Early academics vs. waiting. Play vs. school work. While homeschooling my preschooler, and my soon-to-be-Kindergartner, I feel this push/pull as I go through our day, and more acutely while planning. I am sure many of you have felt this as well, or maybe you are staunchly on one side or the other. I love and am influenced by three different educational philosophies – Montessori, Waldorf, and Charlotte Mason. And while I am drawn to all three, there are several ways in which they diverge and contradict each other.
Maria Montessori taught that young children have sensitive periods for reading, writing, math, and more, and that if we can tap into their sensitive periods they can more easily learn. These sensitive periods are when they are young – mostly between 3-6 years old – so if you wait until they are 6 or older to start academics, you are missing those sensitive periods. Additionally, she believed that young children crave real work; they want to feel like they are doing something worthwhile and contributing to the family – hands on activities and academics are their way of doing that. A Montessori-based homeschool will introduce reading, writing, math and more with hands-on Montessori materials to children between the ages of 3-6. It will also encourage children to do everything they can for themselves and to do their “work” on their own.
On the other hand, Rudolph Steiner taught that all academics were to be delayed until 7 or 8, and that younger children should be eased into the world. Lots of fantasy play, storytelling, and art is emphasized in Waldorf preschools and kindergarten; these are not embraced for young children in the Montessori philosophy. Children may be invited to help with household tasks according to their abilities, but are not given “work” as in a Montessori classroom. Charlotte Mason likewise delayed academics before children entered elementary school at six, although she did allow for some teaching of reading, etc, based on the interest of the child. She encouraged reading fairy tales and other good literature aloud to young chilldren, as long as this was not replacing their time for outdoor exploration and free play. (Charlotte Mason could work well starting at 6 while using a Waldorf philosophy for younger children, but there are differences between Waldorf and Charlotte Mason during the school years.)
Why not both? Obviously, I cannot do academics and delay academics, but I can give my preschooler practice reading, and writing, and with numbers, while keeping it short and still giving plenty of time for free play, stories, time in nature, art, and other “non-academic” (more Waldorf-inspired) activities.
What do they have in common? Montessori, Waldorf, and Charlotte Mason all encouraged children to spend time in and observe nature, so that has become a key component of our school. They also encourage children to do tasks related to everyday life – in Montessori this portion of the curriculum is called “practical life.” Additionally, they all encourage “following the child.” I interpret this to mean ‘follow the child’s development‘ – do not push them to do things beyond their developmental readiness, even if might be typical for their age – and follow the child’s interests. I have encouraged my daughter explore dinosaurs, animals, and more as she is interested; we have used my son’s interest in baseball and construction to help him make sounds and learn new words.
What feels right for our family? Ultimately, this is the most important question. While I am inspired by and admire many homeschoolers who may be pure Montessori or Waldorf or Charlotte Mason followers, I need to do what feels right for my family. And what is right for mine might not be right for yours.
So, I am not delaying academics. My five year old does reading and math practice most days, and other subjects weekly. We do “extras,” such as composer and artist study, as well as geography and a nature study, which are normally reserved for older students. We do them because we enjoy them and feel that they add value to our lives – they are actually my daughter’s favorite subjects. I do color and other matching activities with my three-year-old son, and will be starting him on the Montessori reading sequence when he is developmentally ready. But we limit the time they are doing these things – keeping the lessons short. I want them to have plenty of time to be outside, create art, bake and cook with me, play and listen to music and, of course, time for free play.