Parent Perspective from the Waldorf School of Atlanta

My husband Steve and I have two daughters. Our youngest, Isabel, age 14, is about to graduate from the Waldorf School of Atlanta. She has attended this school since age four, and will continue her Waldorf education at Academe of the Oaks high school next year. Our oldest daughter, Jessie, is 19. She also attended WSA from pre-K through eighth grade. She graduated from Academe last year, and just finished her freshman year at the GSU School of Music. We are grateful for the high quality K-12 Waldorf curriculum in Atlanta.

test

How can I put into a few hundred words my journey as a parent at one great school for fifteen consecutive school years? All I can offer are a few tastes.

Our first Lantern Walk was in 1996. I was asked to bring up the rear, relighting blown-out candles. Jessie and her tiny classmate Meagan walked with me, singing the Lantern Walk songs. Their candles blew out. They dropped their lanterns. As a self-conscious new parent at the school I scrambled with the awkward lighter I had been entrusted with. None of this clunkiness touched the two little girls. They were content and steady as they sang and walked behind their teacher in the chilly night. I’ll never forget Meagan’s tiny voice sounding like a happy little bird as she sang “pee-wit, pee-wit, rick-a-tick-a-tick.”

One of my favorite aspects of Waldorf education is the way it spirals back to subjects studied in younger years, but in a different, age-appropriate way. I enjoyed the synchronicity of Isabel and Jessie studying Ancient Civilizations at the same time, one as a fifth grader and the other as a high school sophomore.

I was recently in a conversation with some kindergarten parents about the Waldorf kindergarten birthday celebrations. We got goosebumps remembering how difficult it could be to get through the reading of the birthday story without weeping. A beautiful story it is, about the baby sliding down the “Rainbow Bridge” at the urging of an angel, and into the waiting arms of her or his loving parents. How significant is each child! I got to have my five minutes of fame (or so it felt to me) as the “big kid” — a parent of an eighth grader. I shared, “Well, listen to this!” The eighth graders had just finished their Physiology block, which included lessons on human reproduction. My daughter’s assignment was to interview us about her own birth. Steve and I had so much fun telling her all about it. Isabel did a great job taking notes, and I was amazed at the concise essay she wrote for Main Lesson.

Part of the delight in sharing the (physiological) birth story with our eighth grader was that, just as adolescence is gearing up, with its requisite pushing away, we got to relive, with her, how absolutely amazing her arrival in our world had been. This very different telling of the story of her beginnings had the same essence as the kindergarten story: You are a miracle. We cherish you.

There are many factors that contribute to a young person’s development, to be sure, but it is clear to me that my children’s Waldorf education is key to their growth as “whole” people. Jessie is a vocal performance major in college. While this is a more specialized trajectory than that of many early undergraduates, she is a well-rounded person with a wide range of interests and skills, including interpersonal skills. I was grateful to see that it didn’t take her long to find her own community in the music school.

I treasure the memory of another Lantern Walk, this time at our current location. Isabel was in first grade. After the walk through the woods, singing the same beloved songs and carrying our lights, families and teachers gathered around the bonfire. The firelight glowed on all the contented faces, and I reveled in the community embrace of safety and love. There is nothing quite like knowing that my children are being held in a circle of warmth. Thank you, Waldorf School of Atlanta.

Linden Tree Photography 2011 Lantern Walk 023 Linden Tree Photography 2011 Lantern Walk 003

I’m especially thankful to our children’s class teachers, Gavin Connor, Jim McClurkin, David Florence, and Jenny Dilworth. Also, each specialty teacher has been an indispensable part of our children’s education, and I thank you all, especially those who have accompanied our family the entire 15 years: Eleanor Winship, Francisco Moreno, and Laira Covert.

You are a miracle. We cherish you.

 ~Carol Lane
WSA Parent

lane family

This article originally appeared in the June 2011 edition of the Garden Breeze newsletter of the Waldorf School of Atlanta.

Waldorf School of Atlanta History

 old photo 2

The Waldorf School of Atlanta began with the inspiration of Katie Reily, educator and speech therapist, who had a way of pulling community together. Her interest in Rudolf Steiner’s educational philosophy and enthusiasm for people was infectious. After a few years of leading a play group for children in her home and studying Waldorf education with parents, Katie invited Susan Jones, a trained Waldorf teacher to lead our first kindergarten class in the fall of 1986. It was called “The Children’s Garden”… a bold and beautiful beginning. Through the years many dedicated parents, faculty, and staff worked alongside our children to create the vibrant Waldorf School we have now.

Some glimpses of our history-

  • • The Waldorf School of Atlanta with its varying classes occupied and improved six different locations in the Decatur area.
  • • The first Holiday Fair fish pond was held in a small room. The whole pond was about 4’ in diameter. The line of “fisherpeople” went through the hall and down the stairs.
  • • Our first Advent Spiral and Lantern Walks included every child and person in our school. Soon they were just too big and these festivals had to divide into smaller groups…still beautiful and heartwarming.
  • • The Board of Directors met once a month and the meetings often went on until 11 at night.
  • • At one time the administrative staff of four to five people was housed in the same tiny office together and somehow they managed to squeeze in the school store too.
  • • In every location volunteers have shoveled untold amounts of woodchips and sand, built play yard fences, helped to unload, lay, cut and install many square feet of carpet, knocked down walls, put up dry wall, painted, tiled bathrooms- all to make a beautiful place for our children to thrive.
  • • Our school graduated its first 8th grade in the spring of 2000.
  • • Our sister high school, Academe of the Oaks, graduated its first 12th grade in the spring of 2006.
  • • Our school now has five Kindergarten classes and Grades 1-8 with a faculty of 34, a staff of 11, a board of 13 and enrollment in our pre-k through 8th grade of 227, and so many wonderful parents.

We have worked, played, sung, studied, struggled and persevered together for the children who are the heart of the school. We continue to grow, to be inspired by this educational philosophy laid out by Rudolf Steiner and to continually re-dedicate our vision on a daily basis.

~Annamay Keeney & Annie Sommerville-Hall

Kindergarten Teachers

old photo 1

This article was originally published in the Spring 2012 Garden Breeze newsletter of the Waldorf School of Atlanta.  

Social Inclusion at the Waldorf School of Atlanta

multi age face painting - c

At the Waldorf School of Atlanta, we believe that a healthy social life is vital to the development of the child and to the functioning of a community. In 2007, our school began a coordinated endeavor to bring deeper consciousness to social issues and to strengthen healthy social practices for all members of the community. Under the guidance of Kim John Payne, M.Ed, Founding Director of The Center for Social Sustainability, we began a three-year journey of implementing his Social Inclusion approach in our school. Parents, teachers, staff, and students are all involved in this important and inspiring work.

Students from our middle school and from our sister high school, Academe of the Oaks, serve on the Social Action Committee (SAC). These students work closely with younger students in our school, forming close relationships with them and helping to guide them through the inevitable social ups and downs that arise in childhood. In the process, the older students gain invaluable skills in leadership, communication, and conflict resolution—strengths that are sure to serve them well for life. Noreen Crowley and Joshua Gartland guide our middle school students, with Sharon Annan and MJ Randleman Smith serving as coordinators for the high school students. Now in our fourth year of this work, we have seen student interest in Social Inclusion surpass our expectations!

Adults from our community serve on the Social Inclusion Coordinating Group (SICG), whose work includes nurturing a school environment of mutual respect, safety, and inclusion; integrating Social Inclusion practices into school life; supporting teachers with students experiencing social difficulty; and monitoring student social health and making recommendations to faculty.

As adults in a Waldorf school community, we strive to act as role models worthy of the students’ emulation. In doing so, we hope to create the kind of environment where Rudolf Steiner’s Motto for a Social Ethic finds life:

The healthy social life is found

When, in the mirror of each human soul,

The whole community finds its reflection,

And when, in the community,

The virtue of each one is living.

 

~Elizabeth Roosevelt, SICG Chair

This article was originally published in the Spring 2011 Garden Breeze newsletter of the Waldorf School of Atlanta.  

two smiling faces - c

Music and the Brain

 

violin player - Lindsey Lingenfelter 125

Recently, I came across an inspiring article about music in the October 2010 scientific journal Neuroscientist, “Music Making as a Tool for Promoting Brain Plasticity across the Life Span” by Catherine Y. Wan and Gottfried Schlaug, both from Harvard Medical School.

The article has two parts. The first is a review of various recent studies about the side effects that regular music practice has. This is an impressive list. Children who practice music consistently show greater skills in auditory, motor, and vocabulary tasks, as well as abstract reasoning and mathematical functioning, than those with similar backgrounds who do not.

The article also reviews recent studies about music and aging. As is relatively well-known, active engagement with cognitive activities of all sorts is good for slowing mental decline. Music making seems to be especially effective.  A 5-year study, following people over 75 for the onset of dementia, indicated that regular playing of a musical instrument seemed to be the best way to provide protective benefit against dementia, more so than reading, writing, or doing crossword puzzles.

The second part of the article is an investigation of the effects that music has on the brain. And to make a long story short, the article shows that at all stages of life, the tangible benefits of regular practice on instruments are accompanied by impressive effects on brain structure and function.

Needless to say, playing music and entering into the feelings, ideas, and aspirations of great artists are, of themselves, inspiring and uplifting experiences. But practicing can sometimes feel tedious, and when our children complain, it is good to know that playing an instrument has important indirect educational and developmental benefits for them. So when we all as parents hit those inevitable moments of discouragement when we wonder, “Why are we insisting that our children practice their instrument every day?” we can remind ourselves that this musical practice is having profound effects on our children’s future capacities for life, potentially up through their old age.

~Eleanor Winship – Music Director

This article was originally published in the 2011 Spring Edition of the Garden Breeze Newsletter of the

Waldorf School of Atlanta 

wide short violin playing

Thoughts for Summer from the Waldorf School of Atlanta

butterfly painting

Kindergarten:

As the school year ends the children are delighted with their new freedom. Life is filled with the warm sun shining down on us all. It is as if a burden of dark and cold has been lifted. It is time to be out, to shed clothes and shoes…to really feel the earth and grass on bare feet and connect with the light of the sun and stars. It is summer. Children have all the time in the world!

We parents are delighted when our children are happy and resilient. Children are more patient, tolerant, flexible, and happy when their life flows rhythmically. Rhythm isn’t a schedule. Schedules are goal oriented. Rhythm is life oriented. It is ebb and flow, again and again and again… with little variations on the way.

Follow this recipe to create your summer rhythm: repeating days, weeks, and traditions to make the summer season full, rich, and memorable. Even those of us who work can create days and weeks that have that summer feel.

*Take a few activities you love and that make it feel like summer such as:

Rolling in the grass, riding bikes, jump rope, swinging…

Swimming, grilling, working in the garden, blowing bubbles…

Walking to the park/lake/pool/creek, natural places to wade/play/build a dam

Concert in the park, camping in the back yard, hiking, making/eating popsicles…

Camping trip, hiking, visiting Grandma and Grandpa for a week, some summer camp days

 

Decide if these are daily, weekly, or seasonal activities…

*Add in daily/weekly activities such as chores that need to be done, grocery shopping, laundry, food prep, cleaning house, … Your children are such capable human beings. It is healthy for them to participate in the life of the family. It can even be a disservice to a child to always have things done for them.

* Downtime to do nothing! …Find beautiful stones and four-leaf clovers, Give your children time to breathe (and yourself too)! Give them the gift of time to get “bored”. It is actually healthy for your child to not know what to do. It takes an inner strength of will to pull one’s self out of that seemingly empty place. What a gift when the creative juices start flowing! How empowering!

*Combine and Alternate

Inside time/ outside time

Loud times /quiet times

Silly times/focused times = breathing in and out…breathing is healthy!

Regular meal times!

Sleep time: Kinder children still need to get those same 10-12 hours sleep each night and a nap/quiet time in the afternoon. Even on vacations children (young and old) need rhythm and sleep… and the adults too!

So, give your children time to feel the warmth of the sun on their skin, see the dust sparkle in the sunlight, smell new mown grass, hear the insects hum as they work…and breathe your days in and out… enjoy your summertime.

 

~Annamay Keeney

Kindergarten Teacher

bicycle

Grades 1-5:

As the summer months approach, the long days of summer seem like a dream come true. But after the first few weeks, many families struggle to find rewarding things to do with their children.  Of course there are wide range of camps available both at WSA and throughout the community but what else is there to do? Here are some fun, easy, and inexpensive ways to keep busy.

1. Become an investigative reporter – with a camera, students can take pictures of the world around them and make up stories to go with their pictures.

2. Gather up old greeting cards and create puzzles or collages.

3. Have your child make an obstacle course in the backyard and have the family take turns going through it. Who can complete the course in the fastest time?

4. Make a terrarium.

5. Find a place to volunteer with your child.

6. Invent board games

7. Explore making paper airplanes.

8. Create a sculpture with recyclable materials

9. Stargazing & story telling

10. Skip stones at the river

11. See a Shakespeare Play

12. Learn how to paddle a canoe

13. Hang and monitor a bird feeder

14. Celebrate a summer holiday (even if you make up your own)

15. Make Homemade Ice Cream!

Grades 6-8:

1. Encourage children to take on responsibility in areas of interest to them. (Volunteer at a veterinarian’s office, senior center or theatre.)

2. Physically challenge your children with activities like Outward Bound, hiking, white water rafting, rock climbing, water skiing or horseback riding.

3. Take them on an adventure with a purpose, i.e., not just a hike, but a hike to find the perfect camp site; not just a bike ride, but a bike ride to a lake for a swim.

4. Give them a job that will teach them to master a new skill (knot tying, bike repair, planning, shopping and preparing for a weekly dinner, building a camp fire, laying a stone path, tending a garden). Practical work will help them feel more competent.

5. Build a fort, shelter or tree house with your child.

6. Visit or volunteer on a farm (interactions with large animals help children learn how to adapt to another being’s needs).

7. Allow time for boredom. Let your child arrive at their own ideas for an activity, using imagination and initiative.

Often children have issues with focus and persistence in the face of obstacles. Encourage your child with activities such as these to help build their will, patience, motor skills, and sense of discipline.

 

This article originally appeared in the June 2011 issue of the Garden Breeze Newsletter of the Waldorf School of Atlanta.

bench and flower pot

Advent at the Waldorf School of Atlanta

tissue paper stars

 

Thoughts for Advent

 Asleep is the soul of the Earth

In Summer’s heat,

While the Sun’s outward glory

Rays through the realms of space.

Awake is the Soul of Earth

In Winter’s cold,

While the Sun’s inmost Being

Lightens in Spirit.

Summer’s day of joy

For Earth is sleep.

Winter’s holy night

For Earth is day.

~ Rudolf Steiner

 

Rudolf Steiner relays a beautiful image of Advent.  At this time of darkening days, there is an inner light in the depths of each Human Being’s and the Earth’s soul.  The rising cold which marks the winter season is our invitation to look deeply within our own being and freely radiate warmth and light to all around us.  With our dear partner Earth, we live through the season’s changes to bring renewal of life and beauty to all the magnificent kingdoms on Earth.

The gift of light we shall thankfully take

But it shall not be alone for our sake

The more we give light the one to the other

It grows and gives light and shines even farther

~Ashley du Pont

Community Chair

This article originally appeared in the December 2011 edition of the Garden Breeze Newsletter of the Waldorf School of Atlanta.  

Linden Tree Photography 2011 Advent Spiral 006

 

 

Anthroposophy at the Waldorf School of Atlanta

candle wide

 

In the 1500, Rene Descartes challenged our understanding of self with ‘I doubt therefore I think, I think, therefore I am’ and opened up the world of scientific inquiry. Science today investigates phenomena at the molecular level and finds all suddenly changed: what we thought previously about the activity of a given factor at this level in a cellular process has been found to play an opposite roll in other circumstances. Does this mean there is flow and thought, freedom and movement at this level? Does “systems biology” open up almost unimaginable levels of complexity, or does it bring us back to more basic truth? At this time of year as we gaze into the starry heavens populated with uncountable numbers of stars, we remind ourselves that while man is the thinking animal, he is also a being capable of love, and love is found most poignantly when we give it to another. As we move into the holiday season of many religions we are reminded by the candle light of those celebrations that it is our love that lights these long dark days of winter, illuminating complex systems of giving and receiving, of freedom to be new and different in every moment, which, as we are learning from molecular biology, is our heritage and our destiny.

~Sara Walsh
Administrator

This article appeared originally in the December 2011 edition of the Garden Breeze newsletter.  Visit us online at www.waldorfatlanta.org . 

Linden Tree Photography 2011 Advent Spiral 013

 

 

The Advent Garden at the Waldorf School of Atlanta

Linden Tree Photography 2011 Advent Spiral 006

As with so many festivals of early Winter, bringing light into the darkness is the essence of the Advent Garden. The form of the involuting and outgoing spiral was one that Dr. Rudolf Steiner gave as a form recommended to walk involving the whole child and their sensory systems. Form drawing is part of the curriculum in Waldorf schools, and children experience these forms in many ways, drawing them and walking them for instance. Around 1923 children in the first Waldorf Schools walked this form, but it was not until around 1926 when Bavarian farmers and a German nurse came together to create the custom of the garden. They laid out the spiral with moss and evergreens with a central candle, which was raised on a mount. The candles were brought in, carried by each child as they walked the spiral holding their apple with the candle in it. As they came to the center and lit their candle they placed it along the path on their way out, and the garden glowed with light.

This experience of beauty, music and solitude resonate with this time of outer darkness, and renewing our inner light. Diwali, Winter Solstice, Chanukah, Kwanzaa and Christmas are some of the festivals that include this element of light, along with the qualities of mystery, gratitude, generosity, and the upholding of high ideals kindled within us.

The children experience coming into a darkened room, hearing lyre, violin, guitar or flute music playing softly, and waiting their turn to receive the apple with an unlit candle and being led to the beginning of the path. They walk the path showing us all so much by how they navigate their way, and their own special walk. It is beautiful to watch, and hold with reverence. The children experience this wonder without explanation. The event has of course brought some parents to quiet tears, or a very quiet chuckle – or both, as they watch their child and dear classmates.

At the Waldorf School of Atlanta this festival is for kindergarten through second grade. Some classes have extended it in different forms further into the grades with a labyrinth or walking outside at night. Some classes let it “rest” after second and then bring the essence of this festival in a different way. The high school students at Academe of the Oaks look forward to walking the spiral again, understanding in a whole new way what they experienced when they were little.

“What a different time it is today, how much greater is the need, the need to go into the darkness, spreading the light as we go out.” ~ Christof-Andreas Lindenberg

~Annie Sommerville-Hall

Preschool/Kindergarten Teacher

Linden Tree Photography 2011 Advent Spiral 003

 

 

This article originally appeared in the December 2011 edition of the Garden Breeze newsletter of the Waldorf School of Atlanta. 

 

Waldorf School of Atlanta Reaches Worldwide

 specialties_music

I have just returned from an inspiring trip teaching toning and singing, music pedagogy, pentatonic lyre, and anthroposophical music background to Waldorf teachers in Thailand and New Zealand.  WSA is part of a worldwide movement with over 900 Waldorf schools. To actually meet and get to know some of my overseas colleagues and be able to picture them in their own environment with all their challenges brings this picture of Waldorf as a global, mutually supportive movement into much more concrete perspective. It was invigorating to experience these wonderful colleagues on the other side of the world. They met our work with great enthusiasm!

My first impression of Bangkok was of an overcrowded, unplanned, sprawling, hectic megapolisa city badly in need of a human vision such as Waldorf education inculcates. In the last fifteen years, Bangkok initiatives have created two Waldorf schools, one independent kindergarten, and a kindergarten training. It was inspiring to see how the pioneers of the Thai Waldorf movement combine the spiritual traditions of their own country with Anthroposophy to bring Waldorf to Thailand. In the course I taught there were around sixty teachers and student-teachers, some from China, Taiwan, Malaysia, and India, as well as Thailand itself. I worked with a translator, but the students were enthusiastic, and especially satisfying were the moments when we were all communicating through the music we were creating (also satisfying were the delicious homecooked dishes with which the students treated me!). Flood waters were steadily rising as I was teaching in Bangkok. The river overflowed after I had left, causing many thousands to flee the city. I was glad to hear that my wonderful hostess was safely at her mother’s home.

New Zealand, whose population is less than half the size of metro Atlanta’s, has a flourishing Waldorf movement with nine established schools and new initiatives springing up. Most of their schools are integrated into the state educational system, which is a mixed blessing, since they are also required to follow state regulations and organizational requirements. I heard my colleagues’ concern as the state continues to assert more control along with its financial support.

The theme of the New Zealand conference was “joy.” I was the main speaker and artist, and any worries I might have had about delivering on that theme were quickly lifted by the joyous musicality of the hundred or so teachers in attendance. We were soon launched into lively musical and movement exercises, ringing six part rounds, and beautiful group lyre playing and improvisation.

New Zealand seemed like a green, uncrowded paradise, although the problems of the world were literally lapping against its shores as I arrived. The conference was in the oceanside city of Tauranga, and from the house where I was staying I could see the tanker which had run against a reef the previous week and created the largest oil spill in New Zealand’s history. You could smell the oil from the conference, the beach was closed, and the local economy was reeling.

It was amazing to fly back from the New Zealand springtime to our colorful autumn here, and it is good to be back again. I’d like to thank the Core for giving me the professional release time and everyone for supporting the music program and teachers in my absence. As a world wide movement, we have a lot to give to and learn from each other, and it was important and generous of WSA to show this support.

~Eleanor Winship

Music Director

 

This article originally appeared in the December 2011 edition of the Garden Breeze newsletter of the Waldorf School of Atlanta. 

Linden Tree Photography 2011 Lantern Walk 025

 

Waldorf Education in the news

100_1066 compressed

Parents often wonder whether the lack of computer technology and curriculum exposure to software is hurting their child’s ability to ‘get ahead of the pack’ when it comes to secondary and post-secondary education. Much of this concern is driven by the media and technology itself. Recent studies and several articles in the NY Times and other print media have discussed this topic in great detail. The NY Times has published several articles over the last 10 months challenging the efficacy of technology based learning, especially for younger children. A few weeks ago, a staff writer, Matt Richtel got up-close and personal at Waldorf School of the Peninsula, in asking parents there, in the middle of Silicon Valley, why they were comfortable with a school that had no technology in the lower grades.

Families at WSP in Los Altos, CA are an interesting demographic, in that so many of them are working within the R&D and production areas of the latest technology. Their close proximity to the realities of the industry help them feel confident that their children are gaining skills and understanding that will serve them far into the future, while iphone apps and other software will be superseded (obsolete) in just a few years, long before their children enter college.

Granted, there is controversy about what is necessary, what is important, and what is icing on the cake. Waldorf Education will always take the position that technology, properly applied, is not bad, but that timing is everything! Using a tool is only appropriate when you know how it works and what the results will be when you ‘start the engine’.

If teaching is a human experience, then engagement, contact with the teacher, with other students, with color and multitudes of medium to express their burgeoning ideas can give young children familiarity with all the trappings they’ll need to be creative and thoughtful. Whether they want to be electrical engineers, doctors, book editors, designers or horse whisperers, what really stays the course for them is their acute sense of curiosity and interest in a wide variety of people, places and ideas which will guarantee they will be asking questions their whole lives long.

The NY Times article does not glorify Waldorf Education and presents dissenting opinions, but the quotes from actual parents are affecting. If you haven’t read this article, don’t miss it, and if you have, send it on to a skeptical friend. Find the link on our homepage at www.waldorfatlanta.org

 

~Sara Walsh

Administrator

 

This article originally appeared in the December 2011 edition of the Garden Breeze newsletter of the Waldorf School of Atlanta.