The six-year-old year seems to be a make or break point for many parents as they sort through their homeschooling options, and it is an age where many parents give up on Waldorf, doubt they can do Waldorf in First Grade, or just decide Waldorf is not right for their six-year-old and forge ahead with academics (usually in a Classical style).
Some parents I have talked to fear their child is “getting behind” because in the United States, most six-year-olds are in the first grade. If the parent keeps the child in “Waldorf Kindergarten” another year, not only will they behind in homeschooling, but suppose they ever have to transfer to public school? Then they will be behind and everyone will know it!
If you go back and read the series of four posts on the six-year-old, I think you will clearly see by BOTH traditional developmental views and anthroposophical views, six year olds are DOERS, not deep thinkers. They may be ready for “more” but that can easily be satisfied with real projects, real work, longer stories, more physical activity. It does not mean that the early six-year-old year is a time for stringent academic work.
I remember a time in our six-year-old year where my eldest, who was just over six-and-a-half at the time, really did seem to want to do academics. It was near the end of our school year, (our last year of Waldorf Kindergarten), so we started to look at math in preparation for the fall. Her urge to do “real math” lasted about a week. I didn’t push it, and let the issue fade away. Some six-and-a-half year olds may be ready for Waldorf first grade, but mine was not. Someone asked me what I would do if she did that in the fall ; what would happen if she would quickly loose interest at that point, when it was time for real work. I guessed that she would not lose interest, that she would be seven then and would be ready. And she was.
Some parents feel their first grader will be bored in Waldorf first grade because the child can read and write already, and he or she already knows the numbers or even beginning mathematics. This has been addressed again and again in the section of “Waldorf First Grade” in the tag section. My eldest was reading at a fourth grade level when we started first grade this year. The stories of the first grade are designed to speak and live in the hearts of the first grader, the almost seven-year-old, to come out in their play. It is not all about the academics, and while the academics are important, there certainly are many ways to adjust Waldorf first grade for children who are “ahead” or “behind”. (Oh, how I hate those terms in our homeschooling vocabulary!). In our case, we did do all the things anyone else would do in first grade, we did many hands -on things for our main lessons, lived into our bodies and into art and music. My daughter read books for pleasure at her reading level, and did not feel it beneath her to not have to write volumes of words about the fairy tales. She enjoyed learning about the qualities of numbers. This is because this is where the child is developmentally. The American method of pushing early learning has not speeded up the process of learning, and has in fact put our children further and further behind at the middle school and high school levels when compared to children of other countries who start their formal learning later.
Your six-year-old child is still little, just crossing over the bridge into the land of authority mixed with imitation as they approach first grade. Waldorf first grade for the almost seven-year-old should be this, should be a three-day rhythm, a wonder of art and main lesson book drawing, of music. Is your six-year-old truly ready for that? And should your little six-year-old be doing this? It is our job to protect the six-year-old, their senses until they are ready for first grade. Waldorf is about unfolding, and protection in these early years, not pushing.
And I know this view will probably irritate my eclectic Waldorf homeschoolers, but here goes: as far as parents forging ahead during the six-year-old year with Classical studies, I do feel there is a crossroads there. Doing arts and crafts and wet –on -wet watercolor painting does not a Waldorf homeschooler make. Doing arts and crafts to “balance out academics”, as I have heard some parents say, does not a Waldorf homeschooler make.
In many ways, either one agrees with the seven-year-cycles as a viable theory of childhood development and adjusts the schooling to meet the child’s developmental needs, or one decides that the seven-year-cycles, the Waldorf way of teaching whole to parts and all the ways Waldorf introduces math, letters, and science in the first grade is a bunch of crock. Choose and decide. You are the parent, and you do the best for your own family and your own child, but sometimes you do actually have to make a choice.
I think there are ways to mix topics of interest to your child and Waldorf, but it is much harder to mix Classical and Waldorf. Donna Simmons has a post about this on her blog, perhaps it will provide food for thought for you if you are at this crossroads of deciding what is best for your child. This is a decided pro-Waldorf view of comparing Classical and Waldorf methodology:
Another blog post that can help one sort out how other methods can be integrated into Waldorf can be found on Donna Simmons’ blog here:
If you need some inspiration, I humbly refer you to my blog post about why we chose Waldorf as a method to homeschool:
Many parents feel Waldorf homeschooling requires so much of the teacher, and feel Classical homeschooling is much simpler, much easier to look at definable progress with their children. The goal of Waldorf education is to encompass the whole child, the whole being, to lay a solid foundation for the future health of the child in the adult years. I honestly think once one reads Steiner, sees examples of blocks and starts to think, it is not any more difficult to create teaching plans in the Waldorf style than it is to open up a bunch of workbooks for your child. It is just that this creative way of looking at bringing academics and morality to our children is often not the way we were taught, and seems so foreign to all of us.
If you make a commitment to try Waldorf First Grade, in the true Waldorf way, for six months, and then open up and look at the dryness of the workbooks and textbooks your child would be using in the First Grade with other methods, I think you will see there is no comparison. Waldorf is alive and bringing all that humanity in a developmentally appropriate way. Waldorf does cover the Greeks, the Romans, all the history that the Classical method covers but at a later time where Waldorf feels the child is developmentally ready. Waldorf is extremely academically rigorous, and the quality of work, understanding and knowledge is outstanding.
If you feel as if you are drowning in the six-year-old year, my thought is you are probably putting too much pressure on yourself and your child for this year. Enjoy the gift of the six-year-old year as you use it as the transition it is for First Grade. Make sure your child can handle the longer stories, memorizing longer verses and songs, can handle projects that span several days. Your child will need these skills in the First Grade.
If you are concerned that your workload will be too great (and do see my post about Waldorf Homeschooling planning – if you start now for only 10 or 15 minutes a day you could have your own open and go Waldorf Syllabus by fall, created by you, for your own child!), then do check into Melisa Nielsen’s open and go first grade curriculum at http://www.alittlegardenflower.com/store/ or Donna Simmons’ First Grade Syllabus at www.christopherushomeschool.org . Look at the free blocks available in the FILES section of Marsha Johnson’s Yahoo!Group. It may give you a jumping off point and give you the confidence to do Waldorf at all!
You have to consider what is best for your family, but please do not discount Waldorf education at home before you have even tried.
Think carefully, act mindfully, and best of love and luck in planning the best educational experience for your precious child.