Asheville Waldorf School takes school outdoors
With the world adjusting to a new normal, a local school is using its model to reach outside – literally – for a new way to learn.
Asheville Waldorf School is having a unique and memorable school year, thanks to some creative thinking and the support of community friends.
“Waldorf education began over a hundred years ago,” Brita Nordgren, the school’s media coordinator, said. “A common way that people encapsulate Waldorf is we’re really teaching to the head, hands and heart. When we say that, we’re talking about our thinking selves, our feeling selves and our doing selves.”
The methodology engages children through academics, but also through the arts, practical skills, nature and human-to-human connection. Nordgren said that throughout the world, Waldorf schools can be found in big cities, on farms and in forests. In Asheville, that nature-centric approach can be found in every school year, but perhaps never so much as this year.
“We are trying to cultivate wonder and curiosity about the outside world,” she said. “We spent a lot of time outdoors, pre-pandemic.”
That included several recess times each day, no matter the weather.
When COVID-19 came close to home this spring, the school, like others, moved to virtual instruction. All summer, Nordgren said the staff worked to find new solutions that would allow their style of teaching to return, but in a safe environment. Moving to an outdoor format seemed to fit the bill, but finding enough space for everyone to be safe and learn outdoors means that the campus is spread out this year. Shuttles run from the school to the satellite locations for families that need that support.
“Since our inception at Olivette, one of our dreams has been to have a school on the property,” Allison Smith, a founding partner of Olivette and a farm-to-table living expert, said. “When the pandemic struck, it created an unexpected opportunity for Asheville Waldorf School to set up an outdoor classroom at Olivette for their students. We are excited to be able to partner with them in their goal of educating the whole child, in mind, body and spirit, for lifelong learning and meaningful engagement with the world. Having classes at Olivette dovetails our mutual focus on social renewal and Earth stewardship. It’s also a wonderful opportunity for parents and kids in our community. We are grateful to Olivette community member Kate Davis for working to arrange this collaboration.”
Students are equipped with gear for all types of weather, and Nordgren said restrooms and hand-washing stations are available. Platforms with tent classrooms provide opportunities for circle time and block schedule classes. In addition to language arts, math, history and other traditional classes, Nordgren said students are deepening a connection with outdoor living through opportunities such as fire building and tree identification.
“In the larger Waldorf methodology – obviously, we want children to come out with a lovely education – but having this picture of these tools of creativity, adaptability and resilience have always been a part of Waldorf,” Nordgren said. “These are the skills we need – not just for the present moment, but for the future.”