I set out to write a post about the differences between Waldorf and The Well-Trained Mind for the Early Grades, since the post about Waldorf and The Well-Trained Mind in the Early Years was fairly popular.
It has been difficult to write this post. I do know homeschooling mothers who seem adept enough to combine both a classical approach with Waldorf elements, but I found it extremely difficult to find the similarities because the assumed views on childhood development is just so very different. Please feel free to add in comments at the bottom to assist other mothers.
Here is a little chart I made to keep track of things, and you can see for yourself where things coincide or don’t.
The First Four Grades:
|The Well-Trained Mind||Waldorf|
|Overall emphasis||“A classical education requires a student to collect, memorize, and categorize information. Although this process continues through all twelve grades, the first four grades are the most intensive for fact collecting.” (page 21, TWTM 2004)Works within four year cycles of history, literature and science. Has three stages – Grammar, Logic and Rhetoric stage.
Academic works starts early, with the Parroting Stage
|An education that focuses on the whole human being based upon Steiner’s philosophies. The human being is regarded as a spiritual being on a spiritual journey, and as such, the educational curriculum is set up to develop the young child’s skills and abilities in accordance to this standard. Works within seven-year-cycles and what is appropriate for one age is not appropriate for the other ages.
The Seven Year Stages include Willing, Feeling and Thinking – logical thought is seen coming in at age 14.Truly focused academic work starts at age 7, prior to that the child learns through play.
|Approach to Creativity||“Your job, during the elementary years, is to supply the knowledge and skills that will allow your child to overflow with creativity as his mind matures.” (page 22)
”Too close a focus on self-expression at an early age can actually cripple a child later on; a student who has always been encouraged to look inside himself may not develop a frame of reference, a sense of how ideas measure up against the thoughts and beliefs of others.”
|“in these years we must always take care that, as teachers, we create what goes from us to the children in an exciting way so that it gives rise to the imagination. Teachers must inwardly and livingly present the subject material; they must fill it with imagination.” (page 210, The Foundations of Human Experience)Emphasis on the teacher preparing the material and having the teacher present the material as opposed to reading it from a book. No textbooks are used.
In Steiner’s views, the teaching through art and rhythm and music IS the way to teach, , the children do what the teacher does (although if you look at the Main Lesson books of a Waldorf class none of the paintings, books, etc look the same!)
|Approach to Reading||“Let him read, read, read. Don’t force him to stop and reflect on it yet.” (page 23)||Reading is taught by introducing the letter sounds through moving their bodies like the letters, drawing the lines and curves, writing letters from the fairy tales, and then the child learns to read through their own writing and then through printed text. Steiner said in “Soul Economy”, page 142: “In many ways, children show us how the people of earlier civilizations experienced the world; they need a direct connection with whatever we demand of their will…..we must offer children a human and artistic bridge to whatever we teach. “ On page 144, Steiner said, “We have to point out that our slower approach is really a blessing, because it allows children to integrate the art of writing with their whole being.”
”It would be inappropriate to teach reading before the children have been introduced to writing, for reading represents a transition from a will activity to abstract observation.” (page 148).
|Priority in Education in the Early Grades||“In the elementary grades, we suggest that you prioritize reading, writing, grammar, and math.” (page 25)
”In a way, grammar of language is a foundation on which all other subjects rest. Until a student reads without difficulty, he can’t absorb the grammar of history, literature, or science; until a student writes with ease, he can’t express his growing mastery of this material.”
|Teaching academic subjects through movement, rhythm and art; fostering a sense of imagination and liveliness in children; teaching with economy; understanding and teaching in accordance with the view of the child as a three-fold human being; fostering a sense of love throughout these early grades and a natural respect of adult authority.
Grammar in a traditional German Waldorf school was taught rather early (second grade) as it is nearly impossible to write in German without the grammar piece. Donna Simmons comments on this in her “Living Language” book
|Spelling, English Grammar, Reading and Writing||Spelling – recommends spelling workbook and spending 10 minutes a day on spelling
Grammar – learning parts of speech, proper relationship between these parts of speech, and the mechanics of the English language with First Language Lessons for The Well-Trained Mind. Uses narration as a tool for grammar.
Reading follows history; First Grade – Ancients, Second Grade – Medieval- early Renaissance, Third Grade- Late Renaissance-early Modern, Fourth Grade- Modern. Memorizing of poems of four to eight poems during the school year. Free reading time each day.
|Most Waldorf students will be reading by the second or third grade well because they start later. And contrary to popular belief, Waldorf teachers do expect their children to read well! Grammar is taught starting in First Grade with simple punctuation. Steiner talked about the control of speech development through grammar and what comes through speech enters into writing and then reading (page 209, The Foundations of Human Experience).
Memorization also emphasized with students learning many lines (usually hundreds of lines by the end of the school year) of poems, verses, songs, and dialogue for plays that change with the seasons, festivals.
|Math||Starting with concrete objects and moving into mental math. Recommends math programs, workbooks||Starts with math by examining qualities of numbers and moving into all four math processes in first grade through story; For complete goals, do see Ron Jarmon’s math book. Math is a whole body experience of games, stomping, clapping. No workbooks, but concepts may be drawn into Main Lesson Book . Emphasis also on mental math.|
|History||“History, in other words, is not a subject. History is the subject.” (page 104) “A common assumption found in history curricula seems to be that children can’t comprehend (or be interested in) people and events distant from their own experience. So the first-grade history class is renamed Social Studies and begins with what the child knows: first, himself and his family, followed by his community, his state, his country, and only then the rest of the world. This intensive self-focused pattern of study encourages the student of history to relate everything he studies to himself, to measure the cultures and customs of other peoples against his own experience. And that exactly what classical education fights against – a self absorbed, self-referential approach to knowledge.” (page 106) For first grade, recommends Story of the World as written by the Bauers, coloring pages and original drawings by the child of Ancient History events with captioning, use of maps. Use of hands-on projects as well as books.
Second Grade much the same with memorization of such things as the rulers of England from Egbert through Elizabeth I, along with each ruler’s family allegiance, ruler of Scotland form Malcolm II through James VI, major wars and disc overies (page 116). Third Grade about the same, Fourth Grade use of map to learn 50 states of the United States, history of own state.
|History is traced and intermingled with the way people viewed past events – starting with stories pre-literate people may have told around the fire at night (fairy tales), moving into fables and folktales, tales of Saints and Heroes (not taught within a religious context) and Buddhist tales in the second grade, using the history and stories of Creation, Native American myths and the Old Testament from the Bible for the third grader going through the nine-year change, Fourth grade Norse myths to speak to the ten-year old and then moving into traditional history as we know it – Greeks, Romans, Medieval and Renaissance and Modern History.History is seen as the backbone of the Waldorf curriculum throughout the grades 1-8.|
|Science||First Grade – Animals, Human Beings and Plants by reading from a science book and having the child narrate two or three facts about what you have read along with experiments that are later narrated. Second Grade is Science and Astronomy. Third Grade Chemistry with writing definitions, experiments that are narrated in notebook. Fourth Grade physics with experiments||Please see full and complete post on Science throughout the Waldorf curriculum on this blog. A totally different approach that focuses on phenomenon, plants and animals in the natural environment, always bringing science back to its relationship to Man.|
|Latin in third or fourth grade (or start teaching foreign modern language and save Latin until the fifth or sixth grade), according to The Well-Trained Mind.||“Latin trains the mind to think in an orderly fashion. Latin (being dead) is the most systematic language around. …Latin improves English skills.”||Typically two modern foreign languages taught in Kindergarten onward; Greek and Latin not widely taught in Waldorf schools although some homeschooling parents work Greek in with the 5th grade study of the Greeks and Latin in the with the 6th Grade study of the Romans. Steiner did work with Latin and Greek in the founding of his schools per his lecture notes.|
|Art and Music||Alternate reading art books about great artists and art projects. Picture study per Charlotte Mason.
Music – listening to classical music twice a week for half an hour. Possibly piano lessons.
|Infused throughout the curriculum with modeling, drawing and painting experiences used to teach academic subjects – art is not separate within the curriculum but infuses all subjects. Main Lesson Books are often compilations of drawings, verses, best written work for a subject taught in a block. Music, verses, and singing is also seen throughout the curriculum, with special emphasis on a blowing instrument (recorder, pentatonic flute, pennywhistle leading to diatonic flute in the Third Grade) in the Early Grades leading to study of a stringed instrument in the Third Grade.|
|The Three-Day Rhythm and Use of Sleep As A Learning Aid||Not mentioned||Unique to Waldorf as a way of teaching|
|Teaching in blocks versus daily or weekly practice||Subjects are taught anywhere from daily to two to three times a week||Teaches in blocks with daily math practice and eventually daily practice in other academic areas with times when the subject completely rests and is not taught at all.
”The usual practice is to split up the available time into many separate lessons, but this method does not bring enough depth and focus to the various subjects.”
(Steiner, page 117, Soul Economy).
|Attitude of the Teacher||“It is inappropriate to feel, “I am intelligent, and this child is ignorant.” We have seen how cosmic wisdom still works directly through children and that, from this point of view , it is children who are intelligent and the teacher, who is, in reality, ignorant.” – From Steiner’s lectures|
|The role of the teacher to student||The teacher is a natural authority (not in a mean, nasty way, but a child should naturally look up to the teacher and accept what the teacher says at this age). Steiner says after the age of 14, authority has provided a foundation for the child to have a capacity to love and to have responsibility to themselves and others in society in a mature way.|
|What is most important in teaching||That the teachers use their available lesson time in the most economical way, building lessons upon major lines and leaving the child wanting more|
The approach that Waldorf takes looks at the journey of the entire child, academic and spiritual and moral. Every subject is picked, choosen and presented in a way to coincide, fulfill and enhance where the child’s soul development is at that time. Christopher Bamford writes in the Introduction to “Human Values in Education”: “Education today, like so much else, suffers from a split between theory and practice or actuality. Most educational philosophies are theoretical and divorced from life. The experiment with children, because they are no longer able to approach them with their hearts and souls.”
To me, The Well-Trained Mind can be rather contradictory as it assumes many things about training logic in young children when the premise of the book is that the logic stage comes much later in childhood development. Waldorf Education is about soul economy, about introducing things at the right time as the child’s maturation and abilities unfold to be able to meet the academic demands. The curriculum is matched to the soul development of the child.
I personally also truly dislike the focus on history during the Early Years – as I explained to a friend, I have a hard time really grasping the time period of Ancient Egypt and such and I am a grown-up! I do not think that starting with the tangible things around a small child will lead a child to be egocentric in world views as they grow, mature and develop. The ability the Waldorf curriculum develops in compassion, gratitude, love and responsibility can be translated in looking at any time period and in studying any culture. These qualities transcend academic areas and are indeed the heart of Waldorf curriculum.
My other quibble with The Well-Trained Mind is the focus on what I call “fact-jamming” in the Early Elementary Grades. It fits in well with the view of current society, and also the view that the child is a miniature adult with less experience and therefore just needs to be “filled up” with facts, but this is not Waldorf’s view of the child. Waldorf views the child as full of their own potential, on their own path, and that we essentially help and assist what is “unfolding.” That is a distinct difference!
Waldorf looks at education as the way to secure the future health of the child once they become an adult and establishing an almost Renaissance kind of education. Health is of utmost concern. In this day of skyrocketing ADD/ADHD, childhood obesity, sensory processing disorders, teenaged drug abuse and other adult problems setting into the early years of childhood, it is well worth your time as a parent to look into!
To a future healthy society,