Alabama Waldorf School Founder Returns To Teaching Roots

This fall, Alabama Waldorf School’s award-winning Parent-Toddler Program, Morning Garden, welcomes school founder Sheila Rubin as she takes up the teaching of a second session of parent-toddler classes. Ms. Rubin will lead a 10-week session on Tuesdays, beginning September 9th and ending November 18th, from 8:30-10am. 

Ms. Rubin is excited to come back to her early childhood education roots, having established the school (then known as The Redmont School in the Waldorf Tradition) in 1987. In 2000, Ms. Rubin began teaching a class of 1st graders and subsequently “looped up” with them from year to year until their graduation in 2008. Ms. Rubin then left her position as a Grades Teacher and focused on mentoring other Waldorf teachers, as well as taking care of her grandchildren. She has enjoyed attending Linden Waldorf School’s Morning Garden program as a grandparent with her own grandchild.

It is with this wonderful combination of skills of teaching, mentoring, and parenting that Ms. Rubin joins long-time preschool teacher Holly Thompson in the Morning Garden program. Ms. Holly will lead the Thursday Morning Garden classes, also a 10-week session, beginning on September 18th and ending on November 20th, from 9-10:30am.

Both sessions will welcome parents and their young children (2 1/2 and under is recommended) for songs, poems, playtime in the Waldorf nursery classroom and playground, along with time for conversing about parenting and Waldorf philosophy. As a general guideline, Alabama Waldorf School’s early childhood education programs adopt many of the same practices in Kim John Payne’s Simplicity Parenting book.

The cost of the 10-week session is $100. Email Rachel Baay at or call 205-592-0541 to register.Morning Garden sandbox

AWS Art & News

During a winter Language Arts Block, 7th & 8th graders worked with a play called “The Player’s Children” by Scott Embrey-Stine. One of the artistic assignments accompanying the vocabulary work resulted in students painting a “fen,” that is, a type of wetland that is low and usually floods. Below are a few beautiful examples of their work. Waldorf students learn a wet-on-wet watercolor technique beginning in preschool.



It’s that time of year again — it’s time for the Waldorf Olympics! This year’s Southeast Regional Pentathlon is being hosted by Alabama Waldorf School at the Girl Scout Camp in Chelsea, Alabama. Our own 5th grader, Geneva Avery, designed this year’s t-shirt which students from Waldorf schools in Atlanta, Kentucky, Nashville, and Florida will don during the three-day event. For more on this favorite Waldorf rite of passage, check out past issues of our monthly newsletter, the AWS Awareness (May 2013, May 2011June 2010 in the “Administrator Ad Lib” article, and our blog).



On April 3rd, AWS 8th graders presented their 8th Grade Projects, another rite of passage for Waldorf students in established Waldorf schools. Our 8th graders did a tremendous job on their oral presentations and visual aides.

Many parents who attended commented on how comfortable and knowledgeable the students were about their chosen topics, indicating not only that the students did a thorough job of researching and gathering information, but that AWS 8th graders are already well prepared for public speaking.

The photos below show an array of topics – from left to right: The Fender Bass, The Human Face and How Expression Serves as a Communication Tool, and Islam. Other topics not pictured: The Beatles, Small Business and Advertising, The Guitar, and Interior Design.

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Poetry as a Matter of Course

Poetry shows up in Waldorf classrooms in a variety of ways. Morning Circle in the younger grades and preschool includes poetic verses that the students sing and/or speak with accompanying movements. Throughout the grades, morning warmups include poems and verses that the students memorize and recite from authors that span the course of history, from Shakespeare and Galileo, to Kipling and Shelley and Wordsworth, and even some Silverstein and Carroll.

In Waldorf schools poetry is used for learning and curative purposes. Report verses, or birthday verses, as they are
sometimes called, are often written or adapted by the class teacher for the students to read or recite once a week during the school year, or over the summer. I did this as a class teacher and saw positive results from many students. Those who needed extra attention were served by reading something created with their challenges and temperament in mind. Knowing that the verses were written for them, the children also had a model of thoughtfulness and striving to imitate in their own writing work.

Not every child will be a poet, but that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t expose them to Great poetry. In this

natalie at desk jo si isaac article, Five Reasons Why We Need Poetry in Schools, the author writes, “poetry promotes literacy, builds community, and fosters emotional resilience.” In Waldorf schools, poetry is part of the daily rhythm. It is used to enrich a history lesson, brighten a math concept, and illuminate one’s understanding of grammar. It is highlighted during the Creative Writing block in the middle school, when it can do much good for the pre-adolescent wrestling with the sometimes destabilizing effects of puberty.

Alabama Waldorf School’s community is grateful for a tried-and-true curriculum that incorporates poetry and all of the arts into daily lessons. One of the benefits of a Waldorf curriculum is that the state doesn’t get to decide which programs to cut and how best a child learns.  We’re glad to let child development and a social education take the reins on that.

“Grit” as a Measure of Success

This morning on my way to work I heard a story on NPR about measuring a student’s future success by how much “grit” they have (Does Teaching Kids to Get ‘Gritty’ Help Them Get Ahead?)

This “grit” or determination or passion to pursue something against all odds, is a better predictor of a child’s success, some researchers are now arguing, than IQ or G.P.A. scores. One of the questions the article poses is, “Can grit be taught?”

In Waldorf schools, instead of using the word grit, we use “will power” or just plain “Will.” Will isn’t something that you teach so much as it’s something you design a curriculum around. Will is a capacity the children learn when they do any number of activities, from something as simple as waiting his/her turn at the snack table to completing a knitting project. We adults tap into our will power when it comes to doing things we don’t want to do. It gets easier when we’ve practiced those things, however, and built them into a rhythm we enjoy. Working out at the end of a long day, for example, gets easier once you’ve done it several days in a row and it just becomes “what you do after work.”

The more opportunities you have to exercise your grit – to not quit when the going gets tough – the more powerful that muscle becomes.

In the NPR story, schools employing the “grit is important” philosophy are emphasizing with students that “mistakes and failures are normal parts of learning — not reasons to quit.”

ella knitting

In Waldorf schools, students learn to knit beginning in the 1st grade. As a 1st grade teacher, a huge benefit I witnessed first-hand was that students had to practice patience when learning this skill. Many of them learned that casting on was something they had to learn and re-learn before really “getting it.” When some were reduced to tears of frustration learning how to purl, their teacher was there to encourage them to keep going, and to praise them when they made it to the end of the class – whether they finished that row or not. When learning “grit,” what matters is the process, not the product. Sometimes whole rows of knitting needed to be taken out; sometimes stitches could be fixed without taking out work that had been done. After months of classes, though, by the end of the school year, every student had completed a knitted ball. The confidence this imbued in them was measurable in the joy in each of their faces, boys and girls alike. Nobody received a grade and yet everyone knew they were successful. As the students aged, for some, Handwork became a passion. Others still preferred Movement & Games class to Handwork.

Some grit skeptics argue that unless there is passion present in the child for a certain activity, s/he won’t practice grit when the going gets tough. “Being gritty and able to tolerate failure also enables kids to develop and pursue a passion.”

What Waldorf education is concerned about in the preschool through elementary school ages is that a child develops his/her Will – in this way, they have the capacity built and ready when they come by their passion. In Waldorf Schools, the will element is part of every lesson, just as the “thinking” and “feeling” components are a part of every lesson. Will exists in the making of textbooks that each student engages in. It exists in the stomping and clapping and recitation (all simultaneous!) of the times tables. It is practiced during 4th grade violin class.

But the will is not a virtue in and of itself. It alone, according to Waldorf philosophy, is not an indicator of success, just like G.P.A. and IQ scores are not. It must be balanced by the capacity to think critically, the concern for one’s actions, and the creativity needed for problem-solving. It is in the meshing of the head, heart, and hands that one becomes a well-rounded young person ready to try, to fail, to learn, and, finally, to succeed.

Breaking the Cycle of Bullying – FREE LECTURE this Friday

ImageThis weekend Alabama Waldorf School will host author Kim John Payne for a lecture and workshop on anti-bullying techniques. 

Waldorf schools distinguish themselves from other educational philosophies because they have a social focus. This begins in the preschool through its play-based curriculum and emphasis on teaching children conflict resolution by “using your words” and the teacher modeling the correct behavior for the child to emulate. This practice continues through the grades when both the curriculum and the classroom atmosphere meet the child/pre-teen/adolescent in a developmentally appropriate way.

This weekend’s presentation comes at a time when bullying has become an important issue in the headlines and in schools and communities. 

For more on Kim John Payne, click here.

To register for the Saturday, 2/22 workshop, email Cost is $40. Time is 9am-1pm.

The Friday, 2/21 lecture is FREE. 7:30-9pm.




Why Cursive Counts

The following article appears in Alabama Waldorf School’s November 2013 school newsletter, the AWS Awareness. It was written by our Administrator, Lisa Grupe, Ph.D.

Last month, I was subbing for the Spanish teacher in the combined 4th and 5th grade class. Unable to teach immersion-style as Waldorf foreign language teachers do, I decided to have the students write letters to Señor Spezzini about the things they liked and disliked: “Me gusta _______. No me gusta ___________.”  Before they started writing they asked me, (or, shall I say, they whined to me), “Do we have to write in cursive?” A teachable moment was upon me. “Of course!” I said. “Cursive helps you to keep your thought processes going because the letters are joined just like your thoughts are!” I mimed printing, exaggerating the stop-and-go jerking motion of picking up your pencil each time you write a letter. “You don’t want to tell Señor Spezzini, ‘N-o…m-e…g-u-s-t-o…’” and slowly spoke each sound of the phrase “I don’t like” in Spanish. The children laughed and I continued, this time miming the fluid, graceful motion of cursive handwriting. “You want to be able to say, ‘No me gusta los encurtidos’, don’t you?” This phrase I spoke in a normal voice, the words flowing just as they do when written on the page in cursive. 

My example really seemed to make sense to them, and I was gratified to see formerly stubborn printers trying their hand at cursive. “Wow, this is easier than I thought,” I heard. 

That the children were embracing such a task of will was no small triumph in these times of keyboarding and haptics/touch-screen technology.

Waldorf education has long touted the relationship between the hand and the brain. Our curriculum understands that it’s what the hand does that “lights up” the brain (on a scan) instead of the reverse. One of the unique features of Waldorf education is how often the opportunities arise for dual hemisphere brain experience and learning: clapping games in Preschool, knitting, playing a musical instrument, and movement games in the Grades. An activity that requires both the left and right hemispheres of the brain builds the collection of fibers between them, the corpus callosum. This results in greater communication between the visual/musical side of the brain and the mathematical/logical side of the brain.

Scientists are seeing that learning cursive helps to train the brain for optimal efficiency; it integrates sensation, movement control, and thinking. Imaging studies show that multiple areas of the brain light up during a cursive learning session, areas that are not involved in keyboarding or touchscreen (haptics). A 2013 study of the brain scans of pre-literate 5-year-olds after different forms of letter-learning showed that the brain’s linked “reading circuit” was only activated during handwriting — not during typing — and more so when writing letters in a meaningful context vs. writing them as a non-cognitive drawing exercise.   

When I was teaching, I used The Writing Road to Reading for our writing curriculum because my graduate studies in Cognition had taught me that the learning of writing scaffolds the development of reading. My experience in the classroom further showed this to be true. In addition, learning the cursive hand and engaging in penmanship strengthens fine motor skills and helps lengthen attention span and improve focus.  

The 4th and 5th grade students I observed while substituting for the Spanish teacher bore out the research finding that cursive writing engages them in the assignment and also serves as a reflection of their personal style.  

This was very apparent when one student gleefully wrote, “Me gusta los unicornios!”


–James, K.H. and Atwood, T.P. (2009).The role of sensorimotor learning in the perception of letter-like forms: Tracking the causes of neural specialization for letters. Cognitive Neuropsychology, 26 (1), 91-100.

–James, K.H. and Engelhardt, L. (2013). The effects of handwriting experience on functional brain development in pre-literate children. Trends in Neuroscience and Education. Article in press. Click here for reference to this article in Psychology Today

–Waldorf Today, June 2013.

Waldorf Today, July 2011