Illustrations from our 8th graders for a course on the History of the Reformation.
Illustrations from our 8th graders for a course on the History of the Reformation.
POTTSTOWN, PA — When Hannah Wolfram, a senior at Kimberton Waldorf School, was trying to come up with an idea upon which to base her senior project, she decided to defy expectation.
“Anything performance-based was kind of what the expectation was,” Wolfram said. “I decided I’d go out on a limb and do something I had never done before that was completely unexpected.”A lover of the performing arts who enjoys contributing her singing and acting talents to the private school’s theater productions, Wolfram decided she wanted to take on the challenge of flipping a house as the focus of her project.
“My parents had flipped houses before,” she said. “I painted and chipped in, but not quite so hands-on.”Senior projects at Kimberton Waldorf School in Kimberton, Chester County, are based on individual research and exploration of a topic over the course of the senior year.
After getting faculty approval to go ahead with her house flipping project, Wolfram set out with a family friend who was a real estate agent to find a property that matched her budget.
“I was working on a very limited budget,” she said. “I was looking at foreclosures that needed a lot of help. My parents guided me in helping with the initial search of the properties.”Around the start of the school year, she stumbled upon a property on King Street in Pottstown.”I had gone through a dozen houses before that,” she said. “I made settlement Oct. 5.”Wolfram, who lives in Upper Providence Township, Montgomery County, discussed the state of the house upon purchasing it.”Everything needed to be gutted,” she said. “It was an hour before settlement, and that’s when I found the copper pipes missing. The police had to come because there was a break-in. I thought, ‘Oh my goodness, what am I getting myself into.’ I almost had a heart attack. It was a fun start.”The brick, semi-detached home is in a historic district just one block off of High Street.”It’s an up-and-coming neighborhood,” she said. “There is an absolutely amazing vegan place across the street called iCreate that I go to all the time.”
Ever since settlement, when she purchased the three-bedroom/one bathroom home for just under $30,000 with the help of an investor, she has devoted almost all of her free time to her project.
“I have spent just shy of every weekend working on the project,” she said. “I spent almost every day of Christmas break working on it. I had my family there working on Christmas morning.”In addition to her family, others have also chipped in, such as recently when she needed some extra hands to move the bathtub.”I have had friends who have come over to help,” she said. “I’ve had numerous people helping me off and on, but the bulk of it has been just me.”Wolfram has been diligent about keeping track of her expenses.”It has been a lot of resource shopping, like Habitat for Humanity for new kitchen cabinets and things like that, so I’m able to do it as inexpensively as possible,” she said.She shopped at Habitat’s ReStore shop in West Norriton, Montgomery County, which sells new and used furniture, housewares, appliances, tools and building materials to the public at discounted rates.
The most gratifying project thus far involved work she did on a mudroom addition that had been put on the home previously.
“The outer wall was rotted out,” she said. “I had to redo the wall and put in a new back door. That was probably the most gratifying, just because it was start-to-finish done, and it looks so much better having it complete. A lot of the other things I’ve been ripping out, but not finishing yet because of where I am with my work at this point.”Despite her being allowed to hire contractors according to Kimberton’s senior project rules, she has been intent on doing as much as she can herself.”I’ve done pretty great with the knowledge my parents have and some of my friends have that they are able to share with me, and I haven’t needed to hire anyone,” she said.Recently, a family friend with plumbing experience donated his time to show her how to rerun the plumbing.”It’s all connected in the basement, but it hasn’t been run through the floors yet because I don’t know exactly where I want them to run since I just ripped out the bathroom and kitchen,” she said.She also has a plan to add a second bathroom to the house.
In addition to saving money by doing everything she possibly can by herself, she also sees the benefit of her gaining the experience of learning how to do it.
“It’s going to benefit me later in the life to have done all of this,” she said, “to learn how to do it all.”Wolfram said that in addition to learning some new skills, she has learned a lot of life lessons through the project as well.”I think a lot of it is self-discipline,” she said. “I know I have to get up early in the morning on the weekends, the little things to keep me moving, that motivation to keep moving even when it’s cold out. I have one little heater in there, but it’s not warm.”Wolfram has been documenting her project with photos to enable her to show the before and after at her senior project presentation in April. She also posts her progress on her “Hannah’s Senior Project” Facebook page in addition to posting messages seeking volunteer helpers on specific days.”People have offered different bits of knowledge,” she said. “They are also offering to lend a hand and general encouragement, which has been nice.”For safety measures, Wolfram has one person working with her at the house. It’s of particular concern when she uses power tools.”It’s more so accidents I’m alone if an accident would happen,” she said.Wolfram said she has no regrets about choosing such an ambitious project that has consumed so much of her time on top of her already-demanding schedule between school and her involvement in the high school musical.”There have been little things along the way that have made me realize, ‘OK, I’m getting somewhere. This is the light at the end of the tunnel,’ ” she said. “When we ripped up the carpet it was all hardwood floors. That was one of those moments I was like, ‘Yes, this is beautiful. All I have to do is refinish them and it will kind of tie the house together.’ ”
The house doesn’t have to be sold by project presentation time given the size of the endeavor. The requirement is that the house must reflect an increase in property value.
“I think it would be lovely for any young family or young couple,” Wolfram said. “The neighborhood has a slightly hipster feel to it, and I think that appeals to younger people.”After selling the property and paying back her investor, Wolfram plans to use whatever money she makes toward her college education.”I want to be a theater major in college,” Wolfram said, sharing she had just paid a visit to New York City to audition at The Juilliard School. “I’m looking at Fordham, Barnard, Yale, and I just got into Ursinus.”Wolfram said she hopes to make a memorable impression when she presents her project in the spring.”I have seen senior projects in the past and there are always a few that stick out that are absolutely incredible,” she said, recollecting a student who hand-carved a totem pole and another who created a clothing line and put on a fashion show. “I think it’s a great opportunity to explore interests you have never been able to do before. It’s a unique opportunity that I’m not going to really have the chance to do again.”
Scratch-board art from the 8th grade at Kimberton Waldorf School.
When parents first come to a Waldorf school from a public school environment, they will notice many differences. These often make broad brush stroke impressions such as: “this school seems art centric, it values nature, limits technology and the children are allowed to play and move a lot.”
Processing the depth of difference in pedagogy can be a little more challenging, so we have written several articles to help further define the differences between mainstream public education and Waldorf education.
We began with our article A Comparison of Waldorf and Public School, where we visually broke down key elements that differentiate the two pedagogies by looking at the way each approaches early academics, curriculum, classroom environment, teaching methods, social learning, individuality, and relation to society as a whole.
From there, we took a close look at child development, testing, and appropriate curriculum for younger students as we delved in depth into a comparison of Waldorf vs. Mainstream Early Academics — A Two Part Series.
Now we look into the differences in philosophy and curriculum in later grades classrooms, Grades 5-12, and isolate some of the more subtle differences in approach. By the time a public school student reaches fifth grade, some of the early testing rigors have subsided. The push to be sure students can read and also achieve the basic math standards is now over. At this point, the children have been measured against initial standards and categorized according to their needs.
This can be great news for many students, as their days now incorporate many different subjects. While the younger grades focused on the three Rs, the upper grades now layer in more subjects — social studies, literature, science, art and music (in districts where funding is available), and many electives. In fact, in some more progressive public schools, the differences between Waldorf and public education can seem to shrink somewhat, but the differences do persist.
What are these differences exactly? We have highlighted, in a quick-reference format, the divergence in curriculum and philosophy below:
Public School: Standardization is key. The children must learn things in the same way to achieve consistent, equal, and uniform knowledge. Why? Because both personal and national success means ensuring “our future college and workforce bound” adults have a “common” and “comprehensive” knowledge base.
Waldorf School: Variation is key. The children must learn things in different ways, so that their unique talents and interests can be inspired and developed. Why? Because learning to learn and loving to learn is what ensures success in life. Helping children find that love of learning means they can excel at anything they choose to do.
Public School: The U.S. Department of Education, when it conducts research, defines success in this way: “Graduating with a desired degree is unquestionably an appropriate indicator of a student’s success.” The Common Core Standards Initiative defines it this way: “that all students have the skills and knowledge necessary to succeed in college, career,
and life upon graduation from high school [with skills] aligned to the expectations of colleges, workforce training programs, and employers… to compete with their peers in the United States and abroad.”
Waldorf School: According to The Association of Waldorf Schools of North America, AWSNA, success is: “The development of the well-rounded person. Waldorf Education has as its ideal a person who is knowledgeable about the world and human history and culture, who has many varied practical and artistic abilities, who feels a deep reverence for and communion with the natural world, and who can act with initiative and in freedom in the face of economic and political pressures.” Here at Spring Garden, we strive to “yield graduates with remarkable critical thinking skills, so that they can adapt to a wide variety of situations and contribute to the world in a meaningful way.”
Public School: The U.S. Department of Education advocates technology use in the classroom in order to “support thinking, stimulate
motivation, promote equity and prepare students for the future.” However, scientific studies have not supported these teacher and administrator beliefs. While initial results were hopeful, full implementation and scientific study of these efforts have not shown measurable positive results.
Waldorf School: While some believe Waldorf schools are anti-technology, that is actually not the case.
We simply believe technology can wait until high school, at which point it can be used as a tool, because research does not agree with the idea that technology is the best way to “support thinking.” Movement, art, music, and note taking by hand, however, are all scientifically proven to better support brain development.
Public School: If one Googles “science in public school,” the topic at hand is not their approach to curriculum in terms of methodology, but instead their approach in terms of subject matter or a materials approach. Scientific subject matter can be steeped in controversy — a mix of political and religious noise in regards to biology (evolution), earth science (climate change), anatomy, and public health instruction — often influenced by local opinion. The scientific community has concerns about public school science curriculum and instruction.
Regardless of controversy, the overall methodology in teaching is based in memorization of formulas and rules and then sometimes seeing those bear out in experimentation. In this way, whole to parts instruction tends to be the norm, which takes much of the natural inquiry and deductive reasoning away from students themselves as they simply learn the reasoning of others.
Waldorf School: The methodology for science instruction in Waldorf Education is based on observation and Socratic Inquiry. We teach students astronomy, anatomy, physiology, health science, inorganic and organic chemistry, physics, environmentalism, and climate. Waldorf teachers begin not by lecturing on rules and formulas, but by showing those rules in action in experiments or the natural world. They then guide students to use Socratic inquiry and observation to help them deeply understand the science within our world. These real world examples and applications are used to then guide students to connect logical parts to the whole, which helps them deeply understand the science within our world.
Public School: The approach to math is much like the approach to science, except without the controversy on subject matter. Math is taught through memorization of formulas and processes, then practiced via worksheets and classroom repetition until students pass tests of the skills and the next skill set can be layered.
Waldorf School: Math is taught in a multidisciplinary manner. While younger students are introduced to math concepts through stories, students also experience story problems and practical application in mathematics including cooking, music,geometric drawing, algebra, and mathematics in art.
Public School: Art instruction was standardized in 1994. The Department of Education says, “Knowing and practicing the arts disciplines are fundamental to the healthy development of
children’s minds and spirits. That is why, in any civilization — ours included — the arts are inseparable from the very meaning of the term ‘education.’” Unfortunately, a 21st-century shift in priorities to test scores and standards has sidelined the arts curriculum in many schools to make more time for testable subjects. Also, arts curriculum (class time, teachers, supplies and facilities) often falls victim to budget cuts.
Waldorf School: While Waldorf schools are not “art schools” by definition, our curriculum is fundamentally artistic. Waldorf students do not have an art class. They have art in every class! The best example of this is the textbook creation done by Waldorf Students. Using what they learn in lecture about literature, history, social studies, science, and math, students create books that incorporate their learnings with their own illustrations. This is in addition to classes in handwork, woodwork, instrumental and choral music, painting, eurythmy, sculpture, and drawing.
Public School: Music is part of the arts, as defined above by public education standards. In most schools, where funding is sufficient, music is an orchestra, band, or choir elective. Students are offered one, or sometimes two, of these electives if they are interested. Music is typically not a requirement for middle and high school students.
Waldorf School: Music, like art, is part of every day and many classes at Waldorf School. Students learn vocal and instrumental songs (via flute and recorder) during Main Lesson time. Choral music is taught throughout school as required. Also required is instruction in stringed instruments starting in fourth grade. By the time students reach high school, they can choose to diversify into playing brass, woodwinds, and percussion, along with their choral instruction.
Public School: According to the Department of Education, language arts “is presented as a personal and practical means of communication, and writing skills …including guiding the child to an understanding of the form of good writing and familiarizing him with proofreading procedures.” Literature instruction is also defined in measurable terms in order to teach “careful use of language, including features such as creative metaphors, well-turned phrases, elegant syntax, rhyme, alliteration, and meter; literary genre (poetry, prose, fiction, or drama); aesthetical reading; and weak implicatures somewhat open in interpretation.”
Waldorf School: Waldorf education takes a much less formulaic approach to the study of language arts, instead approaching and teaching topics in historically rich, art-filled blocks, by grade, in chronological order though history. Grammar lessons become more in-depth in grades 5-8. Our fifth graders study the history, lifestyles, and religions of ancient Indian, Persian and Egyptian cultures. Sixth graders move on to study Roman history and the Medieval time period. Next comes the Reformation and Renaissance for seventh graders and so forth. All of this reading, writing, and teaching is done actively alongside the art, music, and theater of the time to bring depth and life to these great moments in history and literature.
Public School: Physical education is a required class in all years of public schooling. Oftentimes a more general phys ed class may be replaced by participating in a sport or other physically challenging elective, but all students are required to have an active class of some kind each year.
The U.S. Department of Education has a well-funded grant program to help schools develop innovative curriculum that “promotes a healthy, active lifestyle.”
Waldorf School: Physical education, eurythmy, recess, and extra lesson movement classes are a mainstay of Waldorf education. We refer to all these subjects under the heading of “movement” instead of, say, “gym class” because the healthy and active lifestyles of our students extends well beyond a set classroom time. While public school fully supports sports and phys ed curriculum, they have not extended the active values to recess, which is essential part of movement curriculum and better academics. In addition to phys ed class, Waldorf students go outside several times a day for unstructured play, learn eurythmy (a type of movement integrated with language arts), and have large motor skill classes to promote sensory movement dominance and midline development.
Public School: Behavior and social skills are a consideration for public education, but no formal curriculum recommendations are made at this time for teachers. However, courses and guidelines are offered and special education teachers are well versed in behavioral issues of students. Bullying, however, has been a high priority since the turn of the century, and an active and preemptive approach to bullying education has reduced its prevalence in the last 10 years.
Waldorf School: Instead of targeting social skills or behaviors, Waldorf educators strive for a more holistic social cohesion between classmates, the Main Lesson teacher, and subject teachers. Developing social cohesion is a priority in Waldorf early academics. This can be done, in part because of Waldorf’s one teacher approach to grades K-8, allowing a class to move forward together with the same teacher and classmates year after year. As AWSNA says, this allows “a child to develop the deep human relationship that is the basis for healthy learning.” It also allows the children to bond as a class and learn to appreciate and understand one another on a deeper level, which is integral in learning social skills and learning to work with people long term.
Ultimately, both systems of education seek to serve the children in their care and society as a whole. Choosing which type of education is best for your family will ultimately depend on your values and the values you hope to instill in your children.
Painting by some of the second graders at Kimberton Waldorf School.
These photos are of a 6th grade handwork project at Kimberton Waldorf School. Students first draw an animal, then design their own sewing pattern, and finally construct the animal. Design, problem solving, and manual dexterity, all being developed in a fun and engaging way.
Regarding Naomi Schaefer Riley’s “Teach Your Children Well: Unhook Them From Technology” (Cross Country, Jan. 2): Having attended the Rudolf Steiner School in New York City from kindergarten through 12th grade, and now a family-practice physician for over 30 years, I’ve witnessed the effect of Waldorf education on thousands of students.
It might seem counterintuitive to eschew the temptation to give children an educational advantage by ever earlier exposure to infant screen time, reading instruction and virtual-world indoctrination, and instead allow the delicate developing neurological system to gently grow into appreciation of real-world colors, forces and textures, thus recapitulating our natural human evolution before gradually integrating the fast-paced media world of modern electronics and flashing screens. The growing pandemic of children’s attention-deficit spectrum and anxiety-disorder syndromes appears suspiciously linked to precocious challenges in childhood development. My observations indicate that, in general, Waldorf-schooled individuals are protected from adverse influences while being adjunctively enabled to navigate the challenge of maturing into able adults. My college-bound 18-year-old son is a national champion model-airplane builder and radio-controlled aerobatic pilot.
John Takacs, D.O.
Here is an interesting, disturbing, and timely article from the New York Times on the pressure that is being put on children in mainstream education. Waldorf Education is the antidote to this unhealthy trend!
STUART SLAVIN, a pediatrician and professor at the Saint Louis University School of Medicine, knows something about the impact of stress. After uncovering alarming rates of anxiety and depression among his medical students, Dr. Slavin and his colleagues remade the program: implementing pass/fail grading in introductory classes, instituting a half-day off every other week, and creating small learning groups to strengthen connections among students. Over the course of six years, the students’ rates of depression and anxiety dropped considerably.
But even Dr. Slavin seemed unprepared for the results of testing he did in cooperation with Irvington High School in Fremont, Calif., a once-working-class city that is increasingly in Silicon Valley’s orbit. He had anonymously surveyed two-thirds of Irvington’s 2,100 students last spring, using two standard measures, the Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression Scale and the State-Trait Anxiety Inventory. The results were stunning: 54 percent of students showed moderate to severe symptoms of depression. More alarming, 80 percent suffered moderate to severe symptoms of anxiety.
“This is so far beyond what you would typically see in an adolescent population,” he told the school’s faculty at a meeting just before the fall semester began. “It’s unprecedented.” Worse, those alarming figures were probably an underestimation; some students had missed the survey while taking Advanced Placement exams.
What Dr. Slavin saw at Irvington is a microcosm of a nationwide epidemic of school-related stress. We think of this as a problem only of the urban and suburban elite, but in traveling the country to report on this issue, I have seen that this stress has a powerful effect on children across the socioeconomic spectrum.
Yet instead of empowering them to thrive, this drive for success is eroding children’s health and undermining their potential. Modern education is actually making them sick.
Nearly one in three teenagers told the American Psychological Association that stress drove them to sadness or depression — and their single biggest source of stress was school. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a vast majority of American teenagers get at least two hours less sleep each night than recommended — and research shows the more homework they do, the fewer hours they sleep. At the university level, 94 percent of college counseling directors in a survey from last year said they were seeing rising numbers of students with severe psychological problems.
At the other end of the age spectrum, doctors increasingly see children in early elementary school suffering from migraine headaches and ulcers. Many physicians see a clear connection to performance pressure.
“I’m talking about 5-, 6-, 7-year-olds who are coming in with these conditions. We never used to see that,” says Lawrence Rosen, a New Jersey pediatrician who works with pediatric associations nationally. “I’m hearing this from my colleagues everywhere.”
What sets Irvington apart in a nation of unhealthy schools is that educators, parents and students there have chosen to start making a change. Teachers are re-examining their homework demands, in some cases reviving the school district’s forgotten homework guideline — no more than 20 minutes per class per night, and none on weekends. In fact, research supports limits on homework. Students have started a task force to promote healthy habits and balanced schedules. And for the past two years, school counselors have met one on one with every student at registration time to guide them toward a manageable course load.
“We are sitting on a ticking time bomb,” said one Irvington teacher, who has seen the problem worsen over her 16 years on the job.
A growing body of medical evidence suggests that long-term childhood stress is linked not only with a higher risk of adult depression and anxiety, but with poor physical health outcomes, as well. The ACE (Adverse Childhood Experiences) Study, a continuing project of the Centers for Disease Control and Kaiser Permanente, shows that children who experience multiple traumas — including violence, abuse or a parent’s struggle with mental illness — are more likely than others to suffer heart disease, lung disease, cancer and shortened life spans as adults. Those are extreme hardships but a survey of the existing science in the 2013 Annual Review of Public Health suggested that the persistence of less severe stressors could similarly act as a prescription for sickness.
“Many of the health effects are apparent now, but many more will echo through the lives of our children,” says Richard Scheffler, a health economist at the University of California, Berkeley. “We will all pay the cost of treating them and suffer the loss of their productive contributions.”
Paradoxically, the pressure cooker is hurting, not helping, our kids’ prospects for success. Many college students struggle with critical thinking, a fact that hasn’t escaped their professors, only 14 percent of whom believe that their students are prepared for college work, according to a 2015 report. Just 29 percent of employers in the same study reported that graduates were equipped to succeed in today’s workplace. Both of those numbers have plummeted since 2004.
Contrary to a commonly voiced fear that easing pressure will lead to poorer performance, Saint Louis medical school students’ scores on the medical boards exams have actually gone up since the stress reduction strategy was put in place.
At Irvington, it’s too early to gauge the impact of new reforms, but educators see promising signs. Calls to school counselors to help students having emotional episodes in class have dropped from routine to nearly nonexistent. The A.P. class failure rate dropped by half. Irvington students continue to be accepted at respected colleges.
There are lessons to be learned from Irvington’s lead. Working together, parents, educators and students can make small but important changes: instituting everyday homework limits and weekend and holiday homework bans, adding advisory periods for student support and providing students opportunities to show their growth in creative ways beyond conventional tests. Communities across the country — like Gaithersburg, Md., Cadiz, Ky., and New York City — are already taking some of these steps. In place of the race for credentials, local teams are working to cultivate deep learning, integrity, purpose and personal connection. In place of high-stakes childhoods, they are choosing health.
Read how mainstream education is discovering what Waldorf education has known all along: Schools reprioritize playtime to boost concentration and teach social skills.
This is an article about Kimberton Waldorf School’s bird sanctuary published in Audubon Pennsylvania’s Bird Town Flyer:
By Tim Walsh and Celia Martin
Kimberton Waldorf School consists of
a breathtaking 430-acre campus with
rolling hills, farm, bubbling creek, and
forest. We also have the magical
French Creek Conservation Trail on
campus, which is used daily by the students for both educational and recreational purposes.
The garden actively maintains about twenty bluebird houses in which Eastern bluebirds, tree swallows, wrens and an occasional chickadee nest. We encourage these birds in the garden because they eat bugs so they are a natural insect control since we garden organically. We also have gourd houses for purple martins and a feeder for the hummingbirds that visit in the summer. On our campus the birds enjoy the fruits of serviceberry, dogwood, mulberry, wild cherry, crab apple and yes, poison ivy! Birds have also been known to take bites out of our apples and tomatoes and they usually eat all of the blueberries before we can get to them but we are willing to share. There are many birds that nest on our school campus and in the surrounding property in the woods. These include those already mentioned plus woodpeckers (including the mag- nificent pileated woodpecker), titmice, robins, mockingbirds, killdeer, mourning doves, cardinals, blue jays, many kinds of sparrows and much more. Our fields are an active hunting ground for great blue herons, red tailed hawks, kestrels, turkey and black vultures and other birds of prey including an occasional bald eagle. We once had a sandhill crane walking through the fields which I think became lost during its migration. The
French Creek, which borders our property, is home to many geese and ducks includ- ing mergansers and wood ducks, and the rattling call of kingfishers can be heard frequently. At night we have heard the calls of both screech owls in the summer and great horned owls in the winter. We definitely have many kinds of birds living here, feeding here and nesting here. Tours available!
I had been hearing about “the Tenth Grade Odyssey Trip” for years. That title denotes challenges, struggles, and obstacles to be overcome, but also triumph at the end. I had viewed photos of the trip, heard stories and seen the tired yet confident students limping or walking slowly down the halls the Monday after, and I wondered what the trip was really like. How difficult was it? Would I be able to do it? This year, as a tenth grade advisor, I found out.
After a seven hour drive on Sunday, October 7, we (28 students and three adults) arrived at our campsite along the Appalachian Trail in Virginia in a cold drizzle and set up our tents in a wet fog. We managed to get the charcoal lit and then worked to hack off slabs of frozen ground beef and cook the “hamburgers” in a steady rain. Thirty people were trying to hover over the sizzling meat, not only to keep the rain off the burgers and prevent it from putting out the fire, but also to feel a little bit of that wonderful dry warmth. There were no tables and no chairs so we stood around awkwardly, not wanting to sit on the cold, wet ground. We were chilly and damp and it was so foggy that the flashlights couldn’t cut through the mist. This was already an Odyssey! We were all very grateful for the warm, delicious food. Almost miraculously, the wet wood that we added to the charcoal after dinner started to burn and we crowded around a big campfire and laughed and talked and sang, the fire lifting our spirits. We looked forward to crawling into nice warm sleeping bags and we hoped that our tents wouldn’t leak.
The next day we were paddling down the James River and even though it was misting a bit, and a little cool, it was great to be paddling down that beautiful stretch of water. I couldn’t think of anyplace I’d rather be on that Monday morning, surrounded by the peace and tranquility of the river and that fantastic group of students. Everyone was full of energy and in high spirits.
For two more days we followed the river going through riffles and rapids and stretches of calm. We saw turtles and Great Blue Herons and the Kingfishers went chattering by. Each night we had a big campfire with songs, riddles and a story or two from Andy Dill. Everyone had their jobs to do so while some gathered wood or scooped water from the river, others cooked or washed dishes. Everyone was so willing to pitch in that it never seemed like work at all. We were tired from the long days of paddling and it felt good to crawl into our tents at night.
On our third night we camped just above Balcony Falls and we listened to the loud sound of the water pouring over the rocks all night. In the morning Andy charged the students with creating their own canoeing partners so that everyone felt confident about getting over the falls safely. After much discussion and rearrangement, we were ready to challenge the falls. Those on shore shouted encouragements to each pair as they prepared to go through, guided by Andy standing out on a high rock giving signals. Everyone was nervous but once we were all safe on the down river side, albeit a bit wet, we felt re-energized to keep going.
Later that day we traded in our canoes for backpacks and hiked three miles to our first campsite on the Appalachian Trail. The outhouse there was much appreciated after having nothing but the trees for three days. Some already had blisters and other foot problems. After just a few miles with those heavy packs, we all decided to eat the dinner that weighed the most so we wouldn’t have to carry it the next day. After a delicious and filling meal of lentil stew with vegetables, we had another wonderful campfire filled with fun and laughter and went to bed early in preparation for the nine mile uphill hike the next day.
Our first full day on the trail was very challenging. Our packs were full and heavy and the trail was very steep and rocky. It wasn’t easy for anybody but we all kept going and we elevated our spirits by singing, joking, playing word games and by believing that soon, very soon, we really would be at the top. At one point we were treated to a beautiful view of the landscape below and there, far, far below us, was the James River winding around the base of the mountains where we had just been the day before. That was the first time we had a sense of how high we had climbed, and it felt very gratifying.
At our campsite that night we found that the spring was very shallow which made it difficult to scoop out the water. A group of dedicated students worked for hours into the darkness scooping and filtering water to painstakingly refill everyone’s bottles. I was amazed by how well everyone worked together and how irrepressible this group of kids was, despite the difficulties. They smiled and sang through the struggle and helped each other always.
The next day was technically not as difficult as the previous but because we were so tired from the day before, it was a challenge. Andy spent time each morning caring for foot problems and blisters and now we also had some wrapped knees and ankles and sore hips where the backpacks sat. Almost unbelievably the trail still continued to go up, but not as steeply as the day before. The views were awe inspiring and gave us a reason to pause to catch our breath. When the first group arrived at the campsite that afternoon, a few of the boys left their packs and ran back to help those at the back of the group who were still about a mile out. We were really tired that night but there were tents to erect, water to be purified, meals to cook and dishes to clean. Remarkably, the students were still singing and laughing and helping each other through their exhaustion. We talked about how much we missed the conveniences of home but no one was complaining.
At the campfire that night we calculated that if we wanted to be home at 8 pm the next evening, we needed to get up extra early at 5:30 am. We all readily agreed and the next morning we quickly took down our tents, ate breakfast, loaded up our backpacks and were silently hiking out of our campsite in the dimness of the morning at 7:10 am. After two miles we reached one of the vans along a road and were able to leave our heavy backpacks to continue the last five miles carrying only water and food. This was our steepest elevation rise yet – a 2000 foot gain in only a few miles. It was an arduous climb even without heavy packs; steep, rocky and seeming to go up forever. Whenever we thought we were at the top, the trail kept going higher. We could feel the air getting colder and colder. Finally we arrived at a beautiful grassy meadow stretching out along the top of the ridge. It was sunny and peaceful and many of us just wanted to lie down and take a nap. But we were so close to the end of the journey that a whole new energy overtook us and we hiked the last mile to the vans full of energy and triumph. We had done it!
On Monday morning, there we were – limping or walking slowly down the hall, tired yet very satisfied, each of us feeling an unspoken connection to everyone else. We had struggled together, overcome obstacles together, supported and helped each other and kept each other going. We had met the challenge and met it well. Now we knew, really knew, what it means to go on an Odyssey.
One of the best books I’ve read is “Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder” by Richard Louv. Published in 2008, it’s as relevant as ever in our society where there’s a growing divide between children and the outdoors.
Louv believes that kids nowadays suffer from “nature-deficit disorder” – a term of his own invention that describes “the human costs of alienation from nature, among them: diminished use of the senses, attention difficulties, and higher rates of physical and emotional illnesses.”
The effects of this disorder are widespread and long lasting. Individuals, families, and entire communities relate to each other differently when they have limited access to nature or spend little time outdoors. Louv cites long-standing studies that show a relationship between the absence, or inaccessibility, of parks and open space with high crime rates, depression, and other urban maladies.
People have long suspected that there’s a cost to all this digital data all the time, right at our fingertips. Now there’s a study out of UCLA that might prove those digital skeptics right. In the study, kids who were deprived of screens for five days got much better at reading people’s emotions than kids who continued their normal screen-filled lives.
For the typical American kindergartner, unstructured free play during the school day consists of 20 to 30 minutes of recess, and perhaps some time at indoor “stations” — perhaps creating with building blocks, costumes, or musical instruments. But what if there was more? What if the answer to “what did you do in school today?” was, “I climbed a tree, played in the mud, built a fire”?
The original kindergarten—the children’s garden—conceived by German educator Friedrich Froebel in the 19th century, was a place where children learned through play, often in nature.
That idea is fast eroding. Children aren’t playing in the garden anymore; instead they’re filling in bubbles on worksheets.
Kindergarten is the new first grade. Its teachers are required to focus on a narrowing range of literacy and math skills; studies show that “some kindergarteners spend up to six times as much time on those topics and on testing and test prep than they do in free play or ‘choice time,’” writes journalist David McKay Wilson in the Harvard Education Letter. Instruction is teacher-proofed as teachers are required to use scripted curricula that give them little opportunity to create lessons in response to students’ interests. Many schools have eliminated recess or physical education, depriving children of the important developmental need to move and exercise. The efforts to force reading lessons and high-stakes testing on ever younger children could actually hamper them later in life by depriving them of a chance to learn through play.
It seems like an obvious statement, so why don’t kids play outside in challenging weather nearly as much as they used to? Why are schools keeping kids inside at recess when the temperature gets too cold? What kind of adult will this type of childhood experience create?
As Winter ebbs and flows, with temperatures ranging from minus 25 to plus 10 in the past few weeks, we’ve experienced a wonderful range of opportunities with the programs we run. Challenges and opportunities. From freezing weather with blustery winds, to rain and floods in the parks where we work, to massive snowstorms full of amazing forts and fun!
Imagine children that have grown up playing outside in all manner of challenging conditions, in all seasons of the year. Imagine how they’d be different than kids taught to come inside when it’s raining, or cold. Imagine how they’d be different from kids that find entertainment from the TV, computer or video games.
Kids who play outside in challenging weather are more positive, more creative, and more adaptable. They don’t let challenges stop them. They rise to challenges and find ways to carry on in spite of them. And that’s just their baseline. It’s nothing special to them. It’s normal.
The New York Times sparked national media coverage with its front page story on why Silicon Valley parents are turning to Waldorf education. This film picks up where that story left off. “Preparing for Life” takes viewers inside the Waldorf School of the Peninsula where the focus is on developing the capacities for creativity, resilience, innovative thinking, and social and emotional intelligence over rote learning. Entrepreneurs, Stanford researchers, investment bankers, and parents who run some of the largest hi-tech companies in the world, weigh-in on what children need to navigate the challenges of the 21st Century in order to find success, purpose, and joy in their lives.
“Beautiful, dynamic, and joyous!” — Daniel Pink, author of A WHOLE NEW MIND, DRIVE and TO SELL IS HUMAN
DVDs of this film, both the online 17 minute version and an extended version of the film (with additional alumni clips), as well other features including extended interviews with Denise Pope of Stanford’s Graduate School of Education and Betty Staley of Rudolf Steiner College are available for bulk purchase here:
In their new book, The App Generation, education professors Howard Gardner and Katie Davis argue that kids today are becoming more risk averse. “Rather than wanting to explore, to try things out by themselves, young people are always pushing to find out exactly what is wanted, when it is wanted, how it will be evaluated, what comes next and where we end up,” they said in a recent Q-and-A.
CONDOLEEZZA RICE trained to be a concert pianist. Alan Greenspan, former chairman of the Federal Reserve, was a professional clarinet and saxophone player. The hedge fund billionaire Bruce Kovner is a pianist who took classes at Juilliard.
Multiple studies link music study to academic achievement. But what is it about serious music training that seems to correlate with outsize success in other fields?
Is Music the Key to Success? (New York Times)
Tilda Swinton today defended parents’ rights to opt out of state education in favour of the Steiner Waldorf education system which her own twin kids attend. The Oscar-winning star, who lives in Nairn, said an Oxford professor had told her that state education was so under question the top university “longed” for Steiner pupils who still have a love for learning. Swinton, 52, spoke out as she mixed with teachers, pupils and visitors at an open day for the Moray Steiner School and the recently-opened Drumduan Upper School in Forres, Moray.
Tilda Swinton Supportive of Private Steiner Schools (The Scotsman)
Two years ago on the front page of the New York Times Sunday Business section, an article ran entitled, “A Silicon Valley School That Doesn’t Compute” about the Waldorf School in Silicon Valley. I had already made the decision to enter my oldest son in a Waldorf school before the article came out, but I pathetically admit that this piece in the New York Times validated my intuition regarding a Waldorf education.
Knitting is More Important than Homework (Huffington Post)
National Public Radio’s Here and Now program recently featured our Food for Thought Organic Lunch Program. “School Lunches: Growing Your Own And Tips For Eating Better” addressed the need for healthier food options for school children. Our organic lunch program, which creates delicious organic lunches from fresh vegetables and fruits grown in our school garden, was featured as a model for healthy food in schools. The show highlighted the hands-on learning that is a hallmark of Waldorf Education – children have a direct connection to the food they are eating, and help plant, harvest, and prepare the fruits and vegetables used to make their nutritious school lunches.
To listen to the show, click here.
It’s one thing for a small, private school to incorporate gardening and healthy eating into its curriculum, but what can larger, poorer urban schools do?
Many say that they don’t have the budget to afford healthier choices, and also say that kids just aren’t interested in changing the way they eat.
The debate over how to feed American school kids became heated last month when Michelle Obama lashed out at a group of House Republicans who pushed to grant waivers — or exceptions — to the 2010 Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act, by letting schools opt out if they said they were losing money.
As lawmakers debate the law requiring that schools provide healthier lunches in order to qualify for federal funding, we take a loot at the Kimberton Waldorf School in rural Kimberton, Pennsylvania. Waldorf schools believe in hands on education, and this one has kids grow their own lunch in a program called “Food for Thought.”
Here & Now’s Robin Young also talks to consultant Kate Adamick, co-founder of Cook for America, who says most schools already have enough money to fund healthy eating initiatives — they just need to learn how to do it. Adamick shares her recommendations on how to bring healthy food into American public schools.
On debunking the argument that kids don’t like healthy foods
That’s the biggest myth in school food, that the kids won’t eat it. The food and beverage industry loves us as adults to think that the kids won’t eat it. There are numerous studies on this that say a child has to be exposed to a certain type of food ten to twenty times before they’ll eat it. That means that we have to keep trying. We really need to remember there are no cases in recorded history of a child starving to death when there’s a plate of healthy food sitting in front of them.
Tips Adamick has given to schools to save money
“[A district was] portioning salad and food and everything in little plastic cups. When you do that, you’re paying for those little plastic cups … If you put it out for kids to take on their tray, that’s faster, that’s much less labor intensive and you save all of that money, both on the labor time and the plastic cups.”
“The federal government funds school food both with cash and with an allotment of food. You can order it either raw — so I can order raw chicken, or I can send that raw chicken to a processor and have them turn it into chicken nuggets, and chicken fingers, and chicken dinosaurs, which are typically laden with salt, fat and sugar … You pay for that. So take the free chicken in and cook the chicken.”
Waldorf School of the Peninsula is thrilled to release the first in a series of WSP documentaries. This film features WSP high school and grades alumni reflecting on their schooling and how Waldorf education shaped their identities and futures.
It would be easy, on first glance, to dismiss Madeline Levine’s “Teach Your Children Well” as yet another new arrival in a long line of books that have urged us, in the past decade or so, to push back and just say no to the pressures of perfectionistic, high-performance parenting. But to give in to first impressions would be a mistake.
For Levine’s latest book is, in fact, a cri de coeur from a clinician on the front lines of the battle between our better natures — parents’ deep and true love and concern for their kids — and our culture’s worst competitive and materialistic influences, all of which she sees played out, day after day, in her private psychology practice in affluent Marin County, Calif. Levine works with teenagers who are depleted, angry and sad as they compete for admission to a handful of big-name colleges, and with parents who can’t steady or guide them, so lost are they in the pursuit of goals that have drained their lives of pleasure, contentment and connection. “Our current version of success is a failure,” she writes. It’s a damning, and altogether accurate, clinical diagnosis.
How to Raise a Child: Teach Your Children Well (New York Times)
Torin Finser, PhD and John Bloom discuss why Waldorf education waits to teach literacy until children are developmentally ready.
John Bloom is Senior Director at RSF Social Finance and a Waldorf parent. Torin Finser, PhD is the Chair of the Department of Education, Antioch University New England and the General Secretary of the Anthroposophical Society in America.
Heidi Porter and Torin Finserr, PhD talk about how the Waldorf education approach honors individual learning and encourages children to explore their strengths.
Torin Finser, PhD is the Chair of the Department of Education, Antioch University New England and the General Secretary of the Anthroposophical Society in America. Heidi Porter is an Educator at the Waldorf School of New Orleans.
Are you seeking an education for your child that…
-is a journey, and not a race?
-integrates art, music and movement into a classical academic education?
-deeply respects children?
-reinforces your child’s connection with nature?
-nurtures an enthusiasm for learning?
-motivates children intrinsically?
-nourishes the spirit of the child?
-provides active and creative learning?
-fosters healthy social development and community building?
-challenges the whole child — mind, body and spirit?
Waldorf Schools offers:
Family and community life
A healthy unfolding of childhood
Joy in the learning process
An education focused on wholeness in body, spirit and soul
Intellectual excellence, imagination, strong memory and problem-solving skills
Viable alternatives to high stakes testing
Age-appropriate use of media
Training in ethical and moral judgment
Beauty of the environment as a formative force in the child’s world
Pre-school & Kindergarten,
Elementary grades 1-8, as well as high school
Parent-infant and parent-child classes
“Why Waldorf?” – a new film about Waldorf education and Marin Waldorf School. For more information, please visit www.marinwaldorf.org.
LOS ALTOS, Calif. — The chief technology officer of eBay sends his children to a nine-classroom school here. So do employees of Silicon Valley giants like Google, Apple, Yahoo and Hewlett-Packard.
But the school’s chief teaching tools are anything but high-tech: pens and paper, knitting needles and, occasionally, mud. Not a computer to be found. No screens at all. They are not allowed in the classroom, and the school even frowns on their use at home.
Schools nationwide have rushed to supply their classrooms with computers, and many policy makers say it is foolish to do otherwise. But the contrarian point of view can be found at the epicenter of the tech economy, where some parents and educators have a message: computers and schools don’t mix.
This is the Waldorf School of the Peninsula, one of around 160 Waldorf schools in the country that subscribe to a teaching philosophy focused on physical activity and learning through creative, hands-on tasks. Those who endorse this approach say computers inhibit creative thinking, movement, human interaction and attention spans.
A Silicon Valley School That Doesn’t Compute (New York Times)
Sir Ken Robinson makes an entertaining and profoundly moving case for creating an education system that nurtures (rather than undermines) creativity.