BY KATE POSS
Whidbey Life Magazine Contributor
May 4, 2016
Take a look around and you may be dazzled by the lavender, rhododendrons, bluebells, forget-me-nots and irises in local gardens, along with the profusion of wild plant beauty in bloom here on Whidbey Island. Spring infuses us with the energy brought on by longer daylight and welcome sun.
In celebration of this fecund time of year when the sap rises and the birds sing early morning songs, the Whidbey Island Waldorf School celebrates its thirtieth year and welcomes spring with MayFaire, a festival on Saturday, May 7, 10:30 a.m. – 2:30 p.m.
One of the highlights of MayFaire is the students’ dance around the Maypole, set up outside and decorated with rainbow streamers of ribbons flowing from a garland of flowers. Students wear flower garlands in their hair and each holds a ribbon attached to the Maypole, weaving it in and out to create a colorful pattern when the dance is done. The practice dates back to 10 BC when the Druids of ancient Briton honored tree spirits and gave thanks for the harvest to come.
MayFaire, free and open to the public, includes crafts such as making magic wands, necklaces and flags. Faces will be painted in spring colors, crowns made and fortunes told by the Green Man. A booth selling peppermint lemonade (made by inserting a peppermint stick into a lemon) benefits the school’s library. Sack-races, tug o’ war and egg toss complete the timeless day honoring the spirit of community, flowers, trees, earth and sky.
Hosting festivals and being tuned to the Earth’s natural rhythms are part of the Waldorf education approach, founded in Germany nearly a hundred years ago by Rudolf Steiner, an Austrian philosopher and social reformer. The private school system has since spread to nearly seventy countries and emphasizes a holistic education, integrating children’s head, heart and spirit. Students tend to stay with the same teacher from grades one to eight. Curriculum is based on the developmental stage of the children.
For instance, in second grade, students learn curriculum and stories and perform plays about saints and their counterpart, the trickster. At this age, second graders might exhibit both of these qualities, said Natasha Zimmerman, who teaches first grade this year. In the past, she taught a class from first through eighth grade. Those students, now in their early twenties, are still friends and meet during the summers when they return home to Whidbey. Their memories of class with Miss Zimmerman include circumnavigating Whidbey’s coastline in fourth grade in order to map the island and gain a better understanding of geography.
Natalie Rehberger, a former student of Miss Zimmerman’s, sent a message through Facebook regarding her memories in her beloved teacher’s class. Natalie lives in India now and has accepted a marketing and PR position in Bejing.
“I have a very clear memory of her on the first day of first grade,” Rehberger wrote. “Everyone was seated at their desks, which was a new feeling since kindergarten classes don’t have desks. I don’t remember what she said as we began class, but I remember feeling very comfortable. She taught us a song called Twelve Golden Bells (one for each student) that morning. Through the years the number of bells changed as new students came and left, but she was always there for us, even now. Every year we get together at least once to have a Swedish Meatball party. Her mother is Swedish-American and she brought that culture into the classroom, most significantly for me, her stories of Tomptin (a Swedish gnome). She brought magic into the classroom and made learning fun. I think her students really respect her. She had a good balance of being a fun teacher while still fostering a disciplined environment.”
Simple lessons, use of top quality art materials, music, stories, plays and eurythmy (a therapeutic dance originated by Steiner are all part of Waldorf education. (For more information, visit Rudolf Steiner and Eurythmy). Top-quality material doesn’t translate to intense technology. Classroom teachers from preschool to grade eight teach lessons writing on genuine blackboards with chalk instead of relying on computers and televisions for teaching lessons. Young students learn to make letters initially by practicing the concept of straight and curved. Then those forms are combined in a variety of patterns. Students are asked to stand up tall to feel straight and then how to draw it when they take a pencil in their hand. They then curve their body, and the feeling of curve is imprinted on their muscle memory when they draw.
The holistic approach includes incorporating creativity in art and beyond the school. Soule said that emphasis is placed on daily visits with the outdoors and to that extent, the school hosts a Forest Kindergarten, which takes the students outside all day in the woods where their teacher reads stories and teaches lessons, and students run and play and use their imagination.
“The students learn to work together and in a mysterious way, being outside helps them create neural pathways from their time spent in nature,” Soule added. (For a report on this, visit Scientists Say Child’s Play Helps Build A Better Brain.) “Later on, their practice of art and study in school is directly related to developing skills in executive thinking. We teach our students to be creative and social. To work with others. To be enthusiastic. To solve problems outside the box. These are skills headhunters look for nowadays. While life is changing quickly, some things remain the same: how well do we treat each other and the world around us? That is a part of what Waldorf is about.”
Waldorf parent Cherub Zimmermann has spent the past 20 years shepherding her three children through the school. With her two older children now grown and out of high school, her youngest son Atom is in first grade with veteran teacher Natasha Zimmerman (no relation to Cherub).
“Waldorf education is so healing on so many levels,” Zimmermann said. “I love it here. I am there every day working as the class coordinator and with the parent community association. The school is a beautiful shield of light! It’s therapy for humanity. I love that I learn something new every day. It’s a privilege and an honor to participate in this school and be part of its community.”
Photo at the top: A new twist on peppermint lemonade (photo courtesy of Whidbey Island Waldorf School)
Kate Poss works as a library assistant at the Langley Library. She was a chef for three summers aboard a small Alaskan tour boat from 2008 to 2010. She worked as a newspaper reporter in Los Angeles for many years before moving to Whidbey Island where she likes “talking story,” hiking, hosting salons and writing her novel.
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