Monday, June 7, 2010

A Waldorf Education

"Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire."
-William Butler Yeats

This past week we joyously enrolled our children in the local Waldorf school for the coming school year. It has been an arduous path, wrought with twists and turns, and we are so very happy to have arrived where we set out to be, and at the beginning of a new journey.

My discovery of Waldorf education has it's roots way back in my own public school education. As far as the public education system goes, I consider myself one dissatisfied customer. I learned, I advanced, I did really well academically, but it many ways it was just plain awful. I still feel surly just thinking about it.  And this was all before "No child left behind" came into play. In my humble opinion, our education system is not getting the support it needs, and it shows. While I was pregnant, my husband and I agreed that our children would not go to public school. We talked about homeschooling, but as they got to be preschoolers, I realized it wasn't going to be a good fit for us. Our various preschool experiences ranged from really bad to just frustrating. For a while the kids attended a Montessori preschool that we really liked, but it worked out well for my daughter and not my son, and we only lived there long enough for her to go a few months. Then, one day, we attended the Winter Light Faire at our local Waldorf school. I felt like I had stepped into a magical kingdom of childhood. Every where I looked, beauty and inspiration were plentiful. Even the walls were painted in soft, cloud-like hues. Amazing art hung on the walls outside the classrooms. There was great intention behind everything, and great love that shone. I knew, right then, with certainty that this was where I wanted my children to learn. But how? We were a young family with one income, and this was private school. It seemed impossible, and I shelved the dream away.

After this, life took some complicated routes. My son was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder by the school district, and we decided to send the kids to a neighborhood public Kindergarten where he could receive some services we were unable to attain for him privately. They really worked through a lot with him, and helped him tremendously, but I was always feeling disappointed in the greater institution and the education they had to offer. It never really felt like the right place for our family.  Then, Winter Light Faire came around again. We dipped fragrant beeswax candles in a warm room, we walked quietly through the hushed, sparkling realm of the crystal cookie cave, we listened to music played by the skillful hands of the students and alumni, we watched incredible puppet shows with storytelling, drank in the laughter, smiles and sense of community all around us, and we felt deeply nourished. We knew that this was an education delivered with reverence. We decided to  make a leap of faith and apply. One parent I met initially, now a dear friend, told me that as a single mother, she didn't really know how it always worked out to pay the tuition to send her children there, but somehow it always did. She said it took a lot of faith. 

The rest of the story is the complicated, winding turns of our journey. That first year, our daughter got in to the school, but not our son. They said his needs were too great for them to serve. We made a really difficult decision at that point, and split our twins up, placing one in the Waldorf school, and one in the Waldorf-inspired public charter school. Both children ended up with amazing teachers and really thrived where they were at. Our family folded into the Waldorf school community and felt at home. The strong rhythm of the school day carried over into our home. Nature and the seasons took on an even more prominent focus in our life with these rhythms. Our children learned form drawing, handwork skills, pentatonic flute, storytelling, theater arts, artistic movement and a deeper appreciation of beauty. At the same time, everyone worked hard to help our son. A social skills specialist worked with him one on one at school. His teacher and class taught him how to be in a group and community. We kept him on the recommended gluten-free and dairy-free diet, and took him out in nature whenever we could, which was ultimately the best thing for him. As the year progressed, he grew and changed, and his challenges lessened.  However, there were greater life challenges brewing for our family. As their first grade year drew to a close, I was stretched thin from running them around to two schools, my twins were not as close anymore, the economy was in the pits, my husband was laid off from work, and we regretfully left the Waldorf school to have both children in the public charter school.

It was just not the same. It was wonderful in many ways, and they both had the wonderful teacher our son had in first grade, but we missed the Waldorf school. Our daughter missed her teacher (in Waldorf they keep the same teacher through eighth grade), we missed the community, and we just had this feeling that the Waldorf school was where our family was supposed to be, but we weren't there. So, we decided to take a huge leap of faith and apply again. This time, both children got in! And, with the help of  tuition assistance and scholarship programs, sending them there would be possible!

And this is where we are now. My dreams for my children are coming true with a lot of work and persistence, and some leaps of faith. We are all excited for the coming school year, and the years to come. My kids are excited to continue their educational journey together.  I'm not kidding myself, making private education happen for the next six years is going to be hard. It's going to take some sacrifices and some doing without. But, we're good at living simply, and I know with certainty that it will be worth it. So you see, it is very important to follow the path of your dreams when it beckons. Even when it seems too challenging, or altogether impossible, working and hoping towards your dreams is not in vain.

"Leaps of faith put us in astounding new places."  -SARK


  1. Wow, what a beautiful post. I can feel your heart coming through so strongly.
    I am so happy for your family. Good job following your dreams, you're making magic happen! What a blessing for River & Rosemary to go to the Waldorf school together next year.
    BIG smile on my face! :)

  2. Oh Katherine, What a beautiful tale you have told of your dreams for your children,you have made it possible by believing in your dreams. Love and light Marie

  3. Beautifully said. We've sacrificed a lot to be at Waldorf but having seen first hand the class and teacher bond from one year to the next makes it all worth while. The charter school has the right idea but can never provide the nurturing and love that comes with having the same teacher every year. The teacher has time to build a working relationship with each child and specialize in their unique learning style, enabling them to work cohesively through the full 8 years together.

    Welcome back my friend.