Early Years Rant

Every once in a while a thread on my discussion forum hits me in such a way that I let lose with what basically amounts to a rant…. Most of my “sensitive spots” have to do with issues having to do with societal  expectations that it is fine, even healthy, for tiny little children to be outside of the home for most of the day, most of the week. For me “tiny little children” are children under 6 years of age. And when this “norm” is within a Waldorf context – which is becoming increasingly common as Waldorf early years works starts with younger and younger children outside of the home, my outrage spills over as I rail against the spectre of Waldorf becoming involved in what is basically an unhealthy practice, undermining a child’s development and possibly health and failing to nurture healthy family dynamics.
A forum member prompted a discussion on early years pre school and kindergarten schedules – and told us that the Waldorf kindergarten near her had sessions from 10  to 2. The following is my response….
But first let me please hasten to add that my outrage is directed at the societal expectation that early years childcare is a good thing. I always feel compassion when a parent is in a situation where she must send her little one to daycare or pre school – I myself went to daycare from age 2 on due to my father’s death and my mother’s need to return to work. But it’s when people start talking about how it is better for tiny little children to spend most of their time out of the home – that’s when I see red! And now that this is becoming part of the accepted Waldorf practice, I fume!

Yet another example of a Waldorf program which seems to have lost sight of the needs of children…. sorry to be so damning – it’s just getting to be a tediously everyday occurrence.

Programs for little children should be in the morning – and that’s that. This is when they are most awake, when their digestive systems are supporting their growth and the outward gesture of being with other people. We in Waldorf talk about rhythms all the time – where is the healthful rhythm of having kindergarten in the afternoon or all day?! Kindie should end at lunch, when the children go home to have a hot meal and then a nap. Period.

But…. parents work and even those whose schedules can accommodate the inclusion of their children still send their little ones away, convinced that this is what they need. And so kindergarten programs, even in Waldorf schools, have now grown into full days. THIS IS WRONG! It is criminal! It makes cranky, tearful, stressed out children and is bad for their health and their development. And yes, there are many who seem just fine. But we are looking at a larger picture of health – and ill health does not always manifest in obvious ways. Sure, children can cope – even apparently thrive. Millions of children all over the world go to day care from babyhood – but is this, in the long run, healthy? Does it foster the kind of human relationships which we want? I would say NO! Yes – children can indeed adapt. But there is no good reason under the sun for policies or beliefs that little ones’ needs are better served outside the home.

When I was a girl at my Waldorf school (the Rudolf Steiner School in NYC ) there was no all day kindergarten – that was unthinkable. Even first grade was half day and it wasn’t until SECOND GRADE (not yelling – emphasizing!!) that a couple of full days were phased in. Until we graduated in 12th grade we still had two “short days”, ending an hour earlier than usual.

When, as an adult, I lived in the UK, we lived in a Camphill community which was one of three such communities in the immediate area (curative communities where we lived and worked with developmentally handicapped adults or children, based on the work of Steiner)  We were the majority of families at the local Waldorf school (the Ringwood school). We were from communities which deeply understood the developmental needs of growing children and so guess what – kindergarten was a half day program (which many of us only used sparingly anyway) and full days were very gradually phased in for first or second graders (you could opt – as we did when my son was briefly there – for half days in first grade). And the entire school, grade 1 through 8, had a half day on Thursdays when the teachers were then able to have a sane time for their meeting, instead of it crowding into their own family lives.

A pre -k program which runs from 10 to 2 is weird in my mind – I can only think that the rational is that people with little ones tend to get out the door slower than those with older children (true, true!) and that there is something healthy about the children eating together. Nice – but I think it is FAR healthier for a family (even if one parent is out at work) to eat their meal together at home.

Rant over.

Sorry – I seem to explode onto the forum when I’m here! But it’s these early years topics that do it to me – I feel so strongly about this and see it everywhere. Even Waldorf early years teachers who themselves know that what they are doing is detrimental to little children’s health do it…. It’s time to stand up and reclaim Waldorf early years education for its health-enhancing effects and not bow to popular pressure.

OK – I’m done….

Posted on September 20, 2008 in Children and Society, Family Life and Parenting, Kindergarten (and pre-K)

  • colleen says:

    Amen! I am homeschooling my 4 almost 5 year old instead of sending her to preK, and so many of my friends (who said they wanted to do a cooperative Waldorf kindergarten) have sent their little ones to everyday preK, and have been quietly critical of my choice to keep her home. I have older children who I wish I had had courage enough to keep home, but didn’t, and have regretted it many times. Thank you for your moral and emotional support for those of us who are trying so hard to follow our mother’s hearts!

  • donna says:

    Thank you both – and Colleen, do feel welcome to write more if you like. Your words inspire other mothers who would like to be able to follow what their hearts tell them!

  • donna says:

    And one more thing….. I would like to invite anyone else to share here about their decision to keep their little ones at home, despite pressure from friends, family and neighbors.

  • Amy says:

    I’m not sure why there is so much pressure for young children to attend prek. Is it the stats out there, saying it’s important to fill our young minds full of info? I know I feel that pressure too. And I get a lot of “but what about socialization?”. DRIVES me nuts! So what about socialization? Does a 2.5yr old NEED to be put into a room full children with only one or two adults. I don’t think so! 2.5yrs need their mother (or father), all day.
    I also get “how do you manage all day? You’re so brave, I’d go insane to be with my kids all day”. This I take as an insult. Why wouldn’t I want to be with my children all day? They are the most wonderful little beings, I wouldn’t want it any other way. When I am busy, they play together. They do not watch TV nor play video games, just play or read or help me.
    And then I get sad…what has happened to our society that we are so disconnected to our very own children?

  • I live in a culture where the women are expected to go out and put a lot of energy into their careers. The choice to ‘keep’ my children at home (providing a waldorf inspired day) is frowned apon.
    I find it exhausting to have to explain, time and time again, why our lifestyle is beneficial to us.
    Recently, our youngest, upon finishing breastfeeding at the age of 4, announced that he wanted to try a waldorf kindy. I had the most trouble letting him go, but he is very happy to be with the other kids (he started when he was 5 1/2). It has often puzzled me that waldorf institutions are providing earlier and earlier schooling, but the answer is simple, these days, both parents feel pressured to have an ‘outside’ life. If our sisters and mothers and aunties and cousins are all out at work that leaves the villages empty – not a well rounded community at all for our little ones.
    The sad fact is that many women choose to say goodbye to their little ones at an earlier age because they want a sense of community, and it is only within the institutions that there are people.
    Despite going to kindy, our littlest one is adamant that he will not go on and be schooled when the time comes for him to ‘graduate’ to the big school. He wants to stay home and learn the way his elder siblings chose to do, to be ‘home educated’. I admit to being both enthusiastic and daunted by the idea of him being home once more, I wonder how it will work for him to have been in the bosom of a well organised kindy amongst lots of kids, to then come home to the more intimate environment of close family and hand picked friends and aquaintances.
    I stumbled on your site looking for some ideas about how best to celebrate Michaelmas to compliment what the kindy is doing, and found your lovely posts and well mannered forum contributors.
    Blessings to you.

  • Elizabeth says:

    Having decided to homeshcool and subsequently having to deal with the negative responses from all but two people in my life (a friend who homeschools and my husband), I love to read these comments!! Please “rant” away! The thing is, it makes me sick when I hear almost EVERY mom that I know say, “I can not wait to have my kids back in school” when the summer was over. Why did they have children?????? Yes, our children can drive us crazy sometimes and being on your own for a few hours (private time) is important, but they are our children and we should want to be with them all the time and not be condemned for it!!! By the way, what is the best, “short” response for the socialization question? I know the answers, but do any of you know a quick response that will stop someone in their tracks (shut them up quickly)?? Should I act offended (speak up) when they say, “are you going to wear a prarie dress all day” or should just laugh and let it go (are they worth the trouble)?

  • Barbara says:

    Don’t get offended when people make their ill informed comments. Remember they are ignorant and you’re choices are waking up some things inside of them which makes them uncomfortable (this means somewhere inside they are thinking!). When they make jokes – joke back. I like to tell people that occasionally “I let the kids out of the closet on occasion to come out and _________ (fill in the blank). That’s all the socializing they need. Don’t you think?” People who want to see you get off kilter frequently find themself off kilter when you show a complete lack of concern for their opinion and feel so secure in your choices that you laugh!
    Or if you don’t want to make jokes pleasantly ask them questions about their own parenting and educational choices (or the ones they would take if they did have kids if they are childless) as directly as they ask them of you. There’s no shortage of these questions! When they ask you if you are concerned your kids will grow up to be timid monsters ask them pointed questions about the social tactics of classrooms. Or ask them how on earth human beings managed to interact socially for thousands and thousands of years without school insitutions. Don’t back down, but smile. I think getting offended (outwardly) can feel cathartic for us but isn’t likely to help you change your protagonists mind.
    Amy – I totally agree with you. Mom’s are lonely! One main reason they are drawn to pre-schools because NO ONE IS AROUND. Unfortunately, this is quite a catch-22………….
    Pax Christi!

  • jennifer says:

    hi ladies,
    this is a very personal subject for me as well. my husband left our home about three years ago. at first i managed to keep my three babies at home and continue in our quiet lifestyle, homeschooling them, while working full time at home. a little over a year ago however, i was faced with the loss of much of the income i was getting form my self employment- and having no money AND after trying to recoup the loss of income and provide for my children for months- and running through all of my savings in the process- i finaly had to take a job out of the home. i got the kids a nanny-and continued to school them as much as i could on evenings and weekends. but, after one of the longest years of my life( cps investigations, my youngest-4 yr old-being diagnosed with epilepsy, finalization of divorce, etc etc..)i finaly relented and a few weeks ago put my 9 and 7 year old in public school. my four year old i take to a sitter- she has only her own baby there during the day, so it is better than daycare. although the tv is on much of the time. sigh….
    i do wish that i had an option of a waldorf early care program for my little one. it would be better than where she is at, but where she is at is better than a regular daycare.
    thankfuly- my boss is a blessing, i now work only from 8-2:30 so that i am able to get my kids after school and be with them for the rest of the day. i am trying to balance what is being down with them the hours that they are away. its been a very difficult couple weeks as i am sure you can imagine- my 7 year old not reading, is the biggest thing. i feel liek they look at me like i am a monster- they think i am a horrible person because i have “set my children back” so far behind their peers.
    its very difficult to do this all alone, and its exhausting trying to explain or justify my choices- thats something i lost the energy for long ago. now at the childrens school i just look defeated as i sign the forms to put them in extra tutoring two days a week to catch them up on their reading. i wish i had an alternative. we have no waldorf schools here. i would even put them in a montessori at this point- but those are far more than i can afford for this many little ones. 🙁
    it is sad that moms or dads do not see what a blessing their little ones are, and they rush them out the door far far to early. but for me it would be such a relief if i had an early childcare waldorf program available. i hate that our society has come to this, the whole situation sickens me. any advice form anyone that has been through this would be apreciated.

  • kyrie says:

    when I read this post I cried with relief. my daughter turned 3 in may and the pressure to send her to preschool has been nearly unbearable. I have a 20 month old and a little one due in April, as well. people have been telling me that I’m making my child socially awkward, that she’ll be behind, that she’s missing out…on and on. it’s ultimately caused me to be more defensive and angrier than I’d like with other moms, most of whom have their little ones in all-day, four day a week preschool at our local Waldorf. even the teacher of the Waldorf preschool program implied that I was doing her a disservice by not putting her in (we went to a six week parent tot program there, which I found too overwhelming for her at one hour a week with me). fortunately the one person who supports me unwaveringly is my husband. what a relief to find this post from you.
    I wouldn’t give anything for the days my little ones have here with me and one another. days full of light and laughter and joy, which in my bad moments I imagine is far better than those other moms’ days! 🙂 they have the rest of their lives to be grown ups in the world- for now my greatest work is to protect and secure their childhood in a world that doesn’t want them to have one.
    thank you.

  • donna says:

    Dear Jennifer,
    First of all, a big hug to you – thank you for sharing. It sounds like you have faced some challenging decisions and that you are doing the best that you can. Your children will know this on some deep level. Even if you have to do things (like the tutor) that you would not choose to do as it looks like there are few alternatives. I hope you can find the support you need to help validate your decisions and to not feel inadequate or bad.
    Living in a “Waldorf community” can be a blessing for some – but it can bring its own heartaches as well. We have certainly found that where we live – and where we have lived in other places. And I also know this from consulting and other work I do. A Waldorf school is not a “cure-all” – there are reading tutors in Waldorf schools as well and, depending on the school and the particular teacher, one could find expectations which do not match where some children are. So even if your children were in a Waldorf school, there could be challenges.
    I hope by saying this I do not make you feel worse. My intention is to offer you what little support I can send you way. Your path is a hard one. You have ideals and hope that cannot be realized right now. But perhaps you can search your heart and find other important pieces which will help you make the best life you can for your children – what you said about your boss is wonderful. That really is a gift. How hard it is for children to be latch-key children! I know – I was one. And – like you – my mother had no choice but to work. She regretted it – but she knew she had to make the best of it and move on.
    But back to seeing the blessings in your situation, I just can’t emphasize how important it is that you are able to be at home when your children return from school! Again, from my experience, I and several other “latch-key kids” used to go over to the house of a friend after school. Thinking back, it was because her mother was there. She was there to say hello and ask us how our day was – even if, as teens we just grunted and rushed upstairs to listen to the latest Led Zeppelin record! She was there. And that meant so much to us.
    When I was in England there was a point where I was doing parent education together with this particular woman. As part of my work, I worked in her home office 3 hours a week. This was from something like 2 to 5. She worked ridiculously long hours and had four children, the youngest at the time about 7. All went to before school care and were at school all day long. I can remember one day when one of her children, who was about 11 at the time, came home from school. It was winter and the house was fairly dark. I came out of the office to say hello to him and I was so struck by seeing him standing there – all alone, in this cold, empty, dark house. He saw me, roused himself and then, as I turned to go back into the office, he turned on both the radio and the TV – they filled the house with chatter, with noise. I guess they made him feel less alone.
    You can’t homeschool your children – but you have found a HOME for your youngest to be in. If this woman is full of love for your child, if her house is a HOME then even the TV isn’t the worst thing in the world. See if you can get her to have it off most of the time (tell her your child has been having bad nightmares – if you don’t make her feel inadequate or judged for having it on, you might be able to get her to turn it off – make it YOUR problem, not hers) (and then come up with things for her that she could do – if she’s open to it – some people just don’t know what to do with children). And you have a HOME and you can make it warm and loving for your children. What a blessing that can be.

  • Liz says:

    I so agree with this Donna. Here in England it is getting worse and worse in terms of the pressure to place children into social(ist) settings of education that remove them from the family. We’re a society that is full of children who are showing the effects of these policies – illiteracy, drunkenness, sociopathy and so on. It is far too tiring for children to be in educational settings and despite nursery/kindergarten staff denying the emotional effects, I’ve seen too many children who display trauma from being “abandoned” (and that, when it comes down to it, is what it is) by their mother and/or father for the daytime.
    I feel very glad that apart from a minor glitch when my daughter was 4 (when she attended a nursery on her own for a half session – turned out to be a very bad decision and fortunately did not last long before we realised the error), we’ve always, even when finances have been very hard, stuck by having her with us.
    My daughter has friends who are in the school system who attend breakfast clubs, go to school (which starts at 4 years of age in mainstream schooling) and also attend after-school clubs. Some of my friends with older children who did the same have no relationship whatsoever with their teenage children – the price they’ve paid for all these “opportunities” is having a child who has become a complete stranger.

  • Reae says:

    What a great rant! Like most of you, I also empathize with the obstacles many sahm’s face today. I have two little ones (2 yo girl and 9mo boy) and we made the decision many months ago that we would be homeschooling our children. We did attachment parenting, breastfeeding, baby wearing, etc and we encounter many people that speak their minds against our parenting philosophies.
    Currently we are living in a town in Maine where I have been hard-pressed to find any other stay at home moms to connect with. Not having a community of moms that stay at home makes each day hard, but is still ultimately worth it. I love being at home with my children, offering nurture, guidance, loving support, and feedback.
    I feel bad that many kids end up in daycare and their first experiences in life are of strangers caring for them and meeting their needs. I also feel bad that many kids up end dumped into the public school system which is just another type of daycare. I loved reading your rant and I’m now a faithful reader of your blog!

  • Karin says:

    It’s a lonely world when all the little kids are in daycare (aside from the mom’s that have to make that choice)Fortunately, my 3 1/2 yr. old and 6 month old are GREAT company. I, too, am just getting more comfy with my decision to stay at home. It just seems like what they need! I love the RANT. Kids 6 and under are itty bitty. I love hanging out with these two and of course we have our challenging days. I’m getting better feeling good around others about my decisions and ignoring judgments about how it would be good to get separation… I’ve been called over protective. How can you be overprotective about not sending a 3 year old to school? anyway, I just find this site, and it makes me feel like I’m not the only black sheep out there, sticking to my guns… thank you! Karin

  • Nicole says:

    I want to start off by saying that I love reading anything Donna writes. It doesn’t even have to be a rant to illustrate her convictions. I just love that about her.
    And yes, this topic is near and dear to my heart. I first read this, and the subsequent posts, just before going to my first session of Lifeways training this July. I have to write a final paper and this topic is where my heart is. I suppose it could be a little uncomfortable to share with my classmates at the end of the year since most of them are early childhood caretakers and teachers (so is my mentor) but again I feel very strongly about writing on this particular subject. I too find it hard some days with my little one but even then I know there is nothing else I’d rather be doing. I feel I am privileged to be a stay at home mom. I am saddened by mothers who are desperate to get rid of their kids. I’m not saying much that anyone before hasn’t said….
    As for my paper, I am not sure how to come up with an actual thesis or where to research it. I was lucky to have begun learning about Waldorf when my daughter was 8 months old but that was only a little over a year ago and I am still very new to all this. I will speak to my mentor next month and will get her input but I would really like to have your input as well since we are certainly on the same page.

  • zura says:

    love it! thank you!

Share your comments and thoughts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

© 2023 Donna Simmons

Website made by Bookswarm