Give Children a Pictorial Survey of the Plant World

The Steiner Cafe. Reflections on Discussions with Teachers at waldorfinspiredlearning.comIn Discussion Nine of his Teacher’s Seminar, Rudolf Steiner and the first Waldorf teachers explore how to prepare lessons about plants.

Steiner wants his teachers to realize a few key points (these are in his words):

Give Children a Pictorial Survey of the Plant World

  • All growth is life being pushed out from inside and the dying and gradual peeling off of the outside.
  • Acquaint your students with the different parts of a single plant – leaf, blossom, fruit.
  • Most of the children are in their eleventh year when we begin this subject.
  • You could compare the animal world to the human body, but the plant world can be compared more to the soul. 
  • The correct procedure is to study the animal world before coming to terms with the natural conditions of the plants (because of the point above about the body and soul. If you want to read more about Steiner’s lecture on the animal world, go to Steiner on Humans & Animals.)

Steiner gives an example to his teachers-in-training of how he might speak directly to the children. I include this longer quote here for this reason: it is my experience that when Steiner is speaking to the teachers, he often comes across as blunt, firm and at times, almost rigid.

But when Steiner gives examples of how he might speak to the children, he seems so alive and engaged and almost gentle! His tone is conversational. I love the juxtaposition. If you’ve never read or listened to any of these lectures from the Teacher’s Seminar in full, you might miss this phenomenon.

Steiner describes speaking to the children. He begins by asking the teachers, “What would it be like if, for example, you perhaps ask…”

Haven’t you ever been for a walk during the summer and seen flowers growing in the fields, and parts of them fly away when you blow on them? They have little ‘fans’ that fly away. And you have probably seen these same flowers a little earlier, when summer was not quite so new; then you saw only the yellow leaf shapes at the top of the stem; and even earlier, in the spring, there were only green leaves with sharp jagged edges. But remember, what we see at these three different times is all exactly the same plant! Except that, to begin with, it is mainly a green leaf; later on it is mainly blossom; and still later it is primarily fruit. Those are only the fruits that fly around. And the whole is a dandelion! First it has leaves – green ones; then it presents in blossoms, and after that, it gets its fruit.

How does all this happen? How does it happen that this dandelion, which you all know, shows itself at one time with nothing but green leaves, another time with flowers, and later with tiny fruits?

This is how it comes about. When the green leaves grow out of the earth it is not yet the hot art of the year. Warmth does not yet have as much effect. But what is around the green leaves? You know what it is. It is something you only notice when the wind passes by, but it is always there, around you: the air. You know about that because we have already talked about it. It is mainly the air that makes the green leaves sprout, and then, when the air has more warmth in it, when it is hotter, the leaves no longer remain as leaves; the leaves at the top of the stem turn into flowers. But the warmth does not just go to the plant; it also goes down into the earth and then back again. I’m sure that at one time or another you have seen a little piece of tin lying on the ground and have noticed that the tin first receives the warmth from the Sun and then radiates it out again. That is really what every object does. And so it is also with warmth. When it is streaming downward, before the soil itself has become very warm, it forms the blossom. And when the warmth radiates back again from the earth up to the plant, it is working more to form the fruit. And so the fruit must wait until the autumn.

Steiner concludes by saying to the teachers, “Try this.”

And then…

I only wanted to give you certain suggestions so that you yourselves, using all your best powers of invention, can discover even more before next time. You will then see that you greatly benefit the children when you do not give them external comparisons but those belonging to the inner life.

So now we go and give this a try! 

I’m curious.

Has reading this changed the way you might teach about plants?

The Steiner Cafe

The Steiner Cafe is a place to explore and reflect on the lectures that Rudolf Steiner gave at the Teacher’s Seminar in 1919, the very first Waldorf teacher training. Each month here, we ponder one day of the seminar. 

For reflections on previous lectures, check out The Steiner Cafe page.

These lectures are published in three books; the morning lectures in The Foundations of Human Experience; later morning lectures in Practical Advice to Teachers; and afternoon lectures in Discussions with Teachers. We invite you to pick up the books and read along.

If you prefer, you can read online at www.rsarchive.org, or listen at www.rudolfsteineraudio.com. Or, just meet us here each Thursday or Friday at The Steiner Cafe for some lively discussion. Lot’s of options! Hope you’ll join us.

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5 thoughts on “Give Children a Pictorial Survey of the Plant World

  1. We are just starting our first Botany block and I am loving the Waldorf way of teaching it. We are using Kovacs and I have a copy of “New Eyes for Plants” too (just for me). We are keeping things really simple, just reading the Kovacs chapter and then really observing the plant and drawing and/or painting it. I can see my ds is really enjoying this block. It’s wonderful!
    licoricelovinglady recently posted…Hello world!My Profile

    1. I just love that about Waldorf education. So simple yet so profound. Or rather, the simple is profound! Reading descriptions (giving a pictorial survey as Steiner says) combined with keen observation is really a powerful learning combination. So glad you’re enjoying this block and thanks for sharing. I, too, loved New Eyes for Plants for my own reading. It’s a beautiful book.

  2. I am just beginning to plan botany. I am really excited about it and am just beginning to learn the depth of the Waldorf approach to it. It is beautiful.
    Nicola recently posted…mammaMy Profile

    1. Yes, a lovely approach to botany. And I really appreciate Steiner’s examples like in this lecture of how he would talk with the children. He is so conversational and asks them questions about their previous experiences to link that to the new discoveries. Very helpful and pedagogically sound!

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