“Perhaps the most original and significant component in Steiner’s educational philosophy
is its conception of child development in seven-year stages.”
— Robert McDermott, THE ESSENTIAL STEINER (Lindisfarne Press, 2007 ), p. 396.
This is important. We are confronting perhaps Steiner's greatest educational concept: Humans develop in seven-year stages.
Let's look at this closely. What is the significance of these seven-year stages? It will take a while to explain fully, but we can start here: During our first seven years, we manifest a "model" for our development.  The model has great value to us, since we have been weakened by Lucifer and Ahriman.  But we must not depend on the model too much. Relatively strong people — those who bring more strength from their past lives — depend on the model less, and this really shows up in the second seven-year period. And THAT’s what education should do: Help us unfold the gifts we bring from spirit worlds.
“It is quite true: man in his earthly evolution has not remained as strong as he was pre-disposed to be before the onset of the Luciferic and Ahrimanic influences. Therefore he cannot form his physical body of his own accord when he comes down into the earthly conditions. He is dependent on the model, he needs the model which we see growing in the first seven years of human life. And, as he takes his direction from the model, it is but natural if more or less of the model also remains about him in his later life. If, in his working on himself, he is altogether dependent on the model, then he forgets — if I may put it so — what he himself brought with him. He takes his cue entirely from the model. Another human being, having stronger inner forces as a result of former lives on earth, takes his direction less from the model; and you will see how greatly such a human being changes in the second phase of life, between the change of teeth and puberty.
“This is precisely the task of school. If it is a true school, it should bring to unfoldment in the human being what he has brought with him from spiritual worlds into this physical life on earth.” — Rudolf Steiner, KARMIC RELATIONSHIPS , Vol. 1 (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1972), lecture 5, GA 235.
In case that wasn’t totally clear, here are several additional, clarifying remarks having to do with what is perhaps Steiner's most important educational insight:
“During the period from birth until about seven years of age, the etheric body [one of our invisible bodies, according to Steiner] undergoes a process similar to that undergone by the physical body before birth. Only at the end of that time can we say that the etheric body is ‘born.’ In the same way, the astral body [another invisible body] is ‘born’ at the age of fourteen or fifteen.” — Rudolf Steiner, THE EDUCATION OF THE CHILD, Foundations of Waldorf Education (Anthroposophic Press, 1996), p. 43.
“We know from our anthroposophical studies that the astral body is born at this stage [around age 14] — that it comes into its own at this time. Just as the physical body is especially active from birth to the seventh year, and the etheric body from the seventh to the fourteenth or fifteenth year, the astral body ...is active from the fourteenth to the twentieth or twenty-first year, when the ego [the “I” — another invisible body] can be said to be born.” — Rudolf Steiner, EDUCATION FOR ADOLESCENTS, Foundations of Waldorf Education (Anthroposophic Press, 1996), p. 73.
It may not be too soon to ask whether you want your children educated according to this scheme, involving invisible bodies, reincarnation, demons, and so forth. The Waldorf approach is built on delusion.
But we haven’t exhausted the subject by a long shot. We haven’t yet mentioned elemental beings (goblins, sylphs, and the like) or our auras.  So let’s press on.
“Suppose you experience something that affects you very deeply, some event that moves you to joy or sorrow. Now you know that the whole of life runs its course in such a way that we can separate it into periods of about seven years in length. Roughly speaking, the first is from birth to the change of teeth, the second to the age of puberty, the third to the beginning of the twenty-first year, and so on ... The turning-points in the development of the human being which we arrive at by this method are clearly marked in the earlier part of life — change of teeth, and puberty — but later are more or less concealed ... The division into seven-year periods holds true, in fact, for the whole course of human life ... Now let us go back to the event that makes a strong impression on our life of feeling ... [S]omething takes place in the objective world quite apart from what is in your consciousness, quite apart from any share your life of soul has in it. And this process that goes on in the objective world may be compared with the setting up of a vibratory motion. It vibrates out into the world ... [W]hen it has spread itself out for a sufficient distance — when its elasticity is, so to speak, used up — it swings back and makes its appearance in the next seven-year period as an impulse that works upon your life of soul from outside ... These processes become involved in all that is going on among the elemental beings [goblins, etc.] outside us ... When we understand these things rightly, we are led to the inevitable conclusion that Man is continually creating around him as it were a great aura. And into the waves that are thus thrown up, elemental beings plunge; they mix themselves up, as it were, in the whole process and are able to influence the reaction that comes back on to Man.” — Rudolf Steiner, “Elemental Beings and Human Destinies” (THE GOLDEN BLADE, 1984), a lecture, GA 194.
“[T]hat which takes place in us up to the age of about seven is comprehensible as a product of a complex of forces to be found within the earth domain ... From the change of teeth onward begins a second section of human life lasting until about the fourteenth year, when we become physically mature. Concerning this section of human life Spiritual Science knows that the processes which reveal themselves in the physical body are no longer to be explained by what is active upon the earth itself, but by extra-terrestrial forces ... The evolutionary processes during the second life period from the seventh to the fourteenth year of the general life rhythm, take place under the influence of these forces. By reason of the human being containing the forces needed for these evolutionary processes within himself, he appears no longer as a purely earthly being, but a copy of something extra-terrestrial, although this particular extra-terrestrial element is present in the world of sense.” — Rudolf Steiner, “Human Life in the Light of Spiritual Science, Anthroposophy” (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1938), a lecture, GA 35.
“On our descent into the earthly world, when we draw to ourselves the forces of the universal ether, we actually take with us in our etheric body a kind of image of the cosmos. If we could extract the etheric body of a man at the moment when he is uniting with the physical, we should have a sphere — far more beautiful than has ever been wrought by mechanical means — a sphere complete with stars and zodiac and sun and moon.
“These configurations of the etheric body remain during the embryonic time, while the human being coalesces more and more with his physical body. They begin to fade away a little, but they remain. Indeed they remain right on into the seventh year — that is, until the change of teeth. In the etheric body of the little child, this cosmic sphere is still quite recognizable. But with the seventh year — with the change of teeth — these forms that we behold in the etheric body begin to ray out, in a manner of speaking, previously they were more star-like; now they begin to be like rays. The stars dissolve away in the human ether body; but as they do so they become rays, rays with a tendency to come together inwardly.” — Rudolf Steiner, “The Human Heart” (Mercury Press, 1985), a lecture, GA 212.
And there you have it: ”perhaps the most original and significant component in Steiner’s educational philosophy,” and what it means.
For more on the stages of childhood development
and how they are recognized in Waldorf schools,
McDermott explains that Steiner's other main educational concept is that children can be divided into four groups according to "temperament" [THE ESSENTIAL STEINER, p. 396]. Thus, the two main pillars of Waldorf education are the seven-year development periods and the four temperaments (choleric, sanguine, phlegmatic, and melancholic). Both precepts are empty, irrational, and potentially harmful delusions. To examine the issue of "temperament," see "Humouresque" and "Temperaments".
 “To picture the real underlying facts, we may put it as follows — though I am well aware it will shock the man of today. Man, we must say, when he is born, receives something like a model of his human form. He gets this model from his forefathers; they give him the model to take with him into life. Then, working on the model, he himself develops what he afterwards becomes. What he develops, however, is the outcome of what he himself brings with him from the spiritual world.
“Fantastic as it may seem to the man of today — to those who are completely immersed in modern culture — yet it is so. The first teeth which the human being receives are undoubtedly inherited; they are the products of heredity. They only serve him as the model, after which he elaborates his second teeth, and this he does according to the forces he brings with him from the spiritual world. Thus he elaborates his second teeth. And as it is with the teeth, so with the body as a whole.” — Rudolf Steiner, KARMIC RELATIONSHIPS , Vol. 1 (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1972), lecture 5, GA 235.
— Compilation and commentary by Roger Rawlings
To visit other pages in this section of Waldorf Watch, use the underlined links, below.
◊◊◊ 14. PULLING IT ALL TOGETHER ◊◊◊
If you'd like more information about any of the topics discussed here,
you might begin by consulting the following resources:
THE SEMI-STEINER DICTIONARY
THE BRIEF WALDORF / STEINER ENCYCLOPEDIA
WALDORF WATCH INDEX
WALDORF WATCH TABLE OF CONTENTS