Parent Education

     Parents and teachers gather in evening meetings throughout the school year (four to five per year) to discuss the curriculum and practical details about class activities. These evenings are a window into your child’s school life and are a wonderful opportunity for parents and teacher to build and strengthen the class community. Parents also meet individually with teachers twice yearly to discuss their child’s progress and share impressions.

     Each year the school sponsors public talks, workshops and informal get-togethers with experienced Waldorf educators on issues related to education and parenting. For more information about events that are open to the public, please click here.

     Parent interested in learning more about Waldorf education and anthroposophy can enroll in Foundation Studies classes held at Merriconeag or can join study groups.

Waldorf Teacher Education & Renewal

Videos of teachers speaking about why they chose to become Waldorf teachers

created by Karl Schurman and 10th grade student, Cyrus Fenderson

FOUNDATION STUDIES AT MERRICONEAG

     Why is your child studying medieval history in 6th grade?  How is your child learning to read in 1st grade?  What is eurythmy?  These are only a few questions parents have when embarking on Waldorf Education.  Foundation Studies offers a window into the philosophy underlying Waldorf and the vision of human development that informs it. Foundation Studies is a long-standing program offered to parents and friends of Merriconeag Waldorf School.  The Center for Anthroposophy in Wilton, NH brings this program to Freeport, and several other Waldorf School communities, as a way of helping participants attend in their local area.  Foundation Studies is a two-year part-time program in self development and the arts which helps one understand the roots and reasons behind Waldorf Education.  

For more information, registration, and materials, please contact the following:.

Registration:  Milan Daler, P.O. Box 545, Wilton, NH 03086, 603-654-2566, milan@centerforanthroposophy.org

Program:         Barbara Richardson, 207-865-6482, brichardson@centerforanthroposophy.org

 

Orientation Address by David Barham, 09/03/13

     Hermann Hesse wrote, "In all beginnings lies a magic force." Whether you are entering the EC and just starting this epic journey, or grade school for the first time, or the high school for the first time, you, your child, and your family are about to embark on a very special journey. If you are about to start your first year in a Waldorf school, we especially welcome you as you take this leap into the unknown. It is incredibly exciting. It can also be really challenging!

     But know this: we are all in this together. Every adult in this Waldorf community is taking a radical and courageous stance together. The work in front of us is that big and that important. It is truly revolutionary and world changing. And for a task this big, we need one another.

     Every person in this school has many, many questions about the vast and profound mysteries of human development and how to meet the true needs of the child as he/she changes and grows. Can there be anything more mysterious, more sacred, more holy? For some here, these questions have been worked with for half a lifetime, perhaps longer. For others, the questions haven't yet even found language. Every one of these questions is important and the search together for real answers- not pat, pre-digested, rote answers- is part of our mission here together as adults. Ask your questions, again and again, but be patient in uncovering answers.

     For we are the protectors of the endangered kingdom of childhood. We live in a world that sees children as future consumers, future cogs in a vast economic machine. The world wants to market to our children, make them grow up before their time, sexualize them, mechanize them, overly intellectualize them or dumb them down- or both! That is why Waldorf education, which has its eyes on an entirely different prize, is so radical and why we need one another for this quest.

     What is the quest? What is the radical nature of Waldorf education? It is simply this: we are striving to create a school and an educational journey based, not on the needs of society as it is currently configured, but on the needs of the individual, developing human being. This was Dr. Rudolf Steiner's enormous gift to the world in 1919- the creation of a curriculum that spans from birth to 12th grade graduation, that originates from the reality of the developing human being and is designed to nurture, support and strengthen the whole, unfolding human being. Briefly, Steiner understood that the human being came to Earth to accomplish a mission all his/her own. Simply put- to become truly human. Not a citizen of a specific country, but a citizen of the world and the cosmos. The primary goal of school, according to Dr. Steiner, is to do all we can as teachers (and parents) to remove the hindrances that child finds in his or her way on the road to selfhood.

     So the needs of society, politics, corporations, religion - all must take a back seat to the needs of the individual incarnating child. So Waldorf schools tend to be independent schools- not at the mercy of any demands or dictates other than those of the laws of human development. And the end of the journey is the coming home to the self.

     And since 1919 it seems to work: For nearly 100 years, it has been shown that when Waldorf students graduate from 12th grade, they are ready to go out into the world and stand on their own two feet as independent beings, able to think for themselves with an inner flexibility and mobility, to know what they are feeling and able to actually do the things in the world they themselves feel are important to do.

     One of the great strengths of Waldorf education is patience. We understand that a child takes 21 years to fully ripen. This is a sacred journey and can't be rushed. Just as when Zorba the Greek tried to speed up the metamorphoses of the cocoon and ended up decimating the butterfly, Waldorf education recognizes that educating the whole child takes all of childhood! Every year, the inner question the child silently asks of us is different and must be met in the classroom and in the craft studios and on the athletic fields and in the relationships in a different manner. When the curriculum and the activities of a given moment meet the true developmental needs, the child can relax and be happy, recognizing, "My teachers understand me."

     In keeping with our Strategic Plan theme of One Merriconeag, I would like to speak for a few minutes about how this unified vision of the developing child illuminates everything that we do here and how everything that happens is built upon in the later years. We at the high school are the luckiest teachers in the school because we receive children that have been allowed to be children. They have not been rushed through their early years because someone thought it was important that they learn to read and write and do multiplication tables before they were 7 years old. If your child was in Merriconeag's early childhood program, over across the street in the Pink Palace, they were taught the essentials of early life- how to properly knead dough, how to wait their turn, how to be kind and caring, how to draw and paint and sing and play unending play, care for the Earth, and most importantly, how to grow and develop a healthy physical body that will serve as the foundation for all their learning for the rest of their lives. Without a healthy physical body, it is difficult to develop a healthy feeling life and intellectual life. Through endless movement, dancing, work and play, the grounding for later reading and writing and math was laid. And all this occurred without them being "taught" anything. They learned all of this and so much more by observing the purposeful movements of their teachers, those priestesses of Earth. The awe and magic cultivated in the nursery and kindergarten is perhaps the most important thing of all- much easier to learn to read and write and do math than to remain in awe and wonder at the exquisiteness of the universe.

     And now many of you are ready to move to this side of the road. Ready for a journey that builds on what has come before and carries on. These are the years where the feeling life is carefully cultivated. It has been noted that one thing that truly distinguishes Waldorf graduates is this highly refined feeling life. The arts- so many of them and so often practiced and the handcrafts, the loving relationship between the children and their teachers, the imaginative curriculum, the hundreds of hours not spent in front of a screen. All of this continues to strengthen the child's will, educates the feeling life and prepares the middle schooler and high school student to truly think.

     And on it goes into the high school. Still we are developing the will, still the feeling life, but a new force comes to the fore in these years. Thinking- not filling out work sheets, not correctly answering the questions at the end of the chapter, not just rigor (which as my colleague David Beringer pointed out is a word often used in conjunction with mortis and which can mean strictness, severity, stringency, toughness, harshness, rigidity, inflexibility, intransigence)- but flexibility in thinking. To get to the heart of things, meticulously observe them, ask questions, and finally, to arrive at a conclusion. Seeing things from many sides and angles until its full truthfulness is comprehended. Often students find it takes art, human connections, quiet, many questions, and time before an object or a concept reveals its true self. That is the work of the Waldorf high school. In this way, our oldest students can begin to find the tools to determine for themselves right and wrong and how they will go forth into the world to serve and to shine.

     A new year lies before us. Outside forces will continue to try to force our children to give up their childhood too soon. Take something precious from them. Fear and worry about the future will try to keep us as parents and teachers from allowing the children to live right in the moment where they are. Each child here came with a mission to become his or herself and then mold a world, not simply step up to take his/her place like a cog in a machine. We can be a support to one another and out of our deepest desires and highest ideals; we can create the community that allows our children to unfold in a healthy way over time. It takes all the courage and energy and good will we have. This is radical and this is what we are all here for.

Blessings on the year and thank you. Let the conversations continue.

David Barham, High School Humanities Teacher & College Chair

 

Grandparents & Friends Day Address by David Sloan,

 

10/19/12

Lighting Fires, Not Filling Pails

     Good morning, grandparents! I've been asked to speak for a few minutes today about what makes Waldorf education unique, and I believe I've stumbled upon the reason why I was volunteered for this daunting task. It's not because I've been a Waldorf teacher for over three decades now, not even because my wife and I have witnessed our four, now-adult children each grow through thirteen or fourteen years of Waldorf education. It's because I've now joined that exclusive club that you're all members of; I finally can speak your language; I've reached the promised land—I'm now a grandfather! It feels a little like it did when I got my driver's license or graduated from college, only better! I get to bounce little seven-month-old Jaxon David on my knee and watch with delight as he discovers the world by trying to put everything he can reach into his mouth; but when he makes a deposit in his diapers, I can hand him back to my son with a smile and say, "He wants his papa!"
      Of course, I hope my grandchildren all receive the riches of Waldorf education, but I have less control over that than I would like. Part of the reason for that wish has to do with what I experience every day in my high school classes. Nothing is more delightful than to teach Waldorf 12th graders. They are, almost without exception, bright, well-spoken, and eager to learn. I'm currently teaching the twelfth graders a course called The Birth of American Literature, and I've already introduced them to the work of Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau. We've been discussing Emerson's notion that we should all "insist on ourselves," that "imitation is suicide," and Thoreau's assertion that if a person "does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music he hears, no matter how measured or far away."
      These ideas of finding one's own authentic self, or of marching to the beat of one's own drummer, could be mottos for Waldorf education. I'm sure you're already aware of this, but Waldorf schools really are not very mainstream—yet . Families who find their way to Merriconeag have taken "the road less traveled by." It's not just because our students spend more time at school learning how to do mental math or to carve a wooden spoon or to write in beautiful cursive script than they do in front of a computer screen. It's not just because parents find themselves trying to explain to their relatives—maybe even to you—why it would be a better idea to buy the kids a really good book or a block of clay or a cool calligraphy pen than the newest violent video game.
      We are NOT like other schools. We don't see nursery-kindergartners as little adults, and we don't view high schoolers as victims of a dread contagious disease known as adolescence. We see children as unfolding individuals, gradually revealing themselves and their distinctive destinies. Other schools have worthy, if shorter-term goals—getting their students into college, or teaching them marketable skills, or training them to be good citizens. We're interested in all those aims as well, of course, but we're educating for the longer haul—Waldorf teachers like to say that we're preparing our students for life. And for most of us, life is a good long time; it involves more than learning how to take a test or hold down a job. It means coming to grips with oneself, one's possibilities and limitations. It means discovering how to navigate relationships of all kinds, with peers, family members, co-workers, strangers. It means confronting and overcoming frustration, disappointment, grief, forging a direction that gives meaning and purpose to one's life.
      I'm sure you've heard the poet W. B. Yeats' famous line: "Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire." In that sense, Waldorf teachers see themselves as matches more than faucets, with good reason. Who among you remember the content of any lesson you were taught in high school? Well, if you're anything like me, you remember your teachers' idiosyncracies, you remember the boy or girl who was your first crush, and you remember that chemistry experiment gone haywire, when Mr. Hoffman—or your version of old Mr. Hoffman, who always wore red or green suspenders and a matching bow tie—applied a flame to a balloon over-inflated with hydrogen and the resulting explosion singed off his eyebrows and melted one of the ceiling tiles.
      We Waldorf teachers certainly have our own memorable idiosyncracies—as our students will be happy to tell you—but more importantly, we understand that we're not merely conveying information to our students—we're teaching capacities: how to approach challenges with creative thinking, how to find the courage to meet the future, how to grow in gratitude for what we have and in compassion for what others don't. These same capacities are also the same ones that we teachers need in order to teach; Rudolf Steiner, the founder of the first Waldorf school, must have foreseen how important these capacities would be when he gave the first faculty of that first Waldorf school the following short verse:


Imbue thyself with the power of imagination
Have courage for the truth
Sharpen thy feeling for responsibility of soul

     If you ever visit one of your grandchildren's morning lessons, you will hear them also recite daily a verse, given by Rudolf Steiner, which in one sense really contains in seed form the whole secret behind Waldorf education. For the fifth through twelfth graders, it begins:


I look into the world
In which the sun is shining
In which the stars are sparkling
In which the stones repose.
The living plants are growing,
The feeling animals live,

So it begins with a simple statement that directs the attention of the children away from themselves, at least initially. It includes all of the classical kingdoms of nature—the mineral, the plant, the animal realms, of which we are a part. Then the verse deepens, one might say, by focusing on the human being:


The human being, ensouled,
Gives dwelling to the spirit.

And here we come to a critically important distinction between Waldorf and other educational models. In the twentieth and now twenty-first centuries, it's become fashionable to think of people either as sophisticated machines—our brains are computers, our hearts are pumps, our legs pistons—or as highly evolved animals. Not surprisingly, educational approaches have developed either to program the "machines" or to train the "animals." But when you see children as having a spiritual side, your educational system will need to reflect that added dimension; you'll need to teach in such a way that you don't only cultivate the intellect, you don't just train the physical organism; you touch the heart as well, and you honor that mysterious presence that gives each one of us our unique individuality.
      The verse doesn't end there. It makes a turn from the outer world into the self.


I look into the soul
That lives within myself
The creator spirit weaves
In sunlight and in soul light
In cosmic space without
In depths of soul within

However, even in this inward-looking, it connects the human being to something greater than the self, to a creator spirit that weaves matter and what we might call invisibilities together.


To thee creator spirit
I turn my heart to ask
That strength and grace and skill
for learning and for working
May ever grow within me.

This last section is interesting in a couple of respects. What are the children hoping for—high SAT scores, college acceptances, popularity, success in life, fame and fortune? No, the verse focuses on capacities—strength, grace and skill—perhaps inner fortitude, inner flexibility and suppleness of mind, a sense of confidence and competence—to meet life's challenges. The second striking aspect of the end of the verse is that the children ask that these capacities "for learning and for working/may ever grow within me." Again, Waldorf education isn't so interested in short-term goals; we're looking to foster life-long learners, young people who may not initially know a subject or possess a skill, but who have the wherewithal to acquire what they need, not just in college but in their seventies and eighties and beyond.
      I want to emphasize that this verse—or a simpler version—is recited throughout the grades, by eight-year-olds and eighteen-year-olds. Amazingly, it speaks to that huge span of ages. Looking at the whole arc of the verse, it directs students to look in two directions—first out into the world, then inward, into their own souls. It offers reassurance to the younger children: you are not alone; you are connected to the stars, the rocks, the plants and animals. To the older students, it offers a reminder: You are NOT the center of the universe, despite your absolute certainty that you are. That burgeoning inner life you experience so passionately, so deeply, is part of a larger scheme.
      That Renaissance man, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, is often quoted in Waldorf circles, and I refer to him here because he summed up the wisdom of this morning verse—in fact, the uniqueness of the whole Waldorf curriculum—with the following words: If you want to know yourself, look into the world. If you want to know the world, look into yourself. Perhaps what's unique about Waldorf is just this connectedness. If we believe Goethe's words, then we need to teach our children and grandchildren to cultivate that relationship between the inner and the outer, between the human being and the world, between the visible and the invisible.
      And so I wish you a wonderful Grandparents' Day. And most important of all, if you want to see a photo of the most adorable grandchild in the world—aside from your own, of course—my wife and I would be happy to oblige!

David Sloan