Here in Kimberton, we are constantly looking for ways to re-enliven our festival life to bring diversity, equity, and inclusion to the forefront of our work with even the very youngest children. We do not want to invalidate or judge what has been done before but we do want to find ways to make our festivals relevant for the children in our care here in 2022. An example of this is the festival of St. Nicholas—a much loved and cherished Waldorf festival. How do we make an Eastern European festival relevant to children in America today? St. Nicholas’ message of charity and caring for those less fortunate is an important one, so = in the kindergarten we decided to reimagine this festival and on December 6th we celebrate ‘Star Money Day’. This is a beautiful yet simple story of a child who has very little and gives it all away to others in need. The story conveys an identical gesture to that of St. Nicholas and perhaps because it is the story of a child, resonates more deeply with the young ones in our care. On December 6th, Star Money visited our classes and left little tokens (and a whole lot of stardust!) to acknowledge the kindness and goodness of the Kindergarten children.
Our two-acre school garden is a very busy place over the summer! Scroll through to see happenings in the garden during summer 2022. – Celia Martin, Gardening Teacher
Anyone who has a yard or garden will tell you that there is a lot of work that goes into caring for it during the summer months. Our two-acre school garden is no exception. When the students leave for their summer break in June, they are leaving behind a freshly planted vegetable, flower, and herb garden that is just beginning to grow. Then, in September, they come back to productive and well-maintained beds that are ready to be harvested. But what happens in our school garden between those two times? During the warm days of summer, plants, including weeds, grow very quickly and it is the job of the garden crew to keep up with them. If it were not for a handful of paid students and a few dedicated volunteers, this would not be possible.
“Gardens are not made by singing ‘Oh, how beautiful,’ and sitting in the shade.” – Rudyard Kipling
The summer starts with the harvesting of herbs such as oregano, mint, basil, chamomile, thyme, parsley, calendula, and lemon balm. We can get several cuttings of these herbs throughout the early summer and the harvested leaves cover all of the table tops in the garden building as they are drying. We dehydrate very large quantities of them for later use in teas, salves, and our very coveted Kimberton’s Own Herb Salt.
The first vegetables to be harvested are the allium family – garlic and onions. Both are dried for a few weeks on the windowsill before being cleaned and trimmed. The onions go to Hilla Haut, the kitchen manager for our Food For Thought lunch program, along with some of the garlic. The remainder of the garlic will be used to make garlic powder with one of the fall classes while the very best ones are saved to replant in October.
String beans and summer squashes are the next vegetables to come into season and we harvest them three days a week. In late July the tomatoes also start to ripen along with cucumbers. Hilla picked up huge amounts of all of these vegetables each week throughout August and processed them for later use in our organic, homemade lunches. Potatoes, winter squashes and dent corn will all be harvested by the gardening classes after school starts, along with fall raspberries, sunchokes, and dried beans. Soon we will be planting the fall crops such as lettuce, broccoli, cabbage, and Brussels sprouts.
In between all the watering, weeding, harvesting, and mulching, we managed to put together our brand-new cider press! We used some early ground-fall apples to make a few gallons of fresh apple cider with delightful results. All the fall classes will have a chance to make some cider using our new press and our own apples. It looks like there is a very bountiful crop of apples this year. No doubt that our six hives of bees were very helpful in pollination during the spring.
After much lively discussion and debate with the students over the color, the garden building received a new coat of paint this summer and it now looks brand new. For those who are interested and were hoping for their favorite color – it was painted color choice #5, Cobble Brown, with the trim in Shade Tree Green. Please be sure to notice and admire it next time you are in the garden.
I personally want to thank Aaron, Anika, Jojo, and Sarah for all their hard work and dedication to the garden this summer. This was Aaron’s fifth summer working in the garden and he has been especially indispensable in reminding me of what needed to be done and taking charge to do it. I will miss our conversations but am looking forward to hearing about where his life journey takes him. I appreciated all of Anika’s attention to detail in doing all the little jobs without being asked, being able to find all the beans and cucumbers that everyone else missed, and her incredible ability to clean everything spotlessly afterward. I appreciated Jojo’s fascination with every bug we came across and I’m looking forward to seeing his inspired insect collection. I appreciated Sarah’s positive attitude and her special enthusiasm for our tomatoes which, I agree, have no equal. Kudos to Ram and Luca for being dedicated volunteers who kept showing up and whose contributions to the garden were hugely significant. I especially appreciated Ram’s great enthusiasm for mulching. Honorable mention to Jacob and Tula, who showed up unexpectedly and helped to do whatever we were working on.
I also want to thank Hilla Haut who came one or two times a week to collect what we had harvested to preserve for the lunch program. Tomatoes were made into sauce, peppers were sliced and frozen, apples were made into applesauce or sliced and frozen for future dessert, cucumbers were made into pickles, basil was frozen for future pesto, and many, many, many string beans were processed and frozen for future soup days. Growing and then preserving food from our garden is not the easy way or even the least expensive way, but it is the best way. Growing and eating our own organically grown crops is one of the most environmentally responsible things we can do, and the quality and taste cannot be beaten. We are committed to our very unique, organically grown, garden-to-kitchen program!
Thanks to everyone who helped in our school garden this summer!
Written by Ona Wetherall, Early Childhood Section Leader
One of the common threads in Waldorf education, which is especially focused on and talked about in early childhood, is the education of the Will; nurturing the young child’s natural impulse to do and channeling that into purposeful activity that nourishes their growing bodies, minds, and souls. In reflecting on the education of the Will, different approaches and examples can be found. The pictures below all depict moments of engaging and nourishing the Will. Perhaps the first ones are obvious but the last one is as well, for even finding moments of pause, reflection, and relaxation are activities of the Will. Whether for a child or an adult, feeling and thinking cannot balance without an engaged Will. Another way a child’s will is educated is through imitation, with adults setting examples.
In our ever increasingly busy lives, where we always seem to be engaged in something, whether physically, mentally, or emotionally, we can ask ourselves, “what is driving us?” Or “where is our Will coming from?” Is it coming from external influences or internal impulses? It’s important to notice this because how we engage ourselves is setting an example for how our children will. External influences will always be in flux and bring positives and challenges, but internal impulses will sustain us, will hold us steady and strong in the ups and downs of life.
As parents and educators, we want to support our children as best as we possibly can to grow up with the ability to feel steady, strong, and positive about themselves and to go out into the world with that influence upon it. We want our children to have the ability to sustain themselves in a positive way and have the heart, wish, and drive to take care of their world and their fellow humans, in part by seeing and knowing the good, truth, and beauty of it. This is how we make the world a better place, this is how we hold on to the goodness in humanity for ourselves and our children, and it starts with the Will to Work. The Will to do something purposeful and good.
When our daughter picked that snap pea that she had planted, watered, and watched grow, she ate it and proclaimed, “it is so good!”, and it is.
– Ona Wetherall
Early Childhood Section Leader
by Ona Wetherall
Our youngest students’ curriculum is designed to support children’s instincts to be active and social while supporting foundational sensory development of balance (vestibular), touch, movement (proprioception), and well-being in a rhythmical, self-directed, nature-based, holistic learning environment.
In an organic and unique expansion of our Kindergarten programming, we are excited to be revisioning and expanding our forest experience for all our Kindergarten students next year. Erin Byrne, who has been working in our Kindergarten and has many years of Waldorf experience and knowledge, will be attending The Academy of Forest Kindergarten Teachers this summer and will be our Forest Program teacher! We have designed our Forest Program in a way so that every kindergartener gets to experience and enjoy our beautiful campus and forest which supports our students’ development in so many ways, bolsters stewardship of the earth, and brings our students in direct connection to the rhythm of nature which is also an important part of the foundation of our pedagogy. Kindergarteners from each class will come together to form a forest group for 2-week blocks at a time and in this way, every kindergartener will have a forest immersion experience at least 3 times a year and get to fully experience every season during the school year. In addition to updating our forest facilities, which include a yurt, our Forest Program will have its own space on the main campus which is being renovated this summer. This space will also serve to support after-school and summer programming as well.
Growth, movement, and working together to meet education and our students in intentional, progressive, and relevant ways; this is KWS!
by Esther Walsh
In many ways, music weaves through the daily lives of each and every student at Kimberton Waldorf School. Not only do the students create music in their music classes and ensembles, but they sing and play music daily during their Main Lessons, in their class plays, in special subject classes such as Spanish and German, and during school festivals. Music is an essential, dynamic frequency that uplifts and enlivens the spirit of the school. What sets Waldorf schools apart, is the use of music during the day and the belief regarding the special influence of music on each child’s physical body, feelings, cognitive processes, social interactions, and inner development.
Rudolf Steiner described the human being as a musical being. He also suggested that creating music is essential in experiencing what it is to be fully human. The Waldorf music curriculum follows specific stages of child development. The aim is not simply to teach children to sing and play music, but actually, awaken qualities of the soul at each developmental phase. What is done in each grade builds upon the work of the previous year, deepening and broadening the skills and experiences already acquired. In the teaching of music, as in all Waldorf pedagogy, there is an awareness of the importance of bringing the right thing at the right time.
For example, if we look at the development of music composition through the grades, the reader will get a picture of how we build composing skills through the years. We could apply this to instrumental music and singing as well.
In first grade, the students move, sing, and listen to many songs that have free rhythms and moods of the fifth and pentatonic scales. They are given simple chimes, bells, lyres, and flutes to play. As we sing simple songs, they improvise and create harmonious sounds that blend nicely with the songs and images that I bring them. Although they do not write music yet, they are listening and creating sounds that fit together nicely.
In second grade we continue to work on their instrumental and singing skills. I introduce a simple colored dot and slash system. The students write their own simple melodies for their pentatonic flutes and lyres using this system.
In third grade, the students learn musical notation. The students transition from playing songs using the pentatonic scales to the C diatonic scales. We still color code the notes. Again, the third graders create simple melodies for their C flutes, the 12-stringed lyres, xylophones, and bells.
In fourth grade the students jump into the world of music notation, theoretical rules, rhythms, and they start playing a stringed instrument; violin, viola, cello, and bass. The knowledge learned during this year will enable the students in fifth and sixth grades to write nicely formed small pieces.
In seventh and eighth grades, we look more closely at rhythms, harmonies, themes, and the blues scale. Students continue to work in smaller groups with various instruments creating original works. Amazingly, most students will get to play at the very least ten different instruments from 1st-8th grades.
By High School, many students have the capacity to write their own compositions, especially if they choose to take our electronic music class. We have had students write ragtime melodies, string quartets, vocal songs accompanied by guitar or ukulele, instrumental solo works, orchestral pieces, and electronic-sounding music. The goal is to have our students gain the music skills needed to be creative and independent musicians at all levels. They achieve an aesthetic awareness of beauty, expression, and confidence to bring music forth and share it with the world.
Kimberton Waldorf School is fortunate to have an experienced and talented music faculty. The teachers are passionate about music and strive to bring meaningful musical experiences to our students. A Cooperative work model, allows the students to experience, first-hand collaboration at a high professional level.
Our Music Department Faculty is:
Esther Walsh is Kimberton Waldorf School’s Music Director. She has been a Music Teacher at KWS since 1998. She helped develop KWS’s current music curriculum. Esther teaches general music classes, all choirs, group lessons, private lessons, and orchestras, and conducts many performances. She is an alumnus of KWS and has two children currently attending KWS.
Mike Ruhl is a classically trained pianist and accomplished performer. He accompanies many of the ensembles in the music program. Mib Campbell, Hsiao Ming Chen, and Mike Ruhl also accompany the Eurythmy classes.
Hsiao-Ming Chen is a professional cellist. She teaches group lessons, private lessons, and orchestras. Her son graduated from KWS last year.
Ryan Leaver plays many different instruments professionally. He teaches group lessons, private lessons, orchestras, and electronic music classes.
John Sergovic is a professional violinist. He helps with our orchestras and teaches private and group lessons.
Dan Smith is an accomplished guitarist. He teaches HS guitar. Dan also teaches sciences and math in the HS. He has two children who currently attend KWS.
Susan Schwaneflugel is an accomplished vocalist. She teaches 11th-grade History through Music Main Lesson. She also teaches German, handwork, and games classes. Her two children have graduated from KWS.
“Music gives a soul to the universe,
wings to the mind, flight to the imagination
and life to everything.”
by Annaleena Hoffmann
Handwork lessons are one of Kimberton Waldorf School’s distinctive curriculum features. The creative design of workpieces has always been seen as constitutive, even when the first Waldorf School was established. Handwork teachers are chosen with this foundation in mind; they should be artists and educators in the growth of manual dexterity and aesthetic expression. Handwork lessons teach not only the development of fine motor skills, concentration, and willpower – all of which are important and desirable side effects of learning– but also teach the children the joys of creating projects for themselves and having an aesthetic experience with handwork.
During the first 9 years of school, the children sew, embroider, knit, crochet, braid, knot, wash and comb raw wool, spin it into yarn, dye wool, weave, and dye, process leather, knit socks and hats, and much more. Handwork classes allow for internal differentiation, making it simple to modify the criteria for different activities so that any child may participate and be encouraged in their growth. At first, the children are unaware of how instructive the handwork sessions are in terms of aesthetics and sensory experience. However, they quickly realize that they accomplish things in class that they can utilize. “What do you want to make, and what do you need?” I ask the students, and this is how flute cases, shoulder bags, hats, socks, Eurythmy slipper nets, hand puppets, and a variety of other items are made. It is because of this creative nature that children like handwork classes.
The students are empowered in their creations and have the ability to then pass those creations on as gifts to their family members and friends–or keep them for themselves as tokens of their creative and manual capabilities. Hand-knitted or crocheted hats are worn proudly throughout the year and frequently not taken off even in the warm weather! Relatives and friends compliment the students on the visible proof of what they’ve learned and worked for. In the end, everyone holds their final piece in their hands, which was created in a variety of artistic processes. In handwork, children learn to persevere, appreciate the process, learn how art and function can coexist, and gain confidence in themselves through a sense of accomplishment. This not only supports and enriches their entire educational experience but offers them capacities they will utilize for a lifetime.
by: Molly Brett
In Waldorf Early Childhood education, we work to foster and strengthen the young child’s imagination. We do this by focusing on many different aspects of life that support the child’s growing creative forces. Our classrooms are designed to be warm, inviting, and inspiring for the children in our care while intentionally making available simple, natural, and open-ended items that can be utilized in many ways. Our songs and stories use rich vocabulary to stimulate and encourage language development as well as, the ability to create whimsical, internal imagery. Our arts and crafts help to develop the children’s motor skills, self-esteem, and sense of beauty—enlivening both their inner and outer worlds. An artistic practice that is unique to Waldorf education is wet-on-wet watercolor painting. Today we will delve deeper into this artistic practice by looking at what it is, why it is a part of our curriculum, and how this activity builds on itself throughout the years.
Wet-on-wet watercolor painting creates a fluid and dreamy artistic experience for the young child. The colors move, change, and possibly mix creating an ever-changing landscape of emotive color. In Waldorf Early Childhood education our goal is for the young child to encounter the variations of shade, tone, and even mood of all the colors of the rainbow. We start slowly with one color at a time. Beginning in the fall we will paint with yellow mirroring the golden rod we see growing in the fields and then in a few weeks when the apples are ripe and ready to be harvested, we will transition to the color red. We will be singing songs about juicy apples, making apple sauce, and experiencing the gesture of the color of the season thru our wet-on-wet watercolor painting. As the seasons change so does the color. Once the trees are bare, the temperature has dropped, and we are anticipating “King Winter’s” arrival and his bearing of the first snow we transition into the blue of winter. The contrast between the Red of Fall and the Blue of winter is soul-felt throughout our weekly painting time. These gestures are never spoken to but simply experienced as we glide our brushes over our paper. Eventually, the colors begin to “play” with one another, and the children begin a quiet exploration of the secondary colors and how they arise.
The painting sessions in Waldorf Early Childhood are process-oriented and led thru imitation by the teacher. There is little to no talking once the painting has begun. The teacher quietly illustrates the process: sponge dry the wet paper, “dip, dip” the brush in the color, “drip, drip” the brush on the side of the container, and allow the brush to glide across the paper from left to right our eyes following the brush just like when we read. We are not focused on an end product while painting. The nurturing of the senses and the therapeutic gesture of the activity is what we strive to create space for in our weekly painting rhythm.
Not only do our weekly painting sessions create a space for experiencing the gesture of color but they are also a time to develop healthy habits that will carry into grade school when wet-on-wet watercolor becomes more complex. Learning to respect and care for the watercolor materials is woven into our painting time. In my class, a story is shared to invoke the child’s imagination in this process and to develop imagery for the processes of painting. It is because of the intention of creating this form that the space for a quiet and meditative experience becomes available. Hopefully, the skill of learning how to quiet the mind and oneself lives on within the child for years to come.
For young children, the gift of time and space for play and the creative process is foundational for the growth of imagination, the strengthening of originative forces, and the experience of the fluidity of thought. Wet-on-wet watercolor painting embodies these concepts thru a physical and concrete exercise of exploration by a participatory process. This ethereal experience of color deepens the child’s connection to the seasons thru color and offers an inner experience which develops the feeling forces within, all the while honoring where the child is developmentally. When we honor and teach towards the malleability of the young child’s mind, we strengthen the imagination, and just like the malleability of color the birth of the heart forces and critical thinking arise in due time. Like the birth of spring, in the early childhood classroom, when suddenly the yellow of the golden sun meets the blue of the sky making way for the lushness of green on our paper, suddenly the magic of growth and creation is reflected back to us right before our eyes.
Our community knows that the Kimberton Waldorf School campus is a beautiful, tree-filled place, but do we really know the extent of the arboreal diversity on campus? Well now we have a pretty good idea!
The 11th grade in their main lesson time with Mr. Strevig worked to inventory and map the great variety of tree species on campus. The class identified and located on an updated campus map the location and names of at least 49 unique species of trees and shrubs on our campus. The list includes common native shrubs and trees, as well as fairly unique ornamental and imported tree species.
The students also recounted stories of their favorite trees and submitted photos of their favorites for the map. The list and map will continue to grow and evolve, as already several new native species have recently been planted in the riparian area next to Kindergarten Creek and near the track.
In the coming years, classes will work at inventorying and identifying exceptionally large trees in the wilder portions of campus. By measuring the circumference of the trees, we can find a good estimate of the age of known species. As we learn more about the individual trees and water resources on campus, we can come to a deeper understanding of the history of our campus as well as the overall health of the forest and creeks that we love so much.
The positive identification of so many trees would not have been possible without the help of our resident tree experts Celia Martin and Mike Ruhl.
When was the last time you baked bread? If you were a Preschool child at Kimberton Waldorf School, you would quickly respond: Last Wednesday!
Weekly bread day is exemplary of the independent private school’s mission to teach students, from Preschool through 12th grade, to be creative and critical thinkers and unfold their unique capacities to meet the world with confidence. “This education can begin as early as infancy, with parents who seek an intentional, holistic, and progressive education for their child and community for their family,” said Ona Wetherall, Rosebud Cottage Pre-Kindergarten lead teacher and co-administrator. “In a home away from home setting, the two-, three-, and four-year-olds feel secure, and learn in a cooperative social environment that nourishes their senses, builds self-esteem, and lays a foundation for a lifetime of learning and success. The children participate in their day together, following a rhythm they can expect and rely on, spending lots of time outside every day, and flowing naturally from child-led activities of play and teacher-led activities like circle, story, and eating. They help make their snacks and lunch, fold laundry, and help sweep with little brooms and dustpans. This stage is the beginning of their journey to become self directed, conscious, and compassionate human beings.”
The “how” of things is a critical part to a Waldorf student’s 10th grade year. How does the past influence the present in writing, in history? How does ancient history reflect in modern history? Physics class has them examining how force, motion, and gravity work. Waldorf education brings this question of how out of the classroom and into the world with practicums. A practicum is an experience that requires the practical application of theory or conceptual knowledge. These experiences allow students to explore in new ways and see how their learning relates to real life.
Our 10th grade students have the opportunity to participate in an Artisan Practicum. “Traditionally, that has meant shadowing an artisan to learn how something can be created and brought to market. it is becoming more and more difficult to find artisans able to take in students, we have also placed interested students in small businesses, which will dovetail beautifully with the Entrepreneurship block they will begin after spring break.” explains Elisabeth Burgess, German and ESL Teacher & Exchange Coordinator.
We are so appreciative of the businesses who have hosted our students this year:
Bridge Street Chocolates
Birchrun Hill Farm, Cheese Making
Corkum Tree Farm
Realty One Group
Honey Flour Bake Shop
Practicums are one more way that Kimberton Waldorf School helps students acquire skills for a lifetime of learning. Read more about our all school learning goals here: All School Learning Goals – Kimberton Waldorf School
Written by Sarah Tudor
The Kimberton Community knew the late Rev. Charles Rice in his capacity as an enthusiastic KWS Parent, as a supportive Father to Roby and Martin, as the dedicated husband of beloved High School Faculty Member Tonya Rice, as an active volunteer, and as a powerful and dynamic speaker at events like the Martin Luther King Jr. Day Assembly. A charismatic presence in any room, Charles was known above all as an encourager—his great passion and warmth were larger than life, still shining brightly today in the many lives he touched. “Everything he did was out of love,” Tonya shared with me recently.
Charles went by many names, colleague, teacher, pastor, mentor, friend, and advocate. He had a rich history of positive public impact. He went to New York City public schools and is a 1979 graduate of the U.S. Coast Guard Academy. He received a Master of Divinity degree in Historical Theology from Colgate-Rochester Divinity School at Crozer Theological Seminary in Rochester, N.Y., and did his doctoral studies at Syracuse University. Charles worked tirelessly as the chaplain as well as an assistant professor of philosophy and religious studies at Ursinus College in Collegeville, Pa. Charles left a path of love and dedication as he held ministerial and teaching positions at Colgate University and Suffolk University. He also served as interim pastor at the Memorial Congregational Church in North Quincy, Mass., as well as pastor of the United Baptist Church in Jamaica Plain, Mass. He served on the National Council on Adoptable Children and the National Photo Listing of Children Waiting for Adoption. In addition, he worked with 100 Concerned Black Men as well as the Children’s Defense Funds’ Good Schools Initiative. Charles was also a member of the Board of Trustees of the Wissahickon Charter School in Philadelphia, the Charlestown Playschool and the Board of Directors of the Phoenixville Area Positive Alternatives Group in Phoenixville, Pa.
Many students and colleagues at Ursinus College, where he served as chaplain starting in 1997, credited him with helping them find their life path and with greatly impacting their spiritual development. Charles was a magnetizing force in both school communities. He was passionate about education, specifically Waldorf education and helping to make it more accessible. It was clear that Charles made the most of his bold and passionate life in a way that few dare.
“Like Socrates, he was a gadfly in the best sense of the word, always challenging Ursinus to be its best morally, and always challenging students to be their best selves – intellectually rigorous, honest, and kind,” said Christian Rice, no relation, a former student who is now on the faculty.
The Charles Rice Fund
In response to the sudden loss of Revered Charles Rice in April of 2017, KWS established the Revered Charles William Rice Scholarship for diversity in his memory. The Scholarship, a needs-based fund to foster diversity, was established in May of 2017. During the live auction portion of the May event, attendees were given the opportunity to make a pledge and our caring community’s contributions that evening totaled $24,000. Since then, the scholarship has continued to be an important source of funding to further the cause of diversity at KWS.
“We continue to be moved by the generous support for the Rev. Charles Rice Scholarship,” says Editha Tendencia, Director of Development. “This fund continues to indicate what a positive impact Charles had on our community.”
“We have something special at KWS and this was yet another reminder of the incredibly supportive community which encircles our students and enriches all of our lives,” said Bill Wiedmann, a father of four children who attend KWS in addition to being the chair of the Board of Trustees at KWS.
If you would like more information or to make a contribution to this scholarship, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
By the time the first Waldorf school opened its doors in September 1919 in Stuttgart Germany, Eurythmy was 7 years old; old enough to go to school! Leading up to this auspicious moment, Rudolf Steiner offered a Eurythmy performance a few months prior; a performance attended by the teaching staff, the staff of the Waldorf Astoria Cigarette Factory* whose children would now make up the core of the student body plus other invited friends and guests. He gave an introduction to this new art form and spoke of the clear purpose for Eurythmy to be taught as a core subject from early childhood through to graduation.
It is a formidable task to describe the significance and purpose of Eurythmy in our education in one short article, so I will merely render some ‘brush strokes’ as it were, and hope interest is sparked!
Eurythmy, as an art form in which speech and music are made visible, fully integrates the body, soul and spirit. Willing, feeling and thinking are in constant, harmonious engagement. The Waldorf curriculum, grounded as it is in the knowledge and understanding of the development of the child, details the steps from the earliest beginnings in Rosebud to graduation from 12th grade. This curriculum forms the basis for the Eurythmy curriculum, and the Eurythmy teacher works in concert with colleagues to achieve that end.
For the youngest, the once weekly ‘visit’ of the Eurythmy teacher is a special occasion, as this is the only ‘outside’ teacher that comes into their classroom! A short but highly ‘potentized’ experience is offered in which beautifully, artistically detailed movement using seasonal themes, allows these little children of unbridled movement to hop with joy like the bouncy rabbit; to fly with wings outstretched to the tippy top of the tall tree; to clip-clop like the proud pony across the field to greener grass, or yet to crawl into a soft snug nest to sleep for the winter. Hands and feet are joyously engaged as the powers of imagination are invited into this magical yet relatable world.
In 1st grade, imitation is still relevant but will begin to be replaced by a capacity to ‘dream about,’ inwardly starting to visualize. The pictures must be rich and are drawn from the world of the fairy tales. Each lesson is filled with movement that requires feet to be agile like the nimble deer; firm steps for the child who must go in search of healing water; fingers to show a snail coming out of its shell; or arms stretching out like the glorious rays of the sun. A spear narrow bridge must be bravely walked across, eyes looking straight ahead; the twisting winding river followed to its source! This ‘underscoring’ of the script of our language will be supported and given a wholesome place in the active expression of the child through moving these archetypal form elements: the straight line and the curve. Unbeknownst to these young enthusiasts, the first rudiments of music theory find their expression in the happy stepping of the feet to pulse beat or rhythms, or the rise and fall of a melody allowing the arms to reach up high for those high notes and descend as they tumble downwards.
So, with each step of the way from grade to higher grade the necessary building blocks are used. An amazingly rich curriculum is provided in which the growing, developing child is receiving in the Eurythmy class what allows for an integration of the 3 hallmarks of Waldorf Education: Thinking, feeling, willing- head, heart and hand. The developmental milestones are always the key guidelines for what needs to be worked on as in the example of 1) the ’9-year change’ in which the child experiences a separation of self from the group, from the ‘oneness’ so beautifully represented by the circle. Through an exploration of poetry and music in which polarity of movement is deliberately emphasized, the child is recognized and supported through this necessary developmental stage; 2) In 6th grade, when the natural harmony of the 5th grade year lies far behind, a change has manifested in growth and physical development as well as in the cognitive realm. This calls for a new focus in the Eurythmy class! Geometry is taken up very rigorously by the class teacher and finds full support in the exploration of challenging geometric forms and principles which demand precision, control and collaboration and focus.; 3) In the 9th grade we can observe a tension between the further unfolding of puberty and their studies that now lead more towards abstract thinking. Polarities in the sciences, humanities and arts can be supported again in the Eurythmy class by movement elements that emphasize these differences and require the students to be keen observers in the process.
Accompanied through the years, the child is developing stronger self- awareness while constantly assisted in building greater social awareness and a sense for the rightful place in the circle of activity, the circle of community of life. Ultimately by 12th grade, the last pieces of the puzzle of this curriculum are fitted into their remaining places in this process of ‘synthesizing’ and the students can now look back at and recognize why they did what they did and when!
As I conclude, I need to still briefly address the importance of the Music curriculum in relationship to that of the Eurythmy curriculum. It is critical that a musician is a part of each Eurythmy class in which not one, but two subjects are taught: visible speech, visible music. The accompanist is far more than what that title suggests! This individual has to be involved in the creative process of the shaping of the lesson through intentional collaboration with the Eurythmy teacher. This dialogue is of incredible mutual benefit and the children have the gift of live music which can best represent the foundational elements of music. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the listening component is vital, is essential and is only really allowed to develop when the music is provided in the moment by the nuanced and sensitive hands of the musician. The music tells us all we need to know, but we must listen to it with keen ears and hear into it through repetition and growing discernment.
*Further reading on Dr. Emil Molt and the path that led to his founding of the first Waldorf School at Stuttgart in 1919.
Kimberton Waldorf School’s robust gardening program weaves its way into the curriculum across the grades. From connecting seasons and subjects to providing food for our organic lunch program, gardening provides opportunities to educate the whole child.
The approach of Waldorf Education reflects the prevalent theme in childhood and adolescence of growing and learning through varying iterations of Form and Freedom. This is especially in the forefront of our Early Childhood programs. In these first few weeks of school we are very consciously building the form of our classes through acute observation of what the children bring to us in their freedom, both as individuals and as a group. This is how we meet the children and provide them with an education we bring through a form that can be met by them in their freedom.
Form and Freedom come in many different flavors. In our work with young children form also often means boundaries and those boundaries, however simple, are sometimes the most important as they are laying a foundation for a lifetime of learning and contribution to humanity and the world. These boundaries often come in the forms of living out truth, beauty, and goodness; we learn to be kind and have empathy, to have reverence and respect, and we learn how to be our very best selves. Healthy freedom comes within these boundaries in the forms of child led play with explorations in the social, emotional, and cognitive realms through imagination, intuition, inspiration.
What mighty and important work our youngest students are doing! We want to bring children into the world knowing and believing that anything is possible, to have an awe and wonder for life, and to trust in themselves. We foster this in part through our festival life which connects us to the natural world and it’s ever changing seasons and to representations of spiritual presence which helps, guides, and inspires us.
As we approach the Fall Equinox and the turning point between summer and winter, we celebrate the season of Michaelmas with the children. Michaelmas is a festival of courage that is celebrated in many Waldorf Schools at the end of September. At this time of year, daylight and darkness are very close to their exact balance point and Michaelmas, on September 29th, falls within the astrological sign of Libra, the Scales.
The Archangel Michael and the story of Saint George and the Dragon represents courage and strength – just what we and all children especially need at this time year as the days grow short and dark and the outer world is going to sleep and we need a connection to our and life’s inner fire and growth and strength to meet our own dragons. Michaelmas is a time of finding our courage and acting, it is a time for being thankful for the harvest bounty, and it is the season when we must strengthen ourselves and hold within us the light and warmth that was received during the summer months. Through-out history the Archangel Michael has been given a variety of attributes: hero of the sun, lord of the harvest, helper of human beings, protector of the globe, the ability to decide between good and evil, and to infuse humanity with the power to become effective in deeds. These are all wonderful attributes to embrace and hold for and with the children.
Wishing you all a beautiful and courageous season!
On behalf of the Early Childhood Section
Dear Kimberton Community,
It is a true honor and a great joy for me to write to you as the Dean of School. After having a lovely visit with my wife Simone and daughter Maitreya, and now having been in communication with several members of the community leading up to my official start, I am feeling overjoyed to have found this precious gem of a school. There is so much that I look forward to sharing with you and talking with you about, and there are so many possibilities for how we can work together to write the next chapters in the story of KWS.
I have been very fortunate in my life to be exposed to many different philosophies, structures, traditions, and practices in education. I served the public in charter schools. I learned from the lineages of Montessori and Reggio Emilia. I integrated practices of silence and social justice in a Quaker school. I researched complexity and leadership and wrote a book about it. But now that I have finally found myself at Kimberton Waldorf, I have a clearer sense of what was missing in my search for the Holy Grail of Education: a coherent, comprehensive, holistic, integrated vision of pedagogy, curriculum, and human development.
This is precisely what we have at KWS. And believe it or not, sad as it may be, most schools do not have this foundation to build on. (I have spent a lot of time trying to understand why, but that is a story for another day). This foundational vision is a pearl beyond price, the precious jewel that we don’t have to search for or reinvent. We have only to cherish, appreciate, cultivate, polish, and nurture. This is easier said than done, and more like an intricate garden than a gemstone, but my hope is that everyone in the KWS community will share two things with me: a deep sense of gratitude for the gift we have been given, to be at a place with so much potential, and a feeling of shared purpose and commitment, to do our best to nurture the possibilities that we all intuit to be present in this community.
I came to KWS because I am inspired by the vision of education – and the vision of humanity – that Waldorf education instills. And I came because I sense that this community has worked to honor what is essential and sacred while nurturing and making room for what is alive and growing. I sense that we are standing on the shoulders of giants, while peering into a distant future that our forebears could not yet see. May we work together to lift each other, so our vision may ever improve, and the road ahead may become ever clearer and well-defined.
These are just some of the thoughts that animate my entry into this role as Dean of School. I hope they resonate with you, and perhaps even light a spark of reflection that we can kindle together in a future conversation.
It’s going to be an exciting year. The pandemic fog is lifting. The path ahead is promising, yet filled with unknown twists and turns. It’s an exciting time to be alive, and I feel blessed to be joining in this shared venture with you.
I have been working closely with Ona Wetherall, the Board, school staff, and the Governing Team, and will continue to do so throughout the summer, as we prepare to turn a new page and start a new year together. In the month of July, I will be in the process of moving from North Carolina with my family, but please know that I am here for you, and you can reach out to me as needed.
There is much more to say, and I look forward to many opportunities to share, listen, and learn with you all in the coming months and years. For now, I just want to share my deep appreciation for the school legacy that I am now a part of, my deep trust in the process that brought me here, and my unshakable optimism about the possibilities and potentials of our work together.
Sending blessings for a peaceful autumn and a wonderful school year.
Dean of School
Historically, early childhood education was developed for nurturing and cultivating a child’s natural propensity to learn through play. The focus of early childhood education was on developmentally appropriate activities for young children as a preparation for schooling when children were ready (around age six or seven). In the 1990s and the 2000s a shift occurred in education through No Child Left Behind and other government programs that changed the focus of early childhood education from a developmentally based approach to one based on academics and testing. The thought was that children needed to learn how to read and perform mathematics at earlier ages in order to be prepared for standardized testing. Unfortunately, this approach was not based on an understanding of child development and how children learn and has resulted in a rise in anxiety in young children as they are pushed to participate in activities and modes of learning that they are not ready for.
Waldorf schools, on the other hand, have remained committed to providing education for children that is developmentally based. In a Waldorf early childhood classroom children are engaged in child-directed creative play, storytime, artistic activities, and time outdoors. These activities help to support healthy development of young children and teach them essential skills they need for future academic learning.
Teaching to a child’s experience and level of development is the key to good education at all grade levels. Pre-Kindergartners and Kindergarteners are no exception. They experience their world with their intrinsic will and self-centered curiosity. They learn most naturally by doing, not be didactic instruction or abstract information. Waldorf educators use this knowledge of child development to teach young children the skills they must master by providing an environment and experiences which support their development.
The opposite approach which seeks to make an active, intrinsically motivated and curious young child sit still to recite or memorize, is detrimental to the child’s emotional and academic development. It is critical at this stage of life that children’s propensity for self-directed creative and imaginative play is nurtured.
When children are busy playing an atmosphere of work permeates the room. Play is the work of the young child. During play activity, children are learning to develop a rich imagination, which will serve their reading comprehension as they take words on the page and transform them into narrative memory. Group play also helps children to learn to compromise with their peers, communicate their desires, carry tasks to completion, and problem-solve with others.
Just as free play uses the child’s self-directed will for learning, structured activities help children master their will in a gentle and natural way. As the class comes together to sing songs, recite verses or listen to a teacher-told story, children are learning how to listen and develop attention. As they repeat and remember verses or songs, they build their long-term memory. The story told by the teacher also exposes children to the beauty of language which supports literacy skills and builds the person-to-person relationship between teacher and child. Artistic activities such as watercolor painting, beeswax modeling, and finger knitting are done as a group activity, although each child is absorbed in their own work. They are learning the joys of bringing a task to completion. They also help to develop the children’s small motor skills.
Our goal in our early childhood program at KWS is to inspire a lifelong love of learning. We want our students to transform their intrinsic curiosity to a desire to learn the academic tasks required in the grades and in life beyond school.
In Waldorf Schools, math is taught in a multidisciplinary manner. When students are young, math is introduced through imaginative stories, movement, and rhythm games. Manipulatives are often used and help to make concepts like division and fractions easier to grasp. As grade school students get older they work with story problems and use practical applications of mathematics processes. Mental math is also frequently practiced to help the students develop their computational skills and flexibility in their thinking. Algebra and geometry are introduced in middle school, and the high school curriculum includes algebra, geometry, pre-calculus, and calculus.
Learn more about how math is taught in Waldorf schools:
At KWS our educational approach is developmentally based which means we introduce skills and concepts when students are ready for them intellectually, emotionally, and physically keeping our knowledge of child development as the guide for our curriculum. Your child will be engaged through a challenging and multi-sensory environment focused on meeting the whole child: head, heart, and hands.
The founder of Waldorf Education, Rudolf Steiner, formed the first school with these principles over 100 years ago. Today there are over 1,100 Waldorf schools and almost 2,000 Waldorf kindergartens in 80 countries around the globe. When people first come to Kimberton Waldorf School they are impressed with our beautiful 430-acre campus and farm, cozy classrooms filled with student art and hands-on work that imbues every subject.
When was Kimberton Waldorf School founded?
Our school was founded by Alarick Myrin and Mabel Pew Myrin in 1941. The Myrin’s were deeply interested in a renewal of education and agriculture and they were inspired by Rudolf Steiner’s ideas for both. The legacy of their interest, commitment, and generosity is our EC- 12th-grade school with its strong connection to gardening, farming, and the natural environment. Our 430-acre campus and farm is bordered by scenic French Creek and has wooded areas and meadows, and a beautiful organic school garden.
What is the philosophy behind Waldorf Education?
Austrian scientist and philosopher, Rudolf Steiner held that human being’s capacities unfold in specific developmental stages on the path to adulthood. The guiding principles of Waldorf Education are a developmental approach and educating the whole child: head, heart, and hands.
What is the curriculum and a typical day of an early childhood student?
We see our Early Childhood Program as an extension of the family experience; a step between home and formal schooling. We offer a pre-Kindergarten and Kindergarten program for children that range from age two to six, and a parent-child program for children under the age of two and their parents. In each classroom, the day’s activities unfold in an unhurried way, with each day following the same rhythm, which gives the child a sense of security and consistency. A typical day begins with free-play outdoors, followed by circle time, a structured artistic activity (such as watercolor painting, beeswax modeling, or bread baking), and then the children prepare and eat a healthy, homemade snack and enjoy storytime. From there, they go outside to play, use their imaginations, and experience the outdoor world. Early academic foundations are formed through these activities. As just a few examples, beeswax modeling cultivates small motor skills, puppetry helps children develop memory and language acuity, and nature walks increase large motor abilities and scientific curiosity. The sharing of practical activities such as snack preparation and clean-up starts the child on the path toward personal responsibility and respect for others.
What is the curriculum and typical day of a grade school student?
The focus of grade school is learning to learn and loving to learn. Our curriculum seeks to inspire the artistic, creative, and imaginative life of the child while providing a strong base for academic studies. It also seeks to keep student engaged through relevant, hands-on learning, so that they do not just memorize but learn through an experiential approach, and develop comprehension. The day begins with a two-hour period focusing on an academic topic that we call Main Lesson. The focus of Main Lesson is on an area of study such as Literature and Language Arts, Mathematics, History, Science, and Social Studies. Main Lesson, however, does not consist of children sitting rigidly at desks, listening to lectures, but instead engages them through movement, arts, music, recitation, and other multidisciplinary activities. Part of Main Lesson involves the students making their own books as a record of what they have learned. They fill these books with written compositions and illustrations. After Main Lesson, there is a snack for all grade 1-8 students, outdoor recess, and then subject lessons, which continue through the day and are also taught in engaging and interdisciplinary ways. Subjects typically include math and language arts practice, choral and instrumental music, foreign language, handwork, gardening, woodworking, physical education, and Eurythmy (artistic movement). We also have an after-school sports program that begins in 6th grade. At the end of the day, our students have spent their day immersed in experiential learning while also having time in unstructured recess and outdoor experiences. They go home tired, but joyful, and return eagerly the next day with an inherent curiosity and love of learning.
What is the curriculum and typical day of a high school student?
The Main Lesson format continues into high school as does an interdisciplinary and multi-sensory approach to learning, although there is an increased emphasis on developing academic skills and independent thinking. In high school, students often create projects and make presentations as part of the Main Lesson experience. Subject classes in high school include mathematics that covers algebra, geometry, trigonometry, and calculus; English, language arts, and humanities; foreign language; science; choral and instrumental music; and the fine and practical arts. After-school activities include sports and the high school musical. Students interested in overseas study can participate in our foreign exchange program.
Are Graduates Prepared for College?
Our graduates are well prepared to attend college. Over 94% go to college and most of our graduates attend universities and colleges in the U.S. in a range of academic areas in STEM and Liberal Arts. As examples of graduate employment, we have amongst our graduates doctors, nurses, scientists, psychologists, social workers and therapists, lawyers, engineers, accountants, entrepreneurs and business people, government employees, military personnel, educators, musicians and artists, agriculturalists, naturalists, craftsmen, and many more out doing what they love in the world. Amongst our graduates, we have a National Book Award winner, a Grammy Award winner, and Fulbright and Rhodes scholars.
Throughout human history, festivals have played an important part in culture. In all civilizations, there have been celebrations reflecting nature’s rhythms, important transitions, and significant moments in the life of the culture. For people in the past, the rhythms of the seasons, of reaping and sowing, of dark and light, of birth and death were immediate and tangible experiences. For people today, we can easily become detached from these rhythms in our climate-controlled homes and workplaces with the conveniences of electric light, heating, cooling, and 24-hour grocery stores that provide us food at any season of the year. But the urge for these markers still live in us and remnants can be seen in our modern rituals of Thanksgiving, Halloween, or the markers of the beginning and end of summer: Memorial Day and Labor Day.
In Waldorf schools, the rhythmical element in life is an important part of the education and the school community experience. Every day we honor the start of the new school day by greeting the students with a handshake and saying the morning verse together. Each day begins with a two-hour block we call the main lesson which has its own rhythm of activities within the course of the lesson that calls on the thinking, feeling, or active hands-on doing capacities of the children. The main lesson is also structured in such a way that concepts are built upon over a series of days, as the rhythm of waking and sleeping is an important part of the learning process for the children. During sleep, the students have the opportunity to digest what they have learned during the day. And, at the end of roughly four weeks, or a month (which is another natural cycle based on the moon), we change main lessons, and the previous main lesson is put to sleep in a sense (often to be returned to later).
The rhythm of the year also receives form through our school festivals and celebrations. We begin and end the year with the Rose Ceremony in which we honor our 12th graders who are about to complete their education at Kimberton, and the 1st graders, who are beginning their journey. This is followed by Michaelmas in September, Lantern walks for the younger children in November, Advent assemblies in December, Martin Luther King assembly and day of service in January, and our May Faire in, you guessed it, May.
In the autumn, we celebrate Michaelmas (pronounced mick-el-mas). The roots of this festival come from ancient festivals that celebrate harvest, human courage, and the triumph of light over darkness. In autumn we begin to experience the loss of the vitality of summer. We witness the withering of plant life, the days get shorter and darkness seems to grow, and the warmth of summer wanes. As the seasons transition from the outer light and warmth of summer to the growing darkness and coldness of fall and the coming winter, we turn inwards, towards ourselves and towards our community for inner warmth. The experience of moving from summer to fall and winter is much different than the experience of moving from winter to spring and summer. The latter is an experience of increasing outwardness, while in the transition from summer to fall and winter we need inner courage to face the growing dark and cold. The ease and comfort of summer is fading away, and we must face the challenge and discomfort of the approach of winter. In the Michaelmas tradition, St. Michael, who is an image of courage and what is honorable in us, confronts and tames the dragon, which represents fear and that in us that is not so honorable. An essential part of life is learning to have the courage to step out of one’s comfort zone, to stretch one’s self to try new things, to overcome one’s own inner fears. As educators and parents, we have many opportunities to help our students to stretch themselves, to step out of their comfort zone, or to face their fears. Each time a child or young person does this, they develop strength and confidence. To quote Eleanor Roosevelt, “You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really look fear in the face…you must do the thing you think you cannot do.”
Currently, we celebrate Michaelmas at KWS with a pageant that all the grades participate in. Each class has its appointed role, complete with a fierce dragon, and a courageous St. Michael. Later in the day, students participate in community activities such as bread making and games. Some years we have a speaker for the older middle school and high school students who represent a contemporary version of courage or initiative.
As human beings we naturally live in a world of rhythm; the rhythm of our breathing and our heartbeat, the seasons that surround us, the continuous alternation of day and night, sleeping and waking, unconsciousness and consciousness. Rhythm is part of who we are. It is built into us and affects us physically, emotionally, and mentally. When we separate ourselves from it too dramatically we become ill (try holding your breath, or stopping your heartbeat, or not sleeping). Children are particularly sensitive to rhythm and the lack of it. By providing a rhythmical environment for children, we strengthen their physical, emotional, and mental constitutions. One of the many things that are unique and fascinating about Waldorf education is its conscious application of the principles of rhythm within the educational experience of the children, on a daily, weekly, and annual basis. At a time in human history when we have largely lost touch with the rhythmical nature of life, this aspect of Waldorf education can be of great benefit to children and their families.
Children today often lead highly structured lives with much of their time filled with activities that adults have planned for them. Outside of school they may be playing sports or are in enrichment classes of some sort or other. We also live in an age where we can easily find entertainment and distraction with screens and other electronic devices. While activity is good, there is also a benefit for children to have plenty of time for their own self-directed activities without outside influences or structure, and to also experience the challenge of boredom.
We often view boredom as a negative, but research is showing that boredom has its benefits. In his article The Bright Side of Boredom, Dr. Andreas Epidorou writes that boredom plays a role in helping us to find or set new goals: “Despite its impressive historical backing, the view that boredom is entirely negative should be rejected. Recent empirical work on boredom, taken in tandem with theoretical considerations about its nature and character, suggest a rather different picture of the state of boredom. In broad strokes, the picture is as follows: on account of its affective, volitional, and cognitive aspects, boredom motivates the pursuit of a new goal when the current goal ceases to be satisfactory, attractive, or meaningful to the agent. Boredom helps to restore the perception that one’s activities are meaningful or significant.” (1)
“In the classic story Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Alice chases a white rabbit down a well and then begins a long fall. While falling, Alice’s attention shifts frequently. Alice begins by considering what is beneath her (the outcome of her fall). Next, she notices the cupboards surrounding her, and even interacts with them. She then considers how she will relate this fall to other everyday falls, and eventually simulates the conversations she will have with the people she meets on the other side of the Earth. Alice does not remain afraid and focused on the outcome of her fall (what is beneath her)…Much like Alice becoming distracted from her fear of falling and shifting her attention towards the cupboards and her upcoming conversations; we propose that boredom will motivate the pursuit of new goals as the intensity of the current experience fades.” (2)
Furthermore, boredom can lead to creativity. (2) When one is bored, the mind starts to wander and in its wanderings may make new associations leading to new ideas of insights. Research has shown that the brain is quite active during states of boredom. (3)
In children, boredom can spur them to creative play, and when they get frustrated, to problem-solving. In her article, Boredomtunity: Why Boredom is the Best Thing for Our Kids, Dr. Alison Escalante recommends ways to support and encourage children to deal with boredom. These involve trusting that children can be creative, problem solvers and allowing them to deal with their own boredom without adult input, and leaving unstructured time in their daily schedules. (4)
Instead of viewing idle time and boredom for our children as something to be avoided, we can embrace its positive aspects and even encourage time in our children’s daily schedule for unstructured, self-directed activity, which may, hopefully, include some boredom!
The Board of Trustees of Kimberton Waldorf School is honored and delighted to introduce our new Dean of School, Dr. Brad Kershner. Please join us in welcoming Dean Kershner, his wife Simone, and their daughter Maitreya—who will be joining our sixth grade. The whole family is very excited to become a part of the KWS community.
The Board of Trustees, in collaboration with the faculty and staff, worked diligently for the past few months in our search for a new Dean of School. The Dean Search Committee, comprised of five board members and five members of the faculty and staff, made a recommendation to offer the position of Dean of School to Dr. Kershner. The Board of Trustees then unanimously agreed to select Dr. Kershner, and he accepted with pleasure. He will be joining us on July 1.
Brad obtained his bachelor’s degree in Philosophy from John Carroll University, his Multiple Subject Teaching Credential from San Francisco State University, his master’s degree in Philosophy of Religions from the University of Chicago, and finally his Ph.D. from Boston College in Education in 2018.
Brad is an experienced educator and school leader who has served as the Primary School Director at Conservatory Lab School, as the Principal of Codman Academy, and most recently as Head of Early School at Carolina Friends School. Brad is also an accomplished write and scholar, with numerous articles, book chapters, and conference papers, as well as his recently published book, Understanding Educational Complexity: Integrative Practices and Perspectives for 21st Century Leadership.
Brad is looking forward to joining our school community as a leader who can help to nurture and honor what he describes as the “sacred legacy” of Waldorf education. In his words, he is “excited to join a close-knit community that nurtures, challenges, and supports young people through relationships of care and commitment,” and those of us who met Brad and his family during their visit to our campus are equally excited that they are joining us.
You will be hearing more from Brad soon. He is eager to meet everyone at KWS as soon as possible. Until then, we hope you will share in our sense of joy and excitement that Brad and his family will be a part of our future at Kimberton Waldorf School!
One can often walk through the class room buildings at KWS and see projects that the students have done in relation to their academic studies. It might be projects related to the history of Ancient Rome in 6th grade, or models of human shelters from the 3rd grade, or painted portraits of historical figures for 9th grade contemporary history.
An invaluable value of the education at KWS is the opportunity that our students have to learn through a variety of activities that engage their creativity, design, and problem solving skills. Imagine how designing and building your own ship or aqueduct makes Roman history come alive, but also allows you to use all of yourself in the learning process: head, heart, and hands. A number of years ago the Philadelphia Inquirer published an article on the benefits of art in education (Closing in on Proof of Art’s Value to Kids, Philadelphia Inquirer. March 23, 2014.) The article was about a study being done by a psychology professor at West Chester University. Her research was on the effects of art on reducing stress levels in young children and involved measuring cortisol levels (a hormone associated with stress) in children in learning environments that are arts-based as opposed to those that are not. Her findings point to an association between art classes and reduced levels of cortisol in the children in the study.
In contrast, I am reminded of a friend of mine who had a child in a school that was putting the students through a battery of standardized tests. This friend shared with me how stressed her child was because of the testing. She commented that it wasn’t just the children who were stressed. Everyone seemed to be, teachers and students. More and more, children in school settings are expected to perform academically through high-stakes testing in younger and younger grades. Play is no longer a part of kindergarten programs in many schools. The arts and movement are secondary, and often cut from programs. Recess is reduced or eliminated. Students do not spend time in nature during their school day. Is it any wonder that children are stressed and anxiety is on the rise in children? According to the study noted stress impacts cortisol levels which in term impact learning: “Chronic elevations of cortisol impair cognitive and emotional functioning, as well as physical health. Cortisol is closely related to the hippocampus, the part of the brain involved in learning and memory, and scientists believe that higher cortisol interferes with both.”
Why are we doing this to children? In large part it has to do with educational systems that are no longer based on an understanding of healthy child and human development, but rather are driven by standards set by bureaucrats focused on test scores rather than healthy childhood development. Adam Winsler, a psychology professor at George Mason University who edits the Early Childhood Research Bulletin and is quoted in the Inquirer article says,“These days people are trying to do reading, science, and math a lot earlier, and a lot of developmentally inappropriate things are happening . . .the arts may prepare youngsters for math, reading, and science better than a pure math, science, and reading curriculum would.”
I believe that there are many invaluable values of Waldorf education and the education provided at KWS, including an education that is firmly rooted in an understanding of healthy child and human development, and an education that makes art and the using of one’s hands and imagination an integral part of the academic learning experience. A number of years ago a graduate of Kimberton and Brown University gave an evening presentation for our community on the business that he started in Kenya after he graduated from college. At the end of the talk he was asked by someone in the audience about his perspective on the value of his Waldorf education at KWS. He spoke about the importance of art in helping him develop creative capacities. Later, in a card he sent to me thanking me for introducing him at his presentation he said, “Remember, it’s all about the art.”
A few years ago I attended a symposium on small independent schools. There were a number of points from the symposium that are worth sharing. The panel of speakers at this symposium included the CEO of a local corporation and the director of admissions for Muhlenberg College.
The perspectives of the panel members and the keynote speaker on the needs for education in the future and what they are seeing in young people today were interesting. They noted that 38% of college students flunk or drop out. They said that when we educate to the test, we are essentially educating robots to be good at tests, but we don’t educate students for life. One of the things they focused on was the inability of young people to work with other people. They noted that the single biggest reason people get fired from their jobs is because they can’t get along with their colleagues.
They stressed the need for education that helps students develop self-awareness, the ability to be flexible and to work with others, and a sense for language. In order to be successful in our world students need to be able to frame and express ideas. They said that as employers they are looking for young people who are able to grow, learn, and develop. They observed that as a society we are educating young people to be paper pushers, but not craftsman or entrepreneurs. We are not educating students to make things. They see that the ability to make something as well as to administrate are skills critical to success in the world today.
A number of times they touched on how young people today have a sense of entitlement, equating effort with success (I worked hard on this, why is it not an “A”?). They expect to be promoted quickly in their jobs. A disconnect exists between where they are and what they have to do to get to where they want to be. They are not equipped to deal with failure. The speakers felt this was caused in part by well meaning parents who limit their children’s autonomy and attempt to clear the way for their children so that they are always successful and never experience set backs or failure. They spoke of how parents today will even intervene in their children’s education at the college or university level, complaining to professors or administrators about grades their children are given.
Of course, my reaction to much of what they were saying was, “I wish they knew about Waldorf Education!” Education for life is central to the Waldorf pedagogical philosophy. Waldorf education is an education that provides students with the opportunities on a daily basis to develop the capacities of self-awareness, the ability to collaborate with others, an intrinsic love of learning that is not grade or test score driven, skill with written and spoken expression, and the experience and satisfaction of making something with one’s hands. It is also an education that focuses on the development of the will, or the ability to apply oneself and follow through on projects. This is accomplished through a project-based approach to academics where students often work on projects related to the topic and make their own books as a record of what they have learned, and a fine and practical arts program and gardening program where students experience first hand the necessity of perseverance, practice, and follow-through.
There has been an increasing amount of information on the health benefits of spending time in nature. These benefits include improvement of emotional and physical health, and benefits for learning for children. Now, a new study in JAMA Ophthalmology and reported by the New York Times points to the benefits of being in nature on healthy development of the eye and eyesight in children, and the negative impact of not enough time spent outdoors in natural sunlight.
The Times article notes that there has been a significant increase in myopia in children since the 1970s, and the research reported in the JAMA study points to behavioral changes in children and lack one time spent outdoors in natural light as a factor.
“The growing incidence of myopia is related to changes in children’s behavior, especially how little time they spend outdoors, often staring at screens indoors instead of enjoying activities illuminated by daylight.” (1)
The article does say that genes and family heredity play a role in myopia, however the rapid increase in myopia is likely not just genetic: “Given that genes don’t change that quickly, environmental factors, especially children’s decreased exposure to outdoor light, are the likely cause of this rise in myopia, experts believe. Consider, for example, factors that keep modern children indoors: an emphasis on academic studies and their accompanying homework, the irresistible attraction of electronic devices and safety concerns that demand adult supervision during outdoor play. All of these things drastically limit the time youngsters now spend outside in daylight, to the likely detriment of the clarity of their distance vision.” (1)
While this study points to the lack of sunlight as the main cause of myopia in children, there have also been studies that indicate a correlation between myopia and sustained near-work activity: “Both genetics and environmental factors play a role in the development and progression of myopia. Near-work is activity performed at a short working distance, such as reading and use of electronic devices. Near-work activity is one of the environmental factors that has been considered to be a potential cause of myopia.However, other studies do not support this claim.” (2)
This recent research on the importance of sunlight on the development of the eye and eyesight is another example in a growing list of evidence supporting the benefits of spending time outdoors in nature. Since children spend a significant amount of their time during daylight hours at school, it makes sense that school programs that incorporate time outdoors in nature will support the healthy development of their students. Additionally, school programs that provide a balance of near-work activity with activities that allow for my distance and varied focusing will also support healthy eye development.
What is happening in your mind’s eye when you hear a story? More than likely, you make pictures of what is being told to you. And the pictures that you create are your own, unique pictures. If you are in the company of other people when you hear a story each of you is making your own pictures. If you could compare the inner pictures that you all created there would be similarities, but there would also be differences, as each of you are involved in an inner generative process. The activity is taking place inside of you, in your mind. Now in contrast, if you were to see a movie or a video of the same story there would be no need for an inner generative picture making process in your mind. The picture would be given to you from outside. Nothing of an inner generative activity would have been necessary. The information would be coming from outside into you, and you would simply remember it, or not.
Some years ago a boy enrolled in our high school. After his first biology course here at Kimberton, in which he studied marine zoology on the coast of Maine studying marine organisms in tide pools and along the beach, his mother, who was a biologist by profession wrote to us and said that in his previous high school his experience of biology had been memorizing power point presentations, in order to prepare him for tests, and she was so happy that at Kimberton he was practicing science and not just memorizing information.
One approach to education is an information based education, and it assumes that students of any age are information processors. The primary method of learning is rote memorization of information or concepts. I call this the movie approach to education. Everyone gets the same information and an inner generative process is not necessary. “The success or failure of this form of education is measured by the student’s ability to give information back on high stakes tests, that do not assess depth of understanding, meaningful application of knowledge, or original thinking.” (Olfman. 2003) It has become the dominant educational model in the United States over the past 30 years through such programs as No Child Left Behind.
The movie version of education, the information centered approach to education is based on a “model of the human mind as a kind of computer, and a view of students as information processors. However, in sharp contrast to a computer, a developing young person possesses a Self which imbues that young person with the desire to give his or her life meaning, purpose, and a moral compass. Children and young people are naturally motivated to learn by the desire to be a part of their community and the natural order, but at the same time to express their individuality and to place their own personal stamp on the world. A young person’s thinking is infused with emotion, sensory and bodily experience, artistry, imagination, and an inner life. It is through this uniquely human prism that a young person processes information; a far cry from a computer. When mere information is what we seek to instill or elicit from students, real psychological growth”, and the development of the whole human being is impaired. (Olfman)
There is another approach to education that we practice in Waldorf schools, that I would call an inner, generative approach, where students are guided to discover concepts rather than being fed concepts. I once walked into our chemistry lab before school started and I found our chemistry teacher and a visiting science teacher from another Waldorf school preparing a demonstration for a 9th grade chemistry class. They were carefully arranging a flame from a bunsen burner so that the students could observe them placing an unlit wooden match into the flame in such a way that the match would be in the flame, but would not ignite. There was a concept that the teachers wanted the students to learn that has to do with various zones within a flame and the ability for combustion to happen within those zones. Now, if their educational goal had been to simply give the students the already formed concept that there is a zone in a flame that does not have enough oxygen for combustion to take place, if their goal was to simply give the students that information, to be tested on, there would be no need for the demonstration. The students could just look that information up on a computer. But, if their goal is to educate in such a way that students have the opportunity to train their inner generative powers of thinking then that demonstration is key, because it is the first step in the process of providing a situation for the students to move from experience to concept; to discover the concept for themselves rather than being given a pre-formed concept. It begins with an experience, with perception, and through questioning and discussion the students discover the concept.
If we simply give the students the concept we rob them of the opportunity to practice the thinking that leads to the concept; we rob them of the opportunity to develop the capacity for independent, self-driven thought. This is a serious concern in the world of education today, especially higher education. College and university professors have complained in recent years that young people today can’t think for themselves, they just want to know what is going to be on the test.
In the Waldorf high school we practice the thinking of various disciplines: the thinking of the scientist, the thinking of the historian, the thinking of the mathematician, the thinking of the writer or the philosopher. Our approach is to give students the opportunity to develop their own thinking capacities through experiences, discussions, questions, projects, essays and other written assignments and artistic presentations. I have given you an example in the sciences. In English or Humanities our students will explore through readings, discussions, projects and essays the nature of truth, or evil, or what it means to be a human being. Our teachers don’t give them the answers to those topics. They lead them through a process of discovery. In History our students might interview someone who lived during a particular period of our nation’s history for example, research primary and secondary sources, and write essays to support conclusions they have reached about historical events. Our focus is not teaching students to get the one right answer on a test, but to test their own inner developing capacity of thought. That’s not to say that we don’t ever give our students tests. We do. But for us, tests are not the be-all-and-end-all of how we assess our students. We provide our students with many avenues for demonstrating what they have learned such as essays, projects, and artistic presentations.
Our goal in the Waldorf school is to provide for our students an education that guides them to be caring, ethical human beings who can consciously engage their inner generative capacities of thought and creativity, and it starts with stories. In our pre-school and our early grades much of the curriculum is built around stories that enrich our student’s imaginations and engage the inner generative process of picture making that will later develop into an inner generative process of thinking as the students get older. At each age our students have many opportunities to exercise their own inner generative capacities in a developmentally appropriate manner.
Olfman, Sharna (2003) All Work and No Play
One of the unique aspects of Waldorf Education is that teachers stay with classes or groups of children over a period of years. The benefit of this model is that it provides stability and a sense of security for students. In Grades 1-8 the class teacher will typically stay with his or her class for all or most of those eight years. In some school systems, middle school students are separated from the rest of the student population. Middle school can be a very challenging developmental period for young people and some studies are showing that students in the middle school grades benefit from being in a safe a familiar environment. Read more here from the Association of Waldorf Schools in North America:
In recent years there has been a push to introduce academics into Kindergarten and pre-Kindergarten. This is a trend that has alarmed developmental psychologists and educators because it is not grounded in an understanding of child development and how children learn. The young child, before the age of six, learns by doing and by imitation. They are not developmentally ready for didactic instruction and using their memory for abstract learning. Calling on these faculties before they are ready to be called upon can be damaging to children’s development and blunt their natural love of learning if they are forced into abstract learning at too young an age. Before the age of six children should be exercising and preparing their capacities through imaginative play, socialization, and imitation. Through play, children learn to interact with their peers and to engage in developmentally appropriate problem solving. The songs and games of the early childhood classroom lay the groundwork for the development of reading and writing in the grades. Through imitation of activities that are necessary in the life of the classroom such as baking bread for snack time, or raking leaves in the play yard children learn skills without the need for didactic, abstract instruction. Young children take joy in all of these activities. Read more about the importance of developmentally appropriate early childhood education from the Association of Waldorf Schools in North America:
We learn through making mistakes, missteps and failures. A supportive educational environment provides a safe place for students to make mistakes and learn from them. For example, all of our students participate in fine arts and courses that we call practical arts such as woodworking or handwork (where students learn to knit and sew amongst other skills). In all artistic endeavors, students are faced with artistic or technical problems or challenges that they need to overcome. Often the process of completing a project in any of these disciplines will involved mistakes that result in a new problem or challenge that the student will have to address. This is the nature of working with visual or practical arts and it exercises the students ability to try, make mistakes, adjust, and move on. In academic work, our teachers strive to create an environment and culture in the classroom where students can make mistakes as part of normal learning process, instead of feeling shame. One of our parents remarked that when they visited one of our classrooms as a prospective parent they observed a math class and students were asked to share their answers to a problem and he was impressed with how many students eagerly offered to share their answers—there was no sense of fear about potentially being wrong. We also don’t give letter grades until high school. We believe that this helps to foster a love of learning for learning’s sake in our students and helps them to learn to see making mistakes not as an end but as part of a process of learning. Read more about the value of making mistakes in learning from the Association of Waldorf Schools in North America:
Kimberton Waldorf School is blessed with a beautiful organic school garden, and to be surrounded by an organic and biodynamic dairy farm and CSA. Through direct experience and courses and through the environment of stewardship that is created by these activities that surround and imbue our school our students develop a deep appreciation for the earth and what it takes to grow good, healthful food. Our youngest children often take walks to the school garden or to the farm to see the work that is being done there. In 3rd grade our students study farming and have a “farm week” when they spend an overnight and get up early to help the farmers milk the cows. In 3rd grade our students also being having gardening classes which will continue into high school. They learn how to plant and harvest vegetables, to prune fruit trees, and to preserve foods. They will even eat some of the fruits of their labors in our organic hot lunch program which we call Food For Thought. Apples from our apple trees are made into applesauce. Vegetables go into our salads or soups. Why is this important for students? We believe that it is important for young people to understand what is involved in growing healthful food and to understand what stewardship for the earth means. In the future, they will be the people making decisions about food stewardship and food production and those decision need to be grounded in experience. In addition, the students are have an enriching experience in nature which has many benefits for their own health and development. Read more here about the benefits of farming in education from the Association of Waldorf Schools in North America:
The benefits for children’s learning and development from spending time outdoors has been well researched over recent years. At KWS, helping our students to develop an appreciation for the natural world has always been one of our key values, and outdoor education has been a long standing component of our curriculum and program. Children in our Early Childhood program spend a good part of their day outdoors engaged in creative play and exploration of nature. In grades 1-8 our students are able to have experiential nature study by spending time in our woods and along our creeks, learning how to grow good healthful food in our organic school garden and learning about farming on our organic dairy farm. They also have two outdoor recess periods per day on our green campus. When it snows, they get to sled on “Shouting Hill” which is adjacent to one of our outdoor recess areas. Many of our grades classes start taking camping trips and will often take a weeklong trip with one of the outdoor education guiding companies that we partner with. In high school the experiential study of the life sciences are often supplemented with trips to locations like Hermit Island on the coast of Maine to study marine biology, or backpacking on trails in the Appalachians in connection with geology. In addition to the health giving benefits of being in nature, these experiences help our students develop a love and appreciation for the natural world and foster a sense of stewardship. Read more here about the importance of outdoor education from the Association of Waldorf Schools in North America:
Our students at KWS have the benefit of learning a foreign language. We start teaching languages in 1st grade and our students in grades 1-6 learn two languages: Spanish and German. I grade 7 our students choose one of those languages to focus on through grade 12. We offer an international exchange program in high school were our students can study for a semester at a Waldorf school in a German or Spanish speaking country. Language study helps our students become more flexible in their thinking and it exposes them to other cultures, helping them to feel that they are a global citizen. Read more here about the importance of learning a second language from the Association of Waldorf Schools in North America:
Adolescents are in a special and unique place in their development. They are leaving childhood and on the verge on entering adulthood when they will engage with the world. With the burgeoning of critical and analytical thinking in high school and powerful emotions adolescents have strong ideals and need to feel that they can have an impact. In recent years social justice has become an important part of our national conversation and educators across the spectrum are looking at incorporating social justice in their school curriculum, and our high school teachers at Kimberton are doing the same through service projects, courses, and special events. Read more here about high school students and social advocacy from the Association of Waldorf Schools in North America:
Community Service is an important aspect of the education at KWS. We think it is important for our students to have experiences to give back to their local community and to learn the value of volunteering. Our older middle school students and high school students have a variety of opportunities for community service, including practicum weeks in high school, required community service hours in high school, and a day of service in honor of Martin Luther King Day. Read here to learn more about the value of community service for students from the Association of Waldorf Schools in North America:
An important feature of the education at Kimberton Waldorf School is our emphasis on experiential education. Experiential education has become a bit of a buzzword in the educational world, but at KWS we really live it. Our approach to academic subjects is to start with experience and then through discussion and questions, to help the students discover concepts. We teach them to think like a scientist, an historian, a mathematician. We also have built into our curriculum an incredibly rich experiential program that includes many hands on courses such as handwork, woodwork, metalwork, and gardening. In the our high school our students have practicum courses each year that get them outside of school and learning in the community around us. Our high schoolers also take week long class trips each year that are connected to particular academic subjects in the sciences and humanities. Read more here about experiential education in Waldorf schools from the Association of Waldorf Schools in North America:
Students at Kimberton Waldorf School are fortunate to experience and education that fosters their creativity through artistic coursework but also through an approach to academics that focuses on providing experiences and discussions for students so that they can discover concepts rather than being spoon-fed concepts. Both of these elements of Waldorf Education help our students to be independent thinkers and exercises their creative capacities. In a survey of CEOs of top US Corporations, creativity was considered the number one capacity needed for future leaders. Read more here about creativity and divergent thinking in education from the Association of Waldorf Schools in North America:
Kimberton Waldorf School is committed to promoting Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in our curriculum and our school. The Board of Trustees and our Governing Team have supported a Diversity Committee and our teachers have been working to address systemic racism in our curriculum. In on-going conversation in our faculty meetings and in our inservice meetings our faculty and staff have been discussing ways to incorporate more diversity and inclusion in our curriculum and teaching practices. Some of our faculty and staff have attended workshops and courses and have been sharing the fruits of what they learned. We are incorporating more diversity in our library collection. We have also formed reading groups on recent publications about strengthening anti-racism. This is ongoing, challenging, and important work for all schools including KWS. Read more here about DEI in Waldorf schools from the Association of Waldorf Schools in North America: