My youngest son, who is now in 4th grade, joined a Waldorf Education school this year, after 3 years of suffering in a regular school. We just received the first school’s newsletter with updates and descriptions of the activity in the school and I wanted to share it. But I should probably start with how we went through these first 3 months.

For a 9 year old he started the schoolyear very skeptic. “There’s no school that can fit me”, he said. For such a young kid to passionately hate the idea of school – despite his many friendships there – is pretty shocking. So it took a while, the full 3 months, to be exact, and we got it! Last week he came home from school and for the first time ever when I asked him how his day was he said “Great”. I even teased him a bit, wanted to make sure I am hearing right, and he confirmed that he had a great day at school. Do you have any idea how it made me feel?

At this point I don’t particularly care about the academic results this school produces. Not that I doubt them. But the only result that really matters is that my boy is open to the possibilities now. He is awake. He is back. There are many misconceptions about Waldorf Education, when in fact there are many variations in a little over 1000 Waldorf schools around the world. Our school is located at the center of the city. It is unlike another Waldorf school in Israel, which is located in a rural environment in the Galilee. It embraces the city and city people. What I like about our school is that while its roots are in that 100 years old philosophy, it is in full sync with our environment and times.

Indeed, the first misconception about Waldorf education derives from the fact that the first Waldorf school was founded in 1919 to serve the children of employees at the Waldorf-Astoria cigarette factory in Stuttgart, Germany 93 years ago.

If you have been following me you probably know that I am very passionate about the future of education. Having three extra-ordinary kids forced me into thinking deeply and widely about the state of education and learning and where we are heading. I got really excited by Greg Whitby’s “we have got to change the DNA of education” and by the famous TED talk by Sir Ken Robinson who stressed the same idea and explained we need a “revolution and not just evolution” in education. And while I totally agree with the spirit of change and futuristic ideas and would LOVE to break the walls of the classroom, here I am, equally ecstatic by this old method of education and the way it works.

Does innovation lie in the past after all?? Well this is the basis of the Waldorf Education: “Learning is interdisciplinary, integrating practical, artistic, and conceptual elements. The approach emphasizes the role of the imagination in learning, developing thinking that includes a creative as well as an analytic component. The educational philosophy’s overarching goals are to provide young people the basis on which to develop into free, morally responsible and integrated individuals, and to help every child fulfill his or her unique destiny… Schools and teachers are given considerable freedom to define curricula within collegial structures.” Wait, this seems to correspond perfectly with one famous 21st century education revolutionist’s words, Sir Ken Robinson. Did you check out his TED talk “Do schools kill creativity?”. My son’s school doesn’t kill creativity. Through creativity it has re kindled his curiosity and learning. And surprise surprise, now he even enjoys the experience. The only question remains: what is so complicated in this method that prevents other schools from applying similar principles?

Back to the school’s newsletter, here’s a brief report of what various classes have been doing over the first 3 months since school year opened: 5thgrade finished a geography period. The geography period was dedicated to knowing our country and learning the map of the country. Obviously the period opened with a 3 day field trip, with lots of walking and climbing, amazing views and encounters with wildlife. Another weekend trip in a different area concluded the period with the students’ families.

1st graders are doing their first steps in creative. They made a bag, and prepared needles for knitting.

2nd graders are knitting animal dolls and preparing a knitted bag for their recorders (sort of a wooden flute). 3rd graders finished working with two needles and are doing a one-needle knitting work now. 4th graders are doing embroidery with Xs. 5th graders are knitting socks with 5 needles. 6th graders are stitching dolls and 7thgraders are learning how to work with a sewing machine. They will be making patch quilts later this year.

In class, 1stgraders have been drawing colored drawings leading up to forming letters. They are chanting, singing and ending each week with a short nature trail.6thgraders started the year with geometry period, creating drawings of various mandalas. The second period is “Rome” and they are concentrating on the foundations of the Roman Empire and laws. They also started the Bat Mitzvah-Bar Mitzvah two-year program.9thgraders already had 3 field trips since the beginning of the school year. They have concluded 3 periods: history, physics and civics. The “high school” compound, which is a brand new addition to the school, has a kitchenette and sofas to enable staying late for social activities and meeting with “interesting people” who visit often take place. There’s plenty of artistic work too, right now – ceramics.Most of the school kids are playing various musical instruments, in addition to the recorder which is built in the regular music lessons. Right now kids are playing violin, viola, cello, trumpet, clarinet, saxophone, guitar and harmonica.Music is built in the curriculum. For example: 7thgraders are doing the maps and discoveries period now. So they heard and learned music related to ships, shipping and wandering. They are also learning songs in new languages such as Spanish and Swedish and getting to hear musical styles from around the world.

8th graders had a “revolutions” period. They learned spirituals and studied how music can be a driving force calling for liberation. They studied the hymn on the French revolution and poetry from the 60s calling for freedom and equality. They also discussed Jazz standards, rooted back in slavery… 8th graders took their revolutions studies one step further into the present when they visited the tents of the social protesters in Tel-Aviv (kind of the US “occupy”).  They studied about other revolutions too like the American revolution and the industrial revolution.
Our own 4th graders finished a calculus period and a bible period and are now into Nordic mythology, where they learn of stories parallel to those on our own Genesis book. They also had a fantastic 2-day field trip, spending the night in the gym of one kibbutz, walking almost 20 miles in the Jerusalem Mountains in two days.
Is this DNA so wrong for today’s kids? I suddenly have my doubts. From checking around it seems this school’s graduates are better equipped with learning abilities then their peers from other schools around. Since the teacher of the class goes with it from 1st grade till 8th grade – the teacher is learning with the students, while teaching them. Perhaps it is already a different DNA. But what’s preventing regular schools from applying such an approach?
For details about Waldorf Education, or the Anthroposophy, if you want to know more go to Wikipedia as a starting point: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Waldorf_education. You can read this post and discuss in on Firesidelearning too: http://firesidelearning.ning.com/profiles/blogs/future-of-education-in-the-past Join the conversation.