Our older daughter Lena turned 5 this past April, and that means Kindergarten. There are times when I look back on my post-college life and wonder how it has possibly gone so fast, and the realization that Lena is now going to school is certainly one of those times.
Becca and I have done a lot of looking at schools in Eugene. The public school system that we are in has a reputation of being quite good. But we investigated an alternative private school, and ultimately decided to apply and send Lena there for at least the first year, if not the K through 8 years. That school is the Eugene Waldorf School. The philosophy of the school is very different from the normal public school.
The Rosebud Preschool offers a warm and beautiful environment for 3 year-olds as they begin to explore the world beyond their home. Three mixed-age kindergartens give 4-6 year old children a loving family circle within which they are free to play and imitate in their natural way of learning.
As children begin Waldorf elementary school they are guided by a class teacher who begins with the first grade and carries the same group of children through the eighth grade. The goal of the grade school program is to support all students in developing their highest potential by encouraging the child's artistic, creative, and imaginative life and by providing a strong base in academic studies.
Subjects are taught in such a way that the whole child is involved in the learning process, from writing and illustrating their own lesson books beginning in Grade 1, to sowing, harvesting and baking wheat in Grade 3, and modeling a relief map of the western hemisphere in Grade 5. The Waldorf Curriculum provides an interdisciplinary approach to a wide range of academic subjects including mathematics, grammar, botany, zoology, chemistry, physics, physiology, history, geography, and foreign languages in blocks of 3-4 weeks per subject. Teachers strive to bring the subject alive, first within themselves, and then through their presentation awaken the enthusiasm and interest of the students.
(From the Eugene Waldorf Website)
Parents of students at the Waldorf school are strongly encouraged to not let their children watch television, movies, or use computers. I am excited about the prospect of Lena joining other kids who have not been exposed to a deluge of hour upon hour of television time. Wikipedia has a good overview of the Waldorf philosophy.
One concern for some prospective Waldorf parents is the Waldorf philosophy about reading; first graders in normal public school environments are essentially expected to be able to read. In the Waldorf schools, this is not the case. The Waldorf School of Cape Cod has a nice FAQ addressing this 'concern':
Children entering the first grade in most public schools are expected to be able to read. In a Waldorf school, children start to learn to read in the first grade and are allowed to develop this skill relatively slowly. Why is this?
There is evidence that normal, healthy children who learn to read relatively late are not disadvantaged by this, but rather are able quickly to catch up with, and may overtake, children who have learned to read early. Additionally, they are much less likely to develop the "tiredness toward reading" that many children taught to read at a very early age experience later on. Instead there is lively interest in reading and learning that continues unto adulthood. Some children will, out of themselves, want to learn to read at an early age. This interest can and should be met, as long as it comes from the child. Early imposed formal instruction in reading can be a handicap in later years, when enthusiasm toward reading and learning may begin to falter.
Lena is excited about going to school next year. We want her to be excited about school for a long time. The Waldorf school may be a wonderful path for her. We'll see!