(This articles was first published in Sunstar Davao.)

The kids rush outside for their daily dose of outdoor play. Some climb on the wooden slides, others play in the sand, and still others grab their toy water cans and start watering the plants.

Outdoor activities form a large part of Steiner education. “Sometimes, we start the morning by letting the children hike through the fields and climb trees,” explains Kate. Steiner believed, as Piaget did, that the early stages of a child’s development (before age 7) depended largely on how he or she experiences the world. The educational approach then, needs to be sensory and experiential. Thus, they don’t only talk about trees, but they actually have to see them, touch them, feel them, and yes, climb them.

I snap a few more pictures, then it’s off to lunch with Maya, and we have a long conversation about what the school was all about and their teaching methodologies. Three things impressed me the most:

1. No grades – People who really know me know that I have no love for grades. They may have served a certain need in times past but it is high time the educational system moved past this pass/fail mentality. The freedom from grading students removes the atmosphere of competition among students (and even parents), allows the teacher to connect with the student on a deeper level, and frees the teacher to conduct activities that facilitate learning but are difficult to grade — e.g. observing insects, digging for worms, etc.
Teachers give a detailed evaluation of each student at the end of the year instead of just giving a card filled with numbers or letters.

2. Holistic/Thematic learning – Traditional schools teach several (usually unrelated) subjects in a day. There is little reinforcement that happens from one topic to the next. The Waldorf system revolves around what they call a “block method” with a main topic that spans several days or weeks. For example, the teacher may allocate a block of two weeks to study Medieval History. During those two weeks, all activities will be focused on Medieval History. They will decorate the room accordingly. They will play relevant music. They will discuss the language, poetry and other literature of that time. They may do drama, crafts, sports or anything related to the theme. One can easily see how this approach can better engage students than to have them sit still listening to 8 different, unrelated lectures every day.

3. Celebrations and Festivals – In line with the desire for holistic learning or educating the “head, heart and hands,” there is a special emphasis placed on celebrations and festivals — as these are believed to connect humanity with the rhythms of nature and the universe. Birthdays are meaningful celebrations. The teacher decorates the room in a special way and the moment the students step in, they know someone has a birthday and they become excited. The teacher then tells a story about the child, about how special he or she is. The story is customized to the child’s personality as the teachers weaves in details about his strengths, talents and gifts. The parents are also invited into the class to share stories and photos about their child. Now, isn’t that more meaningful than simply singing “Happy Birthday” and having spaghetti, fries and softdrinks from the nearby fastfood chain?

Tuburan is a Visayan word meaning “wellspring,” reflecting the school’s desire “to pave the way for a wellspring of independent, community-based schools in Mindanao offering a culturally transformative curriculum and pedagogy.” But I see it as more than that. I see it as a dream of two courageous souls who truly want to make an impact in the community. Tuburan is not just a school, it is a wellspring of love, joy and hope for our children, and their children as well.

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

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