Five kindergarten principals from Japan visited RSCT this week. They could not have been lovelier or more interested in the work we are doing here to bring spirit into education. As fate would have it, they visited a cutting edge plugged-in kindergarten directly before coming to us. In the morning they went to a school that features "smart boards" and lap tops for each child and in the afternoon they came to the Toronto Waldorf School where we use all natural materials and traditional crafts to help awaken the children’s innate abilities.
After offering the principals, their delightful translator and the president of the Kobe Shinwa Women’s' University a brief introduction into the ideals and practices in Waldorf schools, I led them into two of the early childhood spaces and let these well loved rooms speak for themselves. They were delighted by the nursery and kindergarten classrooms and gardens, the beautiful decorations, the lack of clutter, the emphasis on natural and seasonal motifs. They climbed right into the children’s play loft and carefully inspected all the wooden and felted toys. They were so eager to engage.
We then sat in a circle on the floor, shared our observations and questions. They were such keen observers and noticed how the specially painted walls of the classroom contributed to the calm wholesome mood of the rooms. I told them that I wanted to introduce them to two friends of mine. I brought out two Waldorf dolls that my wife, Luciana had made. We passed them around. They enjoyed holding these healthy rounded forms. They lovingly cradled them and gently squeezed their firm fleshiness. One principal even discovered that the dolls had real nappies beneath their garments. We observed how different their reactions were to these Waldorf dolls than they might have been to typical Barbie dolls, who do not invite cuddling in any fashion, but rather inspire one to grab them by their long hair, cave man style. One of the women who was a psychologist noted how wonderful these Waldorf dolls are for young girls so that they can form healthy images of their female bodies - so unlike Barbie...
Somehow one of the dolls made its way back to me and lay comfortably resting on my lap for the rest of my talk. The other found herself well cuddled in the translator's arms. And so the four of us, lecturer, translator and two well loved dolls proceeded to lead the rest of the talk with our foreign dignitaries. At one point the university president broke into laughter, pointing everyone's attention to the doll that was cosily resting in the lecturers lap. “Where else," he exclaimed, "would you see a lecturer comfortably talking with a doll on his lap!" We laughed. This scene must have been inspired by the nurturing mood of the kindergarten space itself.
We then offered the principals some twice-blessed, organic sourdough bread that I had baked specially for them. I taught them a blessing which we sang together just as the children do at school. They them presented us with lovely gifts from Japan. It was such a warm and heat-filled exchange. In the end two of the principals said to me that the contrast between the two schools they had visited could not have been stronger. They wondered how schools could become so cruel to the children they are supposed to be serving. This was difficult for all of us to understand. Many of these principals have been in education long enough to see the unfortunate trajectory of modern education towards earlier and earlier academics with less time for play and nature. Clearly this does not sit well in their hearts. They were so grateful for their visit to the Waldorf school, which reminded them of many of the ideals that led to their going into education in the first place.