Saturday, May 19, 2012

We Waldorf

Last year as my eldest wound up the year at her pre-preschool we started to investigate options for the real start to her academic life. Here as in the US, parents begin the process - opining, researching, networking, interviewing - and eventually selecting the school that their child will most likely spend the next 15 years of their lives, ridiculously early. "School" doesn't start until kindergarden, what they call here "primaria" but most of the primarias also have a jardin/preschool. If your child doesn't start at the preschool stage (between 3 and 4), then there are very few spots left to get in. So, with that as the general backdrop, all the moms at our pre-preschool began talking about it. Anthropologically speaking, its a fascinating process. What kind of education you choose for your child says much more about you than them. Its often the first time a parent gets to outline their core values and then align them if possible with some educational system. A few went immediately to the Catholic private schools, wanting structure and discipline. Others wanted the snobby but well respected private school known for sending graduates on to college in the US and Europe. A few who had received "the best" education from private schools wanted to get their child into one of the best public schools. A few chose to add another language (learning English is a given) by sending their child to the French or Italian school. We chose Waldorf...and in March this year Valentina started preschool at the oldest Waldorf School in Argentina - in a quaint suburb called Florida 20 minutes north of the city. The school is called Colegio Steiner and was founded 80 years ago. There are about a dozen Waldorf schools in Argentina but most are in Buenos Aires. The one in the city has a so so reputation, mainly because the campus is a concrete jungle. The Steiner preschool where Valen attends in contrast is set in a big old home with an expansive garden in the back lined with enormous trees, wooden play structures, a sandbox and an organic vegetable garden. The classrooms are cozy welcoming spaces. Each nook filled with wooden toys, hand knit dolls and pastel walls. Walking through is as if one has stepped into the dream of a three year old - wispy fairies dangling from the ceilings, water color paintings decorating the walls of the spiral staircase and the smell of freshly made bread wafting in from the kitchen. The children are not allowed to wear clothes with "characters or words" Mickey Barbie Old Navy Elmo etc. The commercialization of childhood is kept outside the gate. On wednesdays the children bake whole grain bread for their snack. On fridays they prepare muesli with plain yogurt. Backpacks aren't allowed (impossible to find one here that isn't emblazoned with Barbie, Hello Kitty, Toy Story or Spider Man and that's it - really) so instead each child brings a hand sewn pastel colored cloth bag to carry their snack. They wear aprons for baking bread and preparing the cake for when its someone's birthday. You get the idea. Valentina is in heaven. She rushes me out of the house in the morning so she can get there and see all of her new friends - girls and boys aged 3-6 years old. Each class has a mix of ages so that the younger kids get mentoring from the big ones and the bigger ones get to feel important and know it all. So, what's next for the Alexander family? A new adventure in suburbia. I spend the weekday mornings searching Florida for a rental house with a yard and maybe even a pool for us to live close to the school. Yet another thing I thought I'd never do and here I am doing it....leaving the city for the burbs.