North enjoyed Montessori, as he is a naturally organised and task-oriented little person, however after he had matched all of the farm animals onto the right flashcards, named them aloud and put them back into their box, he wanted to play imaginary farmyard animals. He wanted the cow to talk to the duck; he wanted the sheep to jump up onto the fence (chair) and then to scamper through the fields (the desk). And there was, plain and simple, no room for this kind of play within the Montessori playgroup. This was where that particular method lost us the most. He did however learn to take his shoes off and put them on by himself (ahem... more like I learned to have patience and wait for him to do it himself); learned how to set a table nicely and learned a few more manipulative skills (buttoning buttons etc). However, there was very little interaction with other children and not a great sense of sharing and community within the group. Of course, this could just be the particular playgroup we joined and not totally reflective of the teaching style itself, and I am not at all saying I don't agree with the Montessori method- I think it is amazing in so many ways. It just wasn't the right fit with us, him.
Although the Waldorf playgroup costs significantly less than the Montessori group, we roam wide open spaces dotted with climbing fortresses, a chicken coop, a sailing boat and a huge sandpit. We sing songs and listen to enchanted stories that are related to the world and the seasons around us. We knead and bake bread together. We give thanks and eat together as a community. Mother's are given the materials to make beautiful felt toys while the children play with gorgeous wooden treehouses, knit dolls and animals. What I love most about the Waldorf playgroup is that it feels like an extension of our home and our values. It instills and supports a sense of imagination, wonder and creativity within the children. It finds and highlights the magic in the everyday.
The biggest issue most people have with Waldorf is in regards to delayed reading. Generally, children at Waldorf schools do not learn how to read until the first grade. I can only answer from our own experience: our home is riddled with books. We read the children, at very minimum, four books everyday. North is already "pretend reading"- pointing to words and narrating what he thinks they say. He is also learning the sounds associated with letters- in his own time, when he shows interest. And so, I might veer from the average Waldorf family on this point. This is just what feels natural for us. I am quite sure that no matter how little we directly "teach" him, he will be reading long before first grade, and by then who knows what kind of school we will think he is suited for- public, private or home. We are still figuring out what the exact plan will be, but I believe a Waldorf preschool two days a week starting next year (North will be 3 1/2) is a step in the right direction.
This Sunday we are driving to the countryside to pick apples with our Waldorf group. We'll sing songs of Autumn, collect apples, share a harvest picnic and play in the fields with new friends. I am so looking forward to it and look forward each step in our Waldorf journey.