Sarah baldwin moon child blog waldorf education

CORRECTION: I’m afraid that there is some outdated information in this video. In it, I mention a surge in testosterone that occurs in boys at around the age of four, however recent research has questioned this previously accepted theory. For more information, see this recent article on the subject: Do Boys Really Have a Testosterone Spurt at Age Four?. Whether or not it is caused by a surge in testosterone, what is clear is that at around the age of four, it is not uncommon for preschool boys to start becoming interested in more active, physical play.

Over my 20+ years as a Waldorf early childhood teacher, I can first and foremost assure you that this kind of play is completely normal. All boys participate in it to varying degrees and, unless your child has taken the additional step of actually committing physical violence toward others, you can rest assured that you’re simply witnessing normal behavior.


So why are kids, boys especially, so drawn to guns? It’s a complicated question with no easy answer, but one reason I would suggest is that guns give children a feeling of control. Kids are rarely in control of anything; their parents, teachers and older siblings all exert authority over them. Pretending to fire a gun satisfies a child’s urge to be in control of something.

While I would strongly discourage providing toy guns for children, I would also caution parents against trying to completely eliminate gun play. The most compelling reason for this is that it’s nearly impossible! Children’s imaginations are simply too strong to combat: a stick, a wooden spoon, even a finger can become a make-believe firearm.

Ground rules regarding gun play should be enforced, however. In my classroom, the rules were that children could pretend to fire guns but they must do so outside and they must never point it at another person. Trees, rocks, imaginary foes and other non-living targets were fine. Not only did this keep gun play from becoming too menacing, threatening or non-inclusive, it actually followed some of the basic safety precautions of real firearm handling.

Swords, on the other hand, are more likely to be portrayed within the context of chivalry and honor, in stories about knights, dragons and castles. While there’s no denying that these weapons could be just as deadly and used just as indiscriminately as a gun, the simple fact is that the stories we pass on about them are much more gentle and focus on good triumphing over evil. And that’s the kind of play they inspire!

Now, it’s true that Waldorf kindergartens and nurseries don’t formally teach reading, writing, and other academic subjects, but that doesn’t mean that the children aren’t gaining valuable development in those areas. In the early years, they’re developing so many pre-reading skills and language skills. Children in a Waldorf preschool environment—nursery or kindergarten—are hearing verses, they’re learning songs, they’re hearing stories and fairy tales. They’re hearing rich language and they’re hearing it repeated over and over. They might hear the same story every day for a week or two weeks or repeating a circle play with the same songs and verses until they really memorize them and learn them by heart.

One of the reasons Waldorf schools don’t push reading at a young age is that children’s brains are all wired differently and some children are predisposed to read early while others are not. Other children might be developing their physical skills first, and the decoding ability necessary to read will come later. Most children under the age of seven will be more advanced in some developmental areas than others.

Some children can get really frustrated when reading is introduced too early, before they’re ready. It can turn them off to reading for a lifetime, convincing them that reading is a chore and not inherently rewarding or fun. In Waldorf we choose to allow these skills to develop naturally at the individual child’s own pace. It’s similar to walking: kids learn how to do it on their own, at different ages, without us having to teach them how!

I always give the example of my two children. My older son, Harper, didn’t start to read fluently until the middle of 3rd grade. My younger son, William, taught himself in kindergarten. Nobody taught him, he just started reading one day. I, like a lot of parents, was really worried when their cousins were their age and reading way ahead of them, but both boys grew into very voracious readers with excellent literary skills. When it happens, it happens.

By third grade, most children in a Waldorf school should be reading competently. Some children do develop learning disabilities, such as dyslexia, so when they do get to grade school it’s important to keep an eye on them and to be in touch with a child’s teacher. If by third grade they’re still struggling, you may want to consult with a learning or reading specialist for analysis because the earlier a problem like dyslexia is diagnosed the more can be done to help the child.

There’s a misconception that because of this, Waldorf schools are anti-reading. This could not be further than the truth. In Waldorf schools, reading simply comes later. A lot of children aren’t ready to read in the early childhood years; they’re brains need to be ready for the difficult decoding work and that happens at different ages for different children. We just allow those skills to develop naturally. Reading is like walking: kids will learn at their own pace and they don’t need it to be forced upon them.

Another interesting aspect of Waldorf education—and it’s the first thing which struck me about Waldorf—is that the arts are integrated into all subjects. Coming from a theater background and being a creative person myself, this really piqued my interest and appealed to me. I thought if I had had that kind of education, how much richer my own

You may have heard of Howard Gardner and his theory of multiple intelligences. Many decades before Howard Gardner developed his Theory of Multiple Intelligences, the founder of Waldorf education, Rudolf Steiner, prescribed this way of learning: approaching different subjects through different artistic media which reach all the different types of learners. The kinesthetic learners learn through movement, maybe learning math through clapping and stomping games; visual learners will learn by creating art in their main lesson books, which I’ll talk more about

When a teacher stays with a class for such a long time, the group becomes a family and that teacher becomes an expert in those children. Traditionally, when a teacher gets a new class of students every year they spend the better part of that year just getting to know their knew students: how they learn and how to reach them. Then, as soon as a relationship begins to develop, the child moves on to another new teacher.

A unique aspect in itself, Waldorf students study one subject at a time. A class will have one Main Lesson block for a 3-4 week period where they will cover one subject in depth. In sixth grade it might be Ancient Roman history, in second grade it might be Legends and Heroes. They’ll study that topic for about two hours every morning and then take write and illustrate those lessons into their own textbook.

If you want to learn more about Waldorf education, and I hope you do, there are a lot of great books and resources available. One book I highly recommend if you’re a parent of a young child is You Are Your Child’s First Teacher, written by my friend and colleague Rahima Baldwin Dancy (no relation). It’s a wonderful introduction to the early childhood years with ideas for how to incorporate Waldorf philosophy into your home.