Out of mothering instinct – I did a few things right. Two out of three of my children probably would have been on Ritalin if they’d been in the public school. They just couldn’t seem to sit still to learn. So, instinctively, I used their wiggles for them instead of against them. We ran and played, or swam every day. We skipped rope or hopped up and down stairs to memorize spelling words. We wrote math problems with sidewalk chalk in the driveway. Before I had even heard of Waldorf Education – I was doing instinctually what Waldorf does intentionally, and what modern science has deemed beneficial to education.
Waldorf emphasizes movement. In early education (before age 7) kids move through free play and games, whereas elementary teachers organize it and make it an integral part of the educational process. During circle time, children move to music and beat – reciting literature, math facts and foreign language. In the Waldorf classroom, students may march around the room spelling words, or toss bean bags to recite times tables. To learn to “write” student’s learn hand-eye coordination and finger dexterity by learning to knit and modeling with bee’s wax, as well as reciting finger plays in circle time. Even high schoolers are encouraged to move and exercise in a Waldorf setting. If a child has special needs – he gets “extra lessons” – which are taught almost completely through movement.
What Waldorf teachers have been practicing for a century, scientific studies (mainly conducted in the 1990s) have proven to be beneficial to the educational process. Scientists have connected the dots between movement and education – physical activity and the ability to learn. Studies have proven the link between physical movement and vision, physical movement and the development of language, physical movement and memory, physical movement and the ability to pay attention. Researchers have also found that as well as improving academic performance, exercise improves behavior and social skills. And movement dramatically improves dexterity, reading, speaking, and comprehension in children with learning differences and special needs. In a study done in 2003, children who spent a larger portion of their day in physical activity scored higher on standardized tests than those who learned traditionally by sitting at a desk. One of the coolest things I’ve learned is that physical movement can regenerate the brain – for one’s entire life! As an adult, the more I exercise the more learning my brain will be able to accomplish.
I recently sat on an airplane next to a woman who had taught kindergarten for 30 years. When she started, the kids went for half a day, in which they played, read a couple of books, learned to cut, tie their shoes, sing the alphabet, and count to 20. She said, kids used to have fun – they wanted to come to school. Then she told me about the changes – how now the kids come to school all day and have a 20 minute recess. If they are “bad in class” – although they need the recess more than other kids – recess is what is taken away as punishment. The kids are expected to come into kindergarten knowing their letters and numbers and to leave reading and doing simple arithmetic. Kids no longer enjoy coming to school. She was planning to retire – because she didn’t enjoy coming anymore either.
Maybe I’ve been doing a few too many jumping jacks, because I’m putting all the facts together. I’m excited that my instincts and natural inclination are backed up by science – and that there is a proven educational philosophy, which at its very core, implements these practices.
Sources used in article (and for your own personal research)
“High physical activity levels in a Waldorf school reflect alternative developmental understandings” by Elisa J. Sobo
“Teaching with the Brain in Mind, 2nd Edition” Chapter 4, by Eric Jensen
“Practical and Ethical Considerations: The basis for a school-wide, all-students approach to learning foundations” by Jeff Tunkey and Amanda Boyler
“Remedial Education” by Mary Jo Oresti
“Games, Gymnastics, Sport in Child Development” Rudolf Kischnick, translated by Edeline Le Fevre