Mothering & Nature


With Mother's Day approaching, I wanted to introduce myself as a mother to you. While reading over S&P, I realized there is so little about my identity as a mother. That said, this isn’t a story to convince or persuade, but to openly share my experience, my opinions, and my journey.

Context: My education background


I went to private schools from 4-12 grade. From age 0 to 3rd grade, I went to incredibly diverse creative schools and a paideia. When moving to fourth grade, my parents debated between a performing arts school (my dream) and a private Episcopal school. The private school won. Later, I went to an all-girl high school - diversity less than 5% at the time. Currently, it’s 90% white. I went to college - where I studied English/journalism (print) and Political Science emphasis in International Studies. I graduated and taught in a public school in NYC as a Teach For America corps member. The teaching program doubled as a Master's in Education program. I have been in the Education field for 13 years now, but working with children since I was 13 years old (babysitter, nanny, lifeguard, summer school counselor, etc.). Post-college, I’ve worked as an English teacher (seventh and eighth grade) in a public school, a special education teacher in a charter school, an Arts & Crafts teacher at a senior citizen home, homeschool teacher, and at an Education nonprofit.

My sons' educational background: 
My oldest son has had a mash-up of homeschool, traditional school, private school, and Waldorf School. My baby's experience is primarily home care, but he’s also had permaculture education and Waldorf care. 

Next year, I am most likely homeschooling (at least partially), Waldorfish-style, both my sweet boys.

Pedagogy & Philosophy time:

My style of teaching is close to a Waldorf-style or the philosophy laid out by Rudolph Steiner. I have been dealing with Waldorf Education for the last four years or so - thanks to my cousin, Mia. As a DOPE mama and (a crazy cool) human, when Mia started raving about her son’s school, my ears perked up. It was this international, magical land that allowed her little boy to be a child - no tests, no forced learning, and tons of outdoor time. I was hooked, and so when Neiko was three, we went to see what it was all about. Now, hear me - there are some differences, which is why I am “Waldorf-ish” and why my Love, Mike, is “Waldorf-less.” Let’s just say, if Kenneth Chenault, the former beloved (and longstanding) CEO of American Express, was not a Waldorf graduate - we may not be having this conversation. Mr. Chenault, coupled with the fact that our school "lead" is a black woman that sent her two (very successful) sons to the school (k-12), helped ease Mike's tensions (a bit). I will delve into the differences in a later article or video. But as a whole, the Waldorf style and pedagogy align with my educational beliefs, our desire for our boys to embrace their individuality, our family model, and our boys’ personalities.

The many reasons why I am Waldorf-leaning:


  1. The emphasis on play-based learning. 

  2. The respect and protection of childhood 

  3. The empowerment of the child’s imagination - let them play, wonder, and wander uninterrupted 

  4. All-weather philosophy - children go outside regardless of the weather. 

  5. The strict adherence to daily routine/rhythm - the consistency reminds me of my childhood.

  6. The idea of catering to the child vs. governmental/ state standards 

  7. Love, admiration, and active care for the environment. 

  8. The nourishment and communal focus. 

  9. The children set the table beautifully with nature and eat simple snacks (apple slices, pieces of cheese, grapes)

  10. They make bread and eat it with fresh butter, at least once a week.

  11. Each family brings in weekly vegetables, and they grate and create a vegetable soup with friends. 

  12. They discussed healthy eating habits along with communal table manners (everyone shared in conversation).  

  13. The teacher as the model - the teacher stands as a model for their students - providing calm loving authority.

  14. “No” is not a bad word; it expresses “this is a boundary.” But only saying “no” when it’s an absolute “no” - not a maybe, or I will change my mind later, or sometimes yes/no. Being intentional about saying “no.” 

  15. Imitation is the most powerful tool as adults, not always our voice. So being mindful about speaking too much and “showing” too little. Who we are is much more important than what we say. 

  16. Consistent story-telling and reliance on oral tradition - students learn from the fairy tales, fictional stories that are made- up by the teachers and their peers, and non-fictional stories of others’ lives 

  17. The teacher develops a close and longtime relationship with students - teachers follow their class from 1-8 grade in some Waldorf classrooms. 

  18. The “head, heart, and hands” pedagogy is a multidisciplinary teaching that focuses on the mind (academics), the body (constant movement/kinetic learning), and the passion (art/music). 

  19. Art, nature, and movement are wholly incorporated into each lesson. They are just as important as the “core” subjects

  20. Students create their own learning materials - students don’t have textbooks (until potentially the sixth grade). 

  21. There aren't report cards. We have time with the teacher. In our meetings, we sit in a room decorated with nature (no plastic, bright colors, or pop culture inference, only wood, and natural fabrics/fibers). There is typically a lit candle. A little cup of tea or water. We have artwork from our child. And we talk about our child’s movement development, nourishment, and passions (i.e. he really enjoyed the story of such-and-such). It was an in-depth, cozy, and lively conversation about our child - where we can give advice and receive it. 

Again, there will be a follow-up article to discuss my entire pedagogy and where we stray from the Waldorf philosophy and why. But thought it was critical to introduce myself as an educator as well as a mother, environment-lover, a slow-living advocate, and a protector of childhood. Most of the information that I have on Waldorf is from my own experience, but I will happily send you resources if you’re interested. I am also incredibly open to talking about it all: just email or DM me. 

Polepole, friends! 

Shelby 

A parting gift:

”My parents were looking for a school that would nurture the whole person. They also felt that the Waldorf school would be a far more open environment for African Americans, and that was focused on educating students with values, as well as the academic tools necessary to be constructive and contributing human beings. I think the end result of Waldorf education is to raise our consciousness. There is a heightened consciousness of what our senses bring us from the world around us, about our feelings, about the way we relate to other people. It taught me how to think for myself, to be responsible for my decisions. Second, it made me a good listener, sensitive to the needs of others. And third, it helped establish meaningful beliefs. In all the Main Block lessons — in history, science, philosophy — we really probed the importance of values and beliefs. In dealing with a lot of complex issues and a lot of stress, if that isn’t balanced by a core of meaningful beliefs, you really will just be consumed and fail.” - Kenneth Chenault, former American Express