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The Kingdom of Childhood
GA 311

Lecture VII

19 August 1924, Torquay

We will now speak of some further details of method, though of course in this short time I can only pick out a few examples to give you.

When we consider the whole period between the change of teeth and puberty we can see that it divides itself again into three sections, and it is these three sections that we must bear in mind when we have to guide the children through these early years of school life.

First we have the age up to the point of time which I have described to you here, when the child begins to differentiate himself from his environment and makes a distinction between “subject” — his own self, and “object” — the things which surround him in the outside world; up to this point of time it is essential for us to teach in such a way that everything within the child or without him bears the character of a unity. I have shown you how that can be done artistically. Then, in the second period, we saw how the transition to descriptions of the outside world can be made through our teaching of plant and animal life. You can treat these things in quite an elementary way up till the twelfth year. The third section extends from the twelfth year up to puberty, and it is really only at this time that we can pass on to lifeless nature, for it is only now that the child really begins to understand the inanimate world.

We might indeed say that from the seventh year to about nine-and-a-half or nine-and-one-third the child takes in everything with his soul. There is nothing that the child would not take in with his soul. The trees, the stars, the clouds, the stones, everything is absorbed by the child's soul life. From about nine-and-a-third to about eleven-and-two-thirds the child already perceives the difference between the soul quality which he sees in himself and what is merely “living.” We can now speak of the whole earth as living. Thus we have the soul quality and the living quality. Then from eleven-and-two-thirds to about fourteen the child discriminates between what is of the soul, what is living, and what is dead, that is to say, what is based on the laws of cause and effect.

We should not speak to the child of Inanimate things at all before he approaches his twelfth year. Only then should we begin to speak about minerals, physical phenomena, chemical phenomena and so on. We must make it clear to ourselves that this is really how things are: in the child between the change of teeth and puberty it is not the intellect but the fantasy that is predominantly active; we must constantly be thinking of the child's fantasy, and therefore, as I have often said, we must especially develop fantasy in ourselves. If we do not do this, but pass over to all kinds of intellectual things when the child is still quite young, then he cannot go through his development rightly even in his physical body. And much that is pathological at the present day arises from the fact that in this materialistic age too much attention has been paid to the intellect in children between the change of teeth and puberty.

We should only very gradually introduce the lifeless world when the child is approaching his twelfth year, for this lifeless world must be grasped by the intellect. At this time we can introduce minerals, physical and chemical phenomena and so on. But even here we should connect it up with life as far as possible, not simply start, for instance, with a collection of minerals, but start from the earth, the soil, and first describe the mountain ranges, how they bring about the configuration of the earth; then we can speak of how the mountains are surrounded with soil at their foot, and the higher we go the more bare they become and the fewer plants there are. So we come to speak of the bareness of the mountains and point out that here there are minerals. Thus we start with the mountains and lead on to the minerals.

Then when we have given a clear description of the mountains we can show the children a mineral and say: this is what you would find if you were to take this path up the mountain. This is where it is found. When you have done this with a few different minerals you can pass on to speak of the minerals themselves. But you must do the other first, here again proceeding from the whole and not from the part. This is of very great importance.

For physical phenomena also it is just as important to start from life itself. You should not begin your teaching of Physics as set forth in the text books of today, but simply by lighting a match for instance and letting the children observe how it begins to burn; you must draw their attention to all the details, what the flame looks like, what it is like outside, what it is like further in, and how a black spot, a little black cap is left when you blow out the flame; and only when you have done this, begin to explain how the fire in the match came about. The fire came about through the generation of warmth, and so on. Thus you must connect everything with life itself.

Or take the example of a lever: do not begin by saying that a lever consists of a supported beam at the one end of which there is a force, and at the other end another force, as one so often finds in the Physics books. You should start from a pair of scales; let the child imagine that you are going to some shop where things are being weighed out, and from this pass on to equilibrium and balance, and to the conception of weight and gravity. Always develop your Physics from life itself, and your chemical phenomena also.

That is the essential thing, to begin with real life in considering the different phenomena of the physical and mineral world. If you do it the other way, beginning with an abstraction, then something very curious happens to the child; the lesson itself soon makes him tired. He does not get tired if you start from real life. He gets tired if you start from abstractions.

The golden rule for the whole of teaching is that the child should not tire. Now there is something very strange about the so-called experimental education of the present day. Experimental psychologists register when a child becomes tired in any kind of mental activity, and from this they decide how long to occupy a child with any one subject, in order to avoid fatigue.

This whole conception is wrong from beginning to end. The truth of the matter is as follows: you can read about it in my books, especially in the book Riddles of the Soul and in various lecture courses; all I shall do now is to remind you that man consists of three members — the nerve-senses man, that is, all that sustains man in the activity of his mind and spirit; the rhythmic man, which contains the whole rhythm of breathing, the circulation of the blood and so on; and the metabolic-limb man, in which is to be found everything that is metamorphosed by means of the different substances.

Now if you take the physical development of the child from birth to the change of teeth you will find it is specially the head-organisation, the nerve-senses organisation that is at work. 1Dr. Steiner is here speaking of the process of organic development, not of the child's mental growth. There is no question of approaching the child's intellect during this first period of childhood when the head and nerves system is performing a function entirely different from later years. See Rudolf Steiner: The Education of the Child in the Light of Anthroposophy. The child develops from the head downwards in the early years of his life. You must examine this closely. Look first of all at a human embryo, an unborn child. The head is enormous and the rest of the body is still stunted. Then the child is born and his head is still outwardly the largest, strongest part, and out of the head proceeds the whole growth of the child.

This is no longer the case with the child between the seventh and fourteenth year. Rhythm of breathing, rhythm of the blood, the whole rhythmic system is what holds sway between the change of teeth and puberty. Only rhythm!

But what is the real nature of rhythm? Now if I think a great deal, particularly if I have to study, I get tired, I get tired in my head. If I have to walk far, which is an exertion for my limb organism, I also tire. The head, or the nerve-senses organism, and the metabolic-limb organism can get tired. But the rhythmic organism can never tire.

For just think; you breathe all day long. Your heart beats at night as well as in the day. It must never stop, from birth to death. The rhythm of it has to go on all the time, and cannot ever tire. It never gets tired at all.

Now in education and teaching you must address yourself to whichever system is predominant in man; thus between the change of teeth and puberty you must address yourself to rhythm in the child by using pictures. Everything that you describe or do must be done in such a way that the head has as little to do with it as possible, but the heart, the rhythm, everything that is artistic or rhythmic, must be engaged. What is the result? The result is that with teaching of this kind the child never gets tired, because you are engaging his rhythmic system and not his head.

People are so terribly clever, and in this materialistic age they have thought out a scheme whereby the children should always be allowed to romp about between lessons. Now it is certainly good to let them romp about, but it is good because of the soul qualities in it, because of the delight they have in it. For experiments have been made and it has been found that when the children are properly taught in lesson time they are less tired than when they play about outside. The movement of their limbs tires them more, whereas what you give them in their lessons in the right way should never tire them at all. And the more you develop the pictorial element with the children and the less you exert the intellect, by presenting everything in a living way, the more you will be making demands on the rhythmic system only, and the less will the child become tired. Therefore when the experimental psychologists come and make observations to see how much the child tires, what is it they really observe? They observe how badly you have taught. If you had taught well you would find no fatigue on the part of the children.

In our work with children of Elementary School age we must see to it that we engage the rhythmic system only. The rhythmic system never tires, and is not over-exerted when we employ it in the right way, and for this rhythmic system we need not an intellectual but rather a pictorial method of presentation, something that comes out of the fantasy. Therefore it is imperative that fantasy should hold sway in the school. This must still be so even in the last period of which we have spoken, from eleven-and-two-thirds to fourteen years; we must still make the lifeless things live through fantasy and always connect them with real life. It is possible to connect all the phenomena of Physics with real life, but we ourselves must have fantasy in order to do it. This is absolutely necessary.

Now this fantasy should above all be the guiding principle in what are called compositions, when the children have to write about something and work it out for themselves. Here what must be strictly avoided is to let the children write a composition about anything that you have not first talked over with them in great detail, so that the subject is familiar to them. You yourself, with the authority of the teacher and educator, should have first spoken about the subject with the children; then the child should produce his composition under the influence of what you yourself have said. Even when the children are approaching puberty you must still not depart from this principle. Even then the child should not just write whatever occurs to him; he should always feel that a certain mood has been aroused in him through having discussed the subject with his teacher, and all that he then himself writes in his essay must preserve this mood.

Here again it is “aliveness” that must be the guiding principle. “Aliveness” in the teacher must pass over to “aliveness” in the children.

As you will see from all this, the whole of your teaching and education must be taken from real life. This is something which you can often hear said nowadays. People say that lessons must be given in a living way and in accordance with reality. But first of all we must acquire a feeling for what is actually in accordance with reality. I will give you an example from my own experience of what sometimes happens in practice even when in theory people hold the most excellent educational principles.

I once went into a classroom — I will not say where it was — where an Arithmetic example was being given which was supposed to connect addition with real life. 14 2/3, 16 5/6 and 25 3/5 for example, were not simply to be added together, but were to be related to life. This was done in the following way: The children were told that one man was born on 25th March, 1895, another on 27th August, 1888, and a third on 3rd December, 1899. How old are these three men together? That was the question. And the sum was quite seriously carried through in the following way: from the given date in 1895 to 1924 [The date of this Lecture Course.] is 29 3/4; this is the age of the first man. The second one up to 1924 is about 26 1/2 years old, and the third, from 1899, as he was born on 3rd December, we may say 25. The children were then told that when they add up these ages they will find out how old they all are together.

But my dear friends, I should just like to ask how it is possible that they can make up a certain sum together with their ages? How do you set about it? Of course the numbers can quite well be made up into a sum, but where can you find such a sum in reality? The men are all living at the same time, so that they cannot possibly experience such a thing together in any way. A sum like this is not in the very least taken from life.

It was pointed out to me that this sum was actually taken from a book of examples. I then looked at this book and I found several other ingenious examples of the same kind. In many places I have found that this kind of thing has repercussions in ordinary life, and that is the important thing about it. For what we do at school affects ordinary life, and if the school teaching is wrong, that is if we bring such an unreality into an arithmetical example, then this way of thinking will be adopted by the young people and will be taken into ordinary life. I do not know if it is the same in England, but all over Central Europe when, let us say, several criminals are accused and condemned together, then you sometimes read in the papers: all five together have received sentences of imprisonment totalling 75 1/2 years. One has ten years, another twenty and so on, but it is all added up together. This you can find repeatedly in the newspapers. I should like to know what meaning a sum like that can have in reality. For each single prisoner who is sentenced, the 75 years together certainly have no meaning; they will all of them be free long before the 75 years are over, so that it has no reality at all.

You see, that is the important thing, to make straight for the reality in everything: you simply poison a child to whom you give a sum like this which is absolutely impossible in real life.

You must guide the child to think only about things that are to be found in life. Then through your teaching reality will be carried back into life again. In our time we suffer terribly from the unreality of men's thinking, and the teacher has need to consider this very carefully.

There is a theory in this age which, though postulated by men who are considered to be extraordinarily clever, is really only a product of education. It is the so-called Theory of Relativity. I hope you have already heard something of this theory which is connected with the name of Einstein; there is much in it that is correct. I do not want to combat what is right in it, but it has been distorted in the following way. Let us imagine that a cannon is fired off somewhere. It is said that if you are so many miles away, after a certain length of time you hear the report of the cannon. If you do not stand still but walk away from the sound, then you hear it later. The quicker you walk away the later you get the impression of the sound. If you do the opposite and walk towards the sound you will be hearing it sooner and sooner all the time.

But now if you continue this thought you come to the possible conception, which is however an impossibility in reality, that you approach the sound more quickly than it travels itself, and then if you think this out to its conclusion you come to the point of saying to yourself: then there is also a possibility of hearing the sound before the cannon is fired off!

That is what it can lead to, if theories arise out of a kind of thinking which is not in accordance with reality. A man who can think in accordance with reality must sometimes have very painful experiences. For in Einstein's books you even find, for instance, how you could take a watch and send it out into the universe at the speed of light, and then let it come back again; we are then told what happens to this watch if it goes out at the speed of light and comes back again. I should like to get an actual sight of this watch which, having whizzed away at this speed, then comes back again; I should like to know what it looks like then! The essential thing is that we never lose sight of reality in our thinking.

Herein lies the root of all evil in much of the education of today, and you find, for instance, in the “exemplary” Kindergartens that different kinds of work are thought out for the child to do. In reality we should make the children do nothing, even in play, that is not an imitation of life itself. All Froebel occupations and the like, which have been thought out for the children, are really bad. We must make it a rule only to let the children do what is an imitation of life, even in play. This is extremely important.

For this reason, as I have already told you, we should not think out what are called “ingenious” toys, but as far as possible with dolls or other toys we should leave as much as we can to the child's own fantasy. This is of great significance, and I would earnestly beg you to make it a rule not to let anything come into your teaching and education that is not in some way connected with life.

The same rule applies when you ask the children to describe something themselves. You should always call their attention to it if they stray from reality. The intellect never penetrates as deeply into reality as fantasy does. Fantasy can go astray, it is true, but it is rooted in reality, whereas the intellect remains always on the surface. That is why it is so infinitely important for the teacher himself to be in touch with reality as he stands in his class.

In order that this may be so we have our Teachers' Meetings in the Waldorf School which are the heart and soul of the whole teaching. In these meetings, each teacher speaks of what he himself has learnt in his class and from all the children in it, so that each one learns from the other. No school is really alive where this is not the most important thing, this regular meeting of the teachers.

And indeed there is an enormous amount one can learn there. In the Waldorf School we have mixed classes, girls and boys together. Now quite apart from what the boys and girls say to each other, or what they consciously exchange with each other, there is a marked difference to be seen in the classes according to whether there are more girls than boys or more boys than girls or an equal number of each. For years I have been watching this, and it has always proved to be the case that there is something different in a class where there are more girls than boys.

In the latter case you will very soon find that you yourself as the teacher become less tired, because the girls grasp things more easily than boys and with greater eagerness too. You will find many other differences also. Above all, you will very soon discover that the boys themselves gain in quickness of comprehension when they are in a minority, whereas the girls lose by it if they are in the minority. And so there are numerous differences which do not arise through the way they talk together or treat each other but which remain in the sphere of the imponderable and are themselves imponderable things.

All these things must be very carefully watched, and everything that concerns either the whole class or individual children is spoken of in our meetings, so that every teacher really has the opportunity to gain an insight into characteristic individualities among the pupils.

There is one thing that is of course difficult in the Waldorf School method. We have to think much more carefully than is usually the case in class teaching, how one can really bring the children on. For we are striving to teach by “reading” from the particular age of a child what should be given him at this age. All I have said to you is directed towards this goal.

Now suppose a teacher has a child of between nine and ten years in the class that is right for his age, but with quite an easy mind he lets this child stay down and not go up with the rest of the class; the consequence will be that in the following year this child will be receiving teaching which is meant for an age of life different from his own. Therefore under all circumstances we avoid letting the children stay down in the same class even if they have not reached the required standard. This is not so convenient as letting the children stay in the class where they are and repeat the work, but we avoid this at all costs. The only corrective we have is to put the very weak ones into a special class for the more backward children. 2Dr. Steiner then added that these children were at that time being taught by Dr. Karl Schubert who had a very special task in this domain and was particularly gifted for it.

Children who are in any way below standard come into this class from all the other classes.

Otherwise, as I have said, we do not let the children stay down but we try to bring them along with us under all circumstances, so that in this way each child really receives what is right for his particular age.

We must also consider those children who have to leave school at puberty, at the end of the Elementary School period, and who cannot therefore participate in the upper classes. We must make it our aim that by this time, through the whole tenor of our teaching, they will have come to a perception of the world which is in accordance with life itself. This can be done in a two-fold way. On the one hand we can develop all our lessons on Science and History in such a manner that the children, at the end of their schooling, have some knowledge of the being of man and some idea of the place of man in the world. Everything must lead up to a knowledge of man, reaching a measure of wholeness when the children come to the seventh and eighth classes, that is when they have reached their thirteenth and fourteenth year. Then all that they have already learnt will enable them to understand what laws, forces and substances are at work in man himself, and how man is connected with all physical matter in the world, with all that is of soul in the world, with all spirit in the world. So that the child, of course in his own way, knows what a human being is within the whole cosmos. This then is what we strive to achieve on the one hand.

On the other hand we try to give the children an understanding of life. It is actually the case today that most people, especially those who grow up in the town, have no idea how a substance, paper for instance, is made. There are a great many people who do not know how the paper on which they write or the material they are wearing is manufactured, nor, if they wear leather shoes, how the leather is prepared.

Think how many people there are who drink beer and have no idea how the beer is made. This is really a monstrous state of affairs. Now we cannot of course achieve everything in this direction, but we try to make it our aim as far as possible to give the children some knowledge of the work done in the most varied trades, and to see to it that they themselves also learn how to do certain kinds of work which are done in real life.

It is, however, extraordinarily difficult, in view of what is demanded of children today by the authorities, to succeed with an education that is really in accordance with life itself. One has to go through some very painful experiences. Once for instance, owing to family circumstances, a child had to leave when he had just completed the second class and begun a new year in the third. He had to continue his education in another school. We were then most bitterly reproached because he had not got so far in Arithmetic as was expected of him there, nor in Reading or Writing. Moreover they wrote and told us that the Eurythmy and Painting and all the other things he could do were of no use to him at all.

If therefore, we educate the children not only out of the knowledge of man, but in accordance with the demands of life, they will also have to know how to read and write properly at the age at which this is expected of them today. And so we shall be obliged to include in the curriculum many things which are simply demanded by the customs of the time. Nevertheless we try to bring the children into touch with life as far as possible.

I should have dearly liked to have a shoemaker as a teacher in the Waldorf School, if this had been possible. It could not be done because such a thing does not fit into a curriculum based on present-day requirements, but in order that the children might really learn to make shoes, and to know, not theoretically but through their own work, what this entails, I should have dearly liked from the very beginning to have a shoemaker on the staff of the school. But it simply could not be done because it would not have been in accordance with the authorities, although it is just the very thing that would have been in accordance with real life. Nevertheless we do try to make the children into practical workers.

When you come to the Waldorf School you will see that the children are quite good at binding books and making boxes; you will see too how they are led into a really artistic approach to handwork; the girls will not be taught to produce the kind of thing you see nowadays when you look at the clothes that women wear, for instance. It does not occur to people that the pattern for a collar should be different from that of a belt or the hem of a dress. People do not consider that here for example (see drawing a.) the pattern must have a special character because it is worn at the neck. The pattern for a belt (see drawing b.) must lead both upwards and downwards, and so on.

Diagram 1

Or again, we never let our children make a cushion with an enclosed pattern, but the pattern itself should show where to lay your head. You can also see that there is a difference between right and left, and so forth. Thus here too life itself is woven and worked into everything that the children make, and they learn a great deal from it. This then is another method by which the children may learn to stand rightly in life.

We endeavour to carry this out in every detail, for example in the giving of reports. I could never in my life imagine what it means to mark the capacities of the children with a 2, or 3, or 21-. I do not know if that is done in England too, giving the children numbers or letters in their reports which are supposed to show what a child can do. In Central Europe it is customary to give a 3, or a 4. At the Waldorf School we do not give reports like this, but every teacher knows every child and describes him in the report; he describes in his own words what the child's capacities are and what progress he has made.

And then every year each child receives in his report a motto or verse for his own life, which can be a word of guidance for him in the year to come. The report is like this: first there is the child's name and then his verse, and then the teacher without any stereotyped letters or numbers, simply characterises what the child is like, and what progress he has made in the different subjects. The report is thus a description. The children always love their reports, and their parents also get a true picture of what the child is like at school.

We lay great stress upon keeping in touch with all the parents so that from the school we may see into the home through the child. Only in this way can we come to understand each child, and to know how to treat every peculiarity. It is not the same thing when we notice the same peculiarity in two children, for it has quite a different significance in the two cases.

Suppose for instance that two children each show a certain excitability. It is not merely a question of knowing that the child is excitable and giving him something to help him to become quiet, but it is a question of finding out that in the one case the child has an excitable father whom he has imitated, and in the other case the child is excitable because he has a weak heart. In every case we must be able to discover what lies at the root of these peculiarities.

This is the real purpose of the Teachers' Meetings, to study man himself, so that a real knowledge of man is continually flowing through the school. The whole school is the concern of the teachers in their meetings, and all else that is needed will follow of itself. The essential thing is that in the Teachers' Meetings there is study, steady, continual study.

These are the indications I wanted to give you for the practical organisation of your school.

There are of course many things that could still be said if we could continue this course for several weeks. But that we cannot do, and therefore I want to ask you tomorrow, when we come together, to put in the form of questions anything which you may have upon your minds, so that we may use the time for you to put your questions which I will then answer for you.