Martinmas – A Path to our Inner Light

Sarah Wiberg (Meadowbrook Parent Child Teacher) and Nancy St. Vincent (Early Childhood Class Teacher) describe Martinmas and the introspection encouraged through the fall festivals of a Waldorf School. 

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Photo Credit: Seth Jacobson Photography

Autumn is a time to reflect on our inner selves

As the leaves change and the world puts on a beautiful autumnal cloak of orange, red, and yellow, we are reminded that winter is coming.  There is much we do to prepare for winter. We may gather firewood, put our gardens to rest or finish canning the bounty of the harvest.  But this time of year, with its shorter days and longer nights, not only prompts us to complete the familiar external preparations, but can also be a time of inner preparation.

Autumn is a time to reflect on our inner selves, to find the inner light that will carry us through this time of darkness. It can be a time to look forward to, with its opportunity to know ourselves in a deeper way.  Waldorf schools mark this season of inner searching with three fall festivals to help guide us on this path of introspection.  In September, we celebrate Michaelmas and St. Michael urges us to battle with courage to face and vanquish our “dragons”.  In early November, we celebrate Martinmas and observe St. Martin’s compassion for others.  In December, St. Nicholas brings the gifts of wisdom, reflection, and review upon the events of the year.  These three figures model strength in the qualities of willing, feeling and thinking.

The festival of Martinmas asks us as striving adults to bring forth our inner light and share it with those around us.

At the festival of Martinmas we hear the story of St. Martin, a Roman soldier who lived in the fourth century.  As St. Martin approached the city gates at Amiens, he came upon a poor beggar who was shivering with cold.  St. Martin, who lived in the utmost of simplicity himself and had nothing to give the beggar, drew his sword and cut his own cloak in two and offered half to the beggar.  The following night, Christ appeared to St. Martin in a dream wearing the half-cloak he had given and said, “Martin has covered me with this garment.”

With St. Martin’s example, Martinmas encourages us to meet each other with a compassionate, giving heart.  It asks us as striving adults to bring forth our inner light and share it with those around us.

The Martinmas lantern walk lights this path. 

At Meadowbrook Waldorf School, we celebrate this festival with the Martinmas Lantern Walk.  We begin the week before with the children in Kindergarten, First, and Second Grades making lanterns in school.  On the night of the Martinmas celebration, the children and parents arrive at school to see a marionette performance of Spindlewood, the story of a girl who has an encounter with Mother Earth as she is preparing for winter.  This story depicts the outer world of earth going to sleep while the inner world is coming alive.  Following the performance, the children and families walk with their class through the forest surrounding the school singing songs of light.  Carrying the lanterns they have made, it is like witnessing many beautiful stars joyfully winding a the path through the woods.  Afterward, the children and families leave in a mood of quiet reverence, carrying their light out into the world.

“I walk with my little lantern, my lantern, myself and I.

Up yonder bright little stars shine, down here were stars to the sky.

The new moon shines, the cat meows…

La bimmel, la bummel, la boom…”




Holiday Faire 2015 – Come and See!

holiday_faire_2015It is almost time for our 17th Annual Holiday Faire! This is a wonderful, free family event with crafts for all ages, music, children’s activities, gently used toys and books, and a stunning array of handcrafted and natural gifts for purchase. Please bring your family and friends to enjoy a beautiful day welcoming the holiday season.

Friday, November 20,  6 – 10 pm for adults to enjoy warm hospitality by the bonfire. The holiday store will open at 7 pm Friday evening providing an opportunity to shop out of sight of ‘little eyes’ for a wide range of unique gifts including high quality children’s items.  View up close and bid early on items in our online auction. The live auction is back this year so be sure to stay and bid on the wonderful items created by each of the MWS classrooms.

Saturday November 21, 10 am – 4 pm for families. Saturday is a festive family celebration with music and marionette shows and craft activities.  The hugely popular Crystal Cave, filled with tiny gnomes and twinkling lights will enchant young visitors and outside will be pony rides on our beautiful woodland campus.

Mark your calendar on Facebook so you don’t forget!

Come and see! Holiday Faire Location 300 Kingstown Road West Kingston, RI


The Freedom of a Waldorf Education

Renee Kent wrote this post as archivist for the Meadowbrook Parents Association.  The MPA meets monthly to discuss various aspects of school life with members of the teaching and administrative staff.  Each meeting begins with the presentation of an educational topic from a faculty representative.  In this post, MWS class teacher Andrew Gilligan brought his incredible energy to discuss with us what it means to enroll in a Waldorf School.  Renee writes, “He presented with such passion and reverence and I am sharing here what I took away from the discussion, not the least of which is an incredible gratitude that people such as Andrew Gilligan exist and take deeply into their own souls the responsibility for educating children in a way that goes much deeper than the practical curriculum of reading, writing, and math.”

Educational Freedom


Andrew Gilligan began his discussion about the importance of Waldorf Education in the world and what it means by asking us to think about the word freedom.  As parents, we exercise our freedom to choose the type of education that best fits the needs of our child.  Waldorf Education exercises its freedom as an independent school system, free from the full weight of government regulation.  Waldorf philosophy (or pedagogy) views children as free beings who come with unique gifts to bestow upon the world.  The children are granted the freedom to enjoy childhood.  The education itself is intended for children to grow into adults who are confident in exercising their own freedom to be who they are meant to be.

Educating for an Unknown Future

Children are the lifeblood of human society.  Children are, quite literally, our future.  While this is a popular media catchphrase, the gravity of this is taken quite seriously by teachers.  Our children will become the adults that make the decisions in our world.  The root of the word education means to draw out.  Waldorf educators abide by the philosophy that their primary role is to remove hindrances so that children are able to bring their own ideas out into the world.  This stands as a stark counterpoint to the general idea that a proper education ‘fills up’ the child with information, information that may or may not be relevant when the child is grown.  As a teacher Mr. Gilligan asks: “How is the gesture of education able to draw out the capacities that lie within the child?”  “How can we educate this child for freedom?”

We prepare a child of today for an unknown world of tomorrow by allowing them to know their own self, to rely on their inner strength, and by allowing them their own freedom within the moral compass of knowing that they must take responsibility for that freedom.  We do this by holding a quiet knowing of what childhood ought to be, by allowing them the freedom to fully experience childhood.

Education Begins with Healthy Relationships

Waldorf educator and author, Gary Lamb describes a Holy Trinity of Education made up of parents, teachers, and children.  The basic foundation of a healthy school is healthy relationships, where no one is given authority to make a decision about a child unless that individual knows the child in question and bears some responsibility for the education of that child.  No outside agency, (government, academic or industrial) should be involved in making policy decisions about education unless directly involved in providing that education to the children concerned.  If children are to be free to develop to meet the future they must be free of the demands of present economic and political considerations.  Waldorf Education is child-centered meaning all decisions regarding that education are driven by the needs of the individual child and the class in question.  Using the Holy Trinity of Education those decisions are made by the child’s parents and teachers.

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In a Waldorf School, the teacher is a pedagogical artist with the freedom to bring his or her own particular interests, experiences, and skills to the students, enriching the curriculum with deeper meaning.  Public school colleagues are limited in this capacity. This is not because they lack the understanding or do not feel the gravity of their responsibility. It is because their freedom is restricted by school systems. They are regulated by the need to provide quantifiable results. They are required to evaluate success according to metrics. Metrics that are based on standards unconnected to the individual child’s capacities.  Within the Waldorf curriculum, teachers are free to make choices that meet the needs of the class, assessing progress and evaluating the process as it relates to the children concerned.

Freedom to Invest in an Education

As parents we know our children, their needs and gifts, better than anyone.  As parents we have the freedom to choose the educational system we feel is the best fit for our children.  However, the cost of attending an independent school may mean some parents are unable to act on their choices.  Parents in Waldorf Schools are partners in their children’s education not only by working with the teacher in support of the work done in the classroom, but by sustaining community life and helping alleviate financial pressures through volunteerism.

Mr. Gilligan offered that it is a brave choice to become a part of a  Waldorf School. It is a free choice, not something foisted upon you and it requires a personal investment.  What it calls on us to do is to rise up and hold ourselves accountable, to sharpen our responsibility of soul.

Freedom to Pursue Their Life’s Work.

As a parent listening to this talk, I was repeatedly moved by the depth of commitment expressed by Mr. Gilligan.  Most parents if asked, I imagine would say that what they want is for their children grow into happy, well adjusted adults.  To me this means that they will pursue what they are passionate about, something that is soul satisfying and that they can fully immerse themselves in.   What became clear to me while listening to Mr. Gilligan is that in choosing a Waldorf School, I have surrounded my children with adults doing exactly that.  Adults who felt a calling and pursued it, a calling they are free to fully inhabit to the benefit of the children.  With adults they respect, doing their life’s work with integrity and passion, the children are being shown daily that they are free to do the same.  I can’t think of a better place for my children.

A Different Approach to Financial Aid

This post is written by Tabitha Jorgensen, a current member of our Board of Trustees.  Tabitha previously served as our  Admissions Coordinator, welcoming new families to Meadowbrook for more than 14 years.

Part of the Mission Statement of the Meadowbrook Waldorf School reads, “We strive to offer this education to those who seek it here…” One of the ways MWS supports this part of the mission is through financial aid, and like many things at a Waldorf School, we do it a little differently. For one thing, we call it “adjustment” not “aid,” and this is quite purposeful.

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A more traditional financial aid system works something like this: The school has a line item in their budget designated for financial aid. This is a specific amount of money set aside and given out to families who qualify. Once the limit is met, the school generally won’t give out any more. The allocated amount can be adjusted during budget planning, but generally not during the school year.

At Meadowbrook we don’t have a budgeted line item for financial aid. So how do we responsibly budget this way? How do we meet the needs of our community members for whom full tuition is not possible? How do we work with a family facing a financial crisis?

First, we rely on our experience and make some educated estimates. Based on past experience, we are able to determine the percentage of students that will need adjustment with reliable accuracy. An “average” tuition amount is calculated per student and a budget is built around that number. In this way, any new family who applies to MWS late in the season adds to the bottom line of our budget, even if they are not able to pay full tuition.

Second, we have cash reserves for a rainy day. If a particular year turns out to be financially challenging for our families and more requests for adjustment are made than anticipated, or emergency situations arise during the school year (job loss, unexpected medical conditions etc.), we are generally able to meet those needs. If a trend begins, as it did when the recession hit, future budgets are adjusted accordingly.

Third, we are committed to working this way. It is a time consuming process to manage every case through our tuition-adjustment committee, but every family and every circumstance is unique. This work provides an opportunity for MWS to show that we honor and value all our families, and it is also a time when our families can see Meadowbrook principles in action.

It is through working with families, and not merely formulaic calculations, that we strive to reach a tuition level that is acceptable to both the family and the school. As with any agreement between two parties, there are expectations. Families can expect a confidential, fair, thorough process from MWS, a process in which they are active participants. In turn, MWS expects that our families will make choices to demonstrate they consider this education is a priority.

Part of managing a thorough process means a family must provide financial documents, honor deadlines, and present a complete picture of their circumstances.  Part of creating a fair process means MWS cannot support certain “lifestyle” choices through the tuition adjustment program. For example, our policy statement indicates both parents should be employed once all children are of school age. MWS cannot subsidize a choice to be unemployed at the expense of our other families or our faculty. Of course there are exceptional circumstances and times where employment is not about choice – illnesses, job changes, divorce, etc. Exceptional circumstances will always be considered.

The tuition adjustment program is designed to meet as many families as possible, sustainably and fairly. The tuition adjustment committee works to balance the needs of our families with the needs of faculty, staff, programming, and facilities. The tuition adjustment program is an area where we express our belief that those in a Waldorf community carry one another’s destiny. Meadowbrook is entrusted with supporting the destiny of a child and that child’s family. The family, in turn, supports MWS through tuition, and by participating in the vibrant community life of the school.

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