Reviving reading as a habit

As Waldorf educators we love reading and understand its importance for all learning. That’s why we teach the skill in a way that differs from the methods of many other schools. We’re aiming higher, using an approach that’s more likely to foster the development of passionate readers with a rich vocabulary and a deep understanding that goes well beyond the words on the page.

How are we different? Main stream schools teach the alphabet in kindergarten and push students to begin reading before they reach age 5. But there is no clear evidence that this will help children become better readers in the long run; in fact, chances are that children may become averse to reading books.

Here is what we do in Waldorf Schools-

Research suggests that the optimal age for most children to begin reading is about 6. Before that, while in kindergarten, we lay strong base in vocabulary and comprehension through verses, songs and stories. After that age, we teach reading at a pace that keeps students engaged and advance them to higher levels of comprehending what they are reading and relating the word to its meaning. This develops in children appreciation for stories, sounds, and meanings of words and instils a living relationship with the written word.

A rich Pre Reading-Environment is established in kindergarten:

Waldorf kindergarten focuses on speech. Children are not compelled to learn writing the letters and words. Instead, we engage their imagination and listening skills with stories, child-initiated play and experiential learning. A deep, imaginative connection to language happens with the curriculum. Even though children are not taught letters or how to read, they are getting a tremendously rich pre-reading environment.

Every day, the teacher tells a story or does a puppet play. The stories are from Grimms’ fairy tales, Indian Folk Tales are carefully chosen for their quality and that are in sync with the season or festival of that time.

The language of these stories is higher than they are comfortable with, so they strive to understand the meaning of the words and they are forming pictures in their minds. This is the beginning of a very deep connection to language, to the spoken word, to the written word. With the creation of these imaginative pictures, children are building the foundation of reading comprehension passages which continues till Grade 12.

Poems, songs, rhymes, alliterations and language-inspired movements, also deepen this connection. The school encourages parents to read to children at home.

Transition from Writing to Reading in Grades.

In first grade, students learn the names and sounds of consonants and vowels through the artistic approach of drawing, painting, movement, and speech. For example, the teacher and students might use the shape of the letter “M” as the basis for a picture of a “magical, mystical mountain. At once children will associate the same with a magical, mystical mountain they had seen. They grasp the letter ‘M, and it becomes real and living for them. First-grade students begin to learn to read through their own writing. For example, they may hear a fairy tale and draw pictures based on what they heard. They may copy the writing of the teacher from the black board. The artistic, deliberate process engages the children, and by the end of first grade, they are writing and reading sentences and short texts.

Second-graders focus on letter sounds and blends for example-th,sh,ch etc and they sometimes use rhyming words to create stories. They also typically begin using printed readers with their teacher during the second half of the school year. These include the Animal Stories they are learning in their class, although some students read more advanced books on their own.

In third grade, the books get more complex —The Ancient Stories that are taught from a literary perspective are introduced in this grade.

Fourth-grade instruction includes more time for students to reflect on what they have read and to do independent work. Students may read silently or aloud, alone or in groups, depending on the teacher’s preference.

In fifth grade, everyone in class reads the same book and talks about it together. Ancient cultures and Greek mythology are common topics.

The reading progression is a developmental approach. It gives children time to grow into literature. They may be reading books that are above their conceptual level but building student interest and engagement in the story, poem, speech, or play is crucial.

In sixth grade, students are taught to read more consciously. They learn how to become more aware of the author’s style of writing and the backdrop of the story. Students examine syntax and structure, and look for deeper meanings beyond the literal ones. Students engage in discussions to put across their point of view.

The joy of reading can be shared among older and younger students for example the eighth-graders can read with/for the second-graders. They’re now eager to share their insights.There also is a lot more writing in the middle grades. Seventh and eighth grades have a Creative Writing Block, “Wish, Wonder and Surprise” where they explore different writing styles and moods. By eighth grade, students have enough detachment and perspective to start experimenting with their own writing style.

That emphasis on reading continues in high school, where English classes focus heavily on both reading and writing. Ninth-grade books are more descriptive, to encourage students to clearly observe the world around them and to anchor themselves firmly. Starting in 10th grade, students are encouraged to read more abstract and fiction, books that are heavier on plot and Classics.Learning to read is an exciting journey. It’s mysterious and magical. We can keep the love of reading alive by creating a literacy-rich environment for our children.