Why do AWS middle schoolers learn to ride unicycles?

This spring, the AWS middle school students are learning to ride unicycles. “Why does my child need to learn to ride a unicycle?” you might ask. Well, it’s not necessarily to encourage them to run away with the circus, even though that sounds kind of fun. Learning to ride a unicycle is a challenging feat that few people can pick up quickly. It takes time and perseverance to build both the strength and balance needed to keep a unicycle upright and moving. It offers an opportunity for the students to work together and support each other throughout this difficult endeavor, and it meets the adolescent right where they are developmentally.


Puberty is a time of imbalance and humility. The changes that young adolescents go through at this time in their lives, both physically and emotionally, can be daunting and difficult for them to understand. This is where the magic of the unicycle comes in. At a time of physical and hormonal imbalance, learning to ride allows the child to strive to find a new sense of balance and strength within themselves. Riding also encourages a bodily uprightness that counteracts the great feelings of gravity that the young adolescent is feeling for the first time. There is also the falling. The first thing we learn after we learn how to mount the unicycle is how to fall safely. Learning to ride a unicycle is a process of falling and getting back up. This is analogous to so many other emotional, social, and intellectual situations in life. Giving the student a safe and supportive place to strive and fail encourages a sense of humility for themselves and their peers.

And finally, learning to ride a unicycle is just plain fun. The children have a great time learning to ride together and feel so much joy and excitement for their own accomplishments, and for the accomplishments of their friends. I am very lucky to to get the opportunity to watch these students grow and succeed every day.

— Ms. Brianna Payne, AWS Movement Teacher


What is the Gala?

lisaAn Interview with the 2017 Gratitude Gala Honoree 

 Dr. Lisa Grupe
Role: Administrative Director, Alabama Waldorf School

  1. “Gala” is a word that can be defined in many ways. What is it exactly?

This is our 15th annual fundraiser. So, at a fiscal level, that’s what the gala is: a fundraiser. However, over time it has proven to be such a great PARTY because our community is so unique and enjoys hanging around with like-minded people, bidding on interesting jewelry or art or trips, listening to music, and seeing AWeSome live auctions.

Our first gala was a silent and live auction featuring vintage wines and art, and it has stayed true to its roots in that it remains a silent and live auction, but it now features artwork done by our students under the tutelage of local artists and craftspeople. Last year, our own Julie Carpenter worked with 7th and 8th graders to weld and solder iron into a wall sculpture of the outline of the state of Alabama! It was 3 feet tall and was beautiful!  This year, Paul Wilm painted the bust of Vulcan on a wooden canvas with the word “BIRMINGHAM” above it, and the 1st graders helped him color it with crayon!

We are fortunate to also have accomplished local artists such as Arthur Price, Tres Taylor, and Gerda Carmichael. This year’s theme is GRATITUDE, and our own Leslie Martin Smith of Mud Mama Designs is working on a special project in which everyone will take part. I’ll put on my teacher hat and give you some homework for the project: Think about what you are grateful for at Alabama Waldorf School and come to the Gala on Sat, Feb 25 at 6 pm!

  1. Who goes to the Gala? What do people wear? How much does it cost?

I hope everybody comes! There really is something for everyone there. From cute items to bid on under $20 to fabulous adult camaraderie! Everyone in the AWS community is invited to the Gala, and it is great if our parent body and faculty ask their friends to come, too. It’s open to everyone!

Keeping tickets affordable, even though this is an annual $28,000 fundraiser for the school, is important to the Marketing Committee who plans the gala. Tickets remain $40 per person this year, but if you sell 4 to friends outside the school, you get a 5th ticket for free! Tickets include 2 drinks (beer and wine), entertainment by DJ Supreme (parent Jon Malone), hors d’oeuvres by dg (local chef and AWS parent Daniel Briggs). You can buy additional drink tickets and any items you win through bidding. Student accounts can be charged so parents can pay for everything on TADS! Credit cards are also accepted.

People wear jeans, cocktail dresses, shirts with ties, shirts with no ties, long dresses, etc. We always tell people to dress festively! Wear something you’ve been dying to wear but haven’t yet had the opportunity. The website at alabamawaldorf.org and our Facebook page have some gala photos from previous years in case you want to take a look.

A tradition that has grown over the years is that our high school and college-aged alumni work the check-in and check-out tables, or they help with special fundraising pop-ups at the Gala. That is my favorite part of the gala … seeing the alum! This year, I’ve invited a bunch of book club friends and out-of-towners, too! I’m so excited!

Lisa with alumni Janine and Susan Mwenja

Dr. Grupe with alumni sisters Janine & Susan Mwenja at AWS Gala 2016

  1. Yes … you are the honoree at Alabama Waldorf School’s Annual Gala on Saturday, February 25. What does that mean? 

It means I join the illustrious ranks of previous honorees such as founder Sheila Rubin, philanthropist grandparents Stan Lawler and Gerda Carmichael, veteran teachers John Huckestein and Lynda Powell. I am honored to be in such company! But it also means that my achievements in the areas of teaching and administration, accreditation, and obtaining the new building loan with its associated renovation are recognized, and this is very meaningful to me.

I’ve been on a few new journeys in my 17 years at the school, from starting the Grades school, to starting Administrator training, to starting accreditation, to starting down the path of new campus ownership, and I have always had incredible support from the Alabama Waldorf faculty, staff, and community, especially in such a tangible way with the new building. It has been a very galvanizing experience for the whole school, and I’m grateful to have been a part of it.


We’re moving!

We are thrilled to announce that we are moving to our new location, and will start classes there on October 3. Big thanks to all of our hard-working volunteers who made this possible. We are looking forward to being in this lovely, new space together and filling these rooms with happy kids who love to learn.

new building

Our new campus at 5901 Crestwood Blvd.

CONTACT: Cassia Kesler

Alabama Waldorf School Moves to New Campus

5901 Crestwood Blvd, Birmingham, AL 35212

Birmingham, AL (September 23, 2016) — Alabama Waldorf School is moving to a newly renovated campus on Crestwood Boulevard. Located on four wooded acres close to the Crestwood Shopping Center, adjacent to The Arc of Jefferson County, the new campus features two buildings with administrative offices, grades classrooms, a community hall, and preschool classrooms which open onto ample playgrounds. Future plans for the grounds include vegetable and flower gardens and permaculture design. The restoration of the property is a notable improvement in the revitalization of the Avondale and Crestwood communities.

The renovation project was a huge community effort, as hundreds of people pitched in resources and labor to completely overhaul the existing structure. Contractors included Walker Peerson, Bullet Iron, C&H Construction, Plumcore, and Sheffield Electric. Lumber was donated for entire or partial projects by Pro-Build and Hueytown Hardware. The AWS Family Association, parents, faculty, staff and other volunteers painted, cleaned, helped to install fencing and cleared off the property for three different playgrounds. Classes will begin at the new location on October 3, 2016.

playground fence

Volunteers worked hard to install nearly 500 feet of playground fencing, using lumber generously donated by Hueytown Hardware.

The move closely follows another major milestone in the history of the school. Earlier this year, AWS became dually accredited by SAIS (Southeastern Association of Independent Schools) and AWSNA (Association of Waldorf Schools in North America). To earn these accreditations, AWS complied with quality standards, was evaluated by an outside group of peer professionals, and implemented a school plan focused on strategic improvement and student performance in accordance with the school’s mission, which is to cultivate healthy, confident, compassionate learners who excel academically, socially and civically.


Volunteers stripped, cleaned and painted all interior walls. We love our community!

SAIS-accredited member schools are part of an international network of accredited schools that have demonstrated success in educating children. SAIS accreditation is recognized throughout the world as a symbol of quality in education for students and teachers. AWSNA-accredited member schools are supported through collaborative regional work, professional and resource development, accreditation, community outreach, and advocacy. Today there are over 900 Waldorf schools in 83 countries.

Alabama Waldorf School was founded in 1987, originally as The Redmont School in the Waldorf Tradition. The Waldorf process of education engages the whole child by incorporating art, music, movement and handwork into academic subjects, fostering a student’s artistic expression, emotional intelligence and creative thinking.



Welcome Back to School!



Volunteer parents, friends, faculty and staff have been hard at work all summer helping to get the new site at 5901 Crestwood Blvd ready for move-in day. Concrete floors have been polished and sealed. The wooden playground fence and handicap ramp are complete. We have been prepping, priming and painting classrooms, hallways, kitchen and auditorium. The classrooms are being painted using a traditional Waldorf method called “lazure,” in which a thin wall paint made of binder, pigment and water is applied in sweeping brush strokes to a white wall, in order to produce a lovely ethereal color that is calming and therapeutic for students. Many thanks to the dedicated volunteer laborers who have worked non-stop to finish these projects.


AUGUST 11 — TONIGHT! Painting, Popsicles & Paramount at New Site, 5 – 8 pm. Join us for a community work night of painting, Paramount hot dogs (thanks Neville Baay) and popsicles from Steel City Pops! Childcare will be held at the old school location as the site does not meet minimum safety standards.

AUGUST 20: FA Back to School Picnic at MacCallum Park in Vestavia, 10 am – 1 pm

AUGUST 22: Back to School Night, 6 – 8 pm, AT OLD SCHOOL in Community Hall (beside gym), childcare provided. Attendance required for all enrolled parents.

AUGUST 23: Preschool Open House, 9:30 – 10:30 am. Bring your preschooler to visit his or her classroom, meet teachers, and transition into the new school year.

AUGUST 24: FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL for Preschool and Grades, 8:15 am. Rose Ceremony for Grades in Auditorium at 8:30 am.


Water bottle, inside shoes or slippers, change of clothes, rain boots and raincoat. Optional but recommended: sun hat, sunblock, diapers and wipes if needed. Preschoolers staying for extended care should bring a lunch, a bedsheet and blanket for their nap cot. You will be receiving an email from your child’s teacher with more information.


Grades students should bring a water bottle and lunchbox packed with a wholesome, nutritious snack and lunch to school each day. Younger grades students may also need to bring inside shoes to school. Your child’s teacher will send you an email with further information. All other learning materials will be provided by your child’s teacher, and are included in the school support fee.



Students should wear comfortable clothes that can get dirty and are easy to move in. Remember, no television or movie characters, advertising slogans or logos, words or flashing lights. If you need ideas for where to purchase appropriate clothing, ask your class teacher or anyone in the office. Also check out our school thrift store!


Fill your child’s lunch box with healthy, wholesome, nutritious food — no processed foods, added sugar, candy, chocolate or juice boxes. Also, remember NO PEANUTS or peanut butter. AWS is a peanut-free zone.

Most children are more than happy with simple, familiar foods — no need to pack their lunch boxes with strange, new culinary delights. Preschoolers especially get overwhelmed with more than 2 or 3 items in their lunch box. Be sure to offer meals that are a healthy balance of carbs, protein and good fats. This will help your child to focus, and give him or her enough energy for a full day at school. Stay tuned for a blog post about easy-yet-wholesome lunch ideas.

We’ll see you soon! For more information, please visit alabamawaldorf.org.


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Check out recent issues of the AWS Awareness


January 2016 issue of The Awareness: We are now fully accredited by the Southeastern Association of Independent Schools (SAIS) and the Association of Waldorf Schools of North America (AWSNA). Published January 2016. Click here to download newsletter.

April 2016 issue of The Awareness: Read all about new beginnings for our school, our new 1st grade teacher Ms. Lucas, Movin’ & Groovin’ Walkathon, and more. Published April 2016. Click here to download newsletter.

Click here to browse past issues of the Awareness.

Autumn issue of The Awareness now available!

Check out the latest issue of The AWS Awareness! Featuring:

• Poetry by Waldorf alumn Daniel Blokh
• Articles about Media-Free Living and Developmental Learning
• Photos of class festivals, field trips, handwork projects, and more
• Holiday Faire information!

world maps
Click here to download the newsletter.

Click here to browse past issues of the Awareness on our website.

Living Media Free

Positive Ways to Reduce Your Child’s Screen Time (without losing your mind)

Happy to be outdoors It’s been raining outside all day, and now your 3-year-old is running around the house, chasing the cat, yelling at the top of her lungs, while your 15-month-old is in tears and inconsolable unless you’re holding him, and you have company coming for dinner in an hour, and the bathroom looks like a herd of angry monkeys was let loose in it. The TV beckons to you like a bright ray of hope — how bad would it be to let the kids watch a video for just a little while?

We’ve all read the latest research, the hundreds of articles and dire warnings about how screen-time will ruin your kid’s brain. Here at Alabama Waldorf School, we strongly encourage no media at all for kids 9 and younger. For older kids, less than an hour on the weekends during the school year. So what to do? If you’re new to Waldorf or if you have young children, you may be feeling overwhelmed, or thinking: easier said than done.

Take heart! It is easier to accomplish than it may seem — especially if you start while they’re young.

The earth beneath our feet1. Start small, and don’t guilt-trip yourself. Like any other healthy lifestyle, it’s more about choosing to do what’s good for your child, rather than falling into the guilt/shame cycle. Focus on taking small, positive steps. If your family is used to watching TV or playing video games every day, try cutting back by one hour, every day. Then, after a week or two, cut back by another hour. If you gradually cut back, you will be doing better and feeling more healthy no matter what. When you have a bad day and turn on the TV out of sheer desperation, give yourself grace. Let the kids watch TV for a little while! But instead of totally giving up, set a time limit. Make a cup of tea, take time to gather yourself, take a deep breath, and then turn off the TV.

2. Remember that media can actually be counter-productive as a means of child care. Using TV or the iPad as a babysitter is a no-win situation, for child or parents. Media stimulates a child’s brain but does not stimulate her senses. So after watching TV for a while, she will actually be more hyperactive and craving any kind of physical sensory stimulation — and if she is very young, she won’t be able to manage these cravings. She will be more likely to misbehave, seek out trouble, destroy things, throw a tantrum, and feel cranky and irritable. So recognize that your hours of “peace” come at a cost.

Reading3. Turning off the tube does not mean that you have to play with your child. Take a cue from Waldorf teachers — you won’t see them sitting on the floor playing Legos with their students! Children learn by imitation. If you are engaging them in play every minute of the day, you’re not only wearing yourself out, you are also teaching them to expect that sort of interaction. Instead, do your own work, such as housework, alongside your child while he is playing. If he is bored, don’t let it distress you. Instead, act like that’s natural and good (and soon he will come to realize that it’s not a bad thing, either). Feel free to give him suggestions, but let him engage himself in play. My favorite practical tip: if you find your child playing quietly by himself, never, ever interrupt him. As the mother of a 9-year-old and a 6-year-old, I can tell you that this will pay off for years down the road. My boys can now happily occupy themselves for hours. They are also capable of sitting quietly in waiting rooms or lines for long periods of time — without devices — without falling apart.

If you have very young children, or if your family is used to a steady media diet, you can’t expect that to happen for a while. But you can start building your child’s tolerance for self-directed play, 5 minutes at a time.

Has your child ever surprised you by spending hours playing quietly alone? What was he or she doing? What are some of your child’s favorite self-directed activities?

Rope swing4. Cultivate daily and weekly rhythm. Kids often act out or misbehave if they don’t know what to expect. I’ve noticed that my son will most often complain “I’m bored, Mom!” when our schedule has been disrupted. A basic rhythm for each day will help him know what to expect, and also helps him better occupy himself during free play (if he knows at a certain time he will have to stop and do lunch, or stop and do chores, or a family activity). This rhythm does not have to be a strict schedule, but more of an ebb and flow of activity. One aspect of daily rhythm that has worked best for our family is to take a daily rest time after lunch, or after school. During this time, my kids know that they will be playing quietly, alone. Over the years, this has given them better resilience to handle playing quietly by themselves when unexpected circumstances arise (delays at the doctor’s office, stuck in traffic).

When does your family watch TV? Play video games? At what time of day are you most likely to turn to media out of sheer desperation? The answers to these questions can help you figure out alternative solutions.

Climbing5. Be OK with some level of mess and chaos. Free play means lots of messes. Getting messy is good for kids. It gives them tactile, sensory input that engages all of their senses, and actually helps to develop their sense of self-control. Establishing a rhythm will help with this — if you and your child know that everything must be cleaned up before bedtime, then the ensuing chaos of painting, playing in the mud, or turning the living room into a giant blanket fort is a little more bearable for you in the meantime. Also, depending on your child’s personality, she may love to make messes, or she may prefer the orderly process of cleaning up messes (I have one of each type), and so establishing a time for both activities will serve both children well.


For a PDF list of suggested activities that will light up your child’s senses and provide long hours of free play, click here.


From another Waldorf mom, Kristin Trowbridge, about balancing media use during football season:

Our Saturdays are filled with soccer, hikes, gardening in the backyard, playing with the kids, etc., and by evening, we are just too tired to stay up for the late games. We’ve realized that for the same price we pay for cable, we could take that money and afford a babysitter and a date at a sports bar, where we could gorge ourselves on wings and beer and have a blast rather than watching snippets of games as we pass through the living room. So, that said, we just decided last night to cancel cable again and apply this game plan instead. Plus, on days at home with the kids, I’m having fun turning on the radio and listening to the games the old-fashioned way where they are played out verbally, enjoying the nostalgia of childhood when I listened to the familiar voice of Eli Gold on air give me the play-by-play on Alabama games as I simultaneously spent time playing, cooking or eating with my family rather than staring at a screen the whole time.

Read older blog entries on screen time here and here.

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