Melinda Messenger on her choice to enroll her kids in Steiner Waldorf schools and more

03/07/2008 at 10:00 PM ET

Melindamessenger_cbb_2British model Melinda Messenger, 37, recently found herself under fire in the UK when she mentioned in an interview that her 7-year-old son, Morgan, cannot yet read. Also mom to Flynn, 6, and Evie, 4, Melinda defends her decision, explaining that she has chosen to enroll her children in a Steiner Waldorf school, in which interdisciplinary learning is coordinated with the "natural rhythms of everyday life."

I moved my children from a mainstream school to Steiner Waldorf school where the emphasis is less on academic education and more on personal development.

I think kids are put under too much pressure at school to perform in tests and reach certain standards at Maths and English. To me, kids should be out climbing trees, having fun, developing themselves and their interests instead of being forced to sit at desks and write.

Yes they should [learn to read]. But the fact that my kids can’t read yet doesn’t make me a bad mum. My views are based on research done in schools in Europe, which show that children’s brains aren’t developed enough to start learning in an academic way until they’re eight or nine. Morgan will learn to read in time and when he’s ready — there’s no rush.

For more from the interview, including Melinda’s discussion of her PPD experience with her youngest and advice for new moms, click below.

On finding motherhood fulfilling:

After everything I’ve done, being a mum is the best. I always wanted tohave a baby before the age of thirty because Wayne and I are veryfamily people. Once you’ve got kids, you realize that parties anddresses and money aren’t important. Your kids are everything.

Advice for new moms:

Don’t worry. I worriedtoo much when I first had kids and it’s such a misery. Try and relaxand enjoy having a new baby. Take the time to sit with your baby andcuddle it and talk to it, because those times when they’re little areso precious. Don’t panic about buying clothes and toys — all your babyneeds at first is you.

On her postpartum depression with Evie:

[It was] terrible.Your life turns upside down once you have kids and being a new mum isso overwhelming. You’re living in this weird bubble, where everythingrevolves around feeding, changing and bathing and it’s like nothingyou’ve ever experienced before. No one prepares you for it, you’retotally sleep deprived and constantly worried that you’re doingeverything right.

Source: Take 5 magazine, March 2nd issue, p. 16-17

Thanks to CBB reader Carlie.

If you are Waldorf educated, or have chosen it for your child, please feel free to share your experience in the comments.

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M on

there is a lot of people who dislike waldorf, even those who have taught or attended there, for various reasons. not the least of which being steiners racist viewpoints, and religion being taught without parents knowledge for instance. that is not a personal attack on melinda of her family however, indeed a lot of people do not know about that aspect of the schools or its belief system.

mary on

WOW I have a feeling that this is going to bring in a LOT of comments I will not say right and wrong comments because to each is there own right? However, having four children 15, 13, 7 and 3 years of age. They all have learned to read at different ages.

Our oldest is a girl she was bout 6 years old when she learned to read. She does very well on tests.Her avg on those tests are A’s. but when it comes to homework and quizzes well lets just say she sucks. She is never late in handing in homework just sloppy. She is a very social child who thinks school work shall remain and be done at school never come home with it. She is very gifted when it comes to sports. varsity for swim (never took swim lessons) varsity for track. and even made varsity volleyball before breaking her scafoid while playing football with the boys. She is a very happy and confident child.

Our 13 year old is a straight A student could read at 4 years. If he gets a B on anything he works himself sick. He gets migraines. He is on Beta blockers. He is Okay in sports wrestling and soccer. However I think he would rather read a good book or two than really play sports. He is a happy child loves to explore play games, but very tough on himself, takes things too seriously.

Our 7 year old began reading a few months before his 3rd birthday. His goal was he wanted to read so that he could read Harry Potter in bed at night when he couldn’t fall asleep. He too is a straight A student who is very hard on himself. He also gets migraines and is on a beta blocker. although he seems to enjoy sports more than his bro. He loves to climb trees and get dirty.

Our three year old daughter is learning to read. I do help her but seeing what perfectionists her brothers are I am not too eager to push her. To see your children be so hard on themselves is hard. So I want her to climb the trees and get dirty. and yet I want her to be able to read and do math at the same time.

To be honest i wish my kids would be B students just have a middle ground where I would not have to worry. I am lucky though they are very happy children and are always there to help others. As long as children can read write and do math I don’t really need them to be valedictorian just happy confident and being street smart in this day in age is a MUST.

mary on

I forgot to say. I was a teacher in the old days. We should respect each others choices on how we raise our children. within boundaries NO physical or verbal abuse. Period. What works with mine might not work with yours. Be happy and if there are developmental problems get the help asap. Otherwise make the choices that are best for your family not based on what others think that are best.

Cora on

My mother wanted me and my sister educated in the Steiner method, but there were no schools in our area. Their philosophy really suits some kids (and others not so much) and can benefit them in the long run.

I must say, it’s VERY brave of this model to speak about it so openly, and it’s good too as I’m sure some people will not have even heard of the Steiner method. It’s just another alternative learning philosophy, like the Montessori model (which my brothers went through as pre-schoolers).

Audrey on

To me I think that a great education is one of the most important things for a child, and no offense to Melinda but I don’t agree that a child is unable to be academically educated until they are 9. A child is learning everyday, sure, its not all academic, but when your child learns nursery rhymes isn’t that music? and colors is like art and numbers are like mathematics- subjects they teach in older grades, and although its not exactly the same thing, they teach it as early as kindergarten.
I may be wrong but I don’t think they sit you down for serious “tests” in grades 1-3.

I just think that a head start on basic knowledge like reading and writing is great for a child, and can help them alot in the future, but maybe i’m just old fashioned.

Bex on

Reading should be taught at an early age. I started reading at age 4 and I never looked back. I still love to read as an adult. I think it’s sad that this child is being deprived of reading.

Bethany on

please excuse my ignorance but what EXACTLY is the steiner method? like what makes it different and what are the specifics of ‘developmental’ learning versus ‘academic’? personally ive never heard of it so at the moment im thinking are these kids running around in the yard all day or something? hahah.

Sarah’s note: I included the link to the Wiki page in the post, if you click Steiner-Waldorf. That may help? I am not familiar with it myself, so I figured others may not be either.🙂

Starlet on

Good for her, while I didn’t choose Waldorf, I respect a lot of their principles and know some very well adjusted, very academic adults who learned through the Waldorf method!

Kait on

I really think that just like with anything else, you have to know your child to know how they should be educated. For instance, my older brother thrived in a learning environment where he was given free reign to explore as he wanted. I needed a more structured learning environment. If, as a parent, you are tailoring the education to the needs and talents of your child, I think you’re doing a fine job.

A friend of mine never took a math class until she was 15 because she was homeschooled and didn’t want to learn it. In less than a year she learned all the basics up through geometry, enough to score advanced placement in her college math classes at age 16! Differently people learn differently. Kudos to her for knowing what her child needs!

malibustacey on

I really Like Melinda, she comes across as a lovely, caring person. For me, it wouldn’t be my choice of educational model.

Maybe I’m just too programmed into ‘the norm’, but my son learned to read when he’d just turned 4 and if he couldn’t read at 7, I don’t think I’d feel comfortable.

That said, it sounds like a great school, I’ve never heard of it but we do have a Montessori school near us.

I think, in a way, us ‘normal’ people (as opposed to the rich and famous!) are often kind of caught up with what our kids are going to do in the future, and trying to give them every advantage we can, especially educationally.

Whereas maybe celebs are a little more relaxed about it because there are certain opportunities and advantages that they will get by being a celeb’s kid!

I’m sure Melinda’s kids are happy and well-adjusted, as her and her husband seem so down to earth and family-centred🙂

Alexa on

I had never heard of this teaching system before and although I don’t have any views on it at the moment I just wanted to highlight a point that she said about young children being able to be ‘free’ and not have to be working.

The UK education system is the most examined system in the world (as far as I know) with exams at 7-8, 10-11, 13-14, 15-16, 17 and 18. Those are just the government exams which count nationally, I know in my school we had other in-house exams every year and exams all the time in preparation for the major ones. It is constant exams and a lot for children to cope with. Especially when you start school as young as 4 (the year you turn 5, however late august babies are only really just 4), and this is proper school not kindergarten.

For this reason I can see why she sought an alternative for her children if she felt this didn’t suit them.

Anna on

I attended such a school for ten horrible years, before I switched to a normal high-school. Though I’m now in my late twenties I’m still struggling to compensate the lack of academic education I received in my childhood. Boy, did I ever have a hard time getting my bachelors degree, because we basically didn’t learn anything useful in school. But as the above posters mentioned, to each their own.

Lilybett on

My brother did a year of Steiner in Australia… and I have a feeling it was a very poor example of a Steiner school. I picked him up one day with bloodstains down his face and shirt. I was horrified and he was quite distressed. Apparently he had had a nosebleed and the teacher wouldn’t let him interrupt storytime. He had to sit through a story, then when it was over the teacher didn’t think it was necessary to clean him up.

After his year at the school, I was left with the feeling that it primarily teaches children to be liars. Parents often don’t stick to the strict rules and give into television and name-brand toys… with the caveat “don’t tell your teacher”. If you’re going to be a part of the Steiner community, parents need to embrace it fully.

I’ve also known several people who’ve done all their schooling at a Steiner school and none of them are socially well-adjusted. One is on a disabilities pension because they suffered anxiety while looking for work. Another let her child poo in the street (and didn’t clean it up) and then screamed at someone who dared to complain. I understand the alternative schooling offered suit some kids, but we don’t live in a European agrarian society… we live in an era with technology and very particular social challenges and laws.

Marie on

The other thing that interests me about this is that Melinda has a degree in philosophy. I remember her talking about it in interviews years ago. I think she studied for it just before or around the time she had Morgan.

Nanacy on

Everyone has the right to educate their children using the method that seems best suited to their child, but I would be very worried about using Waldorf schools for my children. These schools seem to go overboard with a reduced emphasis on academics and lack of technology. They are not allowed to watch any television(even educational)or use a computer. I can’t imagine a student trying to succeed in college without the computer expertise that their fellow students have acquired in the past 12+ years. (Do they have Waldorf universities for these students?) on

My son learns in a unique way and so I’ve been looking into all of the different school methods. I really like a lot of things about the Waldorf school, but the things I dislike (such as the religion, extreme individuality and other views we don’t share).

I also believe that children need to feel a bit of alignment with society so that they aren’t shocked upon graduation. Not pressure, but feel some standards and expectations to meet.

Danielle, Celebrity Baby Blog Publisher on

I had a good friend who went to a Steiner high school in NYC. The curriculum seemed very unusual to me but also very cool. They studied one subject at a time intensely for a month or two and then moved onto another. The class sizes in the high school were very small- maybe 10 or less students- which is always great – but it also got a little too close for comfort, from what I saw. Imagine spending 12 years of your life with the same people, day in and day out? It seemed that a lot of the kids had a lot of problems but I think part of that came from attending a private school in NYC, not the curriculum and philosophy.

Oh and to M who said that Steiner’s racist viewpoint- if that’s true, it didn’t seem to be taught to the students- my friend never mentioned it and she was an extremely tolerant person who never expressed racist views herself. And knowing her parents well, they never would have sent her to this school if they preached racism.

Linda on

i’m curious as to how it’s “racist”. can anyone explain? thanks.

Sandra on

I attended 3 different waldorf schools and out of those 3 only 2 suited me perfectly. From grade 5 to the end of high school I attended the Vancouver Waldorf School, and it has been the best education I have ever received. If I had been sent to public school I would have dropped out by 9th grade. The thing about waldorf is that there is a HUGE difference between the lower school and the high school. The high school is where this whole education system comes together and you begin to understand and appreciate the whole process. The education in the high school is not behind at all, instead we learned so much more by having great discussions and philosophies interwoven into the curriculum. We learned the basics like math and english etc. but we were actually taught important principles which we would actually use in life by delving deeper into subjects and seeing different perspectives. The education in the lower school and very much centered around the well-being of the child. The child is provided a stress-free, natural environment to develop in. I know that I will definitely be sending my children to waldorf schools. But also take note that many if not all these aspects depend on your teachers and the environment/atmosphere of your class.

Campbell on

Our global economy is now reliant upon technology, whereas at the turn of the 20th century and much of the 20th century we were an industrialized economy. Do these curriculum include preparation for necessary technological skills? I know NOTHING of the schools, and absolutely respect every parents right to educate their children as they believe best. And to Mary, so sad that your children have migraines and are so terribly stressed. I know as a mom that must be so troubling. I hope you can find a way to change/decrease their responses to stressors. Big mom hugs to you.

Annina on

I respect the decision she’s made for her kids, but I personally think the earlier start you get with reading, the better. My siblings and I were read to from a young age, and consequently learned to read at an early age. We’ve all done very well in school, and I think that played a large role. My concern would be the experience that Anna had: coming out of such a system and struggling in the competitive atmosphere of higher education. But I don’t know the particulars so I’m not going to pass judgment either way.

Mary on

The fact is we live in a world where education is a necessity. Unless you’re born into money, or by some fluke manage to be successful financially, a degree is needed to get most types of high-paying jobs. I’ve never heard of this type of school before reading this post. It sounds a bit out of the ordinary. Nothing wrong with that. But if they just completely discount the importance of education, then they’re just kidding themselves. Maybe this school began when you could get by with minimal education. But in today’s world, unless you can compete for the good jobs, you’ll get left behind and frustrated. It’s important that parents prepare their kids for the world they will eventually tackle on their own. Sure, they’re kids now, and no one is saying they shouldn’t enjoy things that kids do. But it’s also irresponsible not to equip them with the tools they’ll need to succeed in life.

Bel on

I’d like to second what Alexa said about the UK having the most examined curriculum. in addition to this we now have the proposed Early Years framework from birth to age 3. It’s preposterous and a very large part of the reason we’ve chosen to home educate our three children.

I would probably consider a steiner waldorf or montessori school if there were one in our area but that option isn’t available to us.

It’s very brave of Melinda to be speaking out about her educational choices. I’ve found it surprising just how agitated and emotional people can become when you choose something different to ‘the norm’ for your child.

brannon on

Don’t know much about this method but I wanted to answer whomever it was questioning heavy academic testing in grades 1-3. State mandates in my state require “state testing” beginning in grade 2. This includes nearly 2 weeks of testing for children. It’s incredibly stressful and very overwhelming for all students, but especially the younger ones. As a teacher, I’m a big proponent of early education; however, I unfortunately get to see both sides of the card.

Dee on

Regardless of the education system she has chosen I find it sad that she doesn’t think it is important for her children to read from an early age. Obviously it isn’t a necessity but it provides children with such stimulation and develops their imagination no end.

I have grown to be a quite imaginative and creative adult and I honestly believe that this is because of the fact my parents read to me from a young age and that I was a child who could spend hours entertaining myself with a book. I just think it is sad that so many kids these days seem to be missing out on this.

Pam on

I don’t know about Waldorf, but we have been looking into different programs for my son, who will be starting a 2-day program in the fall. Right now we are leaning towards Montessori, just because it really fits in with our ideas.

Aaron on

My daughter had lots of learning issues, and we sent her to a Montessori program for the first two years of school. I would still be sending her there if they had a program here for her age group. It was amazing–she went in having lots of issues with concepts and verbalization, and came out a totally different kid. She thrived so much more in that environment than she has in a regular structured school environment, even with daily tutoring. Waldorf education is similar in many ways to Montessori education. I’m a fan! But, you have to know what suits your child — education is not, and should not be a one size fits all approach. Kudos to her for speaking out!

I think that parents get caught up in thinking that if their child reads by 4 or 5, that means they’re smarter or will be more successful academically, when in fact research has shown the opposite. Test scores between early readers and those who learn at first grade level or even higher actually are the same by the time they reach the teen years. Parents also get tied up in that “Oooh, my Johnny reads at 3, therefore I am an exceptional parent.” It’s kind of ridiculous.

Annina on

I’m sure in most cases children who learn to read later will catch up with the children in their grade level. Still, I find it hard to believe that those who learn later have higher reading levels than those who learn earlier. Like Dee said, reading is such a stimulating activity, and if you start earlier you usually develop an interest in reading, which helps you quite a bit later on in life. I credit the relative ease I’ve had in English courses my whole life to the early reading education I had, and the love of reading that this education gave me. I can’t imagine how learning to read at a young age could negatively impact someone.

Lauren on

I agree with all who have said that different children thrive under different environments. My godson’s older brother has ADHD and was kicked out of his day care for behavioral issues and whatnot. He is now in a school that primarily focuses on special needs children and takes a very different, more gentle approach to education and discipline (one example is that they don’t give outright punishments for negative behavior-they just don’t reward it). His behavior has since done a complete 180, with no drug intervention (which happens with many ADHD kids). It seems the school environment has made all the difference.

I also agree with Dee that I find the fact that Melinda doesn’t seem to find reading (and math, for that matter) at an early age particularly important disappointing. Kids don’t need to be dissecting T.S. Eliot or doing calculus at age five, but I strongly believe that the sooner reading, writing, and math skills are enforced and encouraged, the more natural it will be for children to master them throughout their lives. My godson is only two, and he (like his brother) already loves books and being read to. I couldn’t be happier that he gets so excited over such a wonderful activity at his age. Not reading at a young age doesn’t make a kid a failure, but learning to read as soon as possible can’t possibly hurt them.

Rebecca on

I’m not familiar with all the principles of the Steiner method, but I have read a great deal of studies lately on education and I really strongly disagree with children being pushed to learn things at really early ages. It’s sad to see how stressed out some kids are now. I absolutely am opposed to preschools that push reading at 3 and 4 and really pushing the academics. There is no evidence to suggest that pushing academics at that early of an age is helpful in the long run and there is a lot of evidence beginning to mount that it’s harmful.

Sadie on

“…a degree is needed to get most types of high-paying jobs.”

Well for some parents, having a child who ends up in a high paying job isn’t the be-all end-all goal. I personally don’t care if my children end up in high paying jobs. I have other priorities.

Elle on

I love Waldorf education for so many reasons. It really does produce a well rounded individual. There are so many beautiful aspects to the education. However, I agree with the poster that said it is not suited for everyone. Some children who want to read earlier and are told they can’t until the “falling out of the baby teeth” is unfair and could cause some emotional angst.

Personally, I would prefer a Waldorf enrichment to a good ol’ free public school education.

There are plenty of “fishy” things about Waldorf (the teachers are indoctrinated in Anthroposophy, which Steiner created) and I dislike the use of traditional seating and no textbooks at all, just the student’s main lesson book. But, the gems in this form of education are not to be ignored!

To all the haters: read up on it before you knock it and don’t get all your information from biased websites with a personal objective.

Jaclyn on

I want to say that I don’t believe one method is for every child. Heck, I think if one parent is able to stay home with the child, s/he will do a better job with development and social interaction than some stranger with a handful of other kids. Pre-school was never intended to be a race, it was initially intended to provide lower income families where parents had to look for daycare with an opportunity to make sure their child received the natural educational stimulant a stay at home parent would provide.

I am all for regular public school for most children and strongly believe in the importance of academia. However, I think that people need to actually sit down and look at the studies. Later readers often do better than their counterparts. Children today are expected to do more than children of other generations, but instead of this knowledge expanding their horizons it often limits them. I really suggest parents do some research about this and look at the case studies, its amazing how much pressure is placed on young minds. Unschooling methods in children under 7-8 has been shown to have better long term effects than any schooling method (the case is still out on elementary and secondary education done in the unschooling method)as it isn’t until the age of 8-9 that the brain is capable of understanding and assessing information to the degree required to retain and further develop concepts.

Too much too soon has clearly been shown to have no positive impact on long-term learning. Children succeed in a casual learning environment, learning within context everyday (unschooling). It’s more important that you read with your child, discuss, and play games than it is for your child to be able to read by 4.

Loralee on

I do agree that the testing in some cases is out of hand and academic expectations far exceed what maybe they should be. But I also believe that learning to read is very important, my children learned at their own pace although each were reading some by six. They were ready and excited. It’s like a lightbulb went on. Reading opens up a whole new world. Reading one page and having the child read the next has been a great way for my children to practice. My children have never lacked the time or energy to explore their world, but why can’t reading be a part of it.

Mary on

For Sadie, I never said that getting a higher-paying job was the end-all be-all goal. But look at it this way…in general, most people’s simple want is to live some sort of fairly comfortable life. Perhaps own a home, drive a good car, etc. How else do you obtain these things but with money? How else do you get money but work (for most people anyways). It’s true that money isn’t everything and certainly can’t buy happiness, but I think if given a choice most of us would rather be somewhat financially stable than not. This all goes back to education and how it is designed to prepare children to cope with the real world. If a child grows up not having received the basic fundamental tools necessary to be a functioning member of society and then becomes society’s problem, then who is to blame? So you see, the importance of education and all of its end results should be a priority. Education was always stressed in my home from an early age. It wasn’t detrimental in the least. How can learning be harmful? I don’t understand that reasoning. Learning can be fun for young children if it’s presented in a positive way.

Sanja on

I just wanted to mention that in many countries children start school at ages 6 or 7 and while many do learn to read before they start school it’s not necessary.

My brother and I were watched by our grandmother as children and we didn’t learn to read till we started school (me at 6, my brother at 7). It has never bothered us in life as we were both A students and graduated from the best universities in our country. And not only that but we are both avid readers (one of my majors is English literature) and love to read:-)

Sabina on

I am not a parent, so I’m not going to comment on Melinda’s parenting skills. All I do wish to say, is that a large percentage of my enjoyment and fun during childhood came from reading books. If I hadn’t been able to read by (and beyond) the age of 7, I would have missed out on a lot in that respect. I learnt quite happily to read and write by the age of 6 and I was reading independently by the age of 7/8. I went to a regular primary school with a regular curriculum and I wasn’t any kind of child prodigy, but I never felt forced beyond my brain’s development when it came to learning language. I enjoyed learning to read. I certainly wouldn’t have appreciated some random group of doctors and/or teachers who’d never even met me, advising my parents not to attempt/let my school attempt to teach me to read and write. Infact I would’ve found it suffocating and frustrating beyond belief.
I do hope that Melinda and her husband took some kind of steps to test their childrens’ enjoyment of/aptitude for reading and writing before making the decision to remove them from being educated in such a way.

Amanda on

I am so glad Melinda spoke out as she did. As the mom of a 3 1/2-year-old boy, and an 8-month old girl, school has been on my mind a lot. And then I saw this post here. School has changed a lot in the 30 years since I started kindgergarten. With kindergarteners being expected to read sentences etc. in my area by January! I have considered a Waldorf school, but it is too far from us, & I don’t LOVE all aspect of their philosophy. And many of the others near me are pushing academics on 3 year olds. What ever happened to innocence, fun and imagination. I live in FL – and the testing and pressure starts early from what I can see of public schooling. Budget cuts and emphasis on school test results has all but ended creativity, the arts, recess and PE. As many other posters have mentioned, only you are the expert on your child, and knowing what will work for them. But I have to wonder sometimes, when I tell people that we don’t let our kids watch TV, and they react like I just told them we are drug dealers! I never thought I would be viewed as such a ‘weirdo’ because my son doesn’t watch movies and TV, when study after study and book after book I read says there is no such thing as ‘educational’ TV, and Disney has had to remove all claims of ‘education’ off of baby Einstein videos etc. Whew– parenthood is decision after decision and you have to doubt every one you make for the next 20+ years until you know if you did a good job or not! It was nice to see such a discussion of Walforf and education in general here.

Northern on

Steiner waldorf schools are based on Rudolf Steiner’s cult/pseudo religion called anthroposophy, which dictates every decision made in the clas oom- not just the currulum- which is there to help the children incarnate. It is at the core of their choices about not intervening in bullying, which is a past life issue and to do with karma, to force children to use their right hand- left handedness is a karmic weakness, and to introduce the children, by stealth, to the occult spiritual world.
The teachers direct the kids attention to the supernatural and away from the real world.
Television and computers are seen as evil- Arhimn speaks through them.
It is a shame melinda messenger hasn’t read steiner’s work on the Rudolph Steiner Archive.
The schools are taught toeceive parents about the true nature of the education… because..they’ scare people away! They only tell the parents about the creative side. but it is very very rigid, and not creative atall- copying, rote learning, keeping children in a dream like state is what they want, so they awaken gradually from their spiritu world.
They are bonkers.

X on

I went to that school with Morgan, Flynn and Evie and yes, I can read. Personally, I found waldorf too easy for me so I left for a conventional secondary school.

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