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….