Steiner education for all ages in Moray

Receive the children in reverence; educate them in love; let them go forth in freedom

Rudolf Steiner

It is a tribute to the visionary Austrian philosopher, playwright, artist and educator that almost a century after his death his legacy includes more than 1,000 Waldorf schools and 2,000 kindergartens around the world, the Moray area of Scotland boasting a Steiner education for all ages at two venues on the Findhorn Foundation's doorstep.

Teenagers of the Drumduan Upper School are being nurtured within the heart of the community at the Moray Art Centre until they too move to premises on the hilltop alongside Cluny Woods in Forres where younger children are welcomed at the Moray Steiner School.

Visiting both venues recently I was inspired by the passion and commitment of the adults, among them teacher Alexandra McNamara who was my tour guide at the Steiner School.

Head teacher Clare Waddington explains: "The education they receive is preparation for a future that we as adults can only imagine."

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Flashback to the very early days of the Moray Steiner School in the Family House at The Park

She adds: "The Steiner curriculum has stood the test of time. It's been delivered to thousands of children across the globe, regardless of race or culture, since 1920. It produced then, as it does today, young adults who have an understanding of the world that exceeds mere facts, figures and formulas. It creates a sense of self that enables the individual to think outside accepted paradigms and equips them with the resourcefulness to shape and face their future."

Certainly it is a world far removed from the often-sterile mainstream education I was subjected to and I delighted in the balance of artistic, practical and intellectual teaching, along with the emphasis on social skills and spiritual values. The results are freethinking and socially committed adults, some of whom are now respected fellow community members.

Once, when I was working in the community kitchen, I was alarmed to see young children chopping vegetables with very sharp knives. "Don't worry," I was assured. "They're Steiner kids and have been doing this sort of thing since kindergarten."

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Students and teachers of the Drumduan Upper School prepare to launch the Canadian canoe built as a school project

I felt that same sense of surprise and delight when Drumduan head teacher Krzysztof Zajaczkowski invited me to nearby Findhorn Bay for the launch of two magnificently-crafted wooden canoes created by the students themselves using marine architectural blueprints and locally sourced materials. Even the paddles were lovingly hand-crafted from Douglas fir trunks.

A deeply moving song was sung and looking around I noticed I wasn't the only one choked up with emotions, parents and friends telling me what a force for good the school has been for these young lives.

Abi Rooley-Towe is the mother of two teenage boys and says: "It is like watching two young plants growing in exactly the way they are meant to. The Steiner system definitely lives up to the credo of educating the head, the hands and the heart to create well-rounded beings."

The analogy of growing and nurturing plants is also one that Krzysztof enjoys when he traces the history of the local Steiner school back to parents and community members within the Foundation and its satellite community on the Hebridean Isle of Erraid.

The new generation should not just be made to be what present society wants it to become…

Rudolf Steiner

"The picture is of a seed being planted in the Findhorn Foundation which was to become the small sapling of Steiner Education in the area. It was transplanted up on Drumduan Hill where it grew into the symbol or logo of the school … a Scot’s pine! One of this tree’s seeds was again planted back into the Foundation last year – 28 years later – to be propagated in a safe and nurturing environment where seven boys and seven girls have formed the core group of an upper school. This new sapling will be once again transplanted back onto Drumduan hilltop where a new campus will be built this summer."

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Early role players back where it all began - Auriol de Smidt, Mari Hollander, Roger Doudna, Jude Farmar and Rosie Turnbull at the Family House

Mari Hollander, who joined the community in 1976 and also spent five years on Erraid, recalls: "There had long been a desire to start a Findhorn-inspired school and in 1984, a parent group in the community started a study group to take this forward. The group consisted of a dozen families who met weekly to research options. After exploring alternatives the decision to link with the Waldorf movement was taken. There was resonance with the spiritual worldview and development education philosophy for small children.

"The decision was made to call this the Moray Steiner School, as the vision was that it would serve the wider community and not only the Foundation, although it was set up under the Foundation as it already had a charter for a school. It was launched in 1985 and located within the Family House, which today serves the management of the community."

In 1987 it moved to Drumduan House, a grand and character-filled 19th century building, surrounded by woods with magnificent views over Findhorn Bay and Moray Firth.

Steiner was emphatic: "The new generation should not just be made to be what present society wants it to become …

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Teacher Jude Farmar (now da Silva) coaxing youngsters who are today all adults in their Thirties

"Our highest endeavor must be to develop free human beings who are able of themselves to impart purpose and direction to their lives. The need for imagination, a sense of truth, and a feeling of responsibility — these three forces are the very heart of education."

All over the world Steiner schools strive to offer children a natural and unhurried way to develop. These are places where children develop a zest for life, a love of school and a lifelong commitment to learning — the child's love of learning and school becomes the adult's intellectual journey and love of life.

Looking back over the past three decades, Mari says: "From the outset this education project was blessed with so much love and commitment from the families, friends and teachers that despite the many obstacles and resourcing challenges, goodwill and clarity of purpose prevailed. It is so very heartening to witness the care, creativity and courage that enables the children and young people to flourish today!

Geoff Dalglish

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