Essential Resources: Pioneers and Influencers – Soft touch

Understanding sustainability is central to Steiner Waldorf schools today, as Nicole Weinstein discovers in this series that connects resources to key thinkers in early childhood pedagogy.

Making toys from sheep’s wool, wood, felt, and cotton is just one of the activities that children who attend Steiner Waldorf facilities engage in. Sanding and oiling wooden furniture and toys, fixing broken objects, cleaning windows and raking leaves are others.

As children cultivate the land and grow, prepare and eat organic food together, they learn to recycle by composting leftovers in order to grow more in the future. These activities promote a deeper understanding of sustainability and are as relevant today as they were in 1919, when the first Waldorf school opened in Stuttgart, Germany.

The Austrian pedagogue Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925) had several hats. As well as being an educational reformer, he was an architect and scientist who founded the biodynamic approach to agriculture, warning farmers that the widespread use of chemical fertilizers would cause the health of soils, plants and animals and the loss of nutrients in food.

He was born in Kraljevec, now Croatia, in 1861. His father was a telegraph operator who worked for the Austrian Southern Railway, and he spent his youth moving from place to place. ‘other.

He attended a village school and later won a scholarship to the Vienna Institute of Technology. Later, he studied the works of ancient philosophers and slowly began to formulate his own philosophy and publish his works.

Through education, he was able to express his progressive ideas such as universal education and freedom from the perspective of the working class. He also taught a path of inner development or spiritual research, which he called “anthroposophy” (wisdom of human beings), which led him to embrace alternative medicine as well as social reform, making him a controversial figure.

Seven years after Steiner opened her first school, Elisabeth Grunelius, who trained with him, founded the first Waldorf kindergarten in 1926 and went on to translate her approach into a curriculum for early childhood.

Today in the UK there are 26 schools, all with kindergartens, 12 independent kindergartens and a growing number of Steiner-inspired nannies, as well as parent and child groups and babies, some of which also use elements of another early childhood approach. pioneer, Emmi Pikler, like respectful care and the child-initiated movement. It is the fastest growing independent school movement in the world.


The Steiner approach believes that young children benefit from a calm, peaceful, predictable, familiar and unhurried environment where they are able to experience the world around them and master social interaction, self-regulation, physical coordination , speech, language and other life skills before formal schooling are introduced at age seven.

Janni Nicol, author, consultant, teacher trainer and early childhood representative for the Steiner Waldorf Schools Scholarship, defines a Steiner kindergarten as “beautiful, good and true”.

She says, “It’s an uplifting, nurturing environment, which is quiet and calm and caring for the senses: it’s not overly stimulating. There are natural materials, toys and evolutionary equipment that can be used in many ways, and which inspire imagination and fantasy and develop creativity. This allows the child to develop spontaneous imaginative play and self-motivated inquiry both indoors and outdoors, in a calm and calm environment by working with rhythm and repetition.


Particular attention is paid to the impact of everything in the kindergarten environment on the senses of the child.

Nicol says, “There are no hard corners, no strong colors, and all furniture and toys are made of natural materials, as are some equipment, like beeswax crayons and sheep’s fleece.

“Each kindergarten has a natural and safe outdoor area where children are taken to a place where they can experience nature. Festivals – seasonal and cultural – are celebrated, and often parents are invited to participate in these and other events.

While there are no “electronic gadgets” or kid-oriented computing like iPads used in kindergarten, Nicol says kindergartens are running on “hot technology” in the form of manual grain mills, apple juice presses, scales, spinning wheels, hand drills, weaving and carpentry equipment.

She says, “Warm technology gives the child a true picture of a machine’s function as an extension of their body. It also supports the child’s thinking and physical skills in an age-appropriate way, since thinking in a young child is primarily expressed through physical action as processes are followed.

An example of this is grain grown in the garden, which is harvested and ‘winnowed’ (where the chaff is separated from the grain), ground by hand in a grinder, such as a manual coffee grinder, and used to cook bread, which the children watch go up in the oven. This is then sliced ​​for snack time; the children add butter or jam that they have prepared, and they eat it. The crumbs go to the birds.

“Seeing processes such as grain to table to compost, or sheep’s wool to yarn and weaving, helps to embed an appreciation for the vital substances of the earth or environment,” says Nicol.


  • Myriad is a supplier of Steiner Waldorf products. Try Stockmar Modeling Beeswax – Small, £12.50, which develops fine finger control and has a calming, therapeutic effect; the Botanical Bundle Dye Kit, £21.99; the pencil roll for 16 stick and block pencils, £35.99; the Choroi Pentatonic Children’s Harp, £349.99; Magic Wood Shire house, £39.99; and Peruvian Mini Baby Waldorf Doll Dark Skin, £39.99.
  • Cozy has a range of Waldorf-inspired resources, such as Den Playframe, £49.99 and The Arch – Inside, £245. Outside, Stem & Den Multi-Purpose Tire Stands, £122.95, encourage den-building and imaginative play; and the Outdoor Rocking Boat and Steps, £199, are great for physical skills and role play. The Climbing Crest Duo, £679, is sure to test children’s body strength and confidence.
  • Wooden Stacking Pebbles from TTS, £14.99; Giant Stack and Building Block, £149.99; Barkless Tree Blocks – 36 pieces, £44.99; and the Natural Craft and Collage Materials Class Pack, £21.99, are great for open-ended play. Or try the TTS Outdoor Water Pump Station Table, £575.
  • Muddy Faces sells a range of natural resources for investigative purposes. Try the Massive Loose Parts kit, £1,758.90 and the Giant Nature Blocks Stacking – 40 pieces, £74.99. Or for woodworking try the Palm Drills – child size, £4.95.

CASE STUDY: Kindergarten at New School, Canterbury

Every autumn, kindergarten children at The New School in Kent, a primary school inspired by Wardolf Steiner, have fun using traditional apple presses to make juice.

Kindergarten teacher Sam Gresham says: “Parents collect apples from a local community orchard and bring them to kindergarten when they are ripe. While a group of children aged 3 to 6 wash them in a large bucket of water, another group cuts the apples with an adult commenting on the colors, sizes of the different varieties and where they picked them up apples.

“The next task is to crush the apples using a clean bucket and a large block of wood. Hammering wood on apples is hard work and requires children to be persistent and focused. Once the apples are crushed, the apple press is loaded, and everyone tries to turn the crank, which requires endurance. While doing this, we sing songs about apples, reinforcing the children’s understanding of the seasonal nature of this activity.

“Almost immediately the juice starts flowing into the pitcher and the kids are mesmerized. Some even lie down to get the best view. The juice tastes fantastic and the fact that it takes an entire bucket of apples to produce a small pitcher of juice helps kids understand what a valuable resource this is. After all the apples are pressed, we take out all the leftovers – the seeds and the core – to compost, and the kids help rinse the apple press and make sure it’s clean before returning it to its owner , who kindly lends it to us.’


  • Nicol J (2018) Bringing the Steiner Waldorf Approach to Your Early Childhood Practice (3rd Edition). Routledge
  • To find out more about Steiner, Steiner Waldorf education and training in the UK, visit the Steiner Waldorf Schools Scholarship website at:
  • To learn more about Steiner Waldorf early childhood education internationally, visit:

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