One unexpected benefit of living wherewe do is how many diverse educational opportunities exist locally, starting as early as preschool. We are fortunate enough to have two well-respected private schools in town, as well as a really great public elementary school, so JDubbs and I never really thought much about where we would send our kids to school. The local elementary school would be completely adequate for Jax, and Em, too, if we’re still around at that point. I’m not too concerned about preschool since, with Jax’s birthday falling in late October, he won’t be able to attend kindergarten until he’s nearly six, and therefore he’ll have plenty of time for all that. Also, wait lists and paying for education that I can provide at home just really aren’t my thing.
That is, until Jax and I walked into this last week at the Upper Valley Waldorf School Winter Fair:
And I was smitten. And still am. And I’m trying to get Jax on the waiting list for preschool here.
It’s not really a preschool (although they do offer that, too); it’s like a pre-preschool, one morning per week with a parent accompanying him. Kind of like the perfect bridge to preschool–a little hand-holding for my little guy who loves holding hands.
So, to explain, the local Upper Valley Waldorf School had its annual Winter Fair last week, and since Jax’s friend Harper attends and this is their big fundraiser, I wanted to show some support. Plus, I’ve been feeling a little crafty lately, and was intrigued to find out more about this school where there are no synthetic toys or materials and where the children play and learn in a school that feels like a home. I wanted to check it out with my cynical public school teacher eyes.
And what I saw was a joyful, intelligent, imaginative, appreciative, children-centered school environment, where the students were proud of their school and were willing to support it however they could.
By playing Christmas music to the Winter Fair attendees on their violins:
By offering up their classrooms and materials for gingerbread house-decorating, tinkering with metal and wire ornaments, weaving cranberry wreaths, or bedazzling a faux gingerbread man ornament:
By thinking outside the commercially-driven box. For example, instead of buying tickets to use throughout the fair, I purchased miniature clothespins which I strung on a bell necklace made of twine to give in exchange for crafts and experiences. Something so small and yet it set the tone of simplicity and minimalism rather than typical consumerism. I know I sound so preachy with all my -isms, but during the holidays I feel so bombarded with pressure to consume and spend; it was nice to get back to basics. And Jax thought that necklace was the absolute coolest thing.
Throughout the fair, it was the small touches like this that really got me, and the absence of the traditional, cookie-cutter school fair paraphernalia that made it all the more sincere.
They had me at “clothespin.”
I won’t claim to be an expert on Waldorf education, but as a teacher-on-hiatus I do know that there are a few things I’d change about the public school system and that maybe I don’t want to rush to put my kids in that potentially vicious cycle of pressure and testing. Not when there are gnome circus tents to explore, handmade by students, staff, and parents:
A real three-ring circus under a big top, toddler-sized, with gnome clown cars and acrobats and tight-rope walkers. The kids got to go in and explore it 3-4 at a time.
And when we left, we got to take a gnome home with us from the audience. Jax chose the red one, and also pulled that little baby gnome out of the apron of The Pocket Lady–one clothespin and he could reach into one of her many pockets and take a small handmade gift. They were in such contrast to the cheap plastics things he would have won from a carnival or out of a vending machine.
And when we left I bought a make-my-own King Winter that my niece Erika graciously helped me assemble with the help of some colored pencils and glue.
Isn’t he cute? I know, his beard is falling off. My glue needs an upgrade.
So, yes, I’m smitten. I’m smitten by the simplicity, the joy, the humanity, the integrity of what I saw in a few hours at that school. I have a crush on the non-conformist Waldorf style of early education. I may not send my kids to school there when they are school-age, but the idea of keeping their childhood a little sweeter and worrying about them learning their letters, numbers, colors, shapes later appeals to me. Maybe it’s because Jax seems like he’s on the right path already that I’m not in much of a rush for him to grow up and go to school. If he can stay a kid as long as possible, fostered by a nurturing school environment, fueling the fire of his imagination, that’s fine by me.