26 Jun Range
Artwork by Class of 2020 graduate Bryn Creager
How do we ensure that our children, our students, are prepared to succeed in a rapidly evolving world? That question inspires Waldorf educators across the world.
In response to this question, parents are often fed a persistent message: If you want your child to succeed in an endeavor later in life, then you must specialize early in life. Be it sports, music, art or literature, the ticket to adulthood success is childhood grit and singular focus—or so we are told.
In the book Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World, David Epstein explores whether intense early specialization benefits children and adults alike. He finds that early specialization is the outlier, not the norm, when it comes to producing elite talents into adulthood.
After a deep-dive into a growing body of research, Range reveals that the most successful musicians, athletes, scholars and entrepreneurs have embraced and benefited from a range of interests and activities during their youth. When it comes to athletics, for example, Epstein finds:
“Eventual elites typically devote less time early on to deliberate practice in the activity in which they will eventually become experts. Instead, they undergo what researchers call a ‘sampling period.’ They play a variety of sports, usually in an unstructured or lightly structured environment; they gain a range of physical proficiencies from which they can draw; they learn about their abilities and proclivities; and only later do they focus in and ramp up technical practice in one area.”
These findings are also reflected in Kim John Payne’s book Beyond Winning: Parenting in a Toxic Sports Environment. As in Range, he finds that the most successful adult athletes benefited immeasurably from childhood free-play and thus avoided the onset of teenage sports burnout brought on by too much intense work too soon.
And it’s not just sports. Range chronicles business leaders who succeeded because of their diverse experiences and interests, not in spite of them; musicians like Yo-Yo Ma who played several instruments before settling upon his famed cello; and artists like Van Gogh who found a true calling later in life. What we need in this ever-changing world, Range asserts, is “people who start broad and embrace diverse experiences and perspectives while they progress.”
Waldorf education has always understood this critical truth. Offering a liberal arts K-12 curriculum, Waldorf education challenges its students to embrace, learn and grow from multiple disciplines—from literature to math and science to arts to theater to athletics to music and beyond. Art is integrated into our main lessons, each student is encouraged to participate in our sports teams—there are no cuts or tryouts, each grade works together to produce a play, we join our musical natures in orchestra. Our students are pushed to explore this “sampling period” in the development of their whole selves.
As students progress at The Denver Waldorf School, they may gravitate toward a more singular focus. For example, for their senior projects, students may intensely focus on a single endeavor—such as pursuing a pilot’s license, researching homelessness in Denver and producing a podcast, or training to become an Emergency Medical Technician. Whatever they choose to focus on, they never shy away from embracing a broad range of talents, skills and interests.
Through this liberal arts education, our students are not just prepared for college; they are prepared to make meaningful and deep contributions to the world — well beyond their first job.
A Waldorf education is the first step in this journey. In a world that will change many times over after they graduate, our students build a solid foundation to meet the challenges and opportunities for all of their days ahead.
In a word, they have range.