THE AGE OF ACADEMICS
(This post is part of series that began with What is Waldorf: Why a Prolonged Childhood is part of the Waldorf Way; however, this post can also be read as as stand alone article.)
Photo by Deleece Cook
This age of academics in a Waldorf-style education is easy to determine, as it happens to coincide with the time a child begins losing baby teeth, or milk teeth, as they can also be called in certain parts of the world, and were during Steiner’s time.
During the same time frame children are losing baby teeth, the brain is experiencing a leap in growth and development of its own, and it’s at this very time around the seventh year of life between the sixth and seventh birthdays, that these brain changes make learning such things as reading, writing, and math developmentally appropriate. The brain has spent the last six years making sense of the natural and physical world, emotions, gross and fine motor movements, language development, imagination, basic number sense, creativity and so much more that I’d need a book to list them out, and it now experiences a new leap to prime itself for the next phase of formal, academic learning.
Image by Jelleke Vanooteghem
HOW DOES WALDORF TEACH LETTER RECOGNITION - NOT WHAT YOU PROBABLY GREW UP EXPERIENCING!
When letters are finally introduced in the Waldorf first grade, they are not introduced in the rigid flash-card, worksheet-tracing way many of us unfortunately experienced as a child. Instead, the letters are each illustrated in a pictorial, imaginative way so that children begin to make connections between the letters, their sounds and a child’s surroundings in life.
The Waldorf teacher or homeschool parent will begin teaching letter recognition with a story. The letters, and their sounds, become part of the story and are illustrated in a creative, connective, pictorial fashion by both teacher and child. They are searched out in nature and objects and reinforced in more stories, movement and art. Children are eventually encouraged to make up their own letter stories and illustrations and finally, the traditional letter format begins to emerge, leading to writing.
Illustrations by The Waldorf Alphabet Book by Famke Zonneveld
The six and seven year old child is extremely imaginative and creative. This way of introducing letters reaches the whole child through their imagination. Through stories, poetry, movement, music, art…a child learning their letters this way is including their emotions and a creative gateway. This is extremely engaging for children. And the addition of an emotional aspect helps embed the learning deeper into the brain's “files” to become permanent. That, combined with other methods, such as the phases of learning (phonemic awareness, patterns, syllables…), allow children to eventually form letters into words which also then connect to reading and expanded writing. But it is this creative and emotional approach of teaching to the head and the heart and the hands, or to the whole child, that makes the difference. What may have been a forced and frustrating, non-connected event in Kindergarten has now instead become a rich event in learning during first and second grades.
Excerpts from The Alphabet, How Pine Cone and Pepper Pot (with the help of Tip Toes and Farmer John) Learned Tom Nutcracker and June Berry Their Letters by Reg Down
HOW DOES WALDORF TEACH NUMBER QUALITIES?
Number qualities are also introduced within stories and art beginning in grade one, or class one. Just like introducing letters, introducing number qualities (and all math really) includes the whole child approach through the head, heart and hands. Storytelling, art and life take center stage here, as well as finding images in the world to represent 1 of something, 2 of something and so on. And movement with numbers is very important, including rhythm.
And it's not that you can't ever mention numbers or counting before first grade! It's that the formal instruction waits until brain development allows the child to actually understand and process the information beyond rote memorization, copy behavior or basic number sense. In fact, number sense itself begins in early childhood whether you want that or not!
Excerpt from the poem, Numbers for First Graders, by Dorothy Herrer in Verses and Poems and Stories to Tell
For me and you
We count 1, 2 .
The day, the night,
Numerica by Gloria Kemp and Elsa Murray
Waldorf Inspired Number Cards - Block Crayon Drawings
Preschoolers who group all the large, medium and small felt balls into their own bowls are using a really basic type of number sense. Children who are learning finger weaving at age five can usually count four stitches and then stop, if asked. Rhythm and “keeping time” with a song or saying is a very basic type of number sense and can help tremendously later on with such things as skip counting and multiplication facts. But there is no sit down, pencil-paper formal instruction until grade one because again, the brain development isn't in place yet for formal instruction.
Once there, however, number qualities will be within the first one or two math blocks, often following or joining in with Roman Numerals. One is the sun. One is me. One day. One Night. Four seasons. Four wings. Four Limbs. Two legs. Two arms. Two eyes. Two ears. Five points on a star. Eight legs on a spider. In other words, reinforcing or teaching that numbers represent real amounts will be taught in first grade through art, stories, songs, poems, games and movement. Not only is it a fun transition into school life, number qualities have already been building with language development, in a sense, and so move along at a nice, natural pace with children enjoying the process.
King Maximo and the Number Knights by Howard Schrager - Number Qualities
OTHER ASPECTS OF A WALDORF EDUCATION IN THE EARLY YEARS
Other areas a child experiences in a Waldorf or Waldorf inspired home or education need their own article (or articles) really as there is so much color and texture to each topic. These can include art, crafts, singing, musical instruments, storytelling, community, festivals, homelife, baking, gardening, and textiles, to name a few. And storytelling and story reading are treated as two different actions. The important thing here is age appropriateness, building upon each other, and using these 'softer' areas to enhance the formal 'harder' areas, or academics of reading, writing, math and eventually other academic subjects. And again, educating the whole child with activities and lessons which inspire the head, heart and hands.
ARE WALDORF EDUCATED KIDS BEHIND IN READING, WRITING and MATH, THEN?
Being raised in the traditional educational system may cause you to wonder, does this delay in introducing letters, numbers, writing, reading and math cause children to lag behind their peers? While initially in first grade and second grades, Waldorf children have not had the practice their public school peers have already had, the amount of learning and understanding that takes place now that a child’s brain is actually ready results in most children to not only catch up, but even, in many cases, surpass their public school peers(1) and often with much less frustration. This same US study found this occurred within elementary school for most but by no later than 8th grade for late bloomers, while a New Zealand study found this catch up occurred for most children by the 3rd to 4th grade range, or age 9.(2) It’s amazing what can happen when you let the brain do what it’s meant to do WHEN it’s meant to do it.
THIS IS JUST AN OVERVIEW
This is by far a general grazing of what is such a broad topic. Every family is different. Every child is different. Every school is different. Every teacher is different. There are ineffective teachers and exceptional teachers. There are teachers with a stronger background in one subject versus another. There are many variables in both Waldorf and public schools. Overall, however, Waldorf is has some great methods for reaching the child on many levels, including emotional connections.
But there is so much more to a Waldorf Inspired life of parenting, home environment, childhood and education than this touches on. Child development on its own is a fascinating topic. Parenting is something we will always strive to be better at. And educational methods are no where near linear and fixed into one best model! But a Waldorf-inspired home, childhood and early education is definitely worth exploring as it’s full of so many positive outcomes for both children and family as a whole in many non-academic and academic parts of life. One more thing, childhood is fleeting, priceless and precious. Let it last. Think about not forcing academics before the brain development is there. And rememeber to be present and enjoy.
ADDITIONAL BOOKS AND RESOURCES
- The Waldorf Alphabet Book by Famke Zonneveld: A beautifully illustrated Waldorf alphabet book full of color and movement. Letter Recognition and letter sounds is primary here, but the artwork and storytelling and seek and find nature make this book speak to the whole child.
- Waldorf Inspired Alphabet Cards - These Waldorf inspired alphabet cards were created from original art by master storyteller Sieglinde de Francesca. Each illustration includes the letter shape within the drawing of something representing its sound. They are a lovely add on or follow-up to The Waldorf Alphabet Book.
- LMNOP and All the Letters A to Z by Howard Shrager (link takes you to Howard Schrager’s shop): another great Waldorf inspired alphabet book and a great one to follow up The Waldorf Alphabet Book with and a great one to precede The Alphabet, How Pine Cone and (see below)… with. Do you see the letter “C” in that cave? What about the letter “B” in the bear sitting under the bee hive? That “M” in the mountains is fun to see but can you find the “V” in its valley? Paired with fun poems and riddles that connect letters to their sounds, your child will love exploring each letter with you.
- LMNOP Laminated Alphabet Cards Illustrated in the Waldorf Fashion by Howard Shrager and , each card illustrates a letter within an illustration that match the poems in the same titled book, but also lend themselves to storytelling.
- The Alphabet, How Pine Cone and Pepper Pot (with the help of Tip Toes and Farmer John) Learned Tom Nutcracker and June Berry Their Letters by Reg Down is one of my favorite resources. Not only is there a story with each letter, and illustrations of each letter in creative and often gorgeous pictorial form that matches the story, there are also additional activities that your child can do with Pine Cone, Pepper Pot, Tom Nutcracker and June Berry to make the letter connections fun, memorable and relevant. This is definitely the next step after The Waldorf Alphabet and LMNOP.
- Alphabet Cards with gorgeous watercolor illustrations - These are beautiful, large decor-worthy Alphabet cards which combine letter recognition with an animal or object that has the letter in the beginning of its name. Not only are these gorgeous, but they make nice storytelling cards or stand up cards in our sand tracing trays and are a nice visual as children progress in their learning.
- Uppercase Letter Recognition Pebbles and Lowercase Letter Recognition Pebbles --Tactile, waterproof, mudpie proof!, great for stone soup or alphabet soup on the pretend stovetop, these fun letters can be used at many stages including letter recognition or sand or shaving cream letter practice up to three and four letter words.
- Writing in the Wardrobe: Handwriting Practice Book based off The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe by Robyn Joyner
- Writing with Aesop's Fables: Handwriting Practice Book based off Aesop's Fables by Robyn Joyner
- Renewal of Literacy by Jennifer Irene Militzer-Kopperl
- Writing to Reading the Steiner Waldorf Way: Foundations of Creative Literacy in Classes 1 and 2
- The Tasks and Content of the Steiner Waldorf Curriculum (Revised)
- Early Literacy Main Lesson Books— Spiral, Portrait, Alternating Lined and Blank Pages; Lined pages are 1” writing guides; Best for 1st grade - 2nd grade
- Literacy Main Lesson Books -- Spiral, Portrait, Alternating Lined and Blank Pages; Lined pages are 0.6" writing guides; Best for 2nd grades and above
- Fundamentals of Waldorf Education (Introduction to Waldorf)
- Unlocking the Roadmap to Literacy (Literacy)
- Jamie York Academy (Mathematics)
Letters and Numbers
Alphabet and Numbers Puzzle Pairs - Letter and Number Recognition
Properties of Numbers
- Numerica by Gloria Kemp
- Number Recognition Cards
- Number Recognition Manipulatives, Bamboo
- King Maximo and the Number Knights
- Sarah and the Number Knights
- Quantity Board
- Counting and Sorting Bowls with Felt balls and Tongs
Mathematics in General
- Jamie York Bookstore Making Math Meaningful Series
- Active Arithmetic: Movement and Mathematics Teaching in the Lower Grades of a Waldorf School by Henning Andersen
BLOG ARTICLE LINKS
*Note: While many links on this page will keep you on our website, Alder & Alouette, some will take you to other websites:
- Alder & Alouette bookshop on Bookshop.org
- Renewal of Literacy Website (affiliate website)
- Jamie York Academy and Bookshop Website
- Learning Cursive Website (includes print handwriting books too)
We are not responsible for the content on these websites. We earn a small affiliate fee to help keep our blog going for our work with Renewal of Literacy if you purchase an e-course.
- Abigail L. Larrison; Alan J. Daly; Carol VanVooren (October 5, 2012). "Twenty Years and Counting: A Look at Waldorf in the Public Sector Using Online Sources". Current Issues in Education. 15 (3).
- Sebastian P. Suggate, Elizabeth A. Schaughency, Elaine Reese (2013). "Children learning to read later catch up to children reading earlier", Early Childhood Research Quarterly, v. 28, Nr. 1, pp. 33–48
Written by Laura Lowe
Laura is a professional educator with degrees in the Environmental Science realm, as well as early childhood through adolescent education, with decades of experience working with children and the environment.
More about Laura and Alder and Alouette, here.