Meeting Waldorf at the Circus.

As development coordinator for Meadowbrook, I was asked by a reporter why our school promotes Circus Smirkus.  On camera, a 30 second sound bite –  where to start!  Sure, from a development stand point it is a fundraiser but for me as a Waldorf parent this event has a value far beyond dollars and cents.  How to explain it?

An usher at a show attended by 107 day campers from Burrillville, RI shared some comments made by a group of young boys.  “I could do that,” they assured each other as they watched some of the opening tricks.  A little further into the show there was an exclamation – “I couldn’t even do that!”; though someone else thought his dad could.  It didn’t take long for them to realize they were no match for the trained and talented Smirkos (as the troupers call themselves).  By the end of the show all the boys were in agreement – “I want to learn to do that!”  Artistic director Troy Wunderle writes in the playbill that, “In addition to talent, [Circus Smirkus] programs strive to cultivate focused individuals with sturdy minds, solid work ethics, positive attitudes and humble hearts”.  Who doesn’t want that for their child?  As a parent I know that no-one inspires a child in the way another child can, for better or for worse!  The passionate, hard working, joyful Smirkos are a gift to everyone engaged with growing children.

Circus Smirkus has no animals, it doesn’t boast spectacular effects or extravagant sets.  It does have a highly professional and dedicated crew who produce extremely high quality, theme driven shows.  This meshes well with the Waldorf love of story, expressive movement and meaningful use of color and live music.  The success of each show depends on the skill and showmanship of the performers.  As physically demanding as any competitive sport, circus requires the highest levels of teamwork with performers literally putting their lives in each others’ hands as they hang and balance high above the ring.  In this youth circus as in Waldorf education relationships are built by facing challenges together, by following through with tasks and responsibilities – doing the chores behind the scenes as well as the fun stuff in the limelight.

Three of the 29 troupers this year are Waldorf students, a high proportion when compared to the number of Waldorf students in the general population.  This finding is consistent with past tours so I asked Sara Wunderle the assistant operations director if there were any qualities that made Waldorf students particularly well suited to joining the circus.  She said, “Smirkus loves Waldorf kids.  They are well rounded and fit in easily socially”.  As she looked for a word to define how Waldorf kids typically tackle the demands of circus life I suggested ‘independence’ but the difference was something else.  Finally she chose the word ‘competence’.  A well developed sense of self that helps the individual to meet anything that needs doing with a grounded, ‘can do’ matter-of-factness.  They can be relied upon to get the job done.  She also said that the Waldorf troupers out perform in the Smirkus ring and all continue to excel after graduating, be it at other circuses or some quite different career.

It’s great fun to be part of this event.  Many members of our school community volunteer their time and effort to help with the logistics of presenting Circus Smirkus in Rhode Island.  We also provide the hospitality of our homes to the performers, making friends and hearing their stories – they really are a great bunch of kids!  My family was thrilled to see our home-stay troupers again from last year.  Over two days of shows we also see thousands of new faces.  The circus is an opportunity to meet people from other walks of life, to partner with local businesses and share our values with hundreds of local families.  As a parent at the school, I am proud that we make this wonderful event available to our neighbors.  As a parent at home, I am delighted to see my children caught up in happy circus imaginings, inspired to practice some of the skills they’ve seen and full of the joyous possibilities of life.

Smirkos back stage

I would love to hear your comments on all things circus, Smirkus and what events like these mean to you!


How do I choose my child’s first school?

As summer winds on with cook outs and beach outings, I am finding myself drawn into conversations with friends who are parents of younger children.  Do you like your kids’ school?  How do they feel about school?  I talk some about Meadowbrook, sometimes I try to describe the Waldorf philosophy in a succinct two minutes – not my strong point even after 5 years at the school!  But the conversation always ends up at the same essential question, how to be sure that as parents we are giving our children what they need.  It’s a tough one.  Our state and national governments are in debate about how to test and who to test.  We are bombarded with marketing that tells us our children’s success, and therefore our own, depends on us purchasing this or that product.  And there are our own insecurities about our ability to make such important decisions with no experience to base them on, insecurities that grow in the face of our peers who seem to be utterly confident that they know the right way to go.

I had such a conversation yesterday then today came across this great blog post from Teacher Tom.  Tom is not a Waldorf teacher, he is an early childhood teacher in Seattle who clearly loves his job and the kids he works with. I hope this piece speaks to you as it does to me.

Click this link; Learning and loving go hand in hand by Teacher Tom.


Kindergarten Comes to Casey Farm

Jane Francis, or Miss Jane as she in known to the children of Primrose class wrote this piece about her experience taking Meadowbrook into the community with Kim Eccleston, who Miss Kim of the  Morning Glory early childhood class.
Meadowbrook Waldorf kindergarten made some new friends at the farmers market recently.  I wonder if you saw us at Casey Farm and came over to our “tent” to say hello?

Many young children brought their parents in to play in the “kitchen” or under the silk “roof”; to take care of our beautiful dolls or just relax in the big bean bag chair.  We had boys and girls cooking up delicious meals at the stove , working hard –all around the market – with the wooden wheelbarrow, setting up scenes with  our wooden animals and people; some were sailing away on the rocking board or setting up house, complete with bunk beds.

Everyone played so well together –  a lovely morning had by all.

In the middle of the morning we even had time for a puppet show.  Everyone sat and relaxed while Kim enchanted us with a tale of a very wise little girl (Mashenka) who made a plan to get back to her loving home, when a large bear had other ideas!

We talked to parents about the type of kindergarten experience they want for their young children:  warm teachers, safe atmosphere, plenty of time outside, good food, imaginative and creative play. All in all a good foundation for the academic work of the grade school.  Others were interested in our School Fairs and in the handwork groups for adults – knitting, felting and doll making seemed to be favorites.  Others wanted to know if we have a summer camp (we do!).

We were inspired by all the interest and questions.  Many thanks to Bevan Linsley, the Coastal Growers’ Market and Casey Farm for hosting us, we hope to return soon.