I traveled east last week, landing in New Jersey just as the polar vortex descended and the flakes began to fall. Twelve hours later I awoke to a winter wonderland of shimmering snow, crystal blue skies and bone-chilling temperatures. After dinner that night the children in the household (including two teenagers) tore outside to play in the snow, cajoling the rest of us to join them. Born and raised in Wisconsin, I wasn’t about to let a little cold weather get in my way; minutes later I was making snow angels in the backyard and giggling away.

I have since thought about how purely delightful and uplifting it was to just sink into the snow, feel the frost on my face, the moisture in my boots, and gaze up at the stars.  What it felt like to be sharply aware of the moment when slightly chilly became close to frigid, and at what point I had enough and retreated inside.  What really hit me was how quickly and poignantly my mind and body were transported back to any number of moments in my childhood, when I played in the snow for hours on end.  (I also walked five miles to school, uphill in both directions…)

A recent article by Richard Louv (author of Last Child in the Woods) makes a compelling case for filling our children’s worlds with rich experiences in nature. Louv points out the irony that while we live in a place where the natural world is easily accessible and imbedded in our culture, “on any given day in Seattle, parents and kids are locked inside, focused on homework and screens and manufactured spaces…far removed from the landscape that they believe, in theory, so reflects and inspires them.”

Louv’s case for “No Child Left Inside” rests on a growing body of research, not to mention common sense, which confirms that time spent in nature positively impacts mental and physical health. Exposure to nature builds resistance to illness and depression. Interacting with the natural world stimulates cognitive development and creative capacities. Children who spend time outdoors have fewer colds, lower levels of obesity, recover more quickly from mental fatigue and show significant gains in academic performance.

Hopefully I am preaching to the choir here. At Seattle Waldorf School, we know the importance of getting children into nature. Whether it’s exploring Woodland Park, hiking in the Cascades, biking on Lopez Island, or tilling the soil in the grade school garden, our students develop a profound reverence for and connection to the natural world. The rhythm of the seasons becomes part of their being, and we cultivate within the children an awareness of their role as stewards of this planet we inhabit.

Lamentably, Louv notes that, “Pediatricians and other health professionals are beginning to ‘prescribe’ nature” as an antidote for ailing children. It seems to me that for many families Waldorf education and our commitment to the outdoors make that trip to the doctor’s office a walk to the park instead.

Wishing for snow!

Tracy

SWS is pleased to be a sponsor of Richard Louv’s upcoming lecture at Town Hall on the evening ofTuesday, February 11.  Click here for details and purchasing tickets.

From:  Connection 1/10/14

In the last 48 hours more than a dozen people have sent me a link to Preparing for Life, a new video on Waldorf education. I have watched it nearly as many times.  I am not a YouTube junkie, and generally forgo watching the most comical/heart-wrenching/choose your adjective video that goes viral. And I am certainly not one to take up the “you have to watch this” mantra. Until now.

Our colleagues at the Waldorf School of the Peninsula have produced a stunningly beautiful and compelling articulation of the value of Waldorf education.  Featuring commentary from teachers across grade levels, Silicon Valley executives, university professors, Waldorf graduates, and others, this 17-minute film captures in music, words and images the essence of a child’s Waldorf journey. Simply put, it prepares him or her for life.

A few notable comments and questions you will hear:

  • It reminds me of what childhood used to be.
  • What do you wish for your child in 20 years?
  • To know the world is to know the self – and to know the self is to know the world.
  • Waldorf education focuses on building capacities, rather than just skills.
  • You see the child, and there is your curriculum.
  • I look for resilience, creativity and adaptability in employees.
  • But can you think, collaborate and communicate?

Without apology or humility, I would ask  – almost beg – you to set aside time this weekend, perhaps with a cup of hot tea, and allow yourself to be lifted up by this artistic work.  It will leave you appreciative and proud of our collective commitment to providing an extraordinarily unique experience for children at Seattle Waldorf School.  A parent in the video sums it up by saying,  “In the long run what you want is a healthy, happy 35 year-old. No one is really going to remember what your 4th grader got in math.”

You have to watch this. And enjoy a wonderful weekend!

Warmly,
Tracy

From: Connection 12/13/13

Dear All,

Last weekend I learned that a dear friend on the East coast will undergo open-heart surgery on Monday as the result of a freak infection that weakened two pulmonary valves.  During the past few days I have imagined what he must be thinking as next week approaches, and how frightening the uncertainty of all this must be.  As is often the case with life-threatening situations, the issue of not knowing what comes next, or whether there will be a positive outcome, bubbles up – which raises for me the question of “Is there anything at all we can know for sure?”

This has been percolating in my head as I moved through conversations and meetings this week, and listened to queries from parents, board members, teachers and others wrestling with questions for which there may not be clear answers.

  • From a kindergarten parent looking ahead to first grade, “What happens if the teacher doesn’t stay with the class through eighth grade?”
  • From a trustee in our discussion of taking on additional debt to move the high school, “What happens if interest rates soar?”
  • From a grade school parent sharing concerns about her child’s learning challenges, “What happens if she has dyslexia and we don’t know that?”
  • From a teacher in discussion about the school’s administrative structure and planning for the future, “What happens when Nettie and Tracy aren’t here?”

Pema Chodron wrote an exquisite book, Living Beautifully with Uncertainty and Change, which explores what she calls the “fundamental ambiguity of being human.” She writes, “As human beings we share a tendency to scramble for certainty whenever we realize that everything around us is in flux. In difficult times the stress of trying to find solid ground – something predictable and safe to stand on – seems to intensify. But in truth, the very nature of our existence is forever in flux.” She goes on to suggest that rather than be disheartened by the uncertainty of life, what if we accepted it – in her words, “decided to sit down and enjoy the ride?”  As adults we might be able to do that – but for our children we often yearn for what is safe, secure and predictable.

All this led me to think more deeply about what, in this world of unknowns, can we offer you and your children for sure. What promises can we provide, what unequivocal statements can we make, in our work at SWS? I would offer that:

  • Your child will be surrounded and nurtured by a loving and caring community.
  • Your child will move into the world with exceeding confidence.
  • Your child will learn to think “out of the box,” becoming a flexible problem solver who can face any challenge.
  • Your child will develop not only intellectual capacities, but practical skills such using a hammer, reading a trail map, knitting a hat, and cooking a nutritious meal.
  • Your child will develop a true love of learning that he or she will carry with them throughout their life.
  • Your child will experience beauty and embrace with reverence the world and people around them.

This gives me great comfort and joy, in a life seemingly filled with unanswerable questions and anxious ambiguities. Filling our children’s hearts with love, their bodies with confidence, and their minds with a passion for learning will serve them well as they navigate their life journey.

Hoping you find warmth in friends and family this weekend!

Tracy

P.S.  Don’t miss Winter Faire tomorrow at the grade school from 9:30 am to 2:00 pm and the high schoolMusical Concert Evening on Wednesday next week, at 6:00 pm at the high school.

Dear Parents,

This morning we filled Huckleberry Hall with more than 90 grandparents and special friends – good thing our building is larger! It was a wonderful celebration of our new spaces, our wonderful students, and the transforming experiences that happen in our classrooms each day. Monday saw two dozen visitor to the high school for a similar morning of learning and sharing.  The last few weeks have been filled with lantern walks and a campus work party; in the days ahead we look forward to Winter Faire, advent spirals and the Shepherds’ Play, as we move into this lovely season of reflection and giving thanks.

This fall our faculty and staff engaged in a study of gratitude, one of three fundamental human virtues Steiner calls us to consider in our work with children. His writings are plentiful and deep, and I often feel fortunate to leave with a nugget of understanding from my forays into his lectures. A “takeway” for me from my reading this fall was the notion of “universal gratitude toward the world.” Steiner wrote that while of paramount importance, this gratitude “need not always be in one’s consciousness, it may simply live in the background of one’s feeling life.” He offers that we can experience this thankfulness upon entering a beautiful meadow of flowers, or catching the sunrise at dawn. I had a conversation with a parent yesterday in which she shared that just taking time to feel and express her gratitude to those around has literally changed her life. I think this is a glimpse into what Steiner envisioned.

In that spirit of gratitude and thanks, I’ll share a wonderful video about the role expressing gratitude plays in experiencing happiness. I encourage you to take a minute (actually 7:14) and watch it – it will bring both tears and a smile. It is a wonderful reminder of the power of gratitude, and how we can bring real happiness to others and to ourselves with by simply saying thank you.

Wishing you and your families a Thanksgiving filled with joy and gratitude!

Tracy

P.S.  Be sure and take a look at the recent issue of Waldorf Today featuring Seattle Waldorf School and our grade school renovation!
From email sent on 11/27/13

Sitting down to write for the Connection, I wrestled with a couple of things I wanted to share. I attended the NWAIS (Northwest Association of Independent Schools – formerly PNAIS) Heads’ Conference two weeks ago, and heard a timely and thought provoking presentation on “Change Leadership.” Plenty of relevant ideas for our community to consider arose from that, to be sure.  Having just spent three days at a peer school as part of an accreditation team, my head was spinning with thoughts about how SWS will prepare for a similar experience in the next few years.  And on Wednesday evening I facilitated a strategic planning retreat for another independent school, which gave me pause to think about the many strategic initiatives we have accomplished in the last 24 months. What to write?

Unable to settle on a single topic, I quickly checked my email.  I immediately knew what I could offer on this significant date in our country’s history. I am grateful to a parent who passed on the following:

“…If sometimes our great artists have been the most critical of our society, it is because their sensitivity and their concern for justice, which must motivate any true artist, makes him aware that our Nation falls short of its highest potential. I see little of more importance to the future of our country and our civilization than full recognition of the place of the artist.

If art is to nourish the roots of our culture, society must set the artist free to follow his vision wherever it takes him. We must never forget that art is not a form of propaganda; it is a form of truth. And as Mr. MacLeish once remarked of poets, there is nothing worse for our trade than to be in style. In free society art is not a weapon and it does not belong to the spheres of polemic and ideology. Artists are not engineers of the soul. It may be different elsewhere. But democratic society–in it, the highest duty of the writer, the composer, the artist is to remain true to himself and to let the chips fall where they may. In serving his vision of the truth, the artist best serves his nation. And the nation which disdains the mission of art invites the fate of Robert Frost’s hired man, the fate of having “nothing to look backward to with pride, and nothing to look forward to with hope…”

–JOHN F. KENNEDY, AMHERST COLLEGE, OCTOBER 1963

While three-quarters of Americans are too young to really remember John F. Kennedy’s  presidency (I fall into this group), the power of his legacy – of what might have been – is very real. As one author of Kennedy lore recently wrote, “It’s amazing that Kennedy should have this extraordinary hold on the public’s imagination 50 years after. He’s the one president, along with Reagan, who gave people hope. It’s hope, it’s optimism, it’s the feeling that he could have made this a different world.”

Regardless of how any of us might feel about this leader’s politics, personal life, or iconic family, JFK’s gift to our nation was indeed one of hope, and a belief in a better world. I think as a Waldorf community we share that fundamental conviction and optimism deeply, and it intrinsically motivates our work here every day.  Much like the artist, we engage our students in pursuit of their own truths, instilling them with pride in what they have created, and hope for what they have yet to undertake.  The world will benefit from our efforts and from those of our students in the decades ahead.  We are humbled and grateful for the opportunity to be part of this journey with you and your children. Thank you.

With gratitude,
Tracy

From:  Connection, 11/22/13

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