City of Lakes Waldorf School: Educating the Whole Child

The following remarks are excerpted from an introduction our Administrative Director, Marti Stewart, recently gave to Grandparents and Special Friends of our students, welcoming them to our school and to Waldorf Education.

Welcome to Grandparents and Special Friends Day at City of Lakes Waldorf School. My name is Marti Stewart and I serve as the Administrative Director of our school. We are so delighted that you have weathered the cold and joined us for this special day.

Before we welcome the students, I want to share a few thoughts with you about Waldorf education and City of Lakes Waldorf School.

City of Lakes Waldorf School is 29 years old and has been located here in this building in the Whittier neighborhood since the turn of the century! Our historic building was built in 1923 by the architectural firm that designed the Foshay Tower: Magney and Tusler for the Hardware Mutual Insurance Company. We purchased the building in 1999, and we moved in in February of 2000.  Our play yard occupies the former site of an old Dayton’s Family mansion.

Today we are implementing a strategic plan that includes execution on a master plan for our building and property. We are working with teachers and architects to expand and redesign our outdoor play space, and also to remodel the garden level of our building for new early childhood classrooms. We are also planning to open a Toddler program in 2018 at our Loring Park Campus housed in the educational wing of St. Mark’s Cathedral across from the Walker Art Center. We ended last year with record enrollment and have a number of classrooms at full capacity. This is an exciting time of growth and development for our school.

Next year, we will celebrate our 30th anniversary and 100 years of Waldorf education. We are an independent and self-governed Waldorf school, and a full and accredited member of the Association of Waldorf Schools of North America that represents over 200 Waldorf schools throughout Canada, the United States and Mexico. Today you have an opportunity to learn about this unique educational model, developed by a man named Rudolf Steiner following the first World War. Steiner, who was a philosopher, scientist, social reformer, architect and teacher was concerned then – as we are today – about the state of the world. He observed a society in chaos – divided by politics, borders and beliefs – and an educational system that was focused on the development of human beings to become cogs in the machine; to meet the practical needs of a rapidly changing industrial world, and to fulfill the needs of commerce and the state. Steiner viewed this educational system to be lacking in humanity – to be absent of the qualities that could develop whole human beings who could become masters of their own destiny and live lives full of meaning, fulfillment and purpose.

Steiner envisioned an educational model that was designed to create free human beings; human beings who out of their own initiative could bring their gifts to the world. Individuals who would have the capacity for discernment for the truth and original research and thinking, as well as a passionate and compassionate interest in the world. He designed a developmental curriculum and a pedagogical approach that would awaken the innate capacities of each child.

In Waldorf schools, we talk about the Head, Heart and Hands – or awakening the capacities of thinking, feeling and willing. In a world where every bit of information is at our disposal with a few swipes of our fingers, we understand that thinking is so much more than the accumulation of facts and figures. To obtain knowledge we must be able to observe phenomena, to ask questions and to think creatively. And knowledge without understanding, without compassion – as we know, can be disastrous.

In Waldorf education, we not only teach all the traditional academic subjects – we awaken, nurture and develop the feeling life of each child through artistic teaching and student work. It is one thing to study Ancient civilizations, it is an entirely different (and more memorable) experience to play the part of a Greek God or to portray the epic tale of the Ramayana. When you have marched like a Roman soldier, memorized the lines of Chaucer or Shakespeare, recited the “I Have a Dream” Speech by Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. or learned an African boot dance, you have developed a feeling for these people – and the times they lived in – and what informed their world view. The living quality of the education inspires enthusiastic engagement in the curriculum and engenders understanding and empathy for other human beings in circumstances different than one’s own.

And what of the hands or the will? This is a subject rarely discussed in other educational models, though it may be pointed to with terms such as discipline, executive functioning or grit. In Waldorf schools, we acknowledge that human beings have a will force, this individual will – or free will, if you like – is one thing that distinguishes us from other creatures. In Waldorf schools, we consciously work to educate the will through lessons in handwork, string ensemble and woodwork. Imagine learning to knit as a first grader, mastering a musical composition as a seventh grader or carving a spoon as a fourth grader. We also educate the will the old-fashioned way – through memorization of times tables and math facts and memorization of classic poems and songs. When students learn something “by heart” they have utilized, in combination the capacities for thinking, feeling and willing.

The last component of Waldorf education that I would like to highlight today is that Waldorf schools uniquely recognize the importance of relationships and the student learning environment. You will hopefully be struck by the warmth and beauty of our school spaces. We believe that beauty is not an extra in our world: art and beauty ignoble the human being, enhance learning and nurture the growing child. Warmth – as a feeling in the classrooms and through warm, caring relationships that create community – also allows the child to feel safe, to feel connected, to have a sense of belonging and to be fully present to engage in their own learning.

For a moment, I would like you to remember someone who had a profound influence on your life – a family member, a friend, a teacher or colleague – someone who you feel indebted to for providing you with inspiration or insight, for helping you to understand something about yourself or a field of interest, or to overcome an obstacle in life. Chances are good that you had a relationship with that person that is special to you. Perhaps you felt that they saw you for who you really are, and that it was out of this relationship – this feeling of caring and this capacity they had or the effort they made to recognize you – that you were able to learn something from them.

We do our best learning – our best growing (even as adults) – when we feel that the people around us – our teachers – have a genuine interest in us, see us for our unique gifts and care about us as individuals. We all understand this, but in the Waldorf school this is an explicit task of the teacher – to build a warm, loving relationship with each student and to cultivate all of their capacities so that they can fulfill their personal destiny – or the biggest dream they can have – for their own life. We also seek to cultivate healthy relationships among all the students in each class, across classes and amongst the faculty, staff and parents. These relationships provide a warm cloak of protection and support around young children as they grow to be adolescents. Grandparents and special friends provide yet another layer of warmth around each growing child.

Educating the thinking, feeling and willing, awakening the true fullness of our capacities, providing curriculum content that meets children where they are developmentally, and warm relationships are some of the essentials of Waldorf Education. I hope that you will experience and observe some of these unique qualities today and that you will reflect on them as you spend time with your grandchild or special friend over the holiday weekend. Thank you so much for being here.

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