I love Waldorf. The way subject matter presented at each grade reflects the underlying development of the child, the way it brings balance and beauty and fills a child's cup. And just like many of the unconventional choices C and I make for our children, this one was met with great skepticism.
E didn't help our case in the first few years. He did not decide to read until second grade and when quizzed by well-meaning people, almost never seemed to understand what he was being asked. Over time and with required exams, he proved that he is indeed doing very well in reading and math. But science? You see, we have a science teacher in the family. An incredibly wonderful high school science teacher.
Which does not fit with the fact that we have spent the past three years in fantasy and nature. We devoured classics like fairy tales, native tales, Paddington, Poppy, and Pippi Longstocking. We memorized poems about nature. We didn't check-out a single non-fiction library book for the entire three years we were in Alaska. Crazy, no? First through third grade. Nothing. We did visit the museum in town to learn about Native Alaskans and local animals. We attended a powwow. We tried out dog mushing and gold panning. We observed. Observed, observed, and observed. We noticed the birch bark and the moose poop, watched fox run through our backyard, examined the dead vole we found near the bike path. Pressed fireweed and primroses, dug in the rocky soil, noted the changing of light with the seasons. Ice fog, northern lights, packed tundra snow. In third grade E kept a weather journal and learned the basic cloud types. He could fairly accurately estimate temperature outside. We blew bubbles and tossed boiling water at -56 degrees F to see what would happen.
Beyond those cloud types, there were no scientific terms. No magnifying glass, no microscope, no teacher-directed experiments. Of course there were questions, some of which I answered and others we looked up. Some I even told them they'd learn later, or asked them what they thought the answer might be. Mostly, though, we observed. Just. Observed.
I think that made the science teacher of the family nervous. He strove to fill in the gaps, to teach E about atoms and everything else a first/second/ third grader should know. E took in what he could, but atoms are hard to grasp. Kids can memorize the facts and draw the models, but the information will not live in them until they are in high school and capable of such abstract thought. I look forward to when my children are old enough to truly take advantage of what this person has to offer. He has so many tricks, experiments, and demos up his sleeve. It is going to be awesome when our children are old enough to fully partake.
For now, though, facts presented purely as facts make them nervous. They realize what it is like for information to truly live inside them, and when it doesn't, they ask question after frantic question, barely waiting for the answer before they utter the next question, not stopping to ponder but hoping that something said will fit into their heads and make sense of it all.
Science this semester for E is the Beaufort Scale. Wind, wind, and more wind... Virginia will provide where Alaska did not. We have wind here in abundance! We also have insects and spiders and and flowers and chipmunks and squirrels and rabbits and something that tunnels under our grass. Not to mention all the pretty little birds who visit us. e and I are going to make a knitted sky blanket this year. Observe, observe, observe. Wonder at God's creations. Next semester for E is man and animal. He is going to make some absolutely amazing drawings after all these years of careful observation.
Indeed, free observation is a vital skill that is too often stamped out in school programs. Children are taught to notice only what the teacher or text deems important. Yet how much better for children to feel secure in their own ability to observe, be it science, literature, social studies, friendships, families, math, art, music, movement... observation is necessary in every single aspect of life.
Here are some of our favorite bits of nature we've observed lately:
Why are the top pollen bits yellow, but lower down white?
A flower inside a flower?!
Extra-thick spider silk, teeny-tiny spider.
A huge spider has taken up residence outside E's room. Her web is larger than the window! She puts on quite a show at meal times.
She measures over one inch in body length.
e's nature shelf inside the screened porch during a downpour!
Rain on the green grass, rain on the tree.
Rain on the rooftops, but not on me!