Today’s children spend far less time than earlier generations engaging with other children, caring adults, and nature. The lure of electronic entertainment in our media-infused society influences the emotional and physical development of children and adolescents on many levels, and can detract from their capacity to create a meaningful connection with others and the world around them.
Brain research tells us that media exposure can result in changes in the actual nerve network in the brain. This can affect such things as eye tracking (a necessary skill for successful reading), neurotransmitter levels, and how readily students receive the imaginative pictures that are foundational for learning. Media exposure can also negatively affect the health of children’s peer interaction and play.
Waldorf educators believe it is far more important for students to interact with one another and their teachers, and work with real materials than to interface with electronic media or technology. By exploring the world of ideas, participating in the arts, music, movement and practical activities, children develop healthy, robust bodies, balanced and well-integrated brains, confidence in their real-world practical skills and strong executive-function capabilities.
In the high school curriculum, Waldorf embraces technology in ways that enhance the learning process, by using it as a tool, rather than replace the role of the teacher. Students quickly master technology, and many Waldorf graduates have gone on to successful careers in the computer industry.
Recent Studies on Children’s Media Use
Current studies reveal that the pervasive use of computers in the classroom is having a negative impact on key aspects of children’s learning.
A 2012 study from Common Sense Media, a San Francisco nonprofit organization, revealed a widespread belief among teachers that students’ constant use of digital technology is hampering their attention spans and ability to persevere in the face of challenging tasks.
The study found:
- 71% of teachers reported that entertainment media use has hurt students’ attention span either “a lot” (34%) or “somewhat” (37%).
- Nearly six in 10 (58%) teachers say their students’ use of entertainment media (including texting) has hurt their writing skills “a lot” (19%) or “somewhat” (39%).
- Teachers also say that entertainment media has hurt students “a lot” or “somewhat” in their ability to communicate face to face (59%) and their critical thinking (42%).
In the Pew Internet Project study, which was also conducted in 2012, nearly 90 percent of teachers said that digital technologies were creating “an easily distracted generation with short attention spans.”
The benefits of computers in the classroom are unclear; yet, more and more schools across the country are headed in that direction. According to New York Times reporter Matt Richtel (In Classroom of the Future, Stagnant Test Scores, September 3, 2011 proper citation), “In a nutshell: schools are spending billions on technology even as they cut budgets and lay off teachers, with little proof that this approach is improving basic learning.”
Outside the classroom, The Kaiser family foundation reports that children aged eight to eighteen spend an average of seven hours a day in front of a screen, ten if you account for multi-tasking. That is more time than they spend in school. In context of our culture, it is helpful to look at the activities that a child or adolescent might not be doing during those hours whilst they interact with a screen. It is time that they are not climbing trees, engaged in free play, working together and figuring out rules and roles of a game, playing a musical instrument, dancing or daydreaming—activities which develop healthy and happy kids.
WSP Media and Technology Philosophy
The media attention on WSP has largely focused on what we consider a false dichotomy: technology or no-technology?
The value of what Waldorf schools practice is much more nuanced. We aim to engage children with what they really need in the order they need it (the developmental approach) and foster strong bodies, healthy senses, rounded and inspired emotional development, and a passion and curiosity for intellectual learning before introducing the powerful influence of technology. This slow-tech approach to learning will lead to stronger children in the end.
What we believe:
- The competencies needed for a successful, purposeful, and joyful life in the 21st century are best cultivated through an education that fully meets and engages the developmental needs of children, which are fundamentally different in early childhood, elementary school, middle school, and high school—in other words, “the right thing at the right time.”
- Exposing children to computer technology before they are ready (around 7th grade) can hamper their ability to fully develop strong bodies, healthy habits of discipline and self-control, fluency with creative and artistic expression and flexible and agile minds.
- Technological literacy—a crucial 21st century skill—can be mastered quickly when children reach adolescence and have the developmental maturity to know how, why, and when to use technology as a tool.
Waldorf Schools are very careful in structuring the environment for children so that wonder and imagination thrive. Younger children are told stories by their teachers, requiring them to create their own mental pictures and imaginings, rather than viewing an image created by someone else. Middle and high school students are inspired by studying biographies and finding relevance and connections to their world.
At all ages, the students are steeped in the arts where singing, recorder playing, painting, creative movement and drawing occur daily. Acquiring the skills to be part of a community is as much a part of the curriculum as learning the multiplication tables. Learning that is brought in an engaging and emotionally relevant way is joyful, deep, rich and long-lasting. This less pressurized childhood develops a healthy, capable balanced adult.