Sunday, February 2, 2014

Waldorf Three-Week Update

First, just a little bit about why I chose Waldorf.

The background

As I mentioned in my previous post, I was looking for something different. I really wanted to get away from the programs that focused on accelerated academic instruction. I am concerned that this early pressure and these early gains that children experience come at a price.

As educational psychologist Jane Healy explains in her book Endangered Minds: Why Children Don't Think, "Before brain regions are myelinated [and nerves have the outer coating needed to transmit impulses], they do not operate efficiently. For this reason, trying to make children master academic skills for which they do not have the requisite maturation may result in mixed-up patterns of learning. I would contend that much of today's academic failure results from academic expectations for which students' brains were not prepared--but which were bulldozed into them anyway."

Not mention, I've read a number of articles (which, like this post) disparage academic preschools and warn that early gains do not result in any advantage later on--that, in fact, early gains can result in burn-out and even learning disabilities. 

By doing away with the typical academic program you'd see in a VPK or kindergarten today (at least where I'm from), Waldorf has left room for play, work (there are chores like making soup and baking bread each day that the students are asked to participate in), and storytelling.

For those reasons, the Waldorf program holds a lot of appeal. However, I acknowledge that children and parents can have a negative Waldorf experience as much as they can have a negative academic preschool experience. And the same goes with positive experiences. (And maybe it's just a school-by-school basis.) I think one of the challenges as a parent is determining which avenue holds the greatest risk and which holds the greatest reward. 

The update

We started out just doing half days for the first couple of weeks, to help ease the transition. We sent her full time this week. After school, whether its been a full day or a half day, she's been extremely tired. She says she had fun, but she never wants to tell me any details! Day after day, she tells me she can't remember any of the kids' names, and I when I ask what she did all day, she either says she can't remember or she just played outside. Sigh. One day, though, when I came to pick her up, she actually cried. She didn't want to come home with me. This was validating. 

One of the things I wrote down in this somewhat extensive (and a little invasive) survey the school gave me before Violet was enrolled was that I wanted her to become more self-reliant. Violet has wanted to be babied by me--a lot--since Harper was born, and for the most part, I've done it. That's not to say there weren't clear boundaries with her, just that if she wanted to be held, I held her. If she didn't want to get dressed by herself, I dressed her rather than insist that she do it. I can't be sure I've been doing the right thing, but in my mind, I thought if that's what she needs from me right now, then I should give it, freely. I told myself the rest would come.

Since she's been in school, though, she's been working on buttoning her shirts, and she's been cleaning herself on her own when she uses the bathroom, both things that she wasn't willing to do at home before. I'm really happy about this, because I believe that kids gain a lot of confidence when they are able to be more independent.

We also attended a Waldorf birthday party today, with puppet show and tea service (with gluten-free and organic cookies). From what I understand, the puppet show is a typical part of a Waldorf birthday celebration. Before the show began, the teacher lit a candle and sang a song. The puppet show was about a little girl who wanders into the woods to chase after fairies. She runs into some helpful gnomes, and eventually, she meets Mother Earth, who welcomes her with a big hug. Then she wakes up. It was sweet, but also a little weird. The teacher blew on a handheld recorder or penny whistle to get the kids' attention, and she passed out leaves to each of the children after the play was over. I didn't get a chance to talk to the parents of the other kids as much as I'd hoped I would, but some  who introduced themselves had a soft, sing-song voice (as do the teachers). I think it's great for the kids and for my four-year-old daughter, but for me, it was a little off-putting.

All in all, though, I think it's going well. Violet is happy. As time goes on, I hope to learn more about her teacher and about what they are learning (doing) in class.

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