What is a ‘Main Lesson’ and why is it such a big part of the timetable?

The core of the Steiner curriculum, around which everything else revolves, is the programme of ‘main lessons’. Depending on the age of the pupil, the main lesson may constitute as much as the first two hours of their morning timetable (reducing to 80 minutes in Classes 10-12 to make way for exam subjects). Each topic-based main lesson is a discrete unit, meaning that pupils study the same subject every week day morning, normally for three or four weeks at a time. None of the main lessons at Edinburgh Steiner School is designed to prepare pupils for an exam.

The thematic approach characteristic of the main lesson is common enough in mainstream primary schools, but in Steiner schools the main lesson programme runs all the way through the senior school as well: it doesn’t matter which exam subjects a pupil has chosen to pursue, they will still get their main lessons in everything from ‘mechanics’ to ‘romanticism’, as well as craft activities, music and drama. The whole curriculum at the age of 17 and 18 is
therefore uniquely broad.

Subjects like botany, farming, astronomy, ancient Greece, geology, trigonometry (all of them taught as main lessons at Edinburgh Steiner School) are covered to a greater or lesser extent in mainstream schools; the unique difference is not so much in the content, but in the way each subject is taught, when it is taught and how the topics are taught in relation to each other.

For example, in Class 3 (when a child is about nine years old) the curriculum pays close attention to the spiritual as well as the intellectual stage the child has reached. At this age, children are gradually becoming aware of the concept of personal responsibility. The main lessons delivered in Class 3 are therefore designed to introduce the children to meaningful adult occupations such as building, farming and fishing. However, the content of the subjects themselves is less important than the process of the learning. The overarching theme of the lessons—the ‘world of work’—becomes a vehicle for wider-reaching and more fundamental outcomes: through ‘building’ the children learn about the importance of
cooperation, precision, dedication, artisanal practice and so forth.

If the stories, activities and sensory impressions brought through this main lesson are effective, they will bequeath a legacy that will pass in the very soul of the child, there, in a manner of speaking, to mature unseen until unlocked by the passions of later life.

Lower School Curriculum (Main Lessons in bold)

Upper School Main Lessons Programme

Clay embryos from the Embryology Main Lesson