Our bookstore is now open. Shop today →

The Rudolf Steiner Archive

a project of Steiner Online Library, a public charity

Human Values in Education
GA 310

III. Stages of Childhood

19 July 1924, Arnheim

You will have gathered from the remarks I have made during the last two days that there is a fundamental change in the inner constitution of the human being at every single stage of his life. Today, certainly, modern psychologists and physiologists also take this into account. They too reckon with these changes which take place in the course of life, firstly up to the change of teeth, then up to puberty, and again from puberty into the twenties. But these differences are more profound than can be discovered by means of the methods of observation customary today, which do not reach far enough, however excellent they may be. We must take a further step and examine these differences from aspects demanded by spiritual science. You will hear many things that are already familiar to you, but you must now enter more deeply into them. Even when the child enters this world from the embryo condition, that is, to take an external characteristic, when he adapts himself to the outer process of breathing, even then, physiologically speaking, he is not yet received directly by the outer world, for he takes the natural nourishment of the mother's milk. He is not nourished as yet by what comes from the outer world, but by what comes from the same source as the child himself. Now today people study the substances they meet with in the world more or less according to their external, chemical, physical properties only and do not consider the finer attributes which they possess through their spiritual content. Nowadays everything is considered in this way. Such methods are not to be condemned; on the contrary they should be recognised as justified. Nevertheless because the time came when man was concerned only with the outer aspects of things, aspects which could not be so regarded in earlier civilisations, he has now reached a point of extreme externalisation. If I may make a comparison, things are observed today in some such way as this. We say: I look upon death, upon dying; plants die, animals die, human beings die. But surely the question arises as to whether dying, the passing away of the various forms of life with which we come in contact, is in all three kinds of living beings the same process, or whether this only appears outwardly to be so. We can make use of the following comparisons: If I have a knife there is a real difference whether I cut my food with it, or whether I use it for shaving. In each case it is a knife, but the properties of “knife” must be further differentiated. Such differentiation is in many cases not made today. No differentiation is made between the dying of a plant, an animal or a man.

We meet the same thing in other domains too. There are people who in a certain way want to be philosophers of nature, and because they aim at being idealistic, even spiritual, they assert that plants may well have a soul; and they try to discover in an external way those characteristics of plants which seem to indicate that they have certain soul qualities. They make a study of those plants which, when they are approached by insects, tend to open their petals. The insect is caught, for it is attracted by the scent of what is in the plant. Such a plant is the Venus Flytrap. It closes its petals with a snap and the insect is trapped. This is considered to be a sort of soul quality in the plant. Well, but I know something else which works in the same way. It is to be found in all sorts of places. The mouse, when it comes near, feels attracted by the smell of a dainty morsel; it begins to nibble, and — hey presto! snap goes the mousetrap. If one were to make use of the same thought process as in the case of a plant, one might say: the mousetrap has a soul.

This kind of thinking, however, although quite legitimate under certain conditions never leads to conclusions of any depth, but remains more or less on the surface. If we wish to gain a true knowledge of man we must penetrate into the very depths of human nature. It must be possible for us to look in a completely unprejudiced way at things which appear paradoxical vis-à-vis external methods of observation. Moreover it is very necessary to take into consideration everything which, taken together, makes up the entire human organisation.

In man we have, to begin with, the actual physical organism which he has in common with all earthly beings and particularly with the mineral kingdom. In man, however, we have clearly to distinguish between his physical organism and his etheric organism. The latter he has in common only with the plant world, not with the minerals. But a being endowed only with an etheric organism could never experience feeling, never attain to an inner consciousness. For this again man has his astral organism, which he has in common with the animal world. It might appear that this is an external organisation, but in the course of these lectures we shall see how inward it can be. In addition to this man still has his ego-organisation, which is not to be found in the animal world and which he alone possesses among earthly beings. What we are here considering is in no sense merely an external, intellectual pattern; moreover, in speaking, for instance, of an etheric or life-body, this has no connection whatever with what an outmoded natural science once called “life-force,” “vital-force” and so on. On the contrary, it is the result of observation. If, for instance, we study the child up to the age of the change of teeth, we see that his development is primarily dependent on his physical organism. The physical organism must gradually adapt itself to the outer world, but this cannot take place all at once, not even if considered in the crudest physical sense. This physical body, just because it contains what the human being has brought with him out of the spiritual world in which he lived in pre-earthly existence, cannot forthwith assimilate the substances of the outer world, but must receive them specially prepared in the mother's milk. The child must, so to say, remain closely connected with what is of like nature with himself. He must only gradually grow into the outer world. And the conclusion of this process of the physical organism growing into the outer world is indicated by the appearance of the second teeth at about the seventh year. At approximately this age the child's physical organism completes the process of growing into the world.

During this time, however, in which the organisation is chiefly concerned with the shaping and fashioning of the bony system, the child is only interested in certain things in the outer world, not in everything. He is only interested in what we might call gesture, everything that is related to movement. Now you must take into account that at first the child's consciousness is dream-like, shadowy; to begin with his perceptions are quite undefined, and only gradually do they light up and gain clarity. But fundamentally speaking the fact remains that during the time between birth and the change of teeth the child's perception adheres to everything in the nature of gesture and movement and does so to such an extent, that in the very moment when he perceives a movement he feels an inner urge to imitate it. There exists a quite definite law of development in the nature of the human being which I should like to characterise in the following way.

While the human being is growing into the physical, earthly world, his inner nature is developing in such a way that this development proceeds in the first place out of gesture, out of differentiation of movement. In the inner nature of the organism speech develops out of movement in all its aspects, and thought develops out of speech. This deeply significant law underlies all human development. Everything which makes its appearance in sound, in speech, is the result of gesture, mediated through the inner nature of the human organism.

If you turn your attention to the way in which a child not only learns to speak, but also learns to walk, to place one foot after the other, you can observe how one child treads more strongly on the back part of the foot, on the heel, and another walks more on the toes. You can observe children who in learning to walk tend to bring their legs well forward; with others you will see that they are more inclined to hold back, as it were, between two steps. It is extraordinarily interesting to watch a child learning to walk. You must learn to observe this. But it is more interesting still, although much less attention is paid to it, to see how a child learns to grasp something, how he learns to move his hands. There are children who, when they want something, move their hands in such a way that even the fingers are brought into movement. Others keep their fingers still, and stretch out their hands to take hold without moving the fingers. There are children who stretch out their hand and arm, while keeping the upper part of the body motionless; there are others who immediately let the upper part of the body follow the movement of arm and hand. I once knew a child who, when he was very small and his high-chair was placed at a little distance from the table on which stood some dish he wished to get at, proceeded to “row” himself towards it; his whole body was then in movement. He could make no movements at all without moving his whole body.

This is the first thing to look out for in a child; for how a child moves reveals the most inward urge of life, the primal life impulse. At the same time there appears in the child's movement the tendency to adapt himself to others, to carry out some movement in the same way as his father, mother or other member of the family. The principle of imitation comes to light in gesture, in movement. For gesture is what appears first of all in human evolution, and in the special constitution of the physical, soul and spiritual organism of man gesture is inwardly transformed; it is transformed into speech. Those who are able to observe this know without any doubt that a child who speaks as though the sentences were hacked out of him is one who sets his heels down first; while a child who speaks in such a way that the sentences run one into the other tends to trip on his toes. A child who takes hold of things more lightly with his fingers has the tendency to emphasise the vowel element, while a child who is inclined to stress the consonants will bring his whole arm to his aid when grasping something. We receive a very definite impression of a child's potentialities from his manner of speaking. And to understand the world, to understand the world through the medium of the senses, through the medium of thought, this too is developed out of speech. Thought does not produce speech, but speech thought. So it is in the cultural development of humanity as a whole; human beings have first spoken, then thought. So it is also with the child; first out of movement he learns to speak, to articulate only then does thinking come forth from speech. We must therefore look upon this sequence as being something of importance: gesture, speech, thought, or the process of thinking.

All this is especially characteristic in the first epoch of the child's life, up to the change of teeth. When little by little the child grows into the world during the first, second, third and fourth years of life, he does so through gesture; everything is dependent on gesture. Indeed, I would say that speaking and thinking take place for the most part unconsciously; both develop naturally out of gesture, even the first gesture. Therefore speaking approximately we can say: From the first to the seventh year gesture predominates in the life of the child, but gesture in the widest sense of the word, gesture which in the child lives in imitation. As educators we must keep this firmly in mind for actually up to the change of teeth the child only takes in what comes to him as gesture, he shuts himself off from everything else. If we say to the child: Do it like this, do it like that, he really does not hear, he does not take any notice. It is only when we stand in front of him and show him how to do it that he is able to copy us. For the child works according to the way I myself am moving my fingers, or he looks at something just as I am looking at it, not according to what I tell him. He imitates everything. This is the secret of the development of the child up to the change of teeth. He lives entirely in imitation, entirely in the imitation of what in the widest possible sense comes to meet him from outside as gesture. This accounts for the surprises we get when faced with the education of very young children. A father came to me once and said, “What shall I do? Something really dreadful has happened. My boy has been stealing.” I said, “Let us first find out whether he really steals. What has he done?” The father told me that the boy had taken money out of the cupboard, had bought sweets with it and shared them with the other boys. I said “Presumably that is the cupboard out of which the boy has often seen his mother taking money, before going shopping; he is quite naturally imitating her.” And this proved to be the case. So I said further, “But that is not stealing; that lies as a natural principle of development in the boy up to the change of teeth. He imitates what he sees; he must do so.” In the presence of a child therefore we should avoid doing anything which he should not imitate. This is how we educate him. If we say: You should not do this or that, it does not influence the child in the slightest degree up to the change of teeth. It could at most have some effect if one were to clothe the words in a gesture, by saying: Now look, you have just done something that I would never do! — for this is in a way a disguised gesture.

It comes to this: with our whole manhood we should fully understand how up to the change of teeth the child is an imitating being. During this time there is actually an inner connection between the child and his environment, between all that is going on around him. Later on this is lost. For however strange and paradoxical it may sound to people today, who are quite unable to think correctly about the spirit, but think always in abstractions, it is nevertheless true that the whole relationship of the child to gesture and movement in his surroundings has an innate religious character. Through his physical body the child is given over to everything in the nature of gesture; he cannot do otherwise than yield himself up to it. What we do later with our soul, and still later with our spirit, in that we yield ourselves up to the divine, even to the external world, as again spiritualised, this the child does with his physical body when he brings it into movement. He is completely immersed in religion, both with his good and his bad qualities. What remains with us as soul and spirit in later life, this the child has also in his physical organism. If therefore the child lives in close proximity with a surly, “bearish” father, liable to fall into rages, someone who is often irritable and angry, expressing uncontrolled emotions in the presence of the child, while the inner causes of such emotions are not as yet understood by the child, nevertheless what he sees, he experiences as something not moral. The child perceives simultaneously, albeit unconsciously, the moral aspects of these outbreaks, so that he has not only the outer picture of the gesture, but also absorbs its moral significance. If I make an angry gesture, this passes over into the blood organisation of the child, and if these gestures recur frequently they find expression in his blood circulation. The child's physical body is organised according to the way in which I behave in his presence, according to the kind of gestures I make. Moreover if I fail in loving understanding when the child is present, if, without considering him I do something which is only suitable at a later age, and am not constantly on the watch when he is near me, then it can happen that the child enters lovingly into something which is unfitted for his tender years, but belongs to another age, and his physical body will in that case be organised accordingly. Whoever studies the whole course of a man's life from birth to death, bearing in mind the requirements of which I have spoken, will see that a child who has been exposed to things suitable only to grown-up people and who imitates these things will in his later years, from the age of about 50, suffer from sclerosis. One must be able to examine such phenomena in all their ramifications. Illnesses that appear in later life are often only the result of educational errors made in the very earliest years of childhood.

This is why an education which is really based on a knowledge of man must study the human being as a whole from birth until death. To be able to look at man as a whole is the very essence of anthroposophical knowledge. Then too one discovers how very strong the connection is between the child and his environment. I would go as far as to say that the soul of the child goes right out into his surroundings, experiences these surroundings intimately, and indeed has a much stronger relationship to them than at a later period of life. In this respect the child is still very close to the animal, only he experiences things in a more spiritual way, in a way more permeated with soul. The animal's experiences are coarser and cruder, but the animal too is related to its environment. The reason why many phenomena of recent times remain unexplained is because people are not able to enter into all the details involved. There is, for instance, the case of the “calculating horses” which has made such a stir recently, where horses have carried out simple arithmetical operations through stamping with their hooves. I have not seen the famous Elberfelder horses, but I have seen the horse belonging to Herr von Osten. This horse did quite nice little sums. For instance Herr von Osten asked: How much is 5 + 7? And he began to count, beginning with 1, and when he got to 12 the horse stamped with its foot. It could add up, subtract and so on. Now there was a young professor who studied this problem and wrote a book about it which is extremely interesting. In this book he expounds the view that the horse sees certain little gestures made by Herr von Osten, who always stands close to the horse. His opinion is that when Herr von Osten counts 7 + 5 up to 12 and the horse stamps when the number 12 is reached, this is because Herr von Osten makes a very slight gesture when he comes to 12 and the horse, noticing this, duly stamps his foot. He believes that it can all be traced back to something visible. But now he puts a question to himself: “Why,” he says, “can you not see this gesture which Herr von Osten makes so skilfully that the horse sees it and stamps at the number 12?” The young professor goes on to say that these gestures are so slight that he as a human being cannot see them. From this the conclusion might be drawn that a horse sees more than a professor! But this did not convince me at all, for I saw this wonder of an intelligent horse, the clever Hans, standing by Herr von Osten in his long coat. And I saw too that in his right-hand pocket he had lumps of sugar, and while he was carrying out his experiments with the horse he always handed it one lump after another, so that feeling was aroused in the horse associating sweet things with Herr von Osten. In this way a sort of love was established between Herr von Osten and the horse. And only when this is present, only when the inner being of the horse is, as it were, merged into the inner being of Herr von Osten through the stream of sweetness that flows between them, only then can the horse “calculate,” for it really receives something — not through gesture, but through what Herr von Osten is thinking. He thinks: 5 + 7 = 12, and by means of suggestion the horse takes up this thought and even has a distinct impression of it. One can actually see this. The horse and his master are in a certain way merged in feeling one into the other: they impart something to one another reciprocally when they are united through the medium of sweetness. So the animal still has this finer relationship to its environment, and this can be stimulated from outside, as, in this case, by means of sugar.

In a delicate way a similar relationship to the outer world is still present in children also. It lives in the child and should be reckoned with. Education in the kindergarten should therefore never depend on anything other than the principle of imitation. The teacher must sit down with the children and just do what she wishes them to do, so that the child has only to copy. All education and instruction before the change of teeth must be based on this principle.

After the change of teeth all this becomes quite different. The soul life of the child is now completely changed. No longer does he perceive merely the single gestures, but now he sees the way in which these gestures accord with one another. For instance, whereas previously he only had a feeling for a definite line, now he has a feeling for co-ordination, for symmetry. The feeling is awakened for what is co-ordinated or uncoordinated, and in his soul the child acquires the possibility of perceiving what is formative. As soon as this perception is awakened there appears simultaneously an interest in speech. During the first seven years of life there is an interest in gesture, in everything connected with movement; in the years between seven and fourteen there is an interest in everything connected with the pictorial form, and speech is pre-eminently pictorial and formative. After the change of teeth the child's interest passes over from gesture to speech, and in the lower school years from seven to fourteen we can work most advantageously through everything that lies in speech, above all through the moral element underlying speech. For just as the child before this age has a religious attitude towards the gesture which meets him in the surrounding world, so now he relates himself in a moral sense — his religious feeling being gradually refined into a soul experience — to everything which approaches him through speech.

So now, in this period of his life, one must work upon the child through speech. But whatever is to work upon him in this way must do so by means of an unquestioned authority. When I want to convey to the child some picture expressed through speech, I must do so with the assurance of authority. I must be the unquestioned authority for the child when through speech I want to conjure up before him some picture. Just as we must actually show the little child what we want him to do, so we must be the human pattern for the child between the change of teeth and puberty. In other words, there is no point whatever in giving reasons to a child of this age, in trying to make him see why we should do something or not do it, just because there are well-founded reasons for or against it. This passes over the child's head. It is important to understand this. In exactly the same way as in the earliest years of life the child only observes the gesture, so between the change of teeth and puberty he only observes what I, as a human being, am in relation to himself. At this age the child must, for instance, learn about what is moral in such a way that he regards as good what the naturally accepted authority of the teacher, by means of speech, designates as good; he must regard as bad what this authority designates as bad. The child must learn: What my teacher, as my authority, does is good, what he does not do is bad. Relatively speaking then, the child feels: When my teacher says something is good, then it is good; and if he says something is bad, then it is bad. You will not attribute to me, seeing that 30 years ago I wrote my Philosophy of Freedom a point of view which upholds the principle of authority as the one and only means of salvation. But through the very fact of knowing the true nature of freedom one also knows that between the change of teeth and puberty the child needs to be faced with an unquestioned authority. This lies in the nature of man. Everything is doomed to failure in education which disregards this relationship of the child to the unquestioned authority of the personality of the teacher and educator. The child must be guided in everything which he should do or not do, think or not think, feel or not feel, by what flows to him, by way of speech, from his teacher and educator. At this age therefore there is no sense in wanting to approach him through the intellect. During this time everything must be directed towards the life of feeling, for feeling is receptive to anything in the nature of pictures and the child of this age is so constituted that he lives in the world of pictures, of images, and has the feeling of welding separate details into a harmonious whole. This is why, for instance, what is moral cannot be brought to the child by way of precept, by saying: You should do this, you should not do that. It simply doesn't work. What does work is when the child, through the way in which one speaks to him, can feel inwardly in his soul a liking for what is good, a dislike of what is bad. Between the change of teeth and puberty the child is an aesthete and we must therefore take care that he experiences pleasure in the good and displeasure in what is bad. This is the best way for him to develop a sense of morality.

We must also be sincere, inwardly sincere in the imagery we use in our work with the child. This entails being permeated to the depths of our being by everything we do. This is not the case if, when standing before the child we immediately experience a slight sense of superiority: I am so clever — the child is so stupid. Such an attitude ruins all education; it also destroys in the child the feeling for authority. Well then, how shall I transform into a pictorial image something that I want to impart to the child? In order to make this clear I have chosen the following example as an illustration.

We cannot speak to the child about the immortality of the soul in the same way as to a grown-up person; but we must nevertheless convey to him some understanding of it. We must however do so in a pictorial way. We must build up the following picture and to do this may well take the whole lesson.

We can explain to the child what a butterfly's chrysalis is, and then speak in some such words as these: “Well, later on the finished butterfly flies out of the chrysalis. It was inside all the time only it was not yet visible, it was not yet ready to fly away, but it was already there inside.” Now we can go further and tell him that in a similar way the human body contains the soul, only it is not visible. At death the soul flies out of the body; the only difference between man and butterfly is that the butterfly is visible and the human soul is invisible. In this way we can speak to the child about the immortality of the soul so that he receives a true picture of immortality and one suited to his age. But in the presence of the child we must on no account have the feeling: I am clever, I am a philosopher and by no means of thought can I convince myself of the truth of immortality; the child is naive, is stupid, and so for him I will build up the picture of the butterfly creeping out of the chrysalis. If one thinks in this way one establishes no contact with the child, and then he gets nothing whatever from what he is told. There is only one possibility. We must ourselves believe in the picture, we must not want to be cleverer than the child; we must stand in the presence of the child as full of belief as he is. How can this be done? An anthroposophist, a student of spiritual science knows that the emergence of the butterfly from the chrysalis is actually a picture of the immortality of the human soul placed into the world by the gods. He can never think otherwise than that the gods inscribed into the world this picture of the emerging butterfly as an image of the immortality of the human soul. In all the lower stages of the process he sees the higher processes which have become abstract. If I do not get the idea that the child is stupid and I am clever, but if I stand before the child conscious that this actually is so in the world and that I am leading him to believe in something which I too believe with all my heart, then there arises an imponderable relationship between us, and the child makes real progress in his education. Then moral imponderabilia continually enters into our educational relationship. And this is the crux of the matter.

When we are quite clear about this we shall, out of the whole nexus of our studies, come to see how we can find the right approach to an instruction which is truly educational, an education which really instructs. Let us take an example. How must the child learn to read and write? There is actually a great deal more misery connected with this than one usually imagines, though human intellectualism is far too crude to perceive it. One recognises that learning to read and write is a necessity, so it follows that the child must at all costs be drilled into learning reading and writing. But just consider what this means for a child! When they are grown-up, people have no inclination to put themselves in the child's place, to imagine what he undergoes when he learns to read and write. In our civilisation today we have letters, a, b, c and so on; they are there before us in certain definite forms. Now the child has the sound a (ah, as in father). When does he use it? This sound is for him the expression of an inner soul experience. He uses this sound when he is faced with something which calls up in him a feeling of wonder, of astonishment. This sound he understands. It is bound up with human nature. Or he has the sound e (eh, as in they). When does he use this? He uses it when he wants to show he has the feeling: “Something has come up against me; I have experienced something which encroaches on my own nature.” If somebody gives me a blow, I say e (eh). 1In English we tend to prefix an aspirate to the vowel, saying “Ha” when something astonishes us, or “Heh” when something impinges on us, e.g. “Heh, stop it!” It is the same with the consonants. Every sound corresponds to some expression of life; the consonants imitate an outer, external world, the vowels express what is experienced inwardly in the soul. The study of language, philology, is today only approaching the first elements of such things.

Learned scholars, who devote themselves to research into language, have given much thought to what, in the course of human evolution, may have been the origin of speech. There are two theories. The one represents the view that speech may have arisen out of soul experiences in much the same way as this takes place in the animal, albeit in its most primitive form — “moo-moo” being the expression of what the cow feels inwardly, and “bow-wow” what is experienced by the dog. And so, in a more complicated way, what in man becomes articulated speech arises out of this urge to give expression to inner feelings and experiences. In somewhat humorous vein this is called the “bow-wow theory.” The other point of view proceeds from the supposition that in the sounds of speech man imitates what takes place in the outer world. It is possible to imitate the sound of a bell, what is taking place inside the bell: “ding-dong — ding-dong.” Here there is the attempt to imitate what takes place in the outer world. This is the basis for the theory that in speech everything may be traced back to external sounds, external event. It is the “ding-dong theory.” So we have these two theories in opposition to one another. It is not in any way my intention to make fun of this, for as a matter of fact, both are correct: the “bow-wow” theory is right for the vowel element in speech, the “ding-dong” theory for the consonantal element. In transposing gestures into sounds we learn by means of the consonants to imitate inwardly outer processes; and in the vowels we give form to inner experiences of the soul. In speech the inner and the outer unite. Human nature, itself homogeneous, understands how to bring this about.

We receive the child into the primary school. Through his inner organisation he has become a being able to speak. Now, suddenly he is expected to experience — I say experience deliberately weighing my words, not recognise, experience — a connection between astonishment, wonder, (ah) and the demonic sign a. This is something completely foreign to him. He is supposed to learn something which he feels to be utterly remote, and to relate this to the sound “ah.” This is something outside the sphere of a young child's comprehension. He feels it as a veritable torture if at the very outset we confront him with the forms of the letters in use today.

We can, however, remember something else. The letters which we have today were not always there. Let us look back to those ancient peoples who had a picture writing. They used pictures to give tangible form to what was uttered, and these pictures certainly had something to do with what they were intended to express. They did not have letters such as we use, but pictures which were related to their meaning. Up to a certain point the same could be said of cuneiform writing. These were times when people still had a human relationship to things, even when these were fixed into a definite form. Today we no longer have this, but with the child we must go back to it again. We must of course not do so in such a way that we study the cultural history of ancient peoples and fall back on the forms which were once used in picture writing; but we must bring all our educational fantasy into play as teachers in order to create the kind of pictures we need. Fantasy, imagination [The German phantasie is often more equivalent to the English imagination than to fantasy. In this lecture the latter is probably more appropriate.] we must certainly have, for without it we cannot be teachers or educators. And so it is always necessary to refer to the importance of enthusiasm, of inspiration, when dealing with some characteristic feature of anthroposophy. It never gives me any pleasure, for instance, when I go into a class in our Waldorf School and notice that a teacher is tired and is teaching out of a certain mood of weariness. That is something one must never do. One simply cannot be tired, one can only be filled with enthusiasm. When teaching, one must be absolutely on the spot with one's whole being. It is quite wrong to be tired when teaching; tiredness must be kept for some other occasion. The essential thing for a teacher is that he learns to give full play to his fantasy. What does this mean? To begin with I call up in the child's mind something that he has seen at the market, or some other place, a fish for example. I next get him to draw a fish, and for this I even allow him to use colours, so that he paints as he draws and draws as he paints. This being achieved I then let him say the word “Fish,” not speaking the word quickly, but separating the sounds, “f-i-ssh.” Then I lead him on so that he says only the beginning of the word fish (f...) and gradually I transfer the shape of the fish into a sign that is somewhat fish like, while at the same time getting the child to say f ... And there we have it, the letter “f!”

Figure 1

Or I let the child say Wave (W-a-v-e) showing him at the same time what a wave is (see sketch). Once again I let him paint this and get him to say the beginning of the word — w — and then I change the picture of a wave into the letter w.

Figure 2
Figure 3

Continuing to work in the same way I allow the written characters gradually to emerge from the painting-drawing and drawing-painting, as indeed they actually arose in the first place. I do not bring the child into a stage of civilisation with which as yet he has nothing in common, but I guide him in such a way that he is never torn away from his relationship to the outer world. In order to do this there is no necessity to study the history of culture — albeit the writing in use today has arisen out of picture-writing — one must only give free play to one's fantasy, for then one brings the child to the point at which he is able to form writing out of this drawing and painting.

Now we must not think of this only as an ingenious and clever new method. We must value the fact that the child unites himself inwardly with something that is new to him when his soul activity is constantly stimulated. He does not “grow into it” when he is pushed, so that he is always coming into an unfamiliar relationship with his environment. The whole point is that we are working on the inner being of the child.

What is usually done today? It is perhaps already somewhat out-of-date, but not so long ago people gave little girls “beautiful” dolls, with real hair, dolls that could shut their eyes when one laid them down, dolls with pretty faces and so on. Civilisation calls them beautiful, but they are nevertheless hideous, because they are inartistic. What sort of dolls are these? They are the sort which cannot activate the child's fantasy. Now let us do something different. Tie a handkerchief so that you have a figure with arms and legs; then make eyes with blobs of ink and perhaps a mouth with red ink as well; now the child must develop his fantasy if he is to imagine this as having the human shape. Such a thing works with tremendous living force on the child, because it offers him the possibility of using his fantasy. Naturally one must do this first oneself. But the possibility must be provided for the child, and this must be done at the age when everything is play. It is for this reason that all those things which do not stimulate fantasy in the child are so damaging when given as toys. As I said, today these beautiful dolls are somewhat out-dated, for now we give children monkeys or bears. To be sure, neither do these toys give any opportunity for the unfolding of a fantasy having any relationship to the human being. Let us suppose that a child runs up to us and we give him a bear to cuddle. Things like this show clearly how far our civilisation is from being able to penetrate into the depths of human nature. But it is quite remarkable how children in a perfectly natural, artistic way are able to form imaginatively a picture of this inner side of human nature.

In the Waldorf School we have made a transition from the ordinary methods of teaching to what may be termed a teaching through art, and this quite apart from the fact that in no circumstances do we begin by teaching the children to write, but we let them paint as they draw, and draw as they paint. Perhaps we might even say that we let them splash about, which involves the possibly tiresome job of cleaning up the classroom afterwards. I shall also speak tomorrow about how to lead over from writing to reading, but, quite apart from this painting and drawing, we guide the child as far as possible into the realm of the artistic by letting him practise modelling in his own little way, but without suggesting that he should make anything beyond what he himself wants to fashion out of his own inner being. The results are quite remarkable. I will mention one example which shows how something very wonderful takes place in the case of rather older children.

At a comparatively early age, that is to say, for children between ten and eleven years old, we take as a subject in our curriculum the “Study of Man.” At this age the children learn to know how the bones are formed and built up, how they support each other, and so on. They learn this in an artistic way, not intellectually. After a few such lessons the child has acquired some perception of the structure of the human bones, the dynamic of the bones and their interdependence. Then we go over to the craft-room, where the children model plastic forms and we observe what they are making. We see that they have learned something from these lessons about the bones. Not that the child imitates the forms of the bones, but from the way in which he now models his forms we perceive the outer expression of an inner mobility of soul. Before this he has already got so far as to be able to make little receptacles of various kinds; children discover how to make bowls and similar things quite by themselves, but what they make out of the spontaneity of childhood before they have received such lessons is quite different from what they model afterwards, provided they have really experienced what was intended. In order to achieve this result, however, these lessons on the “Knowledge of Man” must be given in such a way that their content enters right into the whole human being. Today this is difficult.

Anyone who has paid as many visits to studios as I have and seen how people paint and model and carve, knows very well that today hardly any sculptor works without a model; he must have a human form in front of him if he wishes to model it.

This would have had no sense for a Greek artist. He had of course learned to know the human form in the public games, but he really experienced it inwardly. He knew out of his own inner feeling — and this feeling he embodied without the aid of a model — he knew the difference between an arm when it is stretched out or when, in addition, the forefinger is also extended, and this feeling he embodied in his sculpture. Today, however, when physiology is taught in the usual way, models or drawings of the bones are placed side by side, the muscles are described one after another and no impression is given of their reciprocal relationship. With us, when the children see a vertebra belonging to the spinal column, they know how similar it is to the skull-bone, and they get a feeling for the metamorphosis of the bones. In this way they enter livingly right into the different human forms and so feel the urge to express it artistically. Such an experience enters right into life; it does not remain external.

My earnest wish, and also my duty as leader of the Waldorf School, is to make sure that wherever possible everything of a fixed nature in the way of science, everything set down in books in a rigid scientific form should be excluded from class teaching. Not that I do not value science; no one could value science more highly. Such studies can be indulged in outside the school, if so desired; but I should be really furious if I were to see a teacher standing in front of a class with a book in his or her hand. In teaching everything must come from within. This must be self-understood. How is botany taught today for instance? We have botany books; these are based on a scientific outlook, but they do not belong to the classroom where there are children between the change of teeth and puberty. The perception of what a teacher needs in the way of literature must be allowed to grow gradually out of the living educational principles I shall be speaking about here.

So we are really concerned with the teacher's attitude of mind, whether in soul, spirit and body he is able to relate himself to the world. If he has this living relationship he can do much with the children between the change of teeth and puberty, for he is then their natural and accepted authority. The main thing is that one should enter into and experience things in a living way and carry over into life all that one has thus experienced. This is the great and fundamental principle which must form the basis of education today. Then the connection with the class will be there of itself, together with the imponderable mood and feeling that must necessarily go with it.

Answers to a Question

Question: There are grown-up people who seem to have remained at the imitative stage of childhood. Why is this?

Dr. Steiner: It is possible at every stage of human development for someone to remain in a stationary condition. If we describe the different stages of development, adding to today's survey the embryonic stage, and continuing to the change of teeth, and on to puberty, we cover those epochs in which a fully developed human life can be formed. Now quite a short time ago the general trend of anthroposophical development brought it about that lectures could be held on curative education, with special reference to definite cases of children who had either remained backward or whose development was in some respect abnormal. We then took the further step of allowing certain cases to be seen which were being treated at Dr. Wegmann's Clinical-Therapeutic Institute. Among these cases there was one of a child of nearly a year old, about the normal size for a child of this age, but who in the formation of his physical body had remained approximately at the stage of seven or eight months embryo. If you were to draw the child in outline with only an indication of the limbs, which are somewhat more developed, but showing exactly the form of the head, as it actually is in the case of this little boy, then, looking cursorily at the drawing, you would not have the faintest idea that it is a boy of nearly a year old. You would think it an embryo, because this boy has in many respects kept after his birth the embryonic structure.

Every stage of life, including the embryonic, can be carried over into a later stage; for the different phases of development as they follow one after the other, are such that each new phase is a metamorphosis of the old, with something new added. If you will only take quite exactly what I have already said in regard to the natural religious devotion of the child to his surroundings up to the change of teeth, you will see that this changes later into the life of soul, and you have, as a second attribute the aesthetic, artistic stage. Now it happens with very many children that the first stage is carried into the second, and the latter then remains poorly developed. But this can go still further: the first stage of physical embodiment can be carried over into each of the others, so that what was present as the original stage appears in all the later stages. And, for a superficial observation of life, it need not be so very obvious that an earlier stage has remained on into a later one, unless such a condition shows itself particularly late in life. Certain it is however that earlier stages are carried over into later ones.

Let us take the same thing in a lower kingdom of nature. The fully grown, fully developed plant usually has root, stalk, with it cotyledon leaves, followed by the later green leaves. These are then concentrated in the calyx, the petals, the stamen, the pistil and so on. There are however plants which do not develop as far as the blossom, but remain behind at the stage of herbs and other plants where the green leaves remain stationary, and the fruit is merely rudimentary. How far, for instance, the fern has remained behind the buttercup! With the plant this does not lead to abnormality. Man however is a species for himself. He is a complete natural order. And it can happen that someone remains his whole life long an imitative being, or one who stands in need of authority. For in life we have not only to do with people who remain at the imitative stage, but also with those who in regard to their essential characteristics remain at the stage that is fully developed between the change of teeth and puberty. As a matter of fact there are very many such people, and with them this stage continues into later life. They cannot progress much farther, and what should be developed in later years can only do so to a limited extent. They remain always at the stage where they look for the support of authority. If there were no such people, neither would there be the tendency, so rife today, to form sects and such things, for sectarian associations are based on the fact that their adherents are not required to think; they leave the thinking to others and follow their leaders. In certain spheres of life, however, most people remain at the stage of authority. For instance, when it is a question of forming a judgment about something of a scientific nature people do not take the trouble to look into it themselves, but they ask: Where is the expert who must know about this, the specialist who is a lecturer at one of the universities? There you have the principle of authority. Again in the case of people who are ill the principle of authority is carried to extremes, even though here it may be justifiable. And in legal matters, for instance, nobody today will think of forming an independent judgment, but will seek the advice of a solicitor because he has the requisite knowledge. Here the standpoint is that of an eight or nine year old child. And it may well be that this solicitor himself is not much older. When a question is put to him he takes down a lawbook or portfolio and there again you have an authority. So it is actually the case that each stage of life can enter into a later one.

The Anthroposophical Society should really only consist of people who are outgrowing authority, who do not recognise any such principle but only true insight. This is so little understood by people outside the Society that they are continually saying: “Anthroposophy is based on authority.” In reality the precise opposite is the case; the principle of authority must be outgrown through the kind of understanding and discernment which is fostered in anthroposophy. The important thing is that one should grasp every scrap of insight one can lay hold of in order to pass through the different stages of life.