"To drive a vision forward you have to believe in the concept you are promoting." This was the first line in a recent blog that I stumbled upon, and it hit me like a ton of bricks. Nature to Nurture's blog post by Julie White resonated so much with what Mitch and I experienced with Waldweg. When we started our little Forest School four years ago, we had some core values that we held onto strongly. -That we would give space, and time, and freedom for the kids that came into our program. -That we would respect their own decisions on what they were or weren't ready for. -That we wouldn't interfere with their play. -That we wouldn't entertain them, and micromanage their discovery and interactions.
-That we'd never sacrifice pedagogy or our beliefs for profit. -That we'd always put the best interest of the children ahead of anyone else's (including the parents'). Wonder. Wander. Those two words became an unofficial motto for us. So much so that Mitch has them tattooed on his arm. In other words: Dream. Do. What the kids dream of in the forest, we want them to pursue and try to achieve.
We believed SO much in the concepts we were promoting (and still do). We wanted it so much for our boys and for other children in our area and worked our butts off to make it a possibility. We spent every Saturday for years out in the forest with some amazing children, who we now call our, Waldweg Family. "When we tell parents that they have had a great day, that they have just played with their friends, the words 'just played' seem so meaningless. It does not convey the intricate skills they are developing in their journey to becoming human and their journey to understanding themselves." White writes. Thankfully, the parents that have entrusted us with their children throughout the years, "get it". Play has been enough for these supportive families. But, it's a difficult thing to "sell" to people. Our programs, like those at Nature to Nurture, have been guided by the most influential theorists of our time Piaget, Vygotsky, Bruner, and Frobel. And more uniquely, we are guided by the philosophies of Steiner. Mitch and I have lost count of how many times people have contacted us to say, "We love your programs! We love everything you're doing! But, now I need you to change it to meet my needs/wants." Again, we valued the fact that we not put the parents desires ahead of the best interest of their children, and managed to offer quality, though limited, programs. I am proud of us for what we did.
Forest Schools in the Maritimes are becoming quite popular. "Forest School", as defined by Forest School Canada, is place-based... meaning that each one should be unique and different. It's not something that should be cookie-cutter, or franchised, or white washed across the board. Here in New Brunswick, the governmental regulating bodies have made expanding our programs without giving up on our core values and beliefs, nearly impossible. Study after study shows that you need a solid early childhood program in order to have a successful Waldorf School - which is what we want for Hawthorn Hill Academy. We have completely exhausted ourselves fighting the powers at be to bring our programs to what we dream them to be, and align them with what our Waldorf beliefs are. But, to take away risk and have safety features in place --like 6" of mulch or wood chips below any climbing or swing surface (below any tree or log), no hot beverages of any kind around the children, let alone knife and fire play (just to name a few), -- does a disservice to the children and our faith in their reasoning and decision making. And these are just a few of the many requirements we'd have to abide by in order to offer expanded early childhood programs within legislative rules. "To drive a vision forward you have to believe in the concept you are promoting." -- I don't believe in the concepts that the government promotes and it is hard to drive our vision forward with that disconnect. Outdoor learning is wonderful, it truly is, but I don't believe we should simply take the province's curriculum and assessments , and rigid safety policies outdoors with us. That goes against that value of "freedom" that we held so dear when we started Waldweg. Like White writes, "I believe that the forest is not an extension of the classroom, but a place where children immerse themselves and become interconnected within it. If children do not see it in its purest sense, then how will their own imaginations unfold within it? How do they learn to truly see it?"
Mitch and I continue to support the incredible, capable, people who we've entrusted our dream to by helping with training, consulting, for new teachers, and as acting board members. We are so thankful for a team of driven and nature-loving people who are willing to continue to fight the battle for providing alternative education to local children. In the Nature to Nurture blog, White writes, "Our sessions are designed to teach children one of the most fundamental life skills - how to be human." Sounds so incredibly simple, but it is such an amazingly profound privilege to help facilitate that. Our boys have pretty much "aged out" of the programs that are offered for forest school, and with 80 acres to explore and discover here at home they get forest school daily. As they grow, and as our life here at our little slice of heaven requires more of our attention, Mitch and I look back on our era as Forest School Teachers with fondness. That core value of "always putting the best interest of the children ahead of anyone else's (including the parents')" holds true for our children too. Right now, they need stability. They need freedom. They need space and time to be. The need to wonder. They need to wander. They need to dream and they need to do. So what's the point of this post? Well, I'm not sure, to be honest. I think it's just to share some of our journey with those of you who have been a part of things with us through the past few years, or who have followed along from a distance and are wondering, "What are those crazy Martins doing now?" and "Why so many delays with Hawthorn Hill?". I know many of you aren't forest school operators, and many of you will never have your kids in our Waldweg programs at Hawthorn Hill, but I do really encourage you to ask yourself what is your vision for your life. Do you believe in it? Are you brave enough to wonder and wander? To dream and do?