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Children entering the first grade in most public schools are expected to be able to read. In a Waldorf school, children start to learn to read in the first grade and are allowed to develop this skill relatively slowly. Why is this?
There is evidence that normal, healthy children who learn to read relatively late are not disadvantaged by this, but rather are able quickly to catch up with, and may overtake, children who have learned to read early. Additionally, they are much less likely to develop the "tiredness toward reading" that many children taught to read at a very early age experience later on. Instead there is lively interest in reading and learning that continues unto adulthood. Some children will, out of themselves, want to learn to read at an early age. This interest can and should be met, as long as it comes from the child. Early imposed formal instruction in reading can be a handicap in later years, when enthusiasm toward reading and learning may begin to falter.
Would a child be at a disadvantage if he were transferred from a public school into a Waldorf school?
Children who transfer to a Waldorf school in the first four grades usually are up to grade in reading, math, and basic academic skills. However, they usually have much to learn in bodily coordination skills, posture, artistic and social activities, cursive handwriting, and listening skills. Listening well is particularly important since the teacher presents most of the curricular content orally in the classroom.
Those children who enter a Waldorf school in the middle grades often bring much information about the world. However, these children often have to unlearn some social habits, such as the tendency to experience learning as a competitive activity. They have to learn to approach the arts in a more objective way, not simply as a means for personal expression. In the study of nature, history and the world, they need to relate what they learn to their own life and being.
A Waldorf class teacher ideally stays with a group of children through the eight elementary school years. What if my child does not get along with the teacher?
If a teacher has a class for several years, the teacher and the children come to know and understand each other in a deep way. The children, feeling secure in a long-term relationship, are better able to learn. The interaction of teacher and parents also can become more deep and meaningful over time and they can cooperate in helping the child.
A Waldorf class is something like a family. If a parent in a family does not get along with her child during a certain time, that parent needs to look at the situation and sees what can be done to improve the relationship. In other words, the adult assumes responsibility and tries to change. The same approach is expected of the Waldorf teacher in a difficult situation.
How can a Waldorf class teacher teach all the subjects through the eight years of elementary schooling?
The class teacher is responsible for the two-hour "main lesson" every morning and usually also for additional lessons later in the day. In the main lesson, they bring all the main academic subjects to the children, including language arts, the sciences, history, and mathematics as well as painting, music, clay modeling, etc. In addition, each day, specialty subject teachers teach the children foreign languages, handwork, woodwork, movement/PE, music, chorus, etc.
A common misconception is that education is merely the transfer of information. From the Waldorf point of view, true education also involves the awakening of capacities - the ability to think clearly and critically, to empathetically experience and understand phenomena in the world, to distinguish what is beautiful, good and true.
Waldorf class teachers work very hard to master the content of the various subjects that they teach. But the teacher's ultimate success lies in their ability to work with those inner traits so that the children can grow, develop and experience learning in such a way that they become "lifelong" students.