On any given weekday you’ll find Theo hard at work.
At just 4 years-old, his work is important.
Some days he’s breaking a sweat as he builds a rocket ship or fort from wooden blocks as large as he is tall. Other days he’s selling sand-made ice cream cones to his classmates at the Waldorf School of Baltimore.
Theo is one of the younger students in the Children’s Garden, and also one of the busiest. The Waldorf School of Baltimore’s Children’s Garden is a child-centered environment in which qualified Waldorf teachers nurture each child’s natural curiosity, enthusiasm, and innate ability to learn
“We are making sure we’re not rushing through childhood,” said Pat Whitehead, the school’s executive director. “So we believe children have jobs and their work is to play. Through self-initiated and creative play, they’re able to learn, imagine, grow and discover. We encourage it whole-heartedly.”
The Children’s Garden, which includes transitional nursery, PreK and Kindergarten classes, encourages children to explore their boundaries while learning in a protected playground space. In this space Waldorf children are encouraged and given many opportunities to connect with nature – – rain, snow or shine. In addition to outside play, the teachers take the children on walks in the woods and lead them in gardening activities. The school is a certified Maryland Green School and the playground is a certified Wildlife Habitat which gives students plenty of ways to learn about the environment. Time with nature fosters a respect for the environment and nurtures curiosity that gives children a deep experience of the natural world in preparation for formal science studies in elementary school.
And while time outside is a necessity for the development of the children, time spent indoors also fosters creativity and wonder while solidifying the building blocks for lifelong learning. Teachers encourage imagination to soar through telling stories, putting on puppet shows and leading art projects in the classroom.
In the beginning of the academic year it was hot outside. So Theo and his classmates explored the color yellow. As the leaves changed and the fall approached, the class dove into studying the color red and how it mixed with the yellow to create beautiful orange. By winter, the color blue was introduced as the weather grew colder.
“The children feel the world around them changing with the seasons,” Whitehead said. “So we mimic this in our curriculum. We offer practical explanations and transitions while giving them lessons they can relate to as they’re developmentally ready for it.”
As the children grow older, their powers of understanding and observation grow with them. While Theo’s class explored the colors with the seasons, the Kindergarten students experienced and reached a more multifaceted understanding of the changing seasons and weather and how we adapt to and celebrate the cycles of the year.
Five year-old Kylie can tell you all about how a chrysalis is formed and is eager to point them out in the school’s garden. Last year she experienced how caterpillars made chrysalis and then become butterflies with a song and movement circle. Also she helped to grow vegetables and used them to make soup – skills she developed during her time in the Children’s Garden. Throughout the day, the children interact continuously. Kylie is broadening her vocabulary and sharpening her communication skills which she is utilizing with both her peers and teachers. Furthermore, she is learning to share with her classmates more readily through the hands-on, experiential curriculum. Her mother, Michelle, said Kylie’s vocabulary has grown by leaps and bounds during the current school year.
“As a parent, you want them to go and find the world and meet challenges head on but it makes you feel nervous,” said Michelle. “And you’re always worried about making the right decision for your kid but Waldorf has never been a decision I’ve regretted. She has grown exponentially from the time that she started to now and it makes me feel good to see her grow so much both in confidence and in what she’s learning.”
Editor’s Note: This article is part of our School Spotlight Series. Each week, we spotlight our partner schools to give you a glimpse into what learning looks like on their campus. To learn more about The Waldorf School of Baltimore, visit their directory listing in our Independent School Directory. Images were provided by the school. Want to become a school partner? Email us.