Steiner Waldorf education takes child’s play seriously. Informal games, which can be used to support the learning of formal academic skills, enable children and young people to learn through their developing bodies.
Contemporary neuro-science indicates that sports and play helps to ensure deep connections are made between skills and learning, aiding memory and facilitating the ability to become creative life-long learners.
Steiner Waldorf are, in principle, all-age schools, from early years to young adulthood, so during a child’s school life, the role of ‘games’ develops and changes. Unfortunately, many children today do not know how to play and the rich culture that was once found in playgrounds across the country has declined. Meanwhile, more passive ‘play’ mediated by electronic devices has soared.
Children who can truly play – who love singing, clapping rhymes, and can skip, chase and catch – are all learning valuable social skills as well as co-ordination and joy from being active. Without this, it is hardly surprising that we face an epidemic of obesity and young people who expect that lessons should be another form of passive entertainment.
A foundation in ‘games’, played with their peers from a wide mix of abilities, irrespective of gender, prepares the way for more formal skills in sport during teenage years.
Mixed-gender sports have their place as the teenage years’ progress and young people become more differentiated. Nonetheless, even at this stage, co-operative games and learning playfully continues to have a role.
As we can see only too clearly from the biographies of sports stars, it comes at a huge price. The most successful in professional sport are generally those who have had opportunity to develop broader human skills, and are blessed with the capacity of character to balance the pressures they face.
Little wonder then that Swiss tennis ace Stan Wawrinka has said that, aside from his specialist training, he owes his success to the fact his parents looked after people with additional needs on their bio-dynamic farm. Wawrinka came to understand the nature of the challenge by interacting with people with unusual physical or mental characteristics. He attended the Steiner Waldorf school in Crissier until leaving to go to Spain to concentrate full-time on tennis, aged 15.
The example of Wawrinka should not, however, obscure the fact that professional sport is a relatively rare vocation. It cannot be the purpose of general schooling to cater specifically for sporting prodigies, but to support the acquisition of competence, self-knowledge, a sense of purpose and a can-do attitude for all pupils.
Alongside that, what schools can do is provide experiences across a range of disciplines, promoting understanding and acceptance of the capabilities of others. That starts with giving time and opportunity for what has been called, “the serious work of childhood” – play.