A common concern of people interested in sending their child to a Steiner/Waldorf school is the stage at which children are taught to read. Sometimes it is suggested that Steiner schools delay reading but this is a very relative concept. One person’s delay is another person’s acceleration, depending on what culture you exist in. It is true that some education systems in the English speaking world start to push reading skills before grade 1 and the expectation for children to be reading with some fluency by the end of grade 1 is common. However, for a large percentage of children this fluency is not realised and their self-esteem plummets while parents and teachers introduce various interventions to correct the child’s ‘failing’.
In a range of education systems throughout the world, the emphasis on reading at a young age is actually less while the emphasis on developing oral language skills is much greater. This is also the case at Steiner schools and explains why adults often comment on how articulate children at Steiner schools are. If the goal is for children to be functional readers in grade 1 or 2, then Steiner schools may be accused of delaying reading, but if the goal is for children to be reading well and have a passion for reading by Class 5, Steiner schools seem to getting the timing just right. Sadly, many children who were good readers in grade 1 and 2 are not passionate readers in grade 5 & 6 because they were driven to acquire the skills before they were ready.
Steiner schools place much emphasis on the ability of children being able to listen and speak well by the time they enter Class 1. Unlike reading and writing, these skills can be taught without direct intellectual instruction which children are not developmentally ready for before about age 7. The ability to listen and speak well equips children admirably for when they are introduced to the abstract concept of letters which are linked to particular sounds in Class 1. Also, children who are developmentally ready by Class 1 to deal with such abstract concepts don’t find it such a chore and tend to “come to” letter writing and reading in a more healthy and happy fashion than children who have been dragged to it before they may be ready. Tedious sessions of reading simplistic stories, with just the right amount of difficult words is not going to engender a love of reading and is often very stressful for both child and parents. And it is educationally a pretty dodgy method for teaching young children to read. It just shouldn’t be such an effort to get a child reading!
A recent study (see report in this edition of Silver Leaves) supports the idea that if oral skills are developed well first, reading acquisition and ability will increase significantly. It also suggests that it will also reduce the huge demand for speech therapy referrals that is now prevalent in our society.
One simple but highly effective way you can make a huge difference is to read or tell stories, with awareness and passion, to your children everyday, even up to middle primary and beyond.
Please read: 31/08/2011 Silver Leaves Edition 255