4 Marlow Road
Kenilworth
Cape Town
7708
+27 21 797 9728
info@michaeloak.org.za

Frequently Asked Questions

How are Children Taught to Read ?

During the first three classes, great care is taken in laying a thorough foundation for writing and reading. Children learn to write before they read. Letters of the alphabet are learned in the first class in capitals, as they originated in the evolution of our culture. Man perceived, then pictured, and out of the pictures he developed signs and written symbols. The children, with their naturally pictorial thinking, do likewise. In the shapes of natural objects, children re-discover the shapes of the letters: M in a series of mountain peaks, V in the valleys between, S in a sinuous snake. The experience is deepened and widened through speech and movement. This method of approach develops a sense for the qualifies of the letters and makes them come alive so that they are remembered. Phonetics are treated thoroughly and the first experiences in reading centre around that which the children know well and have copied from the board. The first printed reader is introduced during the second year.

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How is Number Work Introduced ?

It is generally recognised that the first experiences of arithmetic are crucial, and here Steiner made some interesting recommendations. By starting with "two plus two equals four", the child meets
(i) a completely abstract proposition,
(ii) a reductionist view of the universe in which wholes are made up of parts, and
(iii) a problem with only one answer.
If he explores instead how to divide an apple or a cake and share it round the class, he starts from real life, from wholeness, and from a problem with several answers. Arithmetic is taught to children not as a method for computing, but as a powerful process which is inscribed into the world around them. They can see oneness in the image of the sun, twoness in the contrasts of day and night, fiveness in flower petals and sixness in the legs of beetles. Always, there is a sense of the reality underpinning the world.

Numbers are taught in movement, and through music before anything is committed to paper. They can be modelled in plasticine, clay or beeswax, together with the shapes in which they are found: the square, circle, pentagon and so on. Arithmetic tables are recited with much clapping and stamping, for unless the knowledge sinks deeper than the child's conscious memory, very little has been achieved. As in so much else, in their early years the children need to learn by heart before they learn by head.

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Why is Art so Important ?

Art is recognised as an important aid to learning. It permeates the curriculum as a medium of expression and enlivens all subjects. By teaching with imagination, movement, sound and much artistic activity, the whole nature of the child is aroused and involved, developing enthusiasm for the learning experience. Learning is transformed into a stimulating process with far-reaching results when enriched with art and movement, enabling the whole person to unfold.

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Why does the Primary School Teacher Keep the Same Children for Several Years ?

While the diversity of the curriculum demands specialist subject teachers, we aim at a balance between these specialists and the class teacher who becomes the pupils' guide and friend. The class with its class teacher moves through the school as a single unit. This practice has many social advantages. It also takes account of the fact that a child's speed or slowness in one subject or area of school life is almost always matched by an opposite in other areas. The class teacher's connection with the class achieves four valuable educational objectives :

  • the teacher's continuous and deepening knowledge of the children in his class;
  • an increasingly intimate connection between teachers and parents, fostering greater understanding of and security for the pupil;
  • the continued development of the teacher;
  • an interrelationship between subject matter taught in early and later years which enriches the curriculum even further.
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What is the 'Main Lesson' ?

The Main Lesson system has proved to be one of economy and efficiency. One subject at a time is taught in depth for a period of 3 or 4 weeks in a way suited to the child's understanding and stage of development. Every morning for the first two hours of the day, the children are at their most receptive and greater concentration can be expected.
This system allows for the integration of a variety of activities and intellectual and creative work based on the topic that is being taught at the time. Language, mathematics, history, geography and the sciences are taught during these periods and are all presented in a way that stimulates in turn the emotions, the thinking and the physical activity of the child. Thus the pupil experiences a deep involvement resulting in enthusiasm for the work. As he works more intensively, his powers of concentration are strengthened.

The later morning lessons are devoted to other languages, the practice of skills, music (each child learns to play the recorder), singing and eurythmy. Handwork, craft lessons, painting, modelling, gymnastics and games are scheduled at the end of the school day.

Memories of the involvement and enthusiasm gained during the morning are what should accompany the child into sleep. This is one of the reasons why we do not recommend the viewing of television as it lessens the effectiveness of the classroom experience.

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Are the Main Lessons Continued in the High School ?

Yes, indeed. The Main Lesson approach is a particularly helpful alternative in the High School to the conventional way of splitting lessons into 35-40 minute segments. In the Main Lesson curriculum, pupils experience a wide range of topics and creative opportunities not available in ordinary schools. It is an ideal way of incorporating the balance and wholeness inherent in Waldorf education.

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What Importance is Given to the Sciences in the High School ?

We live in a highly scientific and technological age, and therefore the study of sciences plays a crucial role in preparing the young adult to understand and integrate into today's world. An understanding of the discovery and workings of machinery, electronics and energy sources, and the implications these have for man's life, is one of the most important aspects of life-long learning.

Two aspects make the Waldorf approach to science unique.

  • Firstly, pupils study the dramatic biographies of remarkable personalities whose discoveries changed and moulded the social conditions of our civilisation.
  • Secondly, the pupils study of science does not begin with the learning of pre-programmed, fixed laws of the text book, but through the development of their own observations to which they can apply their own creative thinking. They thus receive a truly scientific training - working from the phenomena and then engaging in deep thinking processes, finally coming to new insights and conclusions.
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Are Waldorf Pupils Adequately Prepared for the Real, Competitive Modern World ?

As indicated above, Waldorf pupils are exposed to an education which balances social development and academic study. Their studies include many aspects of the modern world in Science, Technology, History, Literature, etc. The education is guided by the principle: the right thing at the right time. There is thus most definitely a place for computers, for instance, in a Waldorf School - but at the appropriate moment. Pupils who have proceeded from Michael Oak to other schools and from Waldorf High Schools to university have been found to be more than adequately prepared. In fact, the degree of independence, originality and confidence of Waldorf pupils has often been noted.

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What is the Attitude Towards Academic Results ?

Matriculation is a vital step for many careers today and for those pupils wishing to excel academically Michael Oak provides a thorough preparation. Michael Oak has consistently achieved very high standards. Striving towards individual excellence is essential. Underlying Waldorf Education is a broad, comprehensive preparation for life. Given this goal, it would be educationally unsound for academic achievement to receive the exclusive and pressurised emphasis it often has elsewhere.

It should never be the sole determinant of a person's worth or of scholastic attainment - this buries different natural ability levels in the competitive maelstrom. There is a place for every pupil in a Waldorf school, no matter how 'bright', and the intention is to bring out the best in each. In asking how we would regard our children as adequately educated, we would surely stipulate social, moral, spiritual and practical development alongside academic and vocational training. The Waldorf 'graduate' is a well-rounded, widely accomplished person who has been taught how to think, not what to think for exam purposes.

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How is Discipline Handled ?

In a Waldorf School, the approach to discipline is much more personally based. There are no abstract authorities like the headmaster and prefects, and respect must be won through personal contact. While a freer, more open atmosphere (including no uniforms) is encouraged, Waldorf schools are in no way neglectful of 'discipline'. Orderliness is inherent in the classroom and is demanded in behaviour, dress and the presentation of work. These qualities, as part of social development, are not imposed in the form of external coercion, but are developed more as an inward sense of duty. Generally it can be said that, when motivation and interest is high, when personal concern for the pupil is central to the teacher, the whole question of discipline eases.

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Can a Child Adjust to a Change of School ?

If a child's career at Michael Oak has to be interrupted, we urge parents to avoid making the change until after the first three years which we consider to be a unit in the educational experience. After that, there should be no problem, and children usually make such a change with ease.

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How Do Others See Waldorf Education ?

World renowned conductor Bruno Walter is one of many distinguished people to note the specific contribution of Waldorf education. "There is no task of greater importance than to give children the very best preparation for the demands of an ominous future. As long as the Waldorf School movement continues to spread its influence, we can all look forward with hope," he says:

"As a scientist involved in research into the physics of perception, I am impressed with both the content of the Waldorf curriculum, which includes right hemisphere side learning activities to complement the left hemisphere side; and with the style of the curriculum which promotes direct involvement, creativity, and attention to detail,"
says Dr H.Puthoff, researcher at SRI International. "This holistic, well-grounded and in-depth approach is what is required to meet the challenges of a stressful, fast moving technological age, while keeping one's will and sense of purpose alive and whole."

To date, the most comprehensive and authoritative research on Waldorf education has been conducted in Germany. Three independent scientists sponsored by the German Government assessed 1460 former Waldorf students and concluded that they had achieved "an educational level well above average." Impressively, more than 80% of the 1460 former students interviewed had completed a professional training.

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Going on to Other High Schools ?

The children leave Michael Oak at the end of Class 10. Although our children are equipped to enter any High School and have made the transition very successfully, we strongly recommend that they should continue with the same educational aims and ideals at the Constantia Waldorf High School. There the curriculum takes into full consideration the further development of the adolescent, as well as the achievement of a high standard in respect of matriculation requirements