When parents are researching private schools, the myriad of options and different educational philosophies can sometimes be overwhelming. Many of our prospective parents are considering transitioning their children from public school into a Waldorf Education. And so, the question becomes, “What exactly is the difference between my child’s current experience and Waldorf?”
One might generally summarize the differences in this way: Waldorf puts high value in art, critical thinking, and creativity and does not pursue academic instruction before the age of seven. Public school puts a high value on standard and measurable academics, with a focus on math and reading starting at age five.
But this does not shed much light on the multi-layered and nuanced approaches of each system. In an effort to clarify, we have created this chart describing similarities and differences in each educational system. But, for true clarification about these methods and their appropriateness for your child, visit schools in your area and experience in-session classroom visits.
No matter what type of education is right for your child is up to you and your family, we encourage you to tour a Waldorf school while class is in session to experience Waldorf education first hand. Learn More HERE if you’d like to visit Spring Garden Waldorf of Northeast Ohio.
Opponents call it the One-Size-Fits-All education, while supporters say it’s holding children to higher, more in-depth learning standards than current achievement tests. Common Core Standards are rolling out this year and are estimated to cost school systems millions. But what does it mean for families?
Too much, too soon, too stressful
Children will be tested earlier and more regularly. Child clinical psychologist Dr. Megan Koschnick is concerned that many of the early childhood Common Core Standards are developmentally inappropriate for young students not yet reaching Piaget’s concrete operational stage. And 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 to no 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.”
In addition to the standards being potentially inappropriate for a child’s cognitive abilities, principals in New York, who adopted Common Core early, also say the standards are causing undue stress to little ones. They have written an open letter of protest saying the Common Core was too hard on younger children and they reported crying and physical ailments like vomiting and wetting during test taking.
And it’s no wonder the children are stressed. In Ohio and several other states, there are strict consequences for failing the third grade test. Students unable to pass a retest will not go to fourth grade with their peers. Ohio has joined others in the 3rd grade common core retention law meaning 3rd graders who fail to demonstrate sufficient reading ability on the new state standardized test will be held back.
Are Late Readers really “Behind?”
Many great thinkers and leaders throughout history reported being late readers or late bloomers in general including Albert Einstein who could barely read in the third grade and Nobel Laureates Richard Axel and Gerardus Hooft. Would Winston Chruchill, who failed 6th grade in a traditional education system, have passed a Common Core third grade test? Hard to say. But children who are labeled as “behind” in today’s world are often thought to be, or believe themselves to be, below average.
But if a slow-reading third grader is agreed to be “behind” what is required for testing, does that mean he/she is developmentally delayed or below average? The new standards push early reading and many studies show that those who start reading at 5 versus 7 show no differences by age 11. Does this mean the only benefit to early reading proficiency is the ability to take tests? In today’s public school system that question is irrelevant, as is the psychological concern of labeling students “behind” when they are initially slower readers.
What’s The Common Core FOR?
As Common Core strives to raise standards among global peers, many find it telling that top Western school systems prescribe to an opposite approach. The ever-popular, idealized Finnish school system does not allow children to even begin academics before age seven, which means reading instruction is delayed. But students in this school system do not need to read test instructions by first or even third grade. In fact, students in these high performing schools are not required to take tests or even receive grades until 8th grade.
Sir Ken Robinson’s popular TED talk explores the idea that U.S. education is outdated because it was created during the industrial revolution for jobs that no longer exist and is also modeled after an industrial process rather than considering the unique skills and talents of individuals. He maintains that a culture of testing and standardization has inappropriately labeled students and stunted curriculum. And often he points to the Finnish system as a model for how to address individual learning styles while still competing globally.
Waldorf Education and The Common Core
Waldorf Education is often cited for mimicking the Finnish system, which has a low-stress, non-testing environment for early elementary students and also takes a different approach to reading, with comprehension skills being taught first and phonics decoding beginning in first grade. What is core in Waldorf standards is catering to a student’s individual learning style with reverence and respect for each child and their gifts.
Waldorf educators also encourage a love of lifelong learning, which they believe cannot flourish in an environment where being slightly behind in one skill set:
- Causes undue stress and defeatist attitude.
- Elicits a label for a child as being less intelligent.
- Leads to a child being unnecessarily held back – delaying learning of other skill sets and social growth.
Waldorf Educators also subscribe to Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences, which deconstructs the idea of one “general” intelligence ruling someone’s abilities. In other words, a slow reader is not a slow child.
Is your child at risk of being labeled “behind” because they are a late reader or an anxious test taker? Consider Waldorf. Learn more at our website, visit us, request information or call 330-666-0574 to speak with our Admissions Director.
There is a Survey of Waldorf Graduates Phase 2, by Douglas Gerwin and David Mitchell, Full Study Here, published by The Research Institute for Waldorf Education. We recently read the 2007 study and thought our parents would find these pieces of information particularly interesting.
Profile of a Typical Waldorf Graduate
- Majors in arts/humanities (47%) or sciences/math (42%) as an undergraduate
- Graduates or is about to graduate from college (88%)
- Practices and values life-long learning (91%)
- Is self-reliant and highly values self-confidence (94%)
- Highly values verbal expression (93%) and critical thinking (92%)
- Is highly satisfied in choice of occupation (89%)
- Highly values interpersonal relationships (96%)
- Highly values tolerance of other viewpoints (90%)
- At work cares most about ethical principles (82%) and values helping others (82%)
Managing a classroom of young children is a monumental task. Anyone might be tempted to use a chart, a visual, to help the children see the consequences of their behavior, but these tools have become the center of a debate among many parents, educators and psychologists.
In Waldorf schools, reverence for the child’s individuality applies as much to their personality as it does to their learning style. Teachers work to build social cohesion and empathy among students. The consistency of the one classroom, one teacher model in Waldorf is key to the success of our students learning to behave within a community of peers. Parents will be hard pressed to find a behavior chart in a Waldorf school. Which, according to recent research on the topic, is a good thing.
We all know stress has long term negative effects on health. So, in an age where younger and younger children report feeling increasingly stressed, adding shame to the mix is ill advised. As it turns out, the stress hormone, Cortisol, spikes in children as young as four when they experience embarrassment or shame.
In this recent article in Psychology Today, Understanding Children’s Emotions: Pride and Shame, author Ken Barish, Ph.D. (Pride and Joy: A Guide to Understanding Your Child’s Emotions and Solving Family Problems) states the importance of the issue at hand.
“A child’s need to feel proud, and to avoid feelings of shame, is a fundamental motivation, and remains fundamental, throughout her life. It would be difficult to overestimate the importance of these emotions in the psychological development – and emotional health – of our children.”
But if teachers don’t use shame, then how can they let children know that what they’ve done is wrong? Aren’t guilt and shame an essential part of learning right from wrong? Dr. Gwen Dewar sees a difference, and speaks to it in her recent article at Parenting Science – Correcting behavior: The magic words that help kids cope with mistakes.
“Psychologists make a distinction between feelings of guilt and feelings of shame. Feelings of guilt are linked with a desire to make amends. Feelings of shame tend to make people angry—and not necessarily repentant. In fact, people who feel shamed may be less likely to take responsibility for their transgressions (Tangney et al 1992).
Also in Dewar’s article, she cites a study that observed how children reacted to different types of correction and then measured the effectiveness of three different types, the first of which, called “Personal,” resembles the behavior-chart method of correction.
The study, Correcting behavior: The magic words that help kids cope with mistakes (Kamins M and Dweck C. 1999. Person versus process praise and criticism:Implications for contingent self-worth and coping. Developmental Psychology 30(3): 835-847.) defined three types of correction, summarized here as:
- Personal – You failed.
- Outcome based – This is incorrect.
- Process Based – This is incorrect, can you think of another way?
As one might expect, process-based criticism is the most effective for inciting change and continued trial and learning. Most children experiencing the Personal Criticism model said they would not repeat the task at hand. And while this study did not directly deal with moral-based behavior mistakes, some experts infer that a similar approach to ethical behavior modification would be more beneficial than a “you failed” chart system.
So, shame is not only detrimental to health and self esteem, but is also the least motivating form of criticism and zaps kid’s resilience and desire to learn by trial and error. While most wouldn’t blame teachers for using stoplight-type charts to help control a mob of misbehaving kids, experts are beginning to agree that it’s not the most effective means of modifying behavior in the classroom.
There is a new trend in the U.S., especially in Early Childhood, called nature-based education. Although Waldorf is not an exclusive nature-learning environment, nature-based curriculum is a concept with which Waldorf educators are very familiar. Whether it’s hours playing in the meadow, science hikes in early elementary or a robust gardening program, Waldorf schools understand the health and academic benefits of nature study.
Like Waldorf methods, nature-based education originated and has been used widely in countries like Scandinavia and Germany. It is simply a matter of science. There are proven health and cognitive benefits to being out in nature. Such as this University of Michigan study citing a boost in cognitive performance after a walk in nature (city walks don’t produce the same results.) Or this study from Sage college scientists highlighted here that shows “ingesting or breathing in a common soil bacterium found in nature reduces anxiety and improves learning.”
Add that to studies like this one, which find that children do better on tests if given time for regular outdoor recess, and one can start to piece together the importance of nature in curriculum. But the groundswell of evidence does not stop there. In fact, The Children and Nature Network, offer an over-50-page PDF at ChildrenandNature.org outlining studies that prove how combining education with nature improves everything from health and well being to creativity, problem solving and literacy skills.
In a recent Boston Globe interview, Antioch University professor and leading expert in nature-based education, David Sobel, discussed his current research study, aimed at “directly showing the academic outcomes of nature-based education.” He believes an outdoor-focused education helps students develop independence and confidence because the environments are not “adult regulated,” which he hopes to prove gives children an edge in developing self-regulation and collaboration with peers.
There is clearly something going right out in Kansas, where educators took a failing public elementary school and turned it into a charter school for agricultural education. According to American Profile, not only did that effort save the school, but its student’s test scores now rank in the top 5% of the state.
Here at Spring Garden, like at most Waldorf Schools across the U.S., we keep nature at the forefront of the curriculum. Our greenhouse and gardens thrive with student-grown plants and produce. Our Early Childhood children spend much of their day outdoors playing and exploring in rain, snow and shine. All students have three separate recess times, taken outdoors in all but the most inclement weather. And main lesson subjects, along with (most often) science and gym, are often combined with regular outdoor learning. Learn more about how we incorporate nature into our education every day by visiting us.
Did you know that the cerebellum processes both movement and learning? There is a growing body of research in education and neuroscience about the link between learning and movement. Much of what is reported is about the influence of regular exercise on brain functioning and development. But the research goes beyond the importance of recess to boost academics.
Educator, Kathryn Kindrat’s blog, Movement and Learning, has compiled research about the physical changes from exercise that boost cognition, such as the increase in blood flow, brain mass, and neuron development. But she also points to studies showing that children who performed “learning activities with movement [had] higher academic achievements.”
As this article, Darwin’s Thinking Path, by Robert Dilts (published by NLP University, 1996 ) explains, many disciplines such as Feldenkrais or Tai Chi, explore the relationship between movement and mind. The idea being that the body is not simply a “mechanical shell” but rather a system or a means of both “representing and processing information.”
Waldorf Education has taught children through movement for over a century. This Friday, Spring Garden parents have a unique opportunity to learn more about this relationship between mind and movement by attending a special presentation by Waldorf Educator Mary Jo Oresti.
Mary Jo has been teaching children and guiding teachers in Waldorf education for over 30 years. She is a founding member of the Association for a Healing Education and has directed their Education Support Program since the mid-1980s. She has initiated publications and workshops to support schools and has been a guest speaker on the subject of Educational Support in many conferences and workshops.
Join us this Friday, October 4, 2013, from 7:00 – 8:30 p.m. here at SGWS to learn how Waldorf Education uses movement to help students learn.