Families wanting a good education for their children end up at Gaia Waldorf School for a variety of reasons. Reasons may be a knowledge of Waldorf schooling, wanting small classes and a nurturing atmosphere, living in the area, or a lack of fit with mainstream schooling. I did not know as much as other parents when our family started at the school in 2014, but the Open Days, the in-depth interview, the policy around learning, the commitment of the teachers, and the invitation to be part of a community had already made an impact.
How can one describe the journey of being part of the Gaia Waldorf School for 10 years? It may not be possible in this space! What I can say is that care and commitment to the children is central to learning – this education is held strongly by the teachers through the curriculum. You start to see what it means to teach the child at their phase of developmental needs. Gaia is situated is such a beautiful part of the city, where the land is still in harmony with nature, and holds a unique historical significance to the indigenous people of the Cape Town region. I will always remember parents waiting in their cars while horses, chickens and dogs make their way through the area of the school!
We are faced with a world that says knowledge must be taught early and quickly with technology, to get the skills to live successfully. The adoption of this belief has meant that the method of teaching, the introduction of technology and the experience of learning has become geared towards outcomes only – the space for uniqueness and developing the whole human being is very small. In Waldorf education, success in life is regarded differently: it is building and growing young people with capacity and adaptability, doing experiential learning with creativity and developing problem solving skills. The education is underpinned by the belief that the capacity to learn, is the capacity to do – through imitation, imagination and intellect.
Waldorf teachers have a unique mix of firmness and expansiveness, knowledge and experiences, seriousness and joy, that they apply to teaching and meeting children where they are. When entering Gaia Waldorf we were encouraged to be a circle of 3 – the child, the family and the teacher joined on this journey in the community. We found that there was a space at this small and growing school to contribute and make an impact in building the school. There are so many ways to do this: being open and communicating with the College of Teachers, being in a mandate group, volunteering in different forms, serving as a class link, or on the board.
Gaia Waldorf has nurtured an openness and commitment to families of all religions and beliefs, race, class, culture and nationality. This has been reflected in the editorials in newsletters, where teachers and parents were given an opportunity to share their reflections on their religion, practices and festivals throughout the year. This also gave rise to the Gaia Community cookbook and the reputation for the best food at school fairs, because the diversity of the community is reflected there!
In my experience through the Parent Forum which included the teachers, we discussed and gave input on making the Gaia Waldorf curriculum a living and changing one, locating it in its diverse community of religion and culture in the South African context. It has been amazing to see the school growing in this regard – in a country where inequality is growing, access to good education depends on the ability to pay for it. Gaia’s commitment to making the school accessible to children from different class backgrounds is commendable and should continue!
We have seen our oldest daughter Ocean through from Kindergarten to Class 7 at Gaia, and watched her and her classmates choose very different schools to attend for their high school education. While this change has not always been easy it has been good to see the kind of thinking that has come from adapting to the situation. Each year from Kindergarten to Class 7, has brought it’s unique learning and experiences for both the child and the family. It has often felt like the teacher helps us in parenting, and we help the teacher to teach, all in the interest of the child, the school and a better community. As a parent, I have learnt confidence in creativity and craft-making, and to communicate and collaborate with other parents and teachers in building the school. Sometimes there were tricky challenges but through patience, understanding and committing time – we worked together for creative solutions.
It is bittersweet to write this editorial as we watch our younger daughter Zahni finish Class 7 at Gaia Waldorf School. An elder after listening to the Grade 7’s input on their journey at the school, in 2012 said: “What well-rounded young people!”
Thank you to Gaia Waldorf School for nurturing the children with your commitment, care and collaboration, and doses of love. As strong as our young people are so are our families, and so can our communities be.