I have seen children gazing in wonder at a figure or flower and ever so gently stroke a petal or pick up a flower fairy. And I have heard older children talking to each other in excited voices, about how the nature table has changed. On one visit I saw a very angry child kick the nature table, which meant the scene was in disarray. It was both shocking to see a child violate the table and the anguish this created in the other children but it was also heartening to see the children’s eagerness to restore everything with such gentle care and attention to detail.

    When questioned about how the table affected visitors and parents to the Kindergarten all agreed that it was a focal point, which drew the attention. One teacher talked about how it helped new parents and visitors to begin to understand the importance of the seasons to the kindergarten but another spoke of visitors being insensitive to the specialness of the table and allowing their toddlers to pull it apart. One teacher also related the anecdote that on seeing the figure of King Winter a parent remarked, “Who’s that Gandalf figure there?”

    When asked if they had a favourite season for the nature table there was no one season, which was more loved than another. There were however, particular seasonal moods, which resonated deeply for individual teachers. One spoke of the fresh new life of spring. Another spoke of the abundance and richness of autumn. This indicated how every table is a reflection of their creator and their own soul connection to the season.

    Christine Fynes-Clinton describes the nature table as, “a place where the treasures of the day are gathered in an imaginative setting. A special place where they can not only be displayed but also woven together with other elements of the season’s mood: light, colour, gesture…A small reminder like this, of the development of the year, is of even more value in a city environment where one can so easily overlook all but the broadest indication of the seasons.”

    It is the weaving together of all these elements, which distinguishes a nature table in a Waldorf Kindergarten. Other early years settings often have displays where nature is brought inside: they can be beautifully presented but may not to be in tune with nature on a deeper level and may even be anachronistic: for example using dry, autumn leaves in mid-summer. I have observed in Waldorf Kindergartens the careful choice of colours and textures and the ability to tell the story of what is happening below ground as well as above. Many tables use a lower level or create a cave like area to represent what is hidden below with perhaps Mother Earth and her seed babies or the gnomes with their crystals.

    The position of the table is critical and, unless constrained by the physical restrictions of the room such as where rooms are packed away at the end of the session, the table is located where it can be seen easily from the moment the children enter the Kindergarten. Some tables can be a little high for the children to absorb them readily but again this is usually because of the limitations of available furniture. All Teachers strive to make the nature table a focal point, which sits happily in the fabric of the room and feels special but not detached.

    In conclusion, my research found that the nature table is highly valued in Kindergarten, as a means of bringing the story of the season inside. It helps to engender joy and healing to those who create it and also to those who live with it. The beauty feeds the children’s senses and their souls and helps a room become a Waldorf Kindergarten.  

    Research as an adviser 2014 – 2015: Greetings and farewells, by Jill Taplin

    There is variety.
    Most have a choice between play or joining activities and this seems a good flexible arrangement.  Children generally fall in with having to come to the table for an activity and play can take a while to settle after that.  But play can take a while to settle anyhow. 
    Outside starts feel nice and easy but depend on reasonable weather or good facilities. Outside greetings work well and make for easy connections. 
    The relationship between morning KG and PM care is not resolved and PM care is still a Cinderella in many cases. 


    PM care arrangements
    South Devon 
    Outside start with an individual contact and a handshake
    Song and game to exit.  This happens whether or not children are going to PM care

    Twice a week in one for the KG rooms, children from all classes together, with separate staffing.


    Informal hallo or good morning as the children arrive
    Goodbye song although most are going to PM care or ‘transition group’

    Either PM care or ‘transition group’ every day.  PM care lunch happens in the small kitchen near the KG rooms and then is either outside or in a P&C room upstairs.  ‘Transition group is  three times a week and the children have lunch in their own kindergartens with the morning assistant and then join together for the rest of the afternoon , either outside or in one of the KG rooms and with a KG teacher plus another assistant.


    Informal hallo or good morning as the children arrive

    Goodbye song although most are going to PM care or ‘transition group’
    Children are sent’ through the door’ to parents as parents appear and groups are taken to PM care and transition group

    ‘Home we go’?
    Elmfield  (nursery)

    Informal hallo or good morning as the children arrive
    Informal – children taken to parents as parents arrive plus a group escorted to PM care

    Steiner Academy Bristol

    Children leaving before and after lunch and after PM care.  Staff are puzzling over how to juggle teachers and assistants plus PM care staff in order to improve the experience for the children, who really want their teacher there all the time.

    Rowantree kindergarten, Bristol
    Arriving to painting or baking at the table and then to play
    Ending with a good bye verse after story and then called to the door as their parents arrive.
    None going on to PM care
    Arrivals take place over about 30 minutes so some have finished the activity and are playing while others are just coming in.
    Rowantree kindergarten, Bristol

    Arrive to an activity at the table, then to play
    Ending with a good bye verse after story and then called to the door as their parents arrive (all quite swift).  Those staying to lunch and PM care then go off to wash hands.
    Lunch with two KG groups together with an assistant, followed by play in a larger group with a KG teacher, plus the PM care person who is there all week. Children bring packed lunches.
    Not really good bye for those staying on.  Would it be nicer if those staying on went out first to wash hands before all the others are in the vestibule getting ready to go with their parents?
    Rowantree kindergarten, Bristol

    Arrive to an activity at the table, then to play
    Ending with a good bye verse  - ‘good bye to some of you’ -  after story and then called to the door as their parents arrive (all quite swift).  Those staying to lunch and PM care then go off to wash hands.
    Lunch with two KG groups together with an assistant, followed by play in a larger group with a KG teacher, plus the PM care person who is there all week.  Children bring packed lunches.
    How long and how compulsory in the initial activity?  Is there still enough time to play?  Should this compulsion be for all the children or just the older ones?  This group is a two year age range only.  The 2nd day, Lily packed away the painting when most had arrived and painted, so enable a good length of play time, so one or two did not get to paint because they were late.
    St Paul’s Steiner School – Chestnut KG
    Meeting outside with parents for a song and a greeting from the teacher to each child before they enter.
    Children come in to an optional activity.
    Ending with a good bye song (good bye to all of you) and ’14 angels’.  Children sent out one by one to their parents while others play a game (complicated by departing participants).  Those left at the end are the PM care children – they have 15 minutes ‘quiet time’ – making a drawing while they wait for lunch time
    Assistants and teachers share the afternoons and children are combined between kindergartens.  A hot lunch, cooked in school, is served.
    They are considering including the lunchtime within the morning for all
    Lovely beginning and greeting outside.  But then   a parent complained about being kept waiting outside, parents losing precious time on their way to work, children racketing about in the playground!  End of the morning needs more thinking through.
    St Paul’s Steiner School – Rosebud  KG
    Meeting indoors preparing for a walk.  Some older children are chopping for the soup while the rest are dressed for the walk by their parents.  Then all on chairs in a circle for a welcoming verse before forming the walking line.
    A good bye circle with no story on walk day.  A nice verse and song, but not really goodbye for those that are staying.  Then children are gradually called out of the circle to go with their parents until just the lunch club children remain.  They draw for about 30 minutes.  Elena sits and draws with them while Joanna tides up.  There has already been drawing during the morning.
    As above
    How can the long in-breath for the lunch club children and the left behind feeling be better managed?
    St Paul’s Steiner School – Mulberry KG

    As above

    St Paul’s Steiner School – Appletree KG

    As above

    Robin’s Nest - Emerson
    Meeting outside with informal greetings and good byes to parents – into play or activities
    Goodbye song
    None required this year – has been there in the past
    They really do go home at lunch time so the good bye song is fine!
    Steiner Academy Bristol
    Meeting outside on outside days and inside on other days – into play or activities
    Good byes at different times for different children
    Children leaving before and after lunch and at the end of PM care.  Next year will reduce this to after lunch and at the end of PM care.  PM care taken by a rota of teachers and assistants.  Teachers find this very difficult – no afternoons to meet each other or parents, or do other work
    Not right yet but they are aware of the challenges and trying out different things.  It does feel like PM care needs someone to hold it.

Tuesday, June 02, 2015


The Ethical, Cultural and Social Context of Technology
Pupils in Steiner Waldorf schools experience technology as a subject in its own right. From finger- knitting and other crafts in the early years through to electronics and computer logic construction in the upper school, students are evolving their technological skills, creatively and in the real world. Knitting is interesting and significant in that it is the earliest form of programmed technology – a knit/pearl sequence is binary code instruction.

Steiner Waldorf education aims to help pupils to become ethical and confident users of a range of technologies, recognising the historical, societal and biographical aspects of this, e.g. mechanical programming of weaving etc during the Industrial revolution.

General aspects and aims:
We aim to enable children and young people to be fully engaged in and to take ownership of the technology that surrounds them and of which they make use. In order to achieve this, the Steiner Waldorf education seeks to help pupils understand technology in its innermost nature and become able to direct that technology, taking full account of human agency in this process. What follows is thus a inter-disciplinary account of the curriculum pertaining to technology and ICT and teaching is likely to take place through an integration during the course of a year’s programme many different subject themes.

Foundations: kindergarten to Class 6
In order to negotiate the ethical, cultural and social issues involved in the use of technology, children need to be helped to develop towards a healthy self image and feeling for the needs of others through real relationships. This is a task for the curriculum as a whole. The following aspects in particular support this:
              Activities that enable children to engage in a rich story life through imaginative lessons and whole body learning
              Activities that support the development of emotional well being and resilience
              Activities that allow  children to explore and value, through story and play, their relationship to time and place
              Activities that encourage children to think and act cooperatively, empathetically and sustainably

Understanding and using technology:
·         Children explore how technology extends their ability to do things, e.g. making knitting needles extends what is possible with finger knitting, scissors cut paper more accurately than folding and tearing
·         Children explore the relationship between tools and material, e.g. trying to cut felt with paper scissors
·         Children learn to choose appropriate technology for a task, making tools they need to achieve a task, e.g. the difference between a mallet and a hammer, wooden peg, nail and screw etc
·         Children reflect on how well a technology they have selected and used achieved its purpose
·         Children learn to use specialist equipment for specific purposes and compare results with informal or ad hoc devices, e.g. “kitchen-sink” science, hose-pipe rainbows compared to a prism etc
·         Children learn to work safely with sharp tools and manage real-life risks with appropriate strategies
Content suggestions/activities:
·         Outdoor and indoor play involving co-operation, balance, climbing, hoops, balls etc
·         Using garden tools, including trowels, spades, wheelbarrows
·         Card weaving, felting, finger-knitting, sewing, peg loom and use of a variety of media etc.
·         Making simple equipment, e.g. knitting needles, peg looms, reed or quill pens etc
·         Story of items used in school, e.g. crayons, pencils, musical instruments,
·         Variety of creative work and forms of expression. The technology of communication from writing, reading, images, diagrams, graphs and tables
·         Clear observation, records and exposition – analysis of results: did I find out what I wanted to know, what evidence do I have for my conclusion?
·         Designing presentations, experiments and demonstrations
Class 7, 8 (and 9 with overlap)
Content suggestions:
By this age the sense of “personal space” has become strong enough for pupils to begin to recognise and learn to respect the space of others, including their “creative space”. Drama, eurythmy and presentations to others also help to develop a feeling for an audience and ability to see a situation from more than one view-point. Young people at this age also begin to explore more consciously the themes and values suggested previously and, in addition:
·         Learn to understand the basis which continues through to modernism, i.e. Renaissance/Reformation individualism and the (so-called western) Enlightenment, the development, especially in the UK, of materialism (Francis Bacon, Puritanism and the Civil War, agrarian & industrial revolution) and banking systems form Italian city states to German finance houses etc) alongside mechanisation and the growth of industrial centres; World War 1 as the first truly industrial war (this theme to developed more fully in the upper school)
·         The development of personal creativity (from the studio system to single individual artists, baroque composers copying and borrowing from one another to the “unique individual voice” of musicians from the Classical Period onwards)
·         Representation through commissioning of portraits
·         Legal questions including “intellectual property rights” and plagiarism/piracy. The unique experience of a concert or other performance; the differences between this and its recording (e.g. what is being paid for when someone pays for downloading, or streaming music and the idea of “getting music free”) 
·         Creating plans: intention and implementation – what is a template? “Mind mapping”
·         Tools and machines related to the human being and as extended capacities (e.g. limb joints and levers, why a garden fork usually has four prongs etc); gun powder; Jethro Tull and the seed drill; mechanical weaving and spinning; steam pumps etc
·         Malthus, Adam Smith and the concept of natural selection (the story of Baron Gaspard de Prony and the division of labour; Herman Hollerith and the punched-card; Henry Ford etc)
·         Activity and friendship circles – co-operation, compromise, community – the nature of “social networking”; appropriate protection and cyber-bullying
·         Creating posters, “cartoons” designed to persuade (e.g. those of the Civil War period); editing (including the use and limitations of spelling and grammar checks , “type-setting”, publishing etc)
·         Utilising online, or computer-based reference sources (e.g. how authoritative is Wikipedia?), translation and similar applications
·         Presentation of data; spreadsheets and all types of chart 
·         Computing: from fingers and stones to numbers; the abacus; Napier’s “bones” (make and use); Blaise Pascal’s 1642 calculator (cogs and levers); Lord Byron, Lady Lovelace and William Babbage (the analytical engine/difference engine); the slide rule etc
·         Circuits and the on/off switch; solid geometry, nets, scale and algebra; binary logic (e.g “computer science unplugged:
·         Introduction to QWERTY (and its history) and touch-typing
N.B. All the above overlap to some extent into the following:

Upper School classes, including Class 9, 10, 11 and 12
General aspects and aims:
As should be clear from the foregoing, technology is not a process that can be separated from the human beings who bring it about; nor is it merely about producing artefacts. There are several dimensions and these should to be taken into account through the curriculum and they are both an extension and intensification of what has been covered previously:
   The natural dimension involving scientific, engineering and ecological perspectives;
   The human dimension involving anthropological, physiological, psychological and aesthetic perspectives;
   The social dimension involving economics, sociology, politics, cultural history, legal and ethical aspects.

Division of labour has become a sine qua non for modern developed societies and technology has thus become the concern of specialists and engineers. However increasing environmental problems have led to a greater awareness of the human and social implications and to the realisation that a multi-dimensional, integrated concept of technology is needed. The isolation of the different specialisms makes it essential to attempt a reintegration of technology as a whole. The evolution of technology comes about through the human being’s innate capacity for development. 
Technology lessons build on the whole lower school involvement with materials, crafts, social, historical and economic studies. Key subjects include learning about farming and house building in Class 3, the geography curriculum from Class 4 on which explores human economic relationships to the local environment and its natural resources and the links between regions around the world. History lessons show the significance of technological discoveries for social, economic and cultural developments in a wide range of fields (navigation, energy production and use, weapons, means of communication, farming, raw materials, trade etc.). The craft and handwork lessons throughout the school also form a practical and experiential basis for understanding technology.

The Class 9 physics main-lesson is oriented towards primary technology and will have provided among other things a history of technology by means of a few examples (e.g. combustion engines, telephone, turbines, etc.). Technology as such has some quite specific pedagogical tasks to fulfil, namely to school accurate observation, practical thought processes and social awareness. The chemistry curriculum too provides an understanding of substances, materials and their production and application to technology, especially petrochemical and fossil fuels.

Work experience provides opportunities to see industrial and agricultural processes at work. A topic for study in technology lessons might be to investigate a nearby factory including discovering the firm’s commercial profile and depicting the production process including preliminary phases (purchase of parts and material) and subsequent tasks (advertising, marketing, selling etc.). In their social and industrial work-experience projects the pupils will especially gain  direct  experiences  of  the  social  aspects  of work  and  its  results.  Lessons can also take the form of excursions to power stations, re-cycling plants, water reservoirs, mines etc. Such visits are best preceded by and followed up with detailed discussion. The use of modern media such as film and video is especially suitable in the high-tech realm. Many industries provide excellent information on their technology.
Class 9 and 10
Points of view and general themes:
These lessons are intended to provide life experience rather than exact knowledge. “Now it is important at this stage that the pupils should begin to have an understanding for practical life that is going on all around them…we must introduce into our curriculum subjects that will lead the students to come to grip with practical life, subjects that will bring them into contact with the external world. We should accordingly do some mechanics, not the mere theoretical mechanics we teach in the physics lessons, but the first elements of technical mechanics that lead to the construction of machines. 1

An overview of what the pupils have learnt in handwork and craft lessons (woodwork etc.) combined with theoretical concepts from physics and mathematics will help students develop in a holistic way. Technologies throughout human history should also be discussed.

Where information technology is concerned there are four prime aspects, which we have touched on previously and which now need to be secured throughout the upper school:
·         Basic computer literacy: word processing, typing and the use of software to produce, edit, store and retrieve text; using databases, spreadsheets, graphics, desktop publishing etc. Also the use of the computer as an instrument in support of other tasks (including, what is the “worldwide web” and what is the internet/what happens when an email is sent?)
·         An understanding of the basic principles of information systems in relation to the history of information storage (e.g. going back to the origins of writing and looking at its cultural significance); understanding how hardware and software relate; how software programs are designed and how file systems work;  safe working practices and legal aspects such as copyright; firewalls, internet security (bugs, spam and hacking)
·         The social, cultural and personal influence of computers, including both the time-saving, liberating aspects as well as the possible negative, obsessional and anti-social aspects. Economic questions such costing and how “hi-tech” companies are financed (perhaps including, why a mobile phone that might cost £100 or more might be given away “free”)
·         What’s inside the box? – the “race to the smallest”, fundamentals of programme writing (e.g. using Raspberry-pi or other devices)
       Content suggestions:
              Spinning wool, flax and cotton
              Weaving using various types of loom
              The textile industry
              Production of man-made textiles
              Soap production
              Water wheels and water pumps
              Turbines: high, medium and low-pressure turbines
              The screw and its many applications
              Henry Morse and the telegraph
              Icons and markers
              Online learning programme, such as INGOTS
              Evaluation criteria for information sources
Class 11 and 12
Points of view and general themes:
Technology now deals with two very important realms: power/energy on the one hand (e.g. the electricity industry) and substance/material on the other (e.g. paper manufacture). Technology in earlier classes started with traditional technologies; in Class 11 and 12 everyday technology needs to be explored and principles of how they work explored. So far as possible, this should include cutting edge technologies of all kinds, some of which will be introduced by the students themselves.
Content suggestions:
              End of course project could include a major multi-media element utilising skills and capabilities learned so far
              Power stations and the energy industry (water, wind, calorific and nuclear)
              From steam to internal combustion the jet engine and rockets
              Automobile mechanics and basic maintenance
              A study of the qualities of flowing water        
              Paper manufacture
              Bookbinding and use of cardboard (see handwork in Class 11)
              Algorithms, artificial intelligence and John Searle’s “Chinese Room”
              George Boole and Boolean logic
              Alan Turing and the enigma machine
              John von Neuman and “Neuman architecture”
              Tim Berners-Lee and the worldwide web
              Reproductive media, particularly digital printing; image and reality (“Photoshop”, image manipulation and its influence on body image)
              Using graphics and animations, “mixing” sounds and combining visual, sound and other media effects for a specific purpose
              Deconstructing the computer, component manufacture and implications (e.g. value and supply of raw materials); recycling parts
              Radio signals and television
              Fossil fuels, what is “sustainable” energy?
              Chemical technology and artificial fibres including natural fibres and artificial fibres made from natural materials: (celluloid, resins etc.)
              Semi-synthetic products (classical resins)
              Fully synthetic materials (polymers, plastics), e.g. from natural rubber to synthetic rubber
              Environmental and recycling problems: quality controls (soil, water, air)
              Illustration of cascades and fractals, path curves and chaos theory
              Microsoft, Apple and applications such as Facebook
              Mobile devices, microwaves
Working document for The Tasks & Content of the Steiner Waldorf Curriculum, Floris Books