Discussions With Teachers: Discussion Three And Four

There are just certain written works or lectures that Waldorf teachers and Waldorf homeschooling parents re-read each summer before school starts.  For me, I usually choose between “Discussions With Teachers”, “Practical Advice to Teachers” or “Human Values in Education” (all by Rudolf Steiner). This year, I have decided to go through the lectures found in Rudolf Steiner’s “Discussion With Teachers” and to just share my notes as I go along with all of you.

So, Discussion Three  begins with questions about storytelling according to temperament. Steiner remarked, for example, that sanguines need to hear pauses in a story because their attention wander, and melancholics need emphatic details.  He then goes on to answer discussions about form drawing according to temperament; forms moving outward for the choleric, contrasting colors for the sanguine, starting from a circle and drawing inward for a phelgmatic child.    Steiner also talks about how to describe things so they are of interest to phlegmatic children, using the example of a horse, and in taking the description of the horse again,  telling it to involve the choleric children.  He also says something interesting at the end of the discussion about the importance of  developing the social will of the class, and how it is important to develop “social instincts.” Much of what is done in Waldorf classrooms is to connect the class together in a social way of community, and I often wonder what Steiner’s indications would have been for homeschooling in the day and age that we and our children are facing!

Discussion Four is primarily about math, so for those of you feeling lost in teaching math, I think this is a terrific lecture to read!  It begins with talking about introducing fractions, and moves on to whether or not a child who slouches has more difficulty understanding spatial and geometric forms, but then quickly gets into the heart of teaching the four processes according to temperament.

For example, Steiner talks about how to introduce adding.  He assumes that the children can count (so those of you with six year old kindergarteners, work on jumping rope rhymes with counting in them!) and talks about proceeding from the sum. If a child counts a number of objects, the total amount is the sum.  Then one can divide the objects into little piles, and all together those piles equal 27.  One immediately begins working with flexibility with numbers as a teacher in math.  Phlegmatics do best with this sort of working from the sum, whereas choleric children enjoy adding all the piles together to get the sum.  The melancholic children work well with subtraction, and then the sanguine can reverse this (ie, if I take 5 away from 8, I have 3 left).   He allows that the reverse temperaments should be doing the mathematical procedures in reverse.  Adding is related to the phlegmatic temperament, subtraction to the melancholic, multiplying to the sanguine, and dividing to the choleric.   He talks about going from plane geometry to solid geometry.  Form drawing with examples is further discussed, and storytelling for phlegmatic children, and how to use an element of surprise for the sanguine children.

One of the last things Steiner talks about in this discussion is the imbalances of the temperaments and how “if the melancholic temperament becomes abnormal and does not remain within the boundaries of the soul, but rather encroaches on the body, then insanity arises.”  He goes on to discuss the same with all the different temperaments, and also how to deal with exclusionary behavior, and how punishing children is never the answer.  “The aftereffect is not good,” said Steiner.

Discussion Five talks even more about the temperaments, so please come back for that discussion.  As teachers and homeschooling parents, it is so good that we re-read these lectures every year and bring them to life within us for the health of our children.

Many blessings,



Discussions With Teachers – Discussion Two

Please remember particularly that when we are dealing with the temperament of a child, as teachers we should not assume that a certain temperament is a fault to be overcome.” – Rudolf Steiner

There is great, very specific wisdom in this lecture about how to teach with the temperaments and more.  This lecture fields questions, beginning with how to work with chidlren of the sanguine temperament.   Steiner talks about how a teacher explains something to a sanguine child and the “child has taken it in, but after some time you notice that the child has lost interest- attention has turned to something else….What would you do with a child like this?” he asks the original questioner.

Steiner talks about giving the child individual treatment, and to work on the sanguine group by showing them the melancholic response to such things (because the melancholic child most likely will also NOT be thinking of something the teacher just said, but  will be thinking about something from very far before and will be stuck ruminating over whatever the past thing was!)

Then Steiner moves on to a question about the phlegmatic child, and how we can work with temperaments via music, and by relating Biblical history from the different Gospels to affect temperament (remember, Steiner’s works on the Gospels provide esoteric insights).

  • Phlegmatics:  Choral singing, harmony, piano, (The Gospel of Matthew for variety)
  • Sanguines:  Wind instruments, melody, playing with an entire orchestra (The Gospel of Luke for inwardness of soul)
  • Cholerics :  Percussion and drum, rhythm, solo instruments (The Gospel of Mark – force and strength)
  • Melancholics:  Stringed Instruments, counterpoint, solo singing (The Gospel of John -deepening of the spirit)

However, Steiner also goes on to say:  “But it wouldn’t be as good to delegate the four arts according to temperaments; it is precisely because art is multifaceted that any single art can bring harmony to each temperament.” So notice Steiner finds four arts, and that he believes a child need not specialize.    “In any single art it is possible to allocate the various branches and expressions of the art according to temperament.”

Steiner goes on to take another question about phlegmatics, and how the ideal treatment may be to have the mother wake the child up at least an hour earlier than normal and during this time keep the child busy with all kinds of things.  He also talks about  while teaching in classroom, the teacher can essentially jar keys or otherwise rouse the phlegmatics as he or she passes by the student’s desk!  “You must continually find fresh ways to jolt the phlegmatics…”  Other questions answered include the relation of the temperaments to food; the fact that melancholic children get left behind easily and how they are slower to develop and retain impressions and imitate longer than other temperament types.  He goes on to say:

“The melancholic lives in a strange condition of self-deception.  Melancholics have the opinion that their experiences are peculiar to themselves.  The moment you can bring home to them that others also have these or similar experiences, they will to some degree be cured, because they then perceive that they are not the singularly interesting people they thought themselves to be.”   So, biography of great people who have gone through struggles are very important for melancholics.

Other points include relating of four body types to the temperaments (there is a diagram), how to deal with a choleric temperament and more. He points out that the human being is always becoming, is always changing and developing.  There are also specific temperaments associated with stages of development – childhood is a sanguine time, adolescence is a choleric time, mature life is a melancholic time, and old age is a phlegmatic time.  Our creative qualities depend upon the youthful qualities in a human being, our economic life depends upon the qualities of old age (phlegmatics), and  Steiner talks about how some people remain adolescents until they die because they preserve this phase of adolescent life within themselves.

Such an interesting discussion!  Let me know what you thought!



Discussions With Teachers- Discussion One

This lecture was part of the afternoon sessions given to the teachers of the very first Waldorf School.   Steiner begins this lecture talking about the important of the relationship to the children and notes, “The important thing for us to remember is the diversity of children and indeed that of all human beings.”  He goes on to talk about the four fundamental types of temperaments within the diversity of all human beings – the sanguine, the melancholic, the phlegmatic, and the choleric – and the four-fold development of the human being (the “I”, the astral body, the etheric body, and the physical body).  The development of the four-fold human being ties into the four temperaments, because the domination by one of the four bodies leads to a primary temperament type.  In this way, the dominance of the “I” leads to a melancholic temperament, the astral body dominance leads to the choleric temperament, the dominance of the etheric body to the sanguine, and the physical body leads to the phlegmatic temperament.

Steiner goes on the describe the four temperaments in this way:

  • Interested in different things but only for a short time and  quickly loses interest – sanguine
  • Inner reflection and brooding, active inwardly, not easy to give them impressions of the outer world – melancholic
  • Not actively inwardly but also no interest in the outer world (least amount of strength and attention)- phlegmatic
  • Expression of the will in a “blustering way”; strength of response and attention easily aroused – choleric

Steiner talks about how to group the children by temperament, which is of course, near to impossible in the home environment, but he gives wonderful examples of which temperament to turn to in order to illustrate particular lessons or to teach a certain way.  He also talks about how the teacher must develop their own attitude in dealing with different temperaments, and how the worst thing to do is to take the opposite qualities of one temperament and try to force this on the child.  Choleric and phlegmatic temperaments are opposite to one another, and melancholic and sanguine temperaments are opposite of one another; other temperaments are next to each other and therefore merge into one another (there is a diagram in this part of the lecture).  He talks about how by the tenth year the temperaments will be gradually “overcome.”  

Steiner  then talks about in the “main lesson ” portion of things:  the first year is mainly fairy tales, the second year animal life in story form (fables), the Bible as general history apart and different from religious lessons is the third year (and remember, teaching “religion” in a Waldorf School at that time was due to government requirements, not Steiner’s wishes), and then scenes from ancient (fourth class), medieval (5th class), and modern history (6th class), the discovery of different cultures within a country and  around the world (7th and 8th classes), and art lessons as training of the will. He also mentions the arts, gymnastics, eurythmy, drawing, and painting to all work on the will and how languages will be taught separate from the Main Lesson and how specialty teachers will be needed for the art subjects and the language lessons (so good for us to hear as homeschoolers!  We weren’t meant to do all the pieces of this!)    He talks about no more than three and a half hours of school per day (main lesson for hour and a half, telling of stories for half an hour, and then an hour for artistic work) up until the age of 12.  

As you can see, what is laid out by Steiner has been adapted into traditions by Waldorf Schools around the world, but these are the basic  indications that Steiner gave for what is to be taught in what grade and age.

More to come!


“Discussions With Teachers” – Introduction

If you have never read one of Steiner’s lectures, you are in for a treat with this series of discussions for teachers.  You can find this lecture series for FREE here (audio) and for FREE here (written).

One of the things I find fascinating about Waldorf Education is that it grew out of a particular time and place and for a specific set of children – it was education for the children of the factory employees at the Waldorf-Astoria cigarette factory in Stuttgart, Germany in 1919.  I often wonder what kind of indications Rudolf Steiner would give for homeschoolers today, living in our place and time – would it be totally different indications?   These lectures, to me, provide a key to answering this question by providing a framework for modern education (which is why I think these indications grew from specific indications for children of factory employees in early twentieth-century Germany into a hundred-year-old world-wide educational initiative!).

The other fascinating thing is that the teachers that opened the first Waldorf school had only TWO WEEKS of training.  That should calm your nerves about hoemschooling right?  The lectures compiled in “Discussions With Teachers” were part of the first Waldorf Teacher Training.  There is a lot of talk on the Internet about being prepared for homeschooling and the pressure Waldorf homeschoolers have to not only homeschool but make it “Waldorf enough” – well, here is your training course, FREE for your use!

Despite all the dogma surrounding Waldorf Education and Waldorf  homeschooling on the Internet, Rudolf Steiner’s method was to “elicit a lesson from the teacher temselves, and only then to make his own contribution based on what was presented” (from the Introduction).  He essentially laid out four principles for teachers:

The teacher must have initiative in everything that is done

The teacher should be interested in the whole world and of all of humanity

The teacher must never make a compromise in heart or mind with what is not true.

The teacher must never grow stale or sour.

In these lectures, Steiner also provided speech exercises to improve a teacher’s effectiveness. Wouldn’t we all like to be more effective in teaching our children?  These lectures look at this in detail, along with many other practical indications for teaching. Please do follow along with me!

Many blessings,