Teaching Reading at Madrona School

Excitement over winning the Reading Champions trophy through the public library this summer!

Excitement over winning the Reading Champions trophy through the public library this summer!

Learning to read can be a real joy and is an important academic milestone in a young student's life. In Waldorf education, we help a child's capacity for reading develop naturally, and offer lots of opportunity to fall in love with words and story.

In an ideal world, young children enjoy exposure to the world of language and literature through their parents. Hopefully, books represent beauty, humor and love to a small child -- they soak in illustrations, they giggle at funny words or at the voices an adult uses to read, they cuddle with a loved one to hear a story -- or five. Reading becomes aspirational, as they see a parent enjoy reading, or that stack of books by an older sibling's bedside. Further, in a Waldorf kindergarten classroom, a reverence for language and for story is reinforced through a daily story told by the teacher, by a ready basket of beautiful books for quiet times, and through ample opportunity for imaginative play, play that lays the groundwork for eventual understanding of abstract concepts.

In grade school, reading instruction is a part of language arts as a whole. In 1st grade, Waldorf education introduces reading through stories. Children discover letter forms out of a story their teacher tells, listening and then drawing, molding and moving through letters and their sounds. In other words, we take a multi-sensory approach, engaging a child auditorially, visually, kinetically, and at heartfelt level.They revel in the unique sounds of a letter as they practice writing simple sentences from the stories they are hearing and the pictures they are drawing. They write letters, then sentences and eventually, longer stories, until one day, it may dawn on them that they are reading what they are writing. Do you remember this eureka moment in your own life?

This unfolding and discovery allows for the love of language and of story to grow. The children work at decoding through phonics and sight word recognition too, but the emphasis remains on comprehension. Stories are told throughout a Waldorf education, and the overall literacy of a student grows with each passing year -- including vocabulary, grammar skills, and cultural and historical knowledge. With such a robust and supple beginning to language arts, Waldorf education actively cultivates space for developing capacity, both in interest and skill. Reading comes from the inside out, and while the time to master the mechanics varies, the intrinsic motivation and engagement with language is indicative of the lifelong joy of choosing to read!

For more, ask your child's teacher, or:
Read this blog post by the Waldorf School of Philadelphia, full of links to recent research in reading instruction, originally posted September 21, 2016: Reading in Waldorf Schools

For a parent's perspective, read Myth Busting: How Reading is Taught in a Waldorf School by Sarah Baldwin, Moon Child blog, originally posted June 6, 2011.

And an excellent article describing more of the art and mystery inherent in the act of learning to read: There's More to Reading Than Meets the Eye by Barbara Sokolov, Renewal, A Journal for Waldorf Education, Vol. 9#1, Spring 2000

Sometimes, reading comes along unusually slowly for children because there are underlying issues such as dyslexia.  When it becomes clear that extra help in mastering the fundamentals of reading are needed, we work with the parents to arrange for supplemental help.  Sometimes this means that a child works with a tutor at school once, twice or more times per week.  This extra help in 2nd, 3rd or 4th grade can make a big difference in a child's confidence and image of themselves as a successful reader.

Teaching Science at Madrona School

We often talk about teaching academics as the "3Rs" -- reading, writing and arithmetic. But what about all of the other important academic subjects taught at Madrona School? The Waldorf methodology offers a classical education, a liberal arts approach that introduces students to a wide variety of subjects throughout their grade school years, in keeping with their developing capacities. How do we teach science, for example? 


We really begin in early childhood, laying a solid foundation for academic work. For scientific studies specifically, we simply provide opportunities for our young students to explore in the natural world, doing. They dig, they bake bread and make jam, they climb over logs, they collect pocketfuls of rocks, they soak up the sunshine etc., using all of their senses and fully living into the world. As anyone with a small child knows, they are natural scientists -- curious about their world and eager to explore.

In the early grade school years, we work consciously to instill a sense of wonder in the natural world, nurturing ever increasing capacities for observation. 1st and 2nd graders go on walks, collecting horse chestnuts or pine cones or leaves, depending on the season, incorporating natural materials into classroom projects or math lessons. Or, they may do simple experiments, such as planting seeds and recording what happens. Beginning in 3rd grade, with its practical life curriculum, students have the opportunity for gardening. Our current 3rd and 4th graders are working with the garden at Lowery Farm, and they spend many hours there, tackling jobs, observing changes and recording it all in their gardening journals. In 4th grade, the students have their first specific science block, studying the animal kingdom, and writing an independent report. In 5th grade, a botany block allows for further careful observation and demonstration of the artistic techniques that have been practiced throughout grade school.


In middle school, we continue to teach through a connection to our observable world, and to the universe at large, using students' observation and communication skills in combination with their awakening capacities for abstract thinking. In 6th grade, the students study more science than they have to date, and we offer geology, astronomy and physics -- a close look at our planet and what it is made up of, the study of what surrounds us, and a first taste of a lab science. The Waldorf methodology takes a phenomenological approach to teaching science, which means we offer opportunities for observation of the laws of nature without teaching the theory first. In chemistry and physics blocks, for example, students will watch an experiment performed, take careful notes on what they see (learning the scientific format of procedure, equipment, observation and conclusion), then discuss possible explanations and reach conclusions as a class. Sometimes, after this process, a teacher will elaborate on the relevant theories and scientific laws further, but the hope is that the students can approach the theory themselves. Even when we teach a physiology block, the approach is an experiential one, where they begin with what they can observe or feel about their bodies, before talking about what makes up a particular part of the body.

When a child graduates from 8th grade, they've had a broad introduction to various scientific disciplines, from the natural sciences, to chemistry, to physics and beyond. They can express themselves with clarity and with beauty. And they have honed their observation skills, and practiced finding ways to express observable phenomena, providing a basis for learning and thinking about new subjects as they go on into high school. 

Images From The Season

At Madrona School, we mark the darkest time of the year with opportunities to remember and celebrate the light that shines within all of us. Enjoy this selection of recent images from the life of our school -- and Happy Solstice and holiday season!

From the Classroom: 7th Grade

Our 7th graders began their new year with a block on the Age of Exploration. Ms. Stanley, our 7th grade teacher, recently wrote to her class parents: "The Renaissance voyages of discovery rank as one of history's two or three most important phenomena in terms of their effect on the modern world. In roughly two centuries, from about 1420 to 1620, the world changed completely and forever. A few hundred curious, daring, imaginative, reckless and determined men redrew the map of the world. They changed the world's eating habits; they caused the downfall of civilizations and contributed to the rise of others; they pushed forward the sciences of map making and navigation; and they put their European stamp on two entire continents. Exploration and discovery go on all the time, but the 15th and 16th centuries are known as the age of exploration because of the dramatic burst of activity that resulted in nearly quadrupling the known extent of the world.

In this block we have studied Marco Polo who was the first person to travel the entire length of the Silk Road in 1271. The fantastic stories he brought back about Kublai Khan's empire fueled the desire of Europeans to reach China by an easier means than the year long journey across the continent.
We learned about Prince Henry of Portugal, who set up an observatory from which he conceived, planned, and organized expeditions along the west coast of Africa. He is also known as Henry the Navigator although he never left home himself. It was another Portuguese, Bartolomeu Dias who, blown about by a violent storm, was the first to pass the Cape of Good Hope....

Of course we did not forget Ferdinand Magellan who circumnavigated the globe in a gruesome journey of three years.

This block ended with our own amazing sailing trip on the Adventuress in the Puget Sound."

--edited from the weekly school newsletter, October 6, 2015