This weeks episode on the podcast is a bit different than normal. My kids attend the Alabama Waldorf School here in Birmingham, Alabama. I have been around long enough now to see how wonderful this education is for them. It proves to be difficult to succinctly say why we love the Waldorf school and it’s teachers.
I had never heard of this style of education before, and I’m sure I’m not alone. Since it’s my podcast, I thought I would break from the norm of having conversations with musicians and interview Dr. Lisa Grupe, the faculty director at the Alabama Waldorf school. I hope this episode is able to raise awareness and help people understand why the Waldorf method of education is so effective.
Normally I would catalog a number of key points in this blog post, but it doesn’t seem fitting to do that. It doesn’t feel personal enough. Instead, I asked my wife Kathleen if she would write a post about why she chose to send her kids to the Waldorf school, and what she loves about it.
For this episode, Ryan thought it would be effective to have the parent of a Waldorf student write about their experiences with Waldorf education and philosophy. While we are both technically ‘Waldorf parents’ now, I was the one faced with the initial choice of where to send my kids to school. Since there are no publicly funded preschool programs in Alabama, anyone interested in getting their kids into a school program prior to Kindergarten must research private school options. At the time, I had a good friend with slightly older children that had discovered the Alabama Waldorf School much in the same way as I was about to. Without much thought as to whether her girls would continue on past those preschool years, she was immediately charmed by the idyllic scenes of children perched in trees, little ones happily playing in sand pits with hand-me-down kitchen utensils, and boys and girls alike sailing through the air on simple rope swings.
My first experience at the school was similar. I was not only charmed, but also intrigued by the complex knitting projects completed by all students, the beautiful handwritten ‘textbooks’ supplemented with colored pencil illustrations and diagrams, and a curriculum that included Spanish AND Russian introduced in the first grade ... What kind of school was this?? And then there is one of the most striking singularities of a Waldorf elementary school, the peaceful absence of all electronics. This along with the soft pastel surroundings, a few wooden blocks and toys lying about, and cozy corners for reading leave you feeling like you have stepped back in time. I left feeling like I would have been happy to stay for a while. Once I read about the school’s partnership in cultivating healthy eating habits, and their commitment to teaching their students to become citizens and stewards of the planet, I knew I had found a special place.
Since then I have discovered how much deeper this style of education goes. Throughout the year parents have the opportunity to learn about the carefully considered curriculum structured around stages of childhood development, the holistic approach to learning, and all the ways the faculty strives to consistently meet the needs of the students and the parents. As an observer, the learning appears to be slow at first. Learning math is layered, one day to be taught by means of a story, the next through the rhythm of a silly song expressed in movement and recitation. The value of reading is emphasized through the richness of descriptive language and storytelling, without the fevered concern for teaching our children to decode the words as early as possible, as is so common these days. It takes patience, and some faith on the part of the parent. But if you step back and observe closely, you start to see that these children are learning that Learning itself is a magical and wondrous thing.
In my darkest times of parenting, the teachers have been a source of support and knowledge, and have become partners in this process of raising children — a gift of such proportion that I find it overwhelming to think about. These two amazing women that my children were fortunate enough to get as teachers for their elementary school journey have become valuable role models for me, not only with regards to my children, but simply for the persons they have demonstrated themselves to be.
Lisa Grupe has come to be this kind of figure in my life as well. She has been an adviser and confidante, an advocate for my children, a cheerleader for me and my own work — a light in this sometimes gray world. On this podcast I think you will find her words thoughtful, articulate, passionate, and knowledgeable. If you are in the music profession and are looking for some bits of gold here, there are undoubtedly things to extract and apply to learning, performing, and teaching. Perhaps if you are like me, you will feel a distant longing in your heart — a wish that the child inside of you had the opportunity to have the world slowly and thoughtfully revealed to them in this beautiful manner.
Thanks for reading, and I wish you happy listening!