“Amma, I churned butter and made my own bread and butter at school today!” squealed my 4 year old as he got back home on one of the Janmashtami week days at school.
The excitement in him spread through the house like wildfire and we sat wide eyed listening to his experience at school. Every day, when he gets ready to leave for school, it warms my heart to see the twinkle in his eye, smile on his lips and a song in his heart as he moves through the morning routine before hopping into the bus. And, this is in spite of the fact that I put him through a considerable rush while getting him ready to be on time for the bus. Well, this is exactly what I wanted him to experience – joy, happiness and freedom at school.
The search for a school for my son old ended, after about a dozen schools later, with Prakriti, a Kindergarten based on Waldorf methodology. Mrs. Latha Madhusudhan, the Principal of Prakriti, explained the methodology as education for the soul, pioneered to meet the needs of the children of today. It addresses – Willing, Feeling, Thinking – which is the three folded nature of the human being.
Within a few days of enrolling my son into Prakriti, I came across this article in the newspaper that read, “Silicon Valley Geeks pick a no-PC school for their kids”, which spoke about employees of Google, E-Bay, Yahoo sending their kids to a Waldorf school. The simplicity of this system, which believes in development as a whole and not rote learning, is what endears it to the parents of today. I found that Waldorf was nearly a century old system, based on the Austrian Philosopher, Rudolf Steiner’s educational philosophy.
Steiner’s indication of the child is firstly to understand the nature of the child and recognize each developmental stage of the child. Mrs. Latha further explains the three developmental stages classified as 0-7, 7-14 and 14-21. The first seven years are when the child seeks to see that the world is full of goodness. The child learns through imitation and direct experimental activity, which is why the focus in a Waldorf kindergarten is on creative play and use of HANDS. From 7 to 14, the child searches for beauty and learns through imagination. Waldorf emphasizes on story-telling and art, and the use of HANDS and HEART in the lesson is deemed essential. 14-21 is the third developmental stage where the adolescent begins the quest for truth and is ready for true independent thinking. THINKING is stressed along with the use of HANDS and HEART, and here is when decision making forms an integral part as he steps into the real world as a fully incarnated Human Being!
Waldorf brings in existentialism or spirituality (not religion) as part of the education. It addresses the soul of the child wherein the final objective of education is not to only earn a living but to incarnate into this world and contribute back to the society you are living in. The Waldorf education can be creatively adapted not only to suit the needs of the individual child but also to suit the culture and needs of the land. Mrs Latha says, “It is so holistic that I even found links to the Gurukul system of the traditional Indian education and Mahatma Gandhi’s ‘Nai Talim’”
Prakriti deals with the 0-7 age group and is based on the 3Rs of Reverence, rhythm and repetition. Orderliness, Reverence, Loving authority of the teachers and Quietude of the classes and the songs taught are unique to Waldorf Education and Prakriti. All the materials and dolls are mostly handmade by the teachers and they use only natural materials like bamboo, beeswax, cotton threads and the like.
Insisting that play is an important aspect of child development, Latha ensures the children at Prakriti start the day with free play. This is followed by a circle time which is teacher directed. A brief period of rest as they are served fruits to eat, after which follows an activity time set to the rhythm of the month e.g., painting, drawing, craft work, gardening, cleaning and maintenance of class room and many such activities. Indoor free-play follows in the dollhouse, block-play and construction and the like. They transit into a morning play movement activity followed by a story time. After lunch the younger ‘uns move on home and the older children stay back for their story time and handwork time. A short nature walk is also part of the rhythm.
Common local festivals are incorporated into a child’s everyday school routine. Each day, a parent takes turn to prepare lunch for all the 30 kids in the school. Great importance is given to the child’s birthday by making it his/her special day. The day revolves around the child, the teachers narrate the story of the child and parents are invited to be part of the celebration. Parents are a part of the school community where they volunteer with school crafts, help in class when a teacher falls sick and much more. Parent-kid workshops are conducted at frequent intervals (Pottery workshop on a father – child day was the most recent one).
When asked about parent’s take on this methodology, Latha does find a positive trend and says “Waldorf education requires courage and conviction. Most parents do get bogged down by the peer group mentality and want to play it safe with tried and tested methodologies. Some come in looking for alternative methodologies but only for the foundation years. Each year is getting better with the parents willing to listen, research and try it out before taking a call!”
As parents, what would you want for your child – development as a whole, or the rote learning methodology? Do you think it makes sense for the child to repeat tables/alphabets without knowing what he/she is talking about?