Better to Delay School Entry

Thumbnail image for our new play loft.JPGSchool should be delayed until age six because an over-emphasis on the three-Rs at an early age can cause significant long-term damage to bright children, according to Dr. Richard House, a senior lecturer at Roehampton University’s Research Centre for Therapeutic Education in England. He quoted a major US study – carried out over eight decades – that showed children’s “run-away intellect” actually benefited from being slowed down in the early years, allowing them to develop naturally. Pupils should not be subjected to full classroom tuition until the age of six to off-set the effects of premature “adultification,” and gifted pupils from relatively affluent backgrounds suffered the most from being pushed “too far, too fast” it was claimed.

House claimed the case for change was supported by a longitudinal study of gifted children who started in school in the US in the 1920s. Prof Howard Friedman, a psychologist at the University of California, analysed their progress over 80 years and found that “early school entry was associated with less educational attainment, worse midlife adjustment and, most importantly, increased mortality risk”.

House went on to develop the importance of play-based early learning through age six, which is supported by Waldorf education (the picture, above, is of the new play loft from the LifeWays Childcare Society in Vancouver). Steiner was very clear about the later health problems that can be associated with early academics and “adultification”–it’s interesting to see that supported by more mainstream work. Here is a link to the article.

Waldorf in China, Part I

DSCN0443.JPGWe have spent two weeks in China in March, 2013, and I would like to share my impressions and some photos with you. First, there is great news–my book, You Are Your Child’s First Teacher, is now under contract to be translated into Chinese by a large mainstream publisher in Beijing. This happened through Random House, not through any connections that I made here, but it occurred the very week we were in Beijing–funny how those things work!

DSCN0373.JPGInterest in Waldorf education is exploding in China–someone told us that in the past year there are 150 new kindergartens and there are now 30 schools. It reminds me a lot of the Waldorf movement in North America starting around 1980.  In many cases parents are wanting a Waldorf school for their own children, so are taking the teacher training and going back to their area to start a school–just like that!

The first Waldorf school in China opened in Chengdu about 12 years ago and now has full certification with the state.  It went through the big earthquake there. A Waldorf teacher training was immediately founded there, followed by teacher training programs in other locations as well, for class teaching, early childhood, and a foundation program as well.

DSCN0506.JPGUnlike in the US (even today), we have been told that many  new Waldorf classes have a waiting list as soon as they open–China has such a huge population and so many parents are looking for something different from the state-run schools, which force the children to work such long hours in such a regimented way. We have given talks for parents at three of the Waldorf Schools and really appreciate how couragaeous and pioneering the parents are, not really having full Waldorf schools to look to as successful models and not knowing how their children will fit into Chinese society after such a different education.

The first school we visited is called Beijing Spring Valley, after the Waldorf programs in Spring Valley, New York. Chris Schaefer has been instrumental in helping to found this school and several others, as well as the teacher training program that is held on the same grounds. No land is available within Beijing, so the school is located in a northern suburb, at the foot of the Phoenix mountains. DSCN0377.JPGThe complex also includes a biodynamic (BD) farm called the Phoenix Commune, which is the only Demeter-certified BD program in China. The farm is a wonderful place for the children at the school to visit. The school has been open for two years and has kindergarten through second grade.

DSCN0511.JPGWe also visited Nanshan School in another suburb of Beijing. It goes through grade 4 and has a lovely campus. It was started by a teacher who attended the Waldorf training in Chengdu, and has added a grade each year. We were there in the late afternoon (the children stay until about 4 pm), and gave a talk to about 30 parents after school.  It was very lively, with many questions about home life. All the schools throughout China offer English as a foreign language; a Eurythmist from Sweden alternates spending two months here and at the Spring Valley school.

From Beijing we flew to Xi’an, a city that is rich in history. I’ll tell you about our visits to Waldorf Schools there and in Guanzhou in Part II.

Waldorf in Thailand

Abhinporn.jpgThe Waldorf early childhood teachers were such wonderful hosts for us during our visit to Bangkok! Abhinporn, who coordinates the Early Childhood training, met us at the airport and arranged sightseeing for us. She did her Waldorf training in Australia and has just taken a position in a pioneering school in the NE of Thailand.

There are two full schools in Bangkok, as well as Baan Rak kindergarten.  We were able to visit them all, as well as see some of the sites in Bangkok, including the Temples of the Reclining Buddha and the Golden Buddha.  If you are on Facebook, see my Thailand album for more photos!

Abhhisiree.jpgAbhisiree graciously hosted us in the guest house on the grounds Baan Rak kindergarten that she and her husband, Sato, run for 90 children ages 1-1/2 to seven. “Baan Rak” means “House of Love.” Abhisiree inherited the kindergarten from her father, and then she and Sato attended the early childhood training in Fair Oaks to convert it into a full Waldorf program. There are 5 classrooms, a meeting/eurythmy hall, beautiful gardens and even a pond with turtkles and koi. Some children start arriving at 7:30 and almost all are gone by 4 pm. We saw them doing many home-like activities: baking bread, folding the towels, and sweeping, lots of outdoor free play, and singing games.Four-Seasons-Silk.jpg

Abhisiree is also masterful at dyeing silk with natural dyes. Each year she goes to the mountains where they gather the materials and wood for the fires. I love the “four seasons” silks she gave me, as well as a beautiful purple and green silk shawl.Panyotai-Waldorf-School.jpg

The first Waldorf school in Thailand, Panyotai (Dawn of Wisdom) School, was started in 1996 by Dr. Porn Panosot and his wife Janpen and a group of parents and teachers. They have a full program from kindergarten through high school, and we were able to see some of the seniors finishing their woodworking projects, even though it was “summer break” from mid-March through mid-May. They have started another kindergarten program next door to the school, which will grow into having its

School.jpgWe also visited the other large Waldorf school, Tridhaksa, which started with a nursery group in 2000 and now goes through 11th grade. They have spent the last year building on their new site, and had just moved all the classroom materials there when we visited at the beginning of their break. They still have alot to do before school opens again in May, but they have a lot of support from very active parents in completing the move.


On Wednesday I gave a talk on early childhood at Baan Rak from 9-12 and 3-6, and parents and teachers came from around Bangkok, including about 5 fathers. I was so delighted to finally meet Suwanna. She discovered my book fifteen years ago when she was a student at Sunbridge College. She began to translate it then, and we have been in touch by email over the years, but had never met. She has three children now and has gone on to write half a dozen books on parenting on her own and does family coaching — via Skype!

Bangkok-Skyline.jpgI learned that many Thai families have both parents working and make use of nannies–often one for each child. Other than that, their situations and questions were much the same as parents’ in the US or in Mexico. As in America, First Teacher has been greatly appreciated by parents and has brought many people to Waldorf education, including being instrumental in the founding of several new initiatives in other regions of Thailand. I am grateful that Suwanna and I have been able to contribute to the spread of Waldorf education and parenting insights in Thailand!

Join Waldorf Peace Work in the Middle East

Thumbnail image for PilgrimagePg1.jpgDid you ever have the thought that lasting peace must grow out of children being educated in a different way? That’s how Waldorf education developed out of the ashes of “The Great War,” and it’s the impulse behind a nonprofit organization working with Waldorf education as a tool for Arab-Israeli understanding. ReGeneration is “an interfaith non-profit seeding the Middle East with an educational philosophy that embraces life, learning, the arts, the earth and all the children.”

They are planning a “Interfaith Pilgrimage for Possibility” in March, 2013, as well as supporting two pilot educational programs, Ein Bustan, the first Arab/Waldorf kindergarten in Israel and El Zeitoun, the first Arab Waldorf School in Israel. Both of these programs, along with the Palestinian Teacher Training have a high potential for positively impacting society in the Middle East. They support “an education in the Middle East that builds resiliency in Christian, Jewish, and Muslim children while promoting new capacities for this generation to shape a stable and sustainable future for all.”

It is still possible to join the “Interfaith Pilgrimage for Possibility” to Israel, March 3-14, 2013. For the full itinerary and further information, click here.

Watch a short video of Israel Muslim-Arab-waldorf kindergarten in action here.

What is Waldorf Education?

Waldorf education is a worldwide system of education for preschool through grade 12 developed from the indications of Rudolf Steiner. Steiner, an Austrian scientist, educator and writer, turned his attention to education after the First World War at the request of Emil Molt, who helped him found a school for the children of the workers at the Waldorf-Astoria cigarette factory in Stuttgart in 1919. The impulse for “Waldorf education,” as it came to be called, spread throughout Europe, with the first school in America being founded in New York City in 1928.

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Steiner.jpgSteiner was a pioneer in the area of developmentally based, age-appropriate learning, and many of his indications were later born out by the work of Gesell, Piaget and others. In addition, he sought to develop a balanced education for the “whole child,” one which would engage the child’s feeling and willing, as well as thinking, and would leave his or her spiritual nature acknowledged, but free. From preschool through high school, the goal of Waldorf education is the same, but the means differ according to the changing inner development of the child. According to Steiner, “Our highest endeavor must be to develop free human beings, who are able of themselves to impart purpose and direction to their lives.”

Because of this emphasis, the Waldorf Schools were closed by the Nazis during World War II, but soon reopened and have spread in the last two decades to such troubled areas as South Africa, Palestine, Eastern Europe and Russia. In 1994 there were 640 schools, 1087 kindergartens, more than 300 curative (special education) centers and 60 teacher training institutes in 46 countries which are based on Rudolf Steiner’s pedagogical impulse. Growth of the movement in America has been very rapid since 1980.

Thumbnail image for Baking pie w Faith.jpgEarly Childhood Education
During the early childhood years, the child is surrounded by a homelike environment which encourages imaginative free play and artistic activity. Steiner recognized that the young child learns primarily through example and imitation, with an emphasis on the importance of movement, rhythm, fairy tales and oral language. Steiner felt that it is not healthy for children to concentrate on cognitive skills such as reading, writing and math until the body has reached a certain level of maturity, freeing the forces of growth for cognitive work. This change is signified by many signs, including the eruption of the adult teeth and the child’s ability to reach over its head and touch the opposite ear. Children are carefully evaluated for readiness for first grade, and most schools request that children turn six before school starts.

Many schools have mixed-age kindergartens, with children from 3-6 years old in the same room. Typical daily activities in the preschool/kindergarten include free play, movement games, story circle, and a craft or artistic activity (water color painting, beeswax modeling, coloring with beeswax crayons, baking, and so forth). Puppet plays, nature walks and celebrating the festivals are frequent events throughout the year.

Thumbnail image for watercolor goose.jpgThe Elementary Grades
In the elementary school (grades 1-8), all of the subjects are presented in a lively and pictorial way, because Steiner found the elementary-school child learns best when information is artistically and imaginatively presented. The same teacher stays with the children from first through eighth grade, teaching the “main lesson” subjects, which include language arts, mathematics, history and the sciences. Main lesson is taught during the first two hours of the morning in blocks of three to six weeks per topic. Students create their own “main lesson books” as artistic records of their learning, rather than using textbooks or worksheets. During the rest of the day, special subject teachers fill out the curriculum with two foreign languages, orchestra, singing, arts, crafts, gardening, eurythmy (a movement art developed by Rudolf Steiner) and physical education.

HSmainlesson2.jpgThe Waldorf High School
The adolescent’s emerging powers of analytical thinking are met and developed in the Waldorf high school, where subjects are taught by specialists in their fields. The role of the teacher is seen as helping the students to develop their own thinking powers. A key to this process is presenting students with an immediate experience of phenomena, such as hands-on experiments or primary sources in literature and history–instead of predigested work from textbooks or anthologies. The rapidly changing psychological nature of the adolescent is addressed through each year’s studies being tailored to the central “questions” that live in the hearts of the students of that grade. –Rahima Baldwin Dancy. Written for The Encyclopedia of Childhood.

Baldwin Dancy, Rahima. (1989, rev. 2012). You Are Your Child’s First Teacher. Berkeley, CA: Ten Speed.

Childs, Gilbert. (1991). Steiner Education in Theory and Practice. Edinburgh, UK: Floris Books.

Finser, Torin. (1994). School as a Journey. Hudson, NY: SteinerBooks.

Richards, M.C. (1980). Toward Wholeness: Rudolf Steiner Education in America. New York: University of Columbia Press.

Staley, Betty. Between Form and Freedom. Hudson, NY: SteinerBooks

The Association of Waldorf Schools of North America,
Waldorf Early Childhood Association of North America,


Rahima Baldwin Dancy, BA, MS, is a trained Waldorf elementary and early childhood educator. She is internationally known as the author of You Are Your Child’s First Teacher on Rudolf Steiner’s indications for early childhood.

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.

Autism, ADD, Asperger’s

Creative Therapy for Children with Autism, ADD, and Asperger’s –
Using Artistic Creativity to Reach, Teach, and Touch Our Children
By Janet Tubbs

323 pages from Square One Publishers; $18.95

The statistics are staggering: one in every 84 children is now diagnosed with autism. The number of children with ADD, ADHD and Asperger’s Syndrome continue to grow as well. This is a global event that deserves our attention and introspection if we are to understand the cause and treatment of this “disorder.”

It is no easy task to find a teaching technique that can truly change the course of a child with special needs. Thirty years ago, Janet Tubbs developed a successful arts-based program for children who had low self-esteem and behavioral problems. The autism explosion was just beginning when Janet was introduced to the works of Rudolf Steiner. Believing that unconventional children required unconventional therapies, she then took her program one step further and based on Steiner’s insights she applied it to children who had autism, ADD/ADHD and Asperger’s Syndrome.

Her innovative methods and strategies not only worked, but they actually defied the experts. In this new book, Janet Tubbs has put together a powerful teaching tool to help parents, therapists, and teachers work with their children.

The book is divided into two parts. Part One provides an overview of Autism Spectrum Disorders and introduces and explains Janet’s novel approach to teaching. Her goal is to balance the child’s body, mind, and spirit through proven techniques. Part Two provides a wide variety of exercises, activities, and games that are both fun and effective. Each is designed to reduce hyperactivity, increase and prolong focus, decrease anger, and develop fine motor skills or improve social and verbal skills. All are part of a program created to hep these children relate to their environment without fear, anxiety, or discomfort.

A child may appear stubborn and difficult, but that doesn’t mean the child isn’t intelligent, curious, or creative. With the right treatment, such a child an be reached, taught and set on the road to improvement. The lessons provided in this book may be just what you and your child have been waiting for.

Janet works out of the principles of Rudolf Steiner/Anthroposophy/Waldorf Education. She can be contacted at

Marjorie Spock, Rachel Carson, Eurythmy

In memorium, Marjorie Spock, Eurythmist, Sept 8 1904 to Jan 23 2008

Thursday, January 31, 2008, Sullivan, Maine

Marjorie Spock died peacefully Jan. 23, 2008, at the age of 103, at her home in Sullivan. Marjorie Spock was born Sept. 8, 1904, in New Haven, Conn., the second child, and first daughter, of six children.

The Spock family was prominent in New Haven, as her father was a corporate lawyer there and her older brother, Dr. Benjamin Spock, was later a world-renowned pediatrician, known through “The Baby Book,” which changed the way children were brought up and viewed, and known for his work against the Vietnam War. At 18, Marjorie went to Dornach, Switzerland, to meet and work with Rudolf Steiner, the founder of Anthroposophy. This had deep significance for her life, especially her study of the dynamics of human movement, through Eurythmy. After her final return to the U.S., she received her BA and MA degrees from Columbia University at the age of 38. During her studies, she began a prominent career as a teacher and the head of the Dalton Middle School and teacher at the Fieldston Lower School, both progressive schools in New York City. She also taught at The Rudolf Steiner School in New York City and The Waldorf School in Garden City, Long Island.

With her deep understanding of nature and as an avid Bio-Dynamic gardener, Marjorie’s work took on an added dimension when, in the area where she and her friend Polly Richards lived, on Long Island, N.Y., the government began aerial spraying of DDT against the perceived gypsy moth epidemic. She and Polly, who helped finance the legal action, brought a case with 10 other people against the United States government for the continued DDT spraying. Marjorie and Polly were formidable leaders for this commitment to the health of the earth. Organic, Bio-Dynamic food was a life-saving matter for Polly, who was in ill health. For Marjorie, the concern was for her friend’s health, and the constitutional right as a property owner to keep her land, as she wanted it, free of government infringement.

This team was brilliant, committed and erudite. According to Marjorie, the “government ran roughshod over anyone who got in the way of the new technology. They brushed us off like so many flies.” The federal judge, appointed by President Eisenhower, threw out 72 uncontested admissions for the plaintiffs and denied their petitions. From the summer of 1957 to 1960, when the case reached the Supreme Court, Marjorie wrote a report to interested and influential friends of each day’s progress in and out of court, each evening after work.

Rachel Carson heard of this and soon got these daily briefings because she realized that the testimony from the experts that Marjorie had found, would be valuable for her own research. This case, along with a massive bird kill on Cape Cod, was the springboard for the writing of “Silent Spring.” The trial took only 22 days, and toward the end, Rachel Carson asked for the transcript. They became close collaborators and friends. Though the plaintiffs lost the case, they won the right to bring an injunction in court, so that prior to a destructive environmental event, a full and proper scientific a review had to be made. Marjorie always described it, saying, “We lost the battle but won the war.” This became the germinal legal action for the environmental movement in the United States. There has been continuous interest in this case since that time. Recently, Marjorie was interviewed for a documentary on Rachel Carson.

After the case, Marjorie moved to Chester, N.Y., where she farmed, bringing Bio-Dynamic produce to a larger public. She worked closely with Dr. Ehrenfried Pfeiffer, the renowned soil scientist, and compost and farm adviser for Bio-Dynamic movement. As a beloved destination since childhood, in 1965, Marjorie moved to Maine, where she lived and worked for the next 43 years as an inspiring teacher, eurythmist, author, Bio-Dynamic farmer, translator and mentor to the many people, young and old, who came to see her. Until last Thursday, she held a study group, which has been ongoing since 1965, and to which people came from all over the state. Visitors, from all over the world, and wonderful neighbors, were always heartily welcomed and experienced wide-ranging and deep conversations, wise counsel and humor.

Amongst Marjorie Spock’s writings are “Teaching as a Lively Art,” her master’s thesis; “In Celebration of the Human Heart;” “Eurythmy;” “To Look on Earth With More Than Mortal Eyes;” and “Fairy Worlds and Workers: A Natural History of Fairyland.” The two pamphlets, “Group Moral Artistry I: Reflections on Community Building” and “Group Moral Artistry II: The Art of Goethean Conversation,” have had a readership around the world. Her love and understanding of the mystery of language can be seen in her article, “A B C D E F G: The Secret Life of Letters.”

Surviving Marjorie Spock are several nephews, grand nieces and Mary Morgan, the wife of Dr. Benjamin Spock.

In the 100th year of her life Marjorie produced, directed and choreographed a video about Eurythmy which was filmed at Hammond Hall in Winter Harbor, followed by two short training films at 101 and 102 years of age.

The last few years have been amongst the happiest and most productive, because of the loving help and care that Kim Smith gave Marjorie. Many around the world are grateful for this, as she was then able to work tirelessly for the understanding of the goodness of mankind and for the health of the earth.

A funeral service was held Jan. 26, 2008, at Hammond Hall, Winter Harbor. On Saturday, Feb. 2, 2008, at 10:30, a Christian Community service, The Act of Consecration for Marjorie Spock, will be held at New Elm Farm, 27 Lambert Road, Freeport. (Tel: 865-4019). For those wishing to make donations, there are two possibilities: The Foundation for Human Movement Studies (supporting the mission of Spatial Dynamics), c/o Susan Harrington, 47 Spice Mill Road, Clifton Park, NY 12065, The Bio-Dynamic Farming and Gardening Association, 25844 Butler Road, Junction City, OR 97448.

Teaching Reading, Writing and Spelling


by Susan R. Johnson MD, FAAP

Part I-The Proprioceptive System
There is a widely-held belief that if we just start teaching children to write, read, and spell in preschool, they will become better writers, readers, and spellers by the time they reach the first and second grades. This is, however, not true. The truth is that children only should be taught to write, read, and spell when their neurological pathways for writing, reading, and spelling have fully formed. There are many neuropsychologists, developmental specialists, occupational therapists and teachers who are concerned that our current trend in this country of pushing “academics” in preschool and kindergarden will result in even greater increases in the number of children, particularly boys, diagnosed with attentional problems and visual processing types of learning disabilities.

In order for children to be able to sit still, pay attention, and remember abstract shapes, like letters and numbers, they first need to have developed their proprioceptive system. In my clinical practice I see children who are being asked to sit still at a desk who can’t yet “feel” where they are in space. They have to keep their muscles and body moving all the time or sit on their feet or wrap their feet around the legs of their chair in order for their mind to locate the position of their body. They also have difficulty balancing on one foot while their eyes are closed. Their drawing of a person is more like that of a younger child, being stick-like in form and lacking hands and feet. These children are often given the label of Attention Deficit Disorder because they appear fidgety in their movements, have difficulty paying attention, and have poorly developed fine-motor skills. In addition, these same children are often labeled as having learning disabilities in visual processing (for example, dyslexia or other types of non-verbal learning disabilities). They have difficulty recalling letters, numbers, and shapes that are shown to them, and they are unable to recognize letters, numbers, and shapes that are drawn with a finger on their back. These children have difficulty remembering the orientation and direction of letters and numbers when writing, reading, or spelling. They often will confuse the letter “b” with the letter “d” and may write the number 2 or number 3 backwards and not even notice.

The proprioceptive system is strengthened by physical movements, like sweeping with a broom, pushing a wheelbarrow, carrying groceries, emptying the trash, pulling weeds, or hanging from monkey bars. When children do these types of activities they stimulate pressure receptors within their muscles, tendons, and joints, thereby allowing their minds to make a map of the location of these various pressure receptors within the body. A connection is made between the mind of children and the various parts of their physical body. In this way children develop a sense of where their body is in space (proprioception), and even if their eyes are closed, the children will be able to feel or sense the location of muscles, joints and tendons within their trunk, arms, legs, fingers, and toes. In addition, as the children move their arms, legs, hands, and feet forwards, backwards, up, down, left and right, they will start to gain a sense of the spaces around them. Now, when these children look at the shapes of letters and numbers, their eyes will follow and track the lines and curves. The memory of these movements will then imprint upon their mind. They will have the capacity to make mental pictures or images of these numbers and letters. They will easily remember the correct orientation of numbers like 2 and 3 when they are writing. There will be no more confusion between the letter “b” and the letter “d”. The correct orientation of the letter or number will be seen within the mind before it is written.

This proprioceptive system impacts other areas in children’s life beyond being able to sit still and having a visual memory for abstract forms. It also affects their ability to fall asleep by themselves at night and to stay asleep throughout the night. When the proprioceptive system is not fully developed, children will have difficulties falling asleep at night by themselves. They will frequently wake up during the night and then need physical contact with their parents in order to fall back to sleep. Since their own proprioceptive system is not yet developed, lying next to their parent will activate their pressure receptors and allow them to feel their body, relax, and fall back to sleep. For these children, closing their eyes at night makes their body disappear because their mind has not made a connection to the pressure receptors within their muscles, tendons, and joints. This is why so many children want the light on at night when they go to bed. They need to see their body and the spaces around them since they can not “feel” their body when in darkness.

Part II-Reading, Spelling, and Writing
Our current educational system is teaching children to read in a way that doesn’t make sense developmentally. Children in preschool and kindergarten are expected to memorize letters and words before their minds have developed the necessary pathways to identify letters, easily read words, and comprehend what they are reading. We are asking these young children to read, when the only part of their brain that is developed and available for reading words is the right hemisphere.

The right hemisphere first develops for reading, usually around four to seven years of age. This right part of the brain allows children to recognize words by sight. It enables children to focus on the first and last letters in a word and the overall length and shape of the word. It allows children to guess at words without paying much attention to spelling or matching sounds to letters (phonics). In contrast, the reading center in the left brain and the connecting bridge-like pathway between the left and the right brain don’t start developing until seven to nine years of age (girls may develop these pathways a little earlier, while some boys won’t develop these pathways until ten or eleven years of age). It is this reading center in the left brain that allows children to match sounds to letters and enables them to sound out words phonetically. Now they can remember more accurately how words are spelled.

Because the reading center in the right brain sees abstract forms like letters and numbers as pictures, it makes sense to first teach children to read by relating the shapes of letters to actual pictures that children can relate to and draw. For example, the letter “M” can be represented by two mountain peaks with a valley in between. As teachers we can tell children that the sound “M” is the first sound one hears when saying the word “mountains”. Other examples might include drawing a king out of the letter “K”, a bunny out of the letter “B” or waves out of a “W”. What doesn’t make developmental sense is expecting children to just memorize the abstract shape of the letter “F” or memorize phrases like “F” as in the word FOX, “B” as in the word BOY, or “C” as in the word CROCODILE. These words do not make any visual sense to the reading center in the right brain. The letter “F” doesn’t look like a FOX, the letter “B” doesn’t look like a BOY, and the letter “C” does not look like a CROCODILE.

When we push young children to read and they only have access to their right hemisphere for reading, we create learning problems for them in the future. Since children using the reading center of the right hemisphere look at the first and last letters of a word, the length of that word, and then make a guess, they will look at a word like “STAMP” and may guess that the word is “STOP’ or “STUMP”. If you show them the word, “TGOEHTER” they may read the word as “TOGETHER” but will not realize that the word is mis-spelled. Words like “FRIEND, FIND, and FOUND” as well as ”FILLED, FILED, and FLOOD”, will all seem the same.

It takes a lot of mental effort to read words using only sight memory. Sight memory was meant to be used for only small words. Children who are reading using only their right hemisphere often are exhausted after reading just a few paragraphs, and can only parrot back words or sentences by memory. In addition, their minds are busy deciphering each word and therefore are not free to create the pictures and actual scenes associated with the words they are reading. This limits their overall comprehension. These are the children who plagerize or copy a text verbatim, word by word, when they are doing a report. This is because they can only recall the exact words they read and therefore can’t summarize, condense, or comprehend ideas very easily.

For all of these reasons, reading should be taught in school only after children have developed both their right and left reading centers. This will enable children to use sight memory for small words and the more efficient method of phonics for larger words. In addition, children need to have developed the “bridge” pathway that connects the two reading centers together. When children have developed this connection between the right and left cerebral hemispheres (bilateral integration), they can access both the right and left reading centers of their brain at the same time, and therefore can decide at any given moment whether to read a word by sight, if the word is short (a right hemisphere activity), or sound out the word phonetically if the word is long (a left hemisphere activity).

A physical sign that children have developed bilateral integration and can now read both by sight memory and phonics is shown by their ability to do do the cross-lateral skip (swinging their opposite leg with opposite arm forward at the same time) without thinking or concentrating. This is because movements on the right side of the body are connected to the left hemisphere of the brain, while movements on the left side of the body are connected to the right side of the brain. If children can move their opposite arm and leg at the same time, then the right and left hemispheres of the brain are “talking” or connected to each other. If children can only skip using their feet or only skip extending the same arm with the same leg (the homolateral skip), they are not ready to read, since they can’t access both sides of the brain simultaneously.

Children who can simultaneously access their reading centers in the right and left hemispheres of their brain will read easily and will create visual images and pictures in their mind related to the content of what they are reading. They will be able to discuss or write about what they have read using their own words, because they can replay the scenes in their mind and don’t have to think so much about the specific words used in each sentence. Therefore, they will have an easier time understanding the meaning behind the stories and books they are reading. Learning to spell will be easier too.

Besides pushing children to read and spell before their minds are developed, we also ask them to hold a pencil and write before they are developmentally ready. I see very young children being asked to write with one hand while they still have overflow movements occuring in the fingers of the opposite hand. Before six or seven years of age, the vertical midline of the child is not fully integrated. When a child moves the fingers of one hand, the fingers on the other hand will also move, often without the child’s conscious awareness. Children should not be forced to write until this vertical midline is integrated. If we force children to hold a pencil or pen and write before they have integrated this vertical midline, they will develop a tense pencil grip, a cramped writing style, and a spatially compromised and jerky penmenship. It makes more sense first to teach children to write the small letters of the alphabet in cursive before teaching them to print these lower case letters. When doing form drawings or writing in cursive the right and left hemispheres are both active and working together. Printing of the lower case letters is a more abstract and advanced developmental task that requires the left hemisphere, which often isn’t developed enough for this task until seven to nine years of age. Girls may be ready to do this task by age six while boys often can’t do this task until after nine years of age.

My greatest concern is that I am seeing more and more fourth, fifth, sixth, and even seventh graders from public and private schools who can’t spell easily and are still reading mostly by sight memory. They can now use their left brain to sound out words, but they approach every word they read first by using the reading center in right brain (by sight). For example, when I give these children a sentence to read like “Six byos wnet on a vaccaiton tohgeter and tehy wnet fsihing in a bule baot”, they often do not notice any of the misspelled words. Furthermore, when I have these same children read another paragraph where every word is spelled correctly, they often tell me that both paragraphs are exactly the same or only note one or two words where the spelling is different.

My worry is that these children were pushed to read too early, when only their right brain was developed enough for reading. They compensated by learning to read everything using only sight memory. When the reading center in their left hemisphere finally developed, the habit was still to read by using the reading center of the right hemisphere. Therefore, these children first looked at the words in a sentence using sight memory, and if the words didn’t make any sense, then they accessed the left reading center to sound out the words. The problem was they weren’t using the reading centers in the right and left brains simultaneously. Many of these children still lacked bilateral integration in their physical movements as well as in their reading. For some of the children, reading was slow and took a tremendous amount of effort. For other children, their sight memory was so strong that they could read quickly but their comprehension and spelling were still poor. Neither group of children could easily picture the scenes from the words they read or remember how individual words were spelled.

Many of these children need cranial therapy because of a history of a c-section birth, prolonged labor, induced labor, or use of suction forceps at delivery. In addition, these children need lots of cross-lateral types of movements (where the opposite arm moves at the same time as the opposite leg) to strengthen bilateral integration. Movements like walking or hiking with the arms swinging, swimming the various strokes, rock climbing and playing tennis will all strengthen bilateral integration. Also, specific movement therapies such as Therapeutic Eurythmy, Extra Lesson, Parelli horseback riding, Spacial Dynamics, Bal-A-Vis-X, Brain Gym, HANDLE, and sensory integration therapy will foster the development of these neurological pathways. These movements need to be non-competitive, and the therapists needs to avoid overstimulating the children or activating their fight and flight “stress” nervous systems. For neurological pathways do not form well when children are stressed. Once these pathways and connections are formed, many of these children will need tutoring to re-learn the rules of spelling and phonics and to start using their left brains for reading. Even if these children were taught phonics in the first or second grade, they need to revisit these reading skills because they didn’t have access yet to the reading center in their left brain.

In addition, when children feel loved unconditionally (loved for who they are and not what they do), they will work hard to overcome any challenges. As parents, teachers and therapist for our children, we need to BE PRESENT when working with children and experience the joy in each moment. Being fully present with children when doing any type of movement work or therapy will create the most profound healing environment for their mind and their entire Being will flourish.

Part III-Prevention of Learning Disabilities
Overall, schools and parents can support a child’s learning by serving healthy foods rich in protein, good quality fats (especially omega 3 fatty acids), fresh fruits, and vegetables, while eliminating partially-hydrogenated oils and trans fats, which occur when cooking or frying foods in corn oil. Adequate sleep will increase the percentage of rapid eye movement or REM sleep. A lack of sleep leads to less REM sleep and therefore, less consolidation of the previous day’s learning. Extremely limiting screen time (television, videos, and computer games) and eliminating it altogether on school nights, will keep the mind free to do its own picturing and not stress it with violent images and rapid sequences of pictures that the brain can not fully process. Regular rhythms and routines in eating and sleeping as well as daily activites will promote a more relaxed nervous system for learning.

In addition, children can’t learn and neurological pathways can’t form as easily when children’s nervous systems are experiencing stress. Forcing children to write, read, and spell and giving them “standardized” tests before they are developmentally ready, will stress their nervous systems. Furthermore, children will dislike reading and will not want to go to school. If we insist on pushing writing, reading and spelling before the children’s minds are ready, we will continue to create an epidemic of behavior and learning difficulties, especially in our boys.

First grade is the time to introduce lots of form drawing, learn the capital letters as pictures that children can draw, and practice cursive writing by drawing each small case letter in a repetitive series (eg. drawing the cursive form of “c” ,over and over like the waves of the ocean). Over the next year or two, as the majority of children in the classroom strengthen their proprioceptive skills and integrate their right and left hemispheres (as evidenced by their ability to stand on one foot with their eyes closed, remember the shapes that are drawn on their backs, jump rope forward and backwards by themselves, and easily perform the cross lateral skip), the children can be more formally taught to read, spell, and print the lower case letters.

It is time to remove the desks from kindergartens and preschools. Our preschools and kindergartens need to fill their curriculculms with play consisting of lots of sensory intergration activities that will strengthen fine motor movements, visual motor abilities, balance, muscle tone, proprioception, as well as strengthen children’s social and emotional development. Activities like imaginary play, climbing, running, jumping, hopping, skipping, walking the balance beam, playing circle games, singing, playing catch, doing meaningful chores, painting, coloring, playing hand clapping games, doing string games, and fingerknitting will strengthen their minds for learning. Children need these healthy, harmonious, rhythmic, and non-competitive movements to develop their brains. For it is the movements of their body and their love for learning that create the pathways in their mind for reading, writing, spelling, mathematics, and creative thinking.
–Susan Johnson, MD is an Anthroposophical doctor and Behavioral and Developmental Pediatrician in private practice in Colfax, CA. She can be reached at 916-638-8758 or

Rudolf Steiner Library

A wonderful resource for books on Waldorf education and home schooling is the Rudolf Steiner Library, which lends books by mail throughout the US, from its location in Ghent, NY.

The Rudolf Steiner Library has over 27,000 volumes and lends books for no charge to member of the Anthroposophical Society in America and for a small fee for those who join the library only. Their collection inlcudes all available Rudolf Steiner titles in both English and German, as well a hundred of his unpublished manuscropts of essays and lectures. In addition, it has a wide collection includig waldorf education, alternative health and nutrition, holistic sicenc, Goethean studies, death and dying, world mythologies, and world religions.
Their website and an online public access catalog can be viewed at (library webpage) and (library catalog)

For membership materials, call 518-672-7690, or you can email the libary at