YARN - From the (shorter) Oxford English Dictionary:

Spun fibre of cotton, silk, wool, or flax.... fibre prepared for use in weaving, knitting...a fisherman's net...any of the strands of which a rope is composed...a (usually long or rambling) story or tale, especially an implausible, fanciful, or incredible one.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

greening the grounds

Recently we have been discussing greening the space around our downtown school. It is an exciting conversation and meetings have produced practical ideas, philosophical discussions and connections between people who may not know each other well or at all.

This is an opportunity for us to discuss what we want our school to be, how we envision our community and to imagine the future we are moving towards.

Strengths we can build on:
  • trees established and newly planted
  • climbing tree
  • sandboxes
  • dedicated yard for youngest children
  • space to grow
  • some nice wooden fence
  • composters
  • gardens
  • evolving play space
  • beginnings of space for organized sports
  • a place for gathering and celebration
  • lots of ideas
  • great potential

We also have some identified issues/challenges:

  • too much asphalt
  • use of our space by others (dogs, partiers, graffiti artists)
  • wanting to do much with a finite amount of space (wanting it to be 100 acres in the country)
  • our south facing yard is the narrowest of our spaces
  • the remnants of a more industrial approach to education (chain link fence and a building that looks a bit like a factory) 
  • the building is inaccessible to people who cannot climb stairs -  everything we do from here on should be accessible

We run the risk of satisfying our enthusiasm by embarking on changes without an overall plan, or one that is not grounded in our beliefs and pedagogy, and by responding to what we feel to be our greatest need at this moment. Without getting mired in ideas and plans and details I hope we can take some time to think about what we want to build on, what we need now and for the future, and how we can express our values through our outdoor space.  Can we also develop our educational programme by developing our outdoor space? Can we be better neighbours through the development of our outdoor space? Can we develop our own community through this project and this space?

Years ago someone recommended Christopher Alexander's book A Pattern Language to me.  This book is about the patterns in architecture that support connection, healthy society and make people feel alive and human. Alexander and his colleagues identify 253 patterns that form a language for building and planning. "Each pattern describes a problem which occurs over and over again in our environment, and then describes the core of the solution to that problem".

Alexander believes that "what matters in a building are the events that happen there".   These ideas have changed the way I think about space and have given me a way to think about what I find appealing (what my soul seeks and responds to in space) and has provided me with a practical framework to guide me in making decisions about my home. Christopher Alexander helped me to understand human scale and our need for connection - with each other, with the natural world and materials that speak to our basic humanity.

When I began to think about the school and grounds I started to wonder what A Pattern Language would have to say about this project we are embarking on.  I wonder, also, whether it might provide an approach for us to follow as we assess, dream and plan.  Could it be a common language for us as we begin to shape the outdoor, and indoor, spaces in which our children learn and play?

Alexander believes that people who live in spaces know more about what they need than external 'experts'. We are encouraged to "...let the site tell you its secrets"  Perhaps by using the pattern language to guide our thinking about the very nature of the activities that occur in our outdoor space, and the activities we would like to have happen in this space,  we can have a more fruitful and productive discussion. If we can have a language to articulate our broad principles it will ground us and direct the practical decision that await us. Perhaps Christopher Alexander can help us to clarify how we feel about the space we have and what we need or would like it to become.

Over the next few posts I will summarize some of the ideas that I have found helpful, and provide some links.  I have been struck by how well Christopher Alexander's approach fits with what I understand of Waldorf. Like us, he believes that "creative, active individuals can only grow up in a society which emphasizes learning instead of teaching" (pattern 18 - network of learning).

Monday, February 1, 2010

Am I Waldorf enough?

Is it all whole grains and natural fibres?
Will I be outcast if I send my child to school with store bought cookies for lunch?
What can I possibly take to a pot luck?
What if I whip out my blackberry or iphone - will I be shunned?

Choosing Waldorf
Before sending my children to our Waldorf school I had a sense that there were a lot of things going on there that were important to me - lots of outdoor time, an infusion of environmental teaching, small classes, discouragement of electronics and TV, lots of art and music. It appealed to the neo-Luddite in me. It felt homey. It felt like it was what I would want to give my children if I was capable of home-schooling. I was okay with outsourcing home-schooling to people who would do it better than I could. But I also worried that I might be out of place... not crunchy enough, too harried, not stay-at-home mom enough, too suburban, too much of this world. Which is tricky because I feel out of step enough to be drawn to Waldorf in the first place.

When I think about it, I based my decision to send my daughter to this school on very little . In my old neighbourhood I knew a family who sent their children to a nearby Waldorf school. I remember the mother telling me about emptying pudding cups into containers from home to make it look home-made since store-bought was not allowed at school. I was intrigued and turned off at the same time. I checked out the school's website and did a little drive-by and put it in the back of my mind as an option. When it came time for us to move to our present city I heard that an acquaintance from a previous life in outdoor education sent his kids to this school. I looked at the website and decided that it felt like a good fit. Pretty superficial really but a gut instinct call. It just felt right, and it still does.

Private Education Guilt
I trained as a teacher so my politics make me feel guilty for not supporting public education and I have a hard time admitting to myself that I am sending my children to private school. I try to console myself by saying that if I had known about Waldorf in teacher's college maybe I would be a teacher now, if public education was like this I would be there in a heart-beat. Maybe I will just feel guilty about some aspect of whatever I do. There is tension and disquiet about making this choice but it is over ridden by knowing that this is the right place for our family right now.

What is Waldorf?
There are some in Waldorf circles who say that there is nothing which is really defining Waldorf, others will refer to Steiner as the anchor for all that is Waldorf. I think lots of us might just like the schools, feel good about our children being there and take what happens at our school to be 'Waldorf'. In my case, our school is not just the Waldorf school it also functions, for lack of other options, as the 'alternative' school.

It is not all flowing skirts and homemade bread. We read a lot at our house and I have felt no 'delayed introduction of reading' backlash at all. We watch movies on the computer sometimes and Treehouse TV when we are away from home. We are immunized, have plastic toys (though I have disappeared most of the noisy ones for my own sanity) and I spend way too much time on the computer. I have found our school to be an eclectic mix of people who bring to, and want from, the school very different things and it seems to meet a variety of needs. Like any school, it is a little bit of all of us.

What am I getting out of this?
While experiencing this education through my children, by being a part of the parent community within and around the school, I am actively and passively learn more about this approach to education. I am finding that it supports things that I am trying to do at home - nutritious food, decreased frazzle in our lives, living with out a TV, crafts and the joys of making things. I also feel myself wanting to be more of the good things I see in the school - patient, unhurried, less acquisitive, more musical, more attentive to the small beauties my children bring to me. I am being encouraged and challenged to be a better parent and person. This is not overt, there is nobody behind this, it is not part of the Waldorf programme (or programming for those fearful that Waldorf might actually be a cult). It comes of being around people who are more than I am and it makes me aspire to be a better person and parent.

I do not need to change or make my lunches seem something that they are not. I can be a bit frazzled at times, less patient than I would like to be, and work on my laptop if I am a bit early for pick-up. To a potluck I can bring whole grains - or not. A respected member of our school made my day when she told me she took take out pizza to a pot luck! It seems that the definition of Waldorf is broad enough and the tent is big enough to welcome a variety of people - so I might just be Waldorf enough!