Laura Nelson is a trained teacher, who works as a self-employed artist. She makes theatre props and works with community arts. Laura has two children at the Holywood Steiner – a 13-year old boy and a 10-year old girl. We asked Laura to tell us a little about her family’s experience of the Steiner education system and the school community.
What brought you to the Steiner?
I was a student at the school myself and loved it, especially the Upper school years. I started at the school in class 3 (P5 / age 9) after attending two other state schools in Belfast.
My own children spent their early years living in Bristol and when we moved back to N.Ireland in 2010 they were ages 6 and 3. We enrolled them in local state schools in South Belfast where we were living. After two years we transferred them both to Steiner – one to Kindergarden and one into Class 2 (P4)
How would you describe your child’s relationship with teacher / class mates?
Our school is quite small and close knit. My kids call their teachers by their first names and I would say there is a sense of equality and respect for each other in the class. In my own experience as a student we were a close class who knew each other really well. Each lower school class in the Steiner curriculum stays with the same class teacher for the first 7- 8 years of their education until transitioning to Upper school and as a result a strong relationship between child and teacher is formed.
What do they enjoy about school?
I can honestly say that my kids love school. They are disappointed if they miss a day- for example- I’m writing this on a super snowy day and my kids were very pleased that there wasn’t a school closures- snow day! They went to school knowing they would be spending time outdoors on the school grounds playing with their mates.
If they previously attended another school, what differences have they noticed?
Everything is different! I’m not sure what differences my children have noticed as they have been at Steiner for ages now. I remember clearly my own experience when I transferred to Steiner. I was really surprised by the classes freedom of self expression. I had come from a strict Catholic school where students were expected to sit at desks, arms folded, straight backed and could never speak unless asked a question and all students hands must be held absolutely vertically upright to be chosen to answer the question. The worth of students in that class was heavily placed on the ability to please the teacher / obedience and academic achievement. This new class in Steiner wasn’t like that at all. The kids seemed equal in status to the teacher. There was a relaxed and comfortable atmosphere in the classroom. No one seemed afraid of the teacher. My mind was a little bit blown.
What do you think is the most interesting thing about Steiner education?
What I love about our school is that it allows my kids to be themselves. They are treated very much as the individuals they are. They are intellectually stretched. They are being taught in a way that encourages them to actually enjoy learning. The curriculum is wide and worldly and delivered in a holistic manner. There are no exams or tests until they reach GCSEs, instead continual informal assessment is carried out by their class teachers who know each of them really well. They are treated with real respect and care and kindness by teachers. The school is truly integrated (indeed it was the first integrated school in Northern Ireland). We don’t have a uniform! Honestly- there are too many things to mention here.
The best & worst thing about the school, in your opinion?
Our school suffers from a lack of funding- The school currently receives no government funding whatsoever! People might think it’s a fee paying school so we must be financially rich but in fact the opposite is true. The school is run on a relatively small budget but still manages to deliver an extraordinary depth of education.
One of the best things is the pioneering spirit of the school. The school’s ability to keep on going as the only alternative education option in N.Ireland without any government funding. This can be frustrating as the school and its education actually has so much to offer from a pedagogical view point and really deserves to be properly funded. The teachers are incredibly and tirelessly dedicated! The school grounds are stunningly beautiful and the school buildings warm and welcoming.
What myth or inaccuracies have you heard about the school
This question is really big. Almost everyone who speaks to me about Steiner education or our school in Holywood has ideas that are wrong. I have heard everything: “It’s a school for hippies, new-agers, dropouts, Germans, special needs kids, Christians, elitists, anti-vaxers or racists. The kids don’t learn math, English, writing, reading or any formal education whatsoever. The kids teach themselves. The kids are way behind in their education”. All of these are completely false. Steiner education is recognised and highly regarded in many other countries in the rest of the world. It can be exhausting attempting to dispel these myths here in N.I
What’s with all the festivals?
Ha Ha. Within the Steiner education curriculum the festivals are a way to mark the different seasons throughout the year. They give the school community a chance to get together socially, to celebrate and to invite the wider world in to see the school. The festivals are class!
What would you say to anyone considering Steiner?
I would say- If you’re interested in Holywood Steiner for your child then go and have a look at the school! There are weekly walk-throughs and a chance to have a nosy. Talk to the staff at the school or come and talk to me. I have now been involved with the school as student or parent since 1987!