Noreen Starting SchoolI have a dream!

It’s a dream that would change the way 50 million students in our country learn. Yes, I like to dream big.

It all starts in a small town in East Germany, where my sister and I went to school. (Yes, that is me and my traditional German school cone when I entered first grade.)

We spent 75% of our days in classrooms reading textbooks, writing in notebooks and more or less listening to the teacher. We had tests, though multiple choice questions didn’t exist. (I was rather confused by that concept when I moved to the US.) There were no standardized tests either.

Once a week, we worked in the school garden for 2 hours, learning how to safely handle garden tools, how to sow seeds, weed and harvest. In Elementary school we learned to sew and knit. In middle school, we were introduced to woodworking and metal working. And in high school we spent one week each year doing a practicum to gain real life experiences.

Field trips took us to farms, factories, theatres, and into the woods where we learned about local wild animals and mushrooms. Picture a class of 20 students combing through the woods picking mushrooms. At the end of the morning, our local mycologist looked through everyone’s basket and explained the difference between edible and poisonous mushrooms. We all went home with a basket full of delicious wild mushrooms. Our moms were thrilled.

School was a beautiful balance of formal learning and hands-on experiences. And it still is.

Let’s compare…

In the US, we have public schools. They vary in quality depending on where you live. We happen to live in a very good school district. But all public schools are pretty much the same when it comes to how they teach and test students.

We also have lots of private schools. Catholic Schools. Friends Schools. Waldorf Schools. And many more. They range from having a strong focus on academics to a very hands-on approach.

Having attended a public school myself, I always assumed my children would attend public schools as well. Yes, the private school have better art programs, beautiful campuses, smaller class sizes, etc. But I believed public schools would do a fine job of educating my children.

After careful consideration of all the options, we signed up our daughter for kindergarten at our local elementary school. All was good…UNTIL…

I visited a Waldorf School.

I had a general idea of what Waldorf Schools were all about. I knew they took a very hands-on and natural approach to teaching.

What I didn’t realize was the extent of it and how it all beautifully flowed together. As I walked in and out of classrooms and across the campus, I was reminded again and again about my own school experience. I kept telling myself ‘Hey, I did that in school.’

garden

The garden. The wood shop. The knitting. The natural playground void of any modern playground equipment. The fact that a teacher stays with the same children for 8 years. (In Germany, we had the same teacher all through elementary school.) So much was so familiar.

Child feeding animalsDuring this visit, I also learned a lot about the curriculum. There is no rush to teach. Learning takes place at the children’s natural pace. Learning is a journey full of rich experiences that nurture the whole body.

It’s not about drilling in facts that are forgotten again during summer break.

“Instead of simply ingesting information from a textbook or computer, our students make their own textbooks as a record of what they have learned. The books include student compositions on the material covered, and artwork to illustrate the subject matter,” says Kevin Hughes, Dean of School at the Kimberton Waldorf School.

 

What now?

Driving back home that day, I couldn’t stop thinking about how much I would love for my children to attend a Waldorf School. BUT there was one problem.

No, tuition wasn’t the game stopper. We could figure that one out if we had to.

The problem was the distance from our house. I simply could not imagine my daughter spending 3 hours on a bus every day.

So, our daughter entered the public kindergarten in the fall of 2014.

She enjoys school. She is doing well. She has the most wonderful teacher.

I, on the other hand, wasn’t doing so well. I couldn’t believe the flood of information that was being taught. The entire alphabet was covered in one month. Recognition, writing and sounds. “Most kids learn their ABC’s in preschool these days. We just review it,” I was told. Then it was on to reading and math. And then there are tests and homework.

Looking through the worksheets that come home every day, I don’t see the flow that allows children to connect the dots. The flow that I experienced in school and that I saw at the Waldorf School. There is no beauty. No magic.

Her teacher assured us that she is making learning as much fun as possible for the students. And I know she tries very hard. But does an iPad app that aims to teach the children sight words while dancing really suffice? Does it encourage a deep love for learning?

Do test scores portray an accurate image of what children are learning? Do they reflect if children enjoy learning?

The amount of testing and rigorous pace of today’s curriculum in public schools has me worried.

Let’s dream…

What if public schools would take just one ounce of the Waldorf approach and infuse into their curriculum?

Going to school and learning should be fun. Digging into a subject and coming out of it smarter should feel very satisfying. Yes, getting an A feels good but remembering what we learned and then being able to apply that learning means so much more.

I remember studying for a biology test in middle school. It was about cells. We had drawn plant cells in class while looking at them under the microscope. My notebook was full of detailed drawings with notes around them. When it was time for the test, I vividly remember bringing up the images in my head and retrieving all the information I needed to answer the questions. I had a clear picture of everything.

Watching my daughter learn, I wonder if she has enough time to connect the dots and create images of what she is learning in her head. Or is she simply trying to store a stream of information?

Is it possible to slow down the pace in public schools ( and our own lives) and actually increase learning? Anything is possible. And it starts with us, the parents.

Let’s do it together…in 3 simple steps.

Step 1 – Give yourself permission to be different.

I didn’t teach my daughter any letters before she entered kindergarten. She didn’t know how to write her name. I knew she would pick it up quickly when she was ready. And sure enough, she learned the entire alphabet within a month. And no, I don’t think she is especially smart. She was simply ready.

Just because other parents are providing their children with educational apps, doesn’t mean it’s right.

Just because all of your child’s friends can write their names at age 4, doesn’t mean they are smarter.

Step 2 – Explore the possibilities.

Visit a Waldorf school. Experience first hand how children learn with this very different approach and hear about the amazing results.

If you don’t have a Waldorf school in your area, spend some time reading about them online. Check out this short documentary that beautifully illustrates what Waldorf Education is all about. And this New York Times article about a Waldorf School in Silicon Valley is a good read.

Step 3 – Step into action.

What I want you to take away from this experience in only one small thing.

One mindset. One activity. One idea to bring to your child’s playroom. One idea to suggest to your child’s teacher.

Start talking about it. Start living it.

And ounce by ounce we CAN create a change.

 

kws_sign1Now, for all my readers in lovely Chester County, I have a special giveaway.

Kimberton Waldorf School has offered One Week of Summer Camp to one lucky reader.

This is your chance to experience what Waldorf education is all about first-hand.

How to enter? In the comments below, share your thoughts:

What intrigues you about Waldorf Schools? Which aspect of their approach do you think our children need the most?

A winner will be selected at random. You have until March 8th to enter.

Share this post with friends and on Facebook and increase your chances of winning. Let me know you shared in the comments (I trust you and take your word for it) and you will receive an extra entry.

UPDATE: I have chosen a winner using a random number generator and Lindsay, comment #3 is our winner. Congratulations!!!

Photo Credit: Kimberton Waldorf School

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