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?