A Spiritual Education?

A central aim of Steiner education is to develop, harmonise and unite the faculties of thought, feeling and action in the child, so that the foundations may be laid for mental adaptability, initiative and moral strength in adult life. The child is seen to have physical, emotional and spiritual needs as well as intellectual ones. The teaching and curriculum together seek to nourish all these aspects. So, what is the ‘spirit’? It can’t be seen, and it’s almost impossible to measure. Is it inside of us or around us? Is it our personal property, or something we share?


For the staff of Edinburgh Steiner School – one of over a thousand Steiner Waldorf schools worldwide – an appreciation of the spiritual dimension lies at the heart of everything they do. Steiner teachers, who are themselves on a path of learning and maturing, therefore need thorough and thoughtful answers to such questions as ‘what is the spirit?’ and ‘what counts as spiritual?’


Uniquely, Steiner schools have evolved a curriculum which is founded upon – indeed, is wholly informed by – a spiritual understanding of the nature and development of the human being, especially in childhood and adolescence – and in the adult teacher as a ‘reflective practitioner.’ Crucially, this understanding encompasses many of the things we cannot see.


In Steiner Waldorf education, everything revolves around the human being, and the rhythms of the natural world. This is immediately apparent to anyone who visits a Steiner school. There are the gardening lessons, of course, and organic foods and raw wool. But there’s a lot more to ‘nature’ than soil and produce. There’s also ‘human’ nature.

Spend any time in a Steiner school classroom, and you will see teachers telling stories to the children, not reading to them off the page. This practice – this art – draws on the direct oral tradition to forge closer, more emotional bonds between the speaker and the listener. Not only that, but the story itself – its setting, theme or characters – will have been carefully selected to meet the learners in a particular phase of their spiritual development. The precise content of the story, in other words, may be less important than when and how it is told. When this distinctive, ineffable – almost magical – blend is gifted by the teachers, their spirit becomes the source of inspiration. This is no longer transmission—of information or skills from educator to learner—it is transfusion: the giving of the essences of life from one to another.