Head, Heart and Hands

Steiner Education is often described as an education for the whole child: the head, the heart and the hands. But what does this really mean in a real-life classroom context?

It can mean different things to different teachers, but at the heart of this statement is a singular grain of truth: learning should be presented in a holistic way that embraces and encourages a classroom culture of creativity, imagination and problem solving.

Children in the Primary years learn through making, practising, listening and speaking; subjects come alive for the children through imaginative pictures embedded in storytelling, artistic and practical work, and chalkboard drawings created by the teacher. Learning, essentially, is presented across a child’s Primary years as a rich tapestry, interwoven with many vibrant threads across the curriculum and throughout each year level. A story or a subject from middle childhood, revisited in the later years, is often recounted with much joy and fond memories.

Take, for example, a Mathematics lesson that might otherwise be dry and uninteresting. Here the focus would typically be on memorising facts or strategies that have no connection to or with history, the outside world or the realm of nature. In the Primary years, Mathematics is presented by the class teacher through a multi-modal and pictorial approach that often incorporates storytelling, movement, games, practical and artistic work, and of course the practice of fundamental mathematical skills.

To see and hear a Year 2 child excited about patterns in numbers they have discovered through movement and games, and proudly display the skip counting number board they constructed with wood, hammer, nails and string, is a golden seed that each child will carry planted deep within them as they continue their schooling journey.

Later, in the Upper Primary years, that same child will recount the number pattern stories from their early years. This will be seen as they learn about the properties of numbers in the sieve of Eratosthenes in the study of Ancient Greece or the unique relationship between number patterns and the world of nature in Geometry.

In essence, an education of the whole child – head, heart and hands – can be seen not only in the practical aspects of each individual classroom context, but also in the deep and enriched connections that are made when each child’s love of learning is nurtured at every stage of their development.