Posted by: webbhouston | April 4, 2009

On Schooling

We are coming up to a time in our life as a family where we need to decide what we are going to do with our kids when it comes to school.

Both Michael and I went to public school (well I went to private for a while but lets not go into how much I hated that system right now) so we know the good and bad for that system.  We really dont agree about what to do with our kids though.

Mike believes that the public school system is fine. That any shortfalls that the system might have we can supplement at home. He believes that children need interaction with other children and that they need to be exposed to things that are different and that they might have problems with. It teaches them to cope in the real world.

I believe that the system itself doesnt permit children from learning what I want my children to learn, and that it hampers the development of other skills… in our current school system they are taught to take tests so that their school will have enough kids passing that they dont lose funding.

As you can see, we are an at empass.

My preferance would be to homeschool the children. While I know that it will be hard since we both work full time… I know it is possible and I have a tremendous amount of discipline when it comes to schooling. I think a happy medium for us might be a Montessori or Waldorf school… so I have been doing research on both…

We are already incorporating aspects of both in our lives… so here is what we have learned: Waldorf v Montessori

Both have the child at the center… not a test.. not goals… just the child. Respecting the child as a person, their own schedules, their creativity, their wants, their needs… their mental and emotinal wellbeing. This is important for me.

Both are very much into making sure that the child doesnt need stimulation from technology. No TV and video game addicts… they both have programs where the kids either plant outside or play outside.. if nothing else they feel the dirt beneath their fingernails and the sun in their faces.

Both are very much about nature and things found in nature. Wooden blocks, wool, handmade… little plastic/no plastic. The things that are used can be made at home and creativity with basic shapes and toys is encouraged.

Both stress the importance or art, music, instruments, acting, etc.

Both of them seem to be flexible when it comes to adapting to the ways that different children learn.

However they have key differences:

Waldorf is more about letting the child be a child. It involves fantasy, fairies, pretend, make believe. It relies heavily on storytelling and fantasy and the children are encouraged to be creative and there is no limit to how materials can be used.  Actually materials that are unfinished and freeform are a big part of the curriculum. Playsilks, wooden block, sea shells, dolls with minimal detail on their faces (waldorf dolls). Playstands where children can pretend, act, and delve into a world of their own is a big part of what is encouraged.

From the book “Magical Child” by Joseph Chilton Pierce

The great rule is: play on the surface
and the work takes place beneath. For the child, the time is always now; the place, here;
the action, me. He has no capacity to entertain adult notions of fantasy world and real
world. He knows only one world, and that is the very real one in which and with which
he plays. His is not playing at life. Play is life

Academics are actually kept away from children under the age of 6 or 7, their “job” so to speak is just to play.  Children are not introduced to reading or writing until this age as well. Books are not even present in the classrooms.  The idea is to allow the child to bloom on their own and not to try and push them into learning because that gets in the way of them being children and of them developing their creative mind. The structure is more traditional than Montessori is as Waldorf does have teachers that lead classrooms and that lead teaching. This teacher also helps in the social development of the child, guiding in song and dance and in developing group consciousness.  The curriculum changes with the seasons but there is a great deal of rythm in the school day.  Waldorf seeks to nurture the child’s imagination instead of the child’s intellect, especially in the younger years. Kids are kept with kids of their same ages. The schools are more like homes, they are warm and inviting.  Importance is given to “feeling” intelligence.

Montessori does not stress the make believe as much, it leans towards “practical life”.  It is grounded in reality. Children are given the opportunity to take part in learning while doing. They have little “jobs” and are given responsbilities appropriate to their age and ability.  This is supposed to help give the child sense of accomplishments and opportunities to learn how to do things that they otherwise would not have been given the opportunity to do.

Kids are kept with kids of similar age ranges but not necessarily the same age. Younger kids learn by mimicking and they teach each other sort of. The teacher is not really a leader but just helps facilitate. The teacher gives one on one instruction to children throughout the day but the children are not told what they must play with at a certain time period. There are schedules that could be suggested that some children do like to follow but it is never forced and the child is permitted to follow what they might feel like doing at this time. It is more “real life”. Drawings of things are not used, but real photographs or if possible the real example of the object being discussed. They describe playing as “work” because it is considered a real adult activity.  Creativity is encouraged but Montessori believes that there is creativity in everyday things, like cooking and cleaning and discovering plant life in your backyard.

Intellect is nourished and it is more structured. The idea is that you dont tell the child what to learn but you give them the opportunity to learn all sorts of things by making sure that they are exposed to them and allowed to move from one to the other at their leisure. It believes that children are like sponges and will absorbs what they are given. It is less of a “group” way of thinking but more individual. There is a high protection of the child’s choice and children are taught to respect other’s choices by waiting their turn and helping others reach their goals and learn.

Learning is seperated into critical “periods” that are when a child is more prone to learning a specific skill and the skills build upon themselves. There is a high importance put on the child’s environment and on there being order which then in turn allows the child to really be themselves without interruption.

What are we doing?

Right now we are doing a little of both. We have a broom for Kate to clean up and she knows how to clean after herself. She puts up her clothing and has little tasks around the house. We believe in helping her learn “practical life” things like cooking and while we cook we learn counting, fractions, counting, chopping, etc. This is a version of the Montessori ways of teaching.

We also have waldorf dolls and believe in communing with nature. We have open ended toys like nesting bowls and playsilks that let Kate explore her imagination and we pretend often. We tell her stories and she tells us stories. We also talk about fantasy and fairy tales and encourage the learning of mythologies. This is heavily waldorf  influenced.

We read a lot. She loves to read and she knows letter and numbers. This is a direct violation of the Waldorf belief that children of this age should be kept away from books and intellectual stimulation. Yet it goes along with the Montessori belief of giving them the opportunity to learn about all sorts of things and letting them chose when they want to learn certain things. We very much believe that she is a sponge and want to give her the opportunity to learn what she wants, whens he wants to.

Digging in the eart is a fave past time of hers, she has her own shovel and rake, and her own yard boots and gloves for this. This is part of both philosophies.

I want to start up a nature table for the kids, with living plants and small wooden figures that will change with the seasons. Kate is taught that the seasons change what is around us and within us. We tend to live in a more Waldorf manner when it comes to this. Our family beliefs tend to run more in this direction.

So as you can see, we are firmly in the middle of this… which is why I still believe that homeschooling might be a better option for us because I dont believe that we would fit 100% in either label. We could always send the kids to one and supplement with the other at home… and I do believe that my children will need to socialization that they wouldnt get if they were homeschooled.

Again, I hate labels… but this is something where we need to make a decision as to what way we want to go.

While public school is still an option I dont believe that I would be ok with it. The more I learn about the public school systems the more issues I have with them and Houston has an awful public school system. Texas in general does. We are in the bible belt and we cant even teach scientific fact because it insults the delicate sensibilities of the religious right that control our region… this is not the way that I want our children to be raised.

We still have a whole lot to do when it comes to deciding what we want but I figured I would compile what we have learned here for our information or anyone else who is thinking about looking into these methods.

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