As I mentioned in Part 1 of this post, we first enrolled Audrey in a Montessori School, and though we think back on it as probably a better fit for her since they recognized her love of learning and as a consequence, were more responsive to it, it was nonetheless hard on all of us.
We subsequently explored other options and decided to go over to the other end of the academic spectrum and enroll her into a Waldorf School, which we felt was a more creative and gentle environment.
Waldor schools are one of the largest independent educational systems in the world. They were founded by the late Rudolf Steiner, the German philosopher who believed that children learn according to the specific stages of their development. Learning at Waldorf is not forced, but rather encouraged through music, storytelling, movement and imagination. Kids take part in seasonal festivals as well as theatre, dancing, and crafts.
There are entire communities that embrace the philosophical tenets of Steiner, also known as anthroposophy, and when your kids attend a Waldorf school, you can’t help but notice that there is a lot more to it than just academics.
There were, in fact, a lot of things that we liked about Waldorf. There is an emphasis on letting kids remain somewhat innocent, free from the influences of media and consumer culture. Central to this is discouraging TV in the home, as well as video games and as much as possible, mainstream popular culture.
Learning is accomplished through physical activity and incorporating the senses, with an overall emphasis on nature. This was evident from the toys to the decor of the classrooms. Everything has been carefully thought out to embrace a more natural approach to education, and for that matter, life.
While the people at Waldorf might not endorse this idea, their whole approach and philosophy struck me as being distinctly hippie-like. Simple, earthy, back to nature values.
And whether you believe in the Waldorf system or not, one thing is undeniable; the teachers are dedicated like no other. They work incredibly hard at their jobs, literally devoting their lives to educating children, albeit the Waldorf way.
Another thing that really struck us was the sense of community amongst the families. Waldorf really encourages them to look at the program as more than just a school. Parents are therefore asked to be very involved, and I got a sense that many of our friends enjoyed this part of the experience.
For all the parental involvement, however, if a parent had issues or didn’t like the way things were done, the school was not open to the idea of making changes. Their system is well established, and I might go as far as to say they are bit dogmatic in employing it.
In all fairness, they are hardly alone. Most schools, public or private, are not about to change their policy to address the concerns of one or two parents. If you’re searching for perfection, it’s just not out there. Every school has to cater to the needs of the group, and inevitably individual needs have to fall by the wayside.
Besides, not too many parents really had problems. The ones that did simply chose another school, and those that stayed on were unquestioning in their dedication to the system, though sometimes it entailed a level of zealousness that we were not always comfortable with.
We got a sense that rather than cater to each child on an individual basis, they have a vision of what the ideal Waldorf child is and try to gently encourage their students in that direction. Unfortunately, if your child doesn’t fit the mold, then the experience might not be as rewarding.
I actually know two Waldorf families who willingly admit that the school was not a good fit for some of their kids and wished they’d done things differently, or had at least been more flexible.
And then, of course, there is the issue of academics. While Waldorf has an excellent curriculum, it doesn’t seem to kick in until later, after kindergarten. Now it’s perfectly reasonable to expect kindergarteners to want to play and have fun, but what about the child who is a bit more inquisitive and doesn’t want to just play all day? Or early readers?
These children’s strengths and needs are not necessarily addressed at Waldorf, where academics are discouraged in the early years. In fact, there are no books in the kindergarten classrooms, and it is not unusual for a student to be unable to read by the third grade.
Waldorf doesn’t hide this fact, it’s all rooted in their belief that everything has a time and place. While I can appreciate this, I still feel that every child is different, and if they want to learn and read at the age of three or four, then the opportunity should be seized rather than discouraged.
Finally, though the idea of play and fun is a hallmark of early Waldorf education, in the end, our daughter just wasn’t having that much fun. Getting her to school by eight o’clock every morning (what fun is that?) was like pulling teeth. She just wasn’t enjoying it and we started to feel like we were torturing her by forcing her into the situation every day.
So we embarked on yet another journey of discovery, and decided to home school. I’d like to mention that we were at first daunted by the very idea of it, for it was a lot different than anything we’d even considered or experienced in our lives.
In Part 3 of this post, I’ll discuss how we came to our decision and how we have found it thus far to be the best fit for all of us.