Every day I walk Ronia to school, I pass her neighborhood public school. The crossing guard and I know each other’s names, and I have become adept at weaving through the laughing crowds of students walking in. I get a little a twinge, as a former public school teacher every time I do this, it is unlikely that Ronia will ever attend this school. Instead, with my grandmother’s help, she attends a Waldorf school, located in huge campus of something called the New Covenant Church.
While I was worried there would be a Christian character, the Waldorf school is essentially based on an invented religion of its founder Rudolf Steiner, the man also behind biodynamic agriculture. When the kids actually begin to read (at third grade, which seems late to me) their first text is the Torah (I assume in translation). But I don’t really have to worry about any of that for a while since Ronia is 3 and ensconced in the nursery.
Ronia is clearly having a blast at school, the “things to work on” portion of her parent-teacher conference was “Keep doing what she’s doing!” She sings snatches of Waldorf songs adorably and practically, “Thumb all alone, fingers all together, that’s what we do in the cold cold weather!” She makes the cunning fox eyes. And most hilariously to me, she tries to whip the younger children into shape during circle time: “Sit up!”
That said, the Waldorf school can seem a bit of an imposing place, so specific is everything to the color of the walls (pink for nursery) and how successful they are at creating another world, one that really is quite child-centered. I sometimes feel a bit ungainly as an adult, as Ronia usually heads into her classroom with nary a backward glance. Overhearing a woman say to another dropping-off father, “I didn’t get that nice of a goodbye and I’m a MOM” did not enhance my comfort levels, though Ronia picked that day to smooch me extra affectionately. I was also once advised by the assistant teacher to watch Ronia through the window from up the hill so as not to disturb her. I love that I am so peripheral to Ronia’s day, but it is still an adjustment from stay at home parenting. I was excited when the wonderful Ms. Kerry offered observation mornings to parents.
Of course, scheduling was a concern as I wanted to pick a day that I was on with Ronia, and not off in New York City (my wife and I are separated and share custody). Then there was a snow day, yet another in the ongoing Snoah that is Philadelphia’s winter 2010-11. So the visit had been built in my mind when I finally arrived last Tuesday.
“Are you bringing your slippers?” Ronia asked, sounding like the actual adult she will beocme, and of course I had forgotten. The children wear slippers in the classroom, and as Ronia pointed out, I would need some. I found some in Waldorf’s copious cubbies: bright orange, like a warning sign that an adult was present. Ronia asked me, “Are you going to sit on the couch?” It soon became clear that this is her realm, home to a doll called “King Winter” and a succession of sheep. She fended off one kid off who tried to play with them–“They’re sleeping!”–but did manage to share. She spoke the Waldorf, “May I have a turn with that when you’re done” with a practiced air about her.
She also dealt with the other older kids, who are boys, though definitely Waldorf-style boys. They were having a lengthy discussion about the difference between “good pirates and bad pirates” (good pirates love people, bad pirates will cut your neck) while playing in a rocking boat (wood of course, almost everything at Waldorf is made out of wood). They spied Ronia playing with her King Winter and said “Ronia, you’re the sea!” Ronia rejected their classification: “I AM NOT THE SEA.” The teachers mediated successfully, but I was proud of her refusing to be drafted into someone else’s narrative. You tell ’em!
I was also amazed at her physical prowess. She was able to stretch her legs to the far ends of another wooden walking toy, farther than the other children. She also had the hand motions of circle time down. Less surprisingly, she was very into the food, scarfing down the barley soup. “She likes everything we give her,” her teachers explained. I know I am not supposed to compare with others, but I don’t often see her with a lot of children and was struck by where her development fit. I was also relieved when she was not the girl who refused to take her hands out her pockets and toppled over on the slippery ground, bursting into tears. Though I was happy how unprincessy most of the girls were, the walls aside the only pink-wearing child was supporting it as part of a rainbow ensemble, of course!.
Waldorf is really committed to outdoor play, which is why the tearful girl was outside in the first place. Even as a wind whipped up, Ronia charged out into the little playground. She vanished into a little house with her male playmates, and I felt a surprising relief. I was not worried, I watching her enter her own world, with boys no less, and I had no fear that she wouldn’t be able to stand up for herself or that she would harm others. This might be naive, and I don’t know if I can keep it up when she goes to bigger and bigger playhouses.