(This article was published in Sunstar Davao.)

I began the day with an air of anticipation last Tuesday. I was going to visit and observe a Waldorf school called Tuburan Institute in Indangan, Davao City. I have heard about Waldorf schools when I was still based in Manila and I knew that tuition there costs a small fortune. So when I heard about Tuburan and its mission of making this kind of education accessible to the community level, I was naturally intrigued.

The Waldorf system was developed by Rudolf Steiner, an Austrian philosopher and educator who started his first school in 1919 in Stuttgart, Germany. It is called “Waldorf” since the first school was set up to educate the children of the employees of the Waldorf-Astoria Cigarette Company. One can refer to the schools interchangeably as either a Waldorf school or a Steiner school, or even a Waldorf/Steiner school. At present there are over a thousand Steiner schools spread out in around 60 different countries.

I learned about Tuburan when I got an email from one of the co-founders of the school, Maya Vandenbroeck, who had read a previous article I wrote about education and she invited me to visit this very young school so I could see what it was all about. I arrived a few minutes before class started, and chatted with a couple of teachers, co-founder Kate Estember and Nalini Libera. Kate told me that the Steiner approach was all about rhythm and balance. Education was not just about head knowledge, as is the case in most traditional schools, but also about the heart and the hands. A lot of emphasis goes to feeling and sensing. While we were talking, Nalini was quietly slicing and arranging slices of guava and rambutan in small bowls.

“We start the day by eating together,” said Kate. “This is part of the educational process. Kids eat a lot of artificial ingredients nowadays. We teach them to appreciate the natural taste of fruits. The different colors also stimulate them.”

The kids arrive and Kate sits just outside the door as they form in line in front of her. She gives a warm smile to the first child in line and says “Maayong buntag.” Then she takes out a bottle of Citronella (a natural mosquito repellant) and starts applying them on the arms, legs and neck of each pupil. I observe that she does this task with much affection. It was not just a matter of applying the repellant, but also a way to connect with the pupils through her loving touch.

Once everyone had gone inside, they sat around the tables prepared with fruit. Kate holds the children’s hands and they sing a short song of thanks for the food. Then they begin eating and talking.

“This rambutan is sweet,” says one.

“This guava tastes good. But my favorite fruit is durian,” says another.

After the meal, the kids put their plates in the wash area and go to the play area where there is a shelf of mostly wooden toys. A third teacher, Vivi San Pascual, has arrived and assists some of the kids in laying the mats and giving them toys from the higher shelves. Some kids stay at the tables which have now been transformed into drawing tables, with large sheets of paper and crayons.

The teachers assist the kids when needed but they are mainly left to their devices. They play with whomever they want with whatever toys they want. They draw whatever they want. If there are conflicts between the kids, the teachers are content to let them resolve it by themselves and only intervene when there is a threat to safety. This is part of the educational process, letting children learn to express themselves, build communication and negotiation skills, be comfortable in their own skin and have a better sense of who they are.

In Tuburan,” explains Kate, “We learn to take time. We don’t pressure the kids. We let them experience and learn things on their own.” I observed the teachers resolving conflicts not by raising their voices or using harsh words, but always with a soothing voice — so gentle it could almost be a love song.

(Click on a photo to view a larger version.)

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