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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