By Christina Plyler – Wise
Suncoast Waldorf School was honored to have Eugene Schwartz, author of Millennial Child and respected Waldorf teacher, trainer and consultant, to visit our school this past week. Mr. Schwartz spent time visiting our campus, observing our students at work and answering questions from our faculty and staff. On Thursday, January 26th Mr. Schwartz gave a public talk on cultivating emotional and social intelligence and just what we mean when we speak of ‘educating the heart’. He was able to clearly and succinctly outline many of the unique aspects of Waldorf education and how these enable this development. Mr. Schwartz explained how subjects in the Waldorf curriculum are integrated so students learn how they relate to each other. This leads to a student who is better able to see the big picture in general and the approach is more engaging, more interesting for the student. For example, in 7th grade, Waldorf students study the History of the Renaissance. Integrated into this is the study of human physiology as DaVinci first introduced it and the study of physics and chemistry as they grew in this time period. From an artistic perspective, students may create drawings or paintings in the style of one of the Renaissance masters.
Mr. Schwartz talked about the unique relationship between the Waldorf class teacher and his or her students. Since Waldorf teachers ideally stay with a single group of students from the 1st through the 8th grades, they have the opportunity to truly get to know each of their students and come to love them as an individual. The relationship with each of the children’s parents becomes an important partnership. Waldorf students develop a strong sense of community among their class and will often times stay in contact with one another throughout the course of their lives. By presenting all of the core subject material for eight years, the class teacher becomes a strong model of a modern generalist who is familiar with a large breadth of material and can understand how all of the subjects are interrelated.
Waldorf students create their own textbooks in the form of Main Lesson Books throughout the course of their Waldorf education. By creating the books themselves, they are able to really take in and digest the material they are learning. As children progress through the grades, the work in their main lesson books becomes more and more self-directed and they often become works of art treasured by the students througout their lives. A range of artistic disciplines is incorporated throughout the Waldorf curriculum, from beeswax block crayon drawing, form drawing and watercolor painting to strings and drama. This serves not to turn all Waldorf students into accomplished artists themselves, but to give them an appreciation of the arts and the aesthetic present in all aspects of their lives. The curriculum is also designed to be ‘developmentally appropriate’. It brings to the children the material they are developmentally ready to receive and represents what is really going to speak to them at any given age. In first grade, this may be traditional fairy tales, but by sixth grade children are ready to hear about the rise and fall of the Roman empire.
Waldorf classrooms incorporate movement throughout the day. Unlike the sedentary nature in many modern classrooms, Waldorf students move around a lot! There is movement in the morning circles at the beginning of the class day, children are asked to stand up, sit down and move around throughout their lessons and Waldorf schools allow for ample free play time. At our school, much of this time is spent running or playing games in the meadow or the kindergarden play yard. All of this movement leads to healthier children and is one of the reasons Waldorf schools don’t see the levels of childhood obesity seen in so many public schools today.
Mr. Schwartz then presented a slide show of academic and artistic work by many of his former Waldorf students. It was amazing to see the progression throughout the grades and the quality of the work was truly impressive. He talked about the career paths of many of his former students and although they encompassed a great deal of variety, the common thread was how many Waldorf graduates choose paths in the world that help and serve others.