Do kids in Waldorf schools start reading too late?

There’s an interesting discussion happening on a Waldorf education mailing list I’m on about the relatively slow speed at which children in Waldorf learn how to read. While public schools are pushing reading to earlier and earlier grades — to the point where kindergarteners are now expected to gain some rudimentary reading skills — a typical Waldorf curriculum doesn’t have the children begin learning how to read until second grade.
As you might expect, this causes lots of anxiety with parents. Indeed, in our experience in Waldorf, that’s the #1 concern that prospective parents have when they consider this alternative educational approach. It can arise in surprising and unexpected ways, too, like taking your 7yo to the optometrist and being embarrassed that they can’t accurately identify the letters on the eye chart.
Like any educational approach, however, I think it’s unfair to look at the narrow experience of, say, first grade, without looking at the whole experience, the big picture…

One of the other members of the list shared that her daughter didn’t really start reading until she was 9, and that she was never bothered by the fact that her cousins were reading before they were seven. Why? Because she had other skills, particularly artistic skills, that they completely lacked.
My response was:
“Ditto ditto. My 10yo daughter is a voracious reader and is never happier than when she’s curled up on a couch flying through a Nancy Drew mystery or, her latest obsession, Harriet the Spy. 24 months ago she was struggling with words, but our confidence in the Waldorf approach has paid off splendidly and I am sure that in another 24 months she’ll be reading Eragon and other long, complicated works, and enjoying every word.
“Her passion is also communicating to my 6yo who is delightedly spelling out rudimentary words and doing very basic math already. We’re not pushing it, but we’re not discouraging it either. He’ll also do just fine when he gets to the word and sentence teaching.”
What I didn’t share there, but will with you, dear reader, is that even our 3yo gets into the act now, and it’s hilarious to hear her counting 1 2 3 4 5 6 9 13 8 7 14 9 3! or similar. Maybe it’s some obscure mathematical pattern, but I’m pretty sure she’s just emulating the academics that her older siblings so clearly enjoy.
Let’s open this up for discussion too. How old were your children before they started really digging into reading? Did you have any anxiety about their progress at any point along the way? As they grew older, did the joy of reading stick with them (as it has for both Linda and I) or did they succumb to the siren song of media and technology instead?

70 comments on “Do kids in Waldorf schools start reading too late?

  1. My 30 year old daughter – now a grade 4 teacher in the Canadian North read at about 9 1/2 and has never stopped – I was a Waldorf high school teacher for 18 years and know many, many kids who read at about 9 or 10 and even a few boys who were not reading easily until about 14 – all fifnished high school reading fluently – and all have gone on to get universoty degrees – one crucial book to read in this are is called Better Late Than Early – not Waldorf but very useful on this whole question.

  2. We have a five year old boy and a three year old girl, both in Waldorf kindergarten, and a one year old girl still at home. Our son is starting to get very interested in writing already, and I am sure he will be figuring it out long before he will encounter writing practice in school.
    We as parents are very happy about the non-rush towards early academic achievements in Waldorf, but somehow I question the system’s ability to support an interest when it is already present in the student. I know that no system is perfect, and to our taste Waldorf education is the closest we have found, but still there is that balance between the collective and the individual that I feel can be a bit heavy on the collective side in Waldorf. (At least in our school.) What would be interesting to me would be a merge between the deeper ideas of Waldorf and Montessori, with support both for the artistic/spiritual ideals of Waldorf and the self directed learning Montessori envisioned.

  3. I was just wondering where this whole idea comes from that if a child will start earlier with something they will get better at it when they are adults? I have been touring public school kindergartens and it is amazing how sedentary the children are. Too bad the right to move and play is not guaranteed be the American Constitution…

  4. I was just wondering where this whole idea comes from that if a child will start earlier with something they will get better at it when they are adults?
    I have been touring public school kindergartens and it is amazing how sedetary the children are.
    Too bad the right to move and play is not guaranteed be the American Constitution…

  5. My oldest turned four in November. I tried to keep him and his siblings as far away from any medium as I could, but with both parents working from home, it’s difficult. I only just started sitting down with him and showing him the sounds of letters and sounds of letter combinations, which he understood quickly – albeit I have no one to whom to compare him. We sit on the back porch, reading short sentences that I make up on the fly – on the laptop in TextEdit… totally unWaldorf – while the younger two play in the bushes and trees.
    I don’t see anything wrong with learning to play before learning to read. Sure, one can learn both simlutaneously, and I guess that’s okay, too. I teach piano to kids who started reading at age four, learned piano at age five, but they cannot name two kinds of palm trees or identify the call of a common ground dove. They can’t even turn a twig into a person and make him ride on a paddle boat leaf down an imaginary river.
    As for the optometrist, I took an eye exam when in grade school, and we didn’t have letters to identify. They were all E’s, but some were facing the right direction, some were facing up and to the left and down. I had to turn open palm so that it would look like that E.

    • Oh no! Unable to name two kinds of palm trees or name all the species of birds? How will they ever grow up to be functioning members of society!?! Excuse my sarcasm but my husbands hippy parents were both Waldorf teachers and he was educated in that fashion. To this day, I am often surprised at the basic academia he was never taught. He was in no way prepared to function in the real world when he became an adult. Luckily my husband went on to become a commercial fisherman and says he learned more being a crew member on a fishing boat for 9 years than Waldorf education ever taught him. He now runs his own boat and we make a pretty good living. My husbands sister was unable to get into any kind of secondary education after she “graduated” Waldorf school, but she can make a mean indigo dye is the best and fashioning up a good old pinecone gnome. She now works at Deli and is hoping to get a raise to $12 per hour soon. In retrospect, my husband wishes he had a normal education, and insists that we will not be enrolling our young children in any kind of Waldorf or Steiner program. Parents beware, your children will be left behind and will feel like they missed out.

  6. Dave,
    This is an interesting topic. I have an 8 1/2 year old son who has ADHD. He loves knowledge as a whole (aquatic, farms, science, etc…) but would rather get a shot than try to read for more than a few minutes. This is also a boy who scored in the 99th percentile on his CAT6 (California Achievement Test) in math for our state. My wife and I believe he would rather obtain knowledge from hands on experience or TV (yes call me a bad parent, but he learned more from Sesame Street and the Discovery Channel than he did during his first couple of years in public school). Should we push him to read more or should we let him mature to the point where he wants to read Captain Underpants or Harry Potter on his own? I agree that some kids are simply better at certain subjects like art, math, or dance. Most children are not going to challenge themselves to get better at subjects that are difficult for them and will usually opt to play or do things in which they excel. Of course there are exceptions and if you saw “Little Miss Sunshine” and the world of beauty pageants, you know what I mean.
    Anyways, my point is this; some kids are ready to read/learn at an early age and some kids mature later. Is one school better than another? I don’t think so. I believe it’s the teacher and the parents that make the difference.
    Getting back to kids with learning disabilities (ADHD, autism, Down syndrome): caregivers should absolutely get their children tested if they feel their child is falling way behind peers. We incorrectly listened to our pediatrician who blithered on about boys learning later in life ya da ya da ya da. It was only after his nursery school teacher kept on prodding us to get him tested that we found out he had water on his ears (he wasn’t hearing correctly) and giant adenoids & tonsils that needed removing. The surgery helped dramatically, but he still goes to speech therapy weekly. Sorry for getting off topic, but a parent has to rant and rave every once in a while!

  7. In response to Olga’s statement. The child psychologist Piaget had what he termed the American Question, which was, “How can my children move more quickly through the developmental stages (he theorized about)?” Piaget said that only in America was this question posed to him.
    Alfie Kohn has some good stuff to say about how practice and homework don’t make kids better at whatever they’re working on. It’s a myth that Americans hold onto, deeply rooted in our pull-yourself-up-by-the-bootstraps-immigrant culture (IMHO).
    As much as I try to relax and let my daughter concentrate on what she is interested in, I’ve felt a little anxiety over reading lately. She’s 4 1/2 and EVERYONE thinks she’ll be an early reader, but there are times where it just doesn’t feel like she’s progressing as quickly as I would like. She’ll have periods of voraciously devouring books with me or walking around telling stories with books in hand, then she’ll go for long times without doing that. While I would like to see continuous progress towards reading, the fact of the matter is that the spurt and plateau approach to child development is a valid one. So, I end up where I started, believing that if she truly discovers what she is interested in, then I don’t need to interfere very much.
    And don’t even get me started on public school recess… the public school my daughter will NOT be attending next year would have her for 7 hours a day with 1 (I repeat, 1) 25 minute recess!!

  8. I guess that will be really helpfull to take a look at the patterns in their writing skills
    and to compare it with the patterns of a kid that
    had learned to read/write in a traditional school
    I hope that you find my comment usefull
    and excuse me if I’m wrong with my english grammar.
    (I’m Argentinian and I had never really studied
    english language)

  9. I’m commenting on this rather late, having just discovered your blog.
    I was homeschooled with fairly standard commercially available materials, however, looking back I have reason to believe my parents either instinctively or deliberately used some of Waldorf’s methods in the way we were taught. I started reading fluently relatively early, I think around age eight. But neither of my brothers was comfortable reading until they were more like ten and eleven. Little sister, being the classic youngest child, learned to read the earliest of all because she wanted to be just like the big kids.
    Though our parents spent big bucks on the ciriculum, we didn’t use it intensively until we were in second or even third grade….up to that point we spent a lot of time learning through hands on and exploration. We all learned fractions, for example, early and easily because mom took us into the kitchen and had us help her cook, especially baking where fractions matter a lot.
    I think kids learn to love reading and learning in general when they are able to set their own pace. I think my families experiences bear that out and I hope to convey the same attitudes and desires to my children.

  10. perhaps because i’m not a parent, this is absolutely beyond me. my parents read to me and with me constantly from birth and, as a result, i was reading by 5 and have never once in my life had an issue with reading, writing, or verbal communication. my playing was entwined in the books that i read, the stories i wrote and told to other children, the songs i could sing. my progress in other areas (sports, maths, sciences, technology) was helped purely by the fact that i could explain, clearly and eloquently, why i didn’t understand. i think being an early and competent reader was the best possible gift my parents could have given me.
    having your kids learn to play and be creative is just as important as learning to read and i wouldn’t agree that pressuring children into jumping through academic hoops (my own progress at school was a happy by product, but not my parents’ intention)is right. these things should be nurtured in balance, none at the expense of the other. but no matter how quickly your children will pick up reading and writing when they eventually come to it, how exactly can that make up for the several years they have lost?
    denying children such a massive part of their development until the age of eleven seems instinctively wrong to me. i hate to sound so negative but could someone tell me, what is the benefit of doing this?

    • Hi Fiona,

      Yes, I can tell you what I think the harm is in starting kids reading too early. First, there is no evidence that it does any long-term good–kids end up reading the same when they’re older, no matter if they started in kindergarten or 3rd grade. However, there is evidence that play and other types of learning do give children lasting benefits. It will be worse for them if these types of learning are missing or short-changed at a young age.

      Second, a young child’s body is rapidly developing, and needs to have first priority for the child’s energy. Overstimulating a child’s intellect diverts energy to the brain that should be going to the body. In particular, a young child’s inner organs are developing at a rapid pace and incomplete development could obviously cause problems decades down the road. This has not been studied, but stands to reason from what we know about physical development at this age. Rudolph Steiner, founder of Waldorf, believed this to be the case. You can look around you and see adults who are too much “in their heads” and have a frail body. This can’t be good for young children.

      In my son’s third grade Waldorf classroom, some are already good readers and others are still learning to read. It is not uncommon for a child who was way behind to suddenly have a spurt of interest that propels them ahead of children who have been reading for some time, and it’s out of joy rather than it being an arduous task. High school students who came through a Waldorf education typically have a great appetite for really challenging literature.

  11. Good points, Fiona. I should point out that I read to my kids every night too. Tonight, I read another chapter of “Treasure Island” to G-, and earlier read a “Tessy and Tab” and Scooby-Doo book to K- before she fell asleep. But reading books doesn’t necessarily mean that they are going to learn how to read. They’re into it, but there’s really no rush. My 11yo, A- is a voracious reader, amusingly so: she can read a book like Inkheart or Harry Potter in just a day or two. Just like I was as a kid!

  12. Hi. Just wondering if anyone has experienced children with Down Syndrome in a Waldorf classroom? Sounds like a perfect environment for children with DS to learn in. Thanks

    • Cathy,

      Camphill Schools are Steiner schools for children and adults w/ consitions such as Downs Syndrome. Steiner believed that the spirit that inhabits every body is perfect, even when the physical body is less than perfect. There are Camphill communities all around the world. I’m sure google will help you find the one closest to you.

  13. This is in response to Cathy’s question. I think it depends on the school. If the school is established, has a corp of experienced teachers, and maybe has some remedial support, I think it’s wonderful. But I just a few hours ago left a devastating meeting with a parent of a child of Down Syndrome at a Waldorf school that is coming to realize they cannot meet his needs right now. They’re just too young and inexperienced as a school and a classroom, and his needs are too great. His first year in Kindergarten was lovely, but this last year was a real struggle for many people; now he’s not ready for first grade, but not well matched for Kindergarten. He will be Waldorf-educated when he returns to his home community in a year, but that school is designed for children with special needs. I’m going through some significant sadness for his mother, for him, and for his brave teacher who is feeling connected to him but unable to serve him in all he needs. His mother is inconsolable and only seeing many negatives right now, and my heart breaks that maybe she’s feeling a hurt that will be with her a long time. He did need the nurturing, healing, and warm environment of the Early Childhood/Kindergarten classroom, and that first year it was probably exactly right for him…but his behavioral and learning needs just aren’t being met in a way that always keeps him safe and keeps the class intact should he decide to elope (very common in this population). A very sad situation, started with the best of intentions. So, in total….a good possibility, but approached carefully….blessings…

  14. Hi,
    Ive just ndiscovered this blog late at night after watching the your baby can read infomercial! I am a parent of eight from seven months to 25 years old including my wonderful @1 yr old aiden , who has Downs syndrome. I am also a former waldorf teracher and professional storyteller. I googled your baby can read waldorf to see if i found anyhting and found this blog! Yess Just exploring my thoughts.
    To Cathy . Aiden went to Waldorf for eight years. Four years kindergarten, lucky boy, and up to grade four. He had an aide. It was a good experience but we had realistic expectations.
    Im thinking about these things .. how we wanty to be with our little one Gabriel .. having some very |waldorf thoughts ! and wondering about either ors and ands .. inclusivity .. I am a storyteller and wondering if the meeting place in in the realm of oral tradition
    Need to go to bed now but heres my email ericjgordon@shaw,ca if anyone is so inclined and i will return in a more coherent way eric

  15. I am sorry, but anyone who understands the brain and child development knows that early reading and language development are key to success. If a child is introduced and encouraged to learn about language, to read, to be read to, such a basic fundamental skill will be so much easier. It has been shown that children who are read to and encouraged to read at an earlier age do better in school and in life. My children (oldest is 9) are reading well for their age. In fact, my 9 year old reads at a high 7th grade level, and comprehends what she reads. My 7 year old reads at a sixth grade level and attends gifted classes because of her advanced abilities. My four year old recognizes all of his letters and numbers, and connects the sounds that the letters make. This has not been “pushed” on them, rather we speak to them like they are actual people, don’t baby them, and introduce them to experiences (both written and real-life) that are interesting and meaningful. This whole “dream-like childhood” that the Waldorf approach encourages is a big reason why children have a hard time dealing with reality, learning to read, adapting to the world around them.
    This “free-love” hippie approach to learning should be banned, and children in Waldorf schools need to have real schooling. Parents who subscribe to this should not allow themselves to becoming brainwashed into this “cult”

    • Alicia,

      Sorry, there is no good evidence to support your claims. There has been research showing benefits of early schooling for disadvantaged children, who don’t even get exposure to good vocabulary and grammar at home, but there has never been any study showing a lasting benefit (past age 11) for early reading instruction for normal children. You have to look at how these studies are done.

      I have three nephews who went through Waldorf education; two did Waldorf K-12 and the other did Waldorf K-8 and then homeschooled himself in high school. Right now, one is in an MIT graduate program on full scholarship, another is in med school, and the third is a published author. In addition, all three have an appreciation of the arts, they play music, they are very creative, they have excellent people skills, and fantastic reasoning abilities, all of which is fostered in Waldorf education.

  16. I realize public education is nowhere near perfect. That being said, how do Waldorf educated kids handle the transition – if they need to make it – to public school. What about college? My mom taught 6th grade and would occasionally receive kids from Montessori and other alternative schools. They tended to have a very hard time adjusting mostly because they felt they could do what they wanted and refuse to do some assignments because they just didn’t feel like it. I think schools like Waldorf would be great for a preschool, or Pre-K. But I would be hard-pressed to go beyond that. In today’s society, education is key. And while I don’t believe in pressuring my 2 year old to learn, especially in this magical age of play (which is unfortunately too short), I am not about to hold it back from her. She loves books – knows her letters, numbers, colors. And if she wants to start reading in a few years I will definitely encourage her. I will teach her as much as I can before she starts school.
    I don’t think ANY kids should be made to feel bad at their abilities to learn – but what is the point of holding it back from them?
    I am so scared for what life will be like for her as a teenager…with technology changing as much as it will. When I was in HS I didn’t have internet, cell phones, text messaging, Myspace. I hope books stay important to her….and I feel like encouraging her now, and my husband and I reading will help.

  17. To Alicia: Visit some Waldorf schools before making judgments about what is “real schooling”. Both of my adult daughters attended Waldorf through 8th grade, began reading when they were ready and made excellent transitions to public high school and college. Reading may not be taught explicitly until 2nd grade, but look at the curriculum as the children progress through the grades – they are exposed to more than most publicly-educated students in the U.S. They were taught by teachers who understood the importance of art, music, movement and a connection to nature in the healthy development of children. Waldorf does not encourage a “dream-like childhood” (unless by this you mean imagination – which is essential for critical thinking in adolescence and adulthood) but rather a natural, healthy childhood. This includes recognizing developmental stages and how educating the heart (emotional life) and body is crucial. Waldorf schools give these the same attention as the intellect. I’ve worked in a public Waldorf school for over 11 years and have seen the positive effects of Waldorf education in 100s of students – many who are now adults and living productive lives (and can read beautifully, too).

  18. My son started his first day of 8th Grade in a Midwestern Waldorf School today. He has attended the same Waldorf School since kindergarten and has had the same teacher since 1st grade. In terms of delaying reading, all I can say is that that waiting on reading has paid off for my son. He absolutely loves to read (mostly science fiction, fantasy series books) and does it all the time. He is exceptional. Part of this success is just him though. Our second son, a fifth grader at the same Waldorf School, does not have nearly the same ability.
    My 8th Grade son recently took a standardized test to enter a public high school in my city. This school is a magnet, ranked 36th in the 2009 U.S. News and World Report rankings of Best Public High Schools. He has never taken a standardized test before in his life and he placed in the 91st percentile for reading comprehension (and 81st in math). Needless to say I was very happy and believe that a large portion of this success was due to his Waldorf education.

  19. Alicia knows nothing of what she speaks of. Do not listen to her. If I wasn’t so polite I’d call her an idiot and take her out to the woodshed. She obviously has some sort of axe to grind.
    The reference to “free-love” made me crack up since it is so ludicrous. I’m certain that my Waldorf educated children can read circles around her kids.

  20. Hello All!
    I came upon this blog by chance and I am so glad that I did! My son is currently in 4th grade at a public school. He has aspergers syndrome which has caused delays in his social skills and has caused some difficulty in his ability to gain information from the lecture style teaching that is common in public schools. He does much better with hands on and visual type learning. We are touring a Waldorf school in a month and I am wondering if anyone else out there has a child similar to mine, formerly or currently in a Waldorf school. I was also wondering if we should start him in 3rd grade when we switch him to waldorf since he is socially immature and compared to his peers in fourth grade public school, he isnt able to write essays and complete writing assignments easily. He has had an aide in school in the past, but this is because there are 35 kids in his class and he easily gets lost in the shuffle. I dont expect he would need an aide in a smaller classroom setting. He doesnt have any behavior problems such as tantrums or outbursts, his main behavior issue is being incredibly shy and not knowing how to join in with his peers in conversation. Socially is he more like a 6 or 7 year old than a 9 year old. any advice would be greatly appeciated! Thanks in advance ~Sonya

  21. The question to ask if you are looking at Waldorf schools is what systems and approaches are in place for the children who do not start reading “magically” and never put a book down, albeit by age 11. Every school differs.

  22. Hello Waldorf Parents,
    I am looking strongly in a waldorf school for my son but I have so many questions. Do these children
    fit in with society when they grow up? Is their education looked down on when applying to college? Are they good with mingling with children and teenagers who don’t go to waldorf schools? I don’t want him to feel like an outcast! Because the teachers don’t have masters degrees in education can I trust them to teach my child? Sorry for the overload but I can’t find anywhere else to ask these questions!
    Thanks for listening.

  23. Our daughter, 7 1/2, has attended a Waldorf-inspired public charter school since kindergarten. She is now in the 2nd grade and, yes, has the same teacher as last year, and by a fluke of classroom reshuffling, is even in the same room as last year. She knows all her fellow classmates and her teacher very well which creates a safe and stable environment for her. She is now starting to read and to me the real success that is unfolding is when she takes a random word from her spelling list and creates a sentence and a beautifully illustrated picture around the word. The sentence was: I said, “Mom, I want some food.” The vocab. word was “said,” it was right before dinner and she drew herself sitting at the table and me, preparing the food. In my mind, this type of spontaneous exercise (I didn’t suggest any of that to her) shows a deepening connection between the power of words and imagery. It is this kind of deep connection (which starts in kindergarten when children are taught stories that develop their imaginations—the first step toward reading) that is one reason we send her to this school.

  24. Jodi,
    Your son will fit in with society just fine. Waldorf kids in general are patient, calm, and emphathetic. They are interested in learning for learning’s sake and not just to achieve an A. (At least this is my experience with my 2 boys). I can’t really say how colleges view a Waldorf. My oldest is in 8th Grade and he will go to a public high school so I doubt any university that he applies to will pay much attention to education prior to high school. You can trust Waldorf teachers as much as you can trust any teachers. Ours are committed, sensible, intelligent people and many of them have upper level degrees. Good luck to you in your decision. Waldorf has a different slant on educating, but I believe for my two children is was the right choice.

  25. My son is 8 years old and in 3rd grade at a Waldorf school. I am concerned because he hasn’t started reading yet. I thought in Waldorf children start reading in 2nd grade and grow on it in 3rd. He brought homework the other day and couldn’t even read the first word in the directions: “find” Should I be concerned? I talked to other parents in the school and they told me their children started in 2nd.

  26. Yes, I would be concerned, Nana, and I would call up and have a conversation with the teacher. Half-way through third grade he should be reading or he should be diagnosed if there’s some sort of reading disorder (dyslexia, etc). Don’t wait!!

  27. My son, who is currently in 4th grade at a well-established Waldorf School, was behind in learning to read. This was not because of his education. In the second grade during standard eye testing it was discovered he was having vision difficulties (eye movement and focusing difficulties, convergence and tracking difficulties) despite having 20/20 vision. After a year of vision therapy and some added support at school he loves to read. In fact, he just finished the last Harry Potter book. At age 7 he could barely read basic words- at age 9 he has no trouble making it through a 700 page book.
    It is important to add that the strides he made in the last year not only came from the vision therapy but also from a strong support system at school. His teachers were wise and thoughtful in dealing with his delay. They took it seriously and made sure he had additional support in place without it feeling like a fire drill because he wasn’t meeting some standardized benchmark.

  28. I always think about when I was 6 and would see my mom and sister reading and I was Desperate to read too,but wasn’t taught in school until 8-9.I live in England now and have 2 sons.My son who is 6 in February has been learning phonics in school since he was 4.I am so impressed with his reading ability and he gets so much pleasure when he reads signs and labels to me.He is able to read such things as “the girl and boy walked down the street to the swimming pool.They both had a bag with their swimsuits.” I think that the older a chid is,the more difficult it becomes for them to learn language.I can’t imagine being 9 now and just being able to read.When I was young it was fine,as that was the age everyone was,but now I would think that it could do serious damage to children’s self esteem if they see a six yr old reading and they themselves are not able to read at 7 or 8 yrs old.Being able to read also gives them the opportunity to do more things that they couldn’t if they weren’t able to read,like reading the instructions to a board game,for example.

  29. I AGREE WITH ALICIA…. I know several people who attended WALDORF schools and are complete FLAKES! The Waldorf system lends to CULT thinking and guarantees Waldorf kids will look at life as if Harry Potter was reality… interesting how the Waldorf parents here, all seem to think Harry Potter is the standard for reading goals…VERY SAD! I am sure all these “wacko-hippie” parents would NEVER allow their kids to open a Bible..I REST MY CASE!!! AND AM RIGHT!!!

    • I am a Salford teacher, our 3 children attended waldorf schools and we attend church and worship each week. I wager the average waldorf kid knows more about the old testament than you do and can read and write and speak Hebrew, too. They also learn about all of this world’s religions and are tolerant not stupid like you thank god

    • That is absolutely not true. I am a Catholic who has my first child in his 3rd year of kindergarten. Our family values God first, always. We had a hope for the Waldorf school due to the true honest facts, however it’s so much cheaper to homeschool the Waldorf w. Next year our son is going to attend Catholic school that is very advanced (complete opposite.) I believe that just like all schools, you have the very religious people and ones who are not. Our Waldorf early childhood program said a prayer to God each day.

  30. Interesting comment, Larry. My friends who have children in public schools bemoan that their kids “didn’t get the reading gene”, whereas my older children, who have been in Waldorf schools all their life, are HUGE readers, typically going through 3-4 books/week. My 13yo reads adult fiction without even realizing that it’s unusual, so based on a data sample of one, the comment of Harry Potter being the highest to which they can manage is bunk.
    Now, in terms of the Bible, that depends on the translation, doesn’t it? Generally it’s quite poorly written and quite confusing to figure out what is happening and what the point is. That’s one reason that there are Bible study groups, isn’t it?
    And for what it’s worth, the Waldorf schools I’ve visited are way more religious than any public school, with pictures of Mary and baby Jesus on the walls, celebrations of Christian saints and even school holidays around (admittedly obscure) Christian saints that you’d never see anywhere else outside of a Christian / Catholic school. Honestly, it’s one of the things I’m not so enamored of…

  31. Just came across this from a Google search. We’re planning on a Waldorf-inspired home school education…and the reading is completely a moot point. My 4 1/2 year old daughter has already taught herself. Issue solved! 🙂 Totally agree that kids have their own schedules. She learned to talk at 3 1/2 and started reading at 4.

  32. If you are reading this article and are thrown off by the anti-Waldorf comments, consider the tone of the writers. The general theme is one of anger and their comments are full of accusations and subjective judgments about those who attend Waldorf schools. I am sure that must be a result of their very biased public school education, which has it’s own very serious issues. If you doubt that, get your hands of Gatto’s book “Dumbing Us Down” ASAP! Steiner was a visionary, ahead of his time.

  33. Why do people think that enforcing a developmental schedule on children is a good idea, whether forcing kids to read faster or holding them back when ready to learn. Steiner’s ideas are based on his spiritual insights not scientific observation. His developmental stages do not correspond to the evidence provided by developmental psychology. I personally know two mothers, one a poet and one an artistic designer, who each had their children in a Waldorf school for a year and pulled them out because their children were unhappy. One child was told he couldn’t bring in a science book about snakes that he loved because it wasn’t grade appropriate. Both children, now adolescents still speak negatively of the Waldorf experience. Education should be individual tailored to the student. Waldorf may produce great artists but how many great scientist or even great athletes come from Waldorf schools. The encouragement of the development of imagination and artistic expression encouraged by a Waldorf education is admirable, but the forced developmental schedule is not. An approach that uses the self-directed style of learning found with Montessori along with the support artistic of artistic development found in Waldorf, along with a program that encourages physical development would be ideal. If your child is exclusively a non-competitive artistic type Waldorf may be ideal for them, for most children it is not!

  34. After an independent Waldorf School Kindergarten, we picked a Charter Waldorf School, which mixes Waldorf methods and public school standards, for my son’s first grade. He is starting to read by sounding out words and is very excited. As long as he is into it we are excited too.
    Waldorf is not designed to hold kids back, but to resist pushing them before they are ready.
    Common sense must override over zealousness to imbibe a teaching. And a real professional will always think of allowing and not pressuring when it comes to learning.

  35. My 2 daughters go to a Charter/Waldorf inspired school in Northern California. They are both in second year Kindergarten. One child is 6, and typically developing, and one is 8 with Down’s Syndrome.
    It has been my experience, so far, that there really is no perfect classroom for my daughter with DS. I will say she loves school, has friends, is around excellent speech models. Perhaps what I am most pleased about is the introduction to so many things that many children in special ed classes never get the chance to fall in love with. Nature, crafts, art, music can be things that make a huge difference in the quality of life for a person with DS. As she is about to enter into first grade I will continue to way it out and be honest about who she is and what we expect from her, knowing that at some point I may have to switch gears and move her when the upper grades start to move too fast, or maybe not. This is a journey and we do not know all of the answers.
    I would say my daughter is learning things every day at her Waldorf School that are really important for the long term. I may have to supplement an outside reading program, where she can get more repetition. But at the end of the day I am not sure how much difference it is going to make in her life if she reads at a 5th grade level or a 7th grade level? I want a happy whole child/adult who can function in society, be part of a community, and have loving relationships and hobbies and interests.
    Her sister BTW is daily turning into the most beautiful girl, and loves this school. She is a perfect fit for this curriculum.
    A note to all the people bashing this program. Meet some kids who have gone to school at a Waldorf School. They will impress you. It was not the la-ti-da kindergarten program that wowed me, it was the graduates. (They read, you know)

  36. My son is in 5th grade and has been in private Waldorf school since kindergarten. We’re struggling with whether to move him to public middle school in 6th grade. Main reason is the public standard for 5th grade is so much higher than that of Waldorf that I’m afraid that he is falling more and more behind and that he will fail miserably in public high school. For example, amount of math being taught is only about 50% of public curriculum. As a whole, we like the school (and so does my son) but we have serious concerns about amount of material and depth being taught. The teacher assures us that by 8th grade, he will be all caught up but I was hoping the 2 lines would intersect by 5th grade. Comments?

  37. Heather,
    Obviously this question is unanswerable without knowing more about your child, the school, homelife, etc. What I can say is that my 8th grade son who has attended a private Waldorf School since kingergarten will attend a top 100 public high school in the US (per US News & WR). Admission is based on passing a standardized test. He tested well above the cutoff on the math portion of the test.
    I would not worry about the Waldorf curriculum. Possibly there is an issue with the teacher, or maybe your child is not responding to the way math is taught.
    In addition, my belief/understanding is that Waldorf kids are ahead of public kids in math since math is included in many activities they do (i.e., handwork, music).

  38. My son is currently a sophmore in a public high school and attended a waldorf school for 8 years. I, too, was worried about how he would transition into public education. It turned out that he was light years ahead of his peers academically, artistically and emotionally. The transition was only difficult for him because all of a sudden his teachers didn’t seem to care. They just wanted to get through the material- they didn’t want to explore or discuss it. He has adjusted and has learned to “play the game”, but it is a bummer to see your child hunger for more and have to settle for a boring A.
    That hunger comes from his Waldorf education. Waldorf taught him to think. I can’t say enough about the wisdom of Waldorf- a deeply beautiful way to educate your child.

  39. My son attended Waldorf and he has turned out great 🙂 I think they started him out at a great age because he was a quick learned and was ahead of his class growing up.

  40. As a former student of Waldorf I write this entry as a warning to anyone thinking of sending their child to this school. You must first research for yourself who Rudolph Steiner was. He was the leading occultist worldwide of his time. He was completely devoted to the occult and satan worship. It has been said that in his presence one could feel that he was completely dead inside and that he radiated evil. His beliefs were followed by madame Blavatsky who influenced Hitler to initiate WWII based on her and Steiner’s teachings on the Aryan race. In the school itself you will encounter a mask of goodness and wholesomeness which is only a cover for the occultic ritual that goes on there. Waldorf is a fools paradise. If you are looking for a truly wholesome and rewarding alternative education for your child just try traditional homeschooling. At least then you will know you are not being fooled.

  41. Thanks for sharing that, Mark. I can only say “your milage may vary”: we have been intimately involved with Waldorf schools for a decade now – including my going on teacher retreats as a member of the school board of trustees – and while I am obviously quite aware of Rudolf Steiner and his eclectic and occult beliefs, I have never found it to be an issue at all. Then again, I’m not mainstream Jewish or Christian either, so talk about reincarnation or karma are right in alignment with my own spiritual beliefs.
    To say that there’s an “occultic ritual” going on at the school is a bit much, and “it has been said” is innuendo and gossip at its worst, but I honor your right to have these beliefs. I just don’t agree. At all.

  42. Yes, it is very obvious who here are the Waldorf proponents and who are not. Frankly, as a parent, I would much prefer my child attend a Waldorf school and come out speaking as a respectful human being than an ignorant, judgemental, angry person. Who wants to live that way? Waldorf is not about being a hippy, satanist or what have you. It’s a different approach to education and one that any one has a right to chose. If you do not agree with the Waldorf philosophy then don’t send your child there. No one is forcing you to do so. But do not deny the people who want to send their kids to a Waldorf school the right to that option. Just as people send their children to a Jewish school or Catholic school or homeschool or unschool…we as parents have the right to decide what is best for our children and we should not be persecuted for that.
    I chose Waldorf for my three children now 28, 29 and 31. They attended a Waldorf school from K-8 and successfully and easily transitioned to the local public high school where they participated in the arts and excelled in traditional academics. The love for learning that they grew up during their Waldorf education enabled them to carry that love of learning on to high school. Homework was not a battle, they loved to learn and to explore and to teach. Teachers always commented that they were a joy to have in class. Bright individuals who respected others and respected themselves. They were active in their school body, in their community and all 3 went on to obtain their Ph.D’s. 2 of my 3 children spent 2 years in Spain teaching various classes in the schools there and immersed themselves in the culture just to see what it would be like. I am very proud of my children and I whole heartedly believe that their success in life had everything to do with their Waldorf beginnings. We are not satanists, we are not cult participants, we are not hippies….we are human beings who are respectful, peaceful, bright, happy and truly love life. Those who speak with such anger obviously were not raised in a loving, accepting environment. Just because something is different does not make it bad.

  43. Wow…yeah, children who grow up to be happy, healthy adults accepting of all people and respectful of all life on this planet…such a tragedy. We truly need less people like that on this earth. I’m literally shocked by some of the statements on here. How hateful. It makes me realize how scared people are of the unknown and of things different than they are. Who is spreading the hate and anger on this blog? The Waldorf people or the anti Waldorf people? That says a lot right there. And ironic that those are the people claiming there is something wrong, evil or bad about Waldorf kids. The proof is in the pudding. Is it bad to be taught to love and respect all things? And what are the public schools teaching? That one size fits all and if you don’t fit into that mold then you just are not an integral part of society? That everyone needs to finish at the same time and learn at the same pace? That children can FAIL if they don’t measure up? What is so wrong with trying to raise happy children who LOVE to learn? I used to teach public elementary school before I had kids and I can’t tell you how many of the students hated learning, hated homework, hated to read…they didn’t like anything about school except for play time! The ones who DID like school were called nerds and picked on. Is that the kind of upbringing and environment we want for our kids?? People who attack Waldorf DON’T KNOW anything about Waldorf because if you DID then you would see that what you think is wrong. Those of you worried that Waldorf goes too slow…you need to educate yourself on Waldorf philosophy before enrolling your child in a Waldorf school. If you take out a snippet of the curriculum, yeah you may think the kids are behind…and they very well may be if you compare them to another child in a regular public school. But in the END they will have attained the same knowledge as any other child in any other school with the added benefit…they actually liked learning it all, the want to learn MORE, they are enthusiastic about school, they are confident and they didn’t just memorize things to pass a test. Everything they learned, they learned with every sense in their body. It’s relevent to them, they understand things on a level that public school kids just don’t get. But if you want to put your child on a Waldorf track, then it’s important to stay on that track until high school when they will be caught up with the other kids. EDUCATION IS A JOURNEY, NOT A RACE!

  44. My daughter attended 2 years of Waldorf Preschool through 2nd grade. She is not reading and struggling with sight words. I was not impressed with the quality of work in the year end book this year. There are some very troublesome boys in this large class of 25 children. I feel my daughter is lost in the shuffle. The cost is $1000 month. Many children in the higher grades have tutors. With the cost of the school, I am unable to have a tutor or do other after school activities. Our family is unable to take vacations the way we used to because of the large financial investment. We now have another child we did not plan. I feel there is no way we will be able to afford to send both children to Waldorf. It is with great sadness and fear but I feel I must pull my child out and put into the 3rd grade in public school. I am searching for information on what happens to the child like mine. I would love to hear from you an honest answer.

    • I am sorry for you, have you met with the teacher? Many children are not reading end of grade two or they don’t like to read for parents. Is your daughter happy in the class?

  45. I am a reading intervention teacher at a public school. Many Waldorf students have enrolled in our school who are very far behind in their ability to read. Some of these students had undiagnosed reading disabilities – dyslexia, processing problems, etc. These are the children who were not pursuing reading because they were not feeling successful when attempting to read; they needed systematic, explicit instruction and early intervention. A percentage of children will learn to read regardless of the type of reading instruction that is available, but it is sad to see other children struggle because they didn’t get the type of instruction that they needed. If anyone in your family has had reading difficulties, keep an eye out – a child of a dyslexic parent has a 50% chance of being dyslexic. Look at the research on early childhood education. DIBELS has some interesting research based information on benchmarks for reading and probabilities for kids catching up once they fall behind.
    It sound like Waldorf has some great things going for it, but so do many public schools. Public schools are not good at marketing and advertising their strengths. We have people in our community who have not checked out our school even though we have fantastic enrichment programs – art, computers, artists in the schools. Our students go on field trips to study the coho salmon, they observe and learn about seals in our parks. They learn about the local watershed, raise mealworms in the classroom, etc., etc. However we have had to cancel our 4 day environmental camp due to lack of parent assistance. It would be nice if some of the parents of the children who commute to Waldorf would invest some of their energy in the public schools. It would certainly help to expand our programs and bring more equity to the socioeconomically disadvantaged children who do not have as many choices in education.

  46. I live next to Steiner school kids in Schaffhausen Switzerland.
    They make my life hell & impede me from reading, learning German or anything for they don’t know how to read, are in school very few hours and can only run, scream, howl and whatever obnoxious noises their “creative” brains can think of.
    Being unable to read what else can they know to do? Even to do artistic projects sometimes one may need to read instructions. When I was their age (approx 8 yrs) I knew about plants and animals ( wild and domesticated), walked in the forest, participated in summer reading programs, read Gone with the Wind, won art contests, varnished furniture and was in a classroom twice as long per week. Most kids had a couple of years of piano and dance behind them. These kids also will be behind in computers.
    I pity these kids and anyone who must live near them. I have visited the school and the kids run and nearly knock you down the stairs.
    This pitiful excuse for schooling should not be allowed.
    By the time these kids can read they will be at puberty and instead of running around screaming will move directly to sex and drugs since nothing is in their brains. They will never read. I am tempted to compare them to animals but such behavior is not tolerated by animals.

  47. Sounds like you have a lot of frustration and unhappiness about the school adjacent to you, Hilda. I can only say that our experience at a Waldorf school is not at all like what you say, and that my two older children (now 11 and 14) are voracious readers, often a book a day, while my 7yo is just getting there and so, so eager to be able to read all by herself…

  48. I have read with great interest all the comments and realise that we are always wary of that which we know nothing about. My grandaughter is going to public school next week after 2 years at waldorf kindergarten – the fees are not affordable. i have been to the school on several occasions and have loved its gentleness, the allowing of the children to proceed at their own pace and the wonderful suppport the parents give to the school making it more like a community. I though live in England and have been governor of a state (Public) primary school for 6 years so have experienced a very different education system. There are many targets, a lot of extra booster groups to get children up to standard, a great deal of help for the under achievers but also many, many experiences of sport, dance, song, nature etc.The school is in an area where many of the children have extra needs-social, emotional and financial. My daughter and i have had discussions about this and I feel that children who have little support at home need the extra input from the school to push them as they won’t get it from their parents. If children have parents who take the out to the woods, read to them regularly and expose them to many wonderful experiences outside of school the Waldorf will be fine. I just hope my little grandaughter will find her place, she has absolutely wonderful parents so should be fine

  49. Hi, I am considering putting my son in Waldorf but I am worried too about the academics. I fully embrace the environment, the arts, the peers and teachers and the spiritual, emotional and humanistic approach, but I am someone that doesn’t like to swing too far to the other side-I don’t want to embrace the arts and the expense of the academics.

    My son loves science and wants me to read science books that are at a grade 6 level I am sure (I can hardly say some of the words never mind what they mean), he’s only 4 and he wants a telescope and a microscope for his birthday and he knows all his letters and the phonics of them as well.

    Is Waldorf right for him? I know socially and emotionally it is, but he is and eager beaver when it comes to learning. Can I teach him science and reading on my own? Thank you for your help and answers.

    • My eldest is in sixth grade and could be considered an academic. Some of the work is easier for her and other work harder (just like any of us). She has become an amazingly smart, creative thinker that is confident and good with who she is. If you want a well rounded education for your child in which they are respected and in turn respect and appreciate others and themselves, then yes!

  50. Good question, Melanie, and it might well depend on the school and teacher, but generally what I’ve heard is that young children aren’t developmentally ready for advanced topics and it’s not uncommon for children to enter kindergarten reading, for example, and then be told not to read until they’re a bit older, rather than celebrate and foster that reading skill. Smart? You can decide…

  51. what about the science factor? It doesn’t seem Waldorf encourages science and experimentation until the teen years….thank you

    • My experiece with my children in a Waldorf school is that they are always challeged to be creative thinkers. My now 6th grader has studied botany, physics, acoustics, geometry and so much more. I believe that science and discovery is an integral part of the curriculum.

  52. We have 2 children in a Waldorf school and both are on either end of the spectrum. Our eldest began reading early on her own. We didn’t discourage this, but let her do what she wanted or needed to do. Our other daughter is nine and has just started reading. She loves it now! I realy believe Waldorf schools give children the early stepping stones to reading and when they are ready, it is amazing. We need to give our children the gift of time and childhood!

  53. Hmm Well I was just searching on yahoo and just came across your site, generally I just only visit sites and retrieve my required info but this time the useful info that you posted in this post urged me to post here and appreciate your diligent work. I just bookmarked your site. Thank you again.

  54. Greetings,

    I am a Waldorf Kindergarten teacher and a mother of two Waldorfians. I love waldorf. I also love when things naturally evolve. I believe the waldorf movement could better serve the children and families if it let go of the mantra ” This is how we do things”, and embrace the mantra, ” How can we do things better.” This would bring about a bit of evolution in the movement. Bottom line – we need to start being playful with numbers and letters in kindergarten – introduce them through fun games and hands on activities. While the public schools are moving too fast, we are moving a tad too slow in the area of language development. Balance is key and we must be able to objectively observe our own educational movement to see where we have gone off balance due to the fact that we do not dare to explore how we can teach differently. It is not so much about whether the children pick up reading later on. My daughter was a classic waldorf child who didn’t read until 4th grade and now she does not put down a book. Examining it from the present moment, when the children are still in kindergarten, is where we need to put our attention and ask the hard questions. There are social and cognitive reasons why I believe it would benefit the children, the parents, the community, and the educational movement, if Waldorf became just a wee bit playful with letters and numbers in the kindergarten.

    • Hi, mamamia!

      I am a father of a 4yo waldorfian girl and of two soon to be Waldorfians 😉 I´m very curious to know a little bit more about your reasons.

      I love the overall Waldorf approach and worldiview, we don´t even have a TV set, etc. but sometimes I think we could supplement her education with some classical/liberal activities homeschoolers usually practice at home. What do you think? Many, many thanks, God bless,


  55. Hello, everyone!
    My son is now 6 in a public school, of the Quebec System. I am completely against pushing children to learn too fast esp. When his teacher told us that by december they are expected to read. My son is keeping up with that but he is a curious and very creative child. Somehow the system here encourages unhealthy learning. When he was 2.5 he was in a peivate daycare where the teacher started to push them holding a pen. Then he started kindergarten here at five where the program in my mind was again too pushy. So i have decideed to move him to a waldorf school because i just don’t want him to be pushed any further. I only learned about waldorf schools after he started kindergarten and i felt this is the education every child deserves. I am just concerned if he starts waldorf now when he already has started to read, would he find the every day in waldorf boring?

  56. I read at 3, got into it really big at 5, and I’m still am avid reader at 35.

    My daughter is 3 , she sounds out cvc words, loves having us read stories, loves audio books, and she’s big into story-telling.

    My son is almost 3. I don’t touch anything reading with him outside of sound games. His interest is elsewhere right now. That’s okay.

    This has been the story with my well, as I’m a trained Montessori teacher. We definitely differ quite wildly in our concept of reading instruction.

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