Noah was two and a half years old, and I was days away from delivering my second little tiny, Milly. I sat in my arm chair and watched the case worker from Early Intervention kneel down next to Noah, asking him to hand her the baby doll she had given him, mere moments before. Noah was ignoring her, focusing his attention on the hands of the baby doll. They were molded shut, and he was lightly stroking them, as if to try and open them. She finally took the doll away, which caused a mini tantrum. Noah was easily consoled, and they went back to their task at hand (which, at this point, I was certain had to be ‘find ways to make your child have a tantrum’). Next, she showed Noah a box of blocks, then dumped them all out. She asked Noah to pick them up and put them back in the box. He looked up at her, wordlessly staring her straight in the eye, refusing to touch those darn blocks.
“Mrs. Rodenhizer, your son has scored “severely delayed” in all areas. We feel it is a strong likelihood that Noah has autism spectrum disorder. Where he falls on the spectrum will remain unseen until he is a bit older.”
At least this is how I think her words went. I basically stopped hearing words after “scored severely delayed in all areas”. I asked questions. They answered them. I nodded. I wrote things down. They started stressing the importance of early intervention– getting him into therapy as soon as possible. Finally, I asked the one question that I really wanted to answer to.
“Why?”, I asked. “Why does he need services?”
“Because his behavior is unusual. The goal of these services is to ensure that Noah can change his unusual behavior to fit in with a traditional school environment.”
Oh. I see. I see why. Because he is “unusual”.
Fast forward a couple of years and several hours of speech services later, Noah was a thriving five year old boy. We were walking home from his preschool, which was just a block away from our apartment on the Navy Base in Japan, and I had a million thoughts racing through my mind. My husband, Jeff, had just received an offer that would move us from Japan to Jacksonville, Florida. But what were we going to do about school for Noah? He had been with the same group of kids in his preschool for two years now. His teachers knew him. They called him unique, not unusual. While he still had a hard time talking, he had made improvements in leaps and bounds. I was terrified that Noah would end up in a school with a teacher who didn’t ‘see’ him. Who called his behavior unusual.
I never wanted to change his behavior. What they saw as a problem, I saw as a blessing.
I was determined to find a school that saw each and every child as a blessing, no matter where they were in their development. Determination lead me to Google. And Google lead me to this book:
I devoured this book, and with each turn of the page I became more and more convinced that Waldorf education was tailor-made for my Noah. I could write a whole series of blog posts about what Waldorf IS, but I will let the fine folks from whywaldorfworks.org break it down to its simplest form for all of our sakes:
Developed by Rudolf Steiner in 1919, Waldorf Education is based on an understanding of human development that addresses the needs of the growing child. Waldorf teachers strive to transform education into an art that educates the whole child—the heart and the hands, as well as the head.
When you enter a Waldorf school, the first thing you may notice is the care given to the building. The walls are usually painted in lively colors and are adorned with student artwork. Evidence of student activity is everywhere to be found and every desk holds a uniquely created main lesson book.
Another first impression may be the enthusiasm and commitment of the teachers you meet. These teachers are interested in the students as individuals. They are interested in the questions:
- How do we establish within each child his or her own high level of academic excellence?
- How do we call forth enthusiasm for learning and work, a healthy self-awareness, interest and concern for fellow human beings, and a respect for the world?
- How can we help pupils find meaning in their lives?
Teachers in Waldorf schools are dedicated to generating an inner enthusiasm for learning within every child. They achieve this in a variety of ways. Even seemingly dry and academic subjects are presented in a pictorial and dynamic manner. This eliminates the need for competitive testing, academic placement, and behaviorist rewards to motivate learning. It allows motivation to arise from within and helps engender the capacity for joyful lifelong learning.
The Waldorf curriculum is broad and comprehensive, structured to respond to the three developmental phases of childhood: from birth to approximately 6 or 7 years, from 7 to 14 years and from 14 to 18 years. Rudolf Steiner stressed to teachers that the best way to provide meaningful support for the child is to comprehend these phases fully and to bring “age appropriate” content to the children that nourishes healthy growth.
The mental shift from ‘this is where you need to be, developmentally’ to ‘this is where you are, developmentally’ is empowering. To allow my child’s natural gifts to evolve organically as opposed to forcefully. To see him as a whole child, and not just the parts. This is why I chose Waldorf.
And Waldorf has become so much more than the way I want to educate my children. So much of the philosophy has integrated into our family’s culture; the way we live our day to day and how we interact with one another and the world.
Discovering Waldorf education was such a gift to me and my family. It transformed our lives and, more importantly, started paving the path of my son’s educational journey with love, excitement and confidence. That’s something all kids deserve.