Sunday, November 29, 2009

A Waldorf Education

Receive the children in reverence; educate them in love; let them go forth in freedom
- Rudolf Steiner

I believe in a Waldorf education for many reasons. For starters, I was educated in a Steiner school from grades 1-8. I believe it fostered in me and my fellow students a true, fundamental love of learning, one I hope to replicate in my students today. In a Waldorf classroom students engage with the building blocks of education in a holistic way. Children don't just learn about Greece through a textbook but study (and replicate) the ways of the ancient world through drawings, plays, readings and activities. How do you think a child will feel visiting the acropolis when they can call on not only textbook education but real-life experience? When learning becomes fun and we feel engaged in the process we want to continue, it's really that simple. I believe firmly that the right environment (from the beginning) is essential for the lifespan of a student's academic career.

Another thing I value so much about the Waldorf experience is the opportunity for another human being to profoundly influence your child. A Waldorf teacher stays with your children through the duration of their education and can be a huge, powerful force in their development. A child spends more waking hours at school than he or she does
at home and wonderful teachers, the ones we all remember, really know that. They understand that the little lives they have in their classrooms are just that, lives. Not simply heads or brains but hearts and souls.

Some people have trepidations about Waldorf education, saying that it doesn't stress academia early on. This is true. For young children, creativity is the most important thing, not mathematics or reading. But wait, you say, you're all about early literacy, how can you support Waldorf education? I believe in early literacy, yes, but I believe in supporting a child to read through joy. I believe that story, narrative and fun come first and that words follow in their own time. My mother likes to tell the story of how I did not read until the third grade. "The third grade? What kind of education is your child receiving?" friends would ask her. Today I admit I am a bit horrified at the thought. Certainly I wouldn't be as calm and cool as my mother if my students were on the same time plan. But, my mother was not phased. She knew, as Waldorf does, that it would come in my own time. It did, indeed. I'd say I learned to read, and then some. By the time I made my
way to the page I was so excited to be there no one could tear me away.

The world, as we all know, is changing rapidly. I don't pretend that growing up is the same now as it was when I did it simply fifteen years ago. It's not. Things are faster, cruder. There is more that can affect your child, more that you have to be cautious of as a parent. The thing I wish to express and acknowledge is the sacred nature of childhood, that precious time where there is a certain magic to the world. I was blessed to be a part of Waldorf and whether you are a Walorf parent, considering a Waldorf education, or simply want to learn how you can use some of their techniques to support your child, we can all benefit from Rudolf Steiner's approach to education.

To find out about a Waldorf school near you or to learn more about Walorf Education visit:

Have a wonderful week,


Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving

I wanted to wish everyone a happy and healthy thanksgiving. I have been battling the stomach flu and probably won't be up for too much turkey eating but the hours on the couch have given me some time to ruminate about thanksgiving, and about what I'm grateful for. I even made a list. Ever notice that writing things down helps you see them clearly? Well what better things to see clearly than those that you are thankful for? I encourage you all to make your own lists this year, as well. Get the kids involved! Get out the crayons and markers and coloring pads and WRITE IT: what are you grateful for?

Have a wonderful holiday,


Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Celebrating Life, and the beginning

Yesterday marked the 89th year of my grandmother's life. My grandmother is an incredible woman. An artist, a free-thinker, a soft-spoken lady and a trail-blazer all rolled into one. She is beautiful, inside and out and doesn't let any of us forget how many men used to line up around the block to take her out (it's true, too, I've checked with my mother).

In the late hours of the evening yesterday I called her. Just back from dinner with my aunt and cousin she was settled at home and we were both feeling contemplative. After a bit of chit chat about her day I cut to the chase.

"So tell me, birthday girl," I said, "what wisdom do you have for me?"

"I am loved, baby," she told me, "I love and I am loved."

Powerful stuff. We spoke a bit about life, about the importance of love and letting go. About how so little of life is about getting and holding onto the things you want (even love) and how much of it is about growth. How all of it is about growth. We spoke about the death of my grandfather and her resilience and amazing, inspiring ability to always challenge herself. To want to challenge herself.

She was curious about the new book I am working on and wanted to know if I needed any ideas (I love you, grams, but no) and we spoke a bit about childhood, about that magical time where somehow life congeals for the first time and a foundation is built from which to take flight. Which led to some reminiscing about my own childhood, about walks with her in our back woods and roadtrips to museums and park picnics.

One story she mentioned I found particularly illuminating and I wanted to share it here. She told me about how a friend of hers had taken her to a concert the other night. There was a pianist there and when she saw the pianist she was reminded of her childhood, of having to play the piano in school for gym class and being terribly, tragically embarrassed by it. She told me, in that moment at that concert, that she recalled one day before school stopping at a friend's house to borrow a bandage to put on her finger so she could pretend she was injured and wouldn't have to play. She was eight. "I am 89 years old," she told me, "and that is what I think of when I see a piano."

Why is it that we are drawn back to the beginning? I asked her the same question and she didn't miss a beat. "It is where we become," she said, "it is where we get set on the way to who we are." The formative years are so important. They set a tone for the rest of life. I can only hope, my beautiful grandmother, that I will walk an equally magnificent path.

With love,


Teaching Moments

On Friday I spent some time with a few lovely 5 and 8 year olds and my dear friend and colleague, Kate Tempesta. We did a Nurturing Narratives/ creative movement class and it was a ball. Kate is always a joy to work and be with and the children were no exception. A riot-y bunch, but lovely indeed.

We had a game-plan, sort of. We were going to read a story and then do some movement with it and then make a storybook around a concept connected with it. Simple enough. Wrong. The children were in high spirits and they were squirmy and squiggly and all of things teachers punish on time-out mats. Not us! Being the forward-thinking and holistic educators that we are (ho ho) we went with it, and you know what? It went well. More movement, more laughter, more free drawing, so what? Which brings me to what I really want to talk about today: the importance of teaching moments.

Teaching moments are those moments that you cannot plan for. You cannot schedule when a concept will be illuminated and when a child will provide you with an opportunity to help them learn. The only thing you can do is remain open and calm and be on the look-out. Children teach us the way they need to be taught. If we listen and stay present with them, they will show us all we need to know.

We finally got the children settled on the couch and I launched into, How I Learned Geography. You're rolling your eyes, right? I know, I am obsessed with that book and write about it way too often on this blog, apologies. We were about halfway through when one of the children, a five-year old beauty, looks at me, point-blank, and asks: "is this a nonfiction book?"

Say what? I kind of gaped at her for a moment or two and then explained that yes, actually, this is a nonfiction book and the author had written about something that happened to him a long time ago. All at once, the lesson clicked. A teaching moment. "You know what?" I said, "today I think we are going to make nonfiction books which means we are going to be the characters in our own stories." And we were off. Completely different plan from the original, (pick a person, place and thing to put in your story), but far more worthwhile. Not only did the children show me what they needed to learn, they showed me what they wanted to learn. By recognizing and paying attention to their curiosity, we had a wonderful and fruitful afternoon.

Stay present, stay calm, stay quiet. Even in the midst of the noisy monkeys and lions and bears running around the living room, maintain a sense of peace. When you do you open yourself to really teach children. What ends up happening, of course, is that they teach you.

Read away!


Thursday, November 12, 2009

Remembering why we love to read

Let's face it, we don't have a lot of time these days. Between work and meals and kids and the gym and trying to keep up with new episodes of Glee (yes, me) our days are pretty much packed. Where does reading come in? And why is it important?

At the end of the day turning on the television and disengaging sometimes sounds much more appealing than cracking the pages of that new novel. And if we do actually spend the time getting into a book who knows when the next opportunity to pick it back up will be? Even the best stories can be lost in the shuffle.

What's the harm? We live in a modern world. The children of this current planet might not even have books when they grow up. They very possibly might be able to press a button and internalize a story. And if not that, then certainly holding a book will be considered old-fashioned. Heck, even some libraries are getting rid of their shelves in favor of an online digital space.

I have often said on this blog how important it is for children to see you reading, how so much of what they learn regarding literacy is based on modeled behavior. What I want to argue today, however, is why it's important for YOU to read. Why, regardless of the effect it has on the children around you, it is important for your own well-being.

Reading is active entertainment while television is passive. There are skills we must use in reading that we don't have to when plunked down in front of the tube. We imagine, we synthesize and we decipher.

Our world is based on narrative. Storytelling is the oldest art form known to man. Our lives are built around story. So much of my program involves collapsing the space between child and writer to get them to understand that the things that happen to them in their lives are stories. That even the most mundane of activities has a narrative gem inside. When we read we strengthen our storytelling muscle. We remember a good tale and, just maybe, see the magic in our own lives a little more.

Reading requires we use our own imaginations. Fantasy is an important part of being human. Dreaming big and wide is a gift we have as human beings. One of the things I love about reading is how people can get such a varied experience out of the same book. I love that Hogwarts looks just a bit different in my head than it does in my friend's. I love that, despite the movies, when I pick up those books I still have images of Harry, Ron and Hermione in my head. I love that they are mine. No one sees these characters exactly as I do. When we read, we build the visual world to the words we see and what we create belongs to us alone.

Reading is relaxing. No noise, no neon colors. Quiet and peaceful. Who doesn't need that these days?

As the weather gets colder and winter creeps up on us, I encourage you to make the bookshelf the centerpiece of your home. Think about why you love to read. Remember the first book that got your hooked. Get back in touch with that narrative spark inside us all. Curl up with a hot chocolate, a nice blanket and a book. You will be doing yourself, and your children, a world of good.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Barefoot Books


I had dinner last winter with a woman named Nancy Traversy, CEO and founder of Barefoot Books. At the time Nurturing Narratives was just a pipe dream and I listened intently to Nancy talk about her company, her ambitions, and her hopes to spread love of literacy around the world. I was impressed, mostly because she had already done it!

For those of you who don't know, Barefoot Books is an independent publishing house that publishes children's books with an emphasis on community, conservation and connectedness. Perhaps the coolest thing about Barefoot Books is their ambassador program. Dedicated to creating an online community where people can dialogue about books, they have also created a program where people can turn that love into profit...right in their own homes. The ambassador program allows anyone to start selling Barefoot Books in your own community. You can set up a book fair, sell to neighbors and friends or simply advertise through a blog or website. If you don't want to become an ambassador I encourage you to follow the link above and join the Barefoot Book's community. I know all of us in the children's world love a good dialogue and I think you would enjoy the chit chat with Barefoot tremendously. I know I have.

Read away,


Sunday, November 8, 2009

Fairies for today

I wanted to share this article from today's New York Times. I love fairy books. That's a terrible generalization, isn't it? But it's true. I like them all and I read just about every one I can get my hands on. Fairies were a big part of my childhood. In fact, the first short story I ever wrote was about the fairies I believed were in my back yard. I think I was eight years old at the time.

Last year, during a memoir class, I revisited that fairy glen. I haven't made a habit of displaying my work on this blog and I don't think I will but today I thought I would make an exception. I hope you all enjoy the below and if you get a chance check out the website for The Night Fairy. Beautiful, isn't it?

There is a path that leads from one place to another. I know because I have been down it before. There was a time when I followed it everyday. I still do, now and again, but the path I use is a replica. The real one has been covered by cement and years. No one travels down it anymore. No one even knows it exists. Before, when it was visible, the path wound from my house down to the backyard. It is a small path, big enough only to walk single-file, if you are traveling with someone else. If you follow it directly the path delivers you to an old oak tree. Right to the base. When we used to wander down it the path’s existence was validation, proof that what we searched for really existed. There was no sense of cause an effect, no idea that our imaginations took flight because of where the path delivered. There was simply that lovely dirt path, the old oak tree and our illusive friends.

We walk on tiptoes through the snow, trying not to make any footprints as we go. “We don’t want anyone to find out,” Bethany says, as she did the first time we went. We are at the spot in about ten minutes. It might have taken us only three if we hadn’t been so worried about leaving tracks. The spot is an old oak tree right down the way from my house. The bark is peeled in places and there is a gash in the trunk that appears like a little open cabinet, the perfect place to store a hidden treasure. We drop down at its base, pulling off our scarves and setting them down.

I peek inside the cabinet.

“They aren’t home,” I tell Bethany, “should we wait?” She considers it and then nods her head.

“It’s cold out,” she says, “maybe they’ll come back soon.”

For about a year now the fairies have been our friends. We leave them presents in their home in the cabinet. We know they like chocolate and granola bars the best because they are always gone when we come back to check. They also keep the things we make them. We have laid down moss in the cabinet for a floor and we made them some furniture out of acorn shells and flower petals.

We never see them. It used to upset me that they didn't want to say hello but Bethany says they are shy and don’t really like people. Together we come here once a week to give them some gifts and see if they will show themselves. In the summertime we braid dandelion crowns from the grass and leave them strung around the tree like Christmas lights. We wait for about an hour each time depending on the weather. There are some days it rains, of course, and we have to go back inside.

Today we have brought two Thermos’ of hot chocolate that my mother made us and we hold them in our un-gloved hands to warm us up. I wish we could leave some for the fairies but we don’t have a cup that small. “Next time we should bring one,” I tell Bethany, and she agrees. We speak softly, there is something about the place that makes us feel we should whisper. Sometimes we tell stories about the fairies, where they have been and where they will go. There is one named Zelda who likes to travel to far away places. We suspect she is the one who likes the chocolate best.

It is cold and we go inside early today, taking care with our footprints on the way back as we did on the way there. When we get inside my mother asks us where we have been but we don’t answer. No one knows about the fairies. They are our secret.


My family moved from that house, the only one I had known, that coming summer. There is an entire photo album dedicated to our last day there. I made my parents take pictures of me next to every piece of furniture, in every nook and cranny. There is a photo of me kissing my bedroom door, one of me standing looking out of the kitchen window. There is a series of photos of me pointing to my favorite stairs, at least four taken around the dining room table. There are pictures on the porch, by the stream in the backyard. There is one of me with my favorite rose bush on our lawn and a rock I named “Barbara.” Yet nowhere is there a photo of my old oak tree and the cabinet fairy home. I know this is on purpose. I would never have revealed their hideaway, never have given the secret of their existence away. Yet still I wish I had something. A confirming glance of what my memory has worked so hard to hold onto all these years.

The day Bethany and I say goodbye we do it there, at the old oak. It is spring and we bring down a blanket to lie on at the tree’s base. Our pockets are stuffed with granola bars, cookies, and some chocolate for Zelda. We have just an hour before I have to be in the car. Bethany has told me that I shouldn’t worry, that she will still come over and take care of them even when I’m gone, but I cannot help feeling a little anxious, there is so much they rely on us for.

“I wish they would come,” I tell her, “I just want to see them before I go.”

We are lying on our backs looking up at the sky. It is blue today but there are more than a few clouds. I wonder if there are clouds in Hawaii. I have been there before but I cannot seem to remember. It is always so sunny.

“Shh,” Bethany says, putting her finger over my lips, “be quiet.”

We continue to lie with our eyes open and our mouths closed. Soon I hear my mother calling to come back up. It has started to rain, a light drizzle. I sit up and see her on the back porch, waving away the raindrops like they are nats.

“I don’t want to leave,” I tell Bethany, tears in my eyes.

“Me either,” she says, taking my little hand and putting it in hers.

“You will visit,” I tell her and she nods fiercely.

“All the time,” she says.

We embrace then, her soft blonde hair tickles my nose as we lay our heads on each other’s shoulder. If I could I would stay this way forever: on a blanket at the foot of our tree with my best friend in my arms.

“We should go,” I say, pulling away and wiping the back of my hand over my eyes, “my mom is waiting.”

We both sit up and Bethany gathers the blanket, scrunching it in a ball and tucking it underneath her arm. We start walking back up towards the house, our footsteps as heavy as our hearts.

“Wait,” Bethany says, spinning around, “stop.”

I freeze in my tracks, my heart racing.

“What?” I whisper.


It is difficult to make out above the slight patter of raindrops but I hear it too, the hum of wings in the distance. Our eyes widen as we look around, trying to place in what direction they are moving towards us.

“They’re coming,” Bethany says, “they’re coming to say goodbye!”

Sure enough a moment later they fly right by us. They move so fast we are only able to catch a glimpse. A colorful blur above our heads.

“It’s them!” I yell, delighted. They do not go into their cabinet but instead continue on, down past the tree and into the forest below. We stand in silence, our hearts pounding, our eyes wild.

“They are practicing,” Bethany says, turning towards me, a gigantic smile on her face.

“For what?” I ask.

“For the trip,” Bethany says, “so they can fly the long way to see you.”

We link arms and walk side by side up to the house, following the path as we go.

I often wondered when we moved whether the people who bought our house had any children, whether they ever took that path down to the oak tree and saw those fairies. As I grew older the question changed and I wondered what they discovered when they journeyed down, what made the tree special for whoever came after us. And, similarly, what had made it important for whoever came before.

Five years ago when my mother and I were visiting our family in Philadelphia we decided on a whim to make the journey down to our old house in New Hope. I hadn’t been back in eleven years. It is a very odd feeling when memory is tested. In my mind I knew those old roads too well, every curve and pothole, but as we drove down our street and driveway I saw that time had evolved the memory of those roads in a way the actual roads had not. They were the same as when I had left them yet they felt unfamiliar, not nearly as real as the ones I had been meandering down in my mind all these years. I sat in the car wondering if I would feel the same way about the path. Would it look the same as I recalled? Would it be smaller or bigger? And then: would it even lead to where I thought it did?

We stopped at our house and knocked on the door. No one was home. The house had been changed a great deal. An additional den had been added on and a garage stood where there used to be just gravel. My mother went strategically around the house, peeking in any window she could to get a better glimpse of what the interior had become. I, however, took off for that place, the one I hoped more than anything that my memory had stayed true to. I was so caught up in my excitement, imaging my feet on the path once more, my fingers on the bark, holding onto the ridiculous notion that there would be some mark of my past existence there, perhaps an acorn shell or a small ribbon, that I didn’t notice the pool until I had almost fallen inside. The entire backyard had been leveled and filled with cement. In the middle was a black-tiled swimming pool surrounded by white plastic beach chairs, round wooden tables and large, thick canvas umbrellas. The old oak tree had probably been knocked down and split. Perhaps used in the fireplace to keep the house warm or maybe even crafted into this furniture, the trunk with the cabinet now a leg of a table.

I stood there, staring inside at the dark water, trying to find my reflection. I wondered when this had happened, for how long my memory had been calling up a ghost. And then, just like that, I began to weep. There was no more path, no more tree. There was no more future or past, no possibility for the path to deliver someone else to something entirely different than what we experienced there or for me to re-experience the same. Worse still, there was no more Bethany. I didn’t even have the courage to call her on this trip back. I didn’t even know if she still lived there.

The owners came home a few minutes later. There was some confusion and then they understood. They recognized my mother from all those years before. They didn’t have any children, just a big, brown dog I heard the man call “Paul.” I turned around from the pool and watched them walk inside. The house was bigger, whiter, the backyard unrecognizable. In truth, I could have been anywhere. And then I had a thought. I remembered that seeing and believing never had any correlation at this place. We believed in those fairies long before we ever saw them. We knew their names, the color of their hair. We imagined them to be true and they were. Perhaps the path had never existed, perhaps it had never led from one place to another. Right next to that black tiled swimming pool standing on the cement I closed my eyes. I imagined I was wandering down that path to where the old oak tree still stood, the cabinet filled with moss and chocolate, waiting for the fairies to come home again.

When I open my eyes I see exactly that, and for me, it is real.