A School For The Whole Child
The students in Cynthia Hovland's class march back and forth, singing in unison in their small, artistically decorated classroom. The fifth- and sixth-graders practice playing Roman conquerors while their classmates look on in delight. It may not be a sight you'd see at a traditional school — but it's common at the Tucson Waldorf School.

Here's an eight minute clip:

The Waldorf method began about 80 years ago when Rudolf Steiner helped create a new school system in Germany for the children of factory workers.

There are now 1,000 Waldorf schools from Japan to Canada, said Michael Wright, the seventh-grade teacher at Tucson Waldorf School.

Wright has been an educator for about 20 years and has taught at several Waldorf locations. Wright was co-founder of the Viroqua Waldorf School in Wisconsin.

The Waldorf School is a private institution for children from pre-kindergarten through eighth grade, with 15 to 20 students per class.

"Waldorf is the fastest growing education movement in the world," curriculum coordinator Cynthia Bistrain said at the school's open house last week.

The Tucson Waldorf School, with 107 students, employs an alternative curriculum that educates children through unconventional means.

"Children are not tested on material they learn and are not given official grades until they reach the fifth grade," Bistrain said.

While physics, mathematics, human anatomy and language arts are taught, art classes such as music, singing and drawing are required for each student beginning in first grade.

"I kind of like drawing and art," said Glen Brumm, 10, a fifth-grader. "And I like German."

Students have the choice of learning either Spanish or German at Waldorf schools.

Also, no textbooks are used with the curriculum. Each teacher prepares a lesson plan. As the children learn, they create their own books by writing passages and drawing pictures.

"It's the education of the head, heart and hands," Wright said.

While the curriculum does not involve religious practices, students are taught to value "spirituality."

"What we see is that educating the whole child not only involves their academic aspect, which, of course, is very important, but also their moral education," Wright said.

Waldorf teachers use methods that engage students in the learning process and allow for creativity. Media such as televisions, computers and video games are not used in the classrooms.

Students who depend on the media for information, Wright said, may not be stimulating their reading and writing skills. Using media too much also prevents them from expanding their creativity in an atmosphere where students explore topics themselves in order to learn about them.

Tuition for first- through eighth-grade is more than $6,700 annually, the school's Web site says.

According to the Web site, about 25 percent of families at the school receive tuition assistance of about 50 percent.

From "Waldorf Schools a Growing Movement" in Teacher Magazine, published: February 15, 2008

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