My daughter will be starting school for the first time soon, for 5 full days a week. It is a huge transition for our little family unit, but especially for the two of us, as we have spent the last three years together. I know she will thrive there, as we did not take this decision lightly, and she is so social and loving that I have no hesitation that she will be able to adjust with ease. I am so excited for her, but I’m not going to lie, my heart will be very heavy to see her go. It will remain even heavier knowing that I should still be home with what would’ve been a three month old baby, lost four months into the pregnancy. It is a time of tremendous change in my own life, when rather than continue to be home with a baby, I will be returning to work instead.
With two weeks to go, anticipation and excitement is mounting, and suddenly, so are the naysayers. Out of the blue, within the month or so before starting school, friends seem to be crawling out of the woodwork with unsolicited opinions about our choice of schooling. Opinions that remained unspoken when we were weighing our options and looking at different schools, but now that school is about to start and there’s no turning back, they suddenly feel compelled to lay them on me.
I have spent over a decade incessantly defending my lifestyle choices – phasing out toxins and plastic in our home, eating organic, etc… Then I became a parent, and had to tack on numerous explanations about co-sleeping, extended breastfeeding, and even cloth diapering. I never, ever dreamed that I’d be in the same position when it came to choosing an education for my daughter. It is increasingly frustrating this time around, as the criticism is coming from like-minded friends who often have had to defend the very same lifestyle and parenting choices as I have.
I was even more disheartened when I learned that this was common among the homeschooling and Waldorf community. If we can afford to keep her at a Waldorf school, am I now up against another aspect of our lives that I will have to justify to those around me? I would never dare to breach the subject of a child’s education with another parent if they were not asking for my advice directly. Particularly if all I had to say were bad things that may or may not even be true.
The conversation or email typically starts with what I like to call the “why we decided not to do Waldorf” list of “red flags” and inevitably includes something to the effect that their child or children began reading as a fetus, and they didn’t want to be forced to prevent their exceptional offspring from learning. As if there are Waldorf police raiding homes and locking parents up for allowing their children to explore their own abilities like reading.
When this was all brought up at my daughter’s birthday party and in the multiple emails I received, I refused to engage in the “how gifted my child is” conversation, and just moved on. While it is tempting to provide examples of how my daughter has excelled at things all on her own, I often feel as though statements like, “My child started [insert milestone here] at [insert advanced, phenomenal age here]” only serve to make the parent feel better about themselves. Is it really in their child’s best interest to be so concerned about making sure they learn this or that at such an early age? Not everyone thinks so.
The Cambridge Primary Review, conducted by The University of Cambridge, was a three year study examining England’s primary schools. Their findings and controversial recommendations to raise the age children start school to six years old are discussed here: “Many teachers feel obliged to prioritise literacy and numeracy as well as to drill four-year-olds in the routines of lining up and sitting still and listening. Goals are set that not all pupils can meet, undermining their confidence…There is no evidence that a child who spends more time learning through lessons – as opposed to learning through play – will ‘do better’ in the long run. In fact, research suggests the opposite; that too formal too soon can be dangerously counterproductive. In 14 of the 15 countries that scored higher than England in a major study of reading and literacy in 2006, children did not enter school until they were six or seven. And more children read for pleasure in most of those countries than do so in England.”
I could continue about Finland’s stellar education system that is being examined worldwide for its success, baffling US educators because they don’t start school until age 7, spend less time in the classroom, have little emphasis on homework and testing, yet continue to exceed in the international ranks. However, I shouldn’t have to talk about Finland, or The Cambridge Primary Review, because frankly, those things never even factored into our decision about Waldorf.
I have always parented with my heart. Long before I got pregnant, probably even before we started trying to conceive, I knew I would breastfeed, wear my baby and co-sleep. It wasn’t until I was pregnant and reading “The Baby Book” when I learned there was actually a term to describe all of those things. When I finally read about “attachment parenting,” it was only an affirmation of everything I’d already known I wanted to do. I didn’t need to read any scientific arguments as to why I should do this or that – I knew in my heart that those were things I would do if I could.
I had a similar experience when reading, “You Are Your Child’s First Teacher.” My daughter was nearly two, and I just found myself saying, “We already do that…we do that too! And that…” Certainly, when it comes to a formal Waldorf education, there are more things to consider, and there will always be small compromises or exceptions to weigh in any education choice. My husband and I examined all aspects of it carefully, as well as each school individually since Waldorf schools and their practices can vary school to school. We considered Montessori and even homeschooling, and proceeded to enroll at the Waldorf school.
It was our decision to make, and quite frankly, nobody else’s business. Perhaps it’s because Waldorf and homeschooling are outside of the norm that people feel the need to volunteer their opinions. I know some who have their kids enrolled at highly competitive preschools, who are constantly touting the school’s reputation for excellence and superior performance in teaching very young children math and reading. I cannot even fathom speaking up to another parent about such a thing just because I may disagree with that approach. Maybe I’m alone in this, but I feel like there is a line in parenting, and unless the child is being physically or emotionally harmed or traumatized, if that parent is loving them and trying their best, then that line should not be crossed and the decisions they make as parents are theirs and theirs alone.
Amy Serotkin is dedicated to sustainable living and finding ways to eliminate toxins in her home. She is an avid organic gardener and cook, and is always looking for more ways to challenge herself to lessen her family's ecological imprint.
Her website, www.themindfulhome.blogspot.com, shares with consumers the information she's found on toxins and eco friendly products that help eliminate disposables or toxin exposure. She also hopes to highlight smaller retailers, crafters and manufacturers.