Dutch primary education: Jenaplan & Steiner

Dutch primary education: Jenaplan & Steiner

In this two-part article series I examine the educational approach of general specialised schools in the Netherlands. I also explain their pedagogical philosophy. The first article looks at Montessori and Dalton plan school systems.

This article explains the educational approach behind Jenaplan and Steiner schools. I will explain the "philosophy" behind each approach; however the way schools apply them is out of the scope of this article.


Importance of world orientation and the community that you live in.

Jenaplan is a teaching approach created in Germany by Peter Petersen to reform the old-style educational system.

Petersen wanted his approach to be centred around the concept of community life, where schools are not isolated institutions and where parents play an important role. Instead of grouping children according to their age, Jenaplan schools prefer multi-age groups:
 The kindergarten group (4 to 6 years)
 The intermediate stage (6 to 9 years)
 The upper stage (9 to 12 years)

The most important factor in grouping is to value differences among children. The unique idea behind Jenaplan pedagogy is that all activities are pedagogically-intended situations. Situations are planned, but the personal choices of students, and their answers, cannot be anticipated.

In pedagogically-intended situations this personal existential answer is essential, and therefore, a lesson plan is more of a plan of what might happen instead of what should happen.

The Jenaplan curriculum

World orientation is at the core of the curriculum in Jenaplan schools. This comprises science, social science and environmental studies, language skills, mathematics and art.

Everyday schoolwork is guided by four components:
 dialogue (takes place in a circle)
 play (role play and improvisations)
 work (through self-instruction)
 celebration (to build the sense of community)

Because of the different nature of the Jenaplan, the Dutch Jenaplan Association (Nederlandse Jenaplan Vereniging) advises to visit a school for at least a whole day, or even more, to get the full idea.

Steiner education (Vrije school)

To become free, morally responsible and socially competent

Steiner (or Waldorf) education is developed based on Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner's theories of child development.

Steiner schools were originally designed to last for 12 years and to awaken the physical, behavioural, emotional, cognitive, social and spiritual aspects of a developing person. To achieve this, childhood is organised into three developmental stages, each lasting seven years.

First development stage

During the first developmental stage (under 7 years), children are primarily learning their environment through empathy and imitation.

Education during this first stage provides practical, hands-on activities as well as an environment that encourages creative play. Early years education also focuses on teaching the children that the world is good.

Second development stage

In the second stage (from 7 to 14 years) the emphasis is on developing the students' artistic expression and social capacities, fostering both creative and analytical modes of understanding. Children learn through presentations and activities that appeal to their feelings and imagination.

In order to connect with the subject matter, story-telling and artistic work are used to convey academic content to pupils. The teacher is a role model that gains authority through fostering. At this stage, education seeks to teach children that the world is beautiful.

Third development stage

The third developmental stage (14 years and up) is where young people develop their critical understanding and their idealisms.

The employed educational approach stresses the role of the imagination in learning and places a strong value on integrating intellectual, practical, and artistic themes. Students learn through their own critical thinking.

Pupils are asked to understand abstract material and expected to have a sufficient foundation and maturity level to form conclusions. Third developmental stage teaches students that the world is true.

Unlike the other three "philosophies," Steiner schools value classroom structure and teacher-centred teaching. Arts are important subject and often no books are used.

Want to learn more about general specialised schools in the Netherlands? Check out the first article in this series:  Dutch primary education: Montessori & the Dalton Plan.

Marja-Ilona Koski


Marja-Ilona Koski

I am a theoretical Computer Scientist turned into a Computer Science teacher. I have taught in primary and secondary schools in Finland, I have been working in the field of...

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