Learning Through Head, Heart and Hands
Feb 01, 2015 06:49AM
● By Sheila Julson
Linda Heywood and Melissa McIntyre, teachers at Susquehanna Waldorf School (SWS), in Marietta, both wanted to see their own children excel academically and emotionally. Their quests for educational models to suit their needs not only helped their children, but led the parents to satisfying careers in Waldorf education, a humanistic teaching philosophy and approach developed by Austrian philosopher and social reformer Rudolf Steiner.
Heywood, a co-founder of SWS and currently a kindergarten teacher there, was born and raised in Greendale, Wisconsin. Her father worked for manufacturer Allen-Bradley, and her mother was a trained concert pianist. “I grew up in an artistic family,” says Heywood, who dreamed of growing up to become an artist when she was a child. “My great-uncle was a concert master and the co-founder of the Green Bay Symphony Orchestra. My grandfather was a stone sculptor, and my other grandfather was an inventor,” she describes, noting, “A special feature of Waldorf education is the integration of arts into the curriculum.”
Heywood moved to Pennsylvania, where she started her family and raised her children. When she decided to birth her son at home, she found out about Waldorf education through home birthing literature. She wasn’t pleased with her daughter’s preschool at the time, so it piqued her interest and she located a Waldorf school in Lancaster, only to be disappointed.
“When I called, a cleaning lady answered and told me there had been a Waldorf school, but it had folded,” Heywood recalls. Luckily, the cleaning woman took her contact information. A few months later, Heywood received a letter stating there were some parents interested in starting a new Waldorf school in Lancaster.
In 1987, Susquehanna formed, and Heywood was the first teacher. “I had a degree in early childhood education, but no training; just a real simpatico with the whole approach,” she says. “My mentors, Dr. Hal Williams and his wife, Dorothea, started several Waldorf schools and worked in them. They guided me and gave me encouragement and confidence.”
Susquehanna originally began in a church space. Heywood had nine pupils in her first class. The school grew, and two years later, they moved into a historic building constructed in 1899 that once served as a local school. Susquehanna rented and renovated the structure, and by 2002, they had funds to purchase the building.
The Waldorf model keeps students with the same teacher from first grade through eighth. McIntyre is a “grades teacher” at Susquehanna. “While in college, I couldn’t decide on a major,” she relates. “I enjoyed every class I took, so my mother suggested that I teach. That way I could still engage in all of the other topics.”
McIntyre and her husband, Jim, are both teachers. She discovered Waldorf while the couple taught in Germany, but she didn’t pay much attention to it until they returned to the United States. Their oldest son attended a public school in Florida, where they lived. “In first grade, he came home with 40 minutes of homework,” she says. “The students only got one 10-minute recess break. My bright and shiny little guy became very stressed.”
When Jim interviewed for a public school teaching job in Pennsylvania, the family noticed a Waldorf school and stopped by to check it out. “As soon as I walked in, I knew it was for our boys,” she says. McIntyre became a parent at Susquehanna first and joined the faculty 13 years ago. “Waldorf lessons teach to the intellect, the head; to the feelings, the heart; and to the will of doing, hands,” she explains.
Arts and nature are integral parts of Waldorf curriculum. Kindergartners begin each day with a walk. Pupils in third through sixth grades visit a nearby farm to help with chores and care for the animals. Lessons are taught through creative play, stories and drawing. Sustainable skills are developed through lessons in handwork, woodcrafts and gardening.
Arts and the act of doing are interwoven into all academic teachings to help the lessons jump off the page and come alive. McIntyre cites an example: “We made pancakes yesterday and merged fractions with the pancake-making. After we finished flipping pancakes and ‘eating’ fractions, we reviewed. The students drew a stack of pancakes in their main lesson books, and then they drew half a stack of pancakes, and so on. I engaged them in many ways with that interactive lesson.”
Subjects are taught in blocks, with one particular topic being the primary focus for a three- to four-week period. McIntyre praises this approach as helping pupils thoroughly remember what they learn.
Heywood says children are inspired by artistic beauty within the school, from the winter Christmas scene with carved wooden statues of the Three Kings in the entranceway to the colorful shimmering artwork throughout the building. All of it inspires Heywood, as well: “I’m in the right place. Young children take everything in, so they see that beauty and goodness still has a place in the world.”
McIntyre described the inspiration of being a participant in students’ projects: “I draw the lessons and use clay to sculpt out the local history and geography map. The arts are rejuvenating for everyone. The parents and teachers all joke that we need to build a retirement home where we can go later to keep with the Waldorf way of being.”
Susquehanna Waldorf School is located at 15 W. Walnut St., Marietta. For more information, call 717-426-4506 or visit SusquehannaWaldorf.org.