Waldorf Education has grown from its humble beginnings in North America to include more than 160 schools across the continent, 250 early childhood centers, 17 teacher training institutes, 1 school entirely adapted for children with special needs, 1 school adopted by Native Americans and 8 schools with educational programs designed in partnership with farms practicing organic or biodynamic agriculture. So as you can see, this independent school movement has grown to have a huge reach and influence across the continent and remains as exciting and challenging as the day it started.
COMMON MYTHS ABOUT WALDORF EDUCATION: READING
Is it true that Waldorf students are not taught to read until second grade?
No! Learning to read is an entire process with many contributory facets, and Waldorf Education undertakes reading instruction in almost the opposite way that it is introduced in most schools across the nation Indeed, the foundation for reading instruction is laid already in the kindergarten.
In the Canada, the mainstream approach to reading has been to introduce decoding skills as the first step in the reading process. This entails memorizing the alphabet and its corresponding sounds through repetitive drills and then linking these sounds together to read simple words and sentences. This is the approach that is built into early readers. You probably remember: “See Dick run. Run, Dick, run. Run, run, run.”, or some similar type of reading material when you were in school. Because the content of these early readers must be very simple to restrict words to those that can be easily sounded out, teachers are forced to wait until the middle and upper elementary years to work on more sophisticated texts. Then teachers must work hard to improve comprehension since the pupils at this age have already moved beyond the phase of where imaginative thinking is at its peak.
There is a second concern about teaching reading skills in this sequence. This approach is difficult for many young children because, in many cases, their eye muscles have not matured to the point where they can track properly on a page. Thus, a number of children will be labeled as slow or remedial readers simply because their eyes may not have matured as early as other children.
Waldorf Education approaches reading instruction from an almost opposite direction specifically so that instruction is synchronous with the development of children. Reading is much more than recognizing sound/symbol relationships. For true reading to occur, there must be a corresponding inner activity that takes place as the child decodes words: that is, the child must form an inner picture of what he or she is reading so that comprehension develops. The rich life of the imagination is most potent in a child during kindergarten and early elementary years and is present at the same time that the child’s sense for the sound and rhythm of language is at its peak.
To capture these capacities at the time that they are most present in the child is the rationale for a foundation of reading that begins first with spoken language. The rich language of fairy tales, the pictorial imagery of songs and poems and the desire of the young child to listen to stories and repeat rhymes and sing songs all become the basis for a language arts curriculum through which a child may come to love “the word”. Imagine how much more complex and imaginative are the stories to which a child may be introduced if they are orally presented rather than through the simplistic language of a reader. Imagine how much a child’s vocabulary can develop from listening to the content that the teacher brings. Imagine also how much more sophisticated a child’s understanding (comprehension) of the world can become through hearing the rich and complex language in the teacher’s presentations and stories.
For all of these reasons, Waldorf students will be given a strong foundation in comprehension, vocabulary and in the sounds and meanings of their native tongue. Then students will be introduced to writing and spelling the letters and words that are part of their stories. And, as a final step, the students will read from their own texts describing the stories that they have heard. In this way, students have the proper time to develop all of the skills that are part of the complex skill of reading at the time when it is most appropriate for them to do so. When reading is approached in this way, children become voracious readers who love and understand what they choose to read.
There’s More to Reading than Meets the Eye
COMMON MYTHS ABOUT WALDORF EDUCATION: RELIGION
Is Waldorf Education Christian?
COMMON MYTHS ABOUT WALDORF EDUCATION: COMPUTERS
Why do Waldorf elem
entary schools not utilize computers as part of the classroom instruction, and does this pose an impediment for students as they go on to high school?
Computers are incredible tools that save adults enormous amounts of work and time. Computersare not, however, the most desirable or effective medium for educating children in the elementary school. Several concerns will be summ
arized here, but books by Joseph Chilton Pearce, Neil Postman, Jane Healey and The Future Does Not Compute by Steven Talbot explore this topic in much more depth.
The primary reason that Waldorf schools do not use computers is our insistence that young children make contact with real people and real environments in order to build a base of real experience. Language skills, for instance, depend upon a responsive human being who listens, responds, and communicates feelings as well as content.
Children who use word processing are missing the lessons of will and purpose involved in writing out a lesson with their own hand, as well as the spatial sense and aesthetic judgment which are part of the practice of handwriting. We believe children learn better from experience in the real world than from reading information on a computer. Knowing about frogs mean
s smelling the pond, feeling the slipperiness of the frog’s skin, listening to the frog’s call, and watching the patience of the frog catching his supper. The real world is much more complex and whole than the virtual world of the computer.
Young children who use a computer to write a paper only too quickly depend on down-loading the ideas and thoughts of others and forego the time and effort involved in being original. And for the younger child, sitting in front of a computer, rather than moving and acting in the real world, robs the child of the very activity that “hardwires” his own brain and ultimately assists in the thinking process itself. The controversy over computer technology in the elementary classroom rages amongst educators across the nation, but the reality is that Waldorf students do not suffer deficits from not having computer instruction, but indeed develop important capacities of imagination, thought and will-power by not depending upon computers to do their work at this age.
Waldorf teachers do not believe computers are always inappropriate. They simply believe they are not effective educational tools for young children. In a Waldorf high school you may find students actually building their own computers, thereby developing a more thorough knowledge of computers and technology than most children who grew up with them from the beginning.
Waldorf students have a love of learning, an ongoing curiosity, and interest in life. As older students, they quickly master computer technology, and graduates have successful careers in the computer industry.
For additional reading, please refer to one of the authors mentioned above or see Fools Gold on the Alliance For Childhood’s web site, www.allianceforchildhood.org and The Future Does Not Compute by Steven Talbot.
COMMON MYTHS ABOUT WALDORF EDUCATION: TRANSFERRING
Would a child be at a disadvantage if he were transferred from a public school into a Waldorf school, or out of a Waldorf school into a public school?
Children who transfer to a Waldorf school in the first four grades usually are up to grade in reading, math, and basic academic skills. However, they usually have much to learn in bodily coordination skills, posture, artistic and social activities, cursive handwriting, and listening skills. Listening well is particularly important since most of the curricular content is presented orally in the classroom by the teacher. The human relationship between the child and the teacher is the basis for healthy learning, for the acquiring of understanding and knowledge rather than just information. Children who are used to learning from computers and other electronic media will have to adjust.
Those children who enter a Waldorf school in the middle grades often bring much information about the world. This contribution should be recognized and received with interest by the class. However, these children often have to unlearn some social habits, such as the tendency to experience learning as a competitive activity. They have to learn to approach the arts in a more objective way, not simply as a means for personal expression. In contrast, in their study of nature, history, and the world, they need to relate what they learn to their own life and being. The popular ideal of “objectivity” in learning is misguided when applied to elementary school children. At their stage of development, the subjective element is essential for healthy learning. Involvement in what is learned about the world makes the world truly meaningful to them.
Children who transfer out of a Waldorf school into a public school during the earlier grades probably have to upgrade their reading ability and to approach the science lessons differently. Science in a Waldorf school emphasizes the observation of natural phenomena rather than the formulation of abstract concepts and laws. On the other hand, the Waldorf transferees are usually well prepared for social studies, practical and artistic activities, and mathematics.
Children moving during the middle grades should experience no problems. In fact, in most cases, transferring students of this age-group find themselves ahead of their classmates. The departing Waldorf student is likely to take along into the new school a distinguishing individual strength, personal confidence, and love of learning.