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.