Tears quickly turned to cheers last week as Tallowood Steiner School’s newest pupils overcame their separation anxiety through the medium of play.
The fresh-faced newcomers were quickly welcomed to the school environment by teachers Elise Everett, Clare Brooker and the rest of their eager-eyed classmates at an orientation day on Thursday.
The school has steadily grown over the last eight years under the guidance of principal Sue Moran, who took over the struggling community school near Bowraville and inculcated the Steiner pedagogy.
From three students in 2010, the school now caters to over 40 students and their families from Valla, Nambucca Heads, Eungai, Macksville and Bowraville, who are seeking a more holistic and development-centred method of childhood education.
Steiner education is based on the educational philosophy of German Rudolf Steiner and emphasizes the role of imagination in learning.
There are currently over 40 Steiner schools around Australia.
Tallowood is comprised of three composite classes, starting with K-1, whose “weekly rhythm encompasses a range of interactive and creative activities such as water-colour painting, gardening, baking, woodwork, social games, soft craft and creative play”, according to its website.
A more formal education starts when children are nearly seven, and likely to be more mentally-prepared for it.
Qualitative testing is minimal and the focus in the early years is on supporting the children’s social skills and adaptation to the more structured demands of a classroom environment.
“At the foundation of our classroom ethos is the importance of inspiring in the children a love of learning and supporting them to be the highly engaged and enthusiastic, in their daily learning,” the Tallowood website reads.
Principal Sue Moran, who teaches the grades 4-6 class, was drawn to the Steiner ethos after many years working within the highly pressurised state education system.
“I’ve never met a 4 ½ – 5 year-old who needs to sit at a desk for six hours a day and learn to write tiny lines in a book,” Ms Moran said.
Children are getting pushed to achieve younger and younger, and yet children’s development hasn’t changed over that time.
“That’s where you can see that our current system of education in this country is politically-motivated.”
Ms Moran looks to pedagogical principles showcased in Finland as examples—ones which are supported by a sound foundation of government policy.
“We do the best we can here without that background of informed government policy,” Ms Moran said.
Although results on the effectiveness of a Steiner education in Australia are limited, research conducted elsewhere suggests that Steiner students perform better by grade 8 when compared to their state-based colleagues, are capable of achieving what they want in life, and have greater life satisfaction.
While Ms Moran is pleased that the school has been growing over the past eight years, she says there’s a fine line to tread between just right and too big.
“Staying small keeps fees low in order to allow children from a variety of backgrounds to attend,” Ms Moran said.
“But the social dynamic of learning is never to be underestimated.
“It’s effective for group dynamics to have a larger class.”
With school numbers increasing, the school is currently on the hunt for relief teachers and a specialised music teacher.
For more information about the Tallowood Steiner School visit the website or to book an appointment, call (02) 6564 7224.