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.


Everyday Things said...

if he is showing interest and genuinely wants to do this and initiates it then he is totally ready for it and I think that if you stymied this development then that would be wrong. ( I am a retired early childhood teacher)

So Tell Me said...

I love the Steiner philosophy and I believe in delayed reading but first and foremost I believe in Mums and I think that if we put our hand on our hearts we will always know whats best for our own. I remember being a little girl who was absolutely desperate to read .... I can still feel that feeling from when I was 4-5 starting school. I remember my Mum being quite startled and telling the story of me getting home from school on my first day and bursting into tears because I couldn't read and I was under the impression it was all going to happen day 1? Everybody is different.

arwen_tiw said...

Oh yes, I believe in delayed academics too, but I also overwhelmingly believe in listening to children and taking their wishes seriously! Even though it's not something I would choose, I TOTALLY respect your decision and I think it says everything about how well you know your son that he is enjoying it so much. Thank you for sharing (it can be scary to put out there that you are doing something against the grain of any respected philosophy)! xxx

brista said...

I think this is a very Waldorf-y way to go about it - he's the one that expressed interest, you wait for him to ask for a "lesson", and don't do drills or make it too structured. I think you're doing great! Also it's super cute he calls them Ziggys. :D

Saminda said...

I agree with Brista! You are following North's lead and that's the important thing. My little William has been very keen to read too, and is excited to have just started Prep. He tells me they are learning Japanese! It's scary how quickly they grow up. xx

Anonymous said...

Waldorf and Steiner education is not about the child expressing interest or following the child's lead. This education is primarily about bringing the necessary things at the RIGHT time. Just because a child expresses interest does not necessarily mean they are ready. A child at age 6 who is very keen on cars and how they work, is NOT READY to learn how to drive! There are 3 main stages of child development from Rudolf Steiner's view, and are divided into 3 stages, birth to 7, 7 to 14 and 14 to 21 (and then each 7 year cycle brings another set of learning and development, through out our entire lives!). The child's task from birth to 7 is to develop their lower senses, also known as the physical senses, movement, balance , touch and life. True healthy development of these 4 lower senses from birth to age 7 help to develop the child's etheric sheath, this is their life force. When we prematurely begin to extend a child's thinking forces before they are ready, the etheric forces do not have enough energy to properly develop the child's physical body. This then manifests into a weak constitution, a weak will, and general physical ill health later in life.
You say you hope that the 'precious childhood' isn't stolen too early from your children. Perhaps a thought about the written word, that is on display, on the sides of buses, graffiti, the front of dirty mens magazines (conveniently displayed at eye level of young children), when a 4 or 5 year old can READ these words, is this contributing or stealing from the child's innocence and wonder?
You say you hope he isn't bored once he reaches class 1. I don't think bored is the thing to worry about here, I think it is the loss of magic, the loss of engagement in the imaginative way the teacher will first tell a story, draw a picture, and from the picture of the Mountains appears the M, or the picture of the Goose appears the G.

Alot of children these days cannot actually imagine. they have been so filled with different images (tv and movies, printed stencils) that they cannot transform one thing to another.

Its so hard to be a parent these days, with all of this information on what is right, what to do so your child doesn't 'miss out', and fancy new things to buy that promise you this and that.... i know it is hard. It is important to trust, to read deeper into Steiner's work, if that is the path you choose to follow, and to question. Ask your lecturers why. Why is it that the thinking forces aren't developed until the child begins to loose their baby teeth? I mean, thats weird isn't it, to anyone that hasn't heard the reasons. Your new school will be able to guide you with some answers, parent education, readings and ideas on how best to help develop and support your children for where they are and what they need now.

Good luck.

A said...

No one (or few people, at least) deny that children can learn to read at age 3 or 4, but the question is at what cost (physical development, future adult health, etc.).

What is truly amazing is to see how much your pre-school child can learn--in so many different realms, including letters and reading, numbers, the natural world, you name it--just by living a real, active life in the world.

Anonymous said...

We're also a waldorf-inspired family and my just 5yo has been desperate to learn his letters since he just turned 4, to the point that he began teaching himself!! We're also now doing gentle lessons and he is *eating* it up. I understand why steiner had the opinions that he did but just like not every learning style suits every child, not every facet of waldorf suits every child either. I think the best part of being a parent is the joy of understanding your child as an individual and facilitating an environment that suits them in their individuality. I was also an early reader {2} and :gasp: I don't have a weak constitution, a weak will OR weak physical health so y'know maybe its worth not borrowing trouble and trusting your mama intuition rather than relying too heavily on other peoples opinions :)

Kory said...

I just wanted to say that I love that you are in tune with your child above all else. It would be easy to just follow one path or another, it's a whole other thing to let your children show you what they need!

My Oldest is almost four and oh so impatient to read and write and pushes for it every day. She says school is her favorite part of the day. I had intended to focus on crafts and picture books and nature walks... No, she wants worksheets and facts and pre-math... It has definitely been interesting!

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