Regarding Waldorf and Reading

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:

If you would like to see recommended reading for first grade, please see here:   and here:

For second grade see here:

Many blessings!  Be confident in what you do!


11 thoughts on “Regarding Waldorf and Reading

  1. wonderful…thank you! 🙂

    Emerson likes to “make believe” read to use from books too

    some stories she has memorized…others are just her own invention.

    i’m a believer in not pushing reading this early…especially because of the themes stuff.

  2. I just found your blog and I am really enjoying it. And while we aren’t completely Waldorf, I love this post. I have been critizied for helping my 6 yr old learn to read. She learned at 5. What some people cannot understand is…. if they are ready, there is no stopping them – and why would you want to??? If they want to read they will do it with or without you…. I just chose to help – to go along for the ride. I love the last line of your post “Be confident in what you do!” Exactly! Every child is on their own path. Go with it.

    I let my child go at her pace. She is 6 and in 1st grade and reading The Secret Garden, The Little House books, Black Stallion, A Wrinkle in Time, The Rats of Nihm, and more.

    Now my 4 year old does not seem to be on that trajectory and that is certainly ok. She is not more or less smart – just moving at a different pace. Our approach to learning follows the childs pace.

    I am so looking forward to reading your blog – glad to have found you.

  3. Carrie, thanks for this post. My son has most of the readiness traits you mention, lots of interest in letters but no self-initiation to read (six years old in two weeks). I am so happy to do kindergarten for at least another year. There is certainly a stigma attached to “late readers” in our society (Canada). Even as homeschoolers it is hard not to ignore the “you haven’t taught him how to read yet????”

  4. A child becomes a child only once… and has forever to be an adult. I admire your thought of having to consider the most little and most common things that a common child should have experience. As a parent, I think we should be able to respect timing and pacing because it is never a race, every child will , sooner or later , will have an equal and ample development equated with their age. We simply have to respect their own time which continually providing for a playful and learning environment.

  5. Mary – I had to laugh at your post… I often say to my husband when he talks about teaching things to my almost 3 year old…

    “Don’t worry, she’ll have plenty of time learn to hate school”


  6. Pingback: It’s That Time Of Year!! Questions About Waldorf Homeschooling! « The Parenting Passageway

  7. Hi Carrie

    I am a Waldorf parent of a 6 yr old who will be going to Grade 1 after summers this year. He has all the traits that you discussed in this post. He reads really well, learnt on his own and reads almost everything that he lays hands on ! Newspaper , books and Encyclopedias , Space , Science and everything. We do not have a lot of Science / knowledge books in our home as there is no other school going kid around , but he seems to love ‘information’ – fastest , tallest and what not! He goes to his friends place and reads these ‘knowledge’ books , reads them at his day-care library and whereever he finds them.

    His Kindergarten teacher asked us to tell him ‘NO reading’ , just like we tell him ‘NO TV’ ! . Her logic was that he will not enjoy class 1 as kids only learn 3 letter words there. It will create problems for him and he may loose interest in reading at later stages ! Also , information will kill his imagination.

    We agree and are trying to keep him away from reading science and knowledge books but cannot control it 100%

    I am scared… We never forced him to read , never taught him to read , except for the alphabet sounds at age of 2.5 before we admitted him to Waldorf school. Yes , when I read stories to him I used to read by putting my finger below each word so he could understand that its a word…
    I mean when we never pushed him and he learnt on his own and always seems hungry for reading more .. .I feel very very bad at making him feel guilty about reading.

    I told him dont read knowledge books till grade 3 as otherwise he will get only half knowledge and he has agreed but still reads newspaper sports page (his favourite!) and kids stories.
    He loves reading ! and when one knows it I am not sure how can one not read when a written material comes to your notice.

    I do not doubt Waldorf priniciples but still beleive that every child is different . I am not sure how Waldorf shcool should handle a child like this and really not sure what we as parents should do.

    The only thing that we try now is to keep him away from ‘ information ‘ and science books as they are really not required at this age! but then.. really need some advise from a senior mentor on what should we be doing !

    In addition , my son has learnt mathematics too ( numbers , addition, substraction , multiplication) . He can orally add 4 digit numbers! He possibly learnt it from another friend of his who too is a waldorf student of grade 2 and some of it from some other sources like games and friends ( We dont know! , we never taught him 😦 ). He does’nt know writing them well nor does he know symbols(+ , -, x) . I think he learnt it Waldorf way only as he doesnt do any carry overs types and doesnt write .

    So now , we dont stop him if he is asking us what is 2350 + 2350 ? We dont respond but he tells us the answers. And I am not sure if I would like to bug him for that too!!

    He is ok at the other things that are required for class 1 readiness except swimming. He likes going into the pool with his dad but no coaches !!

    Desperately need advice on how to take care of my little one who is way too different than what waldorf suggests.

    • Ashwini,
      I personally would give the whole thing a lot less energy. You attract what you put out there or try to forbid. What I would do is
      1. Make sure he is outside for copious hours a day in his body in natural areas poking around with a stick, catching frogs, hiking, building things with sticks – are you in a urban, suburban or rural area? How often are you moving? Do you ride bikes as a family, play in the yard, go to the park, hike, swim as a family, etc? Part of this is not so much but “don’t read” or “don’t do math” but GET IN YOUR BODY. Move your body. Can he skip, gallop, jump rope?
      2. Make sure he has time to be with friends and free play.
      3. What is the rhythm of work in your home? How is he helping? What real work is he responsible for? Does he have younger or older brothers and sisters to spend time with?
      4. At home, what festivals/holidays do you observe and what is his role in helping get ready for those?
      5. What does he have at home to play with? Have you changed these toys since he was tiny? Do you have a play space that needs re-vamping? What does he have to play with outside? Can he dig with a shovel, plant a garden, build something useful?

      In other words, I think you need to focus on the balance you want to see rather than this feeling of fear. I would let him read, but would set limits on the time. Some children just want to voraciously read, and in some ways it is at age six not much different than using a screen to entertain themselves. Sometimes boredom (ie, not being able to read for entertainment) is a great stimulus for great discoveries. At six years old, there should be a lot of DOING. There is a lot of math and science one can learn just by PLAY. How is his play?

      I had a voracious reader, my eldest. She could read and write in three languages by the time she was eight. Some children are just wired that way. I don’t think Waldorf Education is there to “hold kids back”. I cannot comment on what the teacher said simply because I am a homeschooler, but surely a first grade teacher would expect a wide range of abilities. Perhaps you can talk to the first grade teacher. We homeschool, so obviously I could adapt first grade beyond three letter words when I wanted to, but I pretty much followed the curriculum. My daughter loved drawing pictures of the letters as much as any other first grader and typically balked beyond writing small words unless she was doing it herself for her own project. She loved the stories, the festivals, the real work, the knitting, the recorder, the art, all of it. Also, one thing to consider is that sometimes the best readers are not the best writers…In Waldorf Education we move from movement and oral language (singing, choral speaking, verses, rhymes) to writing and then to reading.

      Just because he is ahead right this minute doesn’t mean that Waldorf Education is not right for him. There can be a wide variety of abilities in first and second grade, with an evening out in third and fourth grade for most children.

      I wouldn’t talk to your son about this nor make him feel badly about being able to read and do math! My goodness, that is wonderful! I would never, ever give him the idea that this is bad or shameful. That is not the goal of Waldorf Education. But, I would focus on movement, doing, responsibility, helping, playing and having fun! Celebrating and doing things as a family!
      That is what life for the small child is about. I think if you restructure a few things in your home, it will just be a great balance for him.
      Hope that helps, just my perspective as a homeschooler.

  8. Thank you so much Carrie. You’ve hit the right spot. I agree I must start focusing on the right things .Putting energy in right things can actually help us gain the balance we need as a family!!
    I have read your response twice already and will keep reading it more often . I would like to follow what you advised !!

    Yes , being a waldorf student he learnt all the DOING things and enjoys that . Has friends , loves free play , sand pit and shovel are his favoirites , enjoys ball and catching games , loves helping ,singing, cleaning . Loves crayons and paiting too. blocks and jigsaw puzzles are also his favourites . I think his attention span is pretty good too. Braiding used to be his favourite activity in school but at home when I gave him threads he tells he has forgotten. I dont know that either .Do you have any videos on finger and fork braiding?

    Yeah I agree I should now do away with his old toys , I dont think he plays with the old ones anymore. He used to like biking but needs us around which is difficult so has altogether stopped it. Swimming is a challenge for the same reason. We enrolled him for classes last as well as this summer but he is not ready . He likes to go in the pool with dad but not with his coaches!skipping and hopping need practice too and I agree I need to work with him on that.

    Whats not happening with him is that life at home is totally different ! Me and my husband are software professionals and remain busy with work / commute for 10 hrs a day .Even while at home our 80% time goes on laptop or conference calls. Our touchpoints with my son are at dinner table for 5 days mostly and then story time while sleeping. Weekends go drained in shopping .We try to catch on family time when my cousins visit us or by going to some park , sports events etc on weekends.On work days,he stays at day care post school for 3 hrs . No siblings , I dont think I can afford time for more than 1!

    But , let me stop at this point as I think I am again focusing on the wrong part .Whatever, I understand your advice is the way to go… inspite of me working 🙂

    I’ll keep you posted .

    Thank you very very much!


    • Hi Carrie
      A year has passed since I last spoke to you and I wanted to tell you that my son actually enjoyed class 1 very much and all the things including writing, stories, recorder , knitting , sand play and songs etc. He also learned rope jumping and resumed riding bike without sidewheels . His reading continues , I only object if he is reading for too long ,so the feeling of guilt that had built up in the past is going away. He learnt number writing this year in school and enjoys mental maths. Swimming and Piano classes are on our cards for summer and then he would be going off to stay with his cousins . I wanted to thank you again for telling us to focus on the right things . I think ‘responsibility’ is the next thing that I would like to see him learn this year :).

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