We’ve been enjoying our little trip down fairy tale lane. The hardest part has been keeping the mural from falling down!
Our mural with the letter D “Magic Door”
This year, I’ve decided not to teach the letters in alphabetical order. I had several reasons.
First, I wanted to start with his name letter, since that’s pretty important to him.
Daniel has some speech issues so I wanted to start with some easy sounds first and space out the letters/sounds he has difficulty with.
I wanted to introduce similar letters (b and d, m and n) far apart to avoid confusion.
(Pardon the dinosaurs that wandered onto the mountain.)
And I wanted to introduce the vowels at the end, since their stories are so emotionally charged up. Also, to me, these letters are sort of the bridge to reading, and I wanted it to be a bit of a “big finale.”
I have heard the argument that teaching the alphabet out of order leaves you with the additional task of teaching alphabetical order, but really, I’ve found that any kid who can sing the ABC song can figure this out pretty easily.
A few more words about how we choose to approach the alphabet:
I know that typically this isn’t done in a Waldorf school until first grade. For me, it works better to begin to introduce the letters in kindergarten so the children can really begin to get to know each letter. That might sound crazy, but I love the idea of the alphabet being a living breathing thing. Each letter has its own traits and characteristics and idiosyncrasies, and I like to be able to spend a good long time on each one rather than crowding several into each week.We will revisit them again in first grade, concentrating more on sounds and writing.
One thing I do not do in kindergarten is any sort of writing. We draw a lot, both guided drawing where I explicitly show him how to do something and parallel drawing where I draw a picture alongside him. But I believe kindergarten is a good year to really strengthen those fine motor skills, especially with my boys. So when we introduce a letter, I might write the letter and have him draw around it, but this, to me, is not the most important thing. The most important thing is the story, and relating the letter to a tale and a picture. Just as our earliest ancestors first communicated through pictures, so too do we introduce the letters first through drawings here at our house. And then we might walk the letters, run and skip and hop the letters, following a giant form I draw on the sidewalk. We look for the letters both in nature and in print. We piece together the letters from sticks and rocks and lincoln logs and clay.
For stories, I tend to choose more benign fairy tales. Not just Grimms, but folktales and fairy stories from around the world and across time. I’ve written before about my distaste for only telling only European fairy tales (see Beyond the Brothers Grimm) so I try really hard to choose stories that represent various cultures and lifestyles.
Again, this is just what works for us. I would definitely encourage mindfulness in choosing what works best for your family. To me, it’s not so much about following a prescribed formula as it is about really getting to know each child and presenting the material in the way that best speaks to his or her heart. And this is actually the beauty of Waldorf to me. It’s not meant to be just picking up one more curriculum book and teaching how “They” say to teach. I loved this quote from Waldorf teacher Eileen Hutchins:
It is a strenuous task for the teacher to help his class to unfold all the powers which lie behind the forming of the letters; but it is wonderfully worth while. Perhaps the greatest reward comes when a child whose faculties seemed to lie dormant suddenly begins to awake.
It’s hard work, this teaching thing we do. And we’re meant to be mindful and patient, strong of will and strong of heart. It takes courage to step beyond a curriculum. I know too often I look for the easy fix, the perfect curriculum that has it all laid out for me. And when it doesn’t touch my children’s hearts, we all struggle.
I don’t have the perfect Waldorf home. I’m a craft failure and with six children on a pastor’s salary, there’s not a lot of extra money to buy things just because they fit a type. But this I can do– I can meditate on my children and what they are meant to learn. I can research and think and determine the very best way to present it. I can pray a blessing over our endeavors and realize that even something as small as teaching the alphabet has everlasting ripples. And I can rejoice when I see that silent spark awaken in each one of them.
In the month of September, I meditate on the Holy Cross. I think of St. Michael. I pray for courage and bravery to step outside boxes. I pray for faith and hope that I can do what is best for my children. And while I am at it, I will say a little prayer for you as well.