Classrooms today face many challenges. As teachers work to engage students and achieve high academic learning, there are a variety of methods and philosophies available to make students successful. Rudolf Steiner is an educational theorist who focused on holistic education and connecting with students using not five, but twelve senses. During the early 1900's, Steiner developed his philosophy in Germany as he began a type of education known as the Waldorf model. This model is named after a cigarette factory whose workers asked Steiner to create a school for their children (Chauncey, 1998). The focus of his instructional methods take a different approach to teaching compared to most classrooms today. Incorporating holistic education and focusing on the twelve senses are two aspects of education recommended by Steiner.
Steiner and Holistic Education
Steiner's view of holistic education is based on the idea that education should focus on the body, spirit, and soul.
- We do not study people in a materialistic, one-sided way; we study the body, soul, and spirit of human beings, so that our teacher can train the body, soul and spirit of human beings to observe them with necessary attention. … This kind of sense must run through the whole art of education. (Steiner, 1919 in Lim, 2004, p. 477).
Rather than teach individual subjects, all subjects should be taught holistically to reach the learner. This education encompasses a broad range of methods and includes focusing on one topic for an extended period of time. In another article addressing this same topic, Easton writes, "Far from seeing education as a matter of intellect alone, best promoted by mandating standards and measuring outcomes, Waldorf educators believe learning takes place when the whole child, 'head, heart, and hands' is immersed in a learning activity" (1997 in Chauncey, 2006, p. 40). In order to ensure learning reaches all areas of the person, a variety of methods are incorporated. A few examples include a focus on time spent in exploration, reflection and spiritual awareness, eurhythmy (a form of movement), oral literacy, collaboration, imagination, and the arts (Lim, 2004).
Another specific method Waldorf educators use to achieve holistic learning for students is connecting lessons with the twelve senses humans encounter. Because humans are made up of the body, soul, and spirit, balance is created by nurturing the twelve senses. "These twelve senses suggested by Steiner are: touch, life, movement, balance, smell, taste, sight, warmth, hearing, thought, word, and I. These senses are deeply involved with ways of knowing" (Lim, 2004, p. 478). Diving in much deeper within the human soul, the twelve senses address different levels of consciousness in the learning process. Steiner believed "[s]enses enable us to know the world by mediating between our body and the world" (Lim, 2004, p. 478). This mediation connects us to the spiritual aspect that is so prevalent in Steiner's philosophy. One's spiritual awareness is addressed in the sense of I in the list of senses above. "An inner activity of the I begins with a perception of the I, through self-contemplation" (Steiner, 1939 in Gidley, 2007, p. 126). Steiner also states that this I state "moves into the more purely spiritual realm" (1983 in Gidley, 2007, p. 126). The spiritual realm is not to be taken lightly as it plays an important role in the development of the child. Daily reflections and time spent in self-reflection support the development of the I sense (Gidley, 2007). Fostering that development allows students to grow as they learn to look inward in making discoveries about themselves and the world around them.
Each teaching method incorporated in Waldorf schools centers around the idea of developing the whole person. Lessons should incorporate the twelve senses in order to ensure connections are being made. Rather than focusing on standardized testing and assessments, followers of Steiner's philosophy believe the same goals can be achieved and create successful life-long learners at the same time in a positive and nourished environment (Chauncey, 2006).
When considering the application of Steiner's methods in my own classroom, I find it easy to agree with much of the reasoning behind the theories. I do think it is important to help students develop all aspects of their being, including the head, hands, and heart. I like how the twelve senses go deeper than sight, smell, sound touch, and taste because humans are complex. Allowing students to explore those deeper areas seem to have positive potential. As a teacher, it would challenge me to find connections with each sense, but would most likely become easier over time. In regards to the I sense and spiritual aspect, I believe the concepts behind both aspects are important, and I see their value in the classroom. However, my personal background differs in regards to the spiritual beliefs and how they should be implemented within the classroom. In researching Steiner's theories, there are many aspects that coincide with my personal philosophy of education. I plan to continue researching Steiner's methods further and experiment with implementing some of them in my own classroom.
Chauncey, B. (2006). The Waldorf model and public school reform. Encounter: Education for Meaning and Social Justice, 19(3), 39-44.
Gidley, J. (2007). Educational imperative of the evolution of consciousness: the integral visions of Rudolf Steiner and Ken Wilber. International Journal of Children's Spirituality, 12 (2), 117-135.
Lim, B. (2004). Aesthetic discourses in early childhood settings: Dewey, Steiner and Vygotsky. Early Child Development and Care, 174(5), 473-486.
Author or Authors
The original author of this document is Jeni Graham.