Dandelion Hill: an interview with two Waldorf preschool teachers

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Rae and Joy are two shining lights who started our local Waldorf preschool — Dandelion Hill. Join me as I ask both teachers about Waldorf early education and the Waldorf approach to art.

***Note: Readers will
have a chance to win a copy of the book
Simplicity Parenting at
the end of this interview.***

JEAN:  First, can you tell us a little about
yourselves and why you are drawn to Waldorf education?

Rae mug

RAE:  I am mother to two
incredible children, Sienna (6) and Jasper (2), and my partner of nearly nine
years, Matt.  I co-teach with Joy at Dandelion Hill in beautiful
Asheville, NC.  We have 16 children ages 3-6 in our early childhood
classroom. 

In Sienna's first year of life, I met my dear friend Renee. She homeschools her children following the
Waldorf model and adheres beautifully to the ideals in all aspects of their
lives.  I had read about Waldorf when I was pregnant and fell in love with
this beautiful approach to education.  Witnessing the beauty firsthand
through Renee's gentle guidance, I was deeply touched and intrigued, but to
some extent it felt unattainable for me personally.  When Renee and I were
(physically) separated due to both of our families relocating, I continued to
study on my own.  The more I learned, the stronger I felt that this was
the way I wanted to raise my children and that I wanted to share this model
with others so that many more children could have this experience, too.  The idea that academics can be presented through
beauty and the Waldorf approach of addressing the whole child, head, heart, and
hands, really speaks to me.

Joy mug

JOY:  I am mother to Anna Mae (6) and Caleb (4)
and live in Asheville with my husband Corey.  Education is a popular
profession in my family, and all of us seem to have a strong interest in the
arts and spirituality as well.  When I was in high school, I had an
English teacher named Nancy Rosenberger who was a great inspiration to
me.  I first learned of Waldorf education from talking to her, as her
children attended Kimberton Waldorf School
I remember her telling me something about how students took notes on one side
of a book and did watercolor painting on the
other.  I was fascinated by that and felt immediately drawn to this
'elusive' form of education.  Having grown up in a lovely rural spot, I
felt very connected to and most comfortable in nature as a child.  Waldorf
education seemed to put into educational practice many things that I value
deeply- the arts, the human spirit, personal growth, and nature.  It has
become a way of life, a passion, and a way that I feel I can affect the future
in a positive way.

Cooking2

JEAN: 
What defines a Waldorf preschool/kindergarten? What sets it apart from
other early childhood education philosophies?

RAE: 
A Waldorf early childhood classroom is intended to be an extension of
the home.  The first seven years of life the child is still in a dreamy
state of mind.  It is our intention to provide a gentle, nurturing place
for them to awaken to this earthly plane.  Formal education does not begin
until first grade.

There is a strong focus on imaginative play.  Our play things are made of natural materials and are, for the most part, open
ended so the child may use them in many different ways.  Their wooden
kitchen is stocked with dry beans, acorn caps, wooden coins, and many other
treasures that get used in many creative ways all over the classroom. 
Generally, their play is unstructured and they are free to use the materials in
whatever way their imagination is leading them, as long as it remains safe.

Cooking1

Rhythm is of the utmost importance for young children.  We have a clear
and predictable flow to our days and our weeks.  We follow the cycle of
the seasons through nature crafts, circle songs, and celebrating festivals
throughout the year.  We spend much of our time outdoors playing on
stumps, dancing in the trees, and digging in the garden.  We venture outdoors
in all weather, enjoying snowfalls and splashing in puddles as well as soaking
up the sun when the weather is fair.  A favorite mantra is "We'll
weather the weather, whatever the weather, whether we like it or
not!" 

Circle time movement is integral as well. 
The foundations that are built through singing, dancing, and fingerplays
prepare the child for academics at a later date.  Stories are presented
orally, from heart, and the same story is told for two to three weeks. 
During this time we may have a puppet show and/or
the children get a chance to act it out.  We also make our own wholesome
snacks in class and sit down family style to enjoy them together.

JeansPics_12-2009_Pic0654

JEAN:  I loved watching the
children engage in such a beautiful and peaceful form of making art when I came
to visit the other day! Can you describe the Waldorf painting method for my
readers?

RAE:  Wet-on-wet watercolor painting in the
Waldorf classroom is very much about process, not product.  It is an
opportunity for the children to experience the properties of the color with all
of their being.  We paint once a week, on the same day each week.  We
use only the primary colors and they are introduced one at a time.  After
the children have spent quite a few sessions with each color individually, we
begin to introduce two colors at a time.  By the end of the year, the
children are working with all 3 colors and it is amazing to see what they can
do!  Watercolor painting is continued through all the grades in a Waldorf
setting, being built upon each year.

JeansPics_12-2009_Pic0686
 
JEAN:  What other arts or crafts
activities do you do in your classroom?

RAE: 
As mentioned before, nature crafts are a focus, using materials we find
outside in creative ways.  We made corn husk dolls in the fall.  We
introduce sewing to the children, beginning very simply and elaborating as the
individual child shows more interest.  Felt squares (think felted
sweaters) are great for the kids.  Most recently we made simple
gnomes.  The kids love this project as it is fairly quick and they have a
new plaything to show for their efforts.  Finger knitting is great for
children this age, too.

Beeswax modeling and drawing with beeswax block crayons are also favorite
activities.  Wet felting has been a huge hit with the kids!  Making a
*mess* with lots of water and soap and using their strength to agitate the wool
is so much fun.  They wet felted little balls and we glued them into acorn
caps that they had used a hand drill to make holes in for threading a piece of
yarn.  These made lovely ornaments.  At Christmastime we also made
felt candles as described in Living Crafts magazine.

JeansPics_12-2009_Pic0709

JEAN: 
What art materials do you use and recommend?

JOY: 
We try to offer the best materials possible to our students, as we want
their artistic process to be satisfying and appealing to their senses.  We
use Stockmar's 'circle paints'- they come in the primary colors of red, yellow,
and blue.  Our paper is soaked in a tray of water before painting, so it
needs to hold up well.  We use 200g Fabriano Watercolor Paper and our
paintbrushes are horsehair brushes.  We use little
glass paint
dishes to hold each color of paint and rinsing jars. 
Small cotton-knit cloths are given to the children for drying brushes during
the painting process.  Our painting boards are cut from masonite sheets
and made waterproof with mod podge.  The children wear smocks- all sewn by mother- thanks Mom!

With that said, one needn't spend a fortune on these items.  Watercolor
paper and liquid watercolor paints can be purchased at a craft stores. 
You can always grow into better materials (as we have done in my own
home).  Quality materials are important, but should not be a deterrent for
those wishing to have this experience at home.

We encourage the children to use their paintbrush to communicate rather than
being talkative.  The painting process is a dreamy one and we aim to
create an environment in which they can experience this childhood dreaminess in
a sacred and lovely way.

Dec_09_013

JEAN: 
Can you talk about the importance of imagination and play in the Waldorf
kindergarten?

JOY: 
Imaginative play is at the heart of our work.  As Rae mentioned, we
supply the children with open-ended materials so that the inspiration for play
comes from within.  Time to play also gives children space to work through
information they are processing subconsciously in their lives.  Building
imaginative capacity is incredibly important- without imagination one cannot
see beyond the material life into new possibilities.  Creativity and problem-solving are intricately tied and
these are capabilities our children will need coming of age in this complex
modern age.  I have really become passionate about the protection of
childhood and allowing children to be able to fully experience its wonder as
long as possible.

I_made_this_117 

Nancy Renee, the class baby, named after the two people who introduced Joy and Rae to Waldorf education

JEAN: 
The Waldorf ideals of natural materials, daily rhythms, and lack of
media sometimes seem pretty far removed from modern life with its media overload,
plastic toys, and earlier and earlier academic pressures.  Do you have any tips for parents who are interested
in incorporating Waldorf ideas into their home life yet reluctant to purge all
vestiges of modern society?

JOY: 
Go easy on yourself and be patient.  It takes time to incorporate
these ideals.  Experiment with elements that seem doable and inspiring to
you.  I have been through the TV weaning experience and it seemed
impossible at first, but slowly we worked it out of our lives.  Out of sight,
out of mind is the best advice I can offer on that one.  Also, it is
pleasant for the whole family to have less 'stuff' around the house.  You
know how you are more inspired to cook in a clean kitchen?  It works the
same way with children and toys- the cleaner the slate the better. 

Also,
rhythm is a great place to start- consider incorporating regular patterns of
rest and play, diet, and structured activities.  A predictable rhythm is
very comforting to children- and adults too!  Having friends who are also
working with the same ideals is extremely helpful as well.  I would
recommend reading Simplicity Parenting by Kim John Payne.  It is an
excellent book for those seeking to try to slow down the sometimes frenzied
feel of modern family life. 

I_made_this_152

JEAN:  Is there anything else
you would like to add?

JOY: 
Our community has many opportunities for being involved in seasonal
festivals.  This is a great way to experience the cycles of the year in a
community setting and helps bring meaning and celebration to the seasons. 
Most of the festivals celebrated have roots in European spiritual/ agricultural
celebrations and connect us to age-old joyful traditions, such as May Faire,
Advent Spiral, and Michaelmas.

We are excited to be part of the growing Waldorf movement in Asheville and are
actively working toward the formation of further Waldorf school options for our
children in the future.  More information can be found on our website:
www.dandelionhill.org.

JEAN: 
Thank you, Rae and Joy! What a wonderful school you have created!

For those of you in the Asheville area, Dandelion Hill is having an open house this Saturday, February 27th, from 10am to 12pm. 

SimplicityParenting  

Readers who leave a comment by Friday, February 26th at 8am EST will be entered into a random drawing for a copy of Simplicity Parenting: Using the Extraordinary Power of Less to Raise Calmer, Happier, and More Secure Kids by Kim John Payne.

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Comments

  1. Sara says

    Thanks for the excellent interview and the wonderful description of the Waldorf way– It’s true that it can be elusive at time. As a mom of a very rambunctious boy, I’d love a copy of it. :)

  2. tif says

    Great, informative interview Jean! I’m definitely interested in learning more and looking forward to the open house!

  3. Jennifer says

    Wonderful interview. Seeing the photos – particularly of the watercolour painting and of the “river” of silk – was inspiring. Thank you.

  4. says

    I love the Waldorf focus on nature, beauty, and imagination. Dandelion Hill sounds like a very special place. Kudos to Joy and Rae for creating such a wonderful and nurturing spot for little hands and hearts. Would love to win a copy of Simplicity Parenting.

  5. pomme says

    The Waldorf School in our community has a central part in the life of our family. The gentle approach is so suited to little souls. I’ve been hoping that our local library would get a copy of this book for a while. It looks fantastic. I love your blog. Thank you for sharing your world.

  6. Allison says

    I would love to know more about this approach. My daughter has definitely reaped the benefits of setting a rhythm and I would love to remove many of the outside influences from her life, but it seems like an impossible task to wean her from TV and mass produced toys. Our family is definitely in need of some simplification.

  7. Stephanie says

    That was an inspiring read for this mommy who is trying to simplify life for my three little ones….would love to read the book and find a home for it on my bookshelf!

  8. says

    Fascinating stuff. I can see that my daughter’s preschool incorporates some Waldorf concepts, and I’d love to win the book! Thanks.

  9. says

    LOVE, LOVE, LOVE this. I have a three-year-old daughter who thrives on this kind of stuff. Oh shucks, I do, too! I would love to read the book! Thank you!

  10. says

    thanks for this interesting interview! i’ve been reading more and more about waldorf philosophies lately, and i’m intrigued. i love the watercolor paintings!

  11. Mel says

    I have read a little bit about Waldorf education here and there and have always been interested in learning more. Thanks!

  12. says

    Thank you, Jean. It’s good to have information in that nice balance–affirming things I do already, but also broadening my scope and helping me to consider new ideas. It sounds like this book would do this, but, also, this interview already got some juices flowing!

  13. [email protected] says

    Lovely story!

  14. Rachel says

    I am interested in Waldorf education for my 15 month old, and this sounds like a book I ought to read.

  15. Marina says

    Every day I fall in Love with Waldorf education a little more!!! I do plan on homeschooling in the Waldorf tradition!!!! Thanks for the interview and chance to win the book!!!!!

  16. Allison says

    Very interesting. There are no formal Waldorf-method schools around here but I can see that the ideas would be easy enough to adapt at home.

  17. says

    Thanks so much for this post. We are visiting our local Waldorf school soon to look at their early childhood (parent-toddler) program. The information you shared is helpful, and I’ll definitely have to look into this book!

  18. says

    what a great interview! i just got that book from the library and it’s a keeper for sure. lot of good stuff i’d love to refer back to.

  19. Katrina says

    Why does going simple always seem so hard? How does one make it palatable to other members of the family? I’m hoping this book might give me some ideas.

  20. says

    what a tremendous resource in A-ville! Thank you for sharing this nugget with the rest of us! And, thank you for the giveaway!

  21. says

    am looking forward to reading this book but will wait to see if i’ve won! this is such a wonderful concept that pulls at my heartstrings and feels right. its amazing how living simply is such a challenging thing to do in our society. how giving up cable (which we just did last month) seems like such a huge sacrifice when people hear about it. thank you for guiding me – i’m interested in this type of education for my son and will look into it in san diego.

  22. Amy Fields says

    What an awesome interview! Thank you for sharing and I hope to hear more from these inspirational teachers!!

  23. Sue says

    Love the philosophy! Imagination and play are vital to the development of an intelligent, creative child. The photos and description of your school area applauded. Lucky kids.

  24. says

    Thanks so much for posting this, I literally just put down “Waldorf Education” by Clouder and Rawson. I’ve been investigating Waldorf, Montessori, and Reggio Emilia models to inform my own teaching and parenting. It’s nice to have some perspective from other teachers (and mothers!)

  25. says

    I loved that interview — I learned something new and teaching our boys to live simply and creatively has been a recent passion of ours. Look forward to learning more.

  26. Sarah A. says

    Joy and Rae have enlightened me about the priorities of the Waldorf Education. When the time comes for me to make decisions about where my children attend school I will seek out something like the Dandelion School. Thank you for the insightful, genuine words about child education and the Waldorf approach.

  27. says

    What a lovely interview and photographs. It actually made me cry because we miss our Waldorf School in Marin, CA terribly. We moved to London recently and the 2 schools near us don’t compare to the US Waldorf Schools. They also begin school very early here. Kindergarten begins at age 4 and most children are enrolled in nursery school at age 2. So, I am starting a Waldorf-inspired play group that begins tomorrow in my home. I only have 2 other children so far, but my son loved our old school and I want to re-create it as much as possible. I really hope to win your book. I need all the help I can get over here. Thanks for a great interview with two wonderful teachers!

  28. Molly says

    At an interesting interview! As my girls grow I’m just starting to think about the different styles of education. I’d love to read that book. We try to be simple, but ironically it’s not.

  29. says

    Thank you for this interview. My family is also drawn to the Waldorf philosophy and are hopeful that our son will be able to attend the public Waldorf in our community this fall.

  30. Susan says

    I have been very interested in Waldorf things lately, especially rhythms at home, so I’d love to read this book. Thanks!

  31. rosie says

    i love the idea of being outside in any weather. we try to do that as much as we can here in cold new york!

  32. Rebecca says

    Wonderful interview, thanks for sharing such important insight to the minds of our little ones! Would love to read the book and incorporate these ideals into our lives.

  33. says

    Very inspiring! Process vs. product is so important for parents to understand.
    I hope I win this book-I will look into it regardless!! :) Thanks for another wonderful interview, Jean!

  34. says

    “The frenzied feel” sometimes seems like it’s taking over…. Trying to slow down, trying to get back to basics, trying to find balance. Thanks for an inspiring interview!

  35. says

    What a timely entry for our family. Alexandra (my 2 year old) and I are just about to embark on a new adventure– a Mommy & Me class at the Minnesota Waldorf School starting this Friday. I am so excited (and inspired) to try and incorporate more and more ‘Waldorfian’ themes into our home.

  36. natalie says

    as a preschool teacher, i’m always looking for new ideas and philosophies..thanks for the article and chance to win the book!

  37. says

    I will love to recieve this book as it will be very useful indeed, because I work with toddlers in my playgroup and also for my two years old daughter.
    thanks for the amazing interview!
    martha Bernhard

  38. Mary says

    This is an insightful interview. I am becoming more and more convinced that Waldorf is worth giving a serious look for my two little ones (the first of which will be turning 3 this summer). Thanks so much for your inspiring blog.

  39. Mary says

    Thank you for the interview. The book looks intriguing.
    I’d love the opportunity to explore more.

  40. Nancy says

    This granny is delighted to learn that there is a Waldorf School in Asheville. I will pass on this info for the benefit of 3 yr old grandson in the area.

  41. says

    Wow, Jean. Thank you for this interview! (the book giveaway is a big fat +!) I really love the Waldorf way of teaching. I think this would fit perfectly with my family.

  42. kat says

    Although simplicity seems to come very natural to our little family, this book seems like a great read and there is always more to learn. Thank you for the book giveaway and the lovely interview.

  43. [email protected] says

    Thanks you for such a great interview!

  44. erin rae says

    Lovely – I’m just learning about Waldorf and trying to incorporate the ideas into our home life with my 16 month old daughter.

  45. Iris says

    Thank you for this wonderful interview, and for the giveaway. I have rediscovered my interest in Waldorf education lately, and would love to get even deeper into it. It just feels so right to me.

  46. says

    what a lovely interview! I first read about Waldorf education years ago when I was a teenager considering a teaching career and it impressed me as very serene and harmonious. Well, I’m not a teacher, but now that I have a 3-year old and I’m looking into various preschool and homeschool options and methods, I’ll definitely do more research about Waldorf.

  47. says

    it must be a sign!! i am deeply involved at the moment, in turning over options for our sons’ schooling…waldorf, waldorf, waldorf nags at me everyday, but we live in a remote, rural area, and it would definitely mean homeschool for us…this is huge, scary, exciting, and crazy for me, as a former public school teacher, to ponder…and in the midst of all this thinking, what pops up here, but THIS!! wow…now, if i win this book, that will definitely be a sign! ;-)

  48. Kiasa says

    I’ve been looking into our options for educating our 3.5 yr old next year. It’s such an intense ratrace here in NYC..even at the good public schools. This was inspirational for me to read. Thank you! I’m trying to clean out more plastic toys and keep the nice, natural ones for my two wee ones.

  49. Ashley says

    Yea! for Rae and Joy ( and for Jean for posting such a wonderful article and spreading the word!) Thank you for all of your hard, very meaningful work!

  50. Theresa says

    I really liked reading this interview. I think the school is fantastic and applaud the simplistic approach of its curriculum and the way nature is incorporated into most of the lessons. Bravo!

  51. says

    I really enjoyed reading these women’s journey to the Waldolf approach and looking at the beautiful images. I’m a teacher in an alternative preschool, and although not Steiner we also have a strong focus on nature and creating a beautiful, warm environment and really valuing childhood – so I loved learning more about the Steiner approach to early childhood.

  52. Heather says

    Thank you for the interview. What a great intro to Waldorf education. Both Waldorf and Montessori have always interested me. I am also VERY interested in the book giveaway. Thank you for that as well.

  53. candice says

    Great Interview! I’m also really drawn to Waldorf ideology—i love the reverence for life that it teaches. Thanks for the chance to win a copy of this book!

  54. Kerry says

    Thank you for posting this interview. I have always been curious about Waldorf education. I am a Montessori Mom but always thought many aspects of Waldorf could be incorporated in fun ways. Thank you for this!

  55. Ansley says

    Great interview! I am a new mom researching alternative schooling methods and am super interested in the Waldorf philosphy! I can’t wait to check out the book!

  56. Kathleen says

    Oh, yes please! I am working every day to incorporate Waldorf principles and simplicity into our lives. I need all the help i can get!

  57. says

    I am always working on simplifying and enjoying the moments more with my kids. Less clutter has helped in that. I’ll have to read the book.

  58. [email protected] says

    Great interview! My children attend a Waldorf school. The book sounds wonderful. Thank you!

  59. Janet says

    I have wondered about the Waldorf approach for quite a while. Thanks for your excellent interview. I would love to add Simplicity Parenting to our library’s collection. I think our moms would love it!

  60. Anne says

    Oh! This resonates with my own intuitive approach to parenting my four children. I can imagine using many of these ideas in my classroom as well.

  61. Megan says

    Thanks for the great interview! I am hoping to incorporate more Waldorf ideas into our home life, and this was very helpful!

  62. Jackie says

    That was a wonderful interview. We recently visited our local Waldorf school and heard much of the same information — it’s a beautiful way to live and learn. Thank you for the giveaway!

  63. Carolina says

    Thank you for the interview & the opportunity to have that book! We used to have a Waldorf school here in Uruguay, but it closed definetly some time ago. A real pity.

  64. Alyssa Romine says

    thanks for this inspiring post. I have many tabs open on my browser doing follow up research. It is wonderful that Rae and Joy have been able to bring such an intuitive, natural, imaginative style of learning to Asheville. I have always wanted my children to attend a Waldorf school and I wish there were one available in Charlotte. Thanks for the interview. I’d be thrilled to read the book!

  65. says

    Wow, it’s easy to feel some guilt as i read that interview….it’s the path I want to be on, but have recently strayed from. Well, I wouldn’t be a Mom if I didn’t have some guilt, right? Thanks for inadvertently setting me back on the right path!!

  66. Christine says

    I enjoyed reading the interview and hope to incorporate more imaginative play with my children. Thanks for the giveaway- I’d love to read it!

  67. Alex says

    Thanks for the chance! I’ve been quite shocked at how completely devoid of Waldorf books our large library system is, even though there are several Waldorf elementary schools in the area. I’d love to read some more!

  68. Shelly says

    Very nice interview! This book is on my wish list. How wonderful this would be.
    Thank you for an amazing blog!! You’ve given so many great ideas!
    Thak you!!