At Casuarina, the buildings and classrooms look different and students aren’t required to wear a uniform. Principal Toni Wright-Turner talks us through community stigmas and helps us bust some myths!
A myth in the community is that Casuarina Steiner is a hippy school where the students are given too much freedom and they don’t actually do anything?
Certainly our buildings and classrooms look different. Our students look different too, because they don’t wear a school uniform, and during more than 35 years in Steiner education, I’ve heard this as a typical first reaction if people have no experience of Steiner education.
However, in my experience it is equally typical that when people actually come to the school and learn more by taking a tour of the classes, or attending performances or community events, they realise there are sound and well tested reasons for the differences, and that these differences go much deeper than the physical appearance of the school or students.
People soon see that the lessons and the learning environments which arise from the curriculum at Casuarina Steiner School are structured and sequential and meet or exceed NSW Board of Studies requirements, because we encompass both the state curriculum and the Steiner curriculum. When children relate what they learn to their own experience, they are interested and engaged, and what they learn becomes their own. Steiner Schools are designed to foster this kind of learning, with the additional benefits of developing their creativity and individuality.
So yes, we are consciously and proudly offering a different type of education at Casuarina, but there is no lack of learning in what we offer, and this is obvious in the students who go on to local high schools after completing their primary education with us. Each year at the presentation nights of local high schools, ex-Casuarina students regularly feature in the top academic and other awards.
People have often said that the school has no curriculum. How is the curriculum different from that of a public school?
The key difference in the Steiner curriculum is that it links content and learning activities developmentally with the needs and abilities of the child. This creates active engaged learning, where students typically love to learn.
I would also say we offer an enriched curriculum, because we cover all the usual Key Learning Areas of the state curriculum, as well as the Steiner curriculum. For example, in the Kindergarten years, where the child learns by doing and by imitation, the curriculum allows the child to explore their world through rich artistic, practical and social activities, rather than through formally learning to read and write. At the same time, they develop a wealth of pre-reading, writing, numeracy and social skills through stories, songs, movement, games, practical activities like baking, crafts and creative, imaginative play. When the child enters Class 1 and then through the primary school, emphasis moves to feeling-filled experience of knowledge, through the creative and artistic presentation of content and through engaging the child’s feelings through imaginative stories which convey the essence of the lesson and can then be worked with practically in the class.
Then in the later primary years, the maturing students are ready to explore and learn through logical insight and more critical thinking, and the curriculum and presentation again changes to engage these students in a new, conceptual way.
Another interesting difference is that main content in all subjects is presented in main lesson blocks of two hours per day, with each block lasting for 3 weeks, and subjects are revisited several times each year. In this way, the Steiner curriculum works like an ascending spiral where subjects are revisited and new exposure gives students greater depth and new insights.
Uniforms have always served a part in any community and give people a sense of belonging; for example, Police, fire brigade etc. Are Steiner students required to wear a school uniform?
As I said above, our students don’t wear a uniform. From a more global perspective, Steiner schools began early last century in Europe in areas where schools don’t require students to wear a uniform. Generally, neither do schools in America.
While typically schools in Australia do have uniforms, Casuarina Steiner School chooses not to, because we believe the individuality of each child is important and all aspects of the education, including dress, give the opportunity for our students to grow up valuing themselves and each other as individuals, with different strengths and capacities, with different tastes and ideas.
The word uniform says what it is – everyone is in some way the same, and this is what is interpreted as giving a sense of identity or of belonging. I would say that identity is created by valuing each individual for their uniqueness, and belonging is created out of human relationships and community, rather than by looking the same.
At Casuarina we value our students and families and foster an authentic sense of belonging through relationships and community. A uniform is not needed to do this.
The school motto is to educate the head, heart and hands, educating the whole person intellectually, artistically, socially and morally. Can you please elaborate on this?
This motto arises out of the fundamental question of what education is, and for Steiner education it is clear that the essence of education is preparing students for their own future, rather than moulding them to what we know now or how we do things at present. To do this you need to acknowledge and educate the whole person, and that means more than just ‘putting information in’. It is also important to understand that children experience the world differently from adults, and are definitely not miniature adults who just grow bigger over time. There are significant capacities which need to be nurtured and allowed to develop in the right way as the child grows to adulthood.
At Casuarina Steiner School, our child-centred education gives students the opportunity to develop their creativity, a vital foundation for the flexible thinking and problem solving which will help them meet the realities and challenges of the future. It also develops a natural, heartfelt and lifelong connection to the world through actual experience, through being inspired by the wonder and awe of the world around them.
This is what we mean when we speak of educating the head, heart and hands – developing the intellectual capacity of each child in dynamic balance with their emotional capacity and their ability to actually do things practically and creatively in the world. We achieve this through a curriculum and educational methodology which allows each child’s capacities to unfold from within as they learn about the world and their place in it, in harmony with the development of their intellectual, social and practical capacities … their head, heart and hands.
This article was published in issue 28 of Coffs Coast Focus