On October 23, 2011, The New York Times sparked national media coverage with its front page story on why Silicon Valley parents are turning to Waldorf education. This film picks up where that story left off. “Preparing for Life” takes viewers inside the Waldorf School of the Peninsula where the focus is on developing the capacities for creativity, resilience, innovative thinking, and social and emotional intelligence over rote learning. Entrepreneurs, Stanford researchers, investment bankers, and parents who run some of the largest hi-tech companies in the world, weigh-in on what children need to navigate the challenges of the 21st Century in order to find success, purpose, and joy in their lives.
We were voted best school in the Berkshires for second year by readers of the Berkshire Record. Here’s the award listing:
RUDOLF STEINER SCHOOL, GREAT BARRINGTON
The Rudolf Steiner School treats education as an art, wherein everything that is taught must speak to a student’s experience and imagination. As an independent coeducation school accredited by the Association of Independent Schools of New England, the Steiner School’s curriculum focuses on a comprehensive integration of the sciences, mathematics, literature and world history with the fine and practical arts and study of cultural heritage. Graduates of the Steiner School leave with an ability to discern and appreciate order and beauty, but also a knack for asking tough, critical questions about life.
Chronogram’s January, 2014 issue features an article by Anne Pyburn Craig – The Infinite Classroom – Teaching to Multiple Intelligences in which GBRSS faculty administrator John Greene and teacher Nancy Franco are quoted.
Thirty years ago, developmental psychologist and Harvard education professor Howard Gardner published Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences. The book set off a depth charge underneath the comfortable Stanford-Binet IQ test-based academic world in which learning ability was widely regarded as binary—verbal and mathematical. Drawing on his research with both brain-damaged adults and “normal” child development, Gardner proposed that rather than two main areas of intelligence, there are eight: linguistic, logic-mathematical, musical, spatial, bodily/kinesthetic, interpersonal, intrapersonal, and naturalistic.
Gardner was careful to make the distinction that what he had developed was a theory of developmental psychology and not a theory of education per se. Nevertheless, his thinking offered a breath of fresh air to a great many educators, validating and organizing as it did something many of them had long intuited about the failures of cookie-cutter instruction.
Steiner Got There First
“In the Waldorf movement, the reaction was a big ‘Yay! Wonderful,’” says John Greene, head of faculty at Great Barrington Rudolph Steiner School in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. “It was a sense of recognition that what Rudolf Steiner [founder of Waldorf education] was trying to articulate has merit and was being more widely recognized. Any teacher worth their salt recognized learning differences and their importance, but what he did was break it down—very impressive.”
Though she’s also quick to point out that Waldorf educators have been working from a multiple intelligence point of view for almost a century now, veteran GBRSS teacher Nancy Franco can reel off multiple examples that dovetail nicely with Gardner’s work. “We work with all of these aspects every day, both individually and en masse—you could say that the Waldorf understanding of these concepts is very honed,” she says. “They’re important aspects of the human being that deserve to be experienced by all students. And since the Waldorf way involves working with the same group of students for eight or 12 years [students advance through the grades with the same teacher], we become very aware of how the individual modalities operate within the individual kids. We seek to utilize the strengths as learning tools, and to develop the areas that might need work.”
For example, Franco says, a Waldorf school day begins with a musical interlude. “We sing, play instruments, recite rhythmic verse, do clapping games. Those activities touch on and elicit linguistic, spatial, musical, kinesthetic and interpersonal intelligence—so in that 15 minute opener, you’re looking at four or five of the intelligences right there.”
Testing as Symptom
But despite never having taken standardized tests, a group of students at the Great Barrington Rudolph Steiner School tested in the top 10 percent nationwide on the SSAT (Secondary School Admission Test); one student tested in the top 2 percent.
“We are really fortunate that we get to know students on a different level than is often possible in large state schools, where teachers are changed more frequently,” says GBRSS teacher Pamela Giles. “We’ve got continuity; the class/teacher/student relationship can continue for eight years in core subjects. We’re constantly assessing every child through observation and written work—our students do a tremendous amount of writing. We give tests—essay tests, multiple choice tests, spelling tests, printed tests—we’re not afraid of them; they’re tools. We have many eyes viewing this one child, and if we see any red flags we give diagnostic tests, do oral testing. We just don’t use standardized tests.
“Testing in itself is not necessarily traumatic. We just don’t need those. I think our alumni worldwide prove that children thrive on expectation, not pressure, and being surrounded by people who are completely dedicated to them doing the best they possibly can. I think that’s what public school teachers want to do, too—all this testing is just a fingernail clipping of a larger social issue.”
Readers of the Berkshire Record have voted Great Barrington Rudolf Steiner School (GBRSS) the best school in the Berkshires. For the Berkshire Record’s 2013 Best of the Berkshires annual, 2000 readers marked ballots for “the best” in over thirty categories of living in the Berkshires, including Best School. GBRSS school administrator John Greene commented, “When I heard that we had been voted the best school in the Berkshires, I was very humbled, honored and proud that our school is being recognized in the community. The education that Great Barrington Rudolf Steiner School offers is in line with a lot of people’s values: they’re looking for an authentic life, and we offer an authentic education. I’m very excited about the coming year, and how our school continues to evolve.” 39 page pdf – The Berkshire Record Magazine’s Best for 2013
Berkshire Home Style Magazine interviewed kindergarten teacher, Somer Serpe, about the importance of play for the April, 2013 issue.
The writer marveled at the harmonious and energetic play of the kindergarteners. Somer described how healthy play is cultivated in our early childhood programs
Country and Abroad Magazine April, 2013 Issue featured an article about GBRSS titled, “The Chickens are Coming.”
The article announced our plans for chicks to join our early childhood this spring. Also discussed was the importance of nature in a Waldorf education and Waldorf schools winning the Captain Planet award.
Chronogram Magazine’s January 2013 issue contains a special education section with a featured article called “21st Century Technology in the Classroom.” GBRSS class teacher Nancy Franco was interviewed about Waldorf Education’s approach to technology. She stressed the importance of using technology in a developmentally appropriate way. “We build in a lot of sensory experience—we get outdoors and see, smell, hear real things,” she said. “We’re human beings together on this planet—connecting to that is crucial.”
Robin Hood radio (FM 91.9/AM 1020) recently interviewed Rainbow Room kindergarten teacher Somer Serpe about GBRSS fostering environmental sensitivity across the entire curriculum and Waldorf Education being honored with the Captain Planet Foundation’s Green School Award. The interview has been broadcast twice already, and is scheduled for at least 5 more plays in the upcoming week. The interview is also available for listening any time as a podcast.
The December/January issue of Our Berkshire Times Magazine features an article about GBRSS’s early childhood programs called Learning as Natural as Breathing. The article describes the healthy rhythmical and balanced day which early childhood students experience daily in our Nursery and Kindergarten programs.
Learning as Natural as Breathing
By Robyn Coe
A day in pre-k and kindergarten at the Great Barrington Rudolf Steiner School is a rich progression of activities, flowing from one to the next, hallmarked by natural transitions and the fulfilling consistency of a cherished routine. For instance, after being quietly absorbed in a puppet show, the children expand into free play and full-body movement; similarly, their daily, all-season nature walk is followed by a more focused indoor activity such as watercolor painting or chopping vegetables for soup. Steiner teachers describe these classroom rhythms as “in-breaths” and “out-breaths.” Like the essential act of breathing, a healthy rhythmical balance to their day allows children to feel nourished, centered, and fully engaged in life. A strong rhythm also allows children to relax and learn.
“Young children are happiest living in the moment,” says teacher Jo Valens. “Our whole purpose as early childhood teachers is to be with them in the moment, because that’s when learning happens.”
Young children learn through imitation, imagination, and integration of their initiative through activity. At the Steiner School, the children’s days are designed to take full advantage of this age-appropriate learning. The curriculum nourishes the child’s physical, emotional, and intellectual development and fosters the basic skills necessary for later academic excellence, such as sequencing,sensory integration, eye-hand coordination,task-focus, listening, and appreciation for the beauty of language.
A Steiner early childhood teacher’s gift to her students is to create a sense of wonder, reverence, and play that makes each day a delightful journey to the next level of learning. She does this by providing opportunities for the children to learn through the senses, through discovery in and out of the classroom, and through being part of a community. Children develop balance,initiative, creativity, and imagination. They experience goodness and beauty, and learn how to care for the world and one another. This is the work of early childhood; to fulfill it is to provide the strongest possible base for joyful lifelong learning. Visit www.gbrss.org