Beyond tests and busywork to enlightened learning

Though Minnesota Waldorf School students excel at standardized tests and go on to be successful in college and beyond, it's not because the school has a testing-oriented curriculum or burdens kids and their parents with hours of homework each day.

In fact, it's the opposite — the school looks to give its students a stimulating and enriching classroom curriculum that's void of rigamarole, memorization and iPads.

Basically, it's attuned to how kids learn; how they bring together discovery, experience and guidance to master a topic. As a result, they look to the next learning challenge with even more curiosity and enthusiasm.

"We're really looking at kids as a whole picture," says Jen Pavich, Enrollment & Outreach Coordinator for the school, adding that there's no standardized testing until seventh grade.

The eighth grade class is learning about the American industrial revolution, and at the same time learning about small motors, tying history in with hands-on skill building activity. Students could be fixing a lawnmower while explaining the introduction of Ford's Model T manufacturing process and how it changed the world.

Later in the year, the fifth grade class will be immersed in a three-day Pentathalon with other Waldorf schools in the Midwest, integrating lessons they've learned about ancient civilizations in Persia, India and Greece with fun outdoor activities.

"They're not just studying something, memorizing it and spitting it back out in a test," Pavich says. "We're teaching them to think for themselves."

And it shows. "High school and college professors see a notable difference in our students."

Down the road, professors remark on Waldorf students' high level of engagement, analytical skills and enthusiasm to dive deeper into learning as compared to their peers.

Set apart

Founded in 1981 and moved to its current location in 2000, the school sits on eight gorgeous acres of land where wildlife passes by. Students help tend gardens and raise poultry, leading their fascination with living, growing things into further learning.

They have time for organized games and individual play on an athletic field and a playground. And they know their teachers and one another even though students come from all over the metro area. At the school, total enrollment is 185 and classes average about 22 for grades 1-8 and 18 for Kindergarten.

In the fall, the school held a metal pour where a blacksmith came and taught the kids how to mold metal. Together, they created cast iron installation pieces displayed in the main hall of the school.

Those who think today's kids aren't engrossed by books or the spoken word should see second graders listening to a story, their attention rapt as they interact with the story and their instructor. That's because they're free from the distractions peoplehave come to expect at schools. Hundreds of kids rushing through the halls for set class periods, the din of computers and electronics and even the clutter of poster-covered walls can overstimulate some kids and overwhelm others. Given the time and setting needed to focus, children learn "how to learn," a core lesson that will serve them for a lifetime.

Holistic approach

Waldorf schools go through a rigorous accreditation process, and their teachers all have college degrees, plus two to four years of Waldorf training.

Developed and refined over the past century, Waldorf curriculum is designed to introduce students to core academic subjects while integrating arts, movement, music and life skills.

"The teachers all bring their own deep well of knowledge to the classroom," Pavich explains.

And they develop strong relationships with their students — students have the same teacher from first to eighth grade, so instructors can watch over time to ensure each is learning at the right individual pace. Students find it reassuring to have the same mentor with them through the years, and parents say teachers soon feel like family.

Parents can check out the school at the annual open house on April 25. The event includes a panel discussion with teachers and alumni, tours and mini-classes where parents can experience the freedom and potential of a Waldorf classroom.

MN Waldorf School

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