How do Steiner Kids Fare, Career-Wise?

Steiner kids go on to do some amazing things, like get Ph.Ds in Computational Science…. or become internationally acclaimed music producers. Or in the case of Max Cooper, who went to the Holywood Steiner, you can be both!

It may seem like a contradiction in terms, but the acclaimed musician, who has a string of electronic albums under his belt, and a world-wide fan base, also holds a doctorate in genetics.

Cos we can do that.

We can be more than one thing.

We can let our education inform our passions, and our passions inform our learning, and marvel at the amazing things that happen in the process.

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Here’s what Max has to say about his experience of Steiner education.

“I attended the Holywood Steiner School from 1984 to 1997, and the first thing I would say about it was how much I enjoyed the experience – a friendly and stimulating learning environment.”

Max followed an academic path when he left the Steiner, but remains convinced that the creativity of the Steiner system has benefitted him throughout his career.  

“I left with good GCSE’s and followed my interests in science at Methodist College Belfast, followed by Nottingham University and University College London. Despite this long scientific education and research process beyond PhD level, I always maintained a strong creative side to my thinking and interests, which I believe was instilled during my time at the Holywood school, and I believe was a great asset for work in the sciences, and any other field for that matter”

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According to Joseph Chiltern Pearce, “Play is the only way the highest intelligence of humankind can unfold”, and it seems Max would agree. 

 

“Having had formative years to explore the world in a slightly more artistic manner than standard state education, without the pressures of constant examination scores at a young age, allowed me to develop my thinking and understanding without having my enthusiasm and passion crushed at an early age by rote learning. I carried this love of art and creativity through until it eventually turned into my full time work as a digital artist and musician, experimenting with the intersection between the arts and sciences. I can’t vouch for all of Steiner’s ideas, but the general ethos of his education system has been a great benefit to me and seems to be very relevant today despite it being established 100 years ago.”

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Check out Max’s music on Spotify, or here’s his website: https://maxcooper.net/

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Meet the Kerloc’hs .

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? 

Worst :

Although I love working for the good of the community, I would like to not have to think so much about fundraising.

Best:

Incredible, intuitive, intelligent and kind teachers we are blessed with to teach our children.

Wonderful grounds the children get to play in.

The curriculum.

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.

 

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Laura Nelson & Family

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.

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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!