As a parent Ms.Diaz was looking for a different kind of education for her child. Most schools in India, she felt, looked at only the IQ. She wanted a school that gave equal importance to the emotional quotient and moral quotient. At this juncture, she met other like minded parents who believed that education must take in to consideration the will of the child, nurture the senses AND sensitivity. The collective answer they felt was Rudolf Steiner’s philosophy that talks about educating the head, heart and hand. Thus Sloka was born.
‘BEAUTIFUL’ is a one word description of a Waldorf classroom. From stressing the use of natural materials such as wood and fabric in the classroom to having continuity between indoor and outdoor, Waldorf places high emphasis on ‘Nature Appreciation’.
I met with Ms.Diaz in her office. Rather than an Q&A session, it turned out to be an informal discussion. Based on our conversation, I have organized the discussion in to main topics.
What is Waldorf’s view of Nature? How is man connected with the five elements?
You say that the five elements are wind, water, earth, fire and cosmos. Waldorf believes that the five elements are man, fire, earth, air and water. Man is one of the elements. The ego and anger that flows in his blood represents fire, the melancholic quality represents earth, his sanguine quality represents air and phlegmatic quality represents water. So it is essential for us humans to stay in touch with nature and draw energy from the natural world in order to function as a well balanced individual.
Most of us are aware of only five senses - touch, smell, sight, hearing, taste. Steiner identified 12 senses - life, self-movement, balance, temperature/warmth, language, concept, ego along with the five commonly known senses. Waldorf believes that nature has the capacity to nurture all the 12 senses.
How do you incorporate Nature in a Waldorf classroom? Do young children make the connection?
Yes, children, even the young ones, make the connection.
Our classrooms are plastic free. We use naturally occurring elements like wood and fabric.
Every class has a season’s table, where we display elements such as fruits and flowers from the current season. Children help gather the material that goes on the season’s table. This gives them a good sense of the seasons, climate, weather, months of the year etc.
We even teach numbers through nature..... “1 for the golden Sun, 2 for me and you, 3 for the earth, sky, rain, 4 for the seasons turning, 5 for the shining star, 6 for the honey comb, 7 for the rainbow colors” etc.
Nature walks and outdoor free play are essential in a Waldorf classroom. We believe walking gives young children a sense of balance, which in turn helps immensely in the way the brain develops.
Before eating children say grace,
“Earth who gives to us its food.
Sun who makes it ripe and good.
Dear Sun, dear Earth,
By you we live
To you our love and thanks we give.”
Also we introduce nature to children in an age appropriate way. Young children get free play time outdoors. The first and second graders are told fairy tales. Waldorf believes by third grade the children are physically and mentally ready to construct with their hands, their senses get grounded. So we take them to rice field or to a farm, where they work in the paddy fields, get to see first hand how and where their food comes from. Our fourth graders do animal studies. By firth grade plant studies are introduced and so on.
Because of all this, the children make a positive connection with nature. And what I have explained is only a part of the nature appreciation that goes on in a Waldorf school.
What are the benefits of a natural environment?
Waldorf believes that you do not give a child a finished product to play with. A toy is only 50% of the process of playing, the rest is the child’s imagination. The dolls in our classroom do not have facial features. So it is very easy for the child to make the doll in to any character he/she wants. Also what the doll is today, it is not tomorrow. This teaches children that every object can be used in multiple ways.
This is what nature does. It gives us the raw materials that spark our imagination. Offers us open ended material that helps us develop divergent thinking.
When you offer unstructured playground and natural landscapes, have parents expressed any concerns about playground safety?
Yes, some parents are concerned. But children need ‘reality’. So when explained properly, the parents understand.
Do you have anything specific to tell our readers?
I feel that what children learn from nature stays with them for the rest of their lives. What is taught in nature cannot be taught through concepts and books. This knowledge helps them physically, emotionally and mentally. We are nature, nature lives in us, nature is a part of us.
Credits: Thanks to Ms.Diaz for the interview.
All pictures from Sloka website, produced with permission.