Reading

Myth Busting: How Reading is Taught in a Waldorf School

waldorf reading

Photo by Lord Marmalade

Soon after I discovered Waldorf education, I had a conversation with a friend whose daughter, like my son, was approaching kindergarten age. We lived in Los Angeles, where getting one’s child into the “right” kindergarten had as much significance as getting accepted to Harvard or Yale.

“Have you considered the Waldorf school?” I asked her.

“Oh, we looked at it, but ruled it out because they don’t believe in books. We are a family of readers,” she emphasized.

I was taken aback. Did my friend think that my husband I, both college graduates, didn’t value books or reading?

I knew that reading wasn’t formally taught in a Waldorf kindergarten, and I’d heard that children created their own textbooks, but in all my research, I’d never heard that Waldorf schools were anti-books. I would soon learn that this was one of many common misconceptions about Waldorf education.

In the coming years, I not only enrolled my son in the Waldorf school, but I also enrolled myself in Waldorf teacher training and came to a deeper understanding of how reading is taught. I hope that the insights I’ve gained will help some of you who may be considering Waldorf education.

Blackboard Drawing by Allen Stovall

The Evolution of Language

In the evolution of humanity, spoken language developed first. Then came written language, originally through symbols (think hieroglyphics). Finally, once there was a written language, people learned to read.

This is exactly the sequence in which children master language, and so is the sequence in which reading is taught in Waldorf education. From birth to age seven, the focus is on the spoken word.

The children hear stories – nursery rhymes, nature stories, folktales and fairy tales. Teachers are careful to use the original language of fairy tales without “dumbing them down” or simplifying the language. The teacher is careful to use clear speech and to enunciate. This will help children later when it comes time to learn to write and spell.

In early childhood, language is taught through story time and circle time: songs, verses, rhymes and poems are all incorporated. It may look like play, but language skills are being developed daily.

Repetition

Because the same circle time sequence is repeated daily for 2-3 weeks at a time, children learn the songs and verses “by heart,” and will retain them for life.

Rudolf Steiner, founder of Waldorf education, stressed the importance of repetition when he developed the first Waldorf school in Germany in the 1920’s. Current brain research confirms that repetition aids a child’s brain development. The connections of billions of neural pathways in the brain are strengthened through repeated experiences.

Speaking

A visitor to a Waldorf kindergarten might notice the children are not being taught the ABC’s. They are not given worksheets, nor do they practice reading from books. But we Waldorf teachers know that language skills are being built through the repetition of stories, songs and verses. We are preparing children to read and write through the spoken word.

On the other hand, that same observer is likely to be impressed by the children’s precocious verbal abilities; their impressive vocabulary, and the number of poems and stories that they can recite by heart.

In addition to our work with speech, we work on building a child’s fine motor skills—through activities such drawing, finger knitting and sewing—to prepare children for the next stage of language development: writing.

Writing

It is during first grade in a Waldorf School when the alphabet is formally introduced, but in an imaginative, pictorial way. Think again of hieroglypics. Each letter of the alphabet is introduced as a symbol, representing an element from a story the children are told. For example, they might hear the story of a knight on a quest who had to cross mountains and a valley. The children will then draw a picture with the letter “M” forming the Mountains on either side of the “V” for Valley.

Waldorf Reading

Blackboard Drawing by Allen Stovall

In this way, the child develops a living relationship with each letter and the written word. It is not dry and abstract. Writing is taught in a way that engages the child’s imagination.

After learning all the letters, the next step is to copy the teacher’s writing. Typically the children will recite a poem together until it is learned by heart.

Then the teacher will write the poem on the board, and the children will copy it into their “main lesson books,” the books that children in a Waldorf school create themselves.

Because the children already know the poem and they have learned the alphabet, they will begin to make connections. “Oh, this must spell “brown bear” because both these words start with “B” and those are the first two words of the poem!”

waldorf-reading

Reading

The final step is learning to read, which generally starts in second grade and continues into third grade.

It is important to know that reading requires decoding skills that develop in children at varying ages. In Waldorf education we understand that learning to read will unfold naturally in its own time when a child is given the proper support.

Just as a normal, healthy child will learn to walk without our teaching her, and just as a child miraculously learns to speak her native language by the age of three without lessons, worksheets or a dictionary, so will a child naturally learn to read when she has a positive relationship with the spoken and written word.

Books

Yes, it is true that early readers and textbooks are generally not used in Waldorf education. Instead, the children are fed real literature starting in the earliest years.

Once students are fully reading, they turn to original source texts such as classic literature and biographies, and students will read many great books throughout their grade school years.

What they avoid are early readers of the “See Spot run” variety, and dry, lifeless textbooks.

My Children

It can be hard to trust that this system works, especially when your child’s public school peers are reading at 5, 6 or 7. But I offer you the example of my two sons.

My younger son Will taught himself to read in kindergarten; my older son Harper wasn’t fully reading until third grade. Yet, for each of them, once the decoding skill was unlocked, they became voracious and insatiable readers, consuming piles of books for pleasure throughout their childhood. In high school, Harper scored in the 98th percentile for reading on the SAT.

The age at which they learned to read had no bearing on their lifetime love of reading. However, I believe that the way they were educated had everything to do with it.

Thinking again of my old friend, I wish I knew then what I know now, and could have corrected her misguided perception. Perhaps her children, like mine, might have reaped the bounteous fruits of Waldorf education.

Are your children in a Waldorf school? Are you a Waldorf homeschooler? Considering Waldorf education? Is your child reading yet? Are you concerned about late reading? I’d love to hear your thoughts and comments!

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86 Comments

  • Reply Grace December 9, 2012 at 9:34 pm

    I graduated from a Steiner high school 2 years ago and I am so thankful for my parents sending me there, it is the best thing they ever did for me; and while it is more expensive, and a lot of work from parents, teachers and students, it is well worth it. In saying that, however, Steiner does not suit every child.

    On the note of the reading, I have read (sorry I don’t have a reference for it!) that forcing children to read can be detrimental to their health. When they are forced to read they have a tendency to hold their breath, which stops the blood flow to their eyes and they can end up having poor vision and needing to wear glasses from an early age.

    I must admit I picked up books early on, as did one of my brothers. The other brother took a little longer to latch on to reading, spelling and comprehension, but when he got it, it was all smooth sailing from there.

    And to Marie, Waldorf education is nothing like a cult. That is such a misinformed opinion! Anytime you leave a school you leave that community behind. You moved away and that was your choice. If your children are no longer in those classes why would they be invited to the “class parties”???
    In high school you receive the maths, science, English, art etc etc practice lessons that you need, and they are carried into the main lessons as well. The education can’t just be done by the teachers, it has to be carried on in the home environment too.
    Many of my friends who graduated received high marks on the SAT/STAT test and all got into their chosen fields, including students who had learning disabilities.
    Maybe your children weren’t suited to the education, or you were unlucky and didn’t have a class teacher who was as passionate as they needed to be.

    On a final note I would just like to say that I once over heard a public school teacher saying to a friend of hers that she wasn’t there to teach the children to think, she was there to teach them to be good workers.
    Now I ask you, do you want your children to be little robots doing everything that their government tells them they must, or do you want them to be individuals who can think for themselves and will question if something doesn’t seem right. I know what I would like.

    • Reply Gia W December 27, 2012 at 6:02 pm

      I agree with the class party comment. My boy was in a community center daycare for 5 years going to many parties and playdates for 5 years. Now he attends summer camp with many of the kids and sees them at activities (like Karate) but never gets invited to parties anymore. Also happened with Kindergarten (a constructivist based private school) last year. Waldorf school has been a great fit for him. I guess it depends on kids though: my son has learned a ton of Russian, a bit of Spanish, way way improved drawing, but he was reading above ‘Waldorf’ level first grade already at entry and seems to have lost the sounding out bit now, he shows no interest in reading but can retell stories with amazing details. Math seems OK but probably not on par with where his public school siblings are and both my kids in public and youngest in Waldorf are way way behind the kids in all academic areas compared to the constructivist school (which is one of those academic prep types…lots of gifted kids, mine not so much).

      What I found was that my special needs children with ‘borderline IQ’ did better than expected in public school. My eldest son (adopted when he was 8) was able to read despite having been diagnosed as Moderately mental retardation. He would not have done well in Waldorf. Daughter, also adopted at age 8 could not read, learned to read only after great support of the constructivist school (at age 13 can read simple chapter books like Charolette’s Web).

      My biokids all did fine in public school. Typical kids, nothing great or struggling about them.

      My son in Waldorf school needs a gentle touch but tested spot on average at end of Kindergarten. The kindergarten, constructivist school, insisted he was severely delayed and should repeat kindergarten due solely to academics (not social or emotional or age–in fact he was oldest in that class). They would only let him move on if I got neuropsychological testing done (particularly IQ, dsylexia/pre-reading as too young to diagnose, memory, and ADHD). IQ was 103 (average score is 100), reading was 1.3 (first grade 3rd trimester), no ADHD, memory 183 or very superior range, but working memory was prekindergarten.

      Sorry this got really long. The point was if you can afford it most of us would individualize education by each child. Some do great in public school, some in private, some maybe even boarding, and some in Waldorf or Montosseri or Constructivist.

      I have to admit I am scared that my son won’t learn to read, he really has no interest and seems to be relying on memory to get by so far. He can retell stories word for word, is praised to me as best in class at this, memorize poems, songs, is a beast at the 2 languages, so very oral learning. BUT, at 7.5 years old he still struggles to sound out cat or dog correctly.

  • Reply Marie December 10, 2012 at 5:10 pm

    Grace, I’m very glad that you had a positive experience at your school. However, as I stated in my previous entry, every school is entirely teacher dependent. It sounds as though you had an adequate teacher — great for you. My family, however, did not. Out of three children, only 1 had a decent teacher, the other 2 were fired. One of the teachers was fired for being abusive; the other for lacking the band width to teach even the most basic skills. For you to say that my children were not suited for this education is a very typical response (and one we’ve often heard) from Waldorf fundamentalists who fail to see the shortcomings of this form of education. That said, I have to agree with you that there are many lovely things about a Waldorf education which is why we chose it for our children. But the opportunity costs — both financial and academic — far exceed the benefits.For example, after 8 years of “studying” Spanish and Japanese for an average 5 hours a week each, virtually no students have a fundamental grasp of the language. Ask any 8th grade to say “Is this my house,” in Spanish and you will be greeted with a blank stare and a grin. A common saying amongst the kids is, “This is Waldorf. We don’t have to know anything.”

    As for public school, we couldn’t be happier! The teachers are dedicated, hard-working, specialists who are teaching because they are committed to education not because they want free tuition for their own children. Many of the teachers at our local public high school are experts in their fields of study, having gone into teaching as a second career after working in areas such as medicine, high tech, etc… I don’t think this is an either/or situation; neither public school nor a Waldorf school will necessarily turn your child into a “little robot doing everything that their government tells them they must…” But our children are entering a tough world, one where they will need excellent training to succeed. As parents, we need to decide where they can best find this mixture of well-roundedness and academic excellence, and unfortunately, I stand by my belief that it is not through a Waldorf education.

  • Reply Howard Beale December 15, 2012 at 2:45 pm

    Hello,

    I’d like to address a HUGE misconception about Waldorf teacher salaries and “free” tuition for their children, as Marie suggested.

    My wife is a teacher at a Waldorf school.

    First off, nothing is free. Nothing is given away. If you are a Waldorf teacher the tuition is part of your overall benefits package, yes. Your take home pay reflects that. So for instance, any other teacher might make $45K in a year, where a Waldorf teacher with similar credentials and workload might take home only $32K. See- the cost of the tuition is built into the benefits package. Again, nothing is free. These teachers are just as involved, dedicated, spirited as their counterparts in other private and public schools.

    Marie, where I emphatically agree with you is when you say we are entering a tough world. Yep. We’ll need the best problem solvers in medicine, technology, economics, government etc. in the coming years. Plenty of Waldorf graduates are on that already. More are on the way. They will be ready to meet the challenges of their world. (Not our world, mind you.)

    On that note, I have this conversation with plenty of family and friends and quite simply the world is morphing in front of our eyes, the ground is shifting below our feet. We are all grasping at something we have no clue about in terms of what the world will look like in 25 years, much less how to prepare our kids for it.

    I have a feeling that regardless of the pedagogy that we follow in that preparation, there will be a great need for all of our kids.

    • Reply Marie December 26, 2012 at 8:54 pm

      Reading through these comments, it becomes very clear that not all Waldorf educations and schools are equal. At the school my kids attended, the teachers received a base salary between 38,000 – 54,000 depending upon experience. They also received the huge benefit of free tuition for all of their children. In one case, a teacher had 3 kids in the grade school and 2 in our high school. This is the pre-tax equivalent of over $120,000 — definitely more than a little job perk. This benefit was offered to every specialty teacher, classroom teacher, office worker, and grounds keeper — over 42 kids were getting a free ride with the rest of us paying the way. Many of the teachers had spouses with high income-earning jobs which would have allowed them to easily pay tuition. Instead, we became a sort of home school for Waldorf teachers’ kids — not a good fiscal nor a good community dynamic!

      As for what the future holds, I can only assume that reading and basic math skills will still be a necessity.

  • Reply Melissa December 16, 2012 at 12:05 pm

    Thank you for this explaination. I’m researching different schooling options for my son who turns three in a couple of months, and this was very helpful.

  • Reply Christine M December 16, 2012 at 2:47 pm

    Howard, I have to agree with you that we, as adults, parents or policy makers are only making decisions based on our best “guess work” as per what the future holds or the skills our children may require to succeed in the world of tomorrow. I am not involved in Waldorf, other than as an interested individual, but what I read and understand in regards to Waldorf makes me believe that their emphasis on healthy, loving child development will provide children with the internal skillset they will need to meet any challenge life will bring them.

  • Reply CJ December 17, 2012 at 11:05 pm

    Marie,
    Interesting comment about the language. My daughter is in first grade at a Waldorf school and learning Spanish and Japanese. Every day I am amazed at her ability to integrate words she has learned in both these languages and at the amount she has learned. It is mind blowing to me what she has retained in only 4 months. And that’s just the beginning! I love that she is getting an education that is developmentally appropriate. I could go on and on.

    Thanks for the great article! Waldorf education is so fascinating once you learn the depth of the philosophy and then how modern day science backs it up.

    • Reply Gia W December 27, 2012 at 8:11 pm

      CJ, my son too. His Russian after just a few months is amazing. He was able to give commands like ‘come here’ ‘hold you moms hand’ and interpret ‘she is hungry/hot/cold’ ‘wants tea’ and basically converse with a colleagues recently adopted 4 year old. My son is an oral learner it seems.

  • Reply Sarah Baldwin January 1, 2013 at 5:15 pm

    I am appreciative of the many thoughtful responses that my post on how reading is taught in a Waldorf school has received. I welcome differences of opinion and a lively dialogue. My sincere thanks to all of you who have taken the time to share your thoughts.

    There have been recent comments, however, that have strayed far off the topic of learning to read.

    I’d like to request that any comments left here be respectful and courteous, and relevant to the subject of the post. Otherwise they may not be approved.

    Peace on earth, good will to all.

    Sarah

  • Reply Rachel January 19, 2013 at 1:11 am

    I am wondering if it is an benefit or detriment if your preschool child already enjoys reading and enrolls in a Waldorf-Steiner Method school? Will she love the oral learning and be able to go through all of the lessons that spark her imagination? Has anyone had this experience?

  • Reply gwen March 19, 2013 at 12:54 am

    Lovely article. Thank you!

    Surprisingly petty comment about teacher’s salaries from one of your readers. In a perfect world teachers would actually make $120,000 per year. If teachers get a break for their own children attending a school where they work, then I can only imagine that would help with teacher retention. With the meager salaries they make, perks are in order.

  • Reply Cami May 9, 2013 at 6:25 pm

    I am curious if there is a book with these beautiful pictures and stories than can be used at home to introduce the letters and their sounds to home schooled children? I would love to have that resource!

    Thank you so much for the clear and simple explanation of the Waldorf method for teaching reading. That answers many of my questions.

  • Reply Rebecca May 26, 2013 at 3:49 pm

    Yes Cami, there are tons of Waldorf resources for home use!

    Here are a few alphabet books: The Waldorf Alphabet Book, LMNOP and All the Letters A to Z and The Wise Enchanter.

    http://www.amazon.com/Waldorf-Alphabet-Book-Famke-Zonneveld/dp/0880105593/ref=sr_1_9?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1369598562&sr=1-9&keywords=waldorf

    http://www.amazon.com/All-Letters-Howard-Schrager/dp/0964484609/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1369598630&sr=1-2&keywords=waldorf+alphabet

    http://www.amazon.com/Wise-Enchanter-Journey-Through-Alphabet/dp/0880105623/ref=sr_1_3?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1369598661&sr=1-3&keywords=waldorf+alphabet

    There are also excellent Waldorf homeschool curriculums and many Waldorf inspired parenting blogs and online resources.

  • Reply Iola June 26, 2013 at 4:03 pm

    I’ve written before but can’t remember my previous user name. Have your children completed second grade yet? I’m at that worried phase where my kid did not take off reading at end of second grade! He cannot read a BOB books set 1 book yet (“Mat Sat on Sam”). Well he can read it but takes about 20 seconds and multiple misreading of the 4 words to get it correct. I panicked and bought 3 Bob sets for summer reading and that just made me feel more panicked! No other kids are not reading simple books recommended by the teacher. Also starting the 15 (of 20) kids in his class who have Waldorf school teachers as parents are reading chapter books like Redwall,Pippi Longstocking, and Harry Potter! So what do you think I’m missing! Not sure on 3 girls but the other boy who is not a teacher’s child is reading Frog and Toad and Peter Rabbit. These books were way over my child’s head though. The teacher says wait till next year before I panic and that my child is doing fine and doesn’t need any reading intervention yet: she says he just lacks ‘stamina in reading longer passages’. He can’t spell anything either or write many letters when called out. Anyway, I’m wondering what age/grade and books your (or your blog readers) children started reading if they skipped simple readers. I’m planning to work with him at home despite the teacher’s advice and want to build him up to a ‘typical waldorf’ reading level: for example is Frog and Toad a good goal to aim for a ‘first’ solo reading book or should I aim higher for ‘Redwall’ level books. THANKS!!!

  • Reply Iola June 26, 2013 at 4:24 pm

    Oh, I just wanted to say that my son’s school has a super teacher and she does an amazing job , which is why I think everyone else reads so well, despite most of the kids being children of Waldorf teachers. One other unique thing about my child is that he is the only child in the class without older siblings so maybe that is a reason? My son spends 3-5 hours a day playing with his toys but no time reading outside school. I just feel like there is something I should be doing to help him progress since 1. he has a great teacher (one of best in school) 2. everyone else, even the few non-waldorf teacher kids are doing well 3. maybe the older siblings reading choices are influencing reading of younger kids 4. I read a lot to myself but my son does not care to be read to: he spends 2-3 hours day playing outside with friends after school then 1-2 hours playing with Playmobile play sets on his own 5. He picks lots of books out at library every week but then refuses to sit and let me read any to him

  • Reply R.S. September 9, 2013 at 3:24 pm

    I am currently helping out in a third grade Waldorf inspired public classroom. There are children who are not able to identify the “sound” a letter makes. One darling little girl when asked what sound an “h” makes, always answers “ch”…or for “w”…she says “d”…
    .
    My daughter who is also in the class spent her first years in NYC Public Schools in a GNT classroom. My youngest who was considered on the autisitc spectrum had intensive therapies and is now reading very well. She is six.

    How do Waldorf schools make certain that a development delay is detected before it becomes difficult to “re-route” the brain’s pathways?? Have you had any direct experience with this??? I have read quite a bit of Steiner’s writings but have not come across anything specifically dealing with functional delay. What do private Waldorf schools do if a child can not read by the end of third grade???

    • Reply Marcie Matthews September 11, 2013 at 12:14 pm

      In reply to R.S.,

      I am a trained Waldorf teacher and also recently took a course in early literacy for public school contexts. Waldorf methods are changing right alongside public schools. All are learning from one another. This is of course never an across the board thing – each school holds different methods or traditions as successful and each teacher integrates traditional and new methods. The predictors for early and successful decoding (reading) are phonological awareness and spelling skills as well as certain measurable brain capabilities such as enthusiasm for engaging with print and background knowledge and oral vocabulary and visual capabilities such as frequency of dorsal streaming: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Visual_cortex.

      Traditionally Waldorf school methods have stressed developing oral vocabulary and phonological awareness: a very good Waldorf teacher will have spoken or sung from memory 15 or more poems, songs,and stories by the end of the Main Lesson each morning typically with the children reciting and moving along and virtually all Waldorf teachers intentionally enunciate very clearly using markedly richer language then children will generally hear in any other learning context. These poems and songs repeat, but only for a short time and then are replaced with new ones to match the season of the year and the subject being learned. The children will also rehearse a long very verbal play for at least 8 weeks every year that they will present at least twice to a large and supportive audience. Children who attend Waldorf schools from a young age generally will excel at oral communication and singing to the point that it is awe inspiring. Also hand eye coordination (seeing skills) are addressed daily as the children learn very challenging physical skills – handwork daily and physical education skills and have a special movement class called eurythmy (if the school can afford the teacher) that addresses coordination of all the senses. So Waldorf schools have much to share as far as a curriculum that intentionally and incidentally teaches sensory integration and phonological awareness! Now as for spelling skills, which includes phonics: To understand the seemingly lackadaisical approach Waldorf takes it is necessary to understand that the Waldorf approach developed from a European standard (Europeans don’t get there knickers in a knot about early reading the way we do here). That said there is room for improvement in diagnosing problems early and if the parents choose early intervention.In this case parents need to be aware of the tendency for some Waldorf teachers and administrators to become defensive on the subject and possibly get help outside the school early on if necessary ( i.e. read with your child the way a reading teacher would). If a child has an inherited or acquired need for extra support to be able to read at a college level one day it will generally be caught later in a Waldorf school because weak decoding skills are traditionally not seen as a problem until 4th or 5th grade (9-11 years old)in a traditional Waldorf school. The thought is that the curriculum, which is therapeutic by design, will help with the underlying neurological skills to enable the child to read – just later. Both from research and anecdotal experience there is some basis for this thinking – that early reading is not a great predictor of later reading ability in educated middle or upper class households. These days however many more children are coming to school with sensory integration disorders (both urban and private schools are more challenged to meet the needs of such children) and many Waldorf schools are now including spelling skills instruction starting in first or the first half of second grade (traditionally spelling skills (phonics) did not occur until the second half of second grade, e.g. age 8. This instruction fits in easily to the lesson in which the children copy into their self-made text books. In Waldorf education there will hopefully be more early diagnosis and specific testing as science helps us to learn to detect it.In the end however reading intervention actually amounts to a better reader sitting next to a struggling reader for a certain amount of time each day. No magic there.In schools which stress early reading this means an adult or reading peer works with the child who is struggling or it is done using technology several times a day and at home (it can undermine the child’s self esteem). No school can do it all. If one sends a child to a more academically based school children will not be getting such a well-rounded, classical education as they would get at a Waldorf school. It seems easier to fill in the decoding skills than try to get a more typical academically based school to help children to be super well-rounded and healthy. However every child and family is different and the most important thing is that parents look beyond the surface. From working in Waldorf schools most parents these days expect institutions to take care of everything and prefer not to get involved. Then if something is not right two years have gone by and they accuse the school of not doing its job and yank their children out to attend another school. All schools limp at some level, it is up to parents to support them by at least doing some asking and some supporting of some kind.

  • Reply Iola September 9, 2013 at 4:23 pm

    R.S., I have a feeling a lot of parents who have children who don’t click might be like me. They panic. After writing the above two posts, I went out and got a phonics homeschooling curriculum recommended by parents of ‘severely dyslexic’ children (mine is probably not dyslexic). I forced him and bribed him to work through the first of 3 workbooks and now he can read very simple books like Frog and Toad and such. An amazing improvement. I plan using the second workbook now and plan to move onto the third. He is still at the tail-end of readers for his grade.

    Funny story: I was scared to admit this as every parent says they did nothing but their children just ‘picked it up before end of second grade’. So, I went to the back to school picnic. My son and I walk in and see the only other 1/2 hour early child,a girl who I’ve often envied as she is at the head of the class in reading and spelling, and very confident. During their play, not sure how it came up, my son goes ‘I can read now my mom taught me and I just read Buster Bear’. The girl replied, my mom taught me long division but then we ran out of workbook pages.’

    There is a girl diagnosed with autism and a boy with down syndrome in the class. The girl with autism reads better than my son and the boy with down syndrome can read simple books.

  • Reply Marcie Matthews September 13, 2013 at 1:41 pm

    I will include as an addendum to my previous comment a reference to research concerning phonological awareness, which lent some evidence that P.A. is one of the strongest predictors of reading ability in young children. Phonological awareness is well defined by this PDF: http://www.naeyc.org/files/yc/file/200901/BTJPhonologicalAwareness.pdf Research was conducted by Susan Lambrecht Smith, Kathleen A. Scott, Jenny Roberts, and John L. Locke who assessed children’s alphabetic knowledge, phonological awareness (known as the conscious sensitivity to the sound structure of language), and rapid naming skills at the beginning of kindergarten and again prior to first grade as a function of later reading outcomes.
    Results of their research showed that prior to kindergarten, children with reading disabilities were distinguished from their typically developing reading counterparts by their performance on tasks of letter knowledge, phonological awareness, and rapid naming skills. However, between these groups, only differences in skills related to phonological awareness persisted beyond the kindergarten year.
    Measures of phonological awareness distinguished the reading disabled group from the control group at Pre-K and Pre-1. These results are consistent with observations that phonological awareness is a strong predictor of reading disability in both children at general risk and genetic risk of reading difficulty.
    “Our findings have implications not only for initial assessment and identification, but also for how progress in early literacy skills is viewed,” the authors conclude.

    Waldorf methods use a steady and rich diet of oral recitation and games and songs with movement to teach phonological awareness to children throughout the day and include the learning or two languages, but there is typically in a private Waldorf school lesson no stress placed on any child to learn to get it right or better in the duration of one class, that would be against the philosophy that prefers that education come through artistic pursuit – so we learn to speak a poen beautifully because it is a beautiful, or funny, or challenging to speak poem. Steiner is quoted as saying that nothing is truly therapeutic (from a holistic and spiritual point of view) unless it reaches the artistic. Traditional Waldorf teachers ask children to speak to others and to repeat poems and songs with clarity and each day a different child might be chosen to speak some of the days more often repeated poems for the others at the front of the room. Also each child is often gifted with a poem to learn by heart at their birthday, year’s beginning, or as a seasonal gift, and parents are asked to work together with children on it. One day after rehearsing at home and in school with the teacher each child gets the chance to recite their poem in front of the class – often while standing or balancing on a stone or piece of wood. Traditionally speech exercises are given to children at each grade level to help them develop in their speech and individual speech exercises are given to children who have difficulty in speaking clearly or to strengthen aspects of their constitutions after a certain grade level depending on the school.

    Visual aspects of reading and phonics, or orthography receive attention later in a traditional Waldorf school in order to intentionally delay reading until it is developmentally appropriate. It is thought in Europe, and Russia that early reading erases the protection that illiteracy provides children from text that parents and teachers would rather they not be able to read, protects the children who might strain their eyes, bodies,and nervous systems by reading too much, avoids undermining interpersonal bonding, and, does not reduce the child’s more natural mode of learning about the world – through interacting with it in real time. After all, as the saying goes, when a child learns to read they stop reading from the book of nature. When is appropriate differs for each child based on their support from home linguistically, and the child’s unfolding developmental differences.If a child has trouble with hearing the sounds of language, learning orthography may improve phonemic awareness or if a child has trouble with tracking or has dislexia then instruction involving alphabet and word recognition begun early may be in order.

  • Reply Louise March 9, 2014 at 1:50 pm

    I am a Waldorf past pupil and my son is now in playgroup. We live in Durban South Africa. I would not send my child anywhere else. I am my own living proof that Waldorf education works. Thanks for such a wonderful post breaking it down and explaining.

    • Reply Sarah Baldwin March 9, 2014 at 5:57 pm

      How wonderful that you were able to attend a Waldorf school yourself, Louse, and that now you are able to send your son to one. When I discovered Waldorf education, I wished that I could have had this kind of education when I was growing up. Teaching in a Waldorf school for so many years gave me a second education

  • Reply Shruti Divecha May 11, 2014 at 3:03 pm

    Hi sarah,
    I just read your article and it is fantastic.
    My daughter has just started waldrof schooling 2 months ago and is very happy. I was a little worried about the whole reading issue but your article is very informative.

  • Reply Liz June 14, 2014 at 12:07 pm

    Sarah,
    What is a “normal, Healthy” child?

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