Questions of life and love

By Sven Saar, May 2017

Answering the question of our origin materialistically, as if we came into being at the moment of our conception or birth, is a modern paradigm in schools, universities, and cafe discussions. However, does the reduction of a person to their body correspond with reality?

Photo: © Charlotte Fischer


When I am driving from Dortmund to Kassel and somebody asks me where I have come from, I don’t answer with “Wolfsburg”, simply because my car was produced there. In the same way, answering “Göttingen”, the city of my birth, completely misses the point of the question. The question refers to me and not my vehicle, and when looked at from this point of view, my body, produced in Göttingen, is a vehicle in exactly the same way as my car, produced in Wolfsburg. Within the framework of our conversation, the person who I am talking to is interested in me as a person, and not its means of transport.

When having a discussion with children, whether in the home or in the classroom, we should always strive for relevance. Young people, who grow through our example into the earthly world, expect meaningfulness from us. What should the criteria be for this topic?

“Where do I come from?”

When children pose this question it can be challenging for adults: how can I explain this? The actual reason that some time should be devoted to considering the answer does not necessarily have to do with sexuality. Which answer does the child really need from me at this moment? Just like with all questions, there are several possible levels on which it can be answered. Which one is the correct one at that time depends not least upon the age and level of development of the child.

But also the moment, as well as the atmosphere of the question are important: are we talking about biology or about meaningfulness? What was the motivation that led to this discussion? Is the child expressing their eager inquisitiveness and hunger for knowledge, or are they worrying about the reasons for their “fundamental existence”?

Waldorf Schools are sometimes criticised for the fact that, without ever mentioning the word creationism, they are cautious when dealing with the theory of evolution and first go into detail about it in the later stages of education. The reason for this is not due to religious belief, but rather due to the conviction that, over the years, a meaningful view, both biologically as well as psychologically, should be created. The young people are not led down or certain path or deprived of any information. However, what I describe in the classroom should produce resonance in the children’s souls and I therefore have to take into account what is appropriate in both content and tone.

For pupils in the first two years of school, just like for those still in kindergarten, the question of “from where” does not really have to arise at all. Individually they certainly have discussions with their parents, often triggered by a new pregnancy, which are of an appropriate biological nature. Most children do not find it so absurd to accept the fact that they were once “in Mummy’s tummy” – after all, they realise that they used to be a lot smaller. Some then go on to ask further questions, namely how they got in there in the first place.

Most parents are able to discern exactly what kind of an answer their child needs in that moment and therefore are able to deal with their questions in an appropriately sensitive manner. It is an important moment, one that the parents will give thought to for a long time: “Did I say the right thing?” In contrast to this, children are satisfied relatively quickly and turn their attention to other things. Even when children are at this tender age, parents can do a lot of good by ensuring that their child understands that it is not an accident that they exist on the earth, but rather that the “fact” that they are here has a purpose and that they themselves have a task. The classic Waldorf influenced picture book, “Die Erdenreise des kleinen Engels” (The Little Angel’s Journey to Earth) by Hilda Herklotz addresses Rudolf Steiner’s concept that a person in heaven, between death and rebirth, is unable to learn anything new.

According to Steiner, our stay in the spiritual world after death allows us to process the impulses that we have received during our life on earth and enables our growth in relation to them. In line with this concept, our tasks for our next incarnation are guided by this process. A person can only experience new things when on earth, in the realm of nature and through contact with other people. This is shown in the way that the story’s titular little angel has to be patient and wait for his time to come: “You still have to wait a bit longer, it is still too early...” In the end he is able to achieve his eagerly anticipated desire and travel over the rainbow to earth, where he has been lovingly awaited. A great deal of therapeutic wisdom for a child’s delicate soul is contained within this picture book: my existence is part of a whole, I am wanted on earth, I have a task here. This is the world in which a child under ten should naturally move.

When the questions become a bit more pressingly “philosophical”, the creation story is covered in class 3 in Waldorf school. The child learns in powerful images of the wisdom of creation, but also the stories of the expulsion from Paradise and the Flood, as well as the possibility of human freedom. That Adam was formed from earth can be readily accepted – but what else is available on earth? The creation of Eve from Adam’s body does not represent any aspect of inferiority, but this should rather be used to emphasise their original connection for all the differences between the two sexes. Children in class 3 deal with these things quite pragmatically and learn about the miracles of life over the course of this school year, above all in a practical manner: they experience how big, strong plants grow from wheat grains and seed potatoes, they see newborn lambs and piglets on the farm – and that there are differences between bulls and bullocks. This might result in a couple of surreptitious smirks but won’t cause them any real embarrassment.

In these situations, adults would do well to deal with these “facts of life” in a humorous way, as well as without any embarrassment, and in the first instance to avoid going into details that might make the child psychologically uncomfortable.

Over the next few years humour can also offer an important spiritual force when dealing with potentially disturbing content. The way in which in Germanic mythology the first human beings are licked out of the ice by the primordial cow Audhumla fits in well in its ribaldry and crudity with the robust pupils in class 4. When looking for a creation myth in Greek mythology, there is not any one, clear story. Of course it is clear that for most of the gods, above all Zeus, the existence of humanity is something of an inconvenience. Prometheus risk a lot when he positioned himself as a friend to humanity and in opposition to Olympus. At the end of this rich narrative material in class 5, Odysseus is left on his own, deserted by the gods and abandoned to the temptations of the material world.

The eleven-year-old human being, too, can sense the end of the protection of childhood drawing ever closer. What will be the next challenge?

Sex education as a main lesson: life and love

A hundred years ago, Rudolf Steiner regarded the area of ​​sex education as a matter for parents to deal with, and of course he was well in tune with the spirit of his age. Since then, however, the Waldorf curriculum has seen many developments, and the book Sexualkunde in der Waldorfpädagogik (Sex Education in Waldorf Education) contains a lot of ideas for dealing with this subject as a main lesson. My approach is to try and bring the pupils “on board” by the time that they begin to leave childhood behind but before the physical and psychological changes of puberty start visibly showing their effects. In this way, it is possible to speak with them about matters of sexuality without the topic becoming too personal. The parents should have already laid some of the groundwork for this, as they are asked by the class teacher to have a discussion with their children on this subject. However, they can have this discussion in whatever manner they wish. This is vital as a first step, but alone it is not quite enough. Young people want to and should expand their horizons beyond the level of the family.

In the classroom, we begin with the study of reproductive systems in the plant and animal kingdoms and learn that the nearer we get to human beings within the natural world, the closer the relationship between “children” and “parents” becomes. Then, with the help of their parents, the pupils follow their own biography back to infancy and to their mother’s pregnancy. This leads to some interesting discussions at the dinner table...

The development of the embryo leads to awestruck wonder: after seven weeks, the little creature, only two centimetres long, already has eyes, ears, lungs, mouth and nostrils! Only then do we look at the structure and function of the sexual organs. We do this in a thoroughly factual and schematic manner. The subject of menstruation is also handled sensitively, but consistently impersonally, so as not to cause anyone any embarrassment. It is extremely important that the boys too understand the process and are able to show understanding to the women in their lives.

The main lesson becomes more direct towards the end of the second week. The teacher can directly answer children’s questions dropped into a “letterbox”, so that they don’t have to ask them publically. Due to the relationship of trust that has been established up to now, it is also possible to deal with intimate topics openly, of course always with the protection of anonymity. The fact that sexuality is not just about reproduction brings us to the topic for the third week: love. Here, the initial thing that we do is learn a poem by William Blake:

“Love seeketh not itself to please,
Nor for itself hath any care,
But for another gives its ease,
And builds a heaven in hell’s despair.”

So sung a little clod of clay,
Trodden with the cattle’s feet;
But a pebble of the brook
Warbled out these meters meet:

“Love seeketh only Self to please,
To bind another to its delight,
Joys in another’s loss of ease,
And builds a hell in heaven’s despite.”

Then we hear the story of Tristan and Isolde and try to figure out what differentiates “the pebble’s love” from “the clay’s love”. How can altruistic and selfish feelings be inspired by the same person and exist and be felt simultaneously inside me? How do adults deal with this? This is not something that you have had to have experienced yourself by your twelfth year of life - romantic books, films and stories are full of examples that can teach you things for later. By the end of this main lesson the pupils have learnt a lot. The key words, however, are always “love” and “respect”, because without them, sex becomes just a form of the pebble’s love...

If the right tone has been used in school and at home, teenagers are quite relaxed and find it quite normal when pupils in the seventh class start “going out” with each other. This then is not about sexual love, but about the first tentative steps towards looking for a partner, both in a psychologically as well as in a physically manner. Friends develop a certain sense of respect for the pioneers in the class, ideally without putting pressure on themselves. The group is relaxed and everyone is accepted, no matter where they find themselves in their development at that particular moment: “Everything is good when everyone is good”. The more mature the young people become, the less often they will have to turn to the adults for help and advice when it comes to their love life. Therefore, it is especially important that the class community remains strong, tolerant and open, and that all pupils have somebody understanding that they can talk to.

Note: Sven Saar: “LIFE CYCLES” – A sex education main lesson for the sixth class. The complete text is available in German on the Erziehungskunst archives under the following link:

About the author: Sven Saar is a class teacher at the Wahlwies Free Waldorf School in Stockach and is currently taking a sabbatical in England.