Why I Love Waldorf

Hannah and her wonderful teacher in front of the long house

Yesterday our family headed way, way up Bathurst Street to the Toronto Waldorf school where we took part in a ceremony with both the grade three class from our school (of ten kids) and their grade three class of thirty!

Our kids had the opportunity to visit their northern buddies several times this year, and one of the projects they engaged in was building a long house (a long, low structure with walls lined with cedar boughs modeled on the traditional Iroquois family dwellings of the 17th century). The parents scheduled some time with their child and their teacher in this long house for an end-of-year ceremony, and then joined in on the potluck feast where we all brought fruit or veggies to compliment the epic amounts of pizza.

I’d heard lots about the Toronto Waldorf School, so I was really excited to check it out. The campus hosts a nursery school all the way through to grade twelve. They have a huge ravine, a vegetable garden, and a small farm with animals to tend. It was everything I expected, and I wanted to stay there.

A birds eye view of Toronto Waldorf School

For those of you who don’t know much about the Waldorf approach to education, here’s a brief overview about why I love it so much:

  • Each classroom is a community, and there is a strong focus on building and nurturing that community, and really sharing in the care for their classroom ‘home’.
  • The teachers are charged with integrating the curriculum across all levels and really injecting life and their own passion into it.
  • The focus is on encouraging children to develop their own thirst for knowledge, and to use their creativity at every turn. Children are taught how to think, not what to think.
  • The classroom environments are very serene and beautiful. Natural materials are used for furnishings and toys, they are free of excessive clutter, and the walls are even painted in particular colors to promote peace and harmony.
  • There is much focus on the importance of a relationship with nature. Students in younger grades get extensive outdoor playtime, regardless of the weather. Older students tend gardens, enjoy ravine walks, and in some cases tend animals. The cycles of the seasons are honored at every grade level.
  • Lessons are tailored to each students level and learning style with lots of individual support for any kids who need it.
  • Mythology plays an important role in the curriculum for all of the lower grades.
  • There is a ‘no media’ agreement that parents are asked to sign, pledging to keep the children from exposure to media during the school week. There are countless reasons why I think this is essential, but that feels like another blog post.
  • The children create all of their own lesson books, which are meticulously hand drawn and carefully crafted. Even math and science books are incredible works of art and precious keepsakes.
  • It’s a non-denominational environment, and even though some of the Rudolf Steiner (the founder of Waldorf Education) methods are rooted in Christianity, the schools work to integrate all faiths, and families of all configurations are welcome.
  • The grade one teacher typically carries their class all the way through to grade eight. A mindful meditative practice, where they hold each child in their hearts and minds is part of their teacher training.
  • Only nutritious foods are permitted for lunches and celebrations.

Tuition isn’t cheap, but there are now public schools popping up who are modeling their approach on Waldorf, and of course there’s homeschooling for those of you who can invest that time and energy.

Our ceremony yesterday was beautiful. Hannah’s teacher is unbelievably awesome, and it’s really breaking my heart to take her away from that class. Her teacher has so much love for her, and her reflections during the ceremony were so thoughtful and specific to Hannah. She shows such care and consideration in all she does. I really hope we can stay in touch, because she’s a completely inspiring woman.

It’s hard to believe we won’t be seeing all of the children and parents we’ve really come to love. I hope our path will lead us back to Waldorf because I so badly want Noah to benefit from this incredible environment and method the way his older sisters have, and I’d love to see the girls carry on through high school. Every time I’m in a Waldorf school, even our tiny one here downtown, it just feels magical.

Maybe I’ll just need to get a job at a Waldorf school so we have one more good reason to head back in that direction.

I’ve attached a video that I found a while back which distills the Waldorf approach quite beautifully.


City Mouse No More

Two gals who are very excited to move to the country.

Two gals who are very excited to move to the country.

It’s our so-called spring here in Southern Ontario, and new beginnings are the theme around here. After finally sharing the news with all of the most important people in my life (namely, my children) I can now leave an update here. I’m leaving city life behind, at least for a little while.

Our family business has left us wanting more, and so while we contemplate the future and hatch our next great plan, we will be heading to Niagara-on-the-Lake, to the house in the country that we love so well. We call it ‘The Lincoln House’, and that’s how I’ll refer to it here. With 30 acres of secluded play space, our children will hopefully thrive in a way that just isn’t possible in the city.

We’ve built up a nest of memories here in our Toronto home – equal parts good and bad. It’s sad to leave because I love this house, I love our neighbourhood, I love the school our children go to, and I love having the energy of the city at my fingertips in those rare moments when I want to venture out. I haven’t lived in the country in about a decade, when I did a brief newlywed stint on a very isolated one-hundred-and-fifty-acre nature preserve in upstate New York. That was another lifetime ago, and an experience that still feels bittersweet.

There is no Waldorf school to speak of in the area, and another round of private school tuition just doesn’t make sense right now, so I am undertaking the wonderful challenge and adventure of homeschooling the girls (and I guess little Noodle) with Waldorf curriculum created for homeschooling families. At first I thought this idea was insane, (I mean, I never imagined myself as the marm of the polyamorous family who lives in the country and homeschools) but now I’m really, deeply inspired, and feeling so passionate about this opportunity. I already feel closer to my children. We’ll do this for a year and see how it goes, and see where we’re at. The ideal end goal is to set up home in a slightly more urban area with a Waldorf school nearby, but who really can tell what will happen next?

All of the adults in our home feel the need to simplify, and so we’re going to extensively pare down our material goods, selling everything and keeping only the very basic things we need. I’m overbrimming with glorious information gleaned from the countless, inspiring blogs I’ve found from homesteader types who have dedicated their life to family and simplicity. I can’t wait to purge, pare down, cut out, and free ourselves from so much STUFF! Stay tuned for the yard sale to end all yard sales.

We’re leaving the city at the end of June, when the school year is through. Before the move, we are planting an extensive vegetable garden at the Lincoln house as both a teaching tool, and a way to nourish our family with vegetables that we know are organic and safe to eat. I’ve never undertaken anything quite so extensive, and to say it’s an experiment will be a bit of an understatement.

The girls took the news so much better than we expected. They were excited, and very accepting, with lots of questions, and the predictable concern over friends and keeping in touch. We’re hoping some of the families we’ve gotten close to will be up for weekend play dates, but we’ll be sure to find some extracurricular activities that allow for creating a new social circle.

I’ll still continue with Les Coquettes, because I love performing with them, and I love creating shows. I do wonder what we’ll have in store after this year? So many of us are having families, and/or our priorities are shifting, and I personally find that writing satisfies my creative energy in a way that nothing else can compare to. Perhaps my Showgirl Madame days are coming to an end?

My new life will afford so much more time for writing. I want to share each step of this experience, and all of the little nuggets of wisdom we can pick up along the way. I used to think maintaining a certain glamorous, artsy, sexy persona was the key to my happiness, but with each passing day I realize that my happiest moments are with my children, and they are the greatest legacy I can leave behind. They afford so much opportunity for creativity and connectedness, and I have never experienced anything as inspiring as them. I feel like they are the catalyst that has led me to step into the next pair of shoes I was meant to wear – the pretty, yet comfortable ones that feel much better than the platform stilettos of old.

There is a giant field of question marks that I stare out into every day. This field is daunting, some parts of it scary, but  the breeze that rustles through it whispers of excitement. Change is a wondrous thing, isn’t it? By taking charge of our life, and making some big decisions, I feel like we’re empowering ourselves to be bigger and better.

What’s the biggest, scariest decision you’ve ever had to make?