Is Parental Involvement Overrated?

In a recent opinion piece in the New York Times, Angel Harris and Keith Robinson, both academic sociologists (and authors of The Broken Compass), review research on the impact of parental involvement on the academic success of their children. Their research—analyses of longitudinal studies that tracked children over three decades—found that “most forms of parental involvement yielded no benefit to children’s test scores or grades, regardless of racial or ethnic background or socioeconomic standing”.

The authors conclude that some forms of parental involvement might benefit certain children, but that the more important impact parents can have is by communicating the value of education. They conclude “What should parents do? They should set the stage and then leave it.”

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Play is the central item in children’s lives.

The Lemelson Center at the Smithsonian Institute is devoted to the study of invention and innovation. It produced a short video exploring the role of play in children’s development. Most of the video consists of comments by scientists and educators; worth viewing. Several additional videos on the Lemelson Center site further explore this topic. One of my favorite quotes is by Craig Venter “My favorite toys were hammers, nails, saws, and scavenged lumber that I used for building forts, airplanes, and boats-although you had to use your imagination to what they were on completion.”

A reminder of the critical role of play in Waldorf Education, and the unfortunate disappearance of play from many children’s’ lives.


Posted in play, Waldorf

WSB featured in Mt. Washington Life Magazine

Joh Crooks, writing for Mt. Washington Live magazine, published the article Academic Excellence in Focus, in which he described his (very positive) impressions of his recent visit to WSB.

Posted in media, Waldorf | Leave a comment

“Blended Learning”: The new panacea?

Blended learning is a form of education in which traditional, classroom based learning is complemented by personalized tutoring, usually in the form of computer-based activities. Proponents argue that this approach allows students to learn at their optimal pace, and allows teachers to tailor lessons to individual students’ needs and strengths. Advocates also suggest that blended learning can result insignificant financial savings, an attractive advantage for struggling, independent schools. A recent article in The Atlantic explores these issues.

Posted in technology

Jack Petrash to speak at WSB

Join us, on March 29, 2014, at 3PM, for a conversation with Jack Petrash. The title of his talk is “Preparing Our Children for the 21st Century”. Jack is an engaging and inspirational speaker, who will talk with us about the abilities and skills our children will need in this 21st century, and how Waldorf Education best provides these needs.

Jack Petrash
Jack Petrash

Jack Petrash is the founder and director of the Nova Institute. He is an educator with over thirty years of classroom experience (currently his fourth class at the Washington Waldorf School) and a teacher of teachers. He has written and lectured extensively on issues pertaining to innovative classroom instruction, and is the author of Understanding Waldorf Education: Teaching from the Inside Out, Covering Home: Lessons on the Art of Fathering from the Game of Baseball, which received the National Parenting Publication’s gold award, and Navigating the Terrain of Childhood: A Guidebook for Meaningful Parenting and Heartfelt Discipline.

Posted in Waldorf

A World Through the Hands

Renate Hiller is a fiber artist and educator whose work is inspired by the work of Rudolph Steiner. In this video interview Ms. Hiller talks about her work, and about the importance of handcrafts in education in general, and in Waldorf Education in particular.

"The use of the hands is vital for the human being, for having flexibility, dexterity. In a way the entire human being is in the in the hands. Our destiny is written in the hand. And what do we do in our modern world with our hands? You know we move the mouse, we drive and so on. We feel plastic most of the time. The hands are relegated to very little that’s actually bringing dexterity to our times. So we have come ever more estranged from nature and from also what other human beings are doing."

"The children will all go to that. They’re really drawn to that. They want to experience it and however the reality is that there’s less and less of that. In the home, you know you can use already bought vegetables, all chopped up and ready to eat. There is very little activity like kneading the bread, and you know children grasp first an item and then they grasp with their mind. So if they have very little to grasp other than plastic readymade toys then what their mind grasps is very little. The toy automatically moves and you know children can only be kind of astonished by that."


Posted in art, motor development, Waldorf

Early music training can improve language skills

In a recent weblog entry I described studies that failed to demonstrate significant cognitive effects of musical training on cognitive development (except in children receiving intense musical training). There are important caveats to these findings:

  • The number of children included in these studies is small; as a result, it is possible that small improvements in cognitive development did not rise above the “statistical noise” (Type I error).
  • It is also important to note that these studies focused on particular aspects of cognitive development (mainly linked to mathematical skills). They did not explicitly ask whether music development results in other cognitive improvements. We recently described studies showing lasting hearing benefits of early music education.

A recent article reviews evidence that early musical training results in improvements in language acquisition. Of particular interest are the longitudinal studies described in the article (studies that follow children for long periods, starting at the time musical training begins). For example, one year of instrument music training resulted in greater improvement in verbal memory. In another study, training in visual-auditory associations (including the use of musical notation) improved writing skills of children with developmental dyslexia. Children who received music lessons for 6 months showed improvements in reading and linguistic perception abilities, but no such improvement was observed in children who received painting lessons.

Asaf Keller

Posted in brain development, mathematics, music, reading, writing

Does music training improve cognitive skills?

Most people intuit that musical activities have benefits that extend beyond the immediate joys of music. There have been many reports of associations between musical training in childhood and later nonmusical cognitive outcomes. We discussed some of these reports on this weblog. Some of the more comprehensive studies on this issue are from the group headed by Dr. Elizabeth Spelke at Harvard.

In a series of studies, reported here, Spelke’s group compared children and adolescents with training in music to those with (a) no specific training, (b) training in sports, or (c) training in other art forms. Separate experiments tested for effects of mild to moderate training, moderate to intense training, or highly intense training. The studies suggest a relationship between music training and spatial ability (abstract geometry), but only in the intensively trained population of children. These were older children whose primary interest and academic work centered on their music training. Intensive training in visual arts was associated with certain improvements in sensitivity to geometry. Intense training in music or visual arts did not produce improvements in other mathematical abilities, such as numerical reasoning. No improvements were reported for children with moderate or low training in either music or visual arts.

These studies, and many like it, are correlational, and therefore cannot reveal whether music training causes improvements in children’s fundamental mathematical abilities. There have been very few randomized controlled trials to assess causal effects of music lessons. Dr. Spelke’s group recently reported on one such trial.

They compared preschool children who participated in a six week musical enrichment course, to children participating in a similar but non-musical form of arts instruction, and to a no-treatment control group. The children were assessed in four distinct cognitive areas: spatial-navigational reasoning, visual form analysis, numerical discrimination, and receptive vocabulary. Overall, children provided with music classes performed no better than those with visual arts or no classes on any assessment.

This study adds to the small number (seven, at last count) of randomized controlled trials on this topic. The authors conclude by stating “Whether or not future studies uncover reliable relations between music education and extra-musical aspects of cognitive development, instruction in the arts likely will thrive for its intrinsic value.”

Asaf Keller

Posted in music

Simplicity Parenting

Sarah Bregel, a WSB parent, has written a thought provoking article about Kim John Payne, and the importance of simplifying the lives our children. The article, The Secret To Happy Kids: Simplicity, is published at the SheKnows website. I also recommend Sarah’s own weblog, The Mediocre Mama.

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Why Did Waldorf Middle School Students Beat Hopkins Engineers at Their Own Game?

On Wednesday February 19, 2014 a group of 4 middle school girls from the Waldorf School of Baltimore earned an honor they will never forget. After besting seven middle school teams at designing a structure made entirely of marshmallows and spaghetti, they topped that achievement by winning First Place against Johns Hopkins University Whiting School of Engineering students and alumni.

This contest is an annual kickoff to celebrate National Engineer Week, and helps to promote STEM education and careers. It is called the Tower of Power in Half an Hour. The challenge is to build the highest tower of spaghetti and marshmallows that remains standing throughout the judging period, usually at least fifteen minutes. This year 15 teams competed, using 1 bag of marshmallows and 1 box of spaghetti each.

Rachel Hopson, (8th), Rachael Stetina (7th), and Fallon Gustin (6th), knew they were going, they had built a tower already that garnered them the invitation. Then they learned the competitors would have a fourth team member, and invited a friend, Rachael Devecka (7th) to join at the last minute. This group had never practiced all together, but they remained excited and unconcerned. A further surprise came when they learned the number of marshmallows they were to receive was half the number they had previously been allowed. It was no problem. They switched to plan B. They are used to working together. They do it every day, in music, in Eurythmy, in acting, in science, and in math.

The room they were in together was loud. Everyone talking or shouting directions, music blaring, the remaining time being called over a loudspeaker. Despite the fact that one team member is deaf and uses in implant in only one ear that provides less-than-perfect hearing in such an environment, the team calmly and flawlessly rose to the challenge as their tower rose quickly above all the others. And it stayed there.

With one minute left on the clock they had to switch to plan C as the marshmallow deficit rendered the original concept even less sturdy than anticipated. With excited parents and onlookers shouting advice and encouragement, the girls smiled, and simply went their own way. Seamlessly, no fuss, no arguing about one idea over another. They worked together as a beautifully choreographed dance, and won.

Now this may sound like child’s play, but when you stop to think that they topped the engineering students from one of our country’s great engineering and science institutions you realize there is more to it than that. In an era when so many of our current and future careers rely so heavily on science and math, when STEM is the catchphrase of the moment, when everyone seems to be scratching their heads to come up with ways to engage our children, especially our girls, in these very subjects, it is indeed something to know that Waldorf achieves these enviable outcomes. And it is done without stress, without untimely pushiness, without diminishing the importance of all the subjects that are taught in the same kind of cooperative dance the middle school participants illustrated in their winning teamwork.

And if it still reminds you of child’s play, there is a good reason. The basis for science, cooperation, communication, flexible thinking, creativity, risk-taking and so many of the skills needed in today’s world and illustrated in this design contest are exactly what is found in free play. There is no better way to achieve these goals. And there is no better school to allow these attributes to flourish than the Waldorf School of Baltimore.

At Waldorf, high honors and student achievements don’t make the big waves. It is a thing that happens so often, with or without the public notice. But I think word about these girls’ science achievement should spread. And so should word about the school that got them there.

Carol Devecka

Posted in mathematics, science, Waldorf