MYTH BUSTING: HOW READING IS TAUGHT IN A WALDORF SCHOOL

Written by Sara Baldwin, Waldorf teacher

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.

¿Jugamos? ¡Es como mejor aprendemos!

Escrito por Katia Saravia Marroquín, Co-fundadora y Directora Trinus.

Conforme han pasado los años, les hemos quitado a los pequeños el tiempo de jugar, explorar, de ser creativos y de permitirles disfrutar y desarrollar las habilidades de cada etapa de su desarrollo. Ahora esperamos que infantes de cuatro años se queden sentados en una silla por más de veinte minutos, haciendo una hoja de trabajo, sin hablar, prestando atención, y encima de todo, comprendiendo y almacenando la información. Pero, ¿estaremos tomando en cuenta cuál es la mejor manera en que aprende cada niño? Considerando que cada ser humano es distinto y lo que funciona para unos, no funciona para otros.

El juego es mucho más que simplemente algo divertido, y tiene un verdadero trasfondo: enseñar de una forma entretenida, creativa y diferente.  Cuando jugamos estamos integrando nuestros cinco sentidos lo cual crea una experiencia vivencial, por lo tanto, absorbemos la lección con mayor facilidad y la interiorizamos. Cuando logramos ver todos los beneficios del juego, comprendemos lo valioso y significativo que es involucrarlo en la rutina diaria de nuestros niños. Algunos de sus beneficios incluyen: fomentar y extender nuevas ideas, socializar y aprender a relacionarse con chiquillos de su misma edad o de distintas edades. El juego los enfrenta con el reto de solucionar problemas y les enseña a aceptar diferentes puntos de vista, permite que se asuman distintos roles y aprendan de la importancia que hay en cada uno de estos roles. Así mismo desarrollan tanto su motricidad gruesa como la fina, están expuestos a prueba y error, utilizan su imaginación y acceden al uso del lenguaje para poder comunicar sus gustos y necesidades. Se fomenta la disciplina al momento de seguir reglas y esperar turnos. Jugando, los niños manifiestan sus temores, y a la vez logran superarlos y deshacerse de ellos.

Es por medio del juego donde los niños y niñas descubren el mundo y sus intereses; además de desarrollar distintas capacidades físicas, sensoriales,

mentales, afectivas y creativas. Muchos psicólogos altamente reconocidos han elaborado teorías con respecto al juego. Según Jean Piaget “el juego simbólico, ingresa a los niños o niñas en el mundo de las ideas, en el mundo de la verdadera inteligencia humana. Con esto los niños comienzan a aprender reglas que prescriben las actividades y los procesos humanos”.

Dentro del aula, el juego es más efectivo y profundo que una lección de 30 minutos. Se debe empezar con el juego sensorio motor, de 0 a 2 años en el cual los adultos deben ayudar a estimularlos, para que así comiencen a tener conocimiento de su propio cuerpo y del movimiento, esto incluye gatear y esconderse. Luego, viene el juego simbólico de 3 a 5 años, el cual incluye los juegos de representación o imitación como por ejemplo jugar casita, doctor, de restaurante, etc. Por último, está el juego reglado a partir de los 6 años que abarca todos los juegos estructurados como el fútbol, juegos de mesa, chiviricuarta, etc.

No hay una edad específica en la cual hay que dejar de incorporar el juego como manera de aprendizaje. Conforme los niños se van entrando a la pre-adolescencia y adolescencia el juego se va desapareciendo de la rutina diaria. Sin embargo, seguir implementando el juego como parte del aprendizaje a todas edades ha demostrado ser sumamente efectivo, claro siempre manteniendo un balance. Ahora pensémoslo bien, ¿queremos formar niños con múltiples virtudes o pequeños robots destacados en su intelecto, pero sin inteligencia emocional ni social? Es importante desarrollar su máximo potencial en todas las áreas.

In an age of robots, schools are teaching our children to be redundant

 Illustration by Andrzej Krauze

by George Monbiot

In the future, if you want a job, you must be as unlike a machine as possible: creative, critical and socially skilled. So why are children being taught to behave like machines?

Children learn best when teaching aligns with their natural exuberance, energy and curiosity. So why are they dragooned into rows and made to sit still while they are stuffed with facts?

We succeed in adulthood through collaboration. So why is collaboration in tests and exams called cheating?

Governments claim to want to reduce the number of children being excluded from school. So why are their curriculums and tests so narrow that they alienate any child whose mind does not work in a particular way?

The best teachers use their character, creativity and inspiration to trigger children’s instinct to learn. So why are character, creativity and inspiration suppressed by a stifling regime of micromanagement?

There is, as Graham Brown-Martin explains in his book Learning {Re}imagined, a common reason for these perversities. Our schools were designed to produce the workforce required by 19th-century factories. The desired product was workers who would sit silently at their benches all day, behaving identically, to produce identical products, submitting to punishment if they failed to achieve the requisite standards. Collaboration and critical thinking were just what the factory owners wished to discourage.

As far as relevance and utility are concerned, we might as well train children to operate a spinning jenny. Our schools teach skills that are not only redundant but counter-productive. Our children suffer this life-defying, dehumanising system for nothing.

At present we are stuck with the social engineering of an industrial workforce in a post-industrial era.

The less relevant the system becomes, the harder the rules must be enforced, and the greater the stress they inflict. One school’s current advertisement in the Times Educational Supplement asks: “Do you like order and discipline? Do you believe in children being obedient every time? … If you do, then the role of detention director could be for you.” Yes, many schools have discipline problems. But is it surprising when children, bursting with energy and excitement, are confined to the spot like battery chickens?

Teachers are now leaving the profession in droves, their training wasted and their careers destroyed by overwork and a spirit-crushing regime of standardisation, testing and top-down control. The less autonomy they are granted, the more they are blamed for the failures of the system. A major recruitment crisis beckons, especially in crucial subjects such as physics and design and technology. This is what governments call efficiency.

Any attempt to change the system, to equip children for the likely demands of the 21st century, rather than those of the 19th, is demonised by governments and newspapers as “social engineering”. Well, of course it is. All teaching is social engineering. At present we are stuck with the social engineering of an industrial workforce in a post-industrial era. Under Donald Trump’s education secretary, Betsy DeVos, and a nostalgic government in Britain, it’s likely only to become worse.

Schoolchildren taking their GCSE exams.
Photograph: Alamy

When they are allowed to apply their natural creativity and curiosity, children love learning. They learn to walk, to talk, to eat and to play spontaneously, by watching and experimenting. Then they get to school, and we suppress this instinct by sitting them down, force-feeding them with inert facts and testing the life out of them.

There is no single system for teaching children well, but the best ones have this in common: they open up rich worlds that children can explore in their own ways, developing their interests with help rather than indoctrination. For example, the Essa academy in Bolton gives every pupil an iPad, on which they create projects, share material with their teachers and each other, and can contact their teachers with questions about their homework. By reducing their routine tasks, this system enables teachers to give the children individual help.

Other schools have gone in the opposite direction, taking children outdoors and using the natural world to engage their interests and develop their mental and physical capacities (the Forest School movement promotes this method). But it’s not a matter of high-tech or low-tech; the point is that the world a child enters is rich and diverse enough to ignite their curiosity, and allow them to discover a way of learning that best reflects their character and skills.

There are plenty of teaching programmes designed to work with children, not against them. For example, the Mantle of the Expert encourages them to form teams of inquiry, solving an imaginary task – such as running a container port, excavating a tomb or rescuing people from a disaster – that cuts across traditional subject boundaries. A similar approach, called Quest to Learn, is based on the way children teach themselves to play games. To solve the complex tasks they’re given, they need to acquire plenty of information and skills. They do it with the excitement and tenacity of gamers.

The first multi-racial school in South Africa, Woodmead, developed a fully democratic method of teaching, whose rules and discipline were overseen by a student council. Its integrated studies programme, like the new system in Finland, junked traditional subjects in favour of the students’ explorations of themes, such as gold, or relationships, or the ocean. Among its alumni are some of South Africa’s foremost thinkers, politicians and businesspeople.

In countries such as Britain and the United States, such programmes succeed despite the system, not because of it. Had these governments set out to ensure that children find learning difficult and painful, they could not have done a better job. Yes, let’s have some social engineering. Let’s engineer our children out of the factory and into the real world.

You can find the original post at theguardian.com