Wisdom of Waldorf - Impact of the Arts on Learning

This week’s post references a study that investigated the impact of the arts on learning. One of the questions and concerns many parents have about Waldorf education is the prominence of the arts. This recent research supports what’s been integral to the Waldorf pedagogy from its inception. The following quote sums it up.

“Arts learning experiences benefit students in terms of social, emotional, and academic outcomes,” write researchers Dan Bowen of Texas A&M and Brian Kisida of the University of Missouri.

Sandra Easter, PhD

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Denver Waldorf Teacher Spotlight - Dr. Wayne Mayer

When our students are asked what they love about their education at The Denver Waldorf School, one answer we hear frequently is that they treasure their close relationships with teachers. They are full of gratitude to be surrounded by caring, dedicated, and inspiring teachers. Our Teacher Spotlight series highlights a new teacher each month.

Let’s get to know Dr. Wayne Mayer below.

What grades and subjects do you teach?

I teach the high school’s Life Science courses along with two electives, including:

Human Anatomy – 9th Grade
Organic Chemistry (9th Grade)
Human Physiology (10th Grade)
Acids, Bases, and Salts (10th Grade)
Acids, Bases, and Salts Lab (10th Grade)
Atomic Chemistry (11th Grade)
Atomic Chemistry Lab (11th Grade)
Botany (11th Grade)
Embryology (11th Grade)
Human Sexuality (11th Grade)
Biochemistry (12th Grade)
Planet Earth (12th Grade)
Zoology (12th Grade)
The Science of Simple Tools – elective
The Culture of Peru Through Food – elective

What is your educational background?

PhD, December 2006     Environmental Science & Policy Duke University, Durham, NC
Graduate Certificates:     International Development Policy; Latin American and Caribbean Studies

MS, June 1994                 Forestry & Ecology University of Washington, Seattle, WA

BA, June 1991                  Environmental Science, cum laude, University of Denver, Denver, CO
Double Minors:                 Anthropology; English Literature

What was the next stop (or stops) in your journey before coming to The Denver Waldorf School?

I lived in Latin America where I worked as an educator, a journalist, a conservationist, a research scientist, and a sustainability and sustainable development consultant.

As a consultant, I led a wide range of clients in situations that were often complex, technical, contentious, multi-disciplinary, and involved varying numbers of people from small focus groups to large strategy summits. I guided clients to transform “Us vs Them” dynamics into “All of Us” alliances.

How many years have you taught at The Denver Waldorf School?

This is my first-year teaching at The Denver Waldorf School, but I have been teaching at the university level for over 25 years. From 1996 to 1998, I served as the Academic Director for the School for International Training (SIT) College Semester Abroad Program in Venezuela. Currently, I hold visiting faculty appointments at both the University of Denver and Duke University.

What drew you to the Waldorf curriculum?

I like the integrated, holistic approach to teaching and learning.

What is your teaching philosophy and approach?

The best learning—whether through formal and rigorous academics or informal and playful dialogue—occurs through what I call “fun with a purpose.”  As the former Academic Director for the School for International Training’s College Semester Abroad Program in Venezuela, I know that communication through stories proves useful in field-based teaching and in communicating the concepts of biological conservation to communities and project participants. For example, if a student is listening to a story and is enthralled and laughing and then, suddenly, she realizes that this story is about the reproductive biology of a palm species or the mating habits of an endangered tree frog, she’ll likely think that learning about nature and science shouldn’t be this much fun. I aim for that reaction. I also strive to inspire students to ask the overarching questions: Why is that? Why does this matter? I address these questions at the onset of a block; then, throughout the course, I do my best to express my own excitement and interest in the subject at hand. Together, my students and I search for answers. In doing so, I hope to teach and to learn more about both the wonder of nature and the urgent need to conserve it.

The Waldorf philosophy of education focuses on the whole child. What does this mean to you?

Teaching the whole child means tapping into the student’s internal inspiration—understanding what motivates that child—and teaching and learning through an integrated combination of social, emotional, and academic connections. This triangulation of head, heart, hands or mind, body, spirit, means bringing art, nature and movement into the attraction, appeal and relevancy of learning.

What makes The Denver Waldorf School unique?

The enthusiastic teachers and administrators make The Denver Waldorf School a one-of-a-kind place to teach and learn.


Dr. Wayne Mayer pictured with students building a Rube Goldberg machine during the elective of “The Science of Simple Tools”.

Why We Play - Community & Growth through Sports

In her inspiring book, Norwich: One Tiny Vermont Town’s Secret to Happiness and Excellence, Karen Krouse sets out to answer a simple question: how has one small town in Vermont produced so many resilient, confident, and happy Olympic-level athletes?

The answer may surprise you. It’s not by pushing kids to train harder at a young age; it’s not about embracing hyper-competitiveness; it’s not about making kids specialize in a single sport. Rather, it’s about making sports a fun, communal experience. Krouse explains, “the parents of Norwich learned through trial and error the best methods of nourishing happy athletes: by valuing participation and sportsmanship, stressing fun, community, and self-improvement.”

In many ways, Waldorf education embraces the wisdom set forth in Norwich. Molding an elite athlete is not the end goal; rather, it is a byproduct of a healthy relationship to sports and movement. Beyond just winning, development of character is the emphasized result in the athletic arena.

Whether it’s a young student working on balance and coordination through Circus Club, a middle school student learning the value of teamwork on the volleyball court, or a high school athlete flying down the Ultimate Frisbee field, the Denver Waldorf School promotes community, growth, and sportsmanship through athletics. There are no tryouts or cuts. Instead, each athlete is inspired to reach their highest potential, contributing to the team through enthusiasm, hard work,  grace, and resilience. Every athlete has their place on our teams.

These lessons begin early on. For example, the first graders recently attended a volleyball game to cheer on their eighth grade buddies. With impressionable eyes upon them, the eighth graders displayed poise, confidence, and grace on the volleyball court. The athletes came together in a circle, connected with their arms around each other, after a tough point — won or lost.

On the court, they supported each other, worked together, and afterwards found their first grade buddies. In a word, they built community—the kind of community where young athletes can flourish and grow.


Holding the Question

“Holding the question.”  It’s a phrase you may hear from a Waldorf teacher. But what does this mean?

It’s about waiting to answer the question: who is this person?  We ask and answer this question all the time — when we meet a new friend, when we meet a teacher, and when we gather as a family.  We are constantly scanning the world around us and answering the question: who are all these people in and around my life?

In Waldorf schools, “holding the question” is especially important because the same main lesson teacher stays with a group of students from 1st through 8th grade.  It’s tempting for that teacher to answer the question — “who is this student of mine?” — in the first few weeks of first grade.

The concern is, when a teacher answers the question “who is this person” too soon, that teacher limits the student-teacher relationship.  Once defined, it’s difficult for the child to shake his or her label, and it’s difficult for the teacher to see that child with fresh eyes.

And that’s why the idea of holding the question is so important.  It’s about allowing the child to show his parents, his teachers, his family, and his friends exactly who he is becoming, slowly and over time.  It’s about being patient and resisting the urge — however well-intentioned — to define a child too soon.

We know that the temptation to answer the question is strong.  We want to know: who is this precious child of ours?  What makes him tick?  Who will she grow into?  All of our hopes and dreams are mashed up into this one question: who are you?

But, perhaps, we can give our children a great gift: holding the question.  Perhaps we can let them show us who they are.  Perhaps we can give them the space needed to emerge as their own unique individuals. We can enjoy and celebrate them for who they are today, and love them unconditionally as we journey alongside them.

Take an activity like watercolor painting.  One young child may quickly spread all of the colors available at one time, watching them blend together as one.  Another may pick one color at a time, slowly watching the colors interact and dance.

But what does that say about our kids?  Does it have to say anything?  We try to hold the question.  They are both expressing themselves in their own ways.  Their means of expression may change over time, but we hope their curiosity remains.  We don’t want to define their artwork and unwittingly limit who we see them as and what they can become.

In a way, our children are the artists of their own lives.  We can’t predict what they’ll paint.  We’ll let them create something beautiful.  And we’ll be there to share in the joy of their own unique journeys.

High School Experiential Tour

Heat, force, teamwork, and…snow ❄️. The beauty of blacksmithing! More than just forging metal, it is a practical application of theoretical ideas from physics, chemistry, and history, engaging the students through hands on learning. Come see how our high school students integrate learning from many perspectives of a subject, allowing them to not just learn the curriculum, but to experience it as tools they can forever use to build their lives. Our High School Experiential Tour is October 18 from 9-11 am- RSVP here. See you there.

Wisdom of Waldorf - The Value of Handwork

Handwork is as integral to Waldorf education as drawing. Creating with ones hands focuses the will and intention, and as discussed in this article linked below, can promote mental health and well-being especially when it brings one into relationship within community. The author’s words express this beautifully –

“In our social media age, as we become more physically distanced from each other, sewing is a safeguard to isolation, a way to stay in touch with each other: hand and mind working in harmony to convey what lies in our hearts. For me and others, it sustains not just a sense of self but of belonging.”

Yes, it’s great for our children…and…for those of you who are so inclined, getting involved in sewing, knitting and other crafts is one of the great benefits of being a Waldorf parent. My personal favorite handwork activity is felting!

Sandra Easter, PhD


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Wisdom of Waldorf - Fairy Tales

Below is an article from Brain Pickings, one of my personal favorite online journals. The topic – Albert Einstein on Fairy Tales and Education. His advice to a mother who wanted to know what her son should read to become a scientist – read fairy tales!

Fairy tales, myths, and other forms of story are integral to the Waldorf curriculum. They feed the imagination and facilitate brain development in children…and…as Dr. von Kugelgen, who after taking 4 classes through the grades, devoted himself in retirement to early childhood education wrote, they connect us with

“the ancient mysteries and truths of what lies behind the sun, moon and stars, and in animals, plants and stones . . . They also tell of what is revealed in the twisting paths of human life and in the struggle with all that is downgrading, violent or tempting, and of what, as the essence of humanity, steps being unborn into existence and sees again its immortality in death”.

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