School Days

I volunteered in SillyBilly’s classroom this last Wednesday, but I wanted to let it percolate a while before writing about it. It is just so not Waldorf, that I hesitate to write about all of this, for fear of alienating my loyal readers!

One big impression was that the classroom was really, really full. Full of stuff, visual stimuli everywhere. The walls were covered with posters and words and letters and bright colors. There really isn’t a lot of room to move around–there’s an open space in front of the blackboard (though I think it’s actually a white board, with pens instead of chalk–peeuw!) where the kids sit for stories and working with the teacher, but otherwise it’s all tables and chairs and toys and cubbies and cabinets.

The curriculum is mostly focused on reading and writing skills. The school has bought into a reading program where the kids read a book (or in this case, are read to) and then they take a reading comprehension test, which is all recorded on a computer that stores and prints out the results. The kids do this in class with their teacher, but they are also expected to read at home and then be tested on those books too. I wasn’t aware that the home reading portion had a targeted level of achievement; I thought it was just for extra credit, but no, we are already behind!

The kids practice writing letters using the D’Nealian form of writing. SillyBilly is a bit confused, because we had shown him block printing capitals before when he expressed interest in writing. I know he’ll get the hang of it because he has very good fine motor skills, but right now he’s kind of frustrated. The teacher said it’s a problem with choosing D’Nealian, because though they think it makes it easier to learn cursive later, all the kids tend to learn block printing in preschool.

One thing I helped with was giving a few of the kids a short assessment test. The paper had groups of three objects in a line of three groups, and the question would be something like, “Which group includes only things that fly?” And one group would have just birds and airplanes, but another might have one bird, one lightbulb, and one sea turtle (which kind of looks like it’s flying). I guess this was testing their comprehension of groups, kind of like the old Sesame Street “One of these things is not like the others” song.

There are a lot of “incentives”. Finish 10 homework sheets (again, I thought they were extra, but they seem to be expected/required) and get a gift certificate for a cheeseburger. Didn’t have any incidents of bad behavior? You get to choose something from the treasure box on Friday. Pass enough reading tests and you get to buy a book from the school store. Now, one day SillyBilly told us that he thought he just wanted to do the homework and reading tests so that he could learn stuff, not to get stuff. We were amazed at this pronouncement and praised his maturity. But I’m not sure if that sentiment will stand in the face of all the goodies.

There is, of course, time for play. They play outside several times a day (even more in the afternoon daycare portion), have snacks, play inside with play dough and toys, have formal PE twice a week, art and music once a week each. The teacher is a very nice person, who is clearly committed to being the best teacher she can.

But…I wish it were more beautiful there. I wish there was more time for free play. I wish it weren’t so academic. I worry that it’s overstimulating and breathless for SillyBilly.

I wish there weren’t already elements of competition in kindergarten, though I am just as guilty of this: the homework star chart is prominently displayed, and I noticed that SillyBilly and another child were tied for last. He’s only done two reading tests, and has scored 80%. I realized that I was having an inner dialogue about how I almost always got straight A’s and how I know he’s smart enough to do the same, and how I seem to be slacking on making sure he does his reading tests and homework…. And it’s just kindergarten, for heaven’s sake!

In general, I feel like if we are going to make the choice to send SillyBilly to a mainstream school, then this is a good choice. The school does try to provide a safe, child-centered environment, and within the paradigm of mainstream academics, they are very successful. The staff there are very personable (I am always greeted by name by the principal, even though it’s not a small school) and I have trust in them to keep my child’s best interests at heart.

If only it were a Waldorf school….

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Filed under Parenting, School, SillyBilly, waldorf education

16 responses to “School Days

  1. Eve

    I sighed when I read your post, because I’ve been thinking about writing about my impressions of school since working there all day as a sub recently, which is different from working there for a few hours; and working with young children is quite different from working with older ones.

    I sighed because of the word “breathless.” Yes, schools can be that. In fact, most I have ever been in feel that way. It’s sad.

  2. Alida

    “I wish it was more beautiful there.” Every since I was a child (I’m not kidding as early as 2nd grade) I would sit at any bench in the school yard and wonder why no one ever thought to plant grass or trees. It would be so cool to have grass to run barefoot through…yes, in school. Sigh…

    Ladies, we need to get together and open our own school…I’ve got plans written down. (I do. Again, I’m not kidding.)

  3. That was a very heavy post! My heart goes out to you, because I know that school is the single hardest decision I had to make for the girls — and it took me a while to get it right (and who the heck knows what is right???) This is what my mom says to me, and it’s always just what is needed: “I support you in whatever decision you make.” Sometimes a big (virtual) hug is needed more than any advice we could give.

  4. Hugs for the many different feelings expressed in this post. I, too, sometimes have to be careful about the whole competition thing…I sort of want to know how Hels is doing compared to everyone else…but, then again, I sort of don’t. I have to actively work to not bring that sense of competition in.

  5. I was reading this and thinking that this was first or second grade, then I got to the part that this is only kindergarten! Homework? Worksheets? Tests? Aiyee, my heart goes out to you, I am sending lots of love to you and lots of light to the school. I know with such a loving home that Silly Billy will adjust, but it is just not fair that he has to. Most teachers and schools do think they are doing the best for children and their hearts are really there so that may redeem it all in the end. It would be hard for me, too after being in a beautiful Waldorf Environment for so long.

  6. I guess I am the opposite – My son started pre-k and at the end of the first week his progress report was sent home. i have to say i was confused and annoyed to see that one of his lessons was “how to open and close a door” I know it’s pre school ,it’s the begening of the year – but come on, I need a bit more than – how to open a door. Heck at home he opens doors all the time – I know he can open a door….

  7. Nana

    oy! Why do children in kindergarten have to be kept so BUSY!

    I am opposed to “placing” children this young. You might suggest posting achievements in alphabetical order. This way there is no first place or last place. Children at this age should focus only on their own individual progress and not competing with others.

    I am so proud of my brilliant beautiful grandson for choosing learning for learning’s sake.

    As you grew older, you developed this same approach to learning and we supported you when you decided that grades were not the be all and end all of education. You scored big on the PSAT,
    the SAT (highest in your class) and APs because these tests required applying what you had learned rather than regurgitating memorized facts.

    What schools do not take into account is that in real life, facts can be easily researched and found, but problem solving must be developed by the individual and is not taught as a skill. Big mistake.

  8. (Hugs) to you and your family as you adjust to this new environment…it sounds tough. Back in my public school teaching days, before I even knew about Waldorf, I used to fantasize about making the classrooms more beautiful. I was a special ed. teacher and had been taught that all that visual stimuli so prevalent in classrooms was horrible for the kids…but I didn’t have any say in how the classrooms looked.

  9. Eve: I hope you do write about that. Ever since I majored in English, I have always been asked “are you going to be a teacher?” and it’s always been clear to me that I will not. It’s just not my calling. So I’m very curious what it was like for you, even for one day.

    Alida: I was lucky enough to go to schools with trees and grass–and it never occurred to me that that was lucky! How sad that there are schools without those most basic of things. If only we were closer to Oregon, I’d take you up on your school plans 🙂

    Goodwitch: Thank you…sometimes feeling supported is all that’s needed.

    Sarah: It seems like human nature to be forever balancing between “I love you for who you are, no matter what” and “I want you to do as well as the others”!! Maybe it’s something in the leftovers of our savannah-dweller brains, where we constantly had to be comparing inputs to see if it was friend or foe?

    Lisa Anne: Like I said, it’s pretty much the anti-Waldorf! It is all very low-key for the most part, and I am doing everything I can to present these things to him as fun and not pressured. Luckily SillyBilly enjoys doing the tests (which are just 5 multiple choice questions, so they take only a few minutes) and the “homework” is just tracing some letter forms or coloring in the requested number of shapes, for example.

    F&C: Welcome, and thanks for commenting. I had the same reaction to some of the things my son will be required to know by the end of the year…like tie his shoes and zip a zipper! He’s been tying his own shoes for almost 2 years. I guess they do that because some kids get the intellectual stuff and some the motor skills, so this way everyone can succeed at something right away.

    Nana: I don’t think there is any emphasis put on competition directly…it’s just there in things like the star charts on the wall for homework credit. It was more my internal reaction to all that that created the sense of competition!

    Dawn: It’s nice when Waldorf coincides with mainstream ideas, like the detrimental aspect of all the visual stimuli. I think people think kids need to be kept amused all the time, or something. Or that they need to cram every available surface with “learning opportunities”!

  10. When I was reading this, I thought SillyBilly was in primary 2, I didn’t realise it was still just kindergarten. I would have the same reservations as you, especially with the “placings” for doing homework. When I was teaching (mainly 14-25-year-old age group) I had this rule that I would *never* have ranking systems or any sort, I find that sort of competition to be unproductive. I hated being pitted off against other students at school, even in subtle ways. Hah hah – the cheeseburger, oh dear. You know, though, you are cool, even though this is not your number one choice of educational systems, you still went along and volunteered. Once Kiko’s at school (and even now with his preschool, I fear) wild horses could not drag me into that classroom, even though I am supposed to be a teacher. I know this is really bad of me, I just could not face it.

  11. What a tough transition this must be for you all. My heart goes out to you. I, too am suprised at all the testing and crap they are doing in in KINDERGARTEN! It scares me to death to think that if Lo does not make it into the Waldorf school(lottery) this will be our only option.
    Maybe it’s a long shot-but perhapse you could share some waldorfy ideas with the teacher?
    Hope all smooths out soon..

  12. Penny in VT

    I so hear you on this one. My youngest is at school this year for grade 1, and it couldn’t be less Waldorf. I wish that Waldorf were mainstream and free, and mainstream was the expensive, hard to locate choice!

    hang in there 🙂

  13. I’ve felt the same about the whole testing element in dudelet’s school – we’re happy with the place he’s at but it all just seems too soon.

  14. malyvacsiga

    I am so sorry, Henitsirk. I feel like I don’t have the right to say anything negative about the choice you had to make, being safely on the other side. So I will just say, that I feel for you.
    Fully agree with Lisa Anne: “I know with such a loving home that Silly Billy will adjust, but it is just not fair that he has to.”
    And gosh, the “reward system”, I can’t believe it. My son’s teachers hardly (not never, but rarely. When it’s really outstanding.) even praise good work, because they don’t want kids to work for their praise, but for their own enjoyment, out of their own interest.
    My love goes out to you all!

  15. Pingback: Pride « Anthromama

  16. Val

    Breathless… that is exactly what public school feels like to me. Not bad, just breathless. That is a great analogy. I pulled my kids out and am now doing a mix of Waldorf, Charolette Mason and Montassori at home and we all love it. Get a lot of breathing room here. 🙂


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