The Wisdom of Play Based Learning

Betty Merner has been a faculty member of Meadowbrook Waldorf School for more than 22 years. She taught in public schools for 18 years before discovering Waldorf education. Following 15 years as a class teacher Betty became the school’s Resource Co-ordinator overseeing special services for students in need of extra support. Here she considers the results of a study into play based learning in light of her extensive experience of the Waldorf approach.

The HighScope Educational Research Foundation of Ypsilanti, MI recently published the results of its longitudinal study, the HighScope Preschool Comparison Study. HighScope followed the lives of 68 young people born into poverty from ages 3 and 4. These children were randomly assigned to one of three early childhood programs: the Direct Instruction model, where teachers followed a script to direct the learning of academic skills; a Play-Based model, where teachers responded to children’s self-initiated play in a loosely structured setting; and the Highscope model where teachers set-up the classroom and a daily routine within which children could create and do their own activities. The study followed these children until age 23 and looked at their success in a number of categories that affected their lives on a number of levels. Continue reading →

In Good Arms; a parent reflects on opening day.

Teri has been a Meadowbrook parent for six years. Here she reflects on her own transition as her daughter joins first grade. The beautiful photos are by Monica Rodgers, another MWS parent.

The rainbow bridge to the grades

Yesterday, a child came out to wander
Caught a dragonfly inside a jar
Fearful when the sky was full of thunder
And tearful at the falling of a star

And the seasons they go ’round and ’round
And the painted ponies go up and down
We’re captive on the carousel of time
We can’t return we can only look behind
From where we came
And go round and round and round
In the circle game.

This song rings in my ear as I think about my daughter entering into 1st grade.  I am caught in that parent conundrum of being excited that she is growing up and becoming more independent, yet wanting her to crawl onto my lap and ask me to make it all better.   Continue reading →

After Meadowbrook by Gillian Bell.

Gillian Bell attended Meadowbrook from Kindergarten through grade 4 in the class of 2003. She recently updated us on what she has been up to ever since:

1st day of kindergarten.

After fourth grade I split off from my Waldorf friends (who are, to this day, my best-of-the-best friends) and entered fifth grade at Chariho Middle School. I spent four years there, navigating what seemed like a huge school to me, bouncing from one color-coded hallway to the next, and learning generally valuable things like how to touch-type and the pledge of allegiance. My Waldorf background came in handy many times- most notably whenever I attempted to restrain myself from accompanying my times tables with Mrs. Merner’s signature “Macarena.” By the time I hit high school I was ready for something different. My parents obliged and we explored many different schools before finally settling on The MET School– a small, alternative, RI public school in Providence. At the MET I had the luxury of studying with one teacher for four years, much like at Waldorf. I completed dozens of independent projects and interned at a graphic design studio and the Sandra Feinstein Gamm Theater.  I felt more at home doing the kinds of hands-on learning I had always been used to, ever since my very first beeswax gnome. In 11th grade I followed my friends to the Ecole d’ Humanité in the Swiss Alps- a school that many Waldorf folks are familiar with now.

Graduation day at URI

After finishing up my final year of high school back at The MET, I started college at the University of Rhode Island in the Fall of 2007. I was very lucky to be able to study abroad in my junior year, in Fiji. I lived in the capital Suva for 4.5 months, studying Multiculturalism and Social Change at the University of the South Pacific with the World Learning School for International Training program  (SIT). I lived with a caring host family there who helped me to truly understand what it means to live and learn in the Fiji Islands. It was definitely one of the most exciting experiences in my life so far – and well worth 3 years at home in Richmond saving up!

This Spring I graduated from URI with a degree in Anthropology and a minor in Nonviolence & Peace Studies. As I write this I am working on my application to graduate school. I’m applying for a masters program in Intercultural Leadership, Service, and Management at SIT’s graduate institute in Brattleboro, Vermont. For the past two years I have been delighted to serve on the new Meadowbrook Waldorf School Alumni Association, and to help with the planning of the Alumni & Friends Art Shows. I can’t imagine separating who I am today from my wonderful years at Waldorf, surrounded by friends and colored silks with wooden clips, wearing felted crowns and beeswax beads. Because once you can make your own cutting board, what can’t you do?! Thanks, Meadowbrook!

2011 Alumni Art Show graphic designed by Gillian.

We love hearing from our alumni students, families and teachers. Stop by or send your updates to We encourage you to stay in touch by liking the MWS Facebook page or email us to join the mailing list for alumni updates and/or the Lunchbox Express. 

A Day in the Life of a Pilgrim

Donna Mirza has been the movement teacher at Meadowbrook for many years. She is an avid cyclist, skier and hiker so is excited to be spending her 2011 – 2012 sabbatical year teaching at the Waldorf School on the Roaring Fork in Colorado. Her daughter Emily graduated from our school in 2004 and is currently studying public health at Western Washington State University.

This past summer my daughter Emily and I walked an ancient pilgrimage, the Camino de Santiago which translates as the Way of St James. This pilgrimage route transverses the width of the northwest Spain and has existed for over a thousand years. It leads to the city of Santiago de Compostela where legend holds that the remains of St. James are buried.

So what was a day in the life of a pilgrim like? Let me take you on a typical day. Waking at 5 am became intuitive. It was easy to do when sleeping began by 9 pm the night before from the fatigue of walking 15 miles even after an afternoon siesta. Quietly, we’d tip-toe out of the dormitory with backpacks readied the night before so as to not wake sleeping pilgrims (once 90 pilgrims in one room!) Breakfast of yogurt and fruit in the kitchen unless it was in earshot of the dormitory, then we’d eat outside with our headlamps not to disturb sleeping pilgrims. And then we’d walk and walk and walk some more. Leaving before sunrise assured us finishing our walk before the strong sun and heat of the afternoon.

Aside from food and drink everything that we needed, all 16 lbs, was carried in our backpacks. The list: one change of clothes, 3 extra pairs of socks, poncho, toiletries, first aid, flip flops (for showers), micro-fiber towel, light weight fleece, long sleeve shirt, wide brim hat, sleeping bag liner and sheet, comfy sandals for touring and guide book.

Along our pilgrimage, we walked through tiny hamlets, medieval villages and historic cities. We walked through row upon row of beautifully manicured vineyards and miles upon miles of crop fields of wheat and barley, with an occasional golden surprise of acres of sunflowers. We walked on cobble stoned roads, ancient Roman roads, earthen paths, asphalt and cement sidewalks. We crossed over Roman bridges where knights, kings, queens, emperors and saints traversed before us. We walked on flat terrain, hilly terrain, up mountain sides and down. You name the path, the terrain and the landscape and we walked on it and through it. The same footpaths that millions of pilgrims since the middle ages have traveled before us.

Throughout the day, every couple of hours we’d break for snacks and lunches. Sometimes they were at tiny cafes in a village, a shady spot or a grassy patch or even the dusty path itself. A respite may include other pilgrims, sharing the day’s happenings and destinations, or a quiet rest just the two of us.

With our guide book, plans were made the previous night with expected kilometers to walk, where the cafes were for food and drink and which hostel we’d stay in at our destination. We relied on each other. Emily and I were great companions; keeping pace with each other, both emotionally and physically. Well, maybe once or twice I had to ask Emily to slow the pace a bit; young legs!

Upon arrival and check-in, our pilgrim’s passbook was stamped documenting a day on the pilgrimage. We chose our bunks, usually Emily top and me the bottom. Then we showered, hand washed our clothes, hung them to dry, bought food at a local market to cook for dinner, breakfast and some snacks to carry for the following day. Back to the hostel for siesta. Ah, siesta. We loved siesta and our bodies needed the restorative rest. After dinner, we’d walk around the town or city we were in, relax and chat with the other pilgrims we’d come to know or get to know new pilgrims.

We lived in the present, taking care of our basic needs: food, water, rest, clean clothes, and we walked. Life as a pilgrim was simple. Everyday, about 15 miles per day for 480 miles, Emily and I walked. After 31 days of walking we arrived at Santiago Compostela, at the cathedral of the resting place of the tomb of St James, the apostle. Our pilgrimage complete or has it just begun?

Emily and I dedicated our pilgrimage to the Pygmies of the DR Congo as they seek land where they can continue their indigenous lifestyle. If you would like to learn more about our pilgrimage and read our posts from when we were walking, see our blog. Many thanks to all our friends and the families who supported us along the way.

Donna and Emily at Santiago de Compostela