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Waldorf Education - One family's story

The Beginning

 
After our visit to the Waldorf School summer fair, I went to an information evening about the school. The meeting mainly concentrated on Kindergarten, as all of the children of parents there were of that age. We were told about the structure of the Kindergaten day, and what activities the children did. We were also told that academic education does not start until the age of six. Actually in many cases it does not start until the age of seven, but I have no recollection of being told that.
 
I had some reservations about the late start to reading. I had been reading a book by Glen Doman, who advoctes the exact opposite. He believes in a very early start. I spoke to one of the teachers about my feelings. She explained the reasons behind the Steiner belief that early reading is not good for children, but I still had reservations. In the end she said that if I felt that strongly, but otherwise liked the school, I could always teach him myself at home.
 
Looking back, I find it rather odd that this teacher wanted to take us into the school since we obvously did not agree with one of its basic principles, that of starting academic education at a late age. Perhaps she felt that once in, she could convert us to their beliefs and to some extent this did happen.
 
I have also wondered if, in this very new school, almost any child would have been taken to get the school going. That this was why we were told so little and also why at this stage the ability to pay fees was considered unimportant. Later when the school was well established, to a large extent by the commitment of these early families, many richer families were attracted to the school and those early people who were still there and who hadn't the money to pay the higher fees were simply discarded. If this is true, I feel my children have been used in the most heartless way and then left unable to cope with state education after being promised a total commitment by the school.
 
After thinking things over, we decided to send Thomas to the Kindergarten there. It looked like a beautiful place for a little child to start his education, and the teachers seemed very caring. He was only three, so we still had two years to make the final decision as to whether to keep him there permanently or move him into state school when he was five.
 

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Tom started in kindergarten the following September. He settled in quickly and began to make friends. We attended all parents evenings, open evenings and lectures. We were eager to find out all about Waldorf education. It all seemed so perfect. I found I already knew some of the parents from such organisations as the National Childbirth Trust and the Green Party. A lot, if not most of them, seemed to be people interested in green movements and alternative medicine. I felt I had a lot in common with them.
 
I was quite deeply involved with the peace movement at the time, and I believed that the Waldorf disapproval of team sports and the absence of competition in the classroom stemmed from a desire to encourage children to learn cooperation rather than fight each other.
 
I loved the emphasis on the arts. I had been educated at a highly academic English public school and had always felt starved of the arts
 
I was enchanted by the festivals and pleased that there was some religious element in the education.
 
We also loved the sense of community. It was much more than a school to us. I felt that, at last, I had found a place where I really belonged.
 

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My own education had been at an English public school which, for those who don't understand our system, is actually a rather posh private school. Eton is the best known example. I had not fitted in there because my  family ran a pub in a working class area, and I had not fitted in where I lived because I went to a posh school. Later my family had moved to the other end of the country where I had also felt I didn't fit in. When I found the Green movement in the early 70s, I found people who shared my beliefs. Now, at this school, I felt I had found where I belonged at last. I saw them almost like an extended family.
 
I felt I had found the perfect education for my children. My own education had ended in disaster when I finally walked out of my school and refused to return. There followed a succession of short stays at schools where I never settled. For this reason education was very important to me. I wanted things to be right for my children. I had considered home education but I felt they would be isolated. When we found the Waldorf School it seemed to be the perfect answer to everything.
 
By the time of the next summer fair there was a new addition to our family, our daughter, Joanna. We ran a treasure hunt stall while she lay in the pram beside us on a warm summer day. Our four year old son ran around playing with his friends. We were all very happy with our decision to join the school.

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When we joined the school  we had no idea who Rudolph Steiner was, nor did we know anything about Anthroposophy. The autumn of the second year we were there I joined a study circle who were reading one of Steiner's books. I must admit I did this as much to get to know some of the other parents as to learn about Steiner.
 
I attended for a few weeks. The book spoke of different incarnations of the earth and other deeply involved things. I have an open mind but these ideas didn't really appeal to me. My attitude was that this religion, for that is what it seemed to be, is not for me.
 
I knew that the teachers were anthroposophists, but we had been told it was not taught to the children, and I felt that their beliefs were their own business.

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