13 October, 2010

My visit to the Waldorf School of Louisville

A few weeks ago, my friend Honey and I went to visit the Waldorf School of Louisville.

From the moment I drove into the parking lot, I felt right at home.

Parents were dropping off their children on the school playground, and what a playground it is!  It is quite a large space, adjacent to the parking lot, and it is fenced with natural colored wood.  Large trees dot the landscape, which is covered with a mixture of sand, mulch, and hickory nut shells.  A large pile of sand stands at one end of the play space, just begging to be used for all sorts of games.  There are also two or three natural wood forts and a tree stump circle, perfect for all sorts of performances.

There is also a separate playground area for the younger children.  A section of fence divides the two playgrounds, so this second playground feels very cozy.  You enter this space through a large gate, and follow a path through to the entrance to the school building.  On the way you pass small garden spaces, a wooden fort, a short zip line partially hidden among the trees, another big pile of sand, and plenty of wheelbarrows!

Have I mentioned this is pretty close my dream playground?!  Even in its extremely dry condition (we haven't had any rain in about 2 and a half months) it was such an inspiring space, and I could just imagine all the games and adventures children must play out and imagine there.  The directress of the school told us children spend a minimum of 25% of their day, every day, outside.  They work, gardening or cleaning.  (A teacher we met was having her students wash out all their play silks.  They use hoses, soap, and big buckets.)  They play, they imagine, and they just get to be children.  This is as close as I can imagine to a safe and supervised play space, where children can really experience nature play.  (I am reading Last Child in the Woods.  If you haven't read it, please consider doing so immediately!)
And that was just the outside of the school! 

Next we were led into the classroom of the Red Rose Kindergarten.  The class had a teacher and an assistant and about 12 students.  Here are some photos of the classroom.

House area
The dining space
Nature table area
Look at these dolls!

The colors really are lovely.  From my reading, I honestly had my doubts about the pink color I read was on the walls of all the early childhood classrooms, but it is so warm and inviting.  The room really was very homey (which I guess is partially because the school building is an old home.)  It included a small bathroom (with a child sized toilet and sink), a small kitchen, a dining space with a table and about 14 chairs, a large mud room with cubbies and coat hooks for everyone, and the living room space which is the main classroom area.

The children had already had their outside time when Honey and I arrived.  They were all sitting down and having some water in the dining area.  We introduced ourselves and were invited to join them.  The children were chatty and seemed interested to meet us.

Next we joined the class for their Circle Time.  This time was mostly singing and movement.  The teacher sang a version of Sleeping Beauty (without a book as she told the sory by heart) with a lot of movement, almost choreography.  The children mimicked her movements and so did Honey and I.  The story went on for quite a while, maybe 15 minutes or so, and then it was time for the children to enjoy a snack.  (The book at the right is obviously a written version of Sleeping Beauty, but it is recommended by Blueberry Forest Toys, where the sell a variety of Waldorf toys.  (I should probably pick one up, and and work on my telling of Sleeping Beauty.)
The snack time was very home-like as well.  The children all sat around the table, each with a cloth napkins and a glass mug.  The teachers then passed out small plates to each child with little individual loaves of wheat bread which the children had baked earlier in the morning.  The children were invited to have butter spread on their bread if they wished.  The assistant teacher also offered each child a choice of iced tea or water, and later during the meal (because it really felt like a whole meal) children were also invited to have a few pistachios.  Yum!  The children seemed to really enjoy this whole experience.  They didn't seem rushed, and they took time to visit with each other, us, and the teachers.

The next phase of the day would be what I call work time, but I'm not sure what they call it.  The children were invited to choose activities in the living room area, the main classroom area.  There was a sewing activity a few children were finishing up.  Other choices included a "woodworking shop," a turtle to examine (brought to school just for a day visit), the housekeeping area, and some wooden toys and puppets.  Immediately upon being dismissed some children moved to the play stands and began arranging them for a "concert."  (And can I just add here that I coveted the play stands?  I need some for my classroom, pronto!)  Capes and other dress up clothes were soon added to the concert preparation, puppets came out, and the children generally just played happily.

The last part of the Red Rose Kindergarten day was a closing story.  The children acted out the story the teacher had told earlier in the morning, this day it was again Sleeping Beauty.  The children each took parts, were given costumes, and while the teacher told the story (this time in words and not in song) they acted it out.  My favorite part of the whole story was the princess "climbing the stairway" to the top of the tower.  This entailed the young girl playing the princess climbing up some large stumps the children had rolled into place.

The whole experience of visiting the school was inspiring and so interesting!  The teachers, children, and staff members were so welcoming.  They answered all our questions, and treated us like we were part of the school.

So you ask, what did you learn or observe that you can incorporate into your own classroom?  Well, at the risk of making this post even longer . . .

  • I remembered all the benefits of oral story telling.  That is something I do from time to time in my classroom and with my own children, but after observing the Waldorf classroom, I want to memorize more stories and tell stories much more often!  The children can use their imaginations to form pictures, and they are especially engaged when I can look them in the eyes as I speak.
  • Having more home-like snacks would be lovely.  My assistant and I keep adjusting our classroom space in an attempt to have room for all the children to sit at tables.  This is all a work in process, but seeing the benefits in action was quite inspiring.  It would also be excellent for the children to do more cooking.  As our classroom does not have a sink, much less a kitchen, this will be tricky.  However, last year we made do well with an electric tea kettle, hot plate, and a crock pot.  Tomorrow we are going to attempt to make bread in the Parish Center kitchen.  It is a bit of a hike from the classroom, so wish me luck!
  • Natural toys really are best.  The children truly do interact in a very different way with wooden toys, for example, rather than plastic.  I do not have too many artificial materials in the classroom, but sometimes I can get bogged down considering the cost of all natural toys.  I have to remember not all toys have to be expensive.  The WSL wooden "stairs" for example, were surely free!  (And we already have some tree stumps that we could use in the room!  Excellent!)
All in all, it was such an interesting trip and as I've said, inspiring!  I am so grateful to the teachers, schools, and students who welcome teachers into their buildings!  We are all working on raising healthy, kind, and intelligent children, and when we work together we all do that work even better!
And thank you especially, to everyone at the Waldorf School of Louisville! 

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