Let it wait – Steiner schools and delayed academics

April 3, 2008 at 4:32 am 7 comments

Anemone

photocredit: anemonecrafts  My copy of You Are Your Child’s First Teacher is due back at the library on Monday, so I’ve been busily re-reading it. As soon as a second hand copy comes up I’ll be jumping to buy it – it is such a wonderful resource. One of my favourite chapters is on cognitive development and early childhood education.

One of the things people often struggle with about Waldorf schools is the delayed academics, in particular not teaching reading until the age of seven.  As Baldwin-Darcy says ‘there is tremendous pressure in our society to teach reading, writing and math to children at an increasingly early age’. 

 Parents I know delight when their three year olds love books and start to recognize words. Understandably, we are all so proud of our children, we want them to achieve. But what are they achieving? 

Little children can copy at a rote level, but they’re probably not using the (neurological) circuits which will connect with meaning. Let it wait. Children of this age should not be sitting at desks, doing academic tasks. Get their busy brains out doing and learning, not practicing lower level skills” Jane Healy – Your Child’s Growing Mind 

In fact, there is no evidence that early academics has any long term benefits at all –  despite not being taught to read before the age of seven, by age nine Waldorf /Steiner educated kids are achieving just as well academically. 

Baldwin-Darcy describes a typical Steiner kindergarten (for 3-6 year olds). The days activities include story time, snack time, arts and crafts, a movement and singing circle, and lots of free play, usually outside.  Rather than copying letters and struggling with maths, these five and six year olds are crafting animals out of beeswax, making bread, digging in the sandpit, singing songs, running, exploring, having fun. Of course they are learning, but the three ‘r’s are not the focus here.  

Reading this made me think of what delayed academics might have meant for some people I know who hated school. Right from day one, they struggled with reading, hated sitting still. Right from day one, they were labeled as ‘struggling’. Meetings were held with their parents. Extra tuition was sought. By the time they were seven, about the age that Steiner kids are just starting more structured lessons, these children were convinced they were dumb.  

One man I spoke to said ‘class-room – dumb. after school tuition – dumber. Reading recovery programme – dumbest’.   I loved school. I loved writing, I loved reading, and I shied away from anything artistic or physical. I was not the ideal Steiner child. I wonder if a Steiner/Waldorf school would have made me a more balanced person – rather than being labeled as an ‘academic’ sort of child at the tender age of 4. Perhaps more physical play, more singing, more painting and crafting would simply have been more fun, more healthy than reading chapter books at 6. I don’t know.

So why do we push our children so hard? Is it from pride – that we want our little Munchkins to prove how clever they are? It is from fear – that if they don’t start early they will never catch up? Is it because we think that’s what good parents do – after all every mainstream parenting magazine has ads from Leapfrog and Fisher Price encouraging us to buy their ‘educational’ toys. I suspect it’s a little bit of all of these things – a symptom of our middle class neurosis.

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Entry filed under: Steiner/Waldorf, Uncategorized.

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7 Comments Add your own

  • 1. renaissancemama  |  April 3, 2008 at 1:49 pm

    I also borrowed that book from the library and had a hard time giving it back. It would be a nice book to own. This was a great post, and these are thoughts I’ve been thinking of often lately since my son is getting to the age where he is expected to start learning these academic type things. I agree with the author of this book about delayed academics but I must admit, even though I’m used to doing things a little different than the norm, this is one area that has been having me feel really “out there”. There isn’t a Waldorf school in my area so I don’t personally know many people who adhere to this philosophy- it’s nice to know there are others out there with similar ideas.

    Reply
  • 2. ncnikki  |  April 4, 2008 at 8:39 am

    Interesting post. I considered Steiner as an option before settling on Unschooling because of the delayed/relaxed style of learning at the childs pace. In our case though (not sure how it sits with Steiner or what they suggest with children that want to write and read?), I go with my ds’s desire to write and read as it occurs to him (he’s almost 5). I don’t “teach” to him, but offer and help him out when he’s requested it. BTW, thanks for visiting my blog, I will have a better read of yours too.

    Reply
  • 3. domesticallyblissed  |  April 4, 2008 at 9:25 am

    Isn’t it great that in blogland you can get comments from an unschooler on one hand and someone who is concerned about starting reading at seven might be perceived by others as ‘way out there’! Thanks so much for reading my blog and taking the time to comment. Personally, one of my ‘fantasies’ would be a Waldorf inspired unschooling. No TV, no commercial influences, lots of arts, crafts, natural materials, songs, rhythym, festivals … but no curriculum and lots of being child-led. Maybe one day!

    Reply
  • 4. henitsirk  |  April 6, 2008 at 12:52 am

    Have you ever read anything by John Taylor Gatto? He says some amazing things about mainstream compulsory education….like it was really just designed to create obedient masses of consumers, and certainly not any healthy free thinkers. We’ve become so unbalanced in our public schools–sacrificing the arts and physical activity to focus solely on academics, using teaching methods that don’t work anyway!

    Email me your address, and I’ll send you my copy of Rahima’s book! I’ve read it so many times I practically have it memorized.

    Reply
  • 5. domesticallyblissed  |  April 6, 2008 at 7:10 am

    Hi Anthromama! I must get John Taylor Gatto out of the library, he keeps cropping up for me. Its funny, as a teenager I hated the idea of school being about anything other than academics becasue I was only good at school work – and school rewarded that behaviour. Its only now I can see how unbalanced that is – and yet we are considered the “lefty loonies”

    Reply
  • 6. anemonecrafts  |  April 9, 2008 at 12:15 am

    great discussion here, thanks for bringing up this topic. I am learning a lot from your blog:) also it is nice to see my illustration illustrating something!

    -kimberlee

    Reply
  • 7. domesticallyblissed  |  April 9, 2008 at 12:58 am

    Kimberlee – I am the biggest fan of your drawings – they are actually incredibly Steiner in their feel 🙂

    Reply

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