The all-outdoor classroom is unique and beneficial in a myriad of ways. Not only do the children at Mother Earth School become familiar with their surrounding environment, they also develop a deep respect for it. These children are curious and confident because they engage so intimately with the mysteries and challenges of the natural world. The children are strikingly aware of their bodies' limits and capacities as they are allowed an unusually wide range of physical exploration. As the children spend their days outdoors in all weather they begin to naturally acclimate to their environment, and the children are healthy! When properly dressed, the outdoor environment seems to boost the immune system as they develop stamina and are breathing fresh air.
The forest and farm provide many creative ways to take refuge from cold and rain. The outdoor kitchen provides cover for warm meals (find out more about rocket stoves and cob ovens) and herbal tea. The cob sauna becomes a warming hut for story time. The greenhouse is a dry space for picnicking and activities and the Cedar tree canopy is a natural umbrella. The grade school has a cozy yurt classroom which serves to procure focus and productivity for daily academic main lessons and fine motor activities. Also, a list of appropriate clothing for warmth and comfort is included in our parent handbook.
Movement is critical to healthy brain development and learning efficiency. Movement allows information to most effectively integrate into the entire being of the child, naturally creating context for a deeper level of understanding and greater memory retention of the lessons they are learning. Physical movement (in combination with reverence) is the foundation of Mother Earth School's holistic educational approach.
Our outdoor 'classroom' is naturally conducive to re-directing energy that may turn negative when confined within a small space. The outdoor environment allows children to put forth their energy in physically productive ways as they interact with the elements. This is a positive experience not only for the children that have an abundance of energy, but also for those that require some encouragement. How inspiring to see a child that is very physical put this power to good use by hauling firewood to the outdoor kitchen! Equally empowered is the child who is known to barely 'lift a finger' doing the same hard work.
In addition to physical dexterity, social development is also prioritized. Young children are highly imitative and therefore our program is designed to set examples of healthy and respectful ways to interact with self, others and the surrounding environment. It is important to recognize that even seemingly simple acts like 'waiting for your turn' or 'stopping when your friend says "no"' are fundamental to a fulfilling human experience.
Real School for Real Life
The children are in daily contact with the elements and are learning important skills that are foundational to a core understanding of what it means to be human. They are not discouraged by the cold or the wet, as long as they are properly dressed. They become comfortable getting muddy, observing insects, and interacting with farm animals. They begin to know the plants of the forest and the garden as they participate in growing and foraging food. Children learn to compost, gather wood for fire, make herbal teas and remedies, and build shelters in the forest. They witness bees pollinating flowers, dip beeswax candles, harvest food from the land then preserve it for winter. They knead bread dough to bake in the cob oven, prepare wool from the sheep, gather eggs from the chickens, and make cheese or ice cream from fresh goat milk. These experiences cannot be matched in a classroom, as we are able to engage in the fundamental processes of life in a hands-on way.
Because the skills that the children are learning are practical and healthy, we consider our hands-on curriculum 'permaculture education for young children'. Permaculture is a holistic design approach that mimics natural ecosystems and encourages beneficial relationships. Since young children are naturally imitative, in an outdoor setting they are absorbing the wisdom of nature's patterns.
Seasonal festivals are celebrated throughout the year. They accentuate the human relationship with the earth, its rhythms and cycles. Festivals are a true observation and celebration of life; the good work of reaping and harvesting, the retreat into the depths of winter, the return of the light and the rebirth of the natural world. Seasonal rituals are timeless and not only honor our connection with the earth but also with our ancestors and with each other in community.
Where Imaginations Blossom: the POWER of a 'play-based' early childhood curriculum
Free play is the work of the young child. What is born in their inner being from the inspiration of the natural world (instead of media) is imagination and creativity. As the child grows, these faculties will give birth to problem solving skills and resourcefulness. Imaginative play provides the opportunity for children to process the complexities of modern life. What is otherwise incomprehensible for the young child can be transformed into something tangible during play. When surrounded by the inspiration of the forest they can often find a beautiful outcome. How important that our future leaders have a sense of something hopeful to stand up for and strive towards!!
The interaction between the preschool and kindergarten is like a dance. The Kindergarten and Faery Garden may spend some of the day together and some of it separately. Initially, the children may play and work together in the morning when they arrive (while snack is being prepared over the fire). This gives the older children the chance to mentor the younger children while they learn patience and respect for one another. The classes eat snack separately so as to limit distractions as we create a more intimate and formal eating experience. Following snack, we venture onto the farm for circle time at our own pace since the younger children have different needs and capacities than the kindergarten children do. Afterwards we may join together for forest play before separating again for lunchtime.
At Mother Earth School, formal academics are not introduced until first grade. Physical development must be healthy and balanced before abstract, intellectual thought can be properly integrated. The hands-on activities at Mother Earth School provide a wide range of sensory experiences which build the foundation for future academic learning by developing appropriate neural pathways in the brain. Fine motor skills, large motor skills, balance, coordination, the perception of subtleties and nuances, visual tracking & sequencing and sensory integration are crucial prerequisites to academics that are all finely tuned through movement, play and practical arts. For an in-depth explanation of neuro-development and how early academics affects young children, Susan Johnson, M.D. has written an excellent article entitled "Teaching our Children to Read, Write and Spell" (Lilipoh Autumn '07).
Fertile Soil For The Soul
Our teachers are trained in the art of redirection. Instead of being told "no", children are shown what they can do. We speak a child's language when we do something with them. The activities each day happen in the same order so that the children know what to expect next. Not only does this predictability provide a sense of security and stability, it also creates a comfortable social scenario into which the child can integrate. When washing the dishes follows snack time every day, the children simply get up from snack after they are excused, and wash their dishes. From there, they may go to play. This scenario is designed to meet the predictable need for movement after sitting still. Free play is valued as an essential element in our day. This sets Waldorf apart from other methods in that it is an inspired fusion of freedom and boundaries.
A Fresh Start
Although we are not a Waldorf school, all of our lead teachers have Waldorf teaching certificates. We are consciously integrating our relationship with anthroposophy into all aspects of the work we do at Mother Earth School. Commonly asked questions are "What is Anthroposophy?" and "What is Waldorf education?" Waldorf is a unique form of education designed to support harmonious development of the child's three soul faculties- thinking, feeling and willing. The specific methods used in Waldorf schools emerge from a deep understanding of the human being as introduced by Rudolf Steiner at the beginning of the 20th century. The wisdom offered by Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925) is called Anthroposophy, from the Greek anthropos ([hu]man) and sophia (wisdom).
The Waldorf curriculum supports children during each stage of development in a nurturing, age-appropriate way and strives to honor each child's individual gifts. Children are encouraged not only to do what they are good at, but are also positively supported in working through the challenges of activities that they are less inclined to do. This results in competency, confidence and self-motivation as they are not praised for their accomplishments, but instead are acknowledged and respected for their efforts.
Another highly influential school of thought that informs our educational philosophy is Permaculture. Although most commonly associated with land-based systems, permaculture is the art of observing the wisdom of natural systems and creating designs that are similarly efficient. Permaculture design can be applied to all aspects of life. Our methods of education authentically embody this impulse, without needing to teach it explicitly. By modeling physical and social permaculture, the sensation of harmony and balance that the children experience is a pure form of learning. By combining impulses of Waldorf education with embodied permaculture in an outdoor immersion setting, the modern notion of "knowledge" settles more deeply within the learner. A true knowing emerges from the subconscious into conscious action, informing the relationship to one's surroundings.
A third component of Mother Earth School's educational model is the focus on homesteading, nature crafts and traditional survival skills. When enacted joyfully in a supportive and respectful environment, the result is an innate awareness of self-capability as well as motivation and responsibility. We are re-cultivating the roots of humanity by raising children who harmoniously integrate with the natural world.
Also informing our values is the implicit knowledge that we are a part of a greater movement - the reclaiming of education as a means of social justice. We see it as our right and responsibility to create a living curriculum that addresses not only the physical, emotional, spiritual and intellectual needs of the children, but that also addresses environmental, social and cultural healing without imposing concepts or ideals on the children that we are raising to be free-thinking individuals. This is a type of activism that works on subtle and pervasive levels. The accessibility of these ideals creates common ground for a diverse and regenerative community. Making your commitment to allocate financial resources toward supporting Mother Earth School (either through tuition, donations or fundraising) is an effective way to support this movement.