When Sarah Olmsted ’98 was part of a team that designed interactive exhibits for Chicago’s Field Museum, she closely observed visitors as they experienced her displays: Were they engaged by the activities? Did they discover aspects of the subject matter through hands-on play? “One day I was watching an exhibit when a school field trip came through. Just as the kids were really starting to engage and really understand the exhibit, they were shuffled along to go to the next stop. It broke my heart,” she says.
After finishing her bachelor’s degree in fine arts at the San Francisco Art Institute, Sarah had moved to Chicago with her then boyfriend, now husband, to work at the Field Museum designing displays for both permanent and traveling exhibits. “The Field Museum is amazing. It is the largest research institution in the world. I got the opportunity to work with incredible scientists and researchers. I really thrived at bringing their work to life,” Sarah recalls.
Sarah had previously worked as a custom children’s furniture designer for families throughout the Bay Area, so she had hands-on experience in creating solutions for interesting challenges. “Many families had such limited space, they needed a piece of furniture for their children that could change and store things. It was really fun,” she says.
After watching that rushed field trip at the museum, Sarah knew it was time to put her design skills towards a new challenge: to create items that would help children to discover the world around them, and that would encourage them to go out in nature and inhabit the space of childhood. She launched an online store – www.imaginechildhood.com – filled with tools that could serve as “catalytic objects” for the child.
“I set out to create items that would help them to discover the magic of being a child. I get such a thrill when children can live in that space, to be a child and to discover the world around them.” Sarah also wrote a blog about the products on her site, contributing creative inspiration and ideas for readers to use.
Soon after, she received a once-in-a-lifetime call from a publishing company called Roost Books, saying that they wanted to offer her a book deal based on the content of the blogs. “I had never written a book, and I didn’t really know everything that needed to happen, but I decided to stick with the old phrase, ‘yes I’ll do it, and I’ll figure out how later’.”
In time, Sarah’s book, Imagine Childhood, became a reality. The pictures in the book were taken at Sarah’s family’s mountain retreat here in Colorado, and feature the children of some of her former classmates from The Denver Waldorf School.
Today Sarah educates teachers about activities from the book that they can incorporate into their classrooms. “I really enjoy working with teachers throughout the country. I was recently at a preschool teacher conference and we spent a considerable amount of time in the woods, discovering the natural classroom. It immediately brought me back to my time at The Denver Waldorf School,” Sarah said.
Before becoming a successful author, business owner and artist, Sarah attended DWS from age three through 8th grade in 1995. During her last year of Kindergarten, Ms. Vicki Carr was one of her teachers. She then became Sarah’s class teacher all the way through 8th Grade.
Vicki Carr is now Vicki Hindes and is still teaching at the school, providing support in the Middle School grades. “It was really amazing having one teacher throughout the entire 8 years. She became another parent; she really got to know us.” Sarah continues, “If we were getting out of line, or doing something wrong, Ms. Carr could just give us that look, and we would all know.”
Sarah also remembers working on her mallet project in Mr. Baker’s class as being a defining moment in her Waldorf education. “I really remember the time Mr. Baker took to help us perfect that mallet we had to make. I would sand and sand the mallet – as a young person, it sometimes was frustrating and boring. Mr. Baker would hold the mallet up to the light, and if there was a single grain standing out he would tell me to go back and keep sanding. In the end, I learned that not everything comes instantaneously; it took time to get to a final product that I was proud of. The mallet turned out really nice and helped me to understand form.” Through this painstaking work, Sarah learned a lesson she still values today.
Sarah attended South High School and graduated with honors a year early in 1998. She spent two years at the University of Colorado at Boulder and one year studying abroad in Italy.
Her book, Imagine Childhood, is available in book stores as well as online through Sarah’s website, www.imaginechildhood.com.