Celebrating the SWS Class of 2019!

Written by SWS Fifth Grade Teacher, Melissa McIntyre.

We are thrilled to celebrate the SWS class of 2019, all of whom recently graduated from high school! It is a true joy to learn about what our alums are up to and we wish them all the best on their next adventures.


Olivia Alberto, Ian Brant, Abram Darby, Gabriel Elser, Caroline Fischer, Noah Fitz, Connor
Gherardi, Luke Higgins, Lakota Kin, Kathryn Meyer, Timmy Pollock, Wyatt Potter

High Schools Attended:

Donegal High School
Girard Academic Music Program (GAMP) in Philadelphia
Hempfield High School
Lancaster Mennonite High School
Linden Hall School for Girls
McCaskey High School

Next Adventures: (In no particular order)

~ Attending Millersville University and then transferring to the University of Pittsburgh to major in
~ Attending Thaddeus Stevens College and studying Electrical Technology.
~ Spent the summer teaching English in Italy and is heading to Bucknell University.
~ Accepted into the Applied Engineering - Robotics Program at Millersville University.
~ Was nominated and accepted as a Cadet at the U.S. Military Academy West Point in New
~ Working in Information Technology at Lancaster General Health.
~ Attending Millersville University.
~ Spent the summer participating in the Alternatives to Violence Program in Palestine and then
planning on more travel before attending American University in Washington, D.C.
~ Spent the summer as a camp counselor, plans to travel with a friend to see the national parks,
and will attend the University of Delaware for Equine Therapy.
~ Learning how to fly a plane.
~ Attending Stevens Institute of Technology in New Jersey.
~ Attending Elon University in North Carolina.

Visiting Kuang-He Waldorf School in Taiwan

Written by SWS Mandarin Teacher, Hui-Ling Singer.

It has been more than three years since COVID-19 began and, finally, this summer I felt safe enough to travel overseas again. I took my daughter, Joy, back to Taiwan to visit my family for three weeks in June. While we were there, I took the opportunity to visit one of the Waldorf Schools in Kaohsiung, my hometown.  

It was a rainy day on Thursday, June 15. The temperature was hot and humid. My sister gave me a ride to Kuang-He Waldorf School. From a distance, the school looked like any regular school in Taiwan. Nothing special. I wasn't quite sure if I was in the right place. As I walked closer, I saw the name of the school and little children playing in a circle near the entrance. They reminded me of our 1st graders and I knew I was where I was supposed to be.   

Kuang-He Waldorf School was established in the fall of 2012. The school has added one more grade each year and this coming fall, it will have all twelve grades plus a new parent and child class. The school is expanding. Kuang-He Waldorf School is the first Waldorf School in Southern Taiwan that teaches high school levels. The school has about 80 families right now with an average of 10 students per grade. The 8th grade has the most students with 16 total. The class that I observed was 5th grade which had 11 students that day, 7 boys and 4 girls. 

For foreign language learning, English is taught from 1st grade to 12th grade. In 1st grade, it's only 15 minutes per class during the morning circle time twice a week. Beginning in 2nd grade, English is 45 minutes long and is taught twice a week. From 3rd grade to 6th grade, English is taught three times a week, and 7th grade and up, four times a week. In high school, which is from 10th grade to 12th grade, English class is 50 minutes long. Besides English, students in 5th and 6th grade will take Japanese for half a year during club time. In 7th grade, students will choose either Japanese or French for two years. In 10th grade, students will choose either German or Russian for another two years.  

I’m super excited about the connection made this summer between our school and Kuang-He Waldorf School in Taiwan. One of my goals for this visit was to find pen pals for my students. The teacher Li-Ru Fu, who was with me the whole time, will be the class teacher for 7th grade this coming school year. She was very happy to hear my idea about pen pals. After a short discussion, we have decided to start with two classes: our 8th grade will pair with their 7th grade and our 5th grade with their 6th grade.  

Kuang-He Waldorf School doesn't have its own school building yet. It is currently renting a part of the campus from the He-Chun Institute of Technology which is no longer in operation. The spirit of Waldorf education lives out loud through the colors of the walls no matter where you are in the world. As I was touring around, I could see clearly where the old institute ended and where Kuan-He Waldorf School began. Teacher Fu told me that their dream is to someday build their own school in the center of the city. May their dream come true!

Congratulations to Susquehanna Waldorf School's Class of 2023!!

Graduating from the Susquehanna Waldorf School is a significant occasion for our students. Many of our 8th graders have been students at our school since parent & child and Kindergarten classes. Many have quite literally spent their entire lives at SWS. The Class of 2023 is thrilled to begin this new journey of beginning high school and beyond but it also means saying goodbye. In Waldorf education, we mark and celebrate this momentous time in several ways.

As the end of the school year approached, 8th graders went on their 8th-grade trip. They spent 7 days living and learning on a 46-foot sailboat in the Chesapeake Bay. They learned how to sail, how to maintain and care for a sailboat, and practical skills like navigation, knot tying, and how to use a sextant. They learned invaluable leadership and team-building skills on this adventure. Special stops included Shark Tooth Island, Saint Clements Island, and historic St. Mary's City. The 8th-grade trip is a tradition in Waldorf education that honors the years the students have spent together and marks their transitions into high school.

A vital part of the 8th-grade experience at Susquehanna Waldorf School is choosing, completing, and presenting an 8th-grade project. Each student chose something they're interested in that will teach them a new skill and they worked on it throughout the school year. The class of 2023 did such impressive work! Projects included 3D Printing, a house diorama and design based on a Frank Lloyd Wright design, a fully illustrated children's book on veganism, a stop-motion animated film, a handmade Pride quilt, another 3D printing, a handmade dress (as seen in the 7th & 8th-grade performance of Into the Woods Jr!), and an electric generating bike.

"This is why we support this school! These 8th graders come out with such a sense of who they are, who they are not, and how to start walking their path beyond the walls of the school. Every class that has graduated shows these qualities and I am brought to tears of joy every time! Well done class of 2023!"

- SWS Parent

The whole school came together on the last day to send the 8th graders off at the End of Year Ceremony. 1st graders spoke about their favorite memories of their 8th-grade buddies and presented each one with a yellow rose. One could feel the special bond that was developed between the 8th-graders and their 1st-grade buddies this year. There wasn't a dry eye in the house when the whole audience of students, staff, and families sang a special Graduation Song. Their families and peers sent the 8th graders off with a standing ovation. It was a beautiful ceremony to honor this fun-loving and creative class.

The final celebration came on Sunday, June 4th as the SWS community gathered at Melhorn Manor in Mount Joy, PA for the graduation of the SWS Class of 2023. The 7th-grade orchestra, led by Orchestra teacher Mr. Cameron, welcomed family and loved ones into the venue. 8th graders recited the poem The Hill We Climb by Amanda Gorman and they recognized all of the people who shaped their journeys at SWS: the teachers, the staff, their families, and loved ones. Mrs. Sweeney (who taught the class in the spring of 2020 and co-taught the class with Ms. Tucker in the 2020-21 school year) spoke of how the class made the best of a challenging experience: an online classroom in 2020 and a year-round outdoor classroom in 2020-21. SWS Music and Chorus Teacher, Mrs. Radanovic, led the 8th graders in a beautiful rendition of The Parting Glass. 8th grade teacher, Ms. Tucker, spoke to the joy of teaching this class and all of their unique individual qualities. She gifted each student a baby friendship plant, which was harvested from their class plant, and presented each student with their diploma. The Class of 2023 received their last standing ovation as SWS students as the 7th-grade orchestra closed the ceremony. Special thanks to all who made the graduation ceremony so special, especially the 8th-grade parents, Mrs. Radanovic, Mr. Cameron, 7th-grade parents, and, of course, Ms. Tucker!

Congratulations to the Class of 2023 and we wish them blessings on their journeys to Capital Area School for the Arts, Donegal High School, Lancaster Mennonite, York Suburban, and beyond!

SWS Community Highlight: Education Support Teacher Krista Bieniek

We asked alums, alum parents, current parents, former teachers, and more what makes SWS special. The overwhelming response was our community. The teachers and staff who welcome new families with open arms. The teachers who lovingly shape the lives and minds of our students. The parents who find friendship and camaraderie in their parenting journeys. The students who make lifelong friendships. The festivals and community events. Our campus tucked away along the Susquehanna River in beautiful Marietta. What makes our school by the river special is our community. In honor of this, we will be interviewing members of our incredible community. Our Education Support Teacher, Krista Bieniek, agreed to sit down with us to talk about her experience as a teacher at our school. 

How long have you been a part of the SWS community?

I had to go back and count. 2016 is the year that I apprenticed with Ruth [former Education Support teacher], which was part of my Extra Lesson training. So that makes it 7 or 8 years. I started to learn more about this tradition of support that we have in Waldorf education. It’s quite different from what support might look like in another setting. My background is in child development, so I’ve worked a lot with neurodiversity, different learning styles, different learning needs, and then, to find a methodology of support in Waldorf Education was an exciting moment for me.

Tell us about your work as an Education Support Teacher.

I’ll tell you more about Extra Lesson, which is my favorite part of my work. The Extra Lesson is a tradition that we have in Waldorf schools. It was started by Audrey McAllen, who was a remedial support teacher and student of anthroposophy studying [Rudolf] Steiner. She had remarkable insights about human nature and how that relates to child development. She developed wonderful movement, drawing, and painting exercises to help children find their way into their bodies more fully. In my mainstream education in child development I learned about typical development but not what to do when development isn't typical. I learned about how it is when it’s perfect but it’s never perfect and that is what the extra lesson does. It addresses any underlying developmental movement, sensory, and motor integration challenges.

In practice this looks like lots of movement when I'm working with a student. We’re jumping rope, we’re throwing, we’re catching, we’re rolling, we’re crawling, we’re balancing. All sorts of movement that explores the space around us and our bodies. Walking backward. Which is quite challenging for the small child. Standing on one foot with your eyes closed. Which is also quite challenging for some children but this work opens up more layers of neurological development. All this while practicing within the Waldorf traditions which always prompts teachers to hold this wonderfully open space to ask “Who, truly, is this child? ”And “What is it that they have to show me?” That’s always in the backdrop of the Extra Lesson: these movements, drawings and painting exercises, and asking myself where the children are on their path in relation to these developmental milestones. And how can little nudges of support help them find their way?

Our goal is to support children to grow into fully free human beings. And what that means from my perspective as a support teacher is that one can take in sensory information, including academics, and not be unduly hindered. There’s still so much space for diversity and all of the individuality in this. But, as much as we can, we want to have underlying foundational development pieces in place. That is the goal. The first-grade assessment is a really good example of this. It's a huge moment in development when we say that we’re not going to introduce any higher-level learning until we know that the child can meet certain developmental milestones. One is left-right brain integration. We know that students do better academically if that stage of development is fully complete.

Painting Set Up.

What led you to Waldorf Education?

Learning about the first-grade readiness assessment was my first moment of “Wow, what is happening here? What is it that they’re doing?” Because of, as I shared already, all of the work I had done in child development. This is the answer to “What do we then do? How do we help support whole human beings?"

Also learning about Child Study. That is something really unique to what we do [in Waldorf education]. Taking a moment to have the whole faculty lovingly, as unbiased as possible, observe another human being. I mean that blows my mind. Who else does that? It’s not “What are they doing wrong?” or “Why are they not able to pay attention?” We ask ourselves: “Who are these children before us?” “What are the unique gifts they are bringing into the world?” “What do we, as teachers, need to learn from them?” That is astounding.

There's Care Group as well. Which is another unique part of many Waldorf Schools. Care Group at SWS is a group of teachers who voluntarily meet each week as a committee to holistically hold the child from this open perspective that I’ve been describing. Taking time to observe and to offer recommendations to teachers and offer student support where needed and recommendations for outside support where needed. The amount of time and energy that is spent on each child, I have not found that level of care and dedication anywhere else.

What sets SWS and Waldorf education apart?

I think what first comes to mind is breathing. That is the core of my work. From a very practical sense, to ask the question, “Is this child able to breathe in, to take things in? And are they able to relax and to breathe out?” And so many people, children, and adults, cannot. They are in this sympathetic, flight, or fight mode of stress. We first make sure that you are well and can take in information, to take in learning. That is one thing that Waldorf education does beautifully. It’s at the heart of everything. To hold that as the first question. “Are you happy? Are you whole? Are you well? Are you breathing?” To see then, after receiving an education here, how alums can go out into the world and fully meet it with all its present challenges. They have so many resources and faculties at their disposal. They are what inspire my work too.

Symmetry, Stretching, and Lifting Drawing.

How has working in Waldorf education impacted you as a person?

I’m so lucky to be here. I have found the way that we work at SWS to be tremendously impactful. There is so much space given for self-development. The whole “life-long learner” motto is also fully held by teachers and we are supported on our own paths in so many ways. We study together, there's professional development. Even how we hold our relationships with each other, conflict resolution, all of these things. I have found that tremendously impactful to work in a community where there is so much striving and room to always learn and grow as an individual.

My study and practice of Extra Lesson has also made a deep impression on me personally. I had very mild dyslexia as a child and young adult. I don’t want to say it’s completely gone because I want to be really fair that obviously, everyone is different and will be impacted in different ways, but Extra Lesson has helped me to a tremendous degree. I never struggled with behavior or academics in school but I never had a full comfortability in my body. I never realized that I was working extra hard with spatial orientation, which translates into one's processing of language and numbers. I had always a brief moment of pause, hesitation and ultimately lack of confidence and ease until I was able to learn and work more fully with developmental movement processes. This experience helps inform my work a great deal because it helps me understand, to a degree, the experiences and challenges many children are having at present.

What's your favorite thing to do when you're not at SWS?

I’m biking if I’m not here. If I’m not doing that, I’m probably digging in my garden. Planting all sorts of things. If I’m not doing that, I’m probably reading, doing yoga, studying, and relaxing. All those good things. Camping, hiking. There are all sorts of fun things that I’m so looking forward to doing this summer.

What’s your favorite thing about the SWS community?

The festivals. I find the rhythmic nature of them supportive. Just the same thing every year. Knowing that it’s coming. Predictably is so supportive for anxious children and good for adults too. At the same time it’s also the ability to create anew in community together each year. It’s always different. It’s magic for me when all sorts of people get together each year to decide, “What are we going to bake together? What are we going to craft together?”


The World Teachers' Conference in Dornach, Switzerland

Written by Rising First Grade Teacher, Kerry Clements. 

"The true teachers and educators are not those who have learned pedagogy as the science of dealing with children, but those in whom pedagogy has awakened through understanding the human being."

-Rudolf Steiner

On April 18th I boarded a plane to Dornach, Switzerland for the World Teachers' Conference at the Goetheanum. This majestic building was designed by Rudolf Steiner, inspired by the form of the human being and carefully engineered to compliment the beauty of the land on which it sits. It is a school of spiritual science, an international center of music, theater, conferences, and the seat of the General Anthroposophical Society. Built mostly of concrete, the structure is an engineering marvel. 

The World Teachers' Conference hosted over 1,000 teachers from 61 countries with over 40 different languages represented. It is hard to describe the awesomeness of this experience as I entered the main hall of the Goetheanum. Here I was, in the midst of a sea of teachers, including my dear friend and colleague, Mandela Davis. One thousand souls who had come together, from all over the world for the same purpose, to collaborate and grow in our knowledge and understanding of the Waldorf Education movement and how it meets the children of our time and future generations.

The 2023 conference was titled “Affirming – Nurturing – Trusting, an Education for Today and Tomorrow”. Throughout the 5 day conference, I had the opportunity to hear from some of the most creative and intuitive leaders in the Waldorf movement. Discussions ranged from early childhood development and incarnation, the impacts of digitization on the growing child, sensory development and integration, emergency pedagogy, and the urgent initiatives of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. Each moment was filled with insightful and inspiring discussions, artistic activities, and personal and spiritual growth opportunities.

I am so very grateful to have had the opportunity to represent the Susquehanna Waldorf School at this international assembly of Waldorf teachers. I made so many connections with many different people, from the United States and all over the world, that I am sure will continue to ripple into our school for years to come. Thank you to everyone who supported me in this endeavor and to Mandela for sharing this adventure with me.

2022-23 Annual Report

Written by SWS Board of Trustees President, Dave Knapp. 

This has certainly been an exciting year! 2022 began with just four Board members (all from the faculty and staff) and today we stand at eleven members. I have worked with many boards and this is the most diversely talented and ambitious group I have had the privilege to work with.

The Board of Trustees, with the assistance of our entire community, has created a three-year Strategic Plan. This plan is our road map for success. Accompanying this plan is a one-year focus. Both plans are on our website for your perusal.

Our focus this past year has been on recovering from the enrollment losses during the pandemic (we lost 56 students in that first year). Much discussion has gone into our organizational structure and governance model and their associated staffing requirements. Our primary focus is on ENROLLMENT. We have set an enrollment target for next year that will be the next step on the path to financial abundance. As we welcome this new abundance, we expect to add a staff member in Development as well as Pedagogical support.

Our Faculty remains exceptional and, as always, we look for ways to support them spiritually and financially. We were able to provide 401K benefits to our faculty and staff for the first time this year, which is truly a cause for celebration.

Our Parent Guild has re-organized following our pandemic separation years. This is another cause for celebration. This is a remarkable group of people who have revitalized many of our fundraisers. We are actively looking at a Parent Guild model that is less work and more play. We will provide more opportunities for this group to celebrate in the coming year.

Much has been done and much remains to be done. We feel optimistic about our future and look forward to continuing to serve this beautiful community.

With sincere thanks from the entire Board of Trustees,

Dave Knapp

Click here to view the SWS 2022-23 Annual Report. 

Flower Crowns and Maypole Dances: May Day 2023

Friday, April 28th marked the celebration of our annual May Day Festival! The morning began with SWS students excitedly entering our school with flowers in their arms. "Happy May Day!" was heard throughout the hallways. May Day is one of the most highly anticipated festivals of the year and one could feel the joy permeating the air.

May Day is an ancient festival that lands about halfway between the Spring Equinox and Summer Solstice. It's one of the many festivals we celebrate in Waldorf education that honors the rhythms and cycles of the natural world. Students spend weeks learning May Day songs and dances with SWS Music teacher, Nina Radanovic. This year, our grades students began their day by carefully making their Flower Crowns while parents decorated the school.

It is always our hope to celebrate May Day outside on our playground but, unfortunately, the weather had other plans this year. May Day celebrations began with our early childhood students. Stepping Stone nursery students entered the gym singing songs of spring. They gathered around the Maypole and, with a parent by their side, danced and sang around the Maypole. Kindergarteners were next and, led by their teachers, did an amazing job!

"Spring is coming, spring is coming, birdies build your nest

Weave together straw and feather, doing each your best.

Spring is coming, spring is coming, flowers are coming too,

Pansies, lilies, daffodillies, now are coming through."

Later in the day, the 7th-grade orchestra, led by SWS Orchestra teacher Michael Cameron, welcomed all as the procession of students led by 8th-graders entered the gym. The festivities began with SWS 5th and 6th-graders performing the North Skeleton Sword Dance and SWS 8th graders performing the Stick and Bucket Dance. It was time to dance around the Maypole! Students gathered around the Maypole proudly wearing their flower crowns, chose a ribbon, and danced and sang in celebration. The gym was filled with laughter, joy, and a felt sense of community. Happy May Day from your friends at Susquehanna Waldorf School!

Third Grade Building Project

Written by 3rd-grade teacher, Mandela Davis. 

I am so proud of my students! Third grade is an important year in child development, parental relationships, and students' understanding of their whole being. As a class 3 teacher it is my job to help parents see the changes in their 9-year-old and to help teach the love of change they are experiencing as a family. 

“The change in the children’s self-awareness grows stronger at the age of nine, and you find that they understand much better what you say about the difference between the human being and the world. Before they reach the age of nine, children merge far more thoroughly with the environment than is the case later, when they begin to distinguish themselves from their surroundings. Then you will find that you can begin to talk a little about matters of the soul and that they will not listen with such a lack of understanding as they would have listened earlier. In short, the children’s self-awareness grows deeper and stronger when they reach this age.” - Rudolf Steiner, Founder of Waldorf Education 

In Waldorf 3rd-grade classrooms around the world teachers, parents, and caregivers have the opportunity to give the security the children need. Around age 9, give or take, a child sees the world from a whole new perspective. Their beloved childhood of the imagination is changing. The doll in the playhouse is no longer speaking or talking to the other doll. I remember the exact moment around 9 when I was playing in my doll house. I sat down with my imaginary family, and all of a sudden, I looked at my wooden doll figures and they did not speak to me. My father checked on me and said, "Dela it’s time for dinner." I was so happy I heard a voice I knew. That was the voice of protection and safety.   

This is why in Waldorf education the third grade focuses time on building and learning how different cultures live and work with the land. These lessons show security and endless possibilities for the third grader. This year my students and I wanted to build something the school needed and that everyone in the community could benefit from. We decided to build a picnic table! Prior 3rd grade classes have built items such as a bench or a bridge. It’s an opportunity for a child to ask the questions:

"Why are we doing this?"

"Who will it benefit?"

“What does it take to build a large project?”  

We found building plans and set to work with the help of a class parent! The students drew and measured the dimensions of the table. A wonderful class parent handled the bulk of sawing and measuring. This parent brought the materials to our school and we assembled the picnic table during our morning main lesson time. The students used different kinds of tools and learned the processes of building a project. We utilized our math, listening, and sharing skills as we learned how to work together on a large project. 

In the end, my students and I had a great time doing this project. It brought the whole class together in a new special way. A few students said to me, “Mrs. Davis we did it! We created this!” The joy this project brought my students is like no other. Also, it is a wonderful lesson for them to see how they can build something with their hands that will benefit future students and generations to come. 

SWS Community Highlight: Parent Asia Pecora

We asked alums, alum parents, current parents, former teachers, and more what makes SWS special. The overwhelming response was our community. The teachers and staff who welcome new families with open arms. The teachers who lovingly shape the lives and minds of our students. The parents who find friendship and camaraderie in their parenting journeys. The students who make lifelong friendships. The festivals and community events. Our campus tucked away along the Susquehanna River in beautiful Marietta. What makes our school by the river special is our community. In honor of this, we will be interviewing members of our incredible community. The parent of 3 SWS students, Asia Pecora, agreed to sit down with us to talk about her experience as a parent at our school. 

How long has your family been a part of the SWS community?

My oldest, Ana, is in 6th grade and she was here for kindergarten with Miss Linda. It’s been over 7.5 years that we’ve been here, going on 8 years. For a family, it’s a very long time. Joe and I have been together 13 years so we've been a part of this community for more than half of the time we’ve been together! Luli is in 4th grade and she started with Miss Jessie as a Buttercup. And now Miss Jessie has Gisi. Joe and I have figured out that by the time all is said and done, it will be 20 years, god willing, that we are here - by the time Gisi has gone through her 8th-grade class. It’s been a part of the children’s lives for, you know, basically their whole lives. I really see the Waldorf school and community as a greater family to me. That’s how it feels to me. That’s why Joe and I are so, the word isn’t even invested (even though you do pour so much time, and money, and things into the school), but all of our hope, all of our dreams and aspirations live here. They live in our home as well but they live here with the people who are here.

What led you to Waldorf education?

When I had Ana, we lived in Lancaster and we were both working full time. We were trying to find an early childhood option for her. We were right by the Montessori school and we went there. Ana didn’t thrive there. She was my first child and I didn’t really know what I was looking for, but I knew it wasn’t there. Joe actually came here without me and met with [former Admissions & Marketing Director] Michelle Wann and got a tour of the school. Joe came home and was just like, “that’s the place. That’s where she’s going to go.” And that was it.

Ana immediately just loved it here. A lot of the physical work and play that we do here, it wasn’t like that at the Montessori school. She wasn’t getting the bigger play, the gross motor skills there. The social aspect in early childhood education here was everything that our children needed. 

Did you have any concerns or apprehensions about Waldorf Education?

It sounds corny but coming here and starting in the early childhood program was like coming home. That’s what it felt like. So in that sense, intuitively, I had no hesitation. At the time we were a young couple and, you know, like rubbing pennies together but we have a very supportive family, in terms of getting them here, picking them up, while we work full-time. That was our biggest hesitation, how we were going to logistically make it work?

There was also this pressure because Ana received speech therapy. This pressure on the academic life of a child. When do you introduce that? What is a normal window for a developmental milestone? What does mainstream culture say about what your child should be doing at a certain time? And there’s so much information out there. We felt very supported in those questions here. We were able to have her get speech therapy in the home. We were able to kind of pick and choose what we wanted to do.

When we came here, we found a place where we were able to have meaningful conversations and we developed relationships with Miss Linda and Miss Jessie. So much trust was built. Like many people, Joe and I came in thinking that society, or education is trying to give the child meaning, to put the information into the child. We came to learn that through the child's play, they develop and find the meaning themselves. And then the child becomes a revelation to us. Once we understood that, once we were there, it was life changing.

How has Waldorf education impacted your children?

They love to sing. They love music. They love to draw. They love to paint. They love to read. They love their friends. They love people. They love the birds. They love the dirt. They love everything. In early childhood and grades, there are all of the songs about the goodness in the world and all of that is instilled in them. It’s imbued in them because of Susquehanna Waldorf School. They’re just joyful and they love to come to school.

This is a bit anecdotal but Gisi was talking about making the Kindergarten auction project. She was saying, “we were working on that driftwood tree and it’s going to bring a million to the school, mom! A million! So the school can be there for a long time.” Clearly, she hears mom and dad talking about the importance of the auction but she loves it hereShe feels part of the community too. She knows that what she does is important and that it’s valued. I think she will take that with her. She feels a part of the community. It’s a protective place. As a social worker we talk about protective factors in people’s lives, and this school certainly is that.

What keeps you here?

Going back to the community. For the children, you see that play out in their lives every day. But Joe and I have formed lifelong friendships with other parents and grandparents at this school. We are also benefiting from the community. I think it’s really difficult out there in the world to find meaningful communities where people and children belong. We have a sense of freedom here in our community.

At SWS, there is an understanding of the spiritual life of the child... and it's hard to find that. Well, I found it here. And I know for some people, the spiritual part of Waldorf education, it’s not something they consider. There are other aspects of the education they value. For me, it certainly is part of my choice to stay here.

I love the curriculum - they study a wide variety of culture and human experiences. The cultural studies here at the school, you cannot find that in public education. That human work that we do here, that has kept us here. It has enriched our lives.

How has Waldorf education impacted you as a parent?

It’s built up my courage as a parent. It’s built up my strength. It’s really beyond words what the school’s done for me as a person. I know that I have made deep connections with other people here. I’m not sure that I would’ve been able to have deep connections with my children’s teachers in a different setting. I respect and value their teachers and the leaders here so much. And that has changed me because I think, growing up for me, I can only think of one or two positive relationships with teachers. So it’s given me hope in what a community can look like. Where people can thrive and live and be free. It’s given me hope and it’s given me the courage to keep going.

What's your favorite thing about the SWS community?

My favorite thing about the community: the colors, the smell, the food, the music, the joy, the humor, there’s a lot of humor here. I think it has to be the children, though. Just seeing their faces, watching them dance, watching them sing, watching them play.

When and How is Reading Taught in a Waldorf School?

Written and compiled by Lisa Sweeney, SWS Co-Pedagogical Chair. 

When and how is reading taught in a Waldorf School? This may be the most frequently asked question by parents as they consider Waldorf education. The foundation for literacy begins even before the first grade in the movement, song and verse of the kinder years. Our goal at SWS is to foster passionate readers who continue reading for pleasure throughout their lifetimes. To that end, we introduce reading in a developmentally appropriate way.

Waldorf education’s approach to reading and writing is different from traditional methods seen in public schools. This has led to a common misconception that Waldorf students are taught reading “late,” but the truth is that Waldorf educators are instead building foundations for reading comprehension before decoding. This leads to a deeper understanding and appreciation of content students read and ultimately enhances comprehension.” AWSNA (The Association of Waldorf Schools of North America)

The following excerpts from Dianne McGaunn’s and Kat Marsh’s research article, How Reading, Writing, Literature, and Language are Taught in a Waldorf School  further elucidate this subject. 

“A common misconception about Waldorf literacy education is that Waldorf schools do not teach children how to read until second grade. While it is true that decoding (learning how to read through a phonics approach) is not specifically taught until late first or second grade, early childhood educators and first-grade teachers concentrate on building a strong foundation for literacy learning through drama, artistic endeavors, writing what students know by heart, healthy play and movement experiences, beautiful recitation of poetry and many other forms of learning that are multi-sensory experiences. Therefore, when students are taught a traditional phonics approach in second grade, they have a deep foundation to aid in the reading process.”

Waldorf teachers understand the importance of developing fine and gross motor movement skills for writing and reading. In the early childhood classroom, activities such as cutting food for snacks, drawing with crayons, sewing, and modeling with beeswax help develop fine motor skills for smooth writing experiences.

Other gross movement activities such as cross-lateral skipping help develop the connecting “bridge” of the brain that orchestrates the processes between the left and right hemispheres of the brain, which is not fully developed until seven or nine years of age. This bilateral brain integration is critical for whole-word recognition and decoding words, two essential reading skills.”

In addition to the importance of healthy movement in brain development and learning, the Waldorf approach to literacy follows the course of literacy development throughout human history: oral learning (speaking and listening), then writing (as in hieroglyphics), and only then reading. This progression and sequence or order of skills (movement, speaking and listening as precursors to reading and writing) supports a child’s development because it strengthens inherent skills aforementioned, and only then introduces writing skills which are the next step toward developing a broad understanding of literacy. Children taught in this sequence have a better understanding of the meaning of print and will come to the task of reading with purpose, comprehension, and confident engagement.”

“Current research supports the idea that teachers can improve reading skills by having students write about what they are reading, teaching them writing skills, and increasing how much they write. In the Waldorf first-grade classroom, writing the letters of the alphabet emerges from daily imaginative stories thus giving students a meaningful basis for linking printed letters with sounds (as in the early relationships to humans with hieroglyphics). Students write simple words that they know, and gradually the skill of writing words and recognizing word families is used to build simple sentences.”

“The Waldorf early grades curriculum is rich in phonological awareness and emphasizes holistic literacy skills along with informal print writing to give students a stronger basis for formal print reading. Literacy development in Waldorf schools cultivates awareness, appreciation, and skill in both the spoken and written word, following a developmentally sound approach that helps to ensure that students claim a love of literature, language, and writing as part of their birthright.”

In essence, the Waldorf approach to literacy is purposefully patient and thoughtfully builds a foundation for a life-long love of literacy, in its many forms.”

The article quoted above may be accessed in its entirety through the following link:Early Literacy Learning in Waldorf Education.

As Waldorf educators, the teachers at Susquehanna Waldorf School love to read and want children to love it too. That’s why we teach reading in a way that is attuned to the child’s physical and mental development.  As in the old English song “A Jolly Good Book,” the love of reading is golden.

Oh for a book and a shady nook,

Either indoor or out;

With the green leaves whispering overhead,

Or the street cry all about.

Where I may read all at my ease,

Both of the new and old;

For a jolly good book whereon to look,

Is better to me than gold.