Letter from Occupational Therapist

I grew up in the Klein Karoo, in the small village of McGregor where I attended the McGregor Waldorf School from class 1 to class 7. My family then moved to Cape Town where I completed high school and matriculated at Constantia Waldorf School.
When I joined the Gaia community/school in August last year the first thing that came to mind was how much it reminded me of my early school years. Despite the fact that Gaia is positioned in the middle of Cape Town it feels very much as if you are out in the countryside or on a farm. Besides the obvious, the horses and chickens and the general rural feel of the school, it is the sense of community, the beauty of children from various cultures, family backgrounds and income groups, it is the people that make this school so special. Everyone is so welcoming and helpful, the teachers are genuinely caring and nurturing and every member of staff is considered to play an important role in the school.
Since I have been at Gaia I have spent time observing both the kindergarten and older classes and it is wonderful to see the different activities they are engaged in. This is truly a learning environment which stimulates all the senses that form the foundation of our development – weaving, knitting, sewing, moulding wax or clay, preparing food, exploring the gardens (and the joy of discovering an interesting plant or insect!) to name a few. And then there is play. The children are able to play as children should. It honestly warms my heart to see this, not only because it reminds me of my childhood but as an occupational therapist I am acutely aware of the importance of this as it is through play that children learn to make sense of the world. It is a critical component in stimulating development. Rudolf Steiner said:
“If a child has been able in his play to give up his whole living being to the world around him, he will be able, in the serious tasks of later life, to devote himself with confidence and power to the service of the world”.
While I know that these are some of the very reasons we choose Waldorf education for our children, being in this environment reminds me every day how important that choice is.
It was while studying Occupational Therapy at U.C.T that I realised how lucky I was to have attended a Waldorf School. From the beautiful & peaceful surroundings to school days filled with handwork, woodwork, music, pottery and games, all the different festivals, camps and plays.
The importance of not being spoon fed, of being encouraged to ask questions, to think for ourselves, to look at things differently and to stand up for ourselves. All of these stood me in good stead at university and for life in general. I wasn’t the most confident child but attending a Waldorf School changed that and has played a huge part in shaping the person I am today.

Caragh Chmielewski
Occupational Therapist