Words from a Waldorf Parent

The following was posted to a Philadelphia Speaks discussion thread on Waldorf.  It is a testimonial from an (unverified) Waldorf parent.

I have two daughters at Waldorf. My eldest spent some time at a Friends school before moving over in 2nd grade.

The Philly Waldorf School is fairly liberal when it comes to the Waldorf curriculum/philosophy. That is, teachers interpret as they see fit, some families have TV sets in their houses, and the gnomes are only allowed in the school on Thursdays.

That is to say, it’s a pretty laid back place in many ways, and welcoming to different views. The families are normal, CC and Mt Airy types – not zealots or cult members.

There are no cellphones, no computers, no Mickey Mouse t-shirts (or other corporate/logo clothes). And if your kid brings Oreos as a snack you’ll get a polite note asking you to please refrain from sending sugary snacks. The cookies are fed to the gnomes.

Of course you wouldn’t ever send Oreos, because your kid would be all over you well in advance, since they’d know the rules.

Everyone knits. Everyone plays a string instrument from 4th grade on. Everyone dances (which is about rhythm and togetherness and exercise). There may not be grades, but there is a lot of assessment – long narrative report cards with categorized performance (I don’t remember the terminology off-hand, but it’s basically grades) in a multitude of areas. There are really strong ‘specials’ – language, exercise etc. The school currently leases space on the campus of the New Convenant Church – formerly the PA School for the Deaf. It’s a gorgeous spot, and the kids spend many hours roaming the grassy campus and playing under the trees.

One of the aspects to Waldorf that wouldn’t be immediately obvious is that the faculty is very strong; they basically run the school. Which in my mind is largely a good thing. There’s no ‘headmaster’ ruling over decisions, as you might find at a Friends school. And because the kids stay with the teacher from 1st to 8th grade, there is a large incentive for everyone to figure out how to get along and to build relationships for the long haul.

Don’t tell them I said this, but Waldorf has such a unique ‘brand,’ and such a unique value proposition, that they could double the tuition and spend half of the increase on marketing to attract rich families who are well-educated on the perils of NCLB and the pressures that come with 2 hours of homework in 3rd grade from the other independent schools.

Of course they wouldn’t do that because it would be un-Waldorf, would change the school culture etc, and would dramatically decrease access to middle class families. But there is tremendous value to the education and to the community. Plus, there’s a track record of the Waldorf kids going off to Central High and other places and thriving. After 8 years of knitting and gnomes, who wouldn’t be glad to experience something different – ha!

In all seriousness, Waldorf is little known in Philly, but has attracted families from all over the area (some drive from Cherry Hill etc) and is a well-balanced, warm, inviting, and inspirational place. My family is lucky to be able to spend years of our lives learning from the teachers and the larger community. I’m sure it isn’t perfect. When we were considering the school I asked a world famous education reformer about Waldorf. He kind of chuckled, and said he had a love-hate relationship with the curriculum (this guy’s whole world is curriculum reform, and so he’s passionate on the subject). But then he told me that both his boys had gone through the Princeton Waldorf up to 8th grade, and the site of seeing a modern, 14 year old boy dancing without any self-consciousness was enough to win him over vs. the cynicism and industrial approach to learning of other schools.


3 Responses to “Words from a Waldorf Parent”

  1. merckl Says:

    I don’t have a child at Waldorf, but I did attend the Open House. While I think it’s a perfectly fine school, it’s definitely not for me. It’s WAY too extreme, and at times, hypocritical. I don’t understand how you can possibly prepare a child for their next school (or the “real” world) when you don’t expose them to the things other children are learning about (and mastering).

    It’s endearing that the children are with each other, and their teacher, year after year…..but what happens after 8th grade? Have they learned to adjust to new situations and make new friends easily?

    Last, there is definitely a strong undertone of Christianity. Children in the Kindergarten were told they had to be nice to each other, “so the angels (on the wall) can get their wings”. When I asked about the religious undertones, they admitted it was based in some religious philosophy, but then quickly steered away from the topic.

    Again, perfectly nice school with some real nice teachers. Just not for us.

    • NB Says:

      I chose to educate my daughter via the Waldorf school of Princeton. I lead a very hectic unwaldorf life and was intially attracted to the fact that my daughter woudl expericence a slower pace in her ealry years then the craizness that was/is my world. One thing I did learn, is that you have to trust. Coming from a family where both my parents were educators in the public school system, the fact that my daughter wasn’t having formal reading until 3rd grade caused many lively family discussions. I have to say that now that my daughter is a senior in tradtional private school in NYC– I truly see the value of Waldorf Education. Not only does she have many friends from around the world who are “kin” in Waldorf, but she is a straight A student, with an amaizngly creative mind. Her teachers continually comment on her maturity and her ability to think and be creative in her learning. Also with regards to the religous aspect— I actually found just the opposite – a very strong lack of it! I wish I was a kid and coudl experience a Waldorf Education!! I strongly recommend it to any and everyone who is willing to listen to me!

  2. gw Says:

    Children are very adaptable and you’d be surprised how quickly, and how creatively they grasp technology when it is time (not that they don’t get exposure to it in their lives outside the classroom…we are all inundated with it and it is actually a breath of fresh air for kids to spend so much time interacting with each other and not screens….there is plenty of time for that in the future.)

    As for what happens after 8th grade, I’ve been to a few alumni events and am always floored by how self-assured the graduates are (and teachers at their current schools — Masterman, Central, CAPA, to name a few — are quite impressed as well) The whole idea is that they are MORE flexible, able to think outside the box and deal with new situations readily and confidently, an important skill in a rapidly changing world. From what I’ve seen this is exactly the way it works.

    As for the “undertone of Christianity,” there is definitely a spiritual element to the school. I have always seen this as a plus. There are children of all religious backgrounds there, and each one is respected and embraced, as is the beauty and wonder of nature. There is plenty of information available about the spiritual aspects of Waldorf education. There is no religious teaching, but there is acknowledgement of the spiritual questions that have been central to humans throughout time.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: