15 December 2013

Why your child might not like Waldorf education


As a former Waldorf teacher (and yes I was trained too), who has had a lot of distance and time from being in the Waldorf classroom, I can see why some children do not like Waldorf education.

I should state that Waldorf schools vary wildly. Some of them are well-established and other schools are mere fledglings working their way through the curriculum. Some Waldorf schools are great at executing Steiner’s beliefs, and others are stripped down versions of purer Waldorf pedagogy.

That being said, I feel the strength of Waldorf starts in early childhood or kindergarten. That is to say, your child might enjoy the Waldorf kindergarten program, but not necessarily the elementary school program. 

Why?

For some reason, having an airy fairy curriculum where the students are NOT behind desks, playing make-believe, enjoying cooking or crafts seems much more kindergarten than elementary grade school.  Therefore, Waldorf kindergarten seems to fit most parents’ ideal of what their children need.

However, once we move into the grade school world, your child may or may not take to this kind of learning.

What do you mean?

Well, if your child doesn’t enjoy drawing, creating, knitting, singing, dancing, and basically artistic tasks, then you might have a problem child in a Waldorf classroom.

I remember watching a 5th grade boy stand quietly while the rest of his classmates sang a song. I wasn’t his teacher. I was there to observe, but when I asked him why he didn’t sing the songs, he said, “I don’t like to sing.” Some teachers might have forced him. His teacher did not. This is, after all, a BIG part of Waldorf. There is A LOT of singing.

Now, you might argue, kids have to do things they don’t like. Absolutely.  I agree. But a different child might act out. He just happened to be the kind of kid who tolerated it.

When I had my own class, I had a 1st grade student who – how can I put this – went ape shit ballistic when his work wasn’t just right. You see, the students create their own books by copying what the teacher writes on the chalkboard. Most of the work by the children is quite lovely. But when this child wasn’t satisfied, he threw is book across the room, tried to rip up his work, cried, screamed, and threw his book in the trash.

I tried everything, but his parents, nor I, could never figure out why he acted this way. I’m going to assume now, he was not happy in a Waldorf environment, because as far as I could tell, after he was put in public school, he was fine.

Another unique aspect of Waldorf education is the same teacher ideally stays with the same class from 1st to 8th grade. What’s funny to me is how adults react upon hearing that. What if the child doesn’t like the teacher? is always asked. Looking back, this fear rarely if ever had to do with the child, instead, this fear more likely had to do with the parent.

So if you don’t like your child’s teacher, don’t expect your child to like him either. I think the younger the child is, the more likely they will rely upon your judgment whether you voice it or not. Children sense these things, and maybe even hear when you are talking things over with your spouse or friend.

Your child might also be going through something that happens in any school – bullying, teasing, and feeling unaccepted or not liked. Sometimes, these things have nothing to do with Waldorf, but more with how the school and administration handles these societal ills and discipline problems. 

One of the blind spots of Waldorf education is everyone’s inability to recognize that just because the curriculum is art-based and looks sweet and gentle, that it will not have problems.Waldorf is not perfect despite beautiful appearances. If you are thinking of Waldorf education for your child, or currently enjoying a school, remember this, because this is reality.

So if you are the kind of parent who does all this research before putting your child in a school, imagine your child in a Waldorf setting. Waldorf is different. Will your child be okay with different? Waldorf is artistic, soft, dance/movement oriented as well. Will your child enjoy this?

And lastly what has been your experience?

2 comments:

alicia h. said...

Great post, Lani!

I was like that boy who wouldn't sing. I didn't like what the curriculum mainly consisted of (music, painting, eurythmy, et c), and participated as little as I could. Which is a waste, of course, and also an incredibly boring way to experience school. The things I wanted -- more academic subjects -- were simply not the focus, if they were even present at all.

Lani Cox said...

Hi Alicia,

Thanks for sharing your experience. I agree, a boring way to go through school indeed. In this sense, Waldorf feels like the polar opposite of American public education...surely we can find a balance?