Wednesday, January 30, 2013
on teaching the alphabet in early childhood despite our waldorf values
As many of you know or can gather from my posts we are a very Waldorf inspired family. That said, not everything we do is always within a strictly Waldorf realm. As much as I value and believe in the importance of rhythm, limiting media and screens, having open-ended toys and time to play and explore, spending a large amount of time outdoors together as a family and the power of those sneaky little gnomes, I am also a parent in the year 2013 and I can only do my best at protecting my children's precious childhood- all too often stolen from most children far, far too early.
I don't model a strictly Waldorf perspective for my children because I believe being authentic and honest is of the utmost importance. And this belief is what prompted me to teach my four-year-old son the alphabet after him having expressed a relentless desire to learn to read and write. I know the more orthodox Waldorf teachers might disagree with this move.
Since just over the age of three North has consistently begged to be taught 'to write' (a desire to read has only come more recently). When I saw a post at Small Things highlighting the reading program Ginny uses for her young children I had a hunch it might be perfect for North. He's as virgo as they get at four- organised, meticulous, a perfectionist and methodical. I downloaded free lesson samples and got a feel for what to expect and decided to invest in the Pre-Reading series.
We've been taking it really slow. A few letters a week while Indigo naps. We've only just finished capitals and have moved on to lower case letters as well as their 'sounds'. We have pretty much followed the curriculum to a tee because North absolutely adores it. He calls the whole process "doing a Ziggy" as in, "Can we do a Ziggy today?". (Ziggy is a Zebra who aids the teacher in a lot of the lessons). I never initiate this time together it all depends on North's level of interest. Some weeks we do a letter almost every day and others we mightn't do one at all.
Despite our apparent inconsistency and my intentional lack of drilling or testing North can officially identify every capital letter and write them with a fair amount of ease. I am trying to make sure he writes the letters with correct form (eg. when writing an L starting with the downward stroke and then adding the horizontal line as opposed to vice versa) so his teacher's aren't too cross with me in the future. I also hope he isn't so far ahead when he gets to first grade that he becomes bored in class and is a disruption to the other students. Surely he won't be the only one who has some knowledge of the alphabet even at a Waldorf school.
Young children often take interest in what others do around them and want to mimic it but North's interest in letters and words, in my opinion, went far beyond the monkey see monkey do that we often see in early childhood and the last thing I wanted to do was discourage an innate love for and interest in reading and writing.
On the other end of the spectrum some of you without such a huge Waldorf influence in your lives may be asking what on earth all the fuss is about! Perhaps your children have been learning the alphabet since they were 2 and 3 years old.
I don't think there is a great big right or wrong answer here, in fact there is a lot of grey, but I hope I have made the right decision for my son because that's what parenting is really all about- doing all the research and the reading, combining that knowledge with all the knowledge you already have about your own child, meditating, praying and then hoping the decisions you make are the best you can offer.