In this interview we talk to Henning Kullak Ublick, representative of Waldorf German Association and Coordinator of Waldorf100, about what holistic learning is and the development stages of the human being. You can see the full transcription of the interview below.
Founded in the early 20th century, Waldorf education is based on the insights, teachings and principles of education outlined by the world renowned artist, and scientist, Rudolf Steiner. The principles of Waldorf education evolve from an understanding of human development that address the needs of the growing child. Waldorf schools integrate the arts in all academic disciplines for children from preschool through twelfth grade to enhance and enrich learning. Waldorf education aims to inspire life-long learning in all students and to enable them to fully develop their unique capacities.
The stages of development of the children
If you are looking for holistic perspective of learning I think you have to look at the little child. Because in the first three years, the children are the most holistic perspective you could ever have in learning. When they are born you can feel that there is a lot inside these children but they cannot express it, do it, speak about it or put it into concepts.
But whet they can do is to be totally connected with the surroundings, with the adults, with the siblings…What they do is emerge in this world that surrounds them. They actually imitate what is going on, they do what they see.
And then something happens. the children can stand, they can use the hands freely. When they have trust in this they start speaking and again it’s the adults and the siblings and the other people around them who speak first and they hear this, they listen to this, they actually listen to the speech of their mothers when they are already in the body of the mother.
To start speaking is a revolution for each human being, standing up and having your hands free and being able to perceive the world and move to the places you want to go. The same with the speech, you can express something you would never be able to do if you could never speak and this goes through the feeling. Because you can not speak without feeling. You can do that as an adult but you can hear if an adult speaks without feeling. The ordinary speech is about vocalising something that is in your inner self and perceiving what others tell you.
Grasping the concepts through real experiences and experiments
The interesting point begins when they start to grasp the concepts of what they are speaking about. I will give you a little story.
When my son was three years old we had a pond in the garden and we had a fence around this garden and there were always cats siting on the fence trying to catch the fish. When my son was three years old he came and said “Dad, I know why the fence is there for. It’s there to keep the fish from running away”. He had noticed that there were probably less fish (which was because of the cats). He actually begin thinking, he got the concept of the fence and from that point he new that every fence in the world was about that: keep something in and keep something out. This is holistic learning. And you have this in every stage of learning.
Following steps to activate the forces of our own thinking
If you work with the children in the multiplication table, you can use all these steps. I was talking about getting a very individual concept of what numbers are.
You can begin for example with walking for special numbers, make each step for each number: 1,2,3….And then you can say only every second step 2,4,6…and then you can only the third: 3,6,9…So the children do it with their movement, they get into the rhythmic system, because there is a lot of rhythm in learning as well. And they get it into the rhythmic memory. When you have a telephone number you don’t say one number after the other, you say them in groups. That’s what children do when they are in these multiplication rows. Then you can carry on. For example you can take a ball and ask one child a question “What’s seven times five?” the child answers the question and then he throws it to somebody else.
After you have done all these steps, then you can ask the children “The 24″, and one child would say “It’s twice the 12”, another one would say “it’s three times 8”, and then carry on. And then you can ask the children again “The 23″, so what happened there? The children would find out “This is a really lovely number because they get concept of the prime number.
So you can always go through all the steps of doing things having them in the rhythmical, emotional system because that’s very closely connected. Getting the individual concept, the children will get trust in their own thinking when they go these steps.
Of course you can take children to learn by heart. You can give childs these “walking machines” so he learns to walk before can actually develop the strength of the maturity to do it on his own. But it’s not good. It’s better for children they realized they can do it. And that’s holistic learning. But you can do this with everything.
«They understand out of doing the experience, out of recreating it by drawing and writing»
I will give you another example from chemistry.
If you have a group of children and you make a fire with wool, and they can see the smoke, smell it, see the different pieces of wool and everything. And then you can sort of catch the smoke through some arrangement and take it through water, so the children will look at what is happening there. And they would write down and draw pictures and describe it very closely. And they could take some fruit and make juice from it and put drops of this juice into the water. They will find that the colour of the water changes when the smoke goes through it. From darker it gets lighter and lighter and lighter. And then they can take the asses of the fire and they can put the asses into water… And then they can go to sleep.
In the next morning we start talking about this “What was happening?” And the children will find on their own that this is a polarity which obviously happens in the burning process. And then you can work on this, and speak with the children and they understand out of doing the experience, out of recreating it by drawing and writing down what they saw, making a judgment what was important, what wasn’t important. Then they can get a question about this.
«The learning which starts with the theory and begins in our head is how adults learn. Our approach with the children is having very strong experiences in doing things, reflecting and perceiving «
Most of the teachers think that first of all should be theory and then practice. What do you think about this?
Haha yes, that’s the academic way of learning.
And it’s ok, you can do that from time to time and that’s how adults learn usually. It’s a way of learning which begins in your head. And then people hope that it will reach your fingers, your heart and everything but they don’t test this anymore, it just stays in this cognitive level and it’s ok we need our head, we need our cognitive perception of the world. But the way we approach is actually is having very strong experiences in doing things yourself reflecting and perceiving what happens to the world, what happens to me, why I am doing this, in the way of understating more about the world or other people or whatever I am tackling with.
And then drawing the concept out of the experience. Of course in an exchange, you want children to understand complex concepts. But if you do these steps they are able to active their own forces in their thinking. You can think in a very abstract, black and white or greys way but you can also think in an imaginative colourful way which is not less scientific but it’s more scientific because it takes more in. But you have to have some practice in using the imagination. And that’s what we do.