Finding Balance: Honoring Childhood While Educating for the Future

Christine Martuscello, Admissions Coordinator of Meadowbrook Waldorf School

A Waldorf School Offers A Child-Centered Education

A healthy education is one that balances the current needs of the child with future educational goals. The child, not the goal, should always be at the center of the process.

Waldorf Education, founded in 1919 and based on the philosophy of Rudolf Steiner, achieves a balanced education by offering a developmentally appropriate curriculum that both supports children where they are in the moment, and prepares them for their next phase of development.   This curriculum unites academics with the arts, movement, practical work, and a deep respect for the natural world.

The Waldorf Preschool Program

For children in a Waldorf preschool program, this means their days are spent engaged in purposeful play, social activity and exploration, both indoors and out. Rich stories are experienced through puppetry, songs are combined with movement, and curiosity, observation, and collaboration are encouraged during forest adventures. Although these important activities are considered “pre-academic”, they all build skills critical for the academic journey that begins in first grade.

A Classical Elementary School Curriculum

Once students enter elementary school they are formally introduced to a classic, liberal arts curriculum that includes music, fine arts, foreign language, and practical arts to create deeper, more meaningful learning. Desk time is balanced with movement, academics are balanced with the arts, and time indoors is balanced with time spent in nature. Since children at this age learn best through strong, memorable experiences, the curriculum is often offered in an experiential manner. In the early elementary grades, this means math facts are paired with clapping games and rhythmical movement, language arts studied through dramatic presentation, and history is experienced firsthand with field trips and biography. These activities meet many styles of learning and reflect the complex world the children will inherit. The skills learned in these early years provide a strong foundation for the challenging learning and growth that is still to come.

Waldorf Curriculum Meets the Child’s Developmental Stage
Elementary (Grades 1-5)

The later elementary curriculum broadens the experience of the child. In the early elementary years, children are still in a dreamy world of imitation, content and secure in their family. Adults are seen as all knowing, and children do not yet question the world around them. This begins to change during the mid-elementary years as the children become more aware of themselves as individuals, and more awake to the world around them. This “nine year change” challenges their sense of confidence in the world, and their place in it.  To reassure children that they will have what they need to meet the world as adults, the Waldorf curriculum turns to the practical. Units of measure and fractions are studied in math, with shelter building and farming as cornerstones of the curriculum at this age. The curriculum at this time is a conscious exploration of what directly surrounds the child: local ecology, government, animals, and plants.

It is this experience of the local and practical that helps children cross a threshold and see themselves as individuals capable of inhabiting a rich and complex world, and successfully meeting the future with knowledge, connection, and collaboration.

After this immersion in the local, the curriculum expands to include ancient cultures and creation stories including Judeo-Christian, Native American, Norse, Indian, Egyptian, Greek, and Roman mythology. Presented during the later elementary grades, these stories describe how humans have been long striving to understand and explain the world around them.

As the curriculum broadens to include that which is outside of the child’s view, the fine and practical art curriculum also broadens. Fourth grade students add a string instrument to their recorder studies, and woodworking is added to the handwork curriculum begun in first grade. Both of these additions serve to not only improve fine motor skills, but to strengthen the will and demonstrate to the child that with practice and perseverance difficult tasks can be mastered to a beautiful end.

Middle School (Grades 6-8)

Middle school is a time of great change: physical, emotional, and intellectual. The children begin to question what they previously accepted without issue when they were younger. This adolescent urge to question and test is the perfect time to introduce the rigorous science curriculum. Through deep observation, which has been encouraged since the early childhood years, the students explore the world sometimes hidden from view through chemistry, optics, physics, anatomy, physiology, and astronomy. Moving from the concrete calculations of decimals, geometry, and business math, to the more the abstract math of exponents, number bases, platonic solids, and algebra, challenges the middle schooler’s burgeoning ability to think in the abstract.

Mirroring their sometimes tumultuous internal changes, the students study tumultuous times of history. Roman law, the Dark Ages, the beauty of the Renaissance, and periods of revolution are explored through first hand experiences, drama, fine art, and biography.   The students are now introduced to individuals, rather than the myths and legends of elementary school, who worked to make positive change in the world, sometimes at great personal cost. By the study and example of these pivotal individuals, the seed is planted that they too can be instruments of change in the world.

Waldorf Education Offers A Balanced, Thoughtful Approach 

A Waldorf Education provides a balanced curriculum that honors childhood by meeting the child where they are developmentally. The nurturance of foundational skills and play in early childhood provides a strong basis for the academics of the elementary years.

The elementary grades offer a rich curriculum of language, math, foreign language, history, geography, music, fine, and practical arts. Time for outdoor play and projects allows the child to experience the natural world, encourages collaboration, and provides an opportunity to recharge.  Once in middle school, the rigorous curriculum expands further to include more sciences and complex math to challenge the children’s new abilities.

It is the thoughtfulness of this intricate curriculum that encourages student’s growing capacities while maintaining the reverence of childhood.

Related Links:
About Waldorf Education 
Meadowbrook Waldorf School Curriculum
Admissions Application


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.

NIK_3088Individuality in Education

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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The Art of Story Telling to the Preschool Child

Contributed by Sarah Wiberg (Parent-Child Class Teacher)

& Nancy St. Vincent (Early Childhood Class Teacher)

Waldorf story telling captivates preschool children

Preschool Puppets

One special part of a Waldorf Early Childhood experience is the use of puppetry to tell a story. The teacher is able to express a variety of deep story themes and soul moods with the simplest of gestures.  The magic for the viewer, whether they are young or old, is that the atmosphere surrounding the story is held with complete reverence and respect.  Lighting a candle and singing a simple song marks the beginning of this special time.

Engaging imagination in a preschool child

Stories rich in language and archetypical characters lay the foundation for creativity and imaginative thinking in the child. Colored silks and wools are used to reflect the seasons and the gestures of these archetypal figures.  Puppets that are lovingly handmade bring the story to life. The puppets are often without faces so the child is free to have their individual experience of the story.  The puppets and the props for the story are made from natural materials such as wool, silk, and wood.  This connects the child to the natural world. Stories follow the characters as they experience joy as well as struggles.  The characters are always able to find their way to the safety of home.  This is a very comforting message. The life of a young child can have many challenges and they need to know that they have a safe and secure place to return to.

Experience the Waldorf way of story telling with your child

Every year, the early childhood faculty at Meadowbrook Waldorf School present a marionette or puppet show for Holiday Faire visitors. This event allows parents a peek into the special world that their children get to experience, and for children and adults who have never seen it before, an opportunity to connect with something truly magical.  We invite you and your child to experience the wonder of story telling and puppetry at the upcoming Holiday Faire.  Please come to witness this simple, beautiful gift.

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Come join in the 2014 festivities at the Meadowbrook Waldorf School Holiday Faire.

Friday, November 21rd from 6-9 PM (Adults’ Night)

Saturday, November 22th from 10-4 (Family Day)