The Waldorf Way: “Too Much of a Good Thing”

By Holly Fortin

Few life experiences match the moment your child is first placed in your arms. The welling up of wonder, love and determination that life will be good for this child, that as parents we will do everything possible to help.

Such a resolution is needed to see parents through those first years of sleep deprivation and constant caregiving. Does there come a time, however, when our wish to help clouds our judgment of what is needed? Can our wish to help be "too much of a good thing"?

Watch very young children learning to walk. They stand, then fall, stand again, then fall — over and over they persist with a fortitude that would put any adult to shame. Yet what is the first thing we as adults do when we come on such a scene? We want to help: We raise them up on their feet; we hold their hand while they take a few steps. Rather than allowing children the satisfaction of accomplishing this momentous task unaided — strictly out of their own will — we intervene. Does our intervention enable their fortitude, or disable it?

In our play yard at the school, we have recently acquired two seesaws. Designed for a wide range of ages, they are big enough that all but the tallest kindergarten children have to work hard to seat themselves when their friend is already on the other end. As a faculty we have made the conscious decision not to help a child up, and after months of watching children struggle to reach that seat, we are constantly impressed by their untiring persistence and ingenuity — qualities that may not be developed by a child who is always helped by an adult. The same could apply to any piece of playground equipment. If you help a child up who cannot manage on their own, then you will have to help them down again. Does this constant assistance enable persistence and ingenuity in the child, or disable it?

Let's look in another direction. What about giving children choices? In our affluent society the possibilities for satisfying our daily needs are abundant, and in our wish to be good to our children, we often work hard to honor their desires.

What do you want for breakfast? French toast? Pancakes? Pop Tarts? Cereal?

What do you want to wear? Pants? A dress? The red shirt? The striped shirt?

Do you want to go outside? Watch TV? Color a picture?

Seemingly harmless choices that many parents assume will give a child confidence and the ability to make decisions. A daily diet of choices may initially seem empowering, but at what point does it actually encourage self-centeredness? The child who has become, in the earliest years, accustomed to being consulted in every decision, can easily become a child who assumes they should get their own way, a child for whom in later life, empathy, or putting someone else first, may become a struggle — not through any innate moral fault, but through a lack of practice. Does our wish to give children an endless array of choices enable empathy for others or disable it?

In the kindergarten, we prepare a snack in the classroom during the morning. The menu remains the same each week. In the beginning of the school year new children may express distaste for a particular dish; may even loudly voice their protest! Do I provide more choices? No. Every week the same snack is provided and every week they are given a small serving. They do not need to eat it, but the possibility is there. Amazingly enough, eventually most will learn to like the offending snack. In such subtle, small ways, we seek to postpone immediate gratification and encourage a measure of thankfulness for what is provided. Does constantly giving in to childish whims — likes and dislikes — enable patience and gratitude, or disable it?

In all of these situations there is no simple, right answer. One child, easily discouraged, may need more stimulation than an active one. With young children, minimizing choices can have a very positive effect. When they are teenagers, however, excluding them from decisions is done at our own peril! As parents we are closer to our children than other adults, yet that very closeness may distort our perception of what is needed.

Next time you find yourself automatically starting to help your child, stop for just a moment and consider, do they really need my help? Or is this "too much of a good thing?"

For more information or to join us for a "Walk Through the Grades" every Tuesday at 8 a.m. call (603) 447-3168 or go to

Holly Fortin is a teacher and one of the founders of the White Mountain Waldorf School in Albany.


The Waldorf Way: The power of integrated teaching

By Gretchen Davidson

A guiding principle at Waldorf schools is "educating the whole child." This perspective honors the complexity of human nature. We are intellectual, spiritual, emotional and physical beings, and these aspects of ourselves work in harmony to make up the whole.

Waldorf schools recognize that when one part of the whole is out of balance the system is affected. Waldorf schools foster development of the physical body and this physical development works in harmony with intellectual development.

Waldorf schools highly prioritize the development of the physical body. Families are encouraged to send healthful food to school with their children, media is limited to protect the physical senses, and teachers work to ensure a safe and warm learning environment. Waldorf schools also attend to the physical development of students through the movement curriculum and through emphasis on free movement in nature throughout the school day.

The physical body is the fundamental way we learn from the time our synapses first wake up in the womb. Throughout our lives we continue to learn through our physical interactions with the world. Babies are born with innate patterns of physical development that are initiated unconsciously. All babies who can will move their bodies in ways that develop the muscle strength and coordination they need for lifting their heads, rolling, grasping with their hands, sitting up, crawling, and finally walking.

The brain is wired to accomplish developmental movements and is born demonstrating numerous infantile reflexes that are the precursors of these movements. For example, the startle response when an infant is tipped backward or the grasping reflex in the hands when something is put in a baby's palm. Reflexes are repeated over and over in the course of infant development until they are integrated. The integration of these reflexes is a coordinated process between the brain and other parts of the body, and is the foundation of later muscle development and intellectual development.

It is easy to see how the grasping reflex leads to later hand eye coordination when you watch a baby move from grasping to intentionally trying to pick up things that she sees. What occurs in the brain during this developmental process is less visible, but equally integral to overall health. Along with being the physical foundation for muscle developmental and physical skills acquisition, reflex integration provides the foundation for intellectual skill development such as being able to follow words on a page or being able to write in a straight line.
Waldorf schools recognize that when physical development is missing important milestones, intellectual development will be hampered.

Children with retained reflexes may learn to sit still and follow words on a page, but it takes increased effort as their brains and bodies have to compensate. This extra effort can lead to frustration and disinterest in what becomes an incredible amount of work.

In Waldorf schools, children's physical development is attended to throughout their education. In the example of hand eye coordination, children in Waldorf schools learn to sew, knit, carve wood, and play a stringed instrument. These skills are important because they are useful and nurture the spiritual life, and they strengthen the neural connections that make learning to read and write come naturally.

Physical development, because it provides a foundational circuitry in the brain, also affects emotional development such as the capacity to regulate emotions, mood, and anxiety levels. A study in Human Movement Science (2010) found that gross motor developmental scores in infants and toddlers predicted anxiety and depression levels in those children at 6 to 12 years old when other factors were controlled for. Another study in the International Journal of Special Education (2004) found that boys diagnosed with AD/HD had significantly higher levels of infantile reflex retention than boys without this diagnosis (Story and Kane, 2014; Brain and Sensory Foundations).

The movement curriculum at White Mountain Waldorf School, run by Jonathan Pullan, attends to developmental movements and fosters socioemotional growth through games, circus arts, the zoo movements program, archery, and other skill-based activities. This focus helps children be ready for the intellectual learning that occurs when they return to their desks in the classroom and helps with social experiences.

In a time when education is moving to more desk time and less movement, Waldorf schools are maintaining a focus on what research demonstrates is how the brain is meant to learn: through movement, through physical interaction with the environment, and through the life lessons that come with trials and errors.

For more information about the White Mountain Waldorf School's movement curriculum contact the school at 447-3168. For further research on movement and childhood brain development visit and


The Waldorf Way: The gifts Waldorf gave me

by Kaeli Twigg-Smith

There are many parts to a Waldorf education. There are the people you are with, both students and teachers, there is the environment you are in, and there is, of course, the curriculum; including the many lessons you learn. All of these aspects play important parts in Waldorf and why it works.

I was a student at the White Mountain Waldorf School in Albany from the age of two until I was almost 15. Over the years there I learned so much.

I learned lessons that all students learn; how to read and write, how to do math and plenty more.

I was taught many things other than academics — how to play nicely with my friends in kindergarten, how to cook and how to draw free-handed. I also learned about the outside world — I've had my fair share of hiking, was free to explore the outdoors, and if I may say so myself, I am an expert fairy-house builder.

At Waldorf, I wasn't only taught academic and outdoorsy knowledge; I was also given many skills that will help me throughout my entire life.

I think that one of the most important and useful tools that I gained is the art of memorization and public speaking. In the early childhood program, the classes begin everyday with circle time singing and verses. This repetition and memorization continues and grows more each year strengthening the brain and making everyone more confident in their speaking.

In the first grade, we recited birthday verses. Each year, on or around a child's birthday, each child is assigned a short poem or verse which they memorize and present standing in front of the class every week.

I always said my poem on Monday mornings along with three or four of my peers. I started in first grade with a small, three-line verse and ended in eighth grade with a one-and-a-half page long sonnet by William Shakespeare. Each child has a different verse and every year they receive a new, more difficult verse on their birthday.

Every student, including myself, dreads the morning they say their poem. At the time, the student does not realize what it is doing for them. Now, looking back, I can see how much this practice has helped me. I am amazed when I find myself saying the words I used to recite in sixth grade. I still have them memorized four years later. Furthermore, I find I can speak among any crowd of any age people about nearly any topic or personal opinion with confidence.

Birthday verses are not the only way I was taught to memorize and speak publicly; there are countless, small factors such as songs, puppet shows, games, and group poems that help strengthen public speaking skills. The biggest events which support these skills and really build confidence are the annual class plays and the eighth grade projects.

Class plays are set into the curriculum at Waldorf. The teacher will choose a play that has to do with an academic block — a Greek myth or story of some sort — which was studied during that year. Everyone works together as a class to put on a production for the school community. Play blocks start in the first grade with something simple and easy. My first grade play was "The Frog Prince." There were about four characters, so we were split into groups for each character and recited the lines together. I was one of five kings. I know this seems a bit odd, but it actually works very well as a first step.

I was terrified to go up on a stage and recite in front of my family and my friend's families; but as I went up on stage I realized I wasn't alone. I was with four of my best friends and we got through it together.

Each year the plays get more complicated, and after the first play, everyone has their own part and their own lines. I remember each year getting more and more confident with saying my lines in front of everyone and by the time my last play rolled around in eighth grade, I found it fun! In eighth grade our play was "A Midsummer Night's Dream," by William Shakespeare. I had a lead role as Puck, the mischievous fairy. I had loads of lines to memorize and perform and it was so amazingly fun. The final performance in front of a full house in a public auditorium was enthralling.

Everything I have written about so far is very significant with regards to my memorization and speaking skills. Everything I have talked about also leads up to one, big culmination of Waldorf education — the eighth grade project.

Waldorf eighth grade projects are a year-long project where each student picks a skill or topic they want to learn more about and they study deeply. Everyone picks a mentor, does research and works diligently. In the spring, the projects are presented to a large audience. Each student must get up in front of the whole school community, people from the greater community and student's family members. They give a lengthy memorized presentation about their project experience. This presentation often includes demonstrations, examples and a question and answer period.

Over the years, every time I had to give an oral report, perform in a play or speak publicly, one of my family members would ask me the same question: "Are you nervous?" I would reply that I was fine and excited. Then they would repeat the story I have heard countless times of them being so nervous before an oral report that they actually felt sick. I would laugh along with them and say again that I was all good. By the time I reached my eighth grade presentation I was more than OK — I was excited, thrilled even. I couldn't wait to get up and share my experiences and hard work with my audience. I can promise you that most White Mountain Waldorf School students would tell you that they felt the same.

Waldorf schools give their students a gift when in first grade — the birthday verse tradition is begun. This gift of learning to memorize and present information in front of others is nurtured and crafted over the years through the many opportunities of performance and presentation.

I am thankful for my Waldorf education and everything it gave, especially the gift of being confident and calm while presenting in front of a crowd. This skill will help me through my whole life and affect me and my world in many positive ways.

Kaeli Twigg-Smith is a White Mountain Waldorf School alumni and sophomore at Fryeburg Academy.

Join us for a tour every Tuesday at 8 a.m. Call (603) 447-3168 or


The Waldorf Way: The Class Teacher

Photo in Education

By Holly Fortin

Imagine the first day of first grade. A child enters with such anticipation, eagerness, apprehension even awe! Slowly, even painstakingly, a relationship is built up between a young child and his teacher: a relationship second only to that a child has with his parents. Receptivity to learning is nurtured by the trust born of this relationship.

The Waldorf class teacher has the unique opportunity to build on this relationship throughout multiple years of a child's schooling. She is the "first among equals" in the child's constellation of teachers (others include: a foreign language teacher, a games teacher, a music teacher, a strings teacher, a handwork teacher and a woodworking teacher).

It is the class teacher who greets the child in the morning and dismisses him in the afternoon, and it is she who leads the "morning lesson blocks" all year-long. Thus, the class teacher is responsible for teaching reading and writing, arithmetic, history, geography, the sciences, grammar and so on. Most class teachers serve as their class' painting teacher, drawing teacher and modeling teacher as well. The class teacher also leads the younger children in rhythmic games and songs, and guides the older students in discussions about current events and the perils of adolescence.

This teacher comes to know the children, their "learning styles" and their developmental needs in a comprehensive manner. That which she perceives to be a problem for a given child at the close of first grade will not simply be noted and passed on to a new second grade teacher; on the contrary, the child will often continue his schooling under the careful eye of the same teacher. No time is lost "getting to know" a new class each year. Nor is there a need for testing to discover what material has been previously covered. This approach allows for tremendous responsiveness by the teacher for her class. A developmentally older group can move more quickly through the material; a younger group can take the time needed to truly comprehend what is being presented before continuing. Gone is the pressure to "push ahead" in order to cover that year's material regardless of the long-term consequences.

Many parents express concern over personality conflicts in such a system. "What if the class teacher doesn't like my child?" They may ask. A Waldorf teacher will often respond: "You have a child. What if you don't like your child?" This reflects the depth of the relationship developed in these years and the commitment a Waldorf class teacher makes to her children. The Waldorf School is tantamount to a second family life. In our age, where family is less stable than ever before, often the class teacher is one of the most stable features in the child's life.

Naturally situations arise when a teacher is unable to continue with his or her class, or a particular school may elect to loop teachers in a four rather than eight-year cycle. Thus one teacher carries the class for first through fourth grade and another teacher carries them fifth through eighth grade, allowing both to focus more deeply on a specific developmental phase. Keeping in mind the strong educational philosophy Waldorf teachers share, these transitions are as seamless as possible given that a beloved teacher is leaving and a soon to be beloved teacher is coming. In addition, though it may become necessary to welcome another class teacher due to unexpected circumstances, the constellation of subject teachers remains consistent, aiding a smooth transition.

The results of these nurturing relationships developed over time have lasting effects on the child as they grow to adulthood. The young child who entered first grade with such anticipation, becomes the confident Middle School student ready and eager to move on to High School.

For a tour of the school, call Enrollment Director Denice Tepe at (603) 447-3168 or go to for more information.

Holly Fortin is a Waldorf teacher.


The Waldorf Way: Teaching compassion at Waldorf

Is Waldorf a Christian school? If not, what religion does it espouse?

Perhaps this question should be asked in a different context. People of many faiths send their children to our schools. We embrace them all. At the root of our spiritual outlook is a philosophy called anthroposophy.

This broad body of research, knowledge, and experience holds a spiritual view of human nature and development. It sees the human being as more than a culturally conditioned, genetically determined, biological organism. Instead, anthroposophy maintains that each individual human being has a spiritual core, or "I," and that this I is in a continuous process of becoming, of evolving in freedom through spiritual activity toward ever greater self-knowledge. With the gradual awakening of the I, a corresponding awareness of the spiritual wisdom within the created universe arises in the soul.

The anthroposophical worldview understands the historical evolution of consciousness in many cultures as the background for each individual’s path of self-discovery. The fundamental tone of this worldview — which is not a religion — is in harmony with many world religions and philosophies. It stands in opposition, however, to the powerful, contemporary cultural currents based on materialism.

In our culture a form of psychological conditioning occurs on an unprecedented scale through the cumulative impact of the 20,000 commercials that the average American child sees each year. Unchallenged assumptions about human nature convey reductionist views of the human being. These strongly influence how children form their fundamental “image of self,” their view of the essential nature of the human being. This is distinct from the individualized self-image each child also forms.

Various one-sided theories of human development are projected through the popular media — the idea, for example, that the human being is merely an advanced ape or a biological organism that has arisen accidentally from the primordial ooze and whose ideals are epiphenomena of secretions of the brain. Other common images are of the human being as historically/culturally conditioned and behaviorally programmed; fundamentally egoistic and controlled by unconscious drives; genetically determined; a consumer to be manipulated; a unit of economic production in global competition; and a mechanism whose heart is merely a pump, whose brain is a computer. The human being is a couch potato, an action hero, a Barbie doll. Faced with this persistent tide of subconscious indoctrination, concerned parents look for an education that offers a more uplifting view of human potential.

And in the curriculum, methods and festivals of the Waldorf schools such an alternative image of the human being is offered. Many parents are content to see their children thrive in a Waldorf school, sensing that dedicated teachers deeply care about their children and work with effective educational insights and methods. A few parents wonder further about Anthroposophy, the philosophy that inspires the education. Some inquire out of genuine interest, others to make sure that their children are not exposed to something sectarian, parochial or dogmatic. Parents can rest assured that Anthroposophy is not taught, inculcated, or subliminally communicated in the school. That would be counter to the purpose of Waldorf education as “education toward freedom.”

Parents have legitimate concerns: "How does your personal spiritual search as a teacher affect what you teach my children? You profess freedom as a value, but you may hold your values and views superior to what we hold most dear. Perhaps you intentionally or unintentionally promote your view at the expense of ours.”

The question — is Waldorf education Christian? — may surface at key moments in the festival life of the school. While traditions vary from school to school, an Advent Garden is commonly held; Saint Nicholas may visit; there may be a Saint Martin’s festival; Michaelmas (the festival for Saint Michael) will likely be celebrated; and, along with animal fables, stories of saints will be told in second grade. At many schools there is a performance of a Christmas nativity play. With these events marking the course of the year, the obvious answer to the question seems to be: Yes, Waldorf education is Christian.

Well, it is not so simple.

We Waldorf teachers also teach the Eightfold Path of the Buddha; the Old Testament and Judaism; Islam; the teachings of Confucius; the teachings of Zarathustra; and Egyptian, Greek, and Norse mythology. Although limited by our own personal backgrounds, we enter into diverse world cultures with as much reverence and depth as possible. While there are important differences between the world religions, a remarkable common ground — what has been referred to above as the spirit of humanity — is evident. As a school movement, we celebrate festivals of many religious traditions.

A more relevant and revealing approach is to ask: What image of the human being do the Waldorf schools seek to bring to the children as a model and inspiration? Here the answer is unequivocal. It is an image of the human being as loving, compassionate, reverent, respectful, engaged, tolerant, peaceful, joyful, patient, good, upright, wise, balanced, in harmony with the cosmos, nature and humanity.

No religion or code of ethics can arrogate these fundamental and universal values as its unique possession. For an education that is of the heart and the will, as well as the head, there is the practical question of how to help children develop these qualities. Much of what goes on in a Waldorf school that is perceived as religious and Christian — the festivals, the stories and legends of the saints, the Old Testament stories, and so on — has this intention.

Waldorf education consciously nourishes the inner life of children in order to start them on a lifelong process of self-discovery. It places before them eminent persons — some of them great religious figures, some of them not — but all of them persons who overcame weakness, transformed themselves, expanded the horizons of the human heart, and inspired social change. It does this in the hope that a seed image of human aspiration will grow within each awakening I as the light within, as conscience, as the spirit of truth.

Whatever may be achieved in this regard is within the context of an excellent academic education that equips young people for contemporary life with clarity of thought, wisdom of the heart, and practical skill for work.

Transposed from an article by William Ward.