Oct 6, 2010

school for the girls...

..... means work for me.

Our decision to send our kids to a Waldorf School was a very conscious one. We checked out a couple of schools about 3 years ago, when Lara was getting close to the age of 4 and were having a hard time deciding. The closest school is the same one I used to go to as a child. This school has now become one of the what are known as 'Black Schools' here in Holland. It has nothing to do with actual black people, and I still think it's the worst naming choice in history (except for that guy who named his son Pilot Instructor) but it is what it is. What it means is that more than 50% of the children who go to that school were not born in Holland and usually do not speak the Dutch language as fluently as a Dutch native would. In the case of the school I used to go to the percentage has gone up to about 75%. While I am all for mixing cultures, hearing different languages, learning from each other's differences and being tolerant, I also find it really important that my children hear and learn proper Dutch, and unfortunately that has become something of a problem in these 'Black' schools.

Our next option was a school a little bit further away and we thought we had found our school. We enrolled Lara in pre-school there (two mornings a week from the age of 2,5 - 4). While she enjoyed her time there I kept feeling like this still wasn't the right place, and I knew that if I was going to make a decision about changing schools I would have to do it soon before Lara started going on a daily basis and got really settled. Reasons that that school still felt 'off' included the size of the groups (34 children in 1 class!), the amount of junk food that was served every time someone had a birthday (seriously, you would not believe the money some parents would spend on treats for everyone) and the sheer amount of plastic toys that were stacked clear up to the ceiling on nearly every wall to ensure any form of imagination/dreaming/natural discovery is discouraged. Also I must admit that I didn't feel comfortable with the other parents. It felt a LOT like high school all over again, with the cool group, the weird group, the jocks, the gossips..... not good.

  Then my dear friend Hellen, who has a daughter the same age as Julia, told me about the school she had attended as a child, and that she was probably going to have her children go to as well. It was a Waldorf school, and though I had heard of them before I didn't actually know a whole lot about them. All I knew is that it was where all the hippies took their children, and that the running gag is that when you've gone to school at a Waldorf school you can knit a fairy but you can't spell fairy. Safe to say I was a little unsure. It doesn't help that they're called 'Free Schools' here, making them sound like kids just hang out there doing whatever they want, which is probably dangle from the ceiling half the time and poke a pile of mud with a stick the other half.

 Then I began to find out more and more about how this particular Waldorf school I was considering operated, and that a lot has changed in anthroposophical education since my childhood. Mainly I learned that at a Waldorf school a child is encouraged to learn what they need to learn, in a way that works for them. For some that is with their head, for others with their hands, for some others with their hearts. Let's face it, we all learn best when we are able to experience something new with as many senses as possible, then do it ourselves and finally really get a feel for it and make it our own. They are also very aware that we are not just our body, we have a spirit and children don't just magically appear on earth after a miracle of nature. They believe we existed before we came to earth, but leave everyone quite free to fill in details as in what form or level of consciousness that might have been. They also celebrate Christian/Pagan holidays and are very close to nature. Children bake their own bread on Tuesdays, go for a walk in the neirby forest on Fridays and as the seasons change, so do the songs that are sung every single day.

Upon visiting the Wonnebald for the first time I was struck by the atmosphere. It felt so calm, warm and welcoming. Simple toys made from natural materials were arranged in inviting ways for play. A 'treehouse' stood in the corner of the classroom for the 4-6 year olds and you could tell the children were engaged in lots of arts, music, nature watching and story-telling. The other parents were so nice to me as well, and Lara immediately took to 'Juffie Marianne'. We were sold.

Lara and Julia still absolutely love their school and have many friends, and we haven't regretted our decision for a moment....
....except perhaps when I am yet again asked to make something by hand for my child that every other person would simply buy at the store for a Euro or two. They really get a kick out of these things. Each Christmas/Easter/Halloween/Sinterklaas/Summer Solstice I receive a note from school describing (very badly too I might add) what they would like me to make for my child this time so they can learn the value of receiving small gifts from the heart that took time and love to create. Or that, in my case,took more time and and a lot of yelling at inanimate objects to make.

The latest example: a special custom-made pencil case (that I received the wrong measurements for!) to hold all the craft/writing equipment Lara will need now she's begun to learn to read and write. I was sure happy to have that sewing machine I got earlier this year because if I attempted to make this thing by hand (like I made her tote for her gym clothes by hand when she first started going) I think you would found me running around the house wearing my underpants on my head and laughing maniacally... again.

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