Waiting to Teach Reading and Writing

A mother asked about why Waldorf waits until first grade to teach the letters.
Rahima replies:
In the Waldorf approach, reading and writing are introduced in first grade, starting with the letters; then children learn to read at the end of first grade, from what they have written. The letters are introduced imaginatively, through a story and a drawing in which the letter can be found in one of the figures that starts with that sound (for example, the letter “k” might be illustrated by a King who is standing sideways, with scepter raised, blessing his subjects.). [See the DVD of Kelly Morrow teaching “Teaching Reading and Writing the Waldorf Way.”]

iStock_000001409149XSmall.jpgWhile this imaginative approach starts out a bit more slowly in first grade, it ensures that the children really understand writing and then reading, and it helps keep the love of reading alive for them throughout elementary school. (Children go from proudly reading what they have written to reading real books, not things that have been digested and “dumbed down” for beginning readers).

While it is important to nourish children’s sense of anticipation for when they will learn to read, Steiner cautioned against sitting the young child down and providing lessons (and no worksheets or testing!). This is because the energy that is used for memory and intellectual work is the same energy that is needed in the early years for the healthy development of the body.

Our tendency to teach “more, sooner” is not necessarily what children need! I always wondered how children in pioneer days could start reading at age 10, and be reading the King James Version of the Bible! It turns out they hadn’t missed anything by not having years of “Dick and Jane” or “Hop on Pop.” The ability to read depends on several dimensions of maturity. Waiting until first grade is a real blessing for your children because it also provides them another couple of magical years of early childhood. Neuroscientists like Jane Healy have documents that the change in brain development around the age of seven is real; teaching reading before that isn’t doing your child any service.

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