Ashwood’s Forest Kindergarten program will offer a full Waldorf kindergarten experience, outdoors. Fall, winter, and spring, in all weathers, children will enjoy seasonal activities, circle time, gardening, forest walks, and creative free play. They will delight in stories around the fire where they prepare their snack and warm their tea. Waldorf early-childhood education integrates art, music, and movement into a structured, play-based curriculum. With small class sizes and dedicated, experienced teachers, Ashwood provides active and creative experiences that nurture an enthusiasm for learning. Veteran teacher and outdoor educator Marianne Bockli will lead the program. Bockli has spent the last five years mentoring Waldorf teachers in China, and brings a rich life experience and deep love of nature to the program. The Forest Kindergarten program will be offered on Wednesdays to children enrolled in Ashwood’s regular Early Childhood program. There will be no additional tuition fees for enrolling in the program. Participants will enjoy the traditional course of activities with their regular teacher and classmates on the other days of the week.
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.
Join us for a Parent Ambassadors Workshop on Monday, November 4. With veteran Waldorf educator and school consultant Kathleen Young, we will explore the hallmarks of an Ashwood Waldorf School education. This workshop will be tailored to the interests of participants, and may address such questions as:
- How do I explain Waldorf education to my family and acquaintances?
- What can I say to people who seem misinformed about the values, accomplishments, and mission of Ashwood Waldorf School?
- What resources are available for busy parents to learn more about Waldorf education?
Designed for current Ashwood parents and grandparents who want to improve their ability to articulate their school choice to others, this workshop is also open to any community member interested in learning more about the value of a Waldorf education in Midcoast Maine.
When: Monday, November 4, 6:00–8:00 p.m.
Where: Ashwood Waldorf School, Grade School building, garden level
Register at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 207-236-8021 for more information.
In September, shortly after school began, Ashwood Waldorf School’s Fifth Grade set off for our first group boat-and-camp overnight. The weather threatened storms and wildness, but our captains, John Chandler and Richard Lee, and their intrepid first mates, Tania Chandler and Cherry Short-Lee, were confident we would be just fine, so we set off from Small Point, and had a beautiful trip, through rising fog and rolling seas, past the mouth of the Kennebec River, past seals and seabirds, past dolphins, to the rocky shore of Seguin Island.
The swells were too high for the boats to land, so Kate Chandler rowed all of us and all of our supplies into shore, and we carried tents, food and ourselves up the steps and under the old tramway to our camping spot. We had a quick dinner after setting up the tents, and then the rains came, and the winds, and a tent blew over, and we felt as if we were having a true adventure.
We went up in the dark night to the lighthouse, to walk around on a catwalk under the light, which was beautiful and slightly unnerving, and then had popcorn and lemonade while the lighthouse keepers told us scary stories.
We slept very snugly, once we settled down, the sky finally full of stars and wind, the sea murmuring, and seabirds calling from time to time in the darkness. In the morning we had breakfast and went for a walk on the island, then toured the lighthouse museum. Then we did a few hours of community service, clearing stones off the beach to make a path for visitors and collecting trash, while the keepers took the Christopher Moore-made donation box to put up on their visitor sign. It looked great!
The sea was still too rough for the boats to land when it was time to leave, so Kate rowed everything, and everybody, back out from the island, and then we sailed and motored under a clear blue sky to Small Point. Everyone said the highlights were the scary stories, and the voyages across the beautiful sea. We live in such an extraordinarily beautiful place; it was marvelous to be out in the glory of Maine.
Thank you to John, Tania, Cherry and Richard, Kate, Lora, Jim and Christopher! Thank you to the Friends of Seguin Island, who keep the island running and accessible! What a great way to open the Fifth Grade year!
Lesley Finlayson, Fifth Grade Teacher
This article by Eugene Schwartz gives an explanation of why we try to keep All Hallows’ a scare-free experience for our youngest children. Please read and comment.
For the younger child, this festival reaffirms the goodness of the world. Eons ago, as they looked upon the mists that wove around their fjords and heaths, ancient Europeans had a particular experience as the days grew shorter. Toward the end of the month that we call October, they perceived the souls of all of those who had died in the past year gathering and preparing to ascend to their heavenly home, making a space for the souls due to be born in the year to come. But before they could assume their place in the ethereal realm, the departed souls had to sweep away all the detritus of the life just past and cast it to the earth. Thus the popular image of witches riding on their broomsticks is a misperception: in reality, the brooms are sweeping away the witches!
At the time when the child is in fourth grade, a sense of human mortality begins to dawn within her. Children of this age are rightfully and healthily drawn to all of the frightful and gruesome aspects of Halloween, and they look forward with trembling anticipation to visiting a haunted house, watching an horrific form arise out of a swamp, or, if only through a well-told story, being scared out of their senses!
For the younger child, however, the situation is different. The spirits and creatures with whom the younger child communes are not those created by human error, but rather those in whom the innocent and wise powers of Nature reside: gnomes and undines, fairies and elves, the spirits of stones and streams, sun and wind. For young children to be exposed only to the dark and demonic qualities of Halloween is to deny the unspoken conviction that they carry in their souls that the world is good.
— Eugene Schwartz
Gulf Hagas, the “Grand Canyon of the East”, is a three-mile-long slate gorge located in the mountains of central Maine. Last week Ashwood Waldorf School’s Middle School students enjoyed a two-night camping trip to the area crowned by a day-long hike along the rim of the gorge. It was an amazing trip: waterfalls cascading through narrow passages, sheer slate cliffs, crisp fall colors, and even a moose on our way home. Our profound thanks go to all of the parents who helped make the trip possible by cooking and shopping and providing equipment. We’d also like to send a big shout-out to our chaperone/guides: Buck O’Herin, David Ray, and John Luft.
Amy Watson, Seventh Grade Teacher, and Laura Purdom, Sixth Grade Teacher
Photos by John Luft.