Thursday, October 7, 2010

Why Charlottesville Waldorf School

I have just got to get the word out about our local Waldorf school. We have had a great experience in the last three years with this school and are thrilled to begin 1st grade ("the grades") this year. I want to share our very positive experience while addressing some of the mythology surrounding this school. I hope more parents that think it *might* be a good choice for their child will go the added distance to visit and then hopefully enroll.

A couple of disclosures: I know my experience is unique to me and my children. I do not speak for the administration, the board, or the college of teachers at our school. I'd love to hear your feedback/comments.

On with my testimonial....

1. The Waldorf approach to literacy fits my style of parenting very well. Here is a FAQ page that addresses why Waldorf schools wait to introduce reading until first grade. But quickly...of course Waldorf schools "believe in reading". They believe in it so much that they do not want to risk making children anything but thrilled to learn to read. Teachers instill a child's love of language and narrative with countless stories told and enacted (love watching the kids-as-animals pull up that turnip!) in the Kindergarten classroom. They make sure a child is developmentally ready to read. This allows a child who is not quite showing signs of readiness the time to grow and read in her own time. I have not experienced any teacher telling me I should not have books in my home or not read to my child. Our Kindergarten teacher welcomed me at pickup one afternoon to tell me how my son had read some words recently on street signs during a walk last year. We were so excited to see how it was all falling into place. He never felt pressure to read, it just came. Please read Raising Readers if you would like a non-Waldorf approach to this style of literacy education. (Reading this book way before I scouted out a preschools was a great gift, thank you my dear brother for sending it my way!)

2. I love how children play with toys in a Waldorf Kindergarten. [Side Note: "Kindergarten" here is what most people might think of as "preschool". It is officially Kindergarten but a child can be in the same K classroom for 3 years--almost-4 year olds through just-turned-6 year olds are all together. The teachers (amazingly) alter the curriculum to each child's development so it isn't the same thing for 3 years, don't worry about that at all!] Toys are mixed up and used creatively and then put away at the end of the play session. It is true that it can look chaotic and be a bit wild for an indoor space, especially if you are used to children playing with one toy at a time. But it is all fine. It is under control. Blocks can mix with the kitchen area and the doll house can have the logging truck visit with some dolls. The children know where everything lives at pick-up time and it works. I think this style of play has led some parents to think that Waldorf has fewer "rules." Waldorf has plenty of rules, they are in the form of high expectations and a very structured rhythm to the day. "Manners" also come to mind when parents worry about "rules" and the children are most certainly expected to treat each other and the rest of the school community with kindness and respect--with all the social phrases used in any other setting. Don't worry, your child will not be allowed to "get away with" anything at a Waldorf school.

3. I believe Waldorf teachers have high but attainable expectations for my children without asking them to grow up too fast. Children in the Kindergarten (again, ages 4-6) are definitely not expected to sit quietly for very long. But when they do sit quietly, the teachers patiently instruct the children to do so. I have witnessed great calm follow-through with children challenging their teachers' rules. In the grade school the expectations for study are certainly high. While reading is expected of children a year or two later than in traditional American schools, mathematics is ahead of the public school curriculum...along with foreign language, music and history. The 2-hour main lesson in the grade school is a big deal, but I understand it to be developmentally appropriate--plenty of movement in the younger grades and lots of time to focus for the older children. I can write about that in a year or two. What really spoke to me was the June 1st cutoff for all children, not just boys. In Raising Cain, the authors describe behavior for young children and how many discipline issues that schools face could be resolved if (correct me if I'm wrong) 2nd grade boys were in classes with Kindergarten girls. At Waldorf, even high energy girls are considered normal and given the extra time to enjoy their Kindergarten years.

4. I appreciate the support to limit my child's media time. At the same time, I do not feel judged that we do let our children watch movies and use computers. It is true that we have had Kim John Payne come to speak and he is very inspirational. It is true that, on our school application, you are asked for how much media time your child is used to in a week. That said, every person I have met at our school is totally in touch with the real world and knows that life is about balance and trade-offs. Some families are more strict in this area than others. But really folks, that goes for the differences between families attending just about any Charlottesville-area school. I have non-Waldorf friends who have no tv and we have Waldorf families whose life is based in the film industry. My husband is a software developer. Our lifestyle is technology driven. We loved movies growing up and still do. There is no "they" that I have met (yet?) to tell me how I have to parent my child in order to be a part of this community. There is no Big Brother, there are no surprise visits to see if you child is glued to video games. The point is that you are aware of the use of media in your home and how it affects your child and the school. If you child has a cartoon hero, it is likely many of his friends at school will not know who this character is. Then again, it is also likely many of his friends will.

5. We have all read the Gandhi quote, "Be the change you want to see in the world". I hope to see children (and adults) thinking outside the box more. I didn't see the shades of grey in life until adulthood (thankfully, young adulthood). I am now very conscious of my default, multiple-choice mentality when it comes to complex decisions. Now I often choose "none of the above" when I used to want, yes! to prefer! the safe, road-more-traveled choice already presented before me. How many people are stuck in this mindset for a lifetime? I hope to see young adults not worried so much about how to get in the best schools to get the best jobs to make the most money as much as they can make an effort on being active in their communities. They will still go to school and get jobs of course, but the focus would be about adding and sharing...not taking and comparing.

I worry that we adults don't know what providing our children "a good education" really means anymore. Diane Ravitch addresses this in The Death and Life of the Great American School System. The way our children are "educated" these days is being confused with how well we teach them to take tests. I just finished Ravitch's book and realized that I didn't think much about the word "curriculum" until now. Or I had misunderstood the word. Now I think about it all the time. What do we really believe is the needed education to prepare young adults for the modern adult world? A world we adults don't even know how to predict very well it seems. We adults are winging it ourselves, this isn't what our teachers/parents made adulthood look like 20 years ago! Teaching our youth to embrace change and to think creatively will be more important than ever. One book to mention in this vein: A Whole New Mind. How are you nurturing your own right brain? Your child's? ....but that is another post.

I sat on this post for the summer. I felt like I had so much more to add/edit and I just needed more time! But, as I remind myself about blogging, it is ok to just add more later--in another blog. I will try to do that. And just maaaybeeee not have a year between entries. Wish me luck there.

More than ever do I hope people come visit our school this fall. We have new buildings opening soon and they are gorgeous. I'd love for you to witness the fall energy of the kids...they are loving school, the games, the art... Maybe this is a mom-of-a-first-grader talking but it sure is exciting to be a part of the Charlottesville Waldorf community right now.

I just returned from a CWS committee meeting where I sat in the 7th grade classroom. I am inspired. I had trailed off above with thoughts towards the need for quality curricula in our schools. Well, the 7th grade classroom is just a gorgeous display of the possibilities a quality curriculum could include. The chalkboards were just covered with amazing things. There were the students' sketches of a single hand (his/her own?) hung individually on the lower left board. There were two huge Chinese characters on a separate board above the hands and then also, many smaller characters on the main board in the upper right corner. Then over there to the very right... "The Raven" and other poetry homework, and some German homework assignments. Then math problems on the main board, right in the middle of it all. It is only the first week of October and what a span of topic matter must be swirling in these kids's heads. If you do get a chance to go to an Observation morning soon, don't miss the mosaics that these 7th graders did that are currently hanging above the chalkboard. Wow.