Saturday, April 07, 2007

Writing and Waldorf-curious

Lyddie has just written her name perfectly for the first time, without any help or prompting. It's been coming for a few days: she's wanted to do more and more writing and been taking greater interest in the letters and their sounds. Yesterday morning she was working out the letter sounds of all the family's names, by saying the name out loud, breaking it down into sounds and then writing each letter sound. She only got a few 'wrong'. When she asked for help or confirmation I gave it, but otherwise she worked it out for herself and the end result was perfectly legible.

It's interesting that the writing has come before the reading, and it's a profound experience, listening to her sounding the words out and working out the letter sounds and corresponding shapes. I feel privileged to witness it.

Someone - probably Rosie - told me that Rudolph Steiner was of the opinion that the ability to write develops naturally before the ability to read. I'd like to read more about him, just out of interest. No, I'm not going to throw out all our televisions and plastic toys ;-) Just do some reading. (Does it always start this way..?) Any suggestions as to which of his books I should start on?

I can almost hear EF from over the North Sea, shouting "Nooooo!"

Do Steiner people take charge of the learning process? I won't be doing that. But if he was right about the order of learning, it makes me wonder what else he had to say.


Anonymous Clare said...

Might he only be right for some children, though? Flopsy is learning reading and writing absolutely simultaneously - showing us words she's written just as often as she points out words she can read to us. It would be interesting to ask other autonomous families in what order their children have learnt things ie. children who've had no pressure either way.

9:10 pm, April 07, 2007  
Blogger Em said...

Ours has been simultaneously. Both my girls I think. Hmm...I dunno...they've been writing just their names for a long long time, but that has come more from signing cards and stuff, writing beyond that has really taken off now their reading has taken off, both things have fed the other.

9:26 pm, April 07, 2007  
Blogger Ruth said...

My two have done it both ways. B read first and D wrote first. However now B writes more. I have some Waldorf links on my sidebar from when we had a dabble in it.

10:04 pm, April 07, 2007  
Blogger dottyspots said...

There are a few websites online, notably although you'll have to sift through a bit. is also interesting.

There should be plenty of links from there, but I could furnish you with more.

As I understand it, in Waldorf ed, children read from their own writing (initially).

I have an interest in Steiner's philosophies and certainly have used elements of it whilst HE-ing (we're a mixture here of a bit of structure in the morning - but such structure has been heavily Waldorf-inspired and it rather helps that the subjects commonly studied are those of interest to my eldest two anyway, so Norse Myths etc. went down a storm!)

I've quite a few books which I could lend you, I seem to remember you don't live particularly far from me.

However, there is structure within Steiner's thinking and indeed, I have heard many argue that the method is prescriptive - children are expected to copy passages written by the teacher etc. However, in many other ways there are some very interesting ideas in there.

Certainly that of 'delayed academics' i.e. holding off reading and writing for the first 7 years appeals to me, although I would not wish to hold back a child who was genuinely interested in pursuing writing and reading before this age. I do support the freedom to play etc. advocated by this approach.

I'm always fascinated by differing belief systems, so have found anthroposophy rather interesting too, especially when placing Steiner's writings in it's historical context.

It's also rather amusing to see how his writings are interpreted years later...

Anyhow, if you're interested in any further links or any books, just ask.

10:10 pm, April 07, 2007  
Blogger HelenHaricot said...

SB has def done reading first. She is quite good at reading, but only just beginning to think about writing.
[fingers crossed for word verification! grr to spammers that mean it has to be in place. we use akismet - and the prob with that is it sometimes dumps valid comments]

12:21 am, April 08, 2007  
Blogger Gill said...

Thanks all. I find that very interesting. Seems strange to me that Lyddie can write and not read, but watching her learn I can see how it happened.

Daniel Quinn said: "Kids learn to read the same way they learn to speak: by hanging around people who read and by wanting to be able to do what these people do," and that does seem to be how she's learned to write.

Thanks for your offer Nikki - I'll check out some links. xx

6:20 am, April 08, 2007  
Blogger dottyspots said...

I would agree. This was one of the reasons we were so confident that *eventually* the boys would show an interest in reading as we regularly sat down to read together and they often see either my husband or myself reading.

Mind you, Nin complained a couple of nights ago as she said I missed a word out in her bedtime story so I went back and pointed out the words as I reread the passage (something I don't often do as I think constantly pointing out the individual words to a three year old takes away from the actual story, but as she had asked...)

So it seems she's taking a far earlier interest than her brothers (something that wouldn't sit well with Waldorf ;0) but I'm of the opinion that if children ask what a word says, one should tell them - it doesn't mean that they're necessarily wanting to read everything)

11:50 am, April 08, 2007  
Blogger Gill said...

So Steiner thought a young child should be actively discouraged from learning? Blimey. That's a bit of a shock!

12:37 pm, April 08, 2007  
Anonymous lucy B said...

A is def writing before reading. She is using capitals only, which my (ex teacher) Mum is a tad worried about. But I dig out the Gareth Lewis book when I need reassuring on that. She does form the capitals in the 'right' way, though. She can now write her sisters' names, and mine and her dh as well as her own. Everything else she asks to be spelled out for her. M has just started writing her own name. I have been gently 'encouraging' A to read ... using those Sheila McThingy books with the two sets of words like you have, Gill, but she hasn't cottoned on yet, so absolutely no pushing from me, as she's only 5. She's asking about words though. "Bottom begins with a Buh, doesn't it Mummy?". Gareth Lewis also put in that book that many kids write before reading. Actually, he has a Steiner background, iirc, but leaves out all the fairies and magic (thankfully, imo!). Our tele-lessness and preference for non-plastic stuff predates any knowledge I had of Steiner, so phew! :-)

1:55 pm, April 08, 2007  
Blogger Gill said...

It's a really weird thing - Lyddie just picked up what she wrote yesterday and told me it said something it absolutely doesn't say! So she's not reading her own writing yet. I find it so bizarre that she can work out the letter sounds and write them, but not read them back! Isn't the human mind fascinating?

I prefer non-plasticky stuff but as you know, we've amassed a mishmash of everything over the years and it all gets played with, so it stays. Even Steiner wouldn't persuade me to discard a thing that my child plays with because it's not made of the 'right' substance!

4:40 pm, April 08, 2007  
Anonymous lucy B said...

"Even Steiner wouldn't persuade me to discard a thing that my child plays with because it's not made of the 'right' substance!"

Yep, ikwym. Luckily we've somehow managed not to get loads of plastic stuff in the first place. I decluttered my life some years ago (pre kids) and found I was much happier without loads of things around me ... but I try not to impose that on the girls *too* much. I def don't think I could go as far as chucking out stuff that they liked playing with either! I've always avoided dolls, as I object to all the barbie stuff, but when my girls see them, they are like magnets for them. I bought them a couple of 'nice' Steiner-ish cloth dolls with different clothes, etc, as my mum was horrified they didn't have dolls ... but they play with other people's barbies much more enthusiastically. Bah. Having said all that about plastic though, our friend has just turned up with the start of a playmobil collection, as it's M's birthday ... argh!

I'm struggling a bit at the mo with how my own choices of appropriate 'things' (toys and clothes and books, etc that I have around) impact on the girls' autonomy. I keep examining the underlying 'passive coercion' (if there is such a thing) in our lives. But hey, I'm sure there's plenty of time for the girls to assert themselves as they get older! :-)

5:55 pm, April 08, 2007  
Blogger Gill said...

"I decluttered my life some years ago (pre kids) and found I was much happier without loads of things around me ..."

Ooh, I wish I had!
Mind you, I've never been pre kids - since my brother was born when I was 13 I've never lived in a house that didn't have a young child in it!

"But hey, I'm sure there's plenty of time for the girls to assert themselves as they get older! :-) "

There certainly is. And if they're anything like my lot, they certainly will..!

6:21 pm, April 08, 2007  
Anonymous lucy B said...

"And if they're anything like my lot, they certainly will..!"

I hope they do turn out quite a lot like your lot, actually (or their own version of it, at any rate.) :-)

6:35 pm, April 08, 2007  
Blogger dottyspots said...

"So Steiner thought a young child should be actively discouraged from learning? Blimey. That's a bit of a shock!"

That's up for debate and I am not saying that - see my earlier comment about how his 'writings are interpreted years later.' The 'Steiner police' can be rather *interesting* LOL - doubtless Rosie would probably have something to say about this too.

The bods over at Christopherus (who produce curriculum materials) say a little differently and also point out much the same as I have that a child wanting to learn to write their name (for example) may solely be interested in that and not in learning to write as a whole.

I rather like the faeries (etc.) present in Waldorf education - but then I believe in faeries anyway (so it's bound to appeal).

I'm not a big fan of plastic - however, from what I can make of it part of the 'Waldorf' argument (and I'm using the term very loosely) is that 'modern' toys can hamper a child's natural creativity (amongst other things). There is also the environmental argument and that of the production methods of well-known makes of toys (i.e. the conditions under which they are produced). Part of it can be down to snobbery too...

I prefer wooden toys (hence I run Ninny Noodle Noo), but no-one is going to convince me that something like Lego isn't a great toy.

I enjoy making little toys anyway (as does my eldest) and the making of such things is an encouragement to my other children to 'think outside the box' (quite literally at times) and not be bound by what is physically in front of them.

Re. Barbie - a 'Waldorf' viewpoint may be found here:

Followed by: (Barbie Come Home)

And: (Barbie and violence)

6:56 pm, April 08, 2007  
Blogger dottyspots said...

Oh, the Articles and Information (listed someway down the contents on the right side) are also useful to read.

6:59 pm, April 08, 2007  
Blogger dottyspots said...

Ah, found the link re. reading and writing:

7:00 pm, April 08, 2007  
Blogger Gill said...

Oh thanks for the links Nikki - Yes I'm inclined to agree. We have Barbies here and they are very hard and plasticky! They don't get played with much though, luckily. The baby dolls get more attention - so much so that they're permenantly grubby! I think they might need a bath sometime soon.

It's true that Barbies incite violent feelings towards them - Zara ceremoniously trashed all hers in quite macabre ways. which seemed very cathartic, for reasons I didn't understand at the time but are explained in that 3rd link there.

As for the reading link:
"The letters are introduced imaginatively, through a story and a drawing in which the letter can be found in one of the figures that starts with that sound." - that's Letterland!

"Sitting children down and teaching them to write the letters and to read when they are four or five uses a kind of intellectual energy that Steiner indicates is still needed in early childhood for the healthy formation of the internal organs." - it has always felt instinctively wrong for me to do this, much as I tried, as a new mother when it was very much the done thing to do. It probably still is, but I don't care nowadays.

" Many times teaching a child to write his or her name is enough to satisfy their desire, before they are on to other interests." Hmmm.. curious. She does seem to be losing interest now, though it's early days yet of course.

And this seems like good, healthy common sense:
"The guiding principle according to Steiner is not to address the intellect directly in early childhood. Children up until the age of six or seven need to be in movement, learning through movement games and through play and expressing themselves through the arts, not sitting at desks tracing letters and numbers, memorizing math sums, or learning to read. This makes Waldorf out of step with the mainstream push to teach reading and writing at ever younger ages, but the results are fewer reading problems and children who love reading real books, rather than becoming burnt out on years of simple readers."

Thanks Nikki, I really enjoyed those. I'll be visiting that site more often!

Lucy, they'll be adorable, as they are now, and very (healthily) assertive at a guess! :-)

7:35 pm, April 08, 2007  
Blogger dottyspots said...

I think that it can often be seen naturally in young children, that they are always (exhaustingly sometimes) on the go.

For my two eldest I think that they just weren't ready to sit up straight in a chair and listen. They wanted to be outside, running around, poking around with sticks, etc.

I found, upon deregistering them, that any attempt towards formality with re. to reading and writing met with floods of tears from my youngest and utter disinterest from my eldest.

We left off any formal attempt at reading and writing and I continued either reading or telling them stories throughout the day. Sometimes we'd act them out and sometimes they'd create 'storyboards' of pictures.

When we did start writing, it was very much inspired by Waldorf. I'd read a story and then we'd do some drawing or painting (or go for a walk) and the next day they'd retell the story and we'd come up with a passage to write which I'd write out and they'd copy. Aside from that they started to write lists: shopping lists, lists of stuff to take for a picnic etc.

We'd take sketch books out on walks and my eldest would label what he'd drawn.

That was enough.

After a couple of years my eldest had already read Harry Potter etc. (catching up with more mainstream reading for children of his age), even though he'd started to read later than his schooled peers.

It such a way I'd never claim that we are autonomous in our approach, in that, for our family, there is some comfort in a 'rhythm' to the day and certainly for dh, it was a reassurance to see some 'sit down work' done. I enjoyed drawing up schedules with the boys and they enjoyed (equally) joyfully discarding them as they got sidetracked and a topic proved far too interesting to move on from, or some particular aspect of it took us off on a tangent.

However, the books are the boys own and are little snapshots of their day-to-day lives, the passages they chose to copy an indication of what they found to be important in any story. We also wrote out poetry and riddles (tongue twisters being a favourite).

The preservation of their books as wholly their own was why it was so very important to me to uphold my eldest's wishes that his work should not be 'inspected' by the local authority.

Many of the elements of the Waldorf approach come naturally to us anyway - I'm a big believer in children being an equal part in the care of the home and so my children do take part in the cooking, cleaning and other day-to-day chores, even the littlies (as would be expected in a Waldorf approach for Early Years).

Where we veer off is that we have a telly and we do watch it and I rather like bassy music (which would be considered to be a no-no for Early Years due to its 'grounding' effect).

One of the beauties of HE is the possibility of exploring such options and finding out what works best for the family :0)

8:11 pm, April 08, 2007  
Blogger Gill said...

As regards the development of handwriting: do we still need this?

I won't be sitting Lyddie down and insisting she produces writing ever, so the writing she does will only be that which she wants to do - at the moment this consists of signing cards, as Em said re: her girls, labelling pictures and adding to shopping lists etc.

I wonder if this will ever develop into scripted narrative, in our keyboard age? Tom, Ali and Zara express themselves in text extensively, but all via computer keyboard. They all can produce legible handwriting, but it certainly isn't something they practice.

I myself still do pages of handwriting most days in my diary, but I think this is through force of habit more than anything - if I was 20 years younger I've no doubt I'd be doing it on computer.

Reliance on machines for writing does make me feel concerned about us developing too much dependence on such things, but having said that I think the handwriting ability comes back very quickly after a short amount of practice, so I'm not too worried. I think if Tom, Ali and Zara were suddenly deprived of their computers they'd be handwriting very well within a few days.

"I'm a big believer in children being an equal part in the care of the home and so my children do take part in the cooking, cleaning and other day-to-day chores, even the littlies (as would be expected in a Waldorf approach for Early Years)."

Ooh I think I might blog about that again - it really is a fascinating subject. My younger children have always joined in (and taken over!) with this voluntarily, then lost interest as they got older. As young adults they start to do it again of their own volition.

7:24 am, April 09, 2007  
Blogger Gill said...

Why is Steiner's education system called Waldorf, anyway? I've often wondered that.

10:28 am, April 09, 2007  
Blogger Gill said...

Oh, here it is:

Steiner, an Austrian scientist, educator and writer, turned his attention to education after the First World War at the request of Emil Molt, who helped him found a school for the children of the workers at the Waldorf-Astoria cigarette factory in Stuttgart in 1919. The impulse for "Waldorf education," as it came to be called, spread throughout Europe, with the first school in America being founded in New York City in 1928.

10:35 am, April 09, 2007  
Blogger Nic said...

The desire to write has definitely been greater than the desire to read in both my children. They clearly feel getting their words out there is more important than reading other people's - lol - and I'm inclined to agree!

4:48 pm, April 09, 2007  
Blogger Gill said...

LOL Nic! me too, me too xx

6:48 pm, April 09, 2007  

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