A learning environment that matters

by Alice Martinez
nvironments matter. One of the most important environments for children is of course their school. One visit to the Waldorf School of San Diego and you'll understand why some families drive as much as 45 minutes each way to bring their children to an environment that both provides and teaches respect and creativity in addition to all the expected elementary school academic skills.

The magical and colorful classrooms hold the results of creative learning in progress: clay sculptures of mythological and historical figures, chalk drawings of the body's internal organs, geometric pattern drawings, wooden flutes and hand-knitted animals, to name just a few examples.

But its not just the classrooms It's what happens inside the classrooms that is the real treat. There, you'll see students actively engaged in learning, intent on their work, yet relaxed and happy. You'll see teachers presenting academic subjects in a lively, artistic way bringing warmth, enthusiasm and a deep commitment to their work.

"I cannot imagine a greater gift to my children than a Waldorf education," says Tracy Seeman, a parent of two Waldorf students who commutes from Poway to the school in Spring Valley. (The K-7 school is currently seeking a more central location.)

One of more than 640 Waldorf schools worldwide, the Waldorf School of San Diego is dedicated to the understanding that children are unique individuals who pass through distinct developmental stages. Behind all teaching stands the belief that the child's sense of wonder, awe and reverence for nature, coupled with a wholesome respect for others, must be protected and fostered.

"If there is any one thing that the Waldorf system does, it nurtures, protects and develops beautifully the intelligence of the true child," says Joseph Chilton Pearce, author of The Magical Child and Evolution's End.

Waldorf education engages each child's innate creativity in all aspects of learning. Art, instrumental music, song, stories and crafts are integrated into every aspect of the curriculum in ways that are simultaneously practical and artistic. From kindergarten play time through the academic challenges of the upper elementary grades, learning is never static, abstract or without human values.

The result is free, creative human beings with a strong sense of themselves, graduates who are self-motivated, well-rounded individuals who are ready to tackle future academic and life challenges and who often feel there is nothing they cannot do.

In the words of one university professor, Waldorf graduates "were different from the others. Without exception they were at the same time caring people, creative students, individuals with definite values, and students who when they spoke made a difference."