There are two main reasons that I chose the Waldorf Academy as the school that would best serve the needs of my son, Jasper. As an educator, I became keenly aware that the Waldorf approach is the only one that is consistent in every aspect of its pedagogy with what current studies are showing to be essential for cognitive development and learning. As a mother, it broke my heart that every single morning Jasper would cry and protest having to go to his previous public school, even though it was a good school and he had many friends there.
I have taught at high schools, community colleges and universities for twenty-five years, for the last ten years in York University’s Creative Writing Program as I am also a professional writer. I have designed the original curriculum for several writing programs and for the Yukon School of Art and am completing my PhD in Language, Culture and Teaching. My colleagues and I have noticed a tremendous shift in the abilities of our students over the past decade. Our university students can’t remember anything, can’t follow simple instructions such as how to label an assignment properly, can’t read deeply (they skim), have read very little and are intellectually immature. This is true even of the specially selected Honours students I teach in an elite program. Across disciplines, grades have been inflated and reading lists and assignments scaled down to accommodate this generation.
The public education system has changed: pushing cognitive skills and “paper and pencil” work earlier and earlier, focusing on standardized testing and “teaching to the test”, cutting music and arts programming, relying on computer instruction. A recent exhaustive study by Harvard’s Department of Education confirms that not only is this approach not working, it is counter-productive and seems to be causing deficiencies in learning skills and an increase in learning disabilities. Such educational studies and, increasingly, studies in neuroscience are confirming what the Waldorf approach has practiced all along: the best preparation for lifelong learners is to have instruction geared to cognitive development without rushing it. Focusing on handwork, music, purposeful physical activity, and memorization of oral stories in a calm and rhythmic environment in the early years has been proven to structure the brain optimally for then learning literacy, math and other academic skills. Holistic and arts-based instruction “lights up” the entire brain whereas common academic activities don’t engage the frontal cortex or pre-frontal lobes. The evidence is clear that the Waldorf approach is what works the best. Consistently, my strongest university students have been the product of Waldorf educations or European public schools that practice Waldorf principles.
My son was miserable at his public junior kindergarten because they were making him sit at desks and in front of computers all the time and he needed to move, play, do, learn the way a four-year-old learns. He hated the alphabet, hated numbers and counted the minutes until I picked him up, crying, “Mommy, why did you take so long?” every day. Since attending the Waldorf Academy, he is a different child: adding numbers in his head, writing words, weaving, embroidering pictures, memorizing complex stories and making up songs, all on his own initiative and all with joy. His teachers are extraordinarily wise and caring and supportive of his unique and lively spirit. He can’t wait to leave every morning and when I pick him up, he says, “Why did you have to come so soon?”