Topic: Child Development, Literature and Waldorf Education (2007) by Debbie McCauley

Topic type:

This speech focuses on children and young persons’ developmental stages using Rudolf Steiner’s philosophy and educational curriculum in relation to understanding their reading, literacy and information-seeking requirements and the use of the school library. It was written by Debbie McCauley on 4 March 2007 while employed as the School Librarian at the Tauranga Rudolf Steiner School and formed part of a BA in Humanities and Information & Library Studies.


In this information session we will focus on children and young persons developmental stages. We will then relate these stages to the use of the school library. Those new to Waldorf education will see that in this school the education of the child is seen as a wonderful journey, and not a race as so much in our modern lifestyle has become.



In order to understand how the school library can support the special character of the Steiner-Waldorf curriculum and contribute to reading development we must first discuss Steiner’s ideas on children’s developmental stages and the purpose of education. As Childs (1991, p. 123) states ‘The idea that a child is something like an empty vessel into which knowledge must be poured is abhorrent to increasing numbers of educationists. The question: What should a person know? is slowly giving place to the question: What should a person be?’ 

Rudolf Steiner was born in 1861 and died six years after the first school dedicated to his formula of education was opened in 1919. He developed his method as ‘there was a need for an education system by which people could learn to learn, and to go on learning throughout their lives’ (Childs, 1991, p. 42). 

Steiner believed that the human being was threefold in nature and evolved through stages of willing, feeling and thinking which correlates to his three seven year cycles of child development which are 0-7, 7-14 and 14-21. As not all children reach the same physical and mental milestones at the same time, ages that indicate readiness for the next stage of learning are approximate only. The child centred curriculum reflects the fact that at each stage specific subjects and activities encourage healthy development, ‘His description preceded but in some respects is analogous to the three stages of conceptual development observed and described by psychologist Jean Piaget in the 1960’s (Raphael House, 2007, p. 1).  


Age 0-7 years (approx)

Within this time there are the stages of birth to three years with sensory-motor skills, three to five with the imagination then five to seven when idea based play begins. This period from birth to seven is the stage of the will, with constant movement and learning through repetition and imitation and lasts until around the time that the first milk teeth are lost. These are the most important years in Steiner Education where walking, speaking and thinking are learnt by repetition and imitation, ‘It is primarily the duty of the Waldorf kindergarten teacher to provide suitable opportunities for the children to imitate her.  If she wants the children to do something, she should do it herself and allow them to copy her’ (Childs, 1991, p. 74). This can include such activities as kneading dough, baking, collecting wood, hammering, sweeping and raking leaves which encourage creative play. ‘Activities that have been contrived merely to “occupy” the children, or those with some indeterminate “educational” element in them should be suspect if they have no obvious connection with real life’ (Childs, 1991, p. 76). Simple fairy stories, rhymes, poetry and action songs told in a melodious tone of voice are excellent for the child’s development at this stage when the rhythm and cycles of nature and the natural environment are focused on. As the stories are told children use their imaginations to create images, thus laying the foundations for creative and abstract thinking in adulthood.


Age 7-14 years (approx)

This second growth period lasts until the onset of puberty. It is the time of great feeling when the emotions start to mature. ‘In pedagogical terms, the middle period of childhood, from seven to fourteen years of age, is a time when, above all, the feeling life should be involved, as the child is maturationally ripe for such an approach’ (Childs, 1991, p. 41). The teacher is neither authoritarian nor permissive but rather authoritative and an artistic element runs through the teaching of all topics, both at this stage and in the next seven year cycle. 


Age 14-21 years (approx)

Once puberty is attained then the child is centred in the head. This is when they are able to truly analyse the world and form critical opinions. As Childs (1991, p. 73) states, ‘The gradual unfolding of the child’s rudimentary powers of thinking during the last few years before the second dentition has its reflections in the development of true critical judgement during the seven or so years from puberty until the birth of the ego at the twentieth or twenty-first year, when the youth becomes adult’.



In Steiner education it is believed that engaging the intellect too early, such as early childhood reading programmes, can lead to problems later in life, such as failings, health or disease. As Salter (1987, p. 89) states, ‘The harmful effects of this will only show much later - in the teenager as an ‘opting-out’ or in adulthood when the man is likely to lack initiative and imagination’. This is why, although story telling is the foundation of the school, the library does not work directly with children until they are in Class 2. We supply appropriate resources to kindergarten and class teachers to enable them to deliver the Steiner curriculum to the children. An extensive teachers library has been established with a wide range of topics available. 

Kindergarten teachers need ideas for stories and books on storytelling. Nursery rhyme books and fairy tales are very appropriate and a large variety of these is available in the school library.

To learn the alphabet Class 1 children run the form of letters on the classroom floor, tracing them in the air or using whole body to create them. The alphabet is pictorially presented, for example, C as a Cave, K as a King, S as a Swan, so that children are led artistically and imaginatively to the letter. ‘Writing is taught in Class 1 through stories and pictures, and the children learn to read from what they have written themselves. Just as humanity first wrote through picture glyphs before developing the alphabet, so the young child develops the forms and the sounds of the letters through stories and pictures provided by the teacher’ (Baldwin, 1988, p. 282). The Class 1 teacher requires a book of all the Grimm’s fairy tales as reference so they can be read aloud to the class. The library also provides other good quality picture books for the teacher to use. 

The Class 2 teacher requires ‘The King of Ireland’s Son’ by Padraic Colum to read to the class. The library also provides a good array of Aesops fables, Celtic legends and legends of the saints that are part of this class’s curriculum. ‘The more abstract work of reading begins towards the end of the first class, and the transition to printed books is generally not made until class 2’ (Baldwin, 1988, p. 282). A basket of about thirty picture books is provided to the class by the library and changed once or twice a term. The class starts to visit the library and take out their own books in the latter half of the year. Good literature is provided. ‘In general, the Waldorf approach to reading reduces the number of children who have difficulties; later starters have fewer failures. It results in the bright children leaping ahead into real literature, because they haven’t burned out on years of “Dad had a tan pad,” or other inanities’. (Baldwin, 1988 p. 282). There is a good range of quality first chapter books available to children.

The library helps cognitive (thinking) development by providing a rich array of good material at appropriate reading levels. In Class 3 and onwards the children visit the library often with their teachers to select reading books. The library seeks to support the Steiner curriculum by providing appropriate resources for each stage and well chosen, age-appropriate literature. Hundreds of titles have been assessed by the school librarian who selects books that fit the schools criteria. The main criteria are a story that is well written, character building in some way and preferably an edition with attractive illustrations which carry on the artistic element that runs throughout the school. 

‘Some people have the mistaken idea that there are not books in a Waldorf school. This is far from true! While there aren’t readers in the kindergarten, and in the first class children learn to read from what they have written themselves, books with real literary content are introduced from class 2 on, and children are never given anything that is condescending in tone or that has been predigested especially for children. Real literature is always used in the classroom, selected according to reading level and the inner maturity level of the children. Waldorf schools have libraries for children’s reading pleasure, and for doing research in the upper grades’. (Baldwin, 1988, p. 283).

At present the school library is open at lunchtimes for students and is frequented by many avid readers. There are suggestion forms available to students for new titles and we spend a lot of time with our few reluctant readers trying to match them with an author, subject or series that captures their interest. As Willett (1995, p. 34) says, ‘If the atmosphere in the library is positive and accepting of young people, then the library may contribute to young people’s feeling that the world is a safe and trustworthy place’. The mobile library from the Tauranga City Libraries visits fortnightly which offers the student a wider range of literature and allows them to experience contact with the children’s librarians which may encourage them to visit the public library.

In the future the range of picture books will be expanded to include more titles produced by Floris Books and Hawthorn Press who supply many books to Steiner Schools. As you can see many of our books are donated and second hand and I will be looking to purchase newer and better illustrated versions of many titles. For example, I have just ordered a new set of Little House on the Prairie Books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. This new version that has come out recently has really appealing covers and Garth Williams illustrations have been beautifully coloured, whereas the older versions that we have on the shelf hardly go out. The covers are old, faded and torn, the writing is tiny and hard to read, the paper yellowed, and they just don’t capture the children’s interest. Call of the Wild by Jack London is another case in point, the glue has failed and the book looks shabby and unloved. So these titles desperately need to be replaced with new, clean, better illustrated versions as the budget allows. There is an old saying about not judging a book by its cover, but I have a passion for covers and know that if it doesn’t appeal to me, I have to force myself to read it and I imagine that a child just unfortunately won’t read it, no matter how hard you try to encourage them.

Classes 8 to 12 are important to consider and plan for now as the school will be offering a full high school at some stage in the future. The library must be able to fulfil these older students reading needs. As classes increase I will be asking for more money to purchase teenage fiction and non-fiction. I am hoping to establish book groups and folders of book reviews carried out by our students and already have three older students who are keen to work on this project. Another way that we will be encouraging these older readers is by liaison with the Tauranga City Library Teenagers Librarian who has recently established a Teen Summer Reading Programme. The goal at the end of this year is to have many of our Class 7 students participate in this valuable program.



Thank you all for coming and sharing this information. I hope this has given you a deeper insight into what the library does to encourage children’s reading development, recreational reading and to support the curriculum. There is much to do in our library, but when you realise that we opened at this time a year ago with a few boxes of donated books, I’m sure you appreciate how far we have come. Please feel free to take a parent handout with you and ask questions at any time.

Click here for more information: Tauranga Rudolf Steiner School Library's wiki


Child and Young Adult development in relation to the aquisition of language and literacy skills in the Steiner-Waldorf Curriculum

Approx Age


Physical Signs


Library support or Reading & Info Seeking Behaviour

Babies         (0-2 yrs)

Willing, Movement, Imitation (Metabolic, limb system)

Kicking feet, moving hands 1-2yrs walking

Pictorial thinking. Brain left as undisturbed as possible.  Memory, language & thinking develop.

Storytelling. Simple picture books with stiff pages for children to look at. Read in a melodic voice, don't dramaticise the story until after the age of seven.

Pre-Kindy       (2-3 yrs)

Willing, Movement, Imitation (Metabolic, limb system)


Pictorial thinking. Centered in will and limbs, movement, Develops 'the feeling of I'

Storytelling. Beautifully illustrated picture books in which animals actually look like animals and not caricatures of humans. Repeating one or two good books over and over again.  Avoid all books designed to educate eg. what shape/size is this? - hold no reality for the child.

Kindy         (3-6 yrs)

Willing, Movement, Imitation (Metabolic, limb system)


Pictorial thinking. Working in images, pictures, movement games, poetry and storytelling.  Repetition. Creative Play & Imagination. Fantasy/pretending.

Simply illustrated nursery rhyme book. Prefer telling than reading: Cinderella, The Frog Prince, Sweet Porridge, Mother Holle, Goldilocks, Snow White & Rose Red, The Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, Tom Thumb, Beauty & the Beast. Grimms collection of fairy tales

Class 1     (6-7 yrs)

Willing, Movement, Imitation (Metabolic, limb system)

Change of teeth is taking place. Growth in height

Pictorial Thinking. Is interested in books and shows a desire to read. Co-ordination of movement.  Emotional independence & strength.

Grimm's fairy tales. Written language introducted pictorially and artistically.  Storytelling (not reading) to pupils enhances listening powers. Teachers make up own stories. Telling of stories teaches children to speak properly. Foundations for writing laid. By end of year should be able to take down simple dictation and write simple sentences. Poems with strong rhythms. Short plays.

Class 2     (7-8 yrs)

Feeling, Imagination (Heart, lung, rhythmic system)


Writing taught before reading. Practice writing lower case letters. Desire to learn.

Legends, fables & animals stories especially Aesops fables & Celtic legends. 'The King of Ireland's Son' by Padraic Colum read to the class. Legends of saints. Start to borrow picture books from the library. Class Readers = Fe Fi Fo Fum Waldorf Reader.

Class 3       (8-9 yrs)

Feeling, Imagination (Heart, lung, rhythmic system)

Growth accelerates.  Dreamlike state is passing

Ego concious awakening child able to differentiate between itself and the outside world. Oral work.

Old Testament Stories.  Laura Ingalls Wilder's 'Farmer Boy' read aloud by teacher. Reading books from main lesson work. Class Readers = As my heart awakes Waldorf Reader & Charlottes Webb by EB White.

Class 4     (9-10 yrs)

Feeling, Imagination (Heart, lung, rhythmic system)

Becomes more inward & independent

Continue writing descriptions & stories.

Local history through geography.  Why early settlers chose this ares to live and how natural resources developed by them.  Maori Mythology. Stories drawn from myths & sagas of Celts, Norsement & Teutons. Poetry - learn to appreciate the inner beauty of th

Class 5   (10-11 yrs)

Feeling, Imagination (Heart, lung, rhythmic system)

Self- conciousness becomes stronger

Pivotal point between childhood and puberty.

First historical concepts: Ancient India, Persia, Mesopotamia, Egypt and Greece up to Alexander the Great. Lives of Manu, Rama, Buddha, Zarathustra, Gilgamesh, Khufu, Orpheus, etc. Biography of great men and women. Book reports - oral and written. Class Readers = The Silent One by Joy Cowley & Momo by Michel Ende.

Class 6  (11-12 yrs)

Feeling, Imagination (Heart, lung, rhythmic system)

Commencement of puberty & its challenges

Limbs lengthen, thinking = causation.

Fall of Troy to founding of Rome through the monarchy, republic & empire.  Life of Christ, the crusades.  Life of Mohammed & the Islamic people, Medieval society, cloister, castle & city. Tales of chivalry Tom Sawyer, Mark Twain, Men of Iron (Pyle), Poetry, ballads. Aboriginal Stories. NZ biographies. Class Readers = The Halfmen of O by Maurice Gee.

Class 7       (12-13 yrs)

Feeling, Imagination (Heart, lung, rhythmic system)

Growth spurt.

Rational phase entered.  Piaget theory of cognitive development

1400 - 1700 Age of Exploration, age of Discover, Reformation, Renaissance. Arthurian legends, historical novels, biography, humorous stories, tales of adventure and discover.  Poetry, ballads. Scenes from the Renaissance.  Stories about tribal life. Da Vinci, Michelangelo. Class Readers = 'I am David' by Ann Holm & 'The Education of Little Tree' by Forest Carter. 

Class 8      (13-14 yrs)

Feeling, Imagination (Heart, lung, rhythmic system)


Intellectual powers awakening.

1700 - present.  Industrial Revolution to the modern day. Shakespeare, Napoleon etc. Poetry - epic & dramatic. Stories about different peoples of the world, their folklore and poetry.

Class 9      (14-15 yrs)

Thinking, Analysis (Nerve, sense, head system)


Powers of Willing, Feeling & Thinking start to work together

Modern history with emphasis on Europe and dealing with inner historical motives of the political, social and industrial revolutions from the late eighteenth century to the present.  The great inventions. Comedy and tragedy as expressed in drama. Biography. Mythology, Shakespeare through the Romantics, Poetry: ballads.

Class 10(15-16 yrs)

Thinking, Analysis (Nerve, sense, head system)

Questions 'how'


Ancient history - the earliest Indian, Persian and Egyptian history up to the decline of freedom of the Grecian states under Alexander the Great. Dramatic literature.

Class 11     (16-17 yrs)

Thinking, Analysis (Nerve, sense, head system)

Questions 'why'

Maturity of thought becoming visible

Roman, medieval and Renaissance history. Dante & Chaucer.  Shakespeare, Medieval romance. Parsifal and other Grail legends. Bookbinding taught.

Class 12     (17-18 yrs)

Thinking, Analysis (Nerve, sense, head system)

Questions 'who'

Concerned with questions of destiny, judgement adn discretion.

history of literature brought up to date and modern works studied in order to probe themes favoured by contemporary writers.  Book-binding taught.



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Willett, H. G. (1995). Relevant concepts from the field of child development. In Public library youth services: A public policy approach (pp. 27-35). Norwood, NJ: Ablex Publishing.



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