Learning with Depth
One of the criticisms of Waldorf education is that it's not "academic" enough. I find this hysterical as it's, more often than not, written by someone who doesn't have a clue about the pedagogy, or roots, of Waldorf. One of the many things that attracted me to Waldorf education, after working with children nearly twenty years, was the depth the children learn the material.
For example, today is the first day back to school in the new year for our students. We read the story of "Marushka and the Month Brothers" as a way to introduce the concept of the calendar. Each of the month brothers has a personality, and unique power, that correlates to a season of the year, which creates a foundation for the child to connect to an abstract concept such as a month or season. Then, after a brief dance party to get the wiggles out, the students were asked to draw a 360 degree circle. As their guide (ie teacher), I posed the question, "How can we divide the circle the way the month brothers divided their circle around the fire?" The fire in the Russian folktale is the metaphorical sun and the month brothers sit on twelve stones around the fire. So, first we divided the circle into four equal sections. We discussed the square inside a circle is comprised of four ninety-degree angles. Then, we divided each fourth into the three months of each season and labeled them. Each section was roughly thirty degrees representing thirty days in each month. After reminding the students of a story we read in the fall where a young Native American girl described days as "moons", we realized each degree of the 360 degree circle might represent a moon, or a day. Then, we wrote sentences about our discoveries!
So, a naysayer of Waldorf education may take a look at a circle drawn and pretty pictures of the seasons and think the children are simply drawing all day as if being creative and artistic is not using one's brain...but, I digress...the children have learned far more than the colors of the seasons. They've discovered the geometry of a circle and a square, the orbit of the earth around the sun, the angles and degrees found in a perpetual calendar, and learned that the moon doesn't change it's face, but the position of the earth in orbit around the sun may cause the moon to appear different each day. How did they learn this? Through conversations with a trusted guide- the teacher! And, through artistic expression they've connected to the material on a deeper level.
What has always fascinated me about Waldorf education is that children do not have to memorize seemingly meaningless data and regurgitate the information onto a two dimensional worksheet. Instead, they make meaningful discoveries through trial and error and they're invited to think! In this one lesson we practiced math, science, geometry, measurement, time, handwriting, spelling, grammar and strengthened our connection to the universe and found our place in it. Mind blowing, right?
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