Please read on for some encouraging words for folks with both early readers and those who have later readers….
People get very, very wrapped up in our society about reading. Reading is very important, to be sure, (I have a journalism degree!) but I hear from mothers all the time who either believe that bringing in reading prematurely is the right thing to do, or from mothers who are following a Waldorf model and their children have taught themselves to read and now they are saying to me, “But Carrie, I can’t do Waldorf First Grade because my child can read really well!”
First of all, some children do read earlier than age six and a half or seven. Of course! This is not to be discouraged per se, but in these cases, we must be sure to look at the holistic development of the child first. For example, can your early reader ride a bike with training wheels? Without training wheels? Can your child swim independently with your supervision? Can your child do the monkey bars with just your supervision? Does your child know by heart many poems, verses and songs? Can your child sing and display a sense of rhythm in music? Can they gallop, skip, hop on one foot? How is their endurance for activities and how is their sleeping? Attention span? Can they bake, garden, order things, dance? How are they in social situations with other children? How are they with adults? I will write a post on First Grade Readiness in the future!
And I am not saying this to knock an early reader at all! I have an early reader myself, who could read anything she wanted to read, adult books and newspapers included, at an early age. This is typically the case with children who truly teach themselves to do it. They just can do it. We just want to ensure balance!
There is one issue that I see to be significant though. By MOST curriculums, not just Waldorf, the children in First and Second Grade are typically reading Frog and Toad and those sorts of books. Waldorf at home can certainly involve these types of books. There is in general a difficulty when your children truly are very fluent readers, that they are beyond those beginner reader kinds of books, there is not much for them to read. A true “I taught myself how to read” kind of five year old typically goes from reading something simple to being able to read whatever they want (newspaper, portions of grown-up books) quickly. They are so far beyond Frog and Toad and other books, they want thick books to read, and most of those books are for children much, much older so the themes are much older.
So, I think if you truly have an early reader, you can limit the books and the reading time in general in the under-7 years until their maturity and understanding can catch up with their ability to read and not feel badly about it. Some would say, well, you can explain it all to them! You can go over vocabulary with them! Why? First of all, they should be laying that foundation of experience in ALL areas of life for even greater academic success later on! If they can truly read, they are still reading, they are not going to forget how to read just because they are not reading novels! And, It is not all just about reading! What about math? I personally would rather see a child move ahead in math and numeral literacy, than reading, but in American society we put so much emphasis on reading, almost to the exclusion of other things. Second of all, if the themes are just too mature, there is no fix for that but TIME. Nearly EVERY OTHER COUNTRY starts reading when children are 7, again, there are NO studies that show starting early reading is better in the long run for academic or professional success. Third of all, from a physical perspective, the eye is NOT fully developed for lateral tracking until age EIGHT, so perhaps those countries that are working with starting reading at the right time are based more upon the physiology of the child than the American system is! So please stop talking about “delayed academics”! How about talking about bringing in academics at the right time?!
My other issue in general with these books for even a six or seven year old who is reading is that there are rarely beautiful long, thick books with no pictures for these children to read. In Waldorf, we try to pick books for the under-9 year old that focuses less on an individual protagonist because at this point the child does not feel they are an individual. That doesn’t happen until the nine-year change and to point that out, that separation of yourself as an individual, is rather premature for the six and seven year old. That being said, I think an eight- year- old can certainly read “B is for Betsy” and that sort of series, some of the older series of books published in this country in the forties and such. A six and a half or seven year old can certainly enjoy chapter books if you can find good ones! But please don’t rush your children into it all, and do not neglect reading to them and the oral storytelling, oral verses, singing end just because they can read.
In Waldorf, what you are building up in the Kindergarten is that treasure trove of oral tradition. Then in first grade, it is typically NOT going through the whole alphabet in order, it is “seeing” the letter arise (certain consonants and certain letter combinations that usually travel together) from a picture, just how man probably invented writing (and then reading) in the beginning. It is going over the vowels, those “heart sounds” and what feelings these arise for us within our language. It is faster than one thinks, and children who can read LOVE to make the letter pictures just like those who are not reading yet. The children are writing simple sentences to more complex summaries by the end of the first year. And the oral traditions carry throughout the Waldorf Grades – there are songs and poems to memorize and recite, drama, lines and lines (sometimes up to 400 or more lines of poetry a year!), there are riddles and tongue twisters and such in opening school. The oral tradition of speech is very important, then the writing down, then the reading. Reading for each grade may often include the subject that was the focus of the previous grade, and more importantly, respects the child’s maturity and soul development and holistic development.
If you need to understand how reading and writing and language arts develops within the Waldorf Curriculum: http://theparentingpassageway.com/2010/03/10/history-and-literature-waldorf-homeschooling-grades-one-through-twelve/
If you would like to see recommended reading for first grade, please see here: http://theparentingpassageway.com/2009/04/10/more-great-read-alouds-for-waldorf-first-grade/ and here: http://theparentingpassageway.com/2008/11/11/great-read-alouds-for-waldorf-at-home-first-grade/
Many blessings! Be confident in what you do!