by Stephanie Smith
A Waldorf education at River Valley Waldorf School prides itself in educating the head, hands and heart. It inspires. A visit to a first grade “main lesson”—the first two hours of the day when the primary content is delivered—would reveal children variously clapping, stomping, singing, writing in their main lesson books, painting and drawing. They are obviously inspired. But how, exactly, is this done? How does a Waldorf school approach teaching differently from its public and private counterparts?
One dramatically different approach is the block scheduling Waldorf schools use for this first two-hour section of the day. At River Valley, a given subject—such as first grade language arts taught through ancient fairy tales, writing through the Norse myths in fourth grade, botany in fifth, Roman history in sixth or physics in eighth—is taught for a three- to five-week block of time. This structure allows for an in-depth understanding of the subject, which is encouraged by approaching the ideas through not just the “head,” but through the hands and heart as well—artwork engages both.
The blocks offer more concentrated experiences of subjects, and require fewer classes a day for children to attend, which in turn reduces stress. The reduction of stress in children’s lives is both incredibly valuable and unfortunately—from the perspective of the Waldorf movement—undervalued in the stressed out arena of high-stakes testing that has become the reality in most public schools.
A tightly held belief among Waldorf teachers worldwide is that the day is organized to allow for what is known as “in-breath” and “out-breath,” a concept yoga enthusiasts understand. A two-hour period of learning provides plenty of time for concentrated sitting-at-the-desk learning as well as robust circle time where the times tables are sung, accompanied by clapping, or a poem is recited, followed with a healthy snack and some good old-fashioned outdoor recess time.
River Valley Waldorf School is located at 1395 Bridgeton Hill Rd., Upper Black Eddy. Its 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. August 2014.