We have a 4 year old, who is, aristic, free-spirited and incredibly gentle, reverent and kind. In every way, a Waldorf child, Not surprisingly, her best friends are children who have either been through a Waldorf school, or currently enrolled there. Given her natural inclinations and proclivities, we sent her to a 'mainstream' private school so she could learn the 'other' side of education (we were naturally providing her with a life that was reflected Steiner philosophies). She has had a very puzzling and emotionally difficult time. She finds the children rough, wired, rude, and vicious - to each other and often towards her. We would transfer her into a Waldorf school in a heart beat - but she is highly academically inclined. The thing she likes most about school is learning to read, write and count - in apparently the traditional way.
What should we do? What are the options for children that are kind and gentle but also academic?
(We are desperate as we watch her question her basic assumptions about her young life as she watches children behave in a manner that is so shocking to her sensibilities).
Bumping this for you. If my child were uncomfortable at a school, I'd take him or her out and pursue homeschool in the meanwhile. I know that's not an option for every family. Perhaps you could try Waldorf school for a bit and do academic work at home? What other private school options do you have in your area?
Mothering an Autumn (08) , a Spring (11) , and another Autumn! (Nov. 2013)
Taking what works and leaving the rest
There seems to be a misconception here: assuming Waldorf schools are not academic. Research has been done the past few years on graduates of 50 or so of the larger, older Waldorf schools in North America. 94% attend university and an astounding 50% attain a Masters degree or a PhD. Those same grads study in all the same fields all university students do, and they then enter professional fields equally as varied.
Waldorf schools are definitely secure, natural and family-oriented environments. They are organized on the priniciple of "the right thing at the right time." The schools are escpecially "learn at your own pace" in the early years because that is what is most obviously needed early on, along with strong physical growth, proper imitation and a protection of the senses from overstimulation and too-early intellectualization. However, what students need in the teen years is much exposure to modern history, complex math and science, deep questioning of methods of thought and the status quo, along with an innner journey of why they are here and what they might like to do.
Waldorf students learn things such as physics and algebra earlier and more intensely that students do at most other schools. They also engage with technology from more of a discovery angle than other students and thus tend to have a more creative approach to its application. All of this accompanies Waldorf's well-known integrated approach, meaning that complex math, science and literature, for example, are seen as complimentary but never separate from fine arts, music, movement and drama. This foster confident, creative thinking problem solvers with the wil power and interest to evolve the human experience for themselves and others.
In the end, Waldorf students love to learn and stay in school for a long time because they are inquisitive, productive and tend to see things from mulitple angles. In short, they know how to think and learn.
What's more academic than that?
Although I agree with fundevolution---and I suspect you might as well---there is yet another way to look at this. What grade is your child in? If next year she'll be in at least second grade this might not be as much of an issue as you think. By then, her classmates will be working with all 4 operations in math and many of them will be on her reading level. Of course, some will be reading less than her but a lot can be said for the benefits of mixed ability classrooms. I would say what you ought to consider is how well she will respond to whole class teaching and how skilled your particular teacher is in identifying different aptitudes and supporting them. I think many parents share your hesitancy about the slower pace at Waldorf schools, especially when they have kids who relish tackling early reader books or math worksheets. However, I think it is important to remember that early academic gains don't always translate into working above and beyond a child's peers later on. What matters most for academic excellence over the long haul may be the peer group. Will your child be with other kids who are not burned out on school? Do the kids find ways to "play" that involves building things, solving problems, and asking interesting questions? Are the kids supportive of their friends' different interests and abilities? Do the kids continue working on stuff introduced in school in their own free time or do they just want to turn that all off when they get home? One of the things I really, really like about Waldorf kids is how they don't enact strict boundaries between their "work" and "leisure" activities. Its not so noticeable in the younger grades but very evident around middle school and up.
I think there are many kind and gentle and academic kids at Waldorf schools. The difficulty is that there is some variation as to when the academic part begins to bloom. You know your kid best but I wouldn't overly worry about her needs being met unless the entire class is far slower than her (and it bothers your daughter) and you and the class teacher aren't able to find additional ways to support her budding abilities. Since you're asking this question, I'm already sure she has a great advocate in you. :)
Ooops. Sorry. You said your daughter is 4. In that case you've got about 3 more years until direct instruction in mathematics and how to decode words begins. If she is really hungry for that right now, you could just work on it at home and let her get other things out of her school environment. Or, you might want to try an accredited Montessori program and keep having playdates with your Waldorf friends. Again, you are the best judge of how much academic work she is yearning for right now. In our case, there was no downside to waiting. Best of luck to you.
Disclaimer: My advice is biased as my daughter went through Waldorf kindy and is now in class 1. She really enjoyed kindy and has now thrown herself joyfully into class 1.
I would advise trying a Waldorf kindy and seeing how it fits. Childhood is so fleeting, her chance to have meaningful play is now. Although they start academics later the children are still learning a lot of good things in kindy - the abilty to play and explore is very important for setting up good behaviours (academic and social) in later life.
Part of the Waldorf philosophy for kindy age children is that although they may show an interest in many things (ballet, piano) they are too young to be taught it. By all means let them explore what they are interested in (especially through play!), but don't force them down a route for something which may be just a passing fancy. If your daughter wants to learn to read now she will most likely do it anyway - http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/freedom-learn/201002/children-teach-themselves-read.
You may find it more challenging though with the Waldorf emphasis on later academics, if you feel it is important now. As you probably know, with Waldorf friends, if you send your child to a Waldorf school/kindy you are expected to follow the no screen time, no formal teaching at home and not pay lip service to it. I feel that the disconnect between what she would be learning at kindy and her home life might not be advisable if you choose to home school while sending her to kindy.
It is also important to note that mainstream research also supports the later introduction of academics whichever route you choose to follow:
"It found a "strong and widespread conviction" that children are ill-served by starting formal learning at four, as currently happens in many areas of the country and as is being proposed by the government as a national policy. Starting formal learning before the age of six "dents children's confidence and risks long-term damage to their learning".
Good luck with whichever path you choose to follow.
I might be able to help. My wife and I had four children. Both of us are trained Waldorf teachers, so naturally when our children came along we wanted for them to have a Waldorf education.This was 35 years or so ago. Actually all four were educated by the Steiner approach from 7 years old to 19 and all continued on to higher education. The eldest in particular is academic and is now a young professor at an American university. She was very bright as a child so I think you would call her academic. Before she went to school we had her at home as we lived in the country, so the four children played a lot together, drew a lot, heard stories that my wife and I told or read to them, sang nursery rhymes, moved and danced, and were outside in nature a great deal. I never encouraged the eldest girl to read or write as I knew she could come to this in time, indeed when she was aged nine she took to reading quickly and never looked back. I would say to you, if you like the sound of Waldorf education, just wait on it. There is so much else one can do with young children. Leave it to the grade teacher when your child enters the first grade. Even if you think your child is bright, or brighter than the others, just let her move along at the pace of the group. There will be other children who have different kinds of gifts and they will be able to learn from each other. In the end, your child will find her own way into life. Don't worry.
Beautifully put Peter. Gives me a lot to think about since this thread hits close to home for me. My almost 4yo seems very academic too & I was just questioning the waldorf approach also. I agree with fih-r that formal learning at four is not the greatest approach. Good luck!!
Wife of 10 yrs to Oaties, Mama to Bubs 08/06/08, Rizie 04/19/10 & MRae 02/02/13 & to
My son wrote words at age 3. in fact he was sounding out O-B-A-M-A in the back of my car at election time. He was in pre school at the time, but I decided to pull him out anyways. I felt his childhood was slipping away and his life was getting too serious. While he liked the academics, he hated the structured time in preschool and how, as soon as him and his friends invented something fun to play, it was time for clean up. I moved him into parent co-op waldorf inspired play group, because at that age, I believe the play is more important. He would have learned to read quicker than he did I'm sure, if we continued the academic way, but oh, the things he would have missed!! Childhood is short and precious, and as much as we all think our child is the smartest on earth, we should also think his life as a child is the most precious thing on earth.