“I am confident that the education they have received will make them individuals who can and will take the time to think for themselves and inspire and lead others.”
There are many parts to a Waldorf education. There are the people you are with, both students and teachers, there is the environment you are in, and there is, of course, the curriculum; including the many lessons you learn. All of these aspects play important parts in Waldorf and why it works.
I was a student at the White Mountain Waldorf School in Albany, NH from the age of two until I was almost fifteen. Over the years there I learned so much. I learned lessons that all students learn; how to read and write, how to do math, and plenty more. I was taught many things other than academics; how to play nicely with my friends in kindergarten, how to cook, and how to draw free-handedly. I also learned about the outside world; I’ve had my fair share of hiking, was free to explore the outdoors, and if I may say so myself, I am an expert fairy-house builder.
At Waldorf, I wasn’t only taught academic and outdoorsy knowledge; I was also given many skills that will help me throughout my entire life. I think that one of the most important and useful tools that I gained is the art of memorization and public speaking. In the Early Childhood program, the classes begin everyday with circle time singing and verses. This repetition and memorization continues and grows more each year strengthening the brain and making everyone more confident in their speaking. In the first grade, we recited birthday verses. Each year, on or around a child’s birthday, each child is assigned a short poem or verse which they memorize and present standing in front of the class every week.
I always said my poem on Monday mornings along with three or four of my peers. I started in first grade with a small, three line verse and ended in eighth grade with a one and a half page long sonnet by William Shakespeare. Each child has a different verse and every year they receive a new, more difficult verse on their birthday.
Every student, including myself, dreads the morning they say their poem. At the time, the student does not realize what it is doing for them. Now, looking back, I can see how much this practice has helped me. I am amazed when I find myself saying the words I used to recite in sixth grade. I still have them memorized four years later. Furthermore, I find I can speak among any crowd of any age people about nearly any topic or personal opinion with confidence.
Birthday verses are not the only way I was taught to memorize and speak publicly; there are countless, small factors such as songs, puppet shows, games, and group poems that help strengthen public speaking skills. The biggest events which support these skills and really build confidence are the annual class plays and the Eighth Grade Projects.
Class plays are set into the curriculum at Waldorf. The teacher will choose a play that has to do with an academic block - a Greek myth or story of some sort - which was studied during that year. Everyone works together as a class to put on a production for the school community. Play blocks start in the first grade with something simple and easy. My first grade play was The Frog Prince. There were about four characters so we were split into groups for each character and recited the lines together. I was one of five Kings. I know this seems a bit odd but it actually works very well as a first step.
I was terrified to go up on a stage and recite in front of my family and my friends’ families; but as I went up on stage I realized I wasn’t alone. I was with four of my best friends and we got through it together. Each year the plays get more complicated and after the first play everyone has their own part and their own lines. I remember each year getting more and more confident with saying my lines in front of everyone and by the time my last play rolled around in eighth grade, I found it fun! In Eighth grade our play was A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare. I had a lead role as Puck, the mischievous fairy. I had loads of lines to memorize and perform and it was so amazingly fun. The final performance in front of a full house in a public auditorium was enthralling.
Everything I have written about so far is very significant with regards to my memorization and speaking skills. Everything I have talked about also leads up to one, big culmination of Waldorf Education - The Eighth Grade Project.
Waldorf Eighth Grade Projects are a year-long project where each student picks a skill or topic they want to learn more about and they study deeply. Everyone picks a mentor, does research, and works diligently. In the spring, the projects are presented to a large audience. Each student must get up in front of the whole school community, people from the greater community and students’ family members. They give a lengthy memorized presentation about their project experience. This presentation often includes demonstrations, examples and a question and answer period.
Over the years, every time I had to give an oral report, perform in a play or speak publicly, one of my family members would ask me the same question: “Are you nervous?” I would reply that I was fine and excited. Then they would repeat the story I have heard countless times of them being so nervous before an oral report that they actually felt sick. I would laugh along with them and say again that I was all good. By the time I reached my Eighth Grade Presentation I was more than okay– I was excited, thrilled even. I couldn’t wait to get up and share my experiences and hard work with my audience. I can promise you that most White Mountain Waldorf School students would tell you that they felt the same.
Waldorf schools give their students a gift when in first grade the birthday verse tradition is begun. This gift of learning to memorize and present information in front of others is nurtured and crafted over the years through the many opportunities of performance and presentation.
I am thankful for my Waldorf education and everything it gave especially the gift of being confident and calm while presenting in front of a crowd. This skill will help me through my whole life and affect me and my world in many positive ways.