21 November 2006

School Birthdays

Today we will celebrate my daughter's birthday at school. At Waldorf schools, they make a big deal out of birthdays in the early childhood. The family comes to class with a cake. The child wears a cape and crown and is led into a magical setup in the classroom draped with silks. All the children gather around in a circle, waiting to hear this child's special birthday story as told by the teacher.

The most striking part of the story is that it suggests that the birthday child has chosen her parents. I interpret this as a way to teach the child that he/she has choices in this life. I like that message.

Here's a birthday poem that was sung in my son's early childhood class many years ago. I'll never forget it.

In heaven shines a golden star
An angel led me from afar
In heaven high unto the earth
That brought me to my place of birth.

Welcome welcome golden day
With sunshine bright and flowers gay
With painted birds that sing their song
And make me kind and good and strong.

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18 November 2006


My husband and I are currently spending a lot of our resources (read: money) on education. Both of our kids go to a private school. My husband is currently completing a computer science degree at DePaul University, while I am in an online degree program at Boston University. Needless to say I am eager for my husband and I to be finished but our children have many more years and dollars of education.

My philosophies and expectations about education have changed over the last 7 years, and have evolved further now that I am experiencing education as an adult in my late 30s. I am giving my children the gift of what I believe is an enriched, somewhat classical education. By contrast, I’m going the modern, efficient route.

People have the capacity to learn in many different ways. There are so many ways to educate. What is the best way? What should we expect from our schools and our teachers?

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17 November 2006

Famous Waldorf Students

Here's a list of famous/very successful people who have attended Waldorf Schools. You may have heard of Julianna Margulies (actress on ER), Jennifer Aniston, and Kenneth Chenault (CEO of American Express Corporation. Of course, many regular Waldorf students go on to become doctors, architects, lawyers, actors, artists, musicians, teachers...etc....

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15 November 2006

TV and Kids: Let it Wait

Waldorf schools strongly discourage television and computer media for kids younger than high school. They don't have any computers in their classrooms.

I am a computer professional and so is my husband. But, we feel pretty strongly that this is the right idea while our kids are small. They truly don't need TV or computers at this stage in their lives and they certainly don't need commercials. They need to play, learn, socialize and imagine. Watching what others have imagined does not help them come up with their own new ideas.

Now if my kids get a taste of TV, don't get me wrong - they love it. But they know that TV is only for special occasions. Like when they are sick, and then only for 30 minutes. And it's been difficult, on many occasions, not to cave and turn on the TV just for some peace and quiet if they are acting up or doing something annoying while we need to be doing something like cooking dinner. But, I have to say, it's been very worth it. The kids can amuse themselves for long periods of time with many, many other types of activities. Their attention spans are incredible. And I don't think it's because of their genes. I think it's because they don't watch TV.

My childrens' preschool teacher has suggested that parents hand their child a large cardboard box instead of a TV show. She challenged us to see what happens. I have to say that my kids can keep pretty busy with a big box, a few crayons, tape and some string.

There will be plenty of time in their lives for TV and computers. Software designers are making computers easier than ever to operate, so I'm not worried about the risk of my kids "falling behind." Kids should enjoy the feeling of a real world as long as they can. Let it wait.

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A Visit to American Girl Place

Last Monday was my daughter's birthday. Among the many toys she is privileged to own, she has a doll called "Bitty Baby." My mother purchased this baby doll for my daughter when she was 9 months old. This doll is her favorite, partly because Bitty has a catalog that comes about every 4-6 weeks in the mail. Bitty also has her own store in downtown Chicago called American Girl Place.

For the birthday I decided that we would go to lunch at American Girl Place with my daughter's best friend, who also attends the Waldorf School. The girls brought their dolls - my daughter brought Bitty Baby, and her friend brought a hand made Waldorf doll that her mother had sewn. I promised my daughter that she could select something from the store for her birthday gift.

While waiting in line to buy Bitty a new car seat, the woman behind me exclaimed, "WHERE did your daughter get that doll?" I was about to say, "Just around the corner in the Bitty Baby section..." when I realized that it was not my daughter she was talking about. She wanted to know where my friend's daughter had purchased her doll. Well, I was pleased to tell her, it was hand made, it's called a Waldorf doll, you can buy them online, etc. etc. She was thrilled and excited to buy one for her own granddaughter.

As I was standing there, in the middle of popular American culture for little girls, ready to give more money to that cause, that a simple little rag doll had quite an effect. The contrast between a handmade doll and a plastic doll in a place like The American Girl Store is dramatic. I was glad that Rosie (my daughter's friend's doll) was able to come to lunch with us. But, I suspect she was relieved when she got home.

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14 November 2006

A Look Inside Waldorf

Waldorf schools look different than other schools. The walls are painted in light colors and the classrooms are simple, basic and purposeful. In the elementary school classrooms there are not a lot of distractions plastered on the walls, other than the children's artwork and chalkboards. The focus is clearly meant to be on the teacher.

The elementary students have a main lesson each day that lasts for two hours. During this time, they work in their own lesson books. Here are some (pretty amazing) excerpts from main lesson books.

The early childhood classrooms have natural toys (no plastic) and plenty of dress up clothes. Below are a few photos that illustrate the types of things the children play and learn with:

Waldorf Doll:

Play Kitchen:



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What is Waldorf Education?

Waldorf education was born in the early part of the 20th century and was developed by Rudolf Steiner, a philosopher. He was asked to start a school for the children of the Waldorf Astoria cigarrette factory in Stuttgart, Germany. The cirriculum (K-12) coincides with the child's stage of development as observed by Steiner. The children learn many of their subjects through experience and imagination is encouraged. Nature and the arts (poetry, music, drama and movement) are incorporated into many lessons. For example, science classes are often taught outdoors in a garden. In the elementary school math is taught using rhythmic games and clapping, and even knitting. Literature is taught through storytelling and drawing.

There are almost 900 Waldorf Schools worldwide, most of them are in Europe. About 160 are in North America. In general Waldorf Schools are private, independent organizations but some of the teaching methods have been used in public schools.

When I attended the parent orientation at the Chicago Waldorf School about 6 years ago, I was completely taken with the philosophy. The early childhood program had committed teachers who were like mother figures. The children would play, sing, bake, paint, socialize, and go outside every day. Reading was not introduced until the first grade, and there were no computers in the kindergarten. How refreshing!

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10 November 2006

I Went Walking

When my son was 18 months old I often took him for long walks in his stroller. The purpose of the walks was several fold: to expose him to the world around him, to get fresh air and exercise, and to keep my sanity. As often happens in my lively neighborhood, I bumped into an acquaintance who I hadn't seen in some time. She is a mother of two, and upon seeing my toddler, asked where he would be going to school.

True, around this time I had begun to think about pre-schools. I had heard that there are long waiting lists and to get a 3 year old into school you need to get applications in early. I had already made plans to visit the local Montessori school. I mentioned this to my friend and she said, "Oh. Well, my kids go to the Waldorf School."

"What's that?" I said. "Never heard of it."

"It's an educational approach that focuses on interdependence," she said. "Montessorri, on the other hand, stresses independence. Both are good philosophies that respect the child's developmental stage."

Independence or interdependence. Both of these are good qualities, I thought. I was intrigued. So, in addition to my visit to the Montesorri school, I made a reservation for the next a parent orientation at the Chicago Waldorf School.

The chance interaction with this woman on the sidewalk would change my view of education, and parenting, for years to come.

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