Monday, February 1, 2010


     I read that some preschoolers in Saratoga Springs, NY spend three hours of their school day outside. In the rain. In the snow. In the wind. In the sun. Their classroom is the forest. And an old farmhouse.
     The children are loving it. Of course.
     Reminds me of why I went into education in the first place.
     I was sitting in a psychology class as an undergraduate student at the University of Wisconsin. The professor proposed anyone interested in studying "new" reformist ideas in education could join an alternative class with a teaching assistant. I joined. In came a barrage of readings by John Dewey and Jonathan Kozol and A. S. Neill and others. I was introduced to year-long projects for students that integrate math, science, social studies, language arts, arts, and music, throughly engaging the children. So different from my school days. Was I hooked!
      Unfortunately, I've yet to find a school district that is comfortable enough to really allow such reforms. And, of course,  No Child Left Behind and its whip-cracking keeps even the best-intended teacher from not deviating too far from approved textbooks.
     Of course I am not alone -- I've talked to many teachers who would love to integrate needed academics with a child-centered day -- with the child-centeredness as a critical factor. They try -- to a point. They -- and I -- stay close to what is expected of us. After all, we love our paychecks, too.
     So it was with eager interest I read about these schools that follow Rudolf Steiner and his Waldorf schools, a movement I had not heard about. Steiner advocated that reading instruction not start until age seven, that children be intrigued with the instruction given them, that science and art be integrated, that the study of other languages begin in first grade. And so much more.
      Perhaps it is Steiner who inspired Dewey and Kozol and Neill. I don't know. I don't know if these schools are what they propose to be. I don't know if all Steiner-inspired schools spend as much time outside as these preschoolers do -- or engaged in child-centered instruction.
      I showed the article to a kindergarten teacher. She wasn't as thrilled with the model. "That means the teacher would have to be outside for three hours every day," she reminded me. I hadn't thought of that. I like air conditioning. And heat.
     Still, there's a Waldorf school right over in Lawrence, only 30 minutes away. Think I'll go visit.