I have noticed that this is the time of year that I tend to get emails from parents anxious that their children are not reading yet or wanting to start teaching a 5yo to read… I came across this great Steiner quote today that I wanted to share. Really, to me, it comes down to whether or not you have a strong testimony of this method of education – do you believe Steiner’s work to be inspired… if your answer is yes then trust nature. If however you do not have a testimony of his work, then you may need to stand back and evaluate things for yourself. Now I don’t believe that in this text he is addressing those who naturally read on their own, only the abstract nature of teaching a young child to read before giving them an artistic, living background through writing and pictures first. Plus one other VERY important thing to remember when you begin comparing your child to Johnny down the street is that reading is a process. Johnny’s teacher might say that he can read… but at what level? Children really don’t spontaneously read, it is a process that takes time, just as potty training and weaning… it is a process. Let the process unfold.
Steiner’s lecture 4 from “The Child’s Changing Consciousness and Waldorf Education”
“But if one adopts this method in order to work harmoniously with human nature, it can become extraordinarily difficult to withstand modern prejudices. Naturally, pupils will learn to read a little later than expected today, and if they have to change schools they appear less capable than other students in their new class. Yet, is it really justified that we cater to the views of a materialistic culture with its demands concerning what an eight-year-old child should know? The real point is that it may not be beneficial at all for such a child to learn to read too early. By doing so, something is being blocked for life. If children learn to read too early, they are led prematurely into abstractions.”
This will likely ruffle a few feathers and it was written nearly 100 years ago! Having seen this at work in my own home with a child determined to read early, we have our work cut out for us even more so than the child who reads late. The child that reads early will have many challenges… first – what do we let them read? There is not a lot of material suitable for a child under 6 to read alone, story books maybe, but once this sense has been awakened then story books will only satisfy them for so long. Before you know it they will be ready to read adult books and there will be nothing suitable for them to take in where they are developmentally. Of course, again speaking from experience, we will say “not my child, I will make sure they are balanced!” So your task is just that… you have to make sure the amount of time spent reading on their before age seven is small – fill their days with art, with play, with movement. A child that awakens this sense early will often, but NOT always have blocks with drawing and creating in other areas so it is your job to make sure that you work to bring that out. Cultivate art by doing – remember they are imitators, you draw, they will draw.
I am also often asked “my child can read, what is the necessity in teaching them the grade one material?” First you must remember that the material is suited for the age and development of the child, not the “grade level” they would be in with their reading abilities. So a child of six going on seven still needs the fairy tales. It would also do them wonders to learn to write the Waldorf way, through picture… so I would still introduce each letter as described in the method, it will provide review for them but more importantly, it will provide the artistic soul connection they need with each letter – it will also strengthen their writing skills – remember writing should be a beautiful act. If you have an older child who may have missed all of this early work, I would go back and do the letter introductions in a beautiful artistic way and let them feel each letter being born from the drawing and with consistency, you will see their handwriting improve.