In Part 1 of this series, Waldorf vs. Public School – Early Academics, we explored child development and testing in its relation to academics in Waldorf and Public schools. Now we’ll compare the academic philosophies of each education system, beginning with an in-depth discussion of Waldorf early academic pedagogy.
What is the objective of Waldorf Early Academics?
Waldorf educators believe test standards cannot be rigidly adhered to in a child’s early years. We all have heard stories of geniuses and other successful adults that “underperformed” in early grades. For example, a student’s inability to read fluently until the end of second or third grade could be due to a learning challenge, or it could be that the child has not reached the developmental milestones necessary for them to read and it’s important not to label or stress children in these early years if a love of learning is to be established.
Waldorf educators understand that most children taught academics in early years will learn academics, but at what cost? A growing body of current research indicates that early academics actually hurt the long term test scores of students. Also, Harvard research found that by eighth grade, Waldorf students outperform their early-academic-focused peers.
But why? Waldorf educators believe it is because our early academic curriculum takes a child’s development into account and focuses on more than one kind of intelligence, which is key to educating the whole child for long term academic success.
While reading and math is taught in Waldorf early academics, Waldorf teachers have, and take, time to focus on all the varying forms of intelligence as defined by Howard Gardner, American developmental psychologist and professor of Cognition and Education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. In his book, Frames of Mind, he discusses the different ways in which humans cultivate intelligence, which include: Verbal / Linguistic, Logical/ Mathematical, Body/ Kinesthetic, Visual/ Spatial, Music/ Rhythmic, Interpersonal & Intrapersonal and Naturalistic.
Waldorf students in Grade K-3, unhindered by test-centered curriculum and schedules, have the time to do what public schools used to accomplish. Students learn art and music for visual and musical learning, which studies show aids future learning of abstract mathematical concepts. They are given time to use their bodies during each of the three recess periods and during gym class, eurythmy, and main lesson movement to develop body/kinesthetic and spatial learning. Collaborative classwork and free play allows students to develop inter- and intrapersonal intelligence. Special subjects like gardening allow science curriculum to occur in a meaningful, naturalistic environment.
By giving young children time to learn and develop layers of important skills that go beyond the three Rs and testing concepts, Waldorf educators are fostering deeper learning that pays off in the long term.
The Philosophy Behind the Pedagogy
- The importance of standardized testing
- The idea the learning is linear and cumulative
Public school adheres to the ideas that testing is essential. As the old adage goes: “everything measured improves.” They also believe that learning happens on a linear incline and students ascend in measured time. If this is true, then making students walk up the learning incline earlier, even as early as Kindergarten, means that students will climb higher learn more in the 13 years before graduation.
A metaphor for Waldorf pedagogy would be better represented by a campfire. The imagination is the fire starter, sparked by genuine interest in academic topics (typically told through story). Then other skills, like those explored by Howard Gardner, layer on as small kindling and build up the flame of cognition. Only then, with a stable and hearty love of learning established, can students take on and fuel their intellect with the logs of heavy academic rigor that come in grades 4-12.
As one can see in this metaphor, measurement becomes difficult. Measurement of the kindling does not directly influence the growth of flame. And so, although Waldorf educators believe testing has its place in older grades as a benchmark for certain learning, they also feel it has no place as a measure of early intelligence.
In our article A Comparison of Waldorf and Public School, we broke down key elements that differentiate the two pedagogies by looking at the way each approaches early academics, curriculum, classroom environment, teaching methods, social learning, individuality, and relation to society as a whole. In the following series, we will look at each of these elements in more detail and explore the differences more deeply. We begin the series with a closer look at Early Academics – Part One and Part Two.
Waldorf Education: Child Development & Testing
When Waldorf educators consider their approach to learning in grades K through 3, they take special note of the completed transition children experience by Grade 3 — moving from Piaget’s Preoperational to Concrete Operational cognition. Piaget believed most children made this transition around age seven, whereas Waldorf’s founder, Rudolf Steiner, determined children transitioned closer to age 9.
Although some may transition a bit sooner, by some point in third grade, each child will awake from an egocentric worldview. They will begin to see that they have a place within a greater, expansive world. What this shift in thinking requires, in Waldorf education, is a shift in teaching method and rigor. It is then, and only then, that Waldorf educators think of young students as emerging from “early academics.” For the students who are more academically capable in the early years, the focus is on presentation, taking their time to do their best work, developing social skills, and physical abilities.
Many will say that “the rubber hits the road” as Waldorf students round out their third year of schooling. Homework may begin halfway through this year as children hone their capacity to focus and to take personal responsibility for their actions. While movement still plays a key role, children begin to be able to sit for longer periods and grapple with ever more complex and nuanced topics.
It’s important to note that Waldorf student assessments are not based on testing during early academic learning. Waldorf educators believe a child’s physical, social, and cognitive development at this age is too fluid and varied to be measured by testing early reading and math skills. Waldorf teachers assess the children daily based on participation, lesson work, social interactions, and physical abilities.
By the end of fourth grade, most Waldorf schools will allow students to take a standardized test, such as the IOWA test, although most do not share the scores with students to avoid the children having a specific impression of their strengths and weaknesses and comparing themselves to others in their class.
Public School: Child Development & Testing
While Piaget has been influential in public school curriculum in the past, regard for child development has been sidelined in favor of a more linear approach to learning, where educators and administrators reverse engineer what must be learned by a particular grade and then segment and downshift those lessons back to Kindergarten in order to “fill the pail” by a particular test date.
The Department of Education says it has, “designed [core standards] to ensure students are prepared for today’s entry-level careers, freshman-level college courses, and workforce training programs.” They encourage parents to sort through the facts of Common Core standards vs. the myths. They counter skeptics’ claims, such as those who say that teachers were not consulted on test creation or that tests are not based on relevant international research.
Common Core advocates say, “Standards in ELA/literacy and mathematics provide a staircase to college and career readiness, building on the best of previous state standards and based on the best evidence and research; unlike typical standards prior, these standards help teachers understand exactly what is expected of each of our students at each grade level.”
But concerned skeptics like Dr. Megan Koschnick feel that many of the early childhood Common Core Standards are developmentally inappropriate for young students not yet reaching Piaget’s concrete operational stage. Her peers at the American Principles Project are concerned that no developmental or neuropsychologists were involved in the committees for creating the Common Core. According to Koschnick, there is also little, if any, scientific research supporting the aptitude recommendations at early grade levels.
As Koschnick said in this video, when standards are not developmentally appropriate, “Teachers are going to see typically developing children as delayed, parents may be informed that their children are behind and kids are going to get measured against inappropriate standards and might be held back or tracked into remedial classes that they don’t really need.”
Test vs. Non Test Culture — Who has the “Right” Research?
There is simply no research documenting the benefits of teaching the Common Core. It is too soon to measure the results of all this measurement. Research about testing in America and its result is mostly based on Iowa Testing started in 1935 and The No Child Left Behind Act started in 2002.
However, ten years on, the results of No Child Left Behind have begun to surface. The National Center for Fair and Open Testing claims that “NCLB failed to significantly increase average academic performance and significantly narrow achievement gaps as measured by the National Assessment of Education Progress. NCLB severely damaged educational quality and equity by narrowing the curriculum in many schools and focusing attention on the limited skills standardized tests measure.”
Many skeptics of Common Core, Waldorf educators included, feel it is the testing culture that is causing the problem, not the specifics of any given test. For a comprehensive history and review of varying tests, check out this Frontline article: Testing Our Schools, A Guide for Parents.
Click to Continue to Waldorf Compared to Public School — Early Academics Part 2 as we compare the academic philosophies of each education system, beginning with an in-depth discussion of Waldorf early academic pedagogy.
Early Childhood classrooms in Waldorf schools look different. Some parents are initially surprised by the lack of primary colors and maps and charts that normally festoon the walls of “traditional” preschool rooms. Won’t the kids find this … boring?
According to recent research on the topic of classroom design, they won’t consider it at all, which is exactly the point. The teacher and the lessons – or, in Early Childhood, the play and cognitive, creative, and motor development – is what deserves the children’s focus, not the posters, mobiles, or charts.
And it turns out children do give busy decor a fair amount of their focus. This New York Times article, Rethinking the Colorful Kindergarten Classroom, reports on a recent early childhood study which found that “children spent far more time off-task in the decorated classroom than in the plain one,” as measured by time spent gazing at the walls and scores on a picture test about stories the teacher had been telling.
There is also concern that the material on the walls is simply part of a larger commercial agenda to sell teachers and schools pre-made banners, mobiles, and posters, when walls might be better served as display space of student work or functional space for teachers and students.
A comprehensive 2012 research study published in The International Journal of Building Science and its Applications conducted an extensive analysis and assessment of 751 students across 34 classrooms in seven different schools in order to isolate the characteristics of classrooms that “maximize pupils’ achievement.”
According to this study, a well-designed classroom:
- Receives natural light
- Is designed with a quiet visual environment
- Uses warm colors on the walls and floor
- Has a large area of free space for building and diverse learning/play
- Has high-quality and purpose-designed furniture, fixtures and equipment
- Allows ease of movement
- Allows flexibility in learning varied activities
- Contains ergonomic tables and chairs
- Is modular, meaning the teacher can easily change the space configuration
While stepping into a Waldorf Early Childhood classroom evokes feelings of warmth, simplicity and comfort, careful analysis reveals that almost all of the above features have been accomplished in its design. Open areas are filled with natural light and materials that emphasize function over primary-colored form. This helps young children feel comfortable and focus on what matters — their creative play with peers, and time listening to and working with their teacher.
At Spring Garden, this means transitioning from the Meadow and familiar Early Childhood teachers to a new classroom, new teacher, and new playground. There will also be a new rhythm to their day.
You will receive a supply list from your teacher, and all the outdoor gear requirements will look familiar if you’ve been at Spring Garden for early childhood. School age children play outside at least three times a day in all but stormy weather. The other supplies will include extra clothes and some other items for class.
The First Day of School:
We suggest you park and walk into school with your first grader. The first grade teacher will give more specific information about first day drop-off specifics, but most parents stay that morning to see the Rose Ceremony, which takes place on the first day for all students. This ceremony accentuates the special significance of transitioning to first grade. The young children are entering a new phase in life — where schooling and community, away from parents, will support their budding sense of self, learning, and individuality.
During this ceremony, Spring Garden pairs incoming first grade students with their responsible eighth grade buddies — a milestone for both young people in the pairing. Eighth grade students will guide their first grade buddies throughout the year in various ways, including helping the first grade during assembly, having a care-giving presence at other festivals and celebrations, and chaperoning and teaching the young children to ice skate during our spring field trip.
After the Rose Ceremony, a regular school day will commence and children can be picked up at 3:20pm.
The First Week of School:
Children can be dropped off or walked into school by their parents between 8:15 and 8:30. Grade 1 and Grade 2 students will always have their teacher present during morning recess. For the first few days, please walk your first grader out to greet their teacher. Once your child is comfortable coming into the school, hanging lunches outside their classroom, and putting on their outdoor clothing to go outside then they may do it on their own. If you arrive after 8:30, you must walk your child into the office to sign in and get a late pass.
Children will wear their outdoor gear every morning, including rain pants and boots, even on sunny and dry days. This is because they are welcome to sit in the wet morning dew and stomp in morning mud puddles! Being dressed in gear first thing means they are ready for play.
After the morning bell rings, children will come inside in a classroom line, take off their gear, and begin their day. For the first grader, Main Lesson begins with circle time, movement, and song. Then, when children are ready, they sit for the day’s lesson on a main subject. The main subjects (language arts, math, history, etc.) are taught in blocks that last for a set amount of weeks. Main lesson is two hours per day and includes many activities to encourage multidisciplinary learning, including music, storytelling, writing, drawing, and conversation.
Once done with Main lesson, students enjoy a snack around 10:30 and then have their second recess time of the day. When they return from the outdoors, they begin their subject lessons with subject teachers; the schedule varies by day but is consistent each week. Your teacher can provide a subject lesson schedule, which will include Spanish, handwork, movement, music, gym, painting, lunch, recess, and in older grades, woodwork and orchestra.
Is there Before Care?
Before Care begins at 7:15. Before Care is located in the Second Grade classroom. At 8:15, children will put on their outdoor clothes with the help of the before care teacher, if needed. Early Childhood students will be walked to their class teacher, while students in the grades will be sent outside for morning recess.
Where do I park?
If you’d like to walk in with your student, come to the School Store, or speak with faculty or staff, please park in the lot on the right (near the Meadow & fence) or park to the far left against the grass near the Sports Club pavilion property. Please do not leave unattended cars in the circle drop-off area.
Where do students and/or parents walk in?
Please have students walk into the front door only, located under the overhang adjacent to the circle drop off area. The door in the Early Childhood wing is locked and is not for general entry. It is used only to take young children to and from the Meadow, and Early Childhood teachers kindly ask that students use the front door only for entry.
What if we’re late?
Children coming in after 8:30 must get signed in at the office with their caregiver and receive a late pass. Children who are tardy should proceed to their classroom once they are signed in and have a pass. They should knock on the classroom door and wait patiently to be let in. The teacher will not disrupt the morning opening but will let the child in once opening is finished. They may need to wait a few minutes.
We look forward to seeing you on August 27th!
Two Waldorf educators have been invited to speak at TEDX events — Jack Petrash and Lori Kran — each discussing not Waldorf education per se, but what they believe to be the essentials of education reform.
Petrash spoke in his video, Educating Children for the Journey, on the importance of teaching children the skills they need for an unknowable future. After giving an example of his scientific learning 40 years before about “Asbestos, The Miracle Fiber,” he went on to relate the limits of subjects and facts. It is his belief that the focus needs to be on teaching capacities.
According to Petrash, there are three essential capacities we need to teach children:
- A capacity for focus and willpower, which he calls “the strength to do what needs to be done.” He goes on to describe immersion as a characteristic of genius and of play in children. Teach children to focus at play, and you teach them how to be immersed in an experience.
- A capacity for a deep and rich emotional life. Petrash believes children can be taught emotional intelligence and resilience through art, and he believes that integrating art into each subject helps children identify as artists and reinforces immersion and emotional connections to topics.
- A capacity for lively, curious, and dynamic thinking. He calls it “playful thinking” and relates it to a future of playing with ideas and asking important questions. Basically, “playful thinking” helps future adults become problem solvers, so that they can solve the unknown future world’s problems.
In the end of the video, he expounds on the idea that our children deserve more than just left brain academics, and that the world will be a better place when education teaches children they way they want and deserve to be taught.
Lori Kran begins her segment, The Heart of Education, with a Steiner quote: “The most important thing is to establish an education through which human beings learn, once again, how to live with one another.”
This leads to her primary takeaway that when academic subjects are taught imaginatively, through experiential learning, children become connected to topics and, through this, become independent, creative thinkers.
Kran believes this emotional connection is key to a bright global future, saying, “The world needs people with heartfelt thinking who are connected to their community and are motivated to do good work.”
Watch Lori’s Video HERE: The Heart of Education
Watch Jack’s Video HERE: Educating Children for the Journey
Waldorf-centric Plot Summary:
After a scathing math competition defeat, tech bigwigs take pity on Springfield Elementary and outfit the school with all the latest technology. But Principal Skinner’s ineptitude leads to a server farm crash and the school loses all tech, which the students only used to watch Game of Thrones. This is when Lisa comes up with an idea that will save the school — “Learning while Doing.” Springfield Elementary becomes a Waldorf School!
From there the students learn by doing in tongue-in-cheek fashion — calculating the cubic feet of styrofoam to add to the sloppy joe mix, pouring pints of beer in fractions, wearing required sun hats, and singing songs of acceptance, love and diversity. In the end, their new Waldorf Education helps them win the mathlete rematch by transforming an M into nine non-overlapping triangles.
The Association of Waldorf Schools of North America was pleased with the level of in-depth knowledge The Simpsons writers clearly possessed about pedagogy and stereotypes associated with Waldorf Education, which made this fun caricature both lighthearted and flattering.
Watch The Video:
The Simpsons Writer Insight:
Math – Mathematics education is very advanced in Waldorf schools. Math is revealed to students as a useful and real part of everyday life. Numbers, processes and then mathematical concepts are introduced through doing — counting and holding, paper folding, musical interval training, and calculations to create rope and pulley systems are just a few examples of how math is taught in Waldorf schools. We are not surprised that the Springfield Waldorf School could answer such a difficult final math equation to win the math competition. The challenge of drawing the nine non-overlapping triangles mimics the lessons in form drawings taught in our curriculum — another intersection of math, art, and doing experienced in Waldorf Education.
Sun Hats – Why of course! Waldorf students are prepared for all weather, at all times. Why? Because, unlike many of their non-Waldorf peers, they still play outdoors for recess 3-4 times a day and also have classes outdooring such as science, physical education and gardening. Of course, hats for our adults are optional and they’re not required indoors. Nor is tie dye a requirement.
Technology – In the episode, Marge reads a pamphlet which says, “Waldorf Education: When you have Given up on the Modern World.” Considering the popularity of Waldorf Education among the children of Silicon Valley tech executives, this is clearly not quite the case, but it had been a stereotype of the past. Waldorf Educators simply feel there are better ways, more hands on and complex ways to teach young children how to learn. Technology is introduced to secondary education children, which as Skinner notes in the episode is “Not our Problem.”
Textbooks – There are no textbooks in Waldorf Education, it’s true. But there are many, many books. They are just not the ones provided to the state by textbook companies. Instead our students are presented material by teachers from classics and mainstream books on relevant topics, where they then take notes and reflect on lessons while creating their own “Main Lesson” books. These books become both catalogs and resources for learning.
We are honored to have been featured in such a positive light on The Simpsons Season Finale and are anxiously awaiting further information about which writers, perhaps Waldorf parents or alumni themselves, were involved in the episode’s creation. As a thank you, and a responding shout out of sorts, our schools have been paying tribute to The Simpsons. A collective of handmade hats is being created to send to The Simpsons writers. The Waldorf School of Philadelphia is having students create beeswax figures of The Simpsons characters to share online and with The Simpsons execs. And the São Paulo, Brazil Waldorf school has done an amazing rendition of The Simpsons Theme Song as a tribute to this mainstream recognition.
Do you have questions about this latest press coverage of Waldorf Education or about Waldorf Education in general? Contact Amy Hecky at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 330-666-0574. Learn more about our school at http://www.sgws.org.