How well does this school fit the natural developmental stages of a child?

When Rudolf Steiner created Waldorf educational theories, he did not have the benefit of scientific research into child development. He only had his own observations, common sense, and his practice of seeking spiritual guidance. Now we do have a science of developmental psychology, with well-substantiated theories of child development. Ironically, Waldorf education fits a child’s developmental stages better than modern, mainstream teaching methods. This may seem hard to believe, but there is a lot of research that shows that certain aspects of mainstream education harms children’s development in the long run (see our FREE REPORT for more on this). Today’s educational methods are influenced more by political, societal, and economic pressures than by the scientific knowledge we have from developmental psychology. The educational establishment may give lip service to developmental psychology, but they ignore research that calls customary methods into question.

One of the ideas in mainstream education is that “earlier is better.” “If learning to read and write is good, we should be trying to teach this at younger and younger ages.”  It can be easy for us as parents to fall into this kind of thinking out of our desire for our children to succeed.

However, it is clear that earlier is not always better. It’s obvious that if we take 3-month-old infants and try to teach them to walk, this can cause trouble. Forcing the physical body to perform feats for which it is not physically ready can cause damage to the posture, physical structure, and also the psychology of the child.

This same principle applies with cognitive development and emotional development. Rudolf Steiner based his educational sequence on how the child actually develops. His goal is long-range success: what produces the best-educated young person and adult. Increasingly, research supports his approach to education. Rather than getting a child to start reading as soon as possible, he asked the question, “When is the best time for the child to start?” By waiting a bit longer than public schools to teach reading, the Waldorf School educational system then has more time to help children develop their fundamental abilities to think, problem-solve, be creative, etc.

To me it makes sense that if we want to have a fully intelligent human being, that we begin by developing our foundational “intelligence.” This intelligence includes being able to process information in each of our sensory modalities. We have the ability to see, hear, move, and feel. Developing ourselves in each of our sensory modalities is a fundamental “intelligence” that we can then apply to any kind of learning. When we solve problems, we use these abilities to image, hear, and grasp a solution.

This article by Earl J. Ogletree references quite a lot of research to support the benefits of waiting for some maturity before beginning formal academic instruction. Here are some quotes:

“Studies show that induced cognitive learning before a child is maturationally ready will reduce his learning potential.”

“Another possible symptom of induced learning is that children are currently being diagnosed and misclassified by teachers and special educators as ‘Attention Deficit Disordered’ (ADD)….”

“Anthropometric studies of the physical and motor maturity of first graders showed that unsuccessful  pupils had lower maturation levels than their successful peers.”

“Morency and Wepman suggested that children who are not neurophysiologically ready (maturity of the central nervous system — auditorily, visually and who possess intersensory coordination) will not only not do well in a traditional classroom but will probably not catch up to their more mature peers. Full perceptual processing ability may not occur until age 9.”

“Children who begin reading at age 6, one year ahead of their class peers, are often one year behind them in reading achievement at the end of the seventh grade.”

“Not only do later school beginners surpass those who started school at an earlier age, but the latter group seems to have greater emotional and social adjustment problems.”

I recommend reading the whole article, especially if you’re going to speak with traditional educators. They may be able to tout higher IQ scores in first grade, but those advantages disappear and even turn into disadvantages as the child grows.

If you are confused by the various claims of different educational modalities, a very interesting book on child development is “The Magical Child” by Joseph Chilton Pearce. He does not come from a Waldorf background, but rather a child development background, which gives him an independent viewpoint.

The Waldorf curriculum and teaching methods are different for every developmental stage and even every year of schooling, out of respect for the changing developmental needs of a student.

Among the organized, established systems of education that I am aware of, Waldorf is the only one that waits until a child is developmentally ready before beginning academic subjects, and then proceeds with respect for natural development. That is a very sad state of affairs.

(For more information about the benefits to the child in waiting until he is developmentally ready before learning to read, see our FREE report.)