Please take a second read of the title of this blog.
Please note that it says ‘Why I love the Dunedin Steiner School and Kindy’.
Please note that it does NOT say ‘Why the Dunedin Steiner School and Kindy is better than any other school or education option’.
It also doesn’t say ‘Mainstream schools are the devil’.
If you’re wondering about the motive of this blog, it’s to address a common question I get asked – ‘why did you choose a Steiner school and kindy for your children?’ So, if you’ve asked me in the past, you’ve been wondering, or you didn’t know that my girls go to a Steiner school and Kindy and you’d like to know what it’s like, read away. I harbour no judgement against mainstream schools. I believe education choices are very personal and that all parents should feel free to choose whatever option they feel is best for their child.
Community is everything to me
Anyone who knows me knows that I’m passionate about doing my part to foster a connected community that supports its inhabitants. It’s one of the reasons I’m president of the Mornington Playcentre, why I run a meet-up for mums in business and why I’m developing a shared working space for parents. A caring and connected community, in my opinion, is not just something that’s ‘nice to have’, it’s essential for us to thrive. The Dunedin Steiner school community is incredibly passionate. Parents pitch in on working bees and fundraising. The school and kindy hold regular meetings and discussions where parents, teachers and administrators come together to share their concerns, brainstorm ideas and be involved in important decisions about the school’s direction. I can see that the fostering of this community is not only in alignment with the Steiner philosophy, it’s also crucial to its survival. Steiner is a state integrated school. It is partially funded by the government with parent fee donations and fundraising making up the shortfall. Inviting parents in, involving them in discussions and giving them a platform to speak from their hearts is hugely valuable. To feel heard and valued, these are core human needs. The Dunedin Steiner school and Kindy have a clear and strong awareness of that, it shows both in how they relate to the children and their parents.
Let the children play
Sometimes I feel so concerned about the way we seemed to get pushed through life. It seems to be ingrained in us from an early age to always be reaching for what’s next. Childhood doesn’t seem to be exempt from this tendency. There certainly seems to be an addiction to "busyness" in the world. For me, just going to the Dunedin Steiner school and being in its peaceful location on the hillside overlooking the water brings my heart rate down. I love hearing about my girl’s day on the ride home. About the time they spent digging in the garden, building a fort, listening to fables, painting or creating. I find myself wishing that my day had been just like that. A day woven together with threads of excitement, exhilaration and also calm and peace. It personally doesn’t worry me that academic learning such as maths, reading and writing wont be covered in depth until my girls are older. I love that they will have this extended time immersed in creativity and nature. The time to be children is over too soon and I’m content to let them play.
The importance relationships
At my most recent parent teacher interview for my eldest girl, Charlotte (who’s nearly 7), we spent nearly the entire time talking about how she relates to others. There was no need really, to go into her learning development. I’d read her report, she was assessing at the standard level or above in all areas. With that out the way, her teacher and I could talk about what was most important to both of us, who Charlotte was becoming as a person. We have a shared passion for helping her to develop her self-awareness, her access to empathy and her conflict resolution skills. There was almost a mutual feeling of relief. Relief from Charlotte’s teacher that I wanted to know where Charlotte needed more guidance and relief from me that Charlotte’s teacher wanted to work with me on helping her to develop these life skills. As parents, we hold a significant position of influence over our children which can help teachers tremendously when it comes to resolving behavioural issues. And yet, we are also very aware that our children spend a large amount of their time at school under the guidance of their teacher, making it hard for us to be aware of issues or be able to address them as they arise. I feel blessed that Charlotte has a teacher who recognises, as do I, the importance of the partnership between us as mentors and guides for her. That we can speak honestly and openly about concerns and work together on a game plan to help guide her along her path. The same is true of my youngest in the Steiner Kindy. Michaela’s teachers remain open, approachable and willing to discuss concerns. I guess it all grows out the of original point I made about community. With us all being invested in the well-being of the school and seeing ourselves as a collective of equally important parts, it creates a strong foundation on which to have vulnerable discussions that move us towards compassionate solutions.
Our crazy carpool
Since starting at Steiner, I’ve worked together with other local parents to find the best and most efficient way of getting our children to and from school. It’s involved a few sit-down chats as we tried to table up who can do what days. In the end, we pieced together some sort of cohesive timetable that we all struggle to remember. And even though I check it all the time, I often worry that I’ve picked up the wrong child on the wrong day or left someone behind. The kids like to add to my angst by trying to tell me that it’s not my day or that they are supposed to be dropped somewhere they’re not. But at the end of the day, I think our carpool is a wonderful thing. The carpooling in itself doesn’t create a lot of opportunity for parent to parent bonding as we rush to pick up and drop off each other’s children. But that feeling of being able to rely on others creates a mutual feeling of support. We’re modelling to our children what it looks like to work together, help others, look after the environment and show a duty of care for the people within our community.
I still consider myself reasonably new to the Steiner philosophy. A lot of it I understand and other stuff I’m learning as I go. I’ve been told by those who have been a Steiner parent for longer that I will probably get asked some “doozy” questions. Like, for example, I may get asked if it’s a cult, if the kids just make daisy chains all day, if it’s just a bunch of hippies or if I had to throw my TV away in order to be accepted. Truth be told, I didn’t need to do anything to be accepted into the community. I wasn’t worried about joining some sort of hippy club, actually I consider myself to be a bit of a hippy so that works for me. In fact, I was a bit worried that I wouldn’t be hippy enough. I don’t wear organic cotton, make kombucha or activate nuts but really, that’s all just stereotypical bull crap. More than adhering to any sort of dogma, the Dunedin Steiner school invites us to align on our values, passions and the philosophy of the school.
The idea that some people think the school is a cult actually made laugh out loud, I’d never heard that before. Perhaps it comes from that hippy stereotype where people have assumed it’s like some sort of weird commune where we’ve shunned the mainstream world. But when I think of cults, I think of people who blindly follow some sort of guru leader. The Steiner philosophy celebrates the individual nature of children and the parents, in my opinion, have far too much gumption, passion and spirit to ever be considered cult followers. Well, that’s how I see it anyway.
I guess I’ll just have to wait for my turn to receive the funny assumptions people make about the Steiner philosophy. Already I’ve heard rumblings from people I know about the disadvantage my girls might experience from going to a school that doesn’t have screens or technology in the classroom. I’m not sure what people are worried about. Technology and screens are everywhere in the world. It’s not like we’ve become Amish. We haven’t made technology the devil, we just limit it and I have every confidence my girls will be very tech savvy in due course. I don’t have a judgement or opinion against schools that do provide technology in the classroom, it’s just not what they do at Steiner. It’s not a problem, it’s just different and different is okay.
I think my greatest worry is how to navigate the conversation around Michaela starting school. Already I get people telling me about how she’ll be starting school soon because she’s 4.5 years old. I’m really not sure how to tell people that actually, Michaela won’t be starting school till she’s 7. To be honest, even I struggled a little bit when I found out. I had thought she’d be 6 but no, that’s not the way it’s worked out at Steiner. I had to take another hard look at the philosophy, have another discussion with my husband and lots of chats with the teachers and administration at the Steiner Kindy and school so that I could feel confident about the perceived delay. It’s not a decision we made lightly. At the end of the day, I’m confident that in whatever ways Michaela might come across as “behind” in the beginning of her Steiner journey, she’ll be more than caught up by the time she leaves. This has been the case for countless Steiner kids that have gone before her. I guess it comes back to me reminding myself of what I said at the beginning of this blog. The educational choices we make for our children are personal to us. We decide what’s important and we go with that. Even my own parents decided to send my brother, sister and I to private schools over public schools. That came down to them deciding what was important to them and perhaps they encountered people who judged their decision or people who worried that my parents judged them on theirs.
There’s never going to be, in my opinion, one school system that works for everyone and that’s why I’m grateful for the choice. If you’re in the process of deciding about the educational path for your children, I hope that you feel empowered in your choice and that all of our children thrive in their school environments.
Bron (cult joiner apparently)