Reviewed by Claire
Since I’m reviewing the independent schools Kate has suggested I do my best to remain anonymous. I won’t be divulging which dates I toured and won’t be too forthcoming with some of the unique interactions.
I’ll also let you in on a little secret. . . I toured some schools last year. If I can give all you K-hunters one bit of advice it’s start early. The public schools let you tour anytime, the indys ask you to tour the year before your child is eligible to enroll. If you have a summer baby like me, you get two full years of independent school tours. Wheee.
Web site: www.sfwaldorf.org
School tours: by appointment – 415-931-2750
Location: 2938 Washington St. (preschool to 8th Grade); 470 West Portal (High School)
Start time: 8:20 a.m.
Kindergarten size: There are three classes ranging in size from 22 to 28 students. Students are a mix of first and second year students. Half of the children move on to first grade each year.
Library: Physically small with a charming and knowledgeable part-time librarian
You should consider this school if you're looking for a place with: an education highly guided by a philosophical approach, small classes, a tight knit community, a concern for the natural and an emphasis on esthetics
Playground: Located in the center of the school buildings (and therefore insulated from the traffic and noise of Washington Street), the young children’s play-space includes a large structure for climbing and swinging. There is also a blacktop surface with planting beds, foursquare courts and basketball hoops. The children also make use of a local park.
After-school program: K–5; runs until 5:30; $7 per hour fee; their website says: “The focus of the afternoon is rest, healthy play and good food. The intent is not to structure this time with a whirlwind of activities, but rather to provide a secure daily rhythm within which the child is free to explore options.”
Language: Spanish and German are taught from the first through the eighth grades.
Financial Aid: “Affordable Tuition” is based on need (using SSS) and given based on the financial resources available at the school. Aid must be reapplied for each year and returning families are given priority.
General Information: Waldorf education is based on the theories of Rudolf Steiner, a philosopher from the early 1900s. A key element guiding the curriculum is the belief that all children go through specific stages of development and Waldorf teaching purposefully helps to guide - not rush - children through these stages. While Waldorf doesn’t term itself as “religious education” there is a distinctly spiritual element. Waldorf education focuses on the seasons and the natural world, imparting a sense of moral purpose, and developing creativity.
Students attend Kindergarten for 2 years. When they move up to first grade they meet the primary teacher they will study with until they graduate eighth grade. We were told that sometimes circumstance change but more often than not, students and teacher stay together the whole 8 years. The school day begins with “Main Lessons” the subject matter is taught in blocks ranging from 3 to 6 weeks. After the daily main lesson, children have various subjects depending on the grade. All grades study Spanish, German, music, PE, handwork, and Eurythmy (as near as I can tell it means singing and dancing.) Older students also study woodworking.
We began by meeting the parent volunteers and Enrollment Director Lori Grey. Lori was warm and gracious and the mother of a Waldorf student. Our first stop was the large K class of 28 students (there are two smaller classes which we did not visit.) What a magical place! Busy little children were all about. Some made applesauce, some made bread, others wore little felt hats and capes as they pretended to be elves, and still another group played in a corner filled with toys. It was beyond charming. The room was warm and beautiful – all the toys were wooden, little nature vignettes were set up with apples, leaves, stones and sticks. The effect was stunning and inviting. I wanted to be a kid in that class!
In first grade we watched the teacher guide a lesson about a specific upper and lower case letter. The teacher told a story and used colored chalk to beautifully illustrate it on the board (incorporating the letter form.) The children followed along, using the exact technique and colors to recreate the illustration in their personal lesson books. The kids seemed attentive and engaged. The room, while not quite as lovely as the Kindergarten, was pretty and smelled of beeswax.
The fifth graders we visited were learning about Mythology. They too had lesson books. Lesson books are a big deal at Waldorf. We also saw an eighth grade class where the students were having a back and forth discussion with the teacher. They were obviously independent thinkers and had no trouble speaking their minds in front of a room full of adult strangers (I really wonder how kids are able to do that? I mean really, with all these tours is there a child in SF being educated without an audience?)
We toured the library and talked with librarian. The space itself was small but cozy and crammed floor to ceiling with books. The librarian told us that she fortunate to be able to get to know the children well enough that she learns their interests and will often pull out (or purchase) books for them to select from.
We then headed back into the meeting room to look over more beautiful lesson books and have Q & A with a long time teacher and a parent volunteer.
Claire’s Impressions: This was one of the tours Elias was able to come on so I’m going to include his impressions. He was incredibly impressed by the entire curriculum. The cross over of subject matters inspired him. One Lesson Book had a beautifully illustrated page about geometry in Middle Eastern Architecture and Elias was ready to sign up right then and there. He loved that the artistic was integrated into every subject.
If you’ve read this far you know I was bedazzled by the Kindergarten room. Wow wow Wubzy was it fabulous! And now, if you know anything about Waldorf (and Nick Jr.) you can see the rub. No TV if you go to Waldorf. Seriously. None. Ever. No plastic toys either. I can’t prove this but I’m fairly certain that LEGO factories worldwide would shut right down if we gave up plastic toys.
The parent volunteer at our Q & A - let’s call her Cindy - Cindy talked about making the hard decision to put away the TV, box up the videos and give away the non-wooden toys when her first child began at Waldorf. Cindy said it was difficult, but the best decision she ever made for her children. I totally believe her. I just don’t know if my family is ready to do that. Don’t get me wrong, Owen isn’t plunked in front of the TV for hours on end but I’m just not sure I buy the idea that 20 minutes of children’s television every few days is going to damage him permanently.
One of the things our family hopes to find when we leave a pre-school that we dearly love, is a new family community. It is evident that Waldorf offers support and fellowship for children and parents. I really admire and respect the play-based aspect of the younger grades – my son would really experience the magic of childhood at Waldorf and that is very appealing.