Originally Posted by fustian
It's interesting to me that people are suggesting Montessori. I attended a Montessori school when I was very young and apparently I loved it. There are several Montessori schools within about a half an hour to forty five minute drive from us - further than I would like, but certainly not impossible. I did go and visit one of the Montessori programs, but was turned off by their focus on early academic achievement. The director of the school was pushing the fact that the kids were learning academics early, and thus had some sort of academic advantage over their non-Montessori peers. However, this may have been a result of a pitch made to a perceived audience, and not as indicative as to what the school is like as I assumed.
I know that this conversation has veered off the OP's original question, but we decided to go with Montessori so I just wanted to say how we got there. I read a lot about Waldorf on this community, and was really surprised to learn how strict it was. It also helped explain the friends I had in high school who had gone to a Waldorf school!
I think that so many of us hear stories about the love of learning being knocked out of very young kids in public schools that we translate this into distaste with the idea of early academic achievement. But I eventually came to the conclusion that early academic achievement has nothing to do with FORCED early academic achievement.
Children in Montessori schools often seem to (according to the anecdotal research I've done) indeed read and write fairly early, but the difference between this and mainstream school is that they are given the tools, to work with at their own pace, and they come to traditional academic skills in their own time and at their own pace. If you read about the Montessori activities (I recommend "A Parent's Guide to the Montessori Classroom", which is really just a pamphlet but outlines all the major work), they are designed to be very specific steps on a road to the academic skills, each of which requires the child master it before moving on.
Over in the Montessori community there are very frequent threads about parents being upset at how "strict" or "structured" the Montessori classrooms are, how there's no imagination allowed, how the teacher doesn't let the children play with the toys however they want. I think that on the surface all of this is true, but the underlying reasons are very valid. The truth is that children thrive under structure: Waldorf is all about structure though it's called rhythm. The main difference is that in a Waldorf classroom (and in most preschool classrooms) the whole class follows the same rhythm, while in Montessori the child is taught the structure of each activity, and then allowed to go it alone. By working on the activity of their choice, the children really learn to master it, and this mastery gives them the skill to work on the next activity. The activities slowly build up to various academic skills, and before you know it your child is writing or reading or multiplying two digit numbers, with nary a workbook or forced memorization drill in sight.
The fact is that some children do pick up on academic skills faster than other children. My sister was probably profoundly gifted, and could read by the time she was two (I'm not making that up) and she and her friend who was definitely profoundly gifted sat around and read calculus textbooks in first grade. Waldorf probably would have driven both to suicide! On the other hand, I was a much more laid back kid, totally into my own little fantasy world, and wasn't reading fluidly until the summer before third grade when I kind of figured it out on my own: I probably would have flourished at a Waldorf school.
But my point is that having a blanket concept of early academic achievement being a bad thing is, in my personal experience, not a constructive way to view many kids. Once I learned more about how strict Waldorf is in keeping kids on the same track, I had the realization that my beef isn't with early academics, but with expecting all kids to follow the same path to the same place (I'm still no longer nearly as smart as my sister, but I'm no slouch either), whether that track is "early" or "late." This realization made me choose Montessori. To my knowledge, besides a Sudbury type school experience, Montessori is the only curriculum that really lets a child learn at his own pace.