Our Private School Choice

Now, I’ll let you know what choice we made, and how we made it. When we were choosing a private school in Boulder, we did not have this list of questions to draw from. There were really two criteria that were uppermost for us, and everything else about our school has been a bonus for us.

For us, the most important two questions are: “How well does this school fit the natural development stages of a child?” and “What do you do to encourage parents to keep children away from TV, video games, computers and other electronic toys?” I know, that question wasn’t on the list, but it comes under the question of what schools expect from parents.

I have read about child development and learned that children younger than about 7 have a different brain than we adults do. A young child’s brain is well-suited for imagination and play, and does not yet have the optimal readiness for analytical reasoning or for such academic skills as reading and math. (I explain this more fully, with references to studies, here.) I believe that early childhood is a unique and important part of life, and that it forms the foundation of the rest of a person’s life. Childhood needs to be nurtured, rather than rushed through, for a person to develop their full potential. In addition, there is research to show that young children need lots of physically active play to have the best learning and robust good health.

In addition, there is lots of research to show that time spent in front of a TV is detrimental to children. Susan Johnson, MD, a pediatrician and mother who has also become a Waldorf teacher, puts it much better than I. For one thing, a young child’s eyes are developing. It is natural for a child’s eyes to shift focus from near to far and to scan the whole field of vision. Focusing on a screen is unnatural and harms their developing eyes. Brain development can also be impaired by TV viewing. And for young children, it is increasingly difficult or impossible to be sure the TV will only expose them to age-appropriate content. In addition, a young child is still figuring out who he is. Do we want him to bond to people, or to a game-boy? People are first and foremost natural beings. People, animals, plants, and natural toys and activities resonate with a child’s self, helping him to sort out his identity in a fuller way than electronic toys do, to become a whole person. The happiest adults are ones who can connect well with other people and form healthy relationships, and the groundwork for this is laid in a child’s play.

To me, these two things, delaying academics until a child is ready and avoiding electronic media, are prerequisites for having a normal childhood. This may seem like a strong statement. I don’t mean that a person couldn’t be a happy person or couldn’t learn things doing it another way. There are lots of great kids who watch TV and learn to read early. At the same time, I feel strongly that for children to build the best foundation for reaching their fullest potential, they need to spend childhood doing what a child’s mind and body is best suited for.

So, because of those two questions, the clear best choice for us was Waldorf school. They are the only organized private school system that is truly in harmony with a child’s natural development, and they are one of two schools (the other being Montessori) that strongly encourage or require parents to limit their children’s exposure to electronic media and toys. In keeping with this, they also delay introducing computers to the classroom until later grades. Waldorf has many other strengths as well, such as integrating the arts with academics. (Read on to learn why this is important, and the research showing that doing it this way actually turns out kids with superior mental skills.)

I hope that my list of questions will be useful to you in choosing a private school, regardless of what you decide is most important to you.

Here are some answers to the list of questions as they relate to Waldorf.

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