This is the first in a series of posts from PCWS alumni. Elaine Maag, a former PCWS parent, addresses questions of parents who wonder if a Waldorf Early Childhood education, including Kindergarten, will prepare their children for first grade in another environment. Look for an upcoming post about the transition from a Waldorf elementary education to middle school.
Potomac Crescent Waldorf School, PCWS, provided an amazing foundation for both of my children, who each attended from Parent-Child through Kindergarten, and then went off to our neighborhood public school in Grade 1. Leaving for public school was a difficult decision, and one that was fraught with a lot of anxiety. My husband and I knew we had found a great place in PCWS for our children, but the logistics of staying longer just didn’t work in our favor. Looking back, my children are now finishing Grades 7 and 4, and I’m still grateful for the early start that PCWS gave my children—and the start it gave me, as well. And, with the gift of time, I can see that what my children got out of Waldorf was the perfect foundation for what’s been a successful education.
When my family was at PCWS, we sunk into the curriculum. We learned that in-breaths follow out-breaths, and we structured our days as such—a little quiet time, a bit of adventure, taking a break to prepare a meal, running around the backyard. We colored. We painted. We even had a gnome (Pico) sit at our dinner table just like the one in the Kindergarten class. Pico has very sensitive ears so it was important to not make loud sounds around him. To this day, he lives on some bookshelves in our home where he sits all day long, never making a sound, observing what’s happening. He reminds me of our early childhood days.
During those early years, my children benefited from all that Waldorf early childhood education offers–they learned how to deal with other people in a group; piled blocks, boards, rocks and other objects up to figure out the physical world; explored their imaginative worlds; and learned that time moved in seasons and that each week has its own rhythm. My children’s teachers told some of the most beautiful stories that my children have ever heard, complete with puppets of all types, complex descriptions, and words put together both thoughtfully and beautifully.
All of that is wonderful in a world full of only Waldorf children, but it can be a bit frightening when the rest of the world is folded in on top. One neighbor had a child reading at age 3; another had a writer at age 4. My children entered first grade knowing neither of these skills—and there was a lot of anxiety on my part surrounding that. I held my breath a lot during those early years, as other parents told me the amazing academic progress their children were making. I had to trust that mine were OK, too, even without the validation of acquiring these particular skills. Would my children be prepared? Would they catch up? Had I put them on a path that would forever mark them as lagging behind? What I didn’t know then, is that the two years my children each spent in the Mixed-Age Kindergarten at PCWS were laying the exact foundation my children would need to conquer reading and writing later on. And conquer it, they did.
Prior to the start of first grade, I met with the teacher who would be teaching my children at our public school. I let her know what my children’s experience had been in Kindergarten. The characteristic that was most important to me as a parent was that the teacher recognize where my children were coming from—and know that their lack of skills in some areas, such as reading and writing, was indicative of nothing except the way they had spent their Kindergarten days. I knew my children needed a teacher who understood they were very likely to change over the course of the year in this new environment. My children both started first grade in the reading group for students who didn’t know how to read and ended at the top of the pack. They are now
prolific readers who enjoy a day sitting outside reading a book. They also write amazing stories and have both qualified for academic programs for gifted and talented children.
Although it wasn’t always clear what their paths would be when my children were in Kindergarten – clearly behind their peers in academic skill—I can look back and confidently say that PCWS gave them everything they needed to get through public school.
I do miss our days at PCWS, and have enjoyed going back to fall festivals and the most recent spring dance. I do not regret the time we spent there, and would make the same choice to keep my children there through Kindergarten if I had to do it over again.
When my older child was leaving PCWS, I wrote this. And I documented my daughter’s start of first grade here.
Elaine Maag lives with her family in Arlington. Her children attended PCWS through Kindergarten, and are now thriving in their public school, finishing up Grades 7 and 4. They still splash in puddles, enjoy being outside, and tell the most fantastic stories.