Parenting

What to look for in a school: a series

In this short blog series, we'll be helping prospective parents navigate the process of choosing an independent/private school. This week, we'll talk about some general characteristics of a good independent school, and in the coming weeks, we'll focus specifically on how to choose a preschool, lower school, middle school, and high school.  

What are some general characteristics of a good independent school?

  • Accreditation
    Look for a school that is accredited by a regional, national, or international body aligned with the school's philosophy. This guarantees that a school goes through a rigorous self-study and outside evaluations on a regular cycle, ensuring best practices and ongoing growth. Green Meadow is accredited by the Association of Waldorf Schools of North America (AWSNA), the NY State Association of Independent Schools (NYSAIS), and the Waldorf Early Childhood Association of North America (WECAN).
     
  • Curriculum
    Is the school aligned with an particular educational philosophy? A guiding philosophy helps the school stay focused and true to its mission in a world where the educational landscape shifts constantly. Green Meadow is a Waldorf school, founded on a tried-and-true, developmentally appropriate, interdisciplinary philosophy developed in 1919 by Rudolf Steiner and constantly evolving to meet the needs of today's students. Read about Waldorf graduates here to see the outcomes of a Waldorf Education, and stay tuned: a new survey of Waldorf graduates from 1990-2017 was just completed and results will be published in the coming months.
     
  • Facilities
    Does the school have ample space for students in classrooms and outdoors? Is there good natural light, and beautiful spaces that inspire contemplation and learning? A gym and field for games, sports, creative play, and other movement? Practice rooms for private instrument lessons? An auditorium for concerts and plays? Lab facilities for science classes? A quiet, inviting, well-ordered library? Spaces for students to gather informally? Take a look at Green Meadow's facilities here. You can also see a gallery of classroom photos on each of these pages: preschool, lower school, and high school.
     
  • History, traditions, and unique programs
    How old is the school? How many teachers and staff have worked there for 10 years or more? Do students stay at the school from preschool through 12th grade? Are there traditions that build a sense of community life and belonging? At Green Meadow, the Rose Ceremony that opens and closes each year, curricular trips including the Third Grade Farm Trip, community events such as the Eighth Grade Talent Show, and unique opportunities including senior projects, senior internships, and our international exchange program are just a few aspects of campus life that excite and engage our students. 
     
  • Spirit of inquiry
    Do you feel a buzz on campus, an excitement about learning? Are there campus lectures and other cultural events for students and parents? Is there a school newsletter or newspaper that showcases current events, discusses the school's philosophy, and alerts the community to what's happening on campus? Green Meadow has a full annual calendar of community education events, brings speakers to campus frequently for conversations with students, and publishes The Bulletin bimonthly and the Alumni Magazine twice a year, along with an annual yearbook and an annual student-produced literary magazine, The Burning Bush.  
     
  • Teacher qualifications and engagement
    Are teachers at the school required to be certified beyond state teaching certification? What percentage of teachers are actively engaged in their field outside of school? Do the teachers lead clubs, coach sports, offer office hours for students, or engage in other after-school activities? How accessible are they to parents? At Green Meadow, several of our faculty have advanced degrees, all have received training and/or a degree in Waldorf Education, and they are actively engaged with students and parents through community activities like service learning, outside the school day. 

Generations: an alumnus teaching the children of fellow alumni

Recently, we told you about our First Grade teacher, Daniel Bieber (Class of 2003), who has six GMWS alumni as parents in his class, along with three alumni from other Waldorf schools.  

Today we'd like to introduce you to Dr. Nicole Falanga, GMWS Class of 1998, whose son is in Daniel's first grade class.

"Green Meadow encouraged me to really think; to learn from and to question the world around me rather than becoming robotic and focusing on memorizing information and taking tests.
The teachers knew each of the students deeply and nurtured us toward our potential. I was given a safe platform to explore my individualism and was gently rerouted or guided when needed.

I wanted my children's early education to be play oriented; where self-directed learning would allow them to slowly discover the world. As Andrew begins 1st grade, I am excited that he will be given the tools to approach his life, learning, and interpersonal relationships in the thoughtful and intentional way that the school provides. I am confident that as he moves into the upper grades and high school, the sophisticated academic and social environment will be great preparation for life and learning beyond Green Meadow."

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Generations: an alumnus teaching the children of fellow alumni

Recently, we told you about our First Grade teacher, Daniel Bieber (Class of 2003), who has six GMWS alumni as parents in his class, along with three alumni from other Waldorf schools.  

Today we'd like to introduce you to Amina Gurcan, GMWS Class of 2004, whose son is in Daniel's first grade class.

"When thinking of my Waldorf Education at Green Meadow, what stands out most is the dedication of the teachers to their students, particularly the class teachers of the lower grades and how they commit to teaching and guiding the children for eight years. It amazes me how involved they are with their class, almost as if they were another parent. I will never forget the incredible dedication and patience my teacher had for each one of us in the class. I remember that she would make extra time to work with me on certain subjects that needed more improvement. She believed in me and that has always meant so much. 

I am awed not just by the way I was taught through Waldorf Education, but by how much I did while a student. I performed plays, made books, went on trips, learned to sew, had art, woodwork, and pottery classes, learned to write poems, learned a new art for my senior project, learned to play an instrument and read music. I played Beethoven's 5th Symphony! Not necessarily well but at least I experienced playing such an great piece of music. I don't believe I would have had such opportunities if I had attended a different school, and I am very grateful for my education at Green Meadow.

While pregnant with my son, Ensar, and thinking of his future, I knew that we would do all we could to try to send him to Green Meadow. I feel so blessed to say that he is now a Green Meadow student! Through my own experience, I see the great value of a Waldorf Education and knew that it was the type of education I wanted my children to have. Kindergarten was a wonderful experience and Ensar loved it. He is now an eager, enthusiastic, and curious first grader really ready for this new venture. These first two weeks have been both thrilling and nostalgic for me, as Ensar transitions to his new class. Having Daniel Bieber, who is also eager and enthusiastic, as the teacher, it all just feels right. "

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Generations: an alumnus teaching the children of fellow alumni

For us at Green Meadow, one signal that we are successfully living out our mission is the fact that many of our alumni return here when it is time to choose a school for their own children. They see the value of the Waldorf Education they received and want to offer the same for their children. 

Our current first grade, the Class of 2029, tells an even more special story: the teacher of this class that includes so many children of alumni (more on that later) is himself a graduate of Green Meadow.

Daniel Bieber graduated from Green Meadow in 2003. After attending Bard College and helping run the family business (The Nature Place Day Camp), among other things, he decided to begin his Waldorf teacher training at Sunbridge Institute. He then served for two years as a Lower School Assistant at GMWS while in his teacher training. Daniel applied last year for the First Grade position and, having gotten to know him as an adult in his role as Classroom Assistant, we were thrilled to offer him this opportunity to take a class at his alma mater.

We will be writing in the coming weeks about the many alumni who are now parents in Daniel's class (six GMWS alumni and two alumni from other Waldorf schools), sharing their stories of why they decided to return to GMWS and send their children to the school they attended. Stay tuned.

 

Daniel Bieber '03 with his First Grade, the Class of 2029, on the first day of school, 9/6/17

Daniel Bieber '03 with his First Grade, the Class of 2029, on the first day of school, 9/6/17

Summer Blog Series: Principles of Waldorf Education

This Summer, we want to share some of the foundations of Waldorf Education with you.

First up: intrinsic motivation, which means doing something out of oneself, out of our own initiative, rather than out of fear, duty, obligation, shame, peer pressure, parent pressure, or another external motivator. 

Self-discipline, autonomy, independence
One of the ways that Waldorf Education develops intrinsic motivation is by strengthening the will and offering increasing autonomy and independence. Many activities that the students participate in (making main lesson books, washing dishes in Kindergarten, taking out compost in the grades, cleaning up after themselves in the classroom, being faithful to daily instrument practice, creating Handwork projects) are undertaken in part to develop the will, so that when a child wants to accomplish something, s/he has the strength of will or the discipline to do it. This autonomy culminates in high school, when many students go on an international exchange for 3-5 months in 10th or 11th grade, and when seniors take on a 3-week internship and a year-long senior project.    

Relational learning
Waldorf Education also helps students find intrinsic motivation for schoolwork by allowing them to develop a relationship to their learning: we offer a developmentally appropriate, alive, relevant curriculum that excites and engages them, which fuels their desire to learn and do. Teacher looping also helps students develop a relationship with their teacher, and the social inclusion work that we do, along with class trips and class plays, builds deep relationships between students

Competence and mastery
At Green Meadow, we offer students work that is worthy of them. No rote memorization, no standardized testing, no teaching to the test. Instead, we use story and experiential learning to help students develop visible, tangible mastery and competence in each subject, which deepens their feeling of ownership of their learning and compels them to want to do better.

Here is a terrific article from The Graduate School of Education at Harvard University about fostering intrinsic motivation in children.

Follow us on social media

We post frequently on social media (Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter primarily) and we invite you to follow us to see photos, articles, news, and event announcements that are often not posted elsewhere. Please also use the hashtag #GMWS when you post photos of any GMWS events.

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Why Waldorf? (Part 9 in a series)

In this series, we have been introducing you every week to a teacher, parent, or student who shares something about why they love Green Meadow and Waldorf Education. Today we hear from Maureen Allen, the mom of Alex, a twelfth grader who has been at Green Meadow since Kindergarten. 

Click on the title of this post to see a photo of Maureen and Alex.

You can read this as one-part love letter, one-part thank you note, from the mom of a senior about to graduate from Green Meadow. My son began his tenure here in Kindergarten, pulling up carrots, churning butter, and stealthily removing eggs from beneath the hens, while stalking the escapees and gently tossing them back into the coop. The soundtrack to my reminiscing is always the song Africa by Toto; they sang it in 8th grade choir and it’s embedded in my heart, like so many rich memories. I still tear up thinking of these moments: Advent Circle, did my rambunctious son really navigate that alone and perfectly? Watching him receive his rose in 1st grade and knowing he was being welcomed, for real. A puppet show, so quiet you could hear a pin drop, 5-year-olds in awe of such a seemingly simple performance but with recognition for the gift it truly was.

The years seem like a blur but luckily I have many souvenirs to bookmark them: framed watercolors line our walls, knitted treasures line the bookshelves.  So many excursions: the 3rd grade farm trip where Alex and I learned we could be apart for the first time, a week in the wilderness following the beat of a drum, a whirlwind tour of Boston’s historic sites, community service in Washington, DC. Each experience filled the class with hope in the greater good, a desire to give back, confidence in their abilities.   

The high school years have included independent student exchanges to other countries+, graceful solo Eurythmy performances, and senior projects taken up with poise, determination, and drive. These are all evidence that the roots developed in the Lower School are manifest in the abilities achieved in the High School.   

Having a senior on the verge of graduation is bittersweet: a lifetime of memories, a child ready for the next step. Each new experience along the way seemed to meet Alex exactly where he was. Just like Waldorf claims to do. Someone once told me that my job as a parent was to love Alex unconditionally, so that his core would develop unhindered and he would be able to do his job, which is to find his path.  I did my part but I cheated a bit. I sent him to Green Meadow, to ensure he is fully equipped to find his way. 

It’s with much gratitude that I look back on these many years, knowing everyone contributed in meaningful ways, to guarantee all of our children are ready to take on the next chapter of their amazing lives.

Why Waldorf? (Part 8 in a series)

In this series, we have been introducing you every week to a teacher, parent, or student who shares something about why they love Green Meadow and Waldorf Education. Today we hear from Maria Fitzgerald, who grew up in Honduras, came to the US for college, and joined Green Meadow in 2014 as our Lower School Spanish Teacher.

Click on the title of this post to see a photo of the Fitzgerald family.

When we chose Green Meadow in 2014, we knew we were joining a well established Waldorf school that would provide our two daughters with the educational setting we were looking for. What we did not know was that we would become a part of something much bigger than a school. 

In three years, we have become part of a community that gives our children a sense of belonging, of safety and trust, of love, beauty, friendship and generosity. Just last week, after both of our girls spent the morning up at the farm watching sheep get sheared, we spent the afternoon in the music room at a benefit for Syrian refugees, which was organized by the High School Student Council and Student Activism Club. We were inspired by musicians, artists, poets, and activists, and it was wonderful to watch our daughters waving enthusiastically at the 8th graders and the high school students, calling them out by name to get their attention (you see, to them these upper grades students are akin to pop stars).

Last week, our daughters spent a late evening (in their pajamas) at Rose Hall while watching the 7th and 8th grades perform Fiddler on the Roof, which blew us all away. The week before that they had the pleasure of sharing their school with their grandmother at Grandparents' and Special Friends' Day. 

Our daughters are getting a beautifully rich and developmentally appropriate curriculum, taught by dedicated teachers whom we love and respect. We do not take this for granted, and we are grateful every day for this place we call "school." We took a leap of faith moving to New Jersey from North Carolina, in large part because of Green Meadow.  Now, when we see the human beings both of our daughters are becoming, we can say with confidence that we are exactly where we need to be.  

Why Waldorf? (Part 1 in a series)

This week, we are excited to launch a blog series featuring the perspectives of parents, teachers, and students from across the school. We will hear why they have chosen Waldorf Education, and what it means to them. Stay tuned for weekly posts on this theme through the end of May!

Why Waldorf?
Week 1

From Jessica Rowe, Early Childhood parent

It all started on a spring day three years ago. My husband, Jim, passed me an article in The New Yorker magazine about the rise of Waldorf schools in China. In considering the educational path we wanted for our children (Ozzie, Luke, and Luna), we were stuck between public school and homeschooling, but neither felt right to us. Our lives changed that day as we were introduced to Waldorf Education. The following week, we took a tour of Brooklyn Waldorf School, and later that month, we enrolled Ozzie in kindergarten. 

Initially, we were drawn to the beautiful pink walls of the Kindergarten rooms, the smell of fresh bread baking, and the ample time for free play throughout the day.  In the past three years, there have been so many other things we’ve come to value as our children’s education has infused our family life: spending time together on a walk through the woods, saying a blessing together before we eat our family meals, tapping a maple tree in our yard for its sweet sap, or snuggling up together and reading a fairy tale.

Our love of Waldorf Education has continued to grow at Green Meadow because it nurtures the individuality of our children while teaching them the value of working and playing within a group; because our children’s teachers have given them freedom to explore along with the structure they need to feel confident and relaxed within that freedom; and because it’s a place where we’ve been supported in learning and growing as parents and as people. We’re so grateful that we’ve found Waldorf Education.

Don't miss Screenagers on Tuesday, March 7!

 

The award-winning film Screenagers probes into the vulnerable corners of family life, including the director's own, and depicts messy struggles, over social media, video games, academics and internet addiction. Through surprising insights from authors and brain scientists solutions emerge on how we can empower kids to best navigate the digital world.

Rose Hall,  7:30pm
Free and open to the public.

Watch the trailer.

Register for the screening.

Play is essential for young children

This article from last year in The Atlantic sheds light on one of the many reasons that play is essential for young children. The author, pediatric occupational therapist Angela Hanscom, notes:

"Like many other American parents, I had an obsession: academic success for my child. Only, I was going about it completely wrong. Yes, my daughter would later go on to test above average with her academic skills, but she was missing important life skills. Skills that should have been in place and nurtured during the preschool years. My wake-up call was when the preschool teacher came up to me and said, “Your daughter is doing well academically. In fact, I’d say she exceeds expectations in these areas. But she is having trouble with basic social skills like sharing and taking turns.” Not only that, but my daughter was also having trouble controlling her emotions, developed anxiety and sensory issues, and had trouble simply playing by herself!

Little did I know at the time, but my daughter was far from being the only one struggling with social and sensory issues at such a young age. This was becoming a growing epidemic. A few years ago, I interviewed a highly respected director of a progressive preschool. She had been teaching preschoolers for about 40 years and had seen major changes in the social and physical development of children in the past few generations."

At the heart of Green Meadow's Early Childhood program is our understanding that self-initiated play is critical to healthy development. As soon as children learn something new, they start to play with their new capacities, practicing and testing their skills until they tackle more and more difficult tasks. Therefore, ample time for creative play is part of each morning.  

Open-ended toys made from natural materials, like silk scarves, knitted wool puppets, wooden blocks, and acorns collected from nature walks, nourish the child’s developing senses. With these natural items, children may flex their creative muscles and imaginative capacities, and further develop their emerging fine motor skills.  In addition, involving moveable structures that they can explore in environments that invite movement helps to develop gross motor coordination. We believe that creative play is the child’s most important developmental tool, whether to discover new skills, work with experiences, or express emotions.

Our children benefit from a rich variety of outdoor play spaces.  In addition to our beautiful playground, they experience the natural wonders of the forest, field, farm, garden, pond, and woodland stream, all within walking distance of our classrooms.

Rain or shine, ample opportunities exist for developing strong, healthy bodies.  Depending on the time of year, children sled down snowy hills, climb rocks in the Rocky Dell, and balance on fallen trees in the Fairy Woods. Munching on autumn apples in the orchard or tasting a maple tree’s sweet water in late winter can foster a lifelong respect for the earth and a deep appreciation for nature’s bounty.

Read the rest of The Atlantic article.

Come to Morning in the Nursery/Kindergarten on March 4.

 

An Interview with Anna Silber

We are looking forward to The Essentials of Waldorf Education with Anna Silber on Tuesday, December 6 at 7:30pm in the Arts Building Music Room. Anna is a GMWS parent, a former Class Teacher at Green Meadow, and now serves as Director of Education at Sunbridge Institute. We caught up with her this week and asked her to share a few things with us prior to the talk.

In a few sentences, what makes Waldorf Education unique?

There are many things Waldorf is known for that are viewed broadly as excellent educational practices, but are not necessarily what make it unique, like teacher looping, experiential learning, and artistic expression, to name a few. To discover why it is unique, though, we need to strip away what we take for granted as the "tangibles" of Waldorf Education and look at the "intangibles:" the view of child development out of anthroposophy, for one. We also need to shift the conversation from what we teach to why, how, and when we teach it.

How did you decide to become a Waldorf teacher?

I was enjoying a career as an analyst in an investment firm in Manhattan and had been studying anthroposophy as a spiritual path for several years. Out of personal interest, I took a tour through the Rudolf Steiner School on the Upper East Side and was deeply moved; I simply knew it was something with which I had to be involved. As cliche as it may sound, it had to do with a wish to contribute in a potent way to changing the world, and I had never seen anything so potent as the work being done in a Waldorf school! 

I quit my job two months later and enrolled as a teacher training student at Sunbridge, then took a class teaching position at Green Meadow, bringing my class from fourth through eighth grade. After that I became a mother, and I'm now a GMWS parent.

As a trained Class Teacher, how do you answer a parent who wonders about teacher looping? How do teachers manage the challenges and personality conflicts that may arise between teacher and student when accompanying a class for 4-8 years? 

The short answer is that we believe a team of teachers accompanying a group of students for a number of years offers many important benefits to a class community and to individual students. The challenges of human relationships are inevitable in life, and certainly school life is no exception. A commitment to looping is successful when it is coupled with an equal commitment to the hard work of tending to relationships with students, parents, and colleagues.

One of our main concerns in educating Waldorf teachers is equipping them with tools to navigate these very human challenges out of love, not power, not fear. We need to approach our students a bit like parents think of their own children in this particular sense: parents don't ask whether they like their children or not; they love them. Teachers in a looping situation can embody the same disposition; our job is to educate through love. That in itself is a whole separate topic which I will take up more fully in the upcoming talk. 


As Director of Education at Sunbridge Institute, what do you feel are the most important things a Waldorf teacher needs to learn in preparation for taking a class?

Part of the preparation is what teachers need to learn, and the other part is who they are or are becoming. I'll take as a given the obvious list of grade level skills and competencies that are required, and go right to the ideas about child development out of anthroposophy. It is the ongoing interest in and digestion of this paradigm that will guide and illuminate a teacher's work with her or his students.

In our teacher education program, we spend a lot of time exploring this theme, along with curriculum work, the arts, and anthroposophical studies. There is of course a long list of human qualities that makes for good teachers, as well as good human beings, like humor, imagination, flexibility, and interest in the world. However, these are qualities you can't teach someone; they are developed, and freely developed at that, if they are to be authentic. As Steiner said to the early Waldorf teachers, it's not just what you know, it's who you are that matters.

Talking to Young People about the Election

The election has been on all our minds for months. We know that many of you are trying to decide how and what to communicate to your children right now.

We would like to offer a few humble words of guidance. We suggest that you provide security for your children, whatever their ages, by reminding them that the world is good. Remind them that, among the capacities their Waldorf Education is working to build in them, there are some we need urgently today and in the future: clear and balanced thinking, kindness and compassion, courage to speak the truth, willingness to listen, and practical skills to work together to make positive change in the world for all people. Remind them that they will be the leaders of tomorrow, and that they are needed in the world. Remind them, as we remind ourselves, to put themselves in another's shoes before judging anyone.

Today at school, we spent the day holding the students and moving forward in positive ways. Lower School teachers reminded the children that the world is a good place. Some students shared experiences about waking up this morning. Despite their different experiences, they found the universal thread was that we all woke up to greet a new day, which will continue to happen every day. One teacher told students that in every moment and in all our actions, we vote. When we continue to act in ways that are good, kind, true, and beautiful, then we are showing ourselves and others what is most important.

At the weekly Wednesday morning High School meeting, we focused on the strong bonds and love in the room. A junior brought Steiner’s Michaelic verse (copied below), which was very powerful. One of our seniors gave an eloquent talk focused on moving forward with empathy and hope. In classes, teachers help students process their feelings through course material. In the Birth of American Literature main lesson, for example, seniors reviewed what the revolutionary voices of the Transcendentalists told their nation in the mid-1800s. Then they meditated on and shared what revolutionary messages people in the United States need to hear today. 

All teachers and advisors are available if you have more questions about how to speak to your children. 

Wherever we fall on the political spectrum, we are a community, united in our wish for a better world for our children, for all children. May we learn from each other every day.

Michaelic Verse

We must eradicate from the soul
all fear and terror
of what comes towards us from the future;

We must look forward
with absolute equanimity to whatever comes, 
and we must think only
that whatever comes is given us
by a world direction full of wisdom.

It is part of what we must learn during this age, 
namely to act out of pure trust
in the ever present help of the spiritual world; 
Truly nothing else will do if our courage is not to fail us.

Therefore let us discipline our will, 
and let us seek the awakening from within ourselves, 
every morning and every evening.

                          Rudolf Steiner