September 19, 2013

How My Children's School Greened Me

Welcome to the September 2013
Natural Living Blog Carnival: Extending Natural Living to the Classroom.

This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Natural Living Blog Carnival hosted by Happy Mothering and The Pistachio Project through the Green Moms Network. This month, our members are talking about how they extend their family's natural lifestyle to their child's school. Hop around to each post to get some tips and share your own!


Confession time: I never did much toward greening my children's school. On the contrary, it greened me.

Oh, I had taken the first baby steps: I worked very hard to have a natural childbirth, fed my babies organic food, gave them very few toys but plenty of time for outside play, kept television outside the house, that sort of thing. I put my toddlers in bike seats, but because it was fun; I never thought of carbon emissions.

It turns out I accidentally kept a chemically "clean" house. But it was only because I was (still am) lousy at housekeeping and needed to keep things simple, so I kept one bottle of soap that I used to clean everything. Air fresheners were beyond me. I did recycle. Then again, I used whatever shampoo was on sale; never heard of parabens.

So I did my best, but looking back, it's clear to me I really didn't know pip-squeak about green or natural living.

Then ViolaPlayer went to school.
(Okay, we started in a Parent-Child class, so nobody was thinking about violas then). It was then that our green journey really accelerated. More than that, rather than feeling that we were sending our child out into the world of school, we felt that we were coming home.

In the school's Nursery and Kindergarten, toys are made of wood polished in beeswax, or otherwise of cotton or wool, often made by the teachers. Nature has an important place, in their stories and their daily routine. The children play outside every day, unless there is absolutely pouring rain, or biting wind. Their snacks are made with organic ingredients. Rhythm pervades the routine in daily, weekly, and seasonal cycles.

From the beginning, the children are shown that you don't need a large amount of stuff to do your thing. For instance, for drawing they start with just three crayons: red, yellow and blue, chunky and easy to hold for small hands. However, those crayons are artist quality: soft to apply, with intense pigments, and beeswax-based so if you decide to stick it into your mouth that's okay.

At parent meetings the teacher takes the opportunity to fill you in on child development, and to stress the importance of enough sleep and healthy meals served at regular times. Teachers give tips on how to clothe your child so that s/he can play outside in all weathers. And it was a teacher who told me about the organic CSA farm that still provides vegetables to our family.

This continues in the grade school. Children start bringing their snack and lunch to school, and it is the teacher who asks the parents to please go light on the sugary snacks. One really nice thing is that through the school most parents are on the same page, so when my children go play at a friend's house I can be pretty sure that the friend's mom serves healthy snacks similar to mine. I mean, when it's apple season, apples is what we've got. We probably got them by picking them at the local orchard farm together.

Over the years, I have found out more, for instance that the school's cleaners use natural cleaning materials without toxic ingredients. I watched the roof on the main building get upgraded to a copper one, and a "green" roof, planted with succulents, installed over the entranceway. The school-wide composting program has been there from the beginning.

Seriously, this school had sustainability written all over its curriculum before the word "sustainable" got into fashion. So when I proposed that the school look into installing a windmill, the administration was on board immediately. Unfortunately, after I had done a year's worth of wind measurements I had to come to the conclusion there wasn't enough wind on the school's property to make it viable. I'll try solar next.

The practical skills the students learn, like woodworking (for boys and girls), sewing and knitting (for boys and girls) will serve them well when they need to fix or re-purpose things rather than buying new.

Then there's the gardening curriculum. The school has an awesome garden, not just organic but biodynamic, tended mostly by the students under the energetic instruction of their gardening teacher. They harvest from it the flowers they planted, vegetables for a soup or a pizza, herbs for tea, broom corn for making their own brooms. Both my children are now vastly better gardeners than I am. When I gave them a patch of their own, those turned into the best pieces of our yard. While my patch is a riot of weeds.

In Seventh Grade there is a block on food and nutrition, which culminates in the students making a schoolday lunch for a friend. What a party that must have been! You get used to the sweet life, and many of these lessons stick for a long time. On the first day that ViolaPlayer went to high school, I packed a lunch but offered that I wouldn't mind paying for lunch from the school cafeteria, say, once or twice a week. I figured there might be some peer pressure. But ViolaPlayer came home that day and asked for a home-made lunch every day: "There's a lot of junk food in that cafeteria." It was one of those "Whoa!" moments of "What did I do right?" -- But of course, it wasn't just my doing: all those years at the Waldorf School had left their impression.

ViolaPlayer walks to the local high school now, but CelloPlayer still needs a ride since, like many Waldorf Schools, ours is just outside of town. It's only 3 miles from our house, but the road to school is windy and narrow. The Chinese teacher used to bike it, until a parent started to give him rides; it would be awful to lose a teacher to a road accident.

However, I don't do the drive twice a day. We are fortunate to be neighbours with several families whose children go to the same school. Even though it's only three miles, we still share the ride: every little bit helps, right? At the height of our commuting deal there were seven children from four families involved, and all the parents had posted in our kitchens a commute schedule that resembled the departure/arrival timesheet of a small train station.

It saves a lot of gas. It saves the moms/dads a lot of time. And I can't tell you how many times my friends have bailed me out and gotten our children home when for some reason I couldn't make it to school on time for the pickup.

Besides, children on the backseat invariably forget that the driver has ears, so I get a clear, unfiltered glimpse into their school day from listening to their conversation.

And still, throughout the grade school (1-8), they go outside at every recess. I've seen them play a game of kickball in pouring rain - led by the Sports & Games teacher, whose rain coat was dripping wet like all his students' coats. The school doesn't have a "gym": it considers its grounds a 20-acre Sports & Games facility (it does have tennis / basketball courts, both outdoors.

The school requires no computers or even calculators, but good outdoor clothing is essential. In my family, we buy our children toys on only two occasions: Christmas, and their birthday. In contrast, I don't hold back on outdoor gear. Because outdoors is where I want them to be, as often and as long as they want. As a matter of fact, I have my own set of "technical" gear: insulated, waterproof, etc. - so I can be out there with them.

Even so, I've got my limits. One day, I grumbled because cold rain was forecast for an all-day outdoor class trip on which I was to be a chaperone. CelloDad remarked,

"You're a Waldorf mom: you don't mind getting wet." There's loyalty for you. All I could say was,

"Yes, I'm a Waldorf mom. That means that I don't mind if my children get wet."

(I put on my woolies and waterproofs and went on that trip. It drizzled all day. I had a great time).




Visit Happy Mothering and The Pistachio Project to learn more about participating in next month’s Natural Living Blog Carnival!
Please take some time to enjoy the posts our other carnival participants have contributed:


  1. Thank you for the post! I'm envious of the school you have there, it sounds amazing! We do a lot of 'green' things in our family, but I would be just like you in the gardening department... I would love it if my kids were taught how to grow a garden and could show me!

    1. There are about 150 Waldorf schools in the US, and many Waldorf-inspired schools. Who knows, maybe there is one near where you live. How to find them: http://www.whywaldorfworks.org/02_W_Education/faq_finding.asp

  2. How cool! What an amazing school. My daughter's school is a no sugar zone, which I love! :)

    1. A no-sugar zone is huge: so nice that your daughter has that. Perhaps you could use it as a stepping stone to a more green & healthy school?

  3. What a wonderful place for learning and developing a love for nature! I found a Montessori school on the edge of town that operates on a lot of the same principles. I'm planning for my girls to attend in a couple of years.

  4. Wow! That sounds amazing. If we didn't homeschool, I'd totally be looking into Waldorf!

  5. That sounds like an amazing school! I love our little private school, but wow - pure awesomeness! So great that you found such an awesome school

  6. How lucky you are to have ended up at such a great school on purpose or not! This school sounds amazing!

  7. Your school is from a dream! I have kind of the opposite problem: the school is so "mainstream" (for lack of a better word) that my daughter questions my methods at home. Ugh!

  8. Thanks for stopping by everyone! We feel fortunate indeed to have found this school for our children, and have it so close by. Some families travel an hour each way every day - I'm not sure CelloMom should approve of that driving - but it certainly is proof of dedication!


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