Parents of children in our Kindergarten classes tell us their stories...

 

When I was 25 I read a book titled Toward Wholeness: Rudolph Steiner education in America. That book and further research had a strong effect on what I now believe is a quality education. After researching I honestly felt robbed of a rewarding education. Prior to meeting my husband Kimon and having a child, I was determined to enroll my future child in a Steiner school, regardless of the sacrifices that would need to be made. Thankfully we made it happen, and we're desperate to keep her there, and for the school to remain a Steiner academy.


Isabela, our nearly 6-year-old, adores her Elmwood Kindergarten class led by Samantha Taylor, assisted by Helen Wilkins. She has made lasting bonds with friends and has learned a great deal in the year she has been there. In her class she helps prepare food, cleans up, gladly serves her classmates, finger knits, makes her own toys, plays outside everyday regardless of the weather and she's confident socialising with her peers. She's learning practical skills in a calm environment which are the building blocks for her to actively participate in everyday life and her community. These practical skills are often overlooked in mainstream schools. Sadly, I didn't learn to sew, chop my own food, or engage in working as a team with my classmates when I was young

What Steiner schools do where mainstream schools tend to fail is look at the child as an individual, changing teaching techniques depending on each child's abilities. Not only that but they also incorporate a good dose of outdoor time, every day, which is a key ingredient in building resiliency and physical strength. The connection to the seasons is built into the curriculum and the rituals surrounding the changes give children a stronger understanding of the environment and their place within it. That strong connection to nature benefits their overall well-being. These benefits far outweigh the culture of competition and an exam driven mentality. I believe academic study at such young, fragile ages, is not important, better to wait until the kids are fully prepared. Pushing children as young as 4 to read and write when many aren't ready is incredibly stressful and can lead to anxiety, depression, or other mental illnesses. One of the many beauties of Steiner schools is that they wait until the children are ready and eager to learn.


Also, a significant amount of screen time is often used during the early years in conventional schooling, on a daily basis. It hinders a child’s ability to think for themselves. It decreases the development of their imagination and social capabilities. In Steiner schools screens aren’t part of the curriculum until later years which is another key reason why our daughter is enrolled at the academy. There are a myriad of studies that have been conducted that give proof as to why excessive screen time is not beneficial for the developing mind.

All across the world Steiner/Waldorf schools have long waiting lists for a reason. The countries that raise the happiest kids like the Netherlands and Scandinavia for example, follow similar alternative methods in their mainstream school system. They know what works well for children. The current education paradigm needs to shift, many people are subscribing to the alternative because it produces happy, confident kids that think for themselves. There's a reason why the tech pioneers steer clear of mainstream schools for their own kids, because they see how detrimental the competitive, exam driven, screen obsessed, culture is on youth today.

 

We want nothing more than for this school to stay open and to thrive. Yes, there are multiple areas in which it needs to improve, as noted in the Ofsted report. Thankfully Paul Hougham and Tamsin Robertson have been taking the steps within the kindergarten setting to make significant changes and these shifts are already improving the quality of education provided in the kindergarten. We're grateful for their help and hope the school as a whole receives the support they need during
this tumultuous time.

We are passionate and determined to keep our child in an all through Steiner school and want nothing more than for Steiner Academy Exeter to remain open and flourish with the help it needs to survive.

 

 

Helen Dowling (previously Lincoln)

 

I would like to add my reasons for choosing Steiner Academy Exeter for my son, who is in the second year of kindergarten.

Firstly I went to a Steiner school (Bristol) until the age of 14. I absolutely loved it. Then, sadly at 14 we had to leave, as it was an independent school and could not afford to keep the upper school. I then went to an ordinary state school for my GCSEs and A-levels. This was an extremely hard time to be changing schools for me - not academically, but socially. I really noticed a difference between how new students were welcomed into the Steiner school, versus the next school I went to. No one welcomed me into their group and I felt like an outsider. My mother went to Michael Hall Steiner school, and also worked many years as a kindergarten assistant. So I always knew it was something I wanted for my children as well. She once told me that an education is the best gift you can give a child. This has stuck with me ever since. I remember when I first heard about the Exeter Steiner Academy getting the go-ahead, and I knew straight away this was where I wanted to send my son. Not long after, I joined Joy De Berker's 'Education for a Happy Childhood' course, which was really inspiring and reaffirmed my intent to give my children a Steiner education. I also met five wonderful women who also were, and are, involved in the school in Exeter. I applied for my son to come to Steiner Academy Exeter, and was delighted to receive an offer of a place, despite living in Bristol at the time. I had been through an extremely traumatic time, as my husband had just left me, whilst pregnant with my second child. I can say in all honesty, this was all I had to look forward to. A fresh start in Devon, and purely based on my son's schooling. In the August I moved to down to Exeter, coincidentally with another single mum from Bristol, with my son and 6 month old baby. This was the best decision I have made for my family. It has not been easy, being a single mum, in a new city, with no family around. But the community our school provides has been absolutely amazing. I have made many friends and settled very quickly here.

 

When I first heard about the Ofsted visit, I was completely shocked, as my experience of the school has truly been nothing but positive. It has been so sad to see so many people leaving because of it, and awful to see how it has divided a community. I can really see the hard work that has, and is going on to address the concerns from Ofsted, and I am so grateful to those who are working to get this right. I would absolutely hate to imagine all this to go to waste if we were told it would no longer be an all-through Steiner school. I cannot fathom how you could not have a kindergarten and lower years as part of it, it is probably the most important part. A firm base to grow from. And most sadly, if it was not to be a Steiner school in the future, I would no longer wish to be there, as well as many of the other parents I have spoken to. We do not take these decisions for our children lightly, and it is so important that we are given alternative options to state funded education. I would not be able to afford to send my children to a private Steiner school, so this would really be a discrimination.

 

I believe Steiner education offers a balance between academic and creative learning, and benefits children through being less pressured, early on. They are able to develop social skills and problem solving through play, and are observed for school readiness. I think this creates a thrive for learning and many students have gone on to do great things. I have often heard comments of college and older school teachers that come across Steiner pupils, of them being able to talk with ease to adults. I know many that have also gone in to caring professions. In summary, we should have a right to choose the kind of education we wish to give our children, and this diversity should be celebrated.

 

 

Lee and Francesca Austin


In 2014, when I was pregnant with our son, we decided to move to Malta from Surrey, England to start a new life, however when it came to choosing the type of education we wanted for our son 3 years later, we did not want the mainstream curriculum for him, and so we researched Steiner education and concluded to move back to England and this time to Exeter, Devon for the Steiner Academy Exeter. Below are some of our reasons why we didn’t want the mainstream curriculum/education and why we want a Steiner Waldorf education for our child:

We don’t believe in rewarding (e.g. reward charts) a child in order to be motivated, the motivation and achievement should be the sole reward
hence making you feel naturally satisfied with life Children will begin to expect rewards for anything that they do and if they don’t get them they feel less satisfied and will be unhappy.  Steiner does not push reward systems, the natural achievement is the natural reward.  In some cases adults end up rewarding themselves with alcohol etc to feel satisfied or end up depressed/unhappy if there is no reward when in actual fact the reward is in the achievement itself which leads to a satisfied life. We believe that children thrive in nature, Steiner schools have very natural settings.

In our opinion, uniforms are a form of control and will later be a reason to rebel, Steiner do not have uniforms.  It’s not natural to put a child in uniform. Steiner does not force children to learn through unnecessary pressure, learning is not meant to be stressful but to be enthusiastic about and enjoyable.  My nephew is endlessly stressed and has many a sleepless night due to pressures at his mainstream school.

We believe in age appropriate learning and age appropriate use of technology devices, computer games and watching TV.  We engage with our child, we don’t sit him in front of a TV for any (zero) amount of hours.  Recent studies have shown how teenagers are struggling with social and emotional interaction due to the lack of ’normal’ interaction with their carers and instead spend a large amount of time in front of screens.  Steiner education provides this for us, we feel safe to send our son to Steiner school and in this case the SAE.  We don’t want our son influenced by over stimulating TV cartoons and superheroes which yet are another stress (peer pressure) to live up to.  In mainstream school other children are familiar with the cartoons and superheroes I mention above.  Some schools also have devices in classes, we don’t want this for our child, we will introduce these devices at an age appropriate time.  

Based on our research, we strongly believe and understand that a child’s brain is ready for learning academics at the age of 6.5/7, this is proven and is widely practised in Scandinavian countries.  Steiner Waldorf education provides this way of learning. As hard working and tax paying citizens we would like be provided with the state funded Steiner Waldorf education we believe in. We like to have the choice for the education we believe in and the chance to save our Steiner Academy Exeter. So over and above the reasons we mention, we truly believe this choice of education for our son is the best for him and in line with our parenting.  

 

Lower school parents tell their stories here