Preschool through Grade 8.
Discover academic excellence in midcoast Maine.
News & Events
It was a damp, foggy, almost springlike day on Friday, January 17, when the Grade 3-4 class left campus to hike Beech Hill in Rockport. We had been studying local geography and it was my hope that we would be able to see and sketch some of the islands and mountains the students had been learning about. It was obvious even before we left campus that the low clouds and thick fog were going to be a hindrance on this endeavor but I decided we would go for it anyway.
Though my plan would certainly need to be modified, the students seemed unperturbed by the conditions. As we hiked/ran/splashed/trudged up the dirt path to the top of the hill, the students sang, talked, and joked with one another in high spirits. As we looked out the blueberry fields faded away into the fog and, before us, the path itself seemed to disappear into nothing.
“It looks like we’re walking off the end of the world” one student observed. I was feeling the same way. I was determined to find some worthwhile experience from this trip since my original plan for the day was being swallowed by the ubiquitous fog so we took a moment to imagine that we were at the edge of the world. Then I let the student run to explore the stone Beech Nut “hut.”
In the first local geography block, I start in concentric circles from our immediate surroundings, the classroom, school building, campus, and gradually work to the range of the furthest students’ homes. Though not very tall or difficult to hike, Beech Hill offers a view of just about that distance and certainly manifest the character of the Camden Hills and Penobscot Bay. The fog however, was forcing us to focus back in on our immediate surroundings so we explored the grounds of Beech Nut and identified some of the plants and trees that we found; black spruce, blueberries, bayberries, wild rose, etc.
“An owl!” called one student excitedly. More enthusiastic echoes came from his classmates. I hurried over to see. About 50 yards from us, almost our total visibility, perched a large bird with a bright white head.
“A bald eagle perhaps?” I suggested.
“No, it’s turning its head like an owl.” Indeed, it was, and, it had the unmistakable face of an owl. But what kind of owl? White face; grey plumage; LARGE body. We observed it as carefully as we could but it had already assessed us far better.
It decided that our romping around was either going to scare up some critters or convince them to stay in their homes. With a few wide flaps it took off into the air and circled right over our heads to see if any of us were small enough to carry off; we stayed bunched together. As it flew directly over us, it was clear to me what we were seeing. From below the owl was as white as the fog it was carving through. Had it not already been reported in the area I might not have known that it was – a snowy owl.
It circled above us for a few more silent moments before disappearing into the fog. I felt my eyes well slightly at such a rare and beautiful sight. The students also seemed to sense the significance of what we had just seen and began to dance and play and recount the experience to one another.
The rest of our visit to Beech Hill was as stimulating as I had hoped it would be. We walked the forest paths and identified any and all of the local flora and fauna that we could. By the time we made it back to the hut for a snack, the sky had finally cleared enough for us to look out and take in Penobscot Bay and the Camden Hills.
Our trip to Beech Hill was not as I imagined it would be. The paper I brought to make sketches was damp and we didn’t have a lot of time to identify all the geographical features around us, though we named many. However, the real lesson that I took away from that day, and hope the students did too, was perseverance; we could easily have rescheduled our trip for a nicer day but we stayed committed and were rewarded for it.
“Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would have come his way. Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now.”
-William Hutchinson Murray, The Scottish Himalayan Expedition
The fifth grade has been busy exploring a wide range of cultures. We learned about Ancient India and Persia in October, and celebrated Deepavali in mid-November with a big, merry crowd of family and friends. In preparation, the class made oil lamps with Susan Junge, and created rangoli, or colored sand paintings, in their geometry class. For the festival, they dressed in silk costumes from India. The class enacted a ceremony for Lakshmi, the goddess of fortune, sang a kirtan to Siva, and performed an Indian village stick dance. Then we ate, drank, chatted, and romped with our families in honor of the lunar New Year. It was very meaningful and poignant to celebrate a ceremony that we first experienced with our dear teacher and colleague, Mrs. Kalmath.
The next day was our first assembly, and the class got to show some of their bookwork, sing a new song, and demonstrate their juggling and plate-spinning skills.
During our geography block, we got into an imaginary clipper ship and sailed from the waters of Greenland down to Cape Cod, then on to Chesapeake Bay, down past the Okefenokee Swamp, around the Everglades, through the West Indies, and on to the bayou in the Gulf of Mexico. We went around Mexico and Central America, then back up the Pacific coast, around Alaska, and into the islands of Northern Canada. I don’t think any of us knew there were so many places where alligators live, nor that there are people on our beautiful planet who don’t ever eat vegetables! We listened to music from different cultures of North America: Quebecois fiddle, Cuban son, Louisiana zydeco, Jamaican reggae… an extraordinary variety of styles. We ended the block up among the Inuit; in the spring, we’ll come home by…balloon!
—Class teacher Lesley Finlayson
Master teacher, experienced administrator, and parent of five Kathleen Young has been mentoring our teachers at the Ashwood Waldorf School for many years. On Monday evening, November 4, Kathleen met with parents and staff to put Waldorf education in context, and, as far as possible, “in a nutshell.” The evening was lively, and several parents volunteered to continue the conversation at a later date with an eye to becoming advocates for the school in our wider community.
Waldorf’s four original fundaments were coeducation, an integrated 1–12 curriculum, administration by the teachers, and no connection with government.
Rudolf Steiner created Waldorf education in 1919 in the wake of the First World War with the intention educate students for peace. The education was a cornerstone of Steiner’s larger vision for social renewal.
Waldorf pedagogy is based on seven-year cycles of human development. Do human beings develop differently now than in 1919? Is the Waldorf curriculum still relevant today? Is it relevant for different cultures? There is an explosion of Waldorf schools worldwide, particularly in China.
When family and friends ask us why we send our children to a Waldorf school, we need to try to understand what motivates their questions. What do they really want to know?
Parents at the meeting shared a number of specific questions they’ve encountered:
- “What’s wrong with the public schools?” There are very good public schools here, and most of my friends send their children to public school. It is hard to invite a conversation about Waldorf education without seeming judgmental/critical of those who choose public education. The public schools offer iPads for every student; what’s wrong with that?
A parent suggested reframing the question: “Not, ‘What is Waldorf education?’ but ‘What is public-school education?’” Public education tends to rush children, to push them, to encourage conformity. Overemphasis on testing and early use of technology has been called the “Race to Nowhere.” Waldorf education is about allowing children to develop at their natural pace.
- “Why do Waldorf schools introduce reading so late; isn’t earlier better?”
Kathleen said that we prepare children to read well when it is time for them to read. We work on “literacy readiness” in kindergarten, first, and second grades. Reading is an abstract activity. Are early readers actually decoding language, do they love to read, are they reading worthy literature? If children are pushed to read before their physical development supports this, their ability to think critically in later life is compromised. A parent suggested that it’s easier to explain “later” reading once a parent sees their children successfully master reading. Experienced parents can share their experiences of these milestones with new parents and parents of younger children.
- “What about technology? Will Waldorf students be at a disadvantage if they don’t become familiar with it early?”
Kathleen said that current brain research supports the Waldorf approach. Technology affects young, growing minds differently than it does those of adolescents and adults. Technology robs younger children of part of their humanity and intelligence. Their ability to think critically is compromised. A parent quoted a tech guru who said, “Learning to use a computer is like learning to use toothpaste.” Technologies change quickly, and bright, curious Waldorf grads are more than likely to be able to master the latest when they need to.
- “What is so different about Waldorf education that makes it worth the financial sacrifice?”
Kathleen stated that Waldorf education is no longer an “alternative” type of education. Waldorf educators and parents are now in the vanguard. The issue of testing is hotly contested, “nature-deficit disorder” is the latest syndrome, Waldorf can model an education that nurtures the development of confident, balanced young people whose worldview is shaped through an understanding of how other people think. Education in music, languages, and the fine and practical arts gives children the confidence that they can do anything. Betsy Morrell noted that Waldorf is a classical education, offering activities that were once considered an integral part of any well-rounded pedagogy. Parents want their children to love learning and enjoy their natural curiosity.
If you would like to learn more about how to explain why you have chosen Waldorf education, contact Judith Soleil to speak with her about Ashwood’s Parent Ambassador program.