Although all three are always included in the educational process, one of the three is emphasized according to the child’s age and development.
Steiner (1861–1925) taught that from birth to six, the hands and will of the child is the focus. From seven to thirteen, the heart and feelings are centered on. And from fourteen on the thinking and head are emphasized.
In my mind, this somewhat coordinates with Aristotle’s (384—322 B.C.) classical methodology which breaks the learning process into three age groups – grammar, logic and rhetoric. The five to nine year old learns through recitation and hands on learning – the hands, the ten through thirteen year old is taught how to think – using his head, and the teen is taught how to eloquently express what he discovers and thinks – combining the head, heart, and hands. The age before school is not usually addressed.
Let’s take the concept of teaching the head, heart, and hands back even further in educational history to the Biblical book of Deuteronomy (believed to be written between 641–609 BC)
“Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” (Deuteronomy 6: 4 – 9)
Jesus later added the word “mind” to the command to love the Lord. God commands parents to “teach” children’s hearts, souls, might, and mind. Although the Biblical lesson does not break it down by age – it does give insight in how to accomplish this.
“Words that I command you today shall be on your heart” – through feeling, emotions, and memorization.
“Teach them diligently” – Diligent means “constant in effort to accomplish something” (dictionary.com). Therefore we are to incorporate rhythm, consistency, and review.
“Talk of them … when you sit …walk … lie down …rise” – Teach the head through “talk,” discussions, lectures, instilling knowledge verbally – in an ongoing dialogue.
“Bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” All of which are very hands on, physical means of teaching.
Notice God instructs His believes to use all the senses to teach (see it, hear it, touch it). In other parts of the Bible He covers the other two:
Then the LORD said to Moses, “Take for yourself spices, stacte and onycha and galbanum, spices with pure frankincense; there shall be an equal part of each. “With it you shall make incense, a perfume, the work of a perfumer, salted, pure, and holy. “You shall beat some of it very fine, and put part of it before the testimony in the tent of meeting where I will meet with you; it shall be most holy to you.” (Exodus 30:38)
“Taste and see that the LORD is good” (Psalms 34:8)
Although I don’t agree with all Steiner’s philosophy behind his head, heart, hands methodology – teaching the whole child has its roots in both Classical and Biblical pedagogy.
Note: To read more about Steiner’s philosophy of teaching the whole child I recommend
“This is Not Head-to-Head Education”: Whole Child Development in a Waldorf School by Elisa Sobo
It is fairly easy to read and understand and it summarizes the original well.