Service is Part of Learning at Da Vinci Waldorf School

This year, Da Vinci Waldorf School sixth- through eighth-graders were involved in numerous service projects. They volunteered with Citizens for Conservation, based in Barrington; Walk on Farm in Barrington, which provides equine assisted therapy; and at Captain James A. Lovell Federal Health Care Center—the veteran’s hospital in North Chicago.
“It’s very important for adolescents to feel a purpose, a place in the world—that they’re not just receiving from the world,” said eighth-grade teacher Kathy Matlin.

The students removed buckthorn at Flint Creek Savanna South for Citizens for Conservation.

The students service project at Walk on Farm involved cleaning horse stalls and grooming horses that are used in equine assisted therapy.

At the VA hospital, students spent time with veterans, playing games and listening to their stories.

“What they are really doing is providing space for veterans to tell their stories. A lot of veterans don’t have visitors and are forgotten. They tell their stories and establish a connection with the children; children can see the older side of life. We often put older people away and their untapped wisdom, their knowledge gets lost,” Matlin said.

The variety of service projects allows students with different interests to connect to giving.

“Some kids are great with older people; some like conservation; for some, animals is their way of service. You never know what’s going to be the thing that touches somebody,” Matlin said.

Last spring, Da Vinci Waldorf seventh- and eighth-grade students went on a service project to Appalachia. Through Project HELP, they performed minor home repairs and maintenance for people living in poverty. This spring, sixth through eighth-grade students performed a service project at a Lakota reservation in South Dakota.

Students prepared a garden for the Lakota Waldorf School, helped make a tipi and made a bench at the school.

“The service projects allow students to feel valued and necessary as they make way to becoming young men and women,” Matlin said.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Determining a Child’s Readiness for First Grade


When is a Child Ready to Start Grade School?

By Kristine Fiskum, on behalf of the DVWS faculty

To answer this question we must look at a child’s natural, chronological development. Much like a pregnancy, each and every child goes through stages, and at certain points new processes occur. Rudolf Steiner, founder of Waldorf Education, was a pioneer in the area of developmentally based, age-appropriate learning, and many of his insights and practical applications were later borne out by the work of Gesell, Piaget, Gardner, and others. The Waldorf approach recognizes that children younger than seven years learn best when taught concretely through movement and example, whereas school-age children (ages 7–14) learn best when they are engaged imaginatively and artistically. Then, when children reach high school, around age 14, their growing ability to analyze and think abstractly has a rich body of experience on which to draw. ( Rahima Baldwin Dancy, Waldorf educator and author.)  The first stage is the time of adventure, discovery, and mastery of movement. A child under age seven has not yet completed the process of physical and sense maturation, and it is in his best interest to be in a classroom where these aspects are nurtured. This is indeed learning of a very important sort.

Why is it important to let a child who is six complete this stage in the kindergarten?  Children continue to grow physically well into their twenties.

All of a child’s innate activity and focus in the first stage is devoted to optimizing the workings of  the body and discovering the world through the senses. A body that has mastered this stage is coordinated, capable, strong, and willing. His body will continue to grow and his senses sharpen based on the happenings of the first seven years. If a focus toward cognitive abstraction pushes into this stage, the child is prematurely giving his attention to the next stage at the expense of mastering the first.

My child is learning all kinds of things everyday and  is smart. She wants to learn. She recognizes letters, does math, can even read. What do you mean she is not yet ready to learn?

The question to ask is not about  the benefit of early cognitive learning, but about the deficit created by not playing and moving. It is the view in a Waldorf school that a relevant and developmentally appropriate kind of learning is taking place in the kindergarten through play, socialization, and movement. The question for first grade readiness is not proving that a child is academically ready, but asking if s/he is physically and socially ready.


Children are quite able, and even precocious at this age. Some educational models have pushed children and shown that they can become whizzes at mental exercises. Yes, we can ask that of children and some will answer, but they will not do it naturally. We can even make them want to do this because we value their progress and praise them for it. In truth though, they want to play and discover at this age. There is real educational, even academic, value in giving a child time to know their physical body, know the world around them, and develop socially. The words of Rudolf Steiner give us pause to consider the value of this time:  “If a young child has been able in his play … to give up his whole living being to the world around him … he will be able in the serious tasks of later life, to devote himself with confidence and power to the service of the world.” (Caroline von Heydebrand, one of the first Waldorf teachers.)

The child who has completed this stage is able to attend to focused academic learning without physical exhaustion, sensory overload, and the insatiable urge to move. A child who is rushed may struggle unnecessarily and formal learning may be a negative experience. Even the rare geniuses and prodigies will offer the world and themselves more if they are given time to be a child. Capacities that show themselves early in children will not disappear because education does not capitalize on them. Given time they will mature and be at the child’s command. 

The DVWS faculty has set forth guidelines for first grade entry after full consideration of many factors. It recognizes that the decision is inconsistent with many public and private schools. Through direct experience, wisdom shared by expert teachers, authors and researchers, the school bases its decision on what is in the best interest of the child’s development. The Waldorf curriculum is directly related to the chronological age of a child. There are many ways that kindergarten teachers will meet the needs and desires of their oldest students; learning will not be stifled but will blossom with new responsibilities, leadership roles, stories rich in language, problem-solving and memory skills, and new capacities of constructive and  imaginative play.


DVWS Grade School Entry Guidelines

First grade entry for children who turn six between March 31-May 31 will be determined by the Early Childhood teachers. Students turning six after May 31 will not be considered for first grade entry.

New student placement in grades 2-8 will be considered on a case-by-case basis in the best interest of the child.

Posted in early childhood | 3 Comments

What makes a “high-quality” preschool?

High Quality Preschools Should Be Grounded in Play

It’s a question asked by parents of three year olds about this time every year. They’ve been told that it’s time for their child to begin preschool. Maybe they have even been counting the days.  There’s a notion very prevalent in the U.S. that we need to start  educating our children early. President Obama talked about it in the State of the Union address this year, vowing to make “high-quality” preschool available to every child in America.   There is research indicating that early education does help down the road.  But what kind of early education?   What is a “high quality”  preschool?  Does it mean your child will be reading at 4?  That she can read a map, add and subtract, spit back facts about the rainforest?   Or does it mean that she will be developing capacities like physical dexterity, self-regulation, social competence, and rich imagination?

Early childhood educators and child development experts on the whole believe that play is the most important work of early childhood, providing the skills and capacities that are essential for later success in school and in life.  Play is also the natural state of childhood.  Just as the baby lion’s pounce on his mother’s tail prepares him for pouncing on prey later on, a young child who figures out how to build a playhouse out of cloths with some friends may be preparing himself for solving complex math problems in high school or for negotiating differences in the board room.  If children are left to their own devices, they will play, just as the baby lion will pounce.  This should tell us that perhaps this is what they need to prepare them for adulthood, just as the young lion’s play prepares him.  There is wisdom in paying attention to what happens naturally when adult agendas are not imposed.

Sadly, the trend in education over the past few decades is to impose a fear-based adult agenda of “start earlier and do more.”  This has resulted in kindergarten being the new first grade, and moving steadily in the direction of preschool being the new first grade.  One reason for the fear is falling test scores.  A good question to ask is, how has “start earlier and do more” affected test scores so far?  A better question is, are standardized test scores the measure we should really be looking at for whether our children are well-prepared for the future in our rapidly changing world?  The truth is, we don’t know that pushing academics down into preschool is going to help at all.  What we do know is that doing so will crowd out the activity that will help the most,  play, and that this can actually harm children.

Diagnoses  like  ADHD, depression, and bipolar disorder continue to become more common in children.  The suicide rate for adolescents has continued to rise, so that suicide is the third leading cause of death for people 10 to 24.  Obesity rates are rising, along with all the accompanying health problems.  Children and adolescents are more stressed than ever, and these are the children who have steadily lost play at the same rate that they have been burdened by more and more homework and academic expectation.  They are the children who have spent their childhood in front of screens  and doing hours of homework instead of making mud pies and exploring the woods.

Young children need to play. They need to spend lots of time outside. They need to learn to wait, to help a friend, to do work that really matters. Children need to make pictures in their imaginations when they hear a story. They need to crawl up on a dead tree across the path on a nature walk and wonder what might live there.  They need to feel what it’s like to move their bodies through mud, through deep snow, across slippery ice.  They need to watch adults doing real things and then try it themselves. They need to become deeply absorbed in something of interest—how the grain turns to flour when you grind it, how tall you can build a tower before it falls over, how the color blue meets the color yellow in their painting. A “high-quality preschool” will provide plenty of time for all of this and more. It will provide children with the raw materials to build worlds from their imaginations. It will provide them with a healthy rhythm that supports their best behavior and their joyful attention. A high-quality preschool will provide plenty of movement and plenty of time outdoors in all seasons. A high quality preschool will respect the natural pace of childhood, and by so doing will encourage  health,  happiness, and a lifelong zest for learning.




Posted in early childhood, Outdoor play, Play | Tagged | Leave a comment

Has Public Education Been Left Behind?

Sir Ken Robinson discusses how it is our educational paradigm itself that has been left behind, taking our children and our future with it.  More of the same will only create more of the same–rising ADHD and dropout rates, and children who are woefully unprepared for the future.  He champions a radical rethink of our school systems, to cultivate creativity and acknowledge multiple types of intelligence.  These are the things the Waldorf school does so well.

Watch Sir Ken here.




Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Art and Science of Imagination

As part of our re-branding last year, the Da Vinci Waldorf School wrote a new tag line: “The art and science of imagination.” One of the fundamentals of Waldorf education is developing a child’s imagination. From the pictures the preschool child creates in her mind when she hears a fairy tale to the connections the middle school student experiences between his own inner life and the chemistry of combustion and crystallization, Waldorf education is designed to nurture this innate part of the growing human being. People looking at Waldorf from the outside often wonder at the value of so much emphasis on play and imagination. The Waldorf school can look like something from another century, with its simple tools, its emphasis on story and the arts, its insistence on getting children outside and letting them play freely with one another. However, you have only to look at the most cutting edge brain science to understand the value of these things. Imagination is key for the development of a healthy human being with the capacities to achieve personal success in the new “imagination economy” described by Daniel Pink in his book A Whole New Mind. Developing the imagination will give our children the capacity to imagine and create new designs, technologies, and solutions that we so desperately need. Imagination will also help them develop the moral intuition to navigate the complex issues that our modern world presents, such as the use of drones or the choices presented by the ability to perform genetic testing, among so many others yet unknown that will face our children.

If you’d like to read more about the importance of imagination and the results of its decline in recent years in areas as diverse as national security, economic security, and the development of new patents, this article is excellent:

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Scientific Inquiry Among the Preschool Set

Scientific Inquiry Among the Preschool Set

 Still more evidence from the scientific community  that the wisdom of Waldorf is right on target. When engaged in what looks like child’s play, preschoolers are actually behaving like scientists, according to a new report in the journal Science: forming hypotheses, running experiments, calculating probabilities and deciphering causal relationships about the world.  Read the full article here.

Posted in early childhood | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Not Only is it OK to Play, it’s a Necessity of Childhood

From Waldorf Today:
Children’s play is threatened, say experts who advise that kids – from toddlers to tweens – should be relearning how to play. Roughhousing and fantasy feed development.

Scientists disagree about what sort of play is most important, government is loath to regulate the type of toys and technology that increasingly shape the play experience, and parents still feel pressure to supervise children’s play rather than let them go off on their own. (Nearly two-thirds of Americans in a December Monitor TIPP poll, for instance, said it is irresponsible to let children play without supervision; almost as many said studying is more important than play.) And there is still pressure on schools to sacrifice playtime – often categorized as frivolous – in favor of lessons that boost standardized test scores.

“Play is still terribly threatened,” says Susan Linn, an instructor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and director of the nonprofit Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood. But, she adds, “what is changing is that there’s a growing recognition that the erosion of play may be a problem … we need to do something about.”

One could say that the state of play, then, is at a crossroads. What happens to it – how it ends up fitting into American culture, who defines it, what it looks like – will have long-term implications for childhood, say those who study it.

Read the entire article, Toddlers to tweens: relearning how to play

Posted in On The Web, Uncategorized | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Silicon Valley Waldorf School in National News Again

NBC News visited the Waldorf School of the Peninsula recently, to film a segment  The Waldorf Way: Silicon Valley school eschews technology.

The California Waldorf school has been getting plenty of press since the publication of an article in the New York Times last month.

The press has brought out the debate over whether high technology is necessary for children in grade school.

Check out the NBC video that shows why high-tech parents choose a school that picks blackboards over IPads.

Posted in On The Web | Tagged | Leave a comment

Holiday Faire

Saturday December 3rd, 11:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.
You’re invited to an afternoon of shopping and merriment, just in time for the holidays! There will be a large variety of hand-crafted, fine artisan creations and gently used books for sale. While you shop, the little ones will enjoy the supervised Children’s Wonderland and a variety of craft activities. Lunch, desserts and beverages will be available for purchase. Stop by to enjoy the food, company, music and shopping, while supporting our school!  This event is open to the public, so please feel free to invite your family, friends and neighbors.  Admission is free.

Click here to find out more details about the event! Holiday Faire

Posted in Festivals & Events, School News, Uncategorized | Tagged | Leave a comment

Harvard Newsletter Considers Waldorf as Solution to Public School Reform

By Claudia Lenart

When I first wrote about Waldorf in public schools for Conscious Choice, some 12 years ago, examples were few and far between. There was Urban Waldorf in Milwaukee and a handful of charter schools in California and Arizona. The number of Waldorf-inspired public schools was up to 45 in 2010, with another 30 expected to open this year, according to the Alliance for Public Waldorf Education.

Those of us who have faith in Waldorf would like to see it more available. We believe all kids could benefit from Waldorf education.

A recent article in Harvard Education Letter, a publication of the Harvard Graduate School of Education, considers whether Waldorf is the answer to school reform.

Waldorf Education in Public Schools: Educators adopt—and adapt—this developmental, arts-rich approach says Waldorf is kind of like the slow food movement.

“In the quest to fix ailing schools, should we slow down to move faster?  Just as the handmade, home-farmed foodie movement is transforming how consumers view processed food, is education’s equivalent—Waldorf-style schooling that favors hands-on art and personal exploration while shunning textbooks and technology—just what school reform needs?”

Of course, coming from Harvard, the article repeatedly refers to the fact that there isn’t proof of Waldorf’s effectiveness.

That may be because standardized tests don’t reflect the multi-faceted human being. Regardless, it is an interesting read. Check it out.

Waldorf Education in Public Schools.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged | 1 Comment