Gardening at the Waldorf School of Atlanta

A classroom without wallsLinden Tree_WSA0316__007

The role of gardening in Waldorf education

 Through your own experience or stories told by your children, you probably know that being outside is large part of the Waldorf curriculum from Kindergarten on up. What’s not readily apparent is the significance of the children’s activities outside. From watering seeds to feeding chickens to pulling English Ivy off trees, children are moving with purpose.

A conversation with our Gardening Teacher Rebecca Johnson and Grade 4 Teacher and Grounds Committee member Jenny Dilworth revealed how engrained gardening is at WSA, and how it contributes to the children’s education. Fundamentally, gardening is one way we prepare our children for the future.

Growing cucumbers and careers

We’re in an age in which careers as we know them may well be obsolete when our students are of age to begin their own professions. The garden teaches fundamental skills that will help children navigate such uncertainty: flexibility, responsiveness, tolerance, and adaptability.

Teaching them these things through nature serves another purpose; namely, they’re a part of things – connected with the world around them. Accordingly, they gain an understanding that their decisions affect others. And they learn these lessons often without having to be expressly taught. For example, if they don’t water seedlings enough, then the seeds won’t grow so well.

On this and other levels, the children are developing their connection with the world by being in it and interacting with it. “Most fundamentally,” says Rebecca, “They’re learning that you are needed in this world. And what you do really matters.”

Grade by grade, row by row

The classroom learning throughout the WSA curriculum echoes clearly in the garden. Rebecca, working with the classes and their teachers, leads the learning through the grades.

  • Grades 1 and 2 abound in natural wonder. Stories and garden games fittingly fill gardening time as does exploration. When students are ready, they’re given jobs along with guidance on how to behave in the garden – how you walk, talk, and interact.
  • Grade 3 finds the children ready for more work-based relationships with garden. They become responsible for a majority of planting and maintenance. Connections with the natural world are strengthened by growing, harvesting, and cooking crops. “It’s very real for them,” says Jenny, “and their actions in the garden teach them what they’re capable of doing.”
  • Grades 4 and 5 cover many natural classroom connections with the garden. Through study of local geography, flora and fauna, and botany, gardening takes on an added dimension. The children expand on their jobs, taking on more responsibility and exercising greater independence through campus-wide activities like removing English Ivy and clearing space for the bees.

Linden Tree_WSA0316__009“In the world, there are vacuums,” shares Rebecca. “The students learn that they’re capable of filling them by using their skills and by simply being who they are. The sooner we can teach children the beautiful relationship we have with the natural world, the better off we’ll be.”

The bees are coming – everybody, look buzzy!

This spring, WSA will welcome bees to our community. When exactly? The bees are expected mid to late April. “It’s a matter of bringing them in when they’re ready according to their natural cycle, not unlike a pregnancy,” says Jenny with a smile. “We just have to be flexible – and that’s one of the lessons we learn from nature.”

The apiaries will strengthen kids’ connections to nature. And the new residents will provide parallels to the classroom curriculum – ancient Egypt, honey, history, and ecosystems to name a few.

~Derek Hambrick

This article was written for the Waldorf School of Atlanta‘s 2015 Garden Breeze Special Edition.  For more information about our school, please visit

Waldorf School of Atlanta History

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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

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

Spaces to Play at the Waldorf School of Atlanta

front of school compressed

As part of our work with the Columbia Presbyterian Church to manage the health of our beautiful wooded spaces, we are opening a new playground area just a short walk down the path behind the kindergarten playgrounds.

During this process we have marked out the boundary with Columbia Seminary on the West side of the property, and working with them, have planted a tree border in lieu of a chain link fence. In clearing the space, we discovered long neglected rose bushes, native magnolias, and many trees in danger of being overtaken by ivy.

This project was precipitated by the deteriorating state of trees on the upper playground. Arborists have suggested that the remaining trees require nutrient supplements, aeration, and to be left undisturbed for several months to recuperate from the stress of drought, heat, and compaction of the earth around the tree roots. We will be replacing some of the lost trees, starting in the lowest corner of the playground, with hopes that these trees and shrubs will help to retain more of the rainfall we do receive.

Going forward, the plan is to alternate between playground sites, giving each area time to recover from the daily visits of the children. We believe the new space will offer the children an enriched opportunity to explore play in a new way.
There remain a few tasks to complete including spreading several yards of wood chips. Beyond safety, we are leaving the space unfinished so that as we observe the children’s interaction with the area, we can bring the right things about to support their play. We will send an official ‘Opening” notice in advance of the move.

Please feel free to visit the new space and offer any comments you might have.

~Sara Walsh
School Administrator

creating tree border

This article originally was printed in the December 2012 edition of the Garden Breeze newsletter of the Waldorf School of Atlanta.  Visit us online at  


Gateway at the Waldorf School of Atlanta


It begins with vision, the pivotal point that allows the soul to dream. Next, the will of commitment transforms the dream into living substance. Lastly, substance finds capable, caring hands to bring solid form. This is the story of The Waldorf School of Atlanta’s new upper campus entrance; it is a living picture of beauty: thinking, feeling and willing.

It began last winter when, at a faculty meeting, the question was asked what the school should raise Auction paddle call money for.  Annamay Keeney, one of our five-day kindergarten teachers, quickly sketched a pencil drawing of an archway; an archway that would bring unity to both sides of our campus. She envisioned a structure that would welcome new and seasoned friends, young and old, to our Administration and Kindergarten buildings. Annamay wanted to create a gateway that would represent solidity and stability, be welcoming and uplifting. The vertical posts represent the four-foldness of the human being. Just as every person is an individual, each post stands at a slightly different angle representing the individuality of being human, reaching for connection to the spiritual world yet grounded on earth. The top beams, like brush strokes represent the connectedness and community of people striving see the goodness in all.

Thanks to the infectious enthusiasm of Chance Claar-Pressley leading the paddle call, our generous community answered back and raised $1,500.00 for campus beautification and permanent signage. Your support and trust allowed the school to begin the project.

Lee Ritchie, who is responsible for many of our campus playground structures, spent this past summer meeting with WSA staff and faculty to develop the vision of the gateway. He thoughtfully incorporated similar details into this new structure; color of wood, smooth, sturdy posts, rounded corners and meaningful translation. With help from Evy Keeney-Ritchie, Nate and Jack Scully and Connor Weeks, the gateway was planted into the ground. Bonnie O’Brien, a long-time WSA parent and former Trustee, spent time designing a beautiful sign, one created to  partner with and balance the gateway. As always, our school was so fortunate to have Mr. Crowley close by, willing to offer skill and valuable assistance.

The Waldorf School of Atlanta wishes to offer its sincere gratitude to all the hands and hearts that made this vision a reality. Truly, inspiration is an invitation to dream and accomplish together.
~Ashley du Pont
Community Chair

gateway design sketch

This article originally appeared in the Fall 2011 edition of the Garden Breeze Newsletter of the Waldorf School of Atlanta.  Visit us online at