New Nature Movement

An article from Green Fire Times, February 2016 by Maureen Eich VanWalleghan. Maureen is a filmmaker and writer living in Santa Fe and has a daughter in 4th grade here at Santa Fe Waldorf School.

On the surface, the world looks like a child-friendly place. There are kids’ menus that can be colored with crayons provided by restaurants. There are organized sports of every type and for every age of child. There are play structures in most parks in cities across the country. Kidsized anything can be found at major department stores. REI has kid-sized outdoor gear that is just like the grown-up kind and just as pricey. Children are the target audience for TV, movies, books, games, computers, even food, and the list goes on and on.

But where is the child in all this? When is a child most happy? Let a kid go outside to run wild with a pack of other kids, and one finds an exhausted, smiling child who doesn’t want to come inside when playtime is done.

Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods, is worried that kids aren’t getting outside enough to play, explore, touch, smell and generally get dirty in the environment. And that this lack of outdoor connection and playing is impacting the future of the planet.

The Santa Fe Waldorf School is sponsoring an event on Sunday, Feb. 21, at 7 p.m., at the Lensic Performing Arts Center, where Louv will be discussing this issue, which he refers to as Nature-Deficit Disorder.

Click here to read the full article.

This Is Your Brain on Nature

From National Geographic Magazine, January 2016.

On the third day of a camping trip in the wild canyons near Bluff, Utah, Strayer is mixing up an enormous iron kettle of chicken enchilada pie while explaining what he calls the “three-day effect” to 22 psychology students. Our brains, he says, aren’t tireless three-pound machines; they’re easily fatigued. When we slow down, stop the busywork, and take in beautiful natural surroundings, not only do we feel restored, but our mental performance improves too. Strayer has demonstrated as much with a group of Outward Bound participants, who performed 50 percent better on creative problem-solving tasks after three days of wilderness backpacking. The three-day effect, he says, is a kind of cleaning of the mental windshield that occurs when we’ve been immersed in nature long enough. On this trip he’s hoping to catch it in action, by hooking his students—and me—to a portable EEG, a device that records brain waves.

Click here to read the full article.

A Daily Dose of Ecotherapy Eases Stress in Kids

From Outside Magazine, November 25, 2015.

“We evolved as human animals to be part of nature and to be outdoors, so even the tiniest bit of nature connection is good for us,” explains Buzzell. “We have a deep longing for nature; it’s in our genes.” E.O. Wilson called this primal urge “biophilia.” “You can see it in children so clearly,” Buzzell says. “Their need to be outside is not just a thrill, it’s a physical and emotional need. We’ve just forgotten it.”

The same treatments that are being used to help returning veterans suffering from PTSD can help bring balance back to kids’ lives: raising plants, spending time with animals, walking along the beach or a forested park. Exercising outside together may be the best way to help relieve stress. A 2013 study out of Princeton University and published in the Journal of Neuroscience found that physical exercisespurs the creation of neurons and stimulates growth in the hippocampus, the part of the brain that regulates anxiety.  

Click here to read the full article.

Preschool Without Walls

From The New York Times, December 29, 2015.

Prof. Bailie thinks the pushback against standardized testing and growing concern about young children spending too much time on touch-screen devices has helped the market for outdoor schools. She also credits the best-selling 2005 book, “Last Child in the Woods,” by Richard Louv, which helped popularize the idea that children should spend as much time as possible in the outdoors.

Mr. Louv argues passionately in his book that children should play and explore the outdoors in the same unstructured ways their parents and their grandparents did before them.

While reducing childhood obesity (8.4 percent of American 2- to 5-year-olds are obese) by increasing physical activity is a prime argument in support of outdoor play, Mr. Louv suggests that the need goes beyond exercise. Today’s children have fundamentally lost touch with nature, he said.

Click here to read the full article.

Notes from a Parent - Making Magic


This is a guest blog by Maureen Eich VanWalleghan, who has a daughter in 4th grade here at Santa Fe Waldorf School. "Notes from a Parent" will be a reoccurring column here throughout the school year.

What is magic? There are lots of ways that people use the word or refer to magic, but for me it is the triumph of good; a sense that mysteriously things will work out. It is a connection to one’s imagination that benevolent forces are at work in positive ways. Fairies or the Spirit of Christmas or Creation Myths all have a sense of wonder and belief that we humans are a part of something larger than ourselves. That kind of magic is seeped in the Waldorf curriculum and is also at the heart of what parents may value when making the choice to send their child to a Waldorf school.

Magic also lives in other ways at a Waldorf school. Each year a swell of energy from our parent body comes together creating an event in the Holiday Faire that is known throughout the greater Santa Fe community. I know this because last year when my family and I arrived at the end of July, more than once when we mentioned that we were here so our daughter could go to the Santa Fe Waldorf School, the listener responded by saying how special and wonderful the Holiday Faire was.

The creating of the Holiday Faire is truly magic making in action. It’s a big spectacular event that is at times exhausting and stressful in the making and presenting. But one only need peek in the window of the Wonder Shop or see the really long line to make candles or hear the shouts and laughter at the Games to see the magic. When I asked another parent what was special about the Holiday Faire, the reply was that is showed what Waldorf was about through the old-fashion activities such as games and candle-making. I couldn’t agree more.

The old-fashioned notion of barn building—of a coming together to make something and have fun manifests in the spirit of creating the Holiday Faire. It is not easy to create a huge event especially when enrollment is low, but the consistency of parents, students, staff and faculty coming together year after year to create such an amazing event impacts everyone who visits the school during Holiday Faire.

Last year I missed the magic. I was sucked into the stress that comes with throwing a big party so I didn’t really see the Faire, but my daughter’s joy and excitement let me know that it had been worth every bit of energy I had given to the task.

This year, my approach to the coming Holiday Faire was inspired by a Facebook post from an old friend, who lives in London with her husband and daughter. Last year around the time of the Faire, she wrote that she was making her last batch of cookies for the winter event at her daughter’s school. She was marking the first of many “last time” moments as her daughter was a senior and would be heading off to college.

After the Faire was over and I had time to reflect, I realized that I could resent what was required and the bigness of the task or I could revel in knowing that each year I would not pass this way again—that my daughter, year by year, would connect to the Faire differently as she grows, but that I as an adult could really enjoy the process even with it’s lack of efficiency and all the worry about whether things would come together. In short, I could invest in the magic and know that my contribution along with the tremendous contribution of other parents, students, staff and faculty would make a remembered event that becomes a treasured memory year after year for all of our children at the school and even for children beyond our community.

This year will find me helping with the library Book Sale, the Magic Pocket store and the Unicorns that will magically be visiting our school. There are so many places to find magic as everyone makes all the amazing activities happen. And just as a barn-raising needs so many hands to be lifted into place and secured, so our Holiday Faire is possible because of all the hands in our amazing community.

Thank you to everyone. Thank you for the magic. I’ll see you at the Faire…


Notes From A Parent - Erasing Fear

This is a guest blog by Maureen Eich VanWalleghan, who has a daughter in 4th grade here at Santa Fe Waldorf School. "Notes from a Parent" will be a reoccurring column here throughout the school year.

Today while I am writing this post, high school students are having their chorus class. “The weary night never worries me,” a verse from a harvest folk song is filling the office with almost adult voices.

Rather appropriate, as I wanted to write about how fear is not the dominant force on a Waldorf campus. In fact, sitting down in a Waldorf classroom, the sensation most people have is one of peace and relaxation. It is possible to leave the everyday world of fear behind and parents experience that peace—often in relationship to their own educational experience, when they sit for a moment and a ponder where their children spends their days.

The Waldorf classroom is serene in its lack of plastic, bright colors, and technology. The classroom is simple, but profound in its simplicity. The presence of creativity vibrates on the walls in the watercolor painting, on the shelves with wooden toys and flutes, and in the baskets of wooden colored pencils waiting to be used.

As a parent, as a citizen in the world—to be sure, it feels like a scary time, the fear is real . Technology—though wonderful and helpful—is changing so rapidly, that life feels like an earthquake: a constant shifting of the ground before one has had time to recover. 9/11 and threats of terrorism haunt the psyche, while worries of economic hardship still abound as the after effects of the Great Recession still continue to play out.

And in education, the fear being generated and consumed has parents running after test scores and a notion that life’s success can and will be determined by the grades dispensed beginning in kindergarten and even in preschool. (This falls into the category of great irony when considering that so many of our greatest thinkers, inventors, and political leaders have failed school or even dropped out—and some were even late readers.)

But in a Waldorf classroom all that is invisible. Fear is left at the door, erased.

The founder of Waldorf education, Rudolf Steiner, (see a biography in full text: A Scientist of the Invisible or on Amazon), intrinsically understood fear, as the world was in another scary moment in history, when Steiner developed the first Waldorf School in Stuggart, Germany after World War I and in the midst of the Second Industrial Revolution.

Steiner’s understanding of what the human spirit needed to flourish is everywhere visible in the Waldorf classroom, which is not random in its design. In fact, Waldorf classrooms around the world are very much the same, following principles put forth by Steiner. Parents and students will feel a serene sense of place whether they are in Maine, New Mexico or Japan.

A Waldorf education can help cut through the fear, which is often most prominent in all things related to child rearing. At no other time in the recent human history of the United States has the mass marketing of fear to save children from every possible hardship been so readily and steadily conceived and exploited; nor the ongoing news feed of all the dangers in the world that can hurt children been read by so many.

Erasing this onslaught of fear is actively pursued on our Waldorf campus and in all the small particulars that are requested from parents like not using cell phones at pick up to instead focus on one’s child who has just had a “wide-eyed experience” and may want to share that experience.

Anecdotal parent observation can articulate best the happiness and peace of a child who wants to go to school—when getting a child ready and off to school is not an issue because they can’t wait to get there. These things say a great deal about a Waldorf education and the way in which fear is kept at bay beyond our Waldorf School.  

As my daughter told me at when I picked her up on the first day of school this year and asked how her day went, “Mom, it was over so quick. I was saying the morning verse and then it was time to go. It was so much fun. I really don’t want to come home.”


Festival Life in the Early Childhood Program | Lantern Walk

From our Early Childhood Newsletter, November 2015:

The sunlight fast is dwindling. 

My little lamp needs kindling. 

It's beams shine far in the darkest night. 

Dear lantern, guard me with your light.

Each year, as the days grow shorter and the nights grow longer, we like to keep a little spark of the sun to brighten the winter days to come. We make lanterns in which to carefully guard it and keep it alive. Under the starry skies we walk with our lanterns as we sing.

This festival is held on Martinmas. The legend of Saint Martin comes from France where a soldier saw a beggar huddled to keep warm. Martin took his own cloak and covered the beggar to keep him warm. He became known for his gentleness, his unassuming nature, and his ability to bring warmth and light to those who were previously in darkness. As a symbol today we still carry the lantern's shining light into darkness of the gathering winter to show how our inner light can never be extinguished.

Our Lantern Walk

On Wednesday, November 11th the preschool and both kindergartens will share this special evening. Please arrive on time at 5:45pm and be ready to quietly enter your child’s classroom for a candlelit story. Leave on shoes and coats. After the story, the children will receive their lanterns and we will convene on the playground to quietly gather for our walk. We’ll join Grades One and Two and wind our way through the dark night together, filling it with song. 

It is important to recognize the quiet mood of this event for the children.

It is a time for the adults to model that we can have a quiet, beautiful moment together. It isn't an opportunity for grown up socializing.

Please leave cell phones turned off or on vibrate only.

For parents who would like to make their own lanterns, here is an online tutorial.

We will carry a strong heart memory of this event. In order that we carry the memory only of the little glow our lanterns, not the abrupt flash in our eyes, we do not allow cameras. Even the cameras without a flash prevent the wholehearted participation that we desire. Thank you for participating in this special family festival!

Notes From A Parent - Marking the Years

This is a guest blog by Maureen Eich VanWalleghan, who has a daughter in 4th grade here at Santa Fe Waldorf School. "Notes from a Parent" will be a reoccurring column here throughout the school year.

The beginning of a new school year is one of my favorite times of the year. The night before the first day of school, when I was a child, I would toss and turn unable to go to sleep. Each fall, the new school shoes and clothes, lunch box, binders, pencils and folders set out—in happy, but somewhat anxious anticipation—were waiting for me to take them into the classroom. I loved school. When I started teaching high school, I still had that same feeling: happy and anxious anticipation as my lesson plans, class roster and subject binders were neatly laid out on my desk. The start of a new school year is an annual ritual, but really the only one that happens in public schools.

I was thinking about my school year rituals as I stood watching the annual Lily Ceremony, which officially begins the start of the new school year at the Santa Fe Waldorf School. The incoming class of the oldest grade of the school (currently the seniors) gives lilies to the incoming first graders. Some form of this ceremony happens at private Waldorf schools and Waldorf-inspired charter schools all over the country. This ritual of handing a flower to the first graders so beautifully embodies what happens in a Waldorf education: the “slowing down to smell the flowers” to use a common cliché.

Standing next to me, a sixth grade parent (my daughter is in fourth grade), whom I had not met before said, “this is my tenth ceremony.” I, a bit weepy, felt the immensity of that statement. The calendar of my daughter’s life being mapped out before me on the stage: the striding—and if she could—the running toward that senior year—her babyness slipping away from her more and more. And her mature self, taking on a clearer form year by year, grade by grade: each Lily ceremony a reminder that we won’t be going back, only forward into adulthood.

So why have I chosen a Waldorf education for my daughter? The Lily Ceremony or any of the other rituals and festivals that are a part of the Waldorf experience is a big reason. But it’s what those moments symbolize in my daughter’s life and mine that keep us here. What does that Lily Ceremony evoke? It is a reminder of the journey my daughter will take each year of her education. It is a reference to the passage of time, the flowering of learning, and reverence for her endeavor in the classroom.

At the Michaelmas event I had the same sensation as I did watching the Lily Ceremony. Last year as a 3rd grader my daughter was a dancing villager. This year as a 4th grader with her hand-painted shield, she was defending the villagers. The seniors with their large wooden swords and slighted disinterested swagger were warding off the dragon. Again to look at each stage of my daughter’s upcoming life I felt myself tear up. At Michaelmas, seeing each progressive role of the grades was an opportunity to slow down. The days are not just a blur of activity. It’s as if the camera that is recording my child’s life is set to slow motion and I can enjoy the spectacle of each triumphant phase of her life.

A Waldorf education erases so much of what is overwhelming in our world today: the speeding up of everything to the point where time is whirling past. The Lily Ceremony, Michaelmas, the Lantern Walk, May Fair all track the years of my daughter’s education and create an appreciation of the slow and gentle flowering of her childhood. My daughter will be a senior in no time, but here at the Santa Fe Waldorf School I will have had many annual memories to appreciate her developing self.


Notes From A Parent - A Reframing

This is a guest blog by Maureen Eich VanWalleghan, who has a daughter in 4th grade here at Santa Fe Waldorf School. "Notes from a Parent" will be a reoccurring column here throughout the school year.

Poof! As I write this, weeks have already passed by and the volunteer needs of all the activities and extracurricular programs that make the Santa Fe Waldorf School—or any Waldorf school for that matter—a vibrant place have come to the fore. Sports, field trips, the garden, festivals and holiday activities have begun the drumbeat of asking for parent volunteers.

So much happens inside a Waldorf classroom: music, art, movement and academics, but outside the classroom there is a great fabric that is woven together by parent volunteers that expands the life of the school beyond the work of teachers tasked with educating our students.

Parent volunteers help make everything outside the classroom possible. There is often so much parent contribution on this Waldorf campus that it gets hard to distinguish where tuition dollars end and parent volunteerism begins even in things that are not imagined as volunteering. For example, a parent donation of plants that are then planted at the school by the donating parent offers a hidden view of seeing the “school life” of their child: the laughing and joking in private games with their friends as they all swing on the monkey bars. That donation and volunteer time impacts the beauty of the school and becomes a special little moment of being the proverbial fly on the wall—an invisible moment that can be so rare as a parent.

Finding a place as a parent volunteer can be an overwhelming process, but finding opportunities to connect with one’s child even though they are in school is well worth the effort. When a child sees their parents participating in school activities—or on campus doing anything that contributes to the school—it validates their school experience. Savoring the unadulterated love from students while volunteering for anything is addictive.

With my daughter’s second year at the Santa Fe Waldorf school, I have found it easier to see where I might fit. Last year, I was the class parent for 3rd grade. It was overwhelming, but the task really did connect me to everyone. This year finds me volunteering in the SFWS Library supporting Sally Gundrey, the Volunteer Library Coordinator by writing emails to inform the community about the “goings on” of the library. The school library like so many other things on campus is a completely run by parent volunteers. Also, every third week I get to enjoy 4th graders independently exploring the library. My favorite part is listening to the cacophony of all the kids’ voices echoing in the hall from each of the different classrooms. Even as I am writing this, I can hear Mr. Wollheim off in the field with my daughter’s class leading a game. Listening to them play is a little gem I get to keep with all my other favorite memories.

The best way to find one’s own personal spot is to observe parents on campus doing something of interest and then consider one’s skills and ask to contribute in an area that could use those skills. The Friday Coffee Hour in the new patio behind the pick-up shelter is a great place to network about volunteer opportunities.

I believe supporting a class or school activity can feed a parent’s heart like nothing else. And volunteering can be FUN! Yes, I did just say FUN (in all caps). It’s fun to connect with other parents, make friends, kvetch about kids and the craziness of parenting. Volunteering can help create life-long friendships with folks who have shared values. And while it can be very hard to volunteer as a working parent it is possible to find little moments that can fit into any schedule to nourish even the busiest heart.

So while the start of the school year may evoke for some the oft-dreaded call to volunteer, it is worth considering a reframing of the task. Instead of giving one’s time to the school, maybe it could be better stated as an opportunity to create memories that all too quickly will vanish as kids move out into the world beyond our view. Seeing my daughter with her classmates in the library—as they peruse books and discuss what they like—is a snapshot of this moment in her life that I wouldn’t know if I weren’t here volunteering. How lucky am I and how great is that?

The decline of play in preschoolers — and the rise in sensory issues

Play has always been a integral part of Waldorf education, and recently more and more articles are coming out about the important of play in the early years of a child's development. Here's one from the Washington Post blog on September 1, 2015.

Preschool years are not only optimal for children to learn through play, but also a critical developmental period. If children are not given enough natural movement and play experiences, they start their academic careers with a disadvantage. They are more likely to be clumsy, have difficulty paying attention, trouble controlling their emotions, utilize poor problem-solving methods, and demonstrate difficulties with social interactions. We are consistently seeing sensory, motor, and cognitive issues pop up more and more  in later childhood, partly because of inadequate opportunities to move and play at an early age.

Read full article here.

High School Colloquium Week | Fall 2015

Photo Credit: Daniel Wendland

Photo Credit: Daniel Wendland

Last week marked the first week of High School for Santa Fe Waldorf School, which is also known as the Fall Colloquium Week. Colloquium week is meant to help the students transition from summer into the rigors of the academic year, and this year's colloquium - packed with adventures - was a great success. The week's theme was Jurassic Park, based off the school-wide assigned summer reading of the internationally known novel by Michael Crichton. Following Main Lessons, the students enjoyed a series of different Jurassic Park- themed activities. 

On Tuesday morning, students reunited and mingled over Ms. Colgate's homemade cornbread and hot cocoa, followed by dinosaur-themed games. They then welcomed a fascinating presentation, "Chaos Theory & Jurassic Park", by guest speaker and Santa Fe Institute scientist Justin Yeakel. Discussion groups led by the senior class followed, as well as chapbook making and apple-grafting workshops. On Wednesday, the entire school paid a visit to the Natural History Museum in Albuquerque, during which they saw a 3D show of "Walking with Dinosaurs" at the DynaTheater and had lunch at the Learning Garden. 

Thursday saw students combing the Santa Fe Ski Area for local versions of the T-Rex and related critters, the King Bolete Mushroom and its minions. Friday brought the movie screening of none other than the blockbuster film, Jurassic Park. Through it all, the high school community got to know each other better and gathered again as a community of students and faculty.


Photo Credits:
Daniel Wendland
Pam Colgate

Four Phases of Teenage Development Reflected in the Waldorf High School Curriculum

With the first week of high school, here's another interesting article from the Waldorf Publications Blog.

In broad strokes, each of the four years in the Waldorf high school curriculum embodies an underlying theme and method that helps guide students not just through their studies of outer phenomena but through their inner growth as well. Obviously, these themes and methods are adapted to each specific group of students and take account of the fact that teenagers grow at their own pace. Hence, the “broad strokes.” And yet, one can identify struggles common to most any teenager even though adolescents pass through developmental landscape at varying speeds, they nonetheless have to cover similar terrain.

Click here to read the full article.

The Waldorf Classroom and the Cycle of Eight Elementary Years with the Same Teacher

With the new school year right around the corner, here's an interesting article from the Waldorf Publications Blog for new and returning parents alike.

... the eight-year journey of a teacher with a class in a Waldorf school is the best and most ingenious part about the whole plan. Where else on earth is practicing love and commitment an integral part of the educational plan? Where else does a child get to see a teacher show up every day for eight years for them? The self worth this establishes is profound.

Click here to read the full article.

Waldorf Education is Developmentally Appropriate - What exactly does this mean?

From Waldorf Publications, July 26, 2015:

In Waldorf teaching, the deep artistry comes in identifying the readiness in a child and in a whole class for a new capacity to be engaged toward practice, toward strength. Joy in learning, trust in the world as graspable and solvable, an inner habit of happiness and engagement, are byproducts of this approach.

Click here to read the full article.

Force of Nature: A Chevy Chase preschool encourages learning outside the box

From Bethesda Magazine, January-February 2012:

A boy, just 4, leaps into a puddle. Mud splatters high across his boots and pants. The boy races from puddle to puddle, leaping, splashing and laughing. He is exultant as he discovers his own power in the mud-puddle universe. He’s also gleaning an early physics lesson: For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.

At a lot of nursery schools, that reaction might include chiding the child for making a mess. But this boy goes to the Outdoor Nursery School, tucked away on the wooded grounds of a historic estate in Chevy Chase. Children here spend at least half their day in those woods learning and playing alfresco—even in winter deep.

Click here for the full article.

Early child development: Body of knowledge

An interesting article on forest schools from the Nature Journal, July 15, 2015.

A study of UK forest schools, commissioned by the Forestry Commission and run by Forest Research and think-tank the New Economics Foundation, found improvements in children's confidence, concentration, fine motor control and teamwork. Forest schools also offer tangible evidence of abstract phenomena such as life cycles, food chains and materials behaviour (such as why wood blackens in a fire).

Click here to read the full article.

Summer with a Young Child – Nourishing the Senses

By: Arina Pittman

This is a guest blog by Arina Pittman, who is raising a young son and finds tremendous inspiration in the Waldorf approach to education.


School is out and summer is establishing its claims on all ages – inviting rites of nature, outings, explorations, staying out late, gatherings with friends, and freedom.

The sacred right of childhood – roaming in nature, being free from adult consciousness and endless supervision, having hours of unstructured imaginative play, spending time in a dreamy world of stones, leaves, bugs and butterflies – how do we find a way to support it? As trees take time to put their roots down and out, so our young children truly thrive when their days are open to following their bliss – free play, imagination, cozy outdoor spaces.  

When my son was two years old, I was lucky enough to visit a Waldorf Summer Camp for young children, and observe a teacher creating a magical and nourishing space for a group of very young boys and girls. What I learned that summer, I have introduced into our life. It served us when our child was two years old and I was a stay-at-home mom, and it is serving us now, when he is nearly seven and I am working.

Yard as a Play Space

A shade tree or a canvas canopy, a large trough filled with clean water, watering cans and a tiny child’s garden (potted plants are ok!) – these are some simple elements to consider for your yard. Watering plants is something that can be done daily; it is refreshing, much appreciated, and it creates beauty. It also allows even the youngest toddler to participate in meaningful work that is appreciated by the rest of the family. Little hands get stronger when carrying water, little bodies learn more about balance and sense of space, and big discoveries are made by the child in such an environment. Plant something rewarding for your child to care for: peas and cucumbers are much loved by all; raspberries take a while to get going, but you will appreciated them for years; and salad greens are eaten by children with a whole lot more gusto when picked fresh and tasted on the spot. Pumpkins and watermelons are pretty much akin to a miracle, and various plants invite creatures that delight and amaze.

Add a sand box next to your shaded water play space and create a location for mud. Then you are set for several years. Suddenly, your yard is filled with wonderful things that support focused inspirational play, and that allow your family to need less external entertainment.

Find Safe Nature

The next possible destination for early years is “safe nature,” a spot preferably within walking distance, where grass sways in the wind, birds hop on the ground, dandelions scatter their little parachute seeds. A park that is contained and large enough for skipping, for rolling down grassy slopes, for laying on the ground, for smelling the flowers, and looking at ants and bugs doing their summer work. Then there is no need for playground equipment (more on that below). Is there an organic farm in the vicinity, where volunteers are welcomed and where a family can offer a few hours of meaningful work and in exchange find a place that supports nature play in an otherwise urban setting? The Rose Park in Santa Fe is probably the coolest summer spot in the whole town. It offers thick grassy expansive areas that are shaded and soft on bare feet. Other fabulous spots include Patrick Smith Park, Alto Street Park, the Santa Fe River (when there is water!), and many others. The apparent lack of playground equipment encourages children to use their imagination, to create their own play, to engage into discoveries and explorations, to use their focus and creativity in an unguided and unstructured setting, to experience the power of one’s own imagination – all the qualities that are so important and so hard to develop in our frantic world.

Urban safe nature is not wild, nor natural. It is a designed, constructed, managed setting – yet it supports free play, nourishment of senses, opportunities for explorations. It is, hopefully, in a comfortable proximity to home. It is not a day long outing. It is joyful without being taxing.

Forge Friendships With Animals

Children have an incredible affinity with animals, a soul-deep need to befriend and nurture them. Chickens and horses, goat kids and kittens, ladybugs and earthworms - animals of all sizes and shapes freely  share their aliveness and their true, unscripted selves. Bugs and spiders, lizards and ants all invite deep focus, quiet observation, and soaring of child’s inner self into the world of imagination and beauty.

At times, much effort is needed to teach children how to handle and approach animals in the best way: how to pick up and release a lady bug without causing it bodily harm, how to feed a carrot to a horse. When we embody love and care towards the living world around us, children follow. When we experience a sense of wonderment in the presence of a bug, we are kindling love to all living things in our children.

Avoid Playground Equipment

There is nothing as effective as playground equipment when it comes to taking your child’s play opportunities and reducing them to a small set of activities. But it is not the direction that I would want to encourage in pursuit of socializing. Gone, to a large degree, is the imaginative play in which children’s souls soar. Gone is quiet observation, deep gazing, reverence to the world, that is so inherent for children. At a park’s climbing structure, enter the peer pressure to conform, elevation of noise and increase of speed, physicality of most interactions that overruns other forms of play. Socializing is reduced to “speed-dating” with random children, connections that are formed are quick to go, and not much is really learned in such environment when it comes to relating to others. Climb a tree, play with good old friends – that is how simple it all is.

Create Opportunities for Freedom and Imagination

A friend shared an observation with me, how her tween child has no opportunities for true freedom. Their street is not so friendly for unsupervised play, and all other outings have inevitable adult supervision. Same is true of most institutional settings of childhood – playgrounds and indoor spaces are specifically designed to deny any opportunity for privacy, which is a valid point for group settings. Teacher must be able to see what is going on at any given moment. While this approach has its reasons, think about children and their needs. When, where and how do we offer freedom and privacy? If we are looking for “safe nature,” how do we provide for “safe freedom” that is true and real?

Benign Neglect

Here is a great inspiration: Practice benign neglect, and read this post by Carrie, my great online teacher, author of the awesome Parenting Passageway: “Benign neglect is that art of discernment in parenting; in knowing what really needs your full attention and truly needs to be addressed, but in also knowing what needs to not be seen and what should  have a blind eye on the part of the parent!”

So here lies the challenge of finding that space, time and understanding of where and how you will gift your child with freedom in nature, where and how you can practice benign neglect in a “wild” or “safe” nature, so that your child has an opportunity to find her wings, physical body, experience reverence to nature, gaze at the small wonders, and be unseen and unfold on her own.

What Do Children Learn in a Waldorf Kindergarten? Everything!

From the Waldorf Publications blog, July 8, 2015:

"There are in a child’s life many years for books and math and algorithms and science facts. There are very few years during which a little one can practice open-hearted kindness, sharing, consideration of others, building habits of making things beautiful, habits of appreciation for the abundance received in a meal. These practices done while young are likely to make an impression, build skills, cultivate inner quiet, and foster deep emotional intelligence and respect for everyone, to last a lifetime."

Click here to read the full article.

Kindergartens Ringing the Bell for Play Inside the Classroom

From The New York Times, June 9, 2015, an article on how many kindergartens are bringing play back into their curriculum.

PASADENA, Md. — Mucking around with sand and water. Playing Candy Land or Chutes and Ladders. Cooking pretend meals in a child-size kitchen. Dancing on the rug, building with blocks and painting on easels.

Call it Kindergarten 2.0.

Concerned that kindergarten has become overly academic in recent years, this suburban school district south of Baltimore is introducing a new curriculum in the fall for 5-year-olds. Chief among its features is a most old-fashioned concept: play.

“I feel like we have been driving the car in the wrong direction for a long time,” said Carolyn Pillow, who has taught kindergarten for 15 years and attended a training session here on the new curriculum last month. “We can’t forget about the basics of what these kids need, which is movement and opportunities to play and explore.”

Click here for the full article.