Q & A with Donald

What kind of education do Waldorf teachers and teachers at Juniper Ridge School have?

In the independent movement, a Waldorf teacher must have at least a BA degree, followed by a comprehensive Waldorf teacher training. In that training, the teachers learn the basic philosophical guidelines that inform Waldorf education, the curriculum, an introduction to the arts commonly used in a Waldorf classroom (painting, drawing, clay and beeswax modeling, singing, flute and recorder playing, speech/recitation, drama, storytelling) and teaching methodology.

The more pertinent question is what kind of education do Juniper Ridge teachers have? They all have a BA and are trained as teachers. Many are veterans of the classroom with many years of teaching experience. It is this background that has enabled them to be so successful holding and unifying a classroom of children coming from a wide variety of previous school environments with a wide range of academic and social skills and needs. In addition to the background the teachers are coming with, we are committed to providing them with a sound foundation in Waldorf philosophy, methodology, and the arts. Three of our teachers will graduate this summer with a Waldorf teaching certificate. The rest of the staff will begin their path this summer. During the school year, we meet on alternate Fridays for a professional development in-service day where we cover themes particular to understanding the children and working in the classroom. Understanding the stages in the development of the child is essential to knowing how to prepare lessons that the children will meet with joy and enthusiasm. We are committed that all of our teachers will receive training in this foundational knowledge.

 

Won’t my children be behind if they don’t start learning to read and memorizing sight words in Kindergarten? How will they catch up?

“In education over the past couple of decades, there has been a lot of attention given to providing young children a head start. This praiseworthy approach has been unfortunately misled by its own wording: a “head” start has been interpreted as meaning that we should only address the head of the child. As a result, intellectual knowledge has been pushed down younger and younger, first infiltrating the once protected province of Kindergarten, and today also forcing itself into the pre-school setting. But a young child is so much more than a head! At Juniper Ridge, instead of a “head start,” we prefer to give the children, to use another common phrase, a foot up.

Everyone who has young children at home knows that they experience the world and learn, not just through their heads, but through their whole bodies. They can seem constantly in motion, into everything, interested in everything, touching everything, tasting everything, trying everything out. It is a full-time job just looking after young ones and keeping them safe and their curiosity satisfied. Through this behavior, the children are letting us know very clearly that this is how they learn: through touching, tasting, seeing, smelling, hearing, feeling, interacting and moving. In other words, through their senses, and not primarily through thinking! We propose that the most important job of childhood is to play. And through this play, the child learns.

Knowing and observing this, why would we send a young child to school to focus primarily on head learning? Yes, it is possible to teach a four-year-old to read. But so much other learning essential for the young child’s development is missed that way! Our Kindergarten at Juniper Ridge addresses the whole child, from the tips of their toes to the tops of their heads. Through teacher-guided activities as well as independent creative play, the children learn through imitation, rhythm, routine, song, movement and social play how to relate to themselves, to others and toward their environment. When they arrive in first grade, they are more securely oriented in their bodies, and understand better how to relate to others in the little society of the classroom. They are ready and eager to learn. Do they read later than children who began learning their letters in pre-school? Of course, but they are also less likely experience the typical bane of the 11 year old: reading burn-out. Are they behind in their lessons? We don’t believe so. We’ve given them a Hand-Heart-Head Start.”