by Stephanie Smith
In the River Valley Waldorf School early childhood classrooms, there are no letters, papers and posters on the walls, no jars of pens and pencils. What is most noticeable is diffuse lighting, the welcoming scent of fresh-baked bread, tree branches, wooden tables and chairs, blocks and play kitchens, the pinks and oranges of silk scarves, the off-white of wool rugs, sewing projects made of plant-dyed felt, finger-knitted lengths of yarns, wood play stands and wooden boats that, when flipped over, double as stairs, as pillars, as islands in seas of lava.
Walking down the hall to a grade-school classroom, gone are the shelves filled with workbooks, lined paper, sheets of homework yet to be assigned, no cartoon characters encouraging hard work and perseverance. Instead, there are rows of old-fashioned wooden desks inside which students are instructed to keep work neat, along with the tools they need to do that work—European beeswax crayons and colored pencils, fountain pens, recorders and handmade cases for all of the above.
While there is much beauty, texture, light and obvious creativity to be found in a Waldorf school, what, one might ask, happens there academically? In the early childhood classrooms, the highly trained teacher creates a home-like atmosphere which allows the children to relax and benefit from the thoughtful curriculum. From this foundation, the teacher is able to encourage the child’s power of imagination—necessary to become a deeply literate reader—and memory, by telling and re-telling carefully selected stories and performing puppet shows, often with advanced vocabulary. Children experience free play, both inside and outside, for a great part of the day, which allows them to naturally develop social skills while encouraging them to expand their physical relationship to the world.
“It takes a child who is 3 years old 155 hours to learn the calendar. An 8-year-old can learn it in five minutes. What a waste of a 3-year-old’s time!”
~ Bev Boz, Early Childhood Educator
Waldorf educators believe that by educating the heart—with art and music—and the hands—knitting, gardening and woodworking—along with the head, they succeed where many fail; Waldorf students actually like to learn.
River Valley’s grade school teachers, like all Waldorf teachers worldwide, take as a starting point the idea that children possess a natural honesty, curiosity and interest in their world. The primary goal of a Waldorf education is to retain these innate characteristics while expanding children’s intellectual capacity. By using the arts and creativity to immerse children in the learning process, by timing the introduction of material to coincide with the age at which students are able to truly understand and work with the concepts, and by providing a safe, open and trusting environment in which to learn, River Valley Waldorf School builds confident, avid, inspired learners for life.
River Valley Waldorf School is located at 1395 Bridgeton Hill Rd., Upper Black Eddy. Their satellite preschool, Morning Glory Preschool Program, is located at 320 Edison Furlong Rd., Doylestown. For more information, call 610-982-5606 or visit RiverValleySchool.org.
Stephanie Smith is the outreach coordinator for River Valley Waldorf School and a longtime Waldorf parent. Connect with her at SSmith@RiverValleySchool.org. March 2014.