Ready or Not . . .

readiness 1“Ready or not, here I come!” – This is often the way schools treat academic readiness – but Waldorf education is different. Age is only one factor in determining if a child is ready to move from play-based learning to academic learning environment.

After researching and reading countless articles, I’ve realized most literature and Waldorf schools have similar traits they look for in determining if a child is ready for this transition. So, I have compiled a list. Your child does not have to meet ever one of these standards to be ready to hop into first grade – but rather it is highly recommended that you child have most of the traits or at least a few in each category.

readiness 2

Physical Development:

  • Had 6th Birthday before June 1 or have had 7 Easters.
  • Has Six Year Molars.
  • Has lost milk teeth
  • Longer legs and arms
    • Can reach up over his head with left arm and touch his right ear without leaning or bending his head to the side.
  • Has an arch in his foot
  • Eyes can follow a finger accurately

rediness 3

Physical Ability

  • Can skip, swim, or ride a bike
  • Climbs stairs with alternating feet
  • Hops on one foot
  • Bunny hops with two feet together
  • Able to catch and throw a large ball
  • Walks across a balance beam or log
  • Has developed self-care skills
    • Can take care of bathroom needs himself
    • Can button and zip own clothes
    • Can tie own shoes

readiness 4Social Skills

  • Likes to tell and laughs at jokes – has a sense of humor
  • Whispers “secrets”
  • Plays with and cooperates with other kids rather than simply playing side by sid
  • Is aware of others needs and desires and not just her own
  • Can play without a toy (can visualize or create play rather than needing object to play with)
  • Plays as animal and master/trainer (shows understanding of authority)
  • Starts developing long term friends (the new person at the park is no longer identified as “my best friend”)
  • Is purposeful in play – comes up with a scenario, then plans and directs it – almost like a play

Emotionally/Maturity

  • Wants to learn – and states this verbally
  • States “I’m bored”
  • Has some control over impulses and emotions
  • Ability to pay attention and concentrate for 10 – 15 minute time period
  • Follows a set of  three directions (for example: pick up the spoon, put it in the sink, and wipe the table)
  • Shows some independence and is not overly clingy to parent or caregivers
  • Responds positively to authority – might even have desire to please

block-5Mentally/Intellectually

  • Recalls dreams and memories when ask verbally – does not need a physical reminder of events
  • Can retell stories and recite verses or songs fairly accurately
  • “Because this … then this” (causation) thinking is beginning
  • Uses imagination and not objects to create stories and play
  • Can come up with solutions to minor problems (The ball is stuck in the tree – how can I get it out?)
  • Asks “real” questions – not simply “why”

Verbally

  • Rhymes
  • Changes or speeds up rhythm of songs or verse
  • Tells stories – both from recall and made up
  • Expresses own thoughts so a stranger could understand
  • Consistently uses correct verb tenses

ready 1Artistically

  • Is purposeful in drawing – doesn’t just scribble
  • Draws the sky and the ground in pictures
  • People and animals are clearly on the ground and not floating in space
  • Draws figures that do not represent anything (shapes, spirals, lines)
  • People are drawn somewhat accurately and proportionately  
  • There is natural symmetry in the drawings
    • For example – houses have windows evenly spaced
  • Can copy a simple line drawing of an adult
  • Uses multiple colors in drawings or paintings

Every child is different – but many of these traits naturally occur in children between the age of 6 and 7.  These guidelines are based on child development  – both observation and scientific evidence of brain development in children. If it possible to teach a younger child, who hasn’t developed many of these traits? I’ll answer a question with a question: Is it beneficial?

readiness 7

As a homeschooler – I don’t have to have a “Ready or  not, here I come” mentality of starting school – I can choose to wait until my child is truly ready.

Elements of Waldorf: Block Learning

 

block-3

  1. Read Shakespeare poem
  2. Review science chapter for test
  3. Do daily math exercises
  4. Begin writing assignment
  5. Read chapter in history book

 

 

 

 

 

I left my 10 year old at home with a list of school work, as I ran to do some errands. I told grandma not to worry, he was responsible enough to get it all done. Three hours later, when I arrive home, my son runs up to me excitedly, “Mom, Mom, can I read the Shakespeare poem to you?” Before I had a chance to breath he expressively begins “performing” the Shakespeare poem. He feels the words and expresses (and pronounces) each correctly. I listened in awe. When he finishes, he obsessively babbles about the poem – the meaning, the new vocabulary words it contains, the historical context and references made in the poem, and how he had listened to it read on youtube over and over again so he could read it with correct enunciation, pronunciation, and expression. “Isn’t it just beautiful, Mom?”  – At that moment, I realized he had spent the last three hours delving into Shakespeare and checking the other items off his list had not even occurred to him.

Before I had ever heard of Waldorf or “block learning” my ten year old taught me. He was simply not capable of switching the channel in his brain to a new subject before the story line in the subject he was studying was “complete.” It wasn’t that he loved Shakespeare – although he does – because if I left him the next day with Science being on the top of the list, science is all that would be done. Thus, when I started studying Waldorf’s concept of “block learning” – it made sense to me.

What is block learning?

block-4

Block learning is the pedagogy that one subject is taught and studied for a block of time usually lasting three to six weeks. Then another topic is taught for another block of time. This contrasts dramatically with the current practice of a student studying new material in multiple subjects each school day.

In Waldorf schools, block learning begins in first grade – it is not geared for preschool or kindergarten – and runs through high school.

Math facts, mental math, spelling, and memorization exercises are practiced during circle time or extra lessons, usually on a daily basis. But, new concepts are learned during the block learning called “main lessons.”

Block learning is not student directed learning. The teacher chooses the block to be studied in accordance with the child’s natural development.

Block learning is not unit studies. One subject is studied in depth, although sometimes other subjects are incorporated in the process of teaching that main subject.

Waldorf is often associated with “delayed learning” philosophy – not introducing symbolic letters and numbers until the age of seven. What may not be known is that because of “block learning” students go much more in-depth on topics and their base of knowledge and understanding passes their peers in public school – usually by 4th grade. This is because of the concept of spiral learning.

Spiral learning is the progression of a subject from block to block within a grade level and then throughout the grades. Different methods of teaching are employed throughout different grade levels, which take into account child development. For example, math is taught through manipulatives in first grade, fourth grade math holds more emphasis on art and beauty, and eighth on logic and reason. Thus, students are not only learning at increasing complexity, but able to retain the information because it is taught in a way that resonates with their souls.

Why use block learning?

block-1

Block learning has proven successful. Students are fully immersed in a subject which is intensely and economically taught in an age appropriate manner. A Canadian study found that average intelligent students who studied in a Waldorf school showed the same characteristics of creative behavior, problem solving, and subject integration as gifted students who studied under mainstream methodology. Block learning and the spiral curriculum is beneficial to students ability to understand, think, reason, remember and cross-apply information.

 

 

How does block learning work?

block-6

Often when we think of learning for a two hour time frame, our mind goes to sitting in a desk, listening to a professor, twirling our pencil as we try to stay awake. Main lessons look nothing like this. They integrate mental, physical, and artwork to balance the learning approach. Listening, active learning, singing, storytelling, recalling information, and quiet seat work are beautifully balanced. Waldorf main lesson pedagogy used a multiple intelligence approach, before multiple intelligence was a thing.

 

 

 

 

What blocks do you teach?

Three to five subjects are covered per school year.  A typical year may include 3 or 4 Language Arts blocks, 3 or 4 Arithmetic Blocks, 1 or 2 blocks of Science, Humanities, or Form Drawing, and often the last block of the year is saved for a school play.

block-5

Block learning may be the most distinctive element of a Waldorf education, and for good reason. It is highly beneficial in developing children into lifelong learners. Thank you, Andres, for making me a believer.

 

Let Me Move You

movement 13Out 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.

movement 2

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.

movement 10What 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.

 

movementI 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.

 

movement 11Maybe 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.

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movement 12

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

http://sheu.org.uk/x/eh311ejs.pdf

“Teaching with the Brain in Mind, 2nd Edition” Chapter 4, by Eric Jensen

http://www.ascd.org/publications/books/104013/chapters/Movement-and-Learning.aspx

“Practical and Ethical Considerations: The basis for a school-wide, all-students approach to learning foundations” by Jeff Tunkey and Amanda Boyler

http://www.movementforchildhood.com/uploads/2/1/6/7/21671438/remedial.pdf

“Remedial Education” by Mary Jo Oresti

http://www.waldorflibrary.org/images/stories/articles/remedialeducation.pdf

“Games, Gymnastics, Sport in Child Development” Rudolf Kischnick, translated by Edeline Le Fevre

http://www.movementforchildhood.com/uploads/2/1/6/7/21671438/kischnick_pt1.pdf

Book Hoarding Penence

I hoard children’s books. I love them. But the more I read and study, the more I observe human nature of a small child, the more I realize that more is not better.

It is sad to say, but …
I’d like to be sitting in the middle of these

Have you ever noticed that toddlers want you to read the same book over and over again? I have “Brown Bear, Brown Bear” memorized. Sometimes I have read it 5 or 6 times in a row, and heaven forbid I suggest another book. “No! Bear book!”

I love the Waldorf method of telling the same story for 2 to 4 weeks at a time. So this year I’m doing it. I am weeding Kymee’s books down to only SIX books in her room. The rest will be placed in my “library” to be rotated out at a future time.

I’ve put a lot of thought into my 6 books. Believe me when I say it is EXTREMELY hard for me to pick 6 books for the year. So here were my standard’s for choosing.

  1. I have to want to read the book over and over again and still enjoy it. 
  2. Kymee has to like it. At this point she likes to look at books and doesn’t particularly want me to read them out-load. She wants to “Do it myself.” Which leads me to the next standard …
  3. They have to have beautiful pictures worthy of looking at without the words
  4. They have fit my focus of the year, which is poetry, nursery rhymes, and seasonal. I believe that giving 3-year-olds poetry enhances their language through rhythm and rhyme. 
Kymee’s 6 Books: (I have to make a confession here and say I cheated. Many of the six books have multiple “stories” or “poems”)

This is the Bible book I’ve been looking for. I wanted something to teach Kymee who God is and what it looks like to have a relationship with Him. I didn’t want Bible Stories which focus more on people and what they do for God. I’ve been reading Psalms straight out of the Bible to her, but this is such a sweet translation for her age (I haven’t found anything blatantly unbiblical yet).

    1. Psalms for Young Children
    by Marie-Helene Delval
    illustrated by Arno

I plan to read one Psalm a night for a week at bedtime. 
2. Prayers for Children
by Eloise Wilkins

This would not have made my top six. I already have a Bible book. However, Kymee loves it. She carries it around, she takes it in the car for journeys, she sits and shows the pictures to her baby bear. Little Golden Books were geniouses in designing books just the right size for toddler hands. That being said, it is a really sweet book, which includes classic prayers like “Now I lay me down to sleep.” There are morning prayers and meal prayers and prayers for play.

I love children’s book illustrations and
no one draws sweeter, purer children than
Eloise Wilkins
 Great addition for the Waldorf Library, as it can be used for daily rhythm. This is how I’ll use the book with Kymee, as well as letting her continue to lug it around. 
3. The Complete Book of Flower Fairies
 by Cicely Mary Barker

    Both Kymee and I LOVE fairies. I dream of fairy gardens we’ll someday design together. She flutters around waving her arms pretending to be a fairy. I hope I’m never too old to look under flowers trying to catch a glimpse of the flower fairies. This book is a classic based on the poet illustrator Cicely Mary Barker who lived from 1895 – 1973. The book contains all of her books which are collections of poetry.

    The illustrations and words 
    are breathtaking

    I plan to use this book for throughout the Kindergarden years (for all my non-Waldorfy friends, that’s from age 3 – 6). I’ll use the poems for my yearly rhythm – reading and memorizing two or three per season.

    4. My Vary First Mother Goose 
    edited by Iona Opie 
    illustrated by Rosemary Wells

    Introducing Kymee to Mother Goose. What more can I say? This will be the core of out “literature” this year.

    Rosemary Wells illustrations are simple, fun-loving and spunky. 
    Perfect for a three year old.
    5. Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes 
    by Mem Fox illustrated 
    by Helen Oxenbury

    I adore this book. Everything about it. The simple rhythm and repetition of the words. The pictures of babies from all over the glode and from different walks of life. I love how it subtlely teaches that all people are equal, whether they are born far away or close, in a town or village, black or yellow, red or white. And it’s an awesome book to have finger and toe play and teach counting.

    The babies are so charming,
    I challenge you not to smile
    as you read
    For Number 6,  I’m so cleaver at breaking my own rules. I will have one book for each season which I rotate in Kymee’s basket. This technically makes my 6 book choose, 9 books – yea me.
    6. Autumn
    Leaf Man
    by Lois Ehlert

    Fun, fun book. The words are simple and flow beautifully, “Leaf Man used to live near me, in a pile of leaves, but yesterday the wind blew Leaf Man away.” The book then goes on to tell of Leaf man’s journey across the land. 

    The illustrations are ingenious
    with landscape and creatures
    made of leaves

    This is kinda like an “I spy” book. So much to look at and admire. Great trigger for leaf talks on autumn, leaf collection, art projects which we make our own “Leaf Man.” I’m so excited.

    6. Winter
    Dream Snow
    by Eric Carle

    When choosing only 6 books, you HAVE to have one by Eric Carle. Love this one. Kymee loves the animals named One, Two, Three, Four and Five, and the tree named Tree. There’s a surprise in the end – who would expect anything less from Eric Carle.

    6. Spring
    Jamberry
    by Bruce Degen

    I could read this all day long and never get bored. Even if you only read it one the jingle of the words will stick in your head all day long, “One berry, two berry, pick me a blueberry, hat berry, shoe berry, in my conueberry. Under the bridge and over the dam, looking for berries, berries for jam …” 

    The illustrations just pop

    Can’t wait for the first berries of the season: to pick, to taste, to make jam. Yum.

    6. Summer
    Undecided
    Have any ideas? 

    That’s it folks. What are your top choices of books for toddlers?