All too often, if a teacher is asked, “Why are you teaching this math topic to your Waldorf students now?” the response is “Because that’s when everyone does it.” An example is borrowing. Most teachers introduce borrowing (and have the children practice it a great deal) in second grade. Why? “Because that’s when everyone does it.” We should instead ask, “When is the best time to introduce borrowing?”
If a math topic is introduced too early, or studied too deeply too soon, then two things are likely to happen: many students in the Waldorf class will get left behind, and even the ones that can keep up will end up simply doing things mechanically without understanding what they are doing. They are then simply following blind procedures instead of developing strategies, developing mental arithmetic skills, and developing flexibility in thinking. The other extreme – introducing a topic too late – is also problematic. It is best to take the middle road and look for the developmentally appropriate time to bring the topic to the students. Then they will learn the material more deeply, in less time, and with wonderful enthusiasm.
Generally, we should ask the question, “Why do we do what we do and when do we do it?” As Waldorf teachers, we need to be able to articulate our answer to this important question to ourselves, to our colleagues, and to our parents. Our answers need to be soundly based upon the pedagogical principles of Waldorf education and upon the developmental stage and needs of the children.