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MyNewtBoobs's avatar

Why does Waldorf's second-grade reading policy work?

Asked by MyNewtBoobs (19026points) December 16th, 2010

Waldorf education doesn’t teach children to read until they’re 7. Yet, parents seem to really praise this and there aren’t reports (that I’ve heard of) of Waldorf kids being behind on reading. Why is this? What’s the science going on there?

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22 Answers

wundayatta's avatar

Their theory is that the brain has not developed in appropriate ways until second grade. There’s apparently some research to show this is true. If you learn other stuff (twiddling?) before you are 7, then your brain ends up being ready to learn to read at that point, and you lose no time compared to any other kid.

It just drives me nuts that mothers are constantly freaking out that their children have to be ahead, so they make their kids do flash cards at age 3 or something. They want them to read before kindergarten. It’s ridiculous.

The problem is, that some children can read that young, more often, those kids are girls, not boys. Boys really aren’t ready to sit down and study or whatever it takes to learn to read until that age.

But people believe the rat race starts as soon as you are born, and you have to stimulate the baby… hold on, I forgot. It starts before they are born: playing Mozart so they’ll have little math brains or something. Turns out that research isn’t even true. Oh well.

SO parents freak out, and there are very few who can deal with their anxiety about their kids falling behind. But those that can will send kids to more alternativy kinds of schools, like Waldorf schools.

So Waldorf doesn’t waste people’s time with wasted work. They learn just fine at age 7 and no one can tell the difference in a year or so. Fuck, I was the second to last person to learn to read in my first grade class. I didn’t catch on until nearly the end of the year. I was almost 7. But I sure felt stupid not knowing if I would ever get it.

I only say this because a number of people have been accusing me of being smart, and I use this as evidence to show you that I am and always have been somewhat slow. ;-)

MyNewtBoobs's avatar

@wundayatta Interesting. So it’s the whole “they’ll learn it/do it when they’re ready” philosophy. I’m a huge fan of that.
I know that at Waldorf they concentrate on “your gift”. A friend of mine went there, and was really good with the violin, so she spent a lot of time working on that. I heard a recording of her from when she was 7, and she was good enough at the time to be in our state symphony. Unfortunatly, she had an accident and was no longer physically able to play.

I remember that a Kindergarten teacher for the public schools told me that “if your kid can’t read by the time they enter Kindergarten, they aren’t going to do well, and we’ll have to hold them back”. It was one of those things where even though I didn’t have any idea why it would be wrong, it just felt wrong…

snowberry's avatar

I agree with the Waldorf idea. I did not know that was their philosophy, but it makes sense to me.

wundayatta's avatar

@papayalily I just find that kind of attitude (the one of the teacher you spoke with) to be unconscionable. Children didn’t come off an assembly line. They are all custom made and they all grow and learn differently. For a teacher to say something like that—they should lose their license. It really makes me sick. Literally. My stomach is curdling as I write. I need to go now.

MyNewtBoobs's avatar

@wundayatta I don’t think that was her personally feeling, more of an observation on how public schools are run in America and what the criteria/curriculum for each grade is – it makes me sick to think that’s what’s happening, but from what I’ve observed, that’s exactly how our public schools treat our kids.

Kraigmo's avatar

I realize this is projecting, but I was in first grade, and remember every moment of it, and learned to read that year quite well. Enough to read a Beverly Cleary book. My whole class was good at reading. And every class I witnessed thereafter under that teacher was good at reading. She taught Open Court phonics. The only “whole words” she taught us were the words that violated phonics rules. I tend to think if that if teacher was able to teach 6-year-olds to read fluently, then the ability to learn has more to do with methodology and teacher, than age, necessarily.

everephebe's avatar

This is interesting; right around seven I went from just being able to See Spot Run straight into The Lord of the Rings and 700+ paged fantasy books, seemlessly. Up till now, I had just been blaming my mother for reading me the hobbit, and my brother for telling me about the books he read….

MissAusten's avatar

I haven’t heard of the Waldorf policy before, but as a parent with kids who have learned/are learning to read, I think it’s very interesting.

Personally, I think kids are programmed to learn to read as part of their natural ability to acquire language. There are probably several effective ways to teach most kids to read. My kids’ schools use the Open Court program starting in kindergarten. Of my three kids, only my daughter could read before starting school. We didn’t teach her, she figured it out on her own. Our middle child started kindergarten unable to read a single word (other than his own name). He had zero interest in learning to read and write and barely met the “grade standard” by the end of the year. There was NO talk of holding him back. His teacher just said he’d learn when he was good and ready. Half way through first grade, our son decided he was good and ready. He went from working with the reading specialist and needing a lot of help to suddenly being able to read almost anything. He’s in 2nd grade now and his teacher says he is one of the best readers in the class. He got around to it in his own time, and I don’t think there’s anything anyone could have done to make it happen sooner the stubborn little punk! but if he’d been pushed or pressured he would have resented it and probably wouldn’t be doing as well as he is today.

My youngest is in kindergarten now, and doing just fine. He is very motivated to learn to read and is going along at his own pace. I like how the schools here tailor the reading work for each child’s ability. By third grade it all seems to even out.

wundayatta's avatar

@MissAusten My son was pushed and prodded and made to work with the learning disabled specialists and my wife made him do things every evening, and he hates reading. He’ll do anything to avoid it. He’s in 5th grade now.

He hated having to go to the learning specialist and do that extra work. It was very shaming for him. I think he learned the wrong thing by working with my wife. He is now very clingy about school work and constantly asking for help. There are no do-overs in life, but if there were, I would have argued more fiercely that she should leave him alone. He would have come along. But she has incredible anxiety about our kids’ success, so I probably wouldn’t have been able to talk her out of it.

He’s an incredible artist and musician and a very big thinker for his age. But he won’t read unless forced to.

Well, that may be changing. He’s discovered Google chat and has been conversing with his classmates that way. So I guess he find reading useful for that. Chalk up another one for the internet.

MyNewtBoobs's avatar

@wundayatta Perhaps, in time, he’ll discover sites like Cracked and enjoy reading their comedy? I’m a big believer that, in your early years, it doesn’t matter what you read so long as you do read.
Or maybe in a few years he’ll meet a girl, and she’ll be smart, and he’ll read to impress her.

wundayatta's avatar

@papayalily There are girls in his circle of internet friends. In fact, the person who introduced him to this is a girl. My daughter is always teasing him about her, because they have been friends since kindergarten. Hmmm. Maybe I should tell her to lay off. I remember one of the reasons I was reluctant to get involved with girls was that I didn’t want to be teased by my siblings. I think I got the idea that all siblings tease their siblings about girl and boyfriends from a book.

So there is a girl (or girls) involved (he’s quite popular—very sweet and affectionate) in getting him to read more. I think, though, that he’s going to be well-educated with or without reading. He seems to be developing some effective strategies for acquiring knowledge without reading. And these days, everything is on youtube anyway. Reading is not absolutely necessary any more—at least, not as a major method for acquiring information. Obviously, a basic lever of reading is necessary to handle the business of life.

MissAusten's avatar

@wundayatta That’s why I think the way the teachers approach things makes all the difference. My son saw the reading specialist twice a week; once with a group, and once alone. It was fun for him, and he enjoyed it. There was no stigma attached to it, no pressure or added work, no shame or embarrassment. Once he was meeting the benchmarks for his age, the reading specialist stopped working with him. His teacher told me that so many kids are taken out of the classroom for so many different “groups” that no one notices and the kids don’t think it’s strange or abnormal.

wundayatta's avatar

@MissAusten It could have been in his head, but in his class, people know who goes where and why they go there. In any case, he felt the stigma whether anyone else was putting it on him or not (probably not).

It’s probably in our genes, I guess. People in my family seem to take everything on themselves. We feel responsible for everything, and that weighs on us greatly and makes it hard to keep up. It’s caused me all kinds of problems. I hope I can help my son avoid at least some of the problems.

Right now, my daughter seems to be doing ok in terms of the pressure. But she does place enormous pressure on herself. She works so hard. She wants to get into the best college (just like I did), and so she wants the highest grades she can get. She got one B this semester, and it is bugging the shit out of her. It was in Spanish, and the teacher, she says, is not good.

But I can see her ending up putting too much pressure on herself. We tell her we will think no less of her if she doesn’t get all A’s. We tell her that we are not putting the pressure on her. But she puts it on herself, never-the-less, and frankly, I don’t think it matters what we say. It is clear we expect the best of her. There’s no reason for her to believe we wouldn’t be disappointed if she became a C student. We wouldn’t say we were disappointed, but she’d know.

We had a conversation recently where she asked me if she didn’t get all A’s, would I be proud of her, and I said yes. Then she asked if she failed, what would my reaction be? I said I’d be disappointed. She said, “you say you don’t have expectations of me, yet you’d be disappointed if I failed?”

I do have expectations. I would be disappointed if she failed. I know she can do far better. But I wouldn’t love her any less. But I don’t know if that’s something she can understand. I know my parents said they didn’t have expectations for me, and that always pissed me off because I know they did have expectations; they just weren’t telling me what they were. They still haven’t, and to this day I don’t believe they think I’ve done well enough.

6rant6's avatar

It may be a little misleading to say that Waldorf kids don’t learn to read until 7. Although reading may not be part of the curriculum, many of the kids are from homes where learning is well regarded and so there are plenty of books at home. And many of those kids get read to regularly.

Teaching is difficult when students vary greatly in their ability to master materials. Not teaching things that are difficult for some is not really doing a favor to them all, is it? For that matter Waldorf forces EVERY child to learn an instrument, and some of us just are not so inclined. And if you ever want to feel bad about your progress, there’s no more poignant example than being the worst musician in the band.

If the only issue teachers ever had to deal with was that some parents wanted their kids to be successful and the others wanted their kids to be happy, teaching would still be a very difficult occupation (to do well).

wundayatta's avatar

@6rant6 Some of us are not “inclined” towards math or reading. Does that excuse children from learning those skills? Clearly you don’t think music is all that important (or at least not important enough to make people try to learn it), but some of us think it is as important a skill as reading and writing and math.

In my case, I think it’s actually more important than those others. It is a foundation for other things. But I recognize that I am in a very small minority with this view. However, since my children are my children, they must learn piano and then any other instrument of their choice. Both started in their fourth year of life, and both did very well. My daughter quit, but my son seems to be very into it.

MyNewtBoobs's avatar

@wundayatta Why the piano and one other instrument, instead of just any two instruments? Or the violin and another instrument?

wundayatta's avatar

Music teaches a lot of amazing things. It teaches math and reading, among other things. The piano makes it possible to see music theory. I never understood much about music theory until my kids were learning theory. Suddenly, I could see it right there on the keyboard. I never knew that before. Anyway, it is much easier to learn theory on the piano than any other instrument. You can see the relationship of the notes to each other. Other instruments you can only do that in your head, which is so much harder that I could never get it.

Piano also helps you learn some useful brain tricks, because you have to do different things on each hand. This is not easy. You can do things like playing different rhythms on each hand, which is not possible on just about every other instrument. Perhaps the guitar, but that’s not what the guitar was designed for.

Piano is about the most universal instrument there is. It fits in just about everywhere. It is needed just about everywhere.

Perhaps the most important reason to me is that it is to make up for a failure by my parents. I wish they had made me learn piano. Because I never learned, there is so much I never learned, and so much of what I learned that I never understood. And I play about six different instruments.

6rant6's avatar

@wundayatta I think that music is important. But reading is more important. So the idea of not teaching reading to all students because it is difficult for some while teaching music to all is a bit eccentric – to be kind.

Saying you should learn piano so you can understand music theory is like saying everyone should learn calculus so they can solve calculus problems. Surely, there is more that reading opens up than does music theory?

You forced your children to learn music and they liked it – well one of them liked it – hardly makes your point. Had you taught them hunting, or painting, or photography, or cooking, or bookkeeping, I’m guessing you would have a good chance of them enjoying those activities as adults.

everephebe's avatar

@6rant6, I don’t believe there was a debate over which is more important to teach, music or reading. I think that even you can agree that learning both have benefits. And it is a question of timing of when to start learning.

Maybe music shouldn’t be forced, maybe broccoli shouldn’t be forced on children. But they are both good for them. I know that there is a big difference between musical people and non-musical people, the brain gets wired differently. I think we should teach children what they want to learn, but I for one wish that piano was fully “forced” on me.

MyNewtBoobs's avatar

@everephebe Well, for what it’s worth, the piano was forced on me (as well as the violin for a year), and I definitely can’t understand math any better or read any better because of it. In fact, I’m pretty sure that 95% of both for me was the frustration and humiliation and desire to quit and feeling like I would break under all the pressure to regale my mother with live music during the holidays. It may help you, but forcing things upon kids rarely does more good than it does bad.

everephebe's avatar

No I meant I wished someone dropped a piano on my head. Touche @papayalily, still… I which my parents cared enough about my education to have force fed me some. And if was as good at piano as I am at reading I’d be pretty darn happy.

wundayatta's avatar

@6rant6 I would call your point of view a double standard. It’s ok to force someone to read, but not to force them to learn music? There is no way of knowing in advance which one will be more important in someone’s life. And I would argue that reading will become less important as other technologies take over and it becomes easier and easier to get along without having to know how to read or write. We’ll just talk, and machines will translate it into machine format for other machines to read out somewhere else.

And for the record, I did not force music on my children. I gave them the opportunity to learn, and in fact, both are still strongly involved—it’s just that only one is still involved with piano. The other, however, has learned much of what I was hoping she would learn because of her exposure to the piano. I can tell because she sits down and naturally plays chords—something I’ll never be able to do because no one ever gave me the opportunity to play.

In fact, their school also thinks music is as important as reading and writing. The school spends a lot of time teaching them music, usually with keyboards. They also do chorus every year and they have the opportunity for individual lessons. It also happens to be one of the best, if not the best elementary and middle school in the city, due, in no small part, I believe, to their emphasis on other subjects that are usually considered non-academic. The notion that there can be academic and non-academic course, and that the latter aren’t serious is bullshit as far as I’m concerned. It’s the product of an education system that was designed to turn children into good little workers who knew how to show up on time and do what the teacher boss said.

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