It’s spring! Yes, and with spring comes flowers and showers … and lots of chores! There’s spring cleaning; putting away the wool and bringing out the cotton, sorting out the cupboards, a garden to plant, weeds to pull and the lawn to mow. The car needs a change of tires and oil. This is the time of year when our list of things to do seems to increase geometrically while time speeds up, leaving precious little of it to complete the tasks at hand. Knowing that many of us are feeling overwhelmed I want to pause just for a moment and look over our shoulder in awe at what we have accomplished in the course of these few months so that going forward we are able to celebrate the spring-like quality of the entire first year at Wasatch Waldorf School.
First we can celebrate the courageous and creative teachers who have managed to gather a fall basket of children and with love and devotion form them into a spring bouquet – a community. Over 600 children met together for the first time in September and now, in May, we are in full bloom.
Second, let me describe what blooming looks like. The children have developed capacities in art and movement that they were unaware of possessing. The fourth grade and up are playing instruments that many of them had never picked up before coming to Wasatch. Every day in the fall I heard the string classes on the opposite side of my wall trying to pick their way, note by note, phrase by phrase, line by line through “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. They reminded me of chicks pecking their way out of their eggs – scratch and squeak. Then suddenly one day they erupt with ensemble melody and harmony! This joy is never restricted to the listener. The students knew it was magic, and that they’d made it. I leapt from my desk and ran to the music room to witness the miracle! Spring had sprung for that class!
Take a look around. The paintings displayed show color sense and confidence in the use of the water color medium. The crayon drawings have structure and have begun to take on enough characteristics of movement and gesture that I often find myself stopping to admire and ponder for a few seconds.
I wish we had enough wall space to display the photos of every one of our students who has completed a handwork project, whether it be knitting, cross-stitch or crochet. The upper grades have worked in clay, metal, wool, and wood. Much of what they accomplished was on display at our Christmas Fair.
Speaking of the Christmas Fair – what a jamboree! I still see the children lined up around the upper story of the atrium and down the stairs singing Christmas carols. Well, that is something you can’t forget.
Every day the class teachers and specialty teachers strive to bring the quality of spring – of renewal – to their teaching. Their path is always one of moving between the skill and maturity required to develop the curriculum and hold a class while being immersed in the kind of interest that comes with “beginner’s mind.” Rudolf Steiner asserted that a teacher who is learning the content of the lesson along with the children is deeply engaged and living in the present. Their own learning will emerge in imaginative presentations filled with enthusiasm and newness.
There is a process in learning a new skill. The spring of the initial interest is soon surpassed by the work of study and practice – lots of summer watering and weeding. However, once this middle hurdle is overcome and some mastery is gained, the feeling of being capable supplants the pain of the struggle. This is the autumn harvest, the path of the teacher as well as the student. This is a process that, once understood, will develop trust and resilience in both the teaching and the learning.
A class play is a another good example of this process. The classes that have presented a play know that in the beginning the play just seems like lots of fun. When the newness wears off, a “play” unpacks a small mountain of “work” – acres of backdrops to make and miles of lines to learn. The class mission is to keep a positive outlook and find a source of renewal even when the script is getting worn and tired. The entire experience is resurrected when the play is gifted to an audience who gifts them in return with enthusiasm and appreciation. So many of our classes have seen this process through to it’s finish, and found it to be one of the essential experiences for becoming closer as friends and as a community.
Academics are the same everywhere. How they’re taught makes all the difference. Our children develop capacities in phases of childhood. These phases are supported with proper adult, teacherly nourishment. Cognition, like digestion, metamorphoses from birth to adulthood. While learning about the abilities of the children, gathering data, practicing skills, we are also developing a curriculum that is child centered and fundamentally connected to child development.
This approach is new to many of our students, parents, and teachers alike. I believe we have met the challenges like we all meet the spring, feeling joy in facing the newness of creation while simultaneously recognizing how much practice and planning we have ahead of us each day.
So here we find ourselves at the end of the first school year. The sun rises earlier and sets later. We come to school in the light and leave before the sun sets! The long winter has passed. And our daily practice of renewal and making all things new has now found its season and we find that we are twice blessed!
We have discovered that we are not only a school but a community of parents and teachers dedicated to an education which strives to create an environment of living and learning that allows the possibility for the capacities of every child to emerge during the spring of their lives. We have discovered that the children who are together for so many hours of the day are not just students but members of a community who learn, play and eat together.
The healing social life is found when in the mirror of each soul
The whole community finds its reflection,
And when in the community,
The virtue of each one is living.
The Gift of Time
As we have welcomed in the new year, reached the half-way point of our first school year, and as I sat through the lively talk given by Nancy Blanning last week, my thoughts continued to revolve around one concept: The Gift of Time.
I reflect often that the greatest blessing from Waldorf education to my family and in my role as a mother has been the gift of time. (Not more free time in each day by any means — I am busy and at school a lot!) But, a sense of quiet patience and trust in the development of my children that allows me to know that their true selves and capacities will naturally unfold over TIME.
Waldorf education does not rush instruction. We do not seek to do more faster and earlier, we give children the gift of TIME to be a child. To explore, to test, to play, to get bored, we know that it is essential that children have time to learn how to be in their bodies, how to be in a class or community and how to gently care for themselves at an early age.
We allow instruction and curriculum to grow right along with the child, not holding them back, but consciously introducing academics with a particular pacing and sequencing. We give TIME for really building strong foundations in many areas, knowing that over the years this will allow even greater capacities to flourish.
And, inherent in this approach, is a deep well of trust. This is so much the opposite of what lives in our culture and society today that it can be very hard to cultivate. We want things fast and live drenched in fear and anxiety. We have so little tolerance for anything that takes TIME — results are demanded quickly and constantly. But, the growth of a human being or a community is an organic process not well-served by anxiousness, but strengthened by deep trust and purposeful work.
I believe that the gift of TIME: of patience, gentleness, and consistent, dedicated effort to strengthening core rhythms and capacities is the greatest gift we can give to our children as parents and as teachers. But, I also believe that it is what is most needed to grow a strong and healthy Waldorf community here at Wasatch Charter School.
We need to give ourselves TIME. As teachers and staff and as parents and students, we need to be patient and draw upon our well-spring of deep trust that the efforts we are making and the foundation we are setting will flourish into a vibrant, living educational community. It is not perfection we are seeking, nor that we will achieve, but strength — and strength takes TIME.
Teachers are building up cultures in their classrooms, going back and filling in gaps for students who have not had years of Waldorf education, and developing ways of managing a diversity of students, all of this takes TIME. But, over the years, and with dedication and work, it will allow the children to grow and develop strength as individuals and as a community of learners.
I ask for everyone who is invested in this school, who glimpses the vision of what Waldorf education can do for their child and their family, who senses the incredible community that is being created, to give the gift of TIME. Be patient, be positive, look for the good, trust in what is unfolding, and roll up your sleeves and join the work, because through consistent, dedicated effort and patient striving TIME will give birth to STRENGTH.