It’s About the Child, Not the Method
What I’m thinking about right now, is how we sometimes commit so strongly to a particular educational or parenting approach, that we just assume our children will thrive in it. Emotions and opinions run so deeply when we personally stake our claim in one philosophy over the other. I do not think that I can agree that there is one educational philosophy that is best for every young child.
Once you begin to compare and contrast methods, you quickly find that every one of them is framed with similar words: child-centered, experiential, sensory, and deeply respectful of the whole child. They all believe children are precious and important to our world. Deep down, I think we all understand that every philosophy for young children has great reverence for their individuality and developmental needs.
There are different ways to arrive at these worthy goals, of course. Usually one philosophy immediately resonates with us over another, but that does not mean it is the best one for your child. It might be, but it is a question that certainly deserves a thoughtful answer before jumping onto a specific bandwagon on behalf of your child.
5 Philosophies In a Nutshell
The best overall statement on what is unique about Waldorf education is to be found in the stated goals of the schooling: “to produce individuals who are able, in and of themselves, to impart meaning to their lives”. Waldorf children are in an environment that is safe, nurturing, and honors and protects the wonder of childhood.
Waldorf classrooms are designed to inspire imaginative and creative play with beautiful colors, textures, toys, and natural materials. Children are taught handwork like knitting, music, movement, languages, drama, art, and given a rich oral language foundation in fairy tales, poetry, and myths. Reading instruction and other academic skills are delayed until about age 7. Electronics are not valued, and Waldorf parents agree to the no television guideline at home.
Reggio Emilia schools are well known for their natural beauty, light, and centralized art studios that provide young children with every kind of tool for expression. Reggio nurtures the “One Hundred Languages of Children.” The schools are intended to help children research their ideas by constructing meaning in small group collaboration, using their unique community, teacher documentation, and parent involvement. It is a philosophy that embraces relationships and connections within a particular time and place. Experimentation is always ongoing, and while results are often unsure, the journey and expression of ideas is always embraced.
The Montessori philosophy is the approach that I am most familiar with. So, of course, it is also the one I find most difficult to describe in a sentence or two. Dr. Montessori observed that an important shift in development occurs in children around the age of 2 1/2 or 3 years old. She identified sensitive periods where the brain seeks out and easily retains particular things, almost without effort. Things like language, movement, and sensory discrimination are all skills the 3-6 year old happily refines when given the freedom to choose them.
They are also eager for knowledge, and Montessori encourages their individual passions. A Montessori classroom provides an organized and beautiful learning environment that supports the child’s development of independence, concentration, coordination and order. Montessori is known for blending principles of science with the purpose of lifting Mankind through its children.
Sudbury schools (democratic and unstructured) are based on the twin concepts of trust and responsibility. The students are trusted to manage their time and make their own decisions about how and what they learn. Sudbury model schools depend on self-paced, self-initiated deep learning. The staff teaches only when asked. At the same time, all members of the community are given full responsibility for themselves, and an equal share in responsibility for the school as a whole.
Democratic school meetings result in policy making, discipline, and even staffing decisions. Every person at the school, whether a student or staff member has one vote. Parents don’t have a say, by the way. The Sudbury model is for children between four and nineteen years old, and there are approximately 30 in the United States.
This week I heard about RIE Parenting for the first time. It’s really nothing that new, now that I’ve been reading about it, but you would think it was borderline abuse listening to the interviewers on Good Morning America and the bloggers I read. RIE (Resources for Infant Educarers) is a respectful hands off approach for parenting infants and toddlers.
RIE believes parents should Do Less. The group advocates slowing down, attentively observing your child, stepping back rather than stepping in, modeling simple language, and doing things on the child’s schedule. It discourages high chairs, cribs, pacifiers, sippy cups, infant classes, most toys, bouncy chairs, and television. Anything that is unnecessary. I suppose RIE parents would decline those new baby IPads too. Sheesh!
Follow Your Child
I’m sorry to tell you that the approach you connect with is not necessarily best for your individual child. Be careful not to choose a school because it is “the school you wish you had gone to.” Some parents choose a school based on their gut. Some gather and analyze endless data. Some just randomly drop in, and it magically works out.
Please know that some children are introspective and not comfortable collaborating. It would be hard for them to speak up in a small group. Some children are self-conscious performing or do not enjoy art, and others are strongly drawn to learning about real things. Some children balk at structure while others crave it to feel secure. I’ve seen many well-intentioned pairings of good children with good schools, but it just wasn’t the best match.
All children deserve to be heard and understood. That is how I believe we begin to choose their schools.