Why Gnomes?

At Calder Valley Steiner School, gnomes and other invisible beings play a very visible part in the children’s education. In our Parent and Child classes for the under 3s, one of the perennial activities for both parents and children alike is the making of little felt gnomes, of different colours, with large fluffy heads and long woolly beards. In the kindergarten, gnomes will appear on the seasonal nature table, nestled amongst rocks and crystals; or in the form of a Tidy Gnome who looks after all the toys and keeps the kindergarten in good order when the children are at home. In the kindergarten or the lower classes of the school, the children may make gnomes of their own, from felt and wool, a pine cone, or simply a twig found on a walk, and given a hat and a beard. As the children in the school grow older, the gnomes may gradually begin to step back from the classroom. But what are they doing there in the first place?

Through our education and curriculum, we try to foster in the children a sense of empathy, wonder and respect for the natural world. Just as we seek to engender care and respect for the plant world, the animal world, as well as the world of humanity, because they are all imbued with life, so too we seek to engender a sense of care and respect for the mineral world as if it were something also imbued with life. Young children especially have an incredible empathy for the earth: digging, picking up stones, or playing with sand. They do not necessarily experience the earth and the rocks as something dead. With the worlds of plants, animals and humans, we already experience these as imbued with life. With the mineral world, this possibility is easily overlooked.

Gnomes are the embodiment of the life of the earth as a mineral entity. Thus they are associated with rocks and mountains, deep mines and caves, their quick-witted intelligence encompassing the whole earth. The gnomes are important because they encourage us, or simply help to keep alive the possibility that the mineral earth still holds within it the faintest glimmer of life. Without the help of the gnomes, we might be inclined to let go of such a thought entirely. While the idea that the earth is not made up of entirely dead substance can be transformed or rejected later in life, in the young child (alongside other aspects of the education) it helps to engender a loving respect of all aspects of the natural world, including the apparently dead mineral world. Because of this, gnomes have a significant role to play in children’s education. This is forward looking, and may help lay the basis of a deep global ecology suitable for the twenty first century. However, though gnomes may be represented and spoken of a real within the school, whether parents or children believe gnomes are real, or symbolic of something else, or how they are spoken of in the home, is up to them. Be that as it may, the role they play within the school is a very real one.

by Richard Bunzl

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