Hawthorne Valley Waldorf School was originally called the Rudolf Steiner Farm School. It was envisioned to be a community of students, teachers, craftspeople, artists, and farmers where children learned first through their hands. Children were becoming alienated from nature and the Farm School set out to create an antidote. Nothing could have been more prescient.
While Hawthorne Valley School grew and prospered along more traditional Waldorf lines, this original vision smoldered in many hearts. Kindled by a visit from Ruskin Mill’s 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 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?
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!
In our fourth year we taught 4 girls and 5 boys spread across two age groups. A second yurt was built to house our older students. Main lessons and some activities were separate while other activities were shared across both age groups.
We have now completed our fifth year with 11 students and entering the sixth year with 14. The big change for the upcoming year will be a new class of 2nd graders and the consequent need to build a new yurt. The older students will be building their own classroom in the autumn!
EARTH fulfills the needs of many children for a smaller, more grounded, and nature-centered schooling. We get more and more inquiries from around the world, wishing to learn from our example. We are thrilled to provide it!