Laura Kerloc’h and her husband Alain live in Holywood, within walking distance of the school. Laura worked as a Montessori educator in France before her eldest son was born. Alain runs one of Belfast’s most respected restaurants. Three of their children now attend the school, and their baby brother looks set to join them in a couple of years time. Laura is a big fan of the flexibility that the Steiner kindergarten system allows in deciding if a child is ready to progress to a more formal academic structure, and urges parents to be brave when considering the educational options open to their children.
What brought you to the Steiner?
Before my first son was born, i had worked in Montessori education in France (in a school for children up to 12 years) so I was aware that the curriculum proposed by the government wasn’t the only option for my own children. Prior to that, I was an outreach educator for The National Gallery in Dublin, visiting many schools and seeing different types of teachers. I instinctively felt child-led education was what I wanted for own children. My husband is French and felt strongly that he didn’t want our children to undergo the transfer tests. We tried out Steiner playgroup for Luca when he was 3 and immediately knew it was the right path for our family. As he was a May baby it was perfect that he went into kindergarten instead of p1. In the end he spent three years there. Normally after two years, the child moves into class one where they are introduced to more formal numeracy and literacy, but after a few months, it was clear he would benefit from more time in kindergarten. It was incredible to have the freedom to be able to do that.
How many children do you have there and what ages are they?
We have four boys. My eldest three have attended holywood Steiner since the age of three. Luca is 14 (class 7), Noah is 10 (class 4) and Jude is 8 (class 2). Matthew is a toddler.
What do you do for a living?
My studies were in art history. After working in the education department of The National Gallery, I retrained as a Montessori teacher in Paris. Nowadays I am a yoga instructor.
My husband part owns and runs Ox restaurant and Ox Cave in Belfast. His training is in restaurant management and as a sommelier.
How would you describe your child’s relationship with teacher / class mates?
The beauty of the teachers staying with their class for a seven year period is that they know each child. They see their strengths and weaknesses. They can tell when the child is “off”. It is almost as if they are a second mother to them whilst retaining a professional distance as their teacher. All three of my children genuinely love their teachers.
As the classes are small, there is a family feel to it. Many of the children in the class have been together since the age of three they share a lot of history. Luca’s has been friends with some of his classmates for over 10 years.
What do they enjoy about school?
– The beautiful natural grounds they get to play in. There is a lot of hut building during their breaks using branches and sticks.
– They enjoy the close relationship with their teachers.
– The friendships they share with children of different ages throughout the school ( there isn’t the same sense of segregation from other year groups I remember from my schooling).
– The sense of belonging to a community. It is great to get a chance to work with others for the greater good of the school. There’s a sense of ownership, it feels very different to a drop off and pick up school situation.
What do you think is the most interesting thing about Steiner education?
The unhurried approach to education and respect for the ways different types of children learn. There isn’t the feeling that the children are compared to their peers or are in competition with one another.
The curriculum is so rich and varied. The children’s imaginations are nourished and developed as they move through the years . The teachers encourage the children to question what they are learning about and draw their own conclusions. It is very different to the way I remember school for myself (learn, memorise and regurgitate for exams). They get to experience the history of civilisation in a really exciting and profound way and at an age that is appropriate.
I like the idea of the ‘Main Lesson’. For a two hour period each morning where the classes explore a topic over the course of a number of weeks. They are immersed in the discovery of a certain period in time or new subject.
There is a sense of reverence and awe the curriculum and teachers promote. The blessings that are said at fixed points in the day are truly beautiful.
The best/worst thing about the school, in your opinion?
Although I love working for the good of the community, I would like to not have to think so much about fundraising.
Incredible, intuitive, intelligent and kind teachers we are blessed with to teach our children.
Wonderful grounds the children get to play in.
I like that my children address their teachers by their first name and chat with them confidently, in the same that they might chat to an adult friend or relative. Luca (14) is comfortable chatting to adults outside of school. You can see that he believes his opinion is valuable and he is used to being listened to by adults. I put this down to the atmosphere of respect in his school.
Sense of community: in particular, I love the parent choir, staff lunch (once a week a parent prepares a hot lunch for the teachers) and parent crafts .
No transfer test pressure to think about (both myself and Alain feel it’s totally wrong to impose a one size fits all test on an eleven year old which will determine whether or not they or others will consider them ‘intelligent ‘ or ‘academic ‘. It is blissful to take it out of the equation. Having grown up here in Northern Ireland, I endured the ‘eleven plus’ twice (having had a July birthday I was given a second shot at it). I failed both times and I felt branded as ‘not smart’.
I love that there is practically no set homework until around the age of 11. My children naturally write stories and read at home as a fun activity. They consider it a treat to get climb into bed with a book to read.
The strong sense of rhythm in the day, week, months that underlines Steiner education has had a comforting and reassuring effect on our family as a whole.
The lovely festivals throughout the year.
The younger children stay in school until 12.30 pm and gradually build up to four days staying in until 3.00. Up until the age of 12 the children get out of school at 12.30 on a Friday. Initially I felt my eldest was well able to stay in school longer but over the years I have come to see that during the early years they are need of a rest and a chance to be quiet at home for the afternoon. It’s been very beneficial for each of them.
The thing that has helped your child most?
The fact that the teachers respect each child’s own rhythm and personality. My boys vary from being extroverted to introverted. Their teachers understand that and seem to know when or when not to encourage them to stretch themselves.
The respect for each child’s pace of learning. Luca is dyslexic and it often a struggle for him, has been helpful that he has not been preparing continuously for assessments and arduous (sometimes joyless) hours if homework.
Tell us a myth or description you’ve heard that is completely wrong?
“With reading and writing It’s best to start early to give them a head start”
“Steiner is full of new age hippies !“
What’s with all the festivals?
I suppose they are celebrations loosely based on old Christian ones (advent preparing for the birth of Jesus, Michaelmas, Easter and St. John’s are the main ones).
Our children love them, they are meaningful and brilliant fun. They have helped anchor us, slow our lives down a little, feel the passage of time more consciously and brought us a sense of being part of a picture that is bigger than our hectic family life.
What would you say to anyone considering Steiner?
The internet has a lot of great (but also very negative) takes on Steiner education. Asking around locally isn’t always the best way to get a feel for the school as I have found locally, some people seem to feel Steiner school is a critique to the state system which perhaps makes them defensive and possibly negative about it. If you are interested in Steiner education, I would recommend Coming along to a walk through, turn up at a grounds day where you will find parents and pupils willing to chat about their own experience of the school, or experience one of the festivals. Talking to the parents and teachers is the best way to get a sense of what our school is really about. The school’s Facebook page is also a good way to get an insight. For some people, to sidestep mainstream education requires a huge leap faith and it’s normal to feel apprehensive (especially if you have come through the Northern Irish education system yourself where it seems the emphasis is strongly on academic achievement and getting ‘good’ grades in order to be a ‘success’). Be brave and know your not doing something reckless or jeopardising your child’s future by offering them Steiner.