While Hawthorne Valley School grew and prospered along more traditional Waldorf lines, this original vision smoldered in many hearts. Kindled by a visit from Aonghus Gordon in 2010, 35 community members began a study of Karl Ege’s An Evident Need of Our Time. Out of the study, a place-based learning group was formed and from this, a founding team of Rachel Schneider, Indigo Ocean and Stu Summer began to nurture EARTH.
The formative image of “enclosure” shaped our developing initiative. How do we create a safe “nest” that supports a child as they meet their own challenges? How can nature herself guide and strengthen the children’s efforts? How can we draw the children’s learning directly from their experiences?
During the summer of 2013 this search for “enclosure” was very palpable. Where would EARTH find its nest? Our faith was strong, but one possibility after another drifted out of reach. Then, two weeks before school started, someone said, “Why don’t you use the new yurt?” “What new yurt?!?” And there it was, a beautiful new yurt 10 minutes walk into the woods. This hidden gem became our second home, a perfect retreat. Within and around it’s protective walls, we gained carpentry skills, self-reliance, and learned the cutting, splitting and heating qualities of the different trees of the forest.
Four students joined the EARTH program’s inaugural year: a third grader, two fourth graders and a sixth grader. They worked together as a team each day after main lesson at HVS. Woven in with gardening, cooking and animal care, highlights included blacksmithing, hide tanning and studying and traversing our local creek from source to sea. In EARTH’s second year, with two additional students, we added main lesson, movement, woodcutting and horse care for all of the students, while individualizing each child’s academic learning. Highlights of year two were building an impressive bridge across a local creek, bronze casting and blazing a trail for local walkers.
Our third year brought lengthened main lessons and deeply integrated practical activities that strengthened and enriched our academic and creative work. Agricultural practices of the Pilgrims and Native Americans accompanied our gardening work. Johnny Appleseed’s biography and nursery craft informed our apple block. Odysseus and his crew wandered alongside our map and compass block. Half of our students were with us for the whole school day while half attended main lesson in their respective classes at Hawthorne Valley Waldorf School and then joined EARTH for the rest of the day. And, a major wish was at last fulfilled when our first two girls joined the program!
We are now in our fourth year, with 9 students, 4 girls and 5 boys, spread across two age groups. A second yurt was built this August to house our older students. Main lessons and some activities are separate while other activities are shared across both age groups. We plan to expand our middle school program. It is clear that EARTH fulfills the needs of many children for a smaller, more grounded, and nature-centered schooling We are thrilled to provide it!