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Frequent TV Viewing Causes Retardation of Comprehension

Yes, you read that right.  This kind of testing on the “performance” of young children can of course be somewhat unreliable , however, it is still a very clear and valuable indicator of the relationship between television viewing and cognitive development.  So many parents expose children under the age of 7 to television while their brain is still forming neural connections, just one of the many reasons to limit screen time. Any kind of passive media (regardless of content) will clearly limit the creativity of a young child’s mind.  Some of the many benefits of Waldorf education include story-telling (vs reading where pictures are shown) which maximizes the use of a child’s imagination while listening.  Blank faced dolls and basic wood toys further leave more to the child to create rather than the media.

Two pediatricians from a German municipal health office studied the capacity for pictorial perception among two thousand preschool children ages five and six prior to school entrance. In order to determine the children’s cognitive maturity and their pictorial perception and reproduction abilities in particular, they administered the so-called draw-a-person test, in which the children were to draw pictures of a person. The drawings were later evaluated by the pediatric medical doctors according to specific criteria, e.g. head-torso relationship, number of fingers on each hand, dynamic or static quality of the drawing, depiction of eyes and noses, and so forth. In this manner, it was possible to distinguish high-performing from low-performing children in each of the tested areas. The children’s scores were then compared to their average daily consumption of television and (in row C, below) to the daily extent of their “passive smoking,” that is, the number of cigarettes smoked by their mothers and fathers in the children’s presence. The following illustrations indicate alarming indications (NOTE: “smokers” refers of course to the child’s parents):

Frequent television viewing appears to lead to a significant retardation of the development of comprehension, a negative effect compounded by simultaneous passive smoking. In addition, certain visual perceptive abilities – and related cognitive development – appear to atrophy or be hindered by frequent television viewing and/or excessive video-game playing. The two medical doctors came to the conclusion that the rapid succession of images on the TV screen disrupts the child’s perceptive ability to behold or view with attention; as a result, the development of an inner picturing process is prevented. The children are unable to inwardly picture (or “grasp”) reality. The drawings in Row D were created by children with severe psychological or soul disturbances, who were not included in the regular studies; they suffered from family conflicts, divorce/custody proceedings, traumatic experiences, and so forth. The fact that Rows A through C successively approximate the images in Figure D is an indication of the emotional side-effects among children who watch a significant amount of television and are “passive smokers.”This edited and condensed research report can be found in Christian Rittelmeyer, Kindheit in Bedrängnis, Kohlhammerverlag, Stuttgart, 2007, pp. 78–80. The research study by the two medical doctors, P. Winterstein and R. Jungwirth from the Göppingen, Germany Health Office, is published in: Der Kinder- und Jugendarzt Nr. 37/ 2006. Rittelmeyer’s recent research, “The Advantage and Disadvantage of Brain Research for Pedagogy” was published in Waldorf Journal Project, Number 12 in the autumn of 2008.

Waldorf’s Brilliant Approach To Teaching Math

Waldorf Education does not teach math in isolation of other subjects.  It is part of a holistic learning approach, which connects the child’s inner self (that Waldorf’s founder Rudolph Steiner refers to as “will”) and body through muscle-memory exercises.  Waldorf Math is really a kinesthetic or whole body learning experience for the Class 1 child. Math is also closely related and taught with music, furthering the important connecting between a child’s body, and their understanding of numbers. As an adult I know that the most lasting memories for me are always those with more than one sense being used. I still remember vividly walking by a jam factory near my house when I was a child on the way to school, and counting the metal fence rungs while breathing in the aromas.

By moving to math in the early grades, even before reading and writing, the child develops a proficiency much like a musician memorizing their scales. It is a slow and unhurried approach that does not push the child to count or read too early, which has been found to taint a child’s passion to learn.  Once a child is moving to math, he or she may begin to use beans or glass beads to better understand the relationships that additions and subtractions make with the whole. Imaginative math fairy tales are told, where the children get to participate by solving the same word problems the main characters do. This allows for a real “living” math to develop within the children.  When children begin writing, they begin with roman numerals and integrate this lesson within their form drawing block. Roman numerals have much easier forms and more straight lines than our common curvy numerals.

Waldorf starts off the introduction to math by asking a seemingly simple question, “What is the largest number in the universe?”.  My son (aged 5) came home from school and asked me the same question.  I answered “Well, erhmmm, it’s infinity.”.  He said “No, one is the biggest because I am one.”.  Other responses discussed in class are “One is the biggest because without it there isn’t any 2, or 3, or even a million.” “One is the biggest because everything there is is in one Universe.” “One is the biggest because it can be any number it wants.” All sorts of philosophical and mathematical truths become evident through just this “one” discussion. This gets them thinking in a whole new way about numbers, and how they relate to us and the world. Eventually the children arrive at “I am one!”, they see how their bodies are shaped like the number one, they relate themselves to the vastness of the Universe, and realize at that point that they are co-creators.

Each number, 1-12, is a discussion involved in this deep intensity of imagination. Waldorf begins with Roman numerals and incorporate geometry into the discussion of each number, scribing freehand the relative polygons and stars. The children work to master each of the stars, crossing the vertical midline over and over again as they practice on large sheets of paper. Eventually, a particular star will stand out as the class favorite which tells the Class Teacher an immeasurable amount about the class itself. All of this happens in 1st grade.

So from the start, children are aware of the significance of numbers and enter very deeply into them. When they have the imaginations of the numbers, they use their will to execute stars and polygons.  They  move their bodies through the math facts of all four processes (+ – / x) each day, and create personalities for each math function.  There is Tessa Times, Mickey Minus, Penelope Plus and David Divide.  Each character is known by how they appear and act, for example, David Divide has a sword and always chops things up, sometimes in half or more. Children take part in music classes involving flute, voice, and lyre to illustrate the beauty of the voice of numbers. They use manipulatives (e.g. bean bags, chesnuts) to work through exciting math tales and classroom conundrums.

This multi-faceted learning approach continues into Class 2.  Here is a Class 2 report summary of a math block lesson:

Column algorithms vertical addition 1, 10,100. By using the image of the chipmunks and their holes, rooms and chambers to store and count the nuts, the children understood well by the end of this block.  We practised many sums and wrote some in our books. We worked the times tables in many different ways, always with rhythm:  sticks, walking clapping bean bag throwing etc.  We reviewed the 2 and learnt the 4, 8, and 11 times table.  In circle we are doing lots of mid line work, expansion contraction, throwing and catching, and recently juggling! We have been walking squares, stars, and some eurythmy.

A genuine love of math can only be enhanced by a practical approach in the mid to later grades In the third grade curriculum, fractions are learned through cooking and building.  At this stage, there is the introduction of the orchestral stringed instruments at that same time, which also leverages many math basics. Math is the key to participating in the music lessons. Math is everywhere. The sixth grader gets to experience this by working with the Fibonacci sequence and Euclidean to Platonic geometries. Waldorf Education seeks to help students develop and integrate math, music, building, movement, storytelling, and more all at once.