In about one month, the popular children’s educational television series “Sesame Street” will celebrate its 50th anniversary on the air. The program was conceived as a way to combine the addictive qualities of TV while preparing children for the rigors of school.
A 1996 survey found that 95% of all American preschoolers had watched the show by the time they were 3 years old, and in 2018, it was estimated that 86 million Americans had watched the series as children.
But there is a learning method that has just celebrated its 100th year — the Waldorf education program — established by Rudolf Steiner and Emil Molt in 1919. At the heart of the Waldorf system is the belief that people have the wisdom to transform themselves and the world, through spiritual development. The curriculum, instruction and teaching methods are designed to nurture this potential.
Maple Village Waldorf School, located at 4017 E. Sixth St., was started in 2008 in Long Beach by a group of parents who wanted a non-traditional school setting. After a year of research, they decided to have their students immerse themselves in the Waldorf approach. But after learning that the closest Waldorf school was in Orange County, they decided to get together and make their own school.
“Waldorf is very centered about the development of the child, especially in early childhood,” said Kari Rahni, the communications and outreach coordinator for Maple Village. “Play is the work. Waldorf does not push academics until first grade. Students learn language skills through stories and math skills through, for example, cutting vegetables or putting down place settings.”
Rahni said that classroom emphasis remains on the arts, nature and imagination. Students might spend time in “forest school,” raking leaves in the garden, or making sculptures from beeswax. They listen to stories, but do no formal reading or writing training. In most early-ed classrooms, technology is discouraged both at school and at home.
There are 125 Waldorf schools in the United States and more than 3,000 worldwide that offer pre-kindergarten programs through high school. Maple Village offers kindergarten through eighth grade. The school graduated its first eighth grade class two years ago.
“Our comfort ratio is 22 students per class, and this year, we have a class that combines sixth, seventh and eighth graders,” Rahni said.
To celebrate the centennial, the school will join other Waldorf schools by participating in a worldwide postcard exchange initiative to broaden the global perspective of students from more than 80 countries. Additionally, Maple Village will focus on the environment for its Waldorf 100 project. The school will partner with Algalita and join other Southern California Waldorf Schools as well as schools in Hawaii for a microplastics beach clean-up day on Nov. 2.
For more information about the school, go to the website at maplevillagewaldorf.org.