Waldorf Found Our Family

By Marla Beck, parent, Class of 2022

When my daughter was born, a friend of my husband’s gave us two books to read:  You Are Your Child’s First Teacher and Heaven on Earth. What a gift to be shown a path to rich play, warmth and rhythm in the home!  I won’t say we attained our ideals (we did not), but this slow, simple framework served our family well when our daughter was very young.  Despite all the things we did not know as new parents, we were clear about this:  in our home, we’d respect our little one and nourish her curiosity and wisdom through play.

As our daughter grew into a preschooler and kindergartener, she attended a Waldorf homeschool co-op and a Waldorf-inspired public school program.  At this time, another friend of my husband’s – Kristine Deason, a seasoned Marin Waldorf School teacher – told him:  “You should send your daughter to Marin Waldorf.”  Jon said there was a feeling of inevitability in her words. Many years later, here we are – parents of a rising eighth grader!

Jumping into Waldorf education wasn’t the easiest decision for our family to make, despite the natural affinity we felt for this way of learning and being.  Waldorf seemed risky.  Would our child read on time?  What about computers?  Would she know what was going on in the “real” world? 

When we didn’t voice these questions ourselves, concerned family and friends spoke our worries out loud.  We had no “real life” examples of Waldorf education.  Would it really work for our family?  Our child?  If so, what qualities would this kind of education foster in our daughter?

One of my daughter’s preschool teachers, Christine Zelehoski, used to tell us, “Every year of Waldorf education is a lifelong gift you give your child.”  I leaned on Christine’s words a lot in the early years.  When we enrolled our daughter at Marin Waldorf School, I chose to trust.

Eight years later, I smile at the concerns we once had.  For anyone with a younger child, I can share this. Our eighth grade daughter and her classmates:

  • Tackle difficult readings
  • Practice public speaking, storytelling and writing
  • Possess a solid, felt-in-the-body comprehension of foundational math skills and algebra
  • Confidently use technology for research and communication
  • Discover scientific principles through their senses, beauty and wonder, developing skills in observation, prediction and deductive reasoning along the way

Reading, writing, arithmetic?  Check.  Science and technology?  Check.  These kids are graduating with a solid academic foundation, knowledge that is anchored in their bodies and hearts as much as their minds.  I tend to think facts and information “stick” this way. 

In addition to academics, these kids have experienced and practiced principles of craftsmanship, continuity and interconnectedness.  They build beautiful wooden objects with real tools, knit their own socks, and learn to blend their voices together in distinct, multi-part harmonies that sometimes make me cry.  These children tend to the land, the school garden and their environment. They learn the human story through Western art and history, and they engage with  non-dominant narratives, too.  I love that our students have heard and know some of the stories of the First peoples – men, women and children who perhaps knew Grandmother Oak when she was just a sapling.  I love that, when Marin Waldorf children have disputes, the teachers here are involved and aware, taking the time to teach our children constructive ways to voice their truths, communicate and problem-solve. 

This loving community has taught our daughter well, but it has supported us as a family, too.  The world is complicated. The daily rhythms of work, and the yearly rhythms of responsibility, kindness and celebration have given form, comfort and richness to our family life. We have learned to honor the seasons.  We’ve looked forward to working and playing hard together at the Children’s Faire each year – especially when our class got to be the Sleeping Giants!  We’ve looked forward to annual traditions – the tenderness of the Rose Ceremony, the reverence of Winter Assembly, the exuberance of May Faire, and the many opportunities we’ve had to offer time and energy throughout the year. The parent evenings that cycled through each school year gave us, as parents, an opportunity to grow a community, have hard discussions and learn about our daughter’s development through her teacher’s eyes. Annabelle has made lifelong friends at Marin Waldorf, and so have Jon and I.  We appreciate the inner and outer beauty of the place.

I’ll close with two scenes from recent daily life in our family.

On a recent flight back east, a Jackson 5 song came through my headphones.  I’d heard ABC many times before, but this lyric made me sit up straight:

Reading, writing, arithmetic

Are the branches of the learning tree

But without the roots of love everyday girl

Your education ain’t complete

Marin Waldorf has given our eighth graders “roots of love.”  They’ve experienced a powerful sense of belonging that is rare in middle school years.  They’ve learned practical skills and ways of being that will support them in living happy, purposeful lives.  Education, indeed.

One last story. 

Yesterday afternoon, my daughter stepped into a radiology exam room to get an x-ray for her wrist. Our daughter greeted the tech with a question.

“How’s your day going?” 

After the x-ray (which turned out fine), the tech came out of the room to speak with me.

“Excuse me,” she said, looking hard at me from behind her Covid face shield. 

“Your daughter – “  The woman’s voice broke, and her eyes teared up.

“You – you are raising a daughter who cares,” she said.  “Thank you.” 

We are raising children who care. 

Our community – our school – has been raising our daughter right alongside us.  Every day, our daughter has had opportunities to learn how to get along well with others, respect others’ differences and express her own truth and kindness with conviction.

We are raising children who care. 

A huge and heartfelt cheers! to Marin Waldorf School.  Our parent community, Ms. Terziev, the staff and teachers at our school have raised a class of beautiful, independent eighth graders who care – each in their own way.

Jon and I are forever grateful for all the good our family’s received at Marin Waldorf School.  We wish you the very best on your family’s journey here. 

Categories MWS

5th Grade Field Trip to Three Springs Farm

Last week, our 5th grade class went on a three-day camping trip to Three Springs Farms, a working biodynamic farm in Bodega Bay. As guests, the children were expected to contribute to the farm’s daily functioning during their stay. With the assistance of farm interns and owners, they planted flower beds and a row of radishes, they helped feed the animals, and they even created and tended to their own composting toilet. In addition to their farm chores, the students had the opportunity to explore the surrounding wilderness, gather for meals and campfires, and spend time playing with the many adorable and spirited creatures who live at Three Springs.

When asked about their memories of the farm, our enthusiastic 5th graders had a lot to share! “Bottle feeding the baby pigs” was one of Sofia’s favorite activities, while Lucas loved the goats who playfully jumped on the children’s backs. Gautham said he liked “snuggling with the baby pigs Benedict, Frittata, and Omelet,” and Sara told us about Fern the donkey, who “sounds like a fog horn and is an alarm for the farmers when there are wild animals around.”

5th graders also brought home memories of beautiful pink sunrises, roasting marshmallows over an open fire, playing hide-and-go-seek in the rain, a boar named Thor with fur that feels like quills, “Frederick” the compost pile, and much more. As the forecast predicted, there were heavy rains throughout the week, and the wet weather brought its own set of adventures and challenges for the 5th grade, from hikes in the rain to flooded tents. Rain or shine, our students showed up with joy and resilience, and the trip was a beautiful and deeply bonding experience for the children, their chaperones, and the farmers.

Categories MWS

Lunar New Year at MWS

Our Mandarin program, led by the indomitable Sally Li, is designed to introduce children to the Chinese language and to inspire a lifelong interest in the culture of China. Yesterday, our student body had an opportunity to rejoice in the pageantry and color of the Lunar New Year celebrations as we welcomed the Year of the Tiger here on campus.

Celebrated in China and other Asian countries, the Lunar New Year begins on the first new moon of the lunar calendar and ends on the first full moon, 15 days later. Each year in the lunar calendar is represented by one of 12 zodiac animals; this year is the tiger!

Different cultures observe and celebrate the Lunar New Year in different ways; here at MWS, our Lunar New Year celebrations began with a short assembly, in which grades 2, 3, 4, and 5 performed songs in Mandarin, led by Li Lǎoshī. All the children performed beautifully. most dressed in red, as is traditional for the Lunar New Year. Among the highlights was a traditional Chinese song about homesickness that our 5th graders sang, accompanied by Ms. Mallard and student Ryder on guitar.

After the student performances, we enjoyed a huge treat when lion dancers took over the amphitheater with banging drums and colorful dancing. The most memorable moment may have been when the red lion danced and pranced through each row of the amphitheater, eliciting laughter and delighted squeals from kindergartners to 7th and 8th graders! Their stunning show concluded with the pop of firecrackers, which are traditionally used in Lunar New Year celebrations as a way scare off evil spirits.

Following the assembly, students in grades 1-8 gathered in the shade of the oak grove to try traditional Chinese snacks, like fried bean paste and sugar-coated roast peanuts. A sweet end to a wonderful event!

Categories MWS

Beauty and Big Ideas: How We Teach Math

“We are all mathematics learners, and we can all develop active, inquiring relationships with mathematics,” writes Stanford math education researcher Jo Boaler in the research paper “Prove It to Me!” “When we do, and mathematics becomes a creative, open space of inquiry, mathematics learners will find that they can do anything, and their mathematical ideas and thinking can extend to the sky—and beyond!”

Boaler and her colleagues are on the forefront of math education research, which shows that with good teachers and self-confidence, all children are capable of achieving in math. According to her research, building a strong foundation in number sense—a feel for numbers and the ability to use them creatively—is key to becoming a successful math thinker, as is an ability to grasp big ideas and make connections between them. 

At Marin Waldorf School, our approach to math is designed to do just that: Through a multidisciplinary, multilayered approach to math, starting at the earliest ages, students learn to see the joy and beauty in numbers, approach math work from many perspectives, and eventually build up to the conceptual ideas that fuel advanced-level math in middle school. Here’s how we do it.

Early Childhood: Encouraged to Explore

“In our preschool and kindergarten classrooms, math education is intentional, but not as directly articulated as you’d find in a traditional classroom,” explains Daniella Baker, MS, early childhood director at Marin Waldorf School. “Math is taught through songs with numbers, counting, jump rope, marching, and other activities.” 

“The approach is layered,” Ms. Daniella continues. “Activities in kindergarten lay the groundwork for math instruction in grades 1, 2, and 3, when students practice multiplication tables by skip counting on jump ropes or in songs, and begin to master math facts.”

They are also given ample time to play, the best way for young children to explore the world and their ability to discover and make connections on their own. In an interview with Ed Source, Gennie Gorback, president of the California Kindergarten Association, explains, “Children learn high-level, intangible concepts such as the laws of gravity, conservation of liquids/mass, mathematical concepts such as more vs. less, all through hands-on, interactive play.”

Elementary School: Building Skills and Enthusiasm

“My task as a second grade teacher is to ignite the fire of enthusiasm for learning. So right now my students are at play in the field of numbers, opening their eyes to the artistic beauty and wonder in math,” says Roland Baril, second grade class teacher, who uses a blend of artistic exercises and math drills to build a foundation for his students. 

At the beginning of the school year, Mr. Baril guided second graders in drawing geometric forms that are created by placing 10 dots equidistant around a circle, numbering them 1-10, then connecting them with straight lines via counting by the various times tables. Building on their first diagram of a decagon, children drew decagrams, pentagons, and pentagrams, finding number patterns in each. 

Later in the semester, students studied the patterns created by magic squares and worked in pairs to create times table charts to hang up at home, a project that requires students to accurately mark along the length of a ruler, connect the dots with a yardstick without slipping, and work together to fill in the chart. “We also do lots of drills around the four processes—addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division—so the children are very strong in calculations,” Mr. Baril.

“Good mathematics teachers typically use visuals, manipulative and motion to enhance students’ understanding of mathematical concepts, and the US national organizations for mathematics, such as the National Council for the Teaching of Mathematics (NCTM) and the Mathematical Association of America (MAA) have long advocated for the use of multiple representations in students’ learning of mathematics,” write the researchers in the Seeing as Understanding: The Importance of Visual Mathematics for our Brain and Learning.

Mr. Baril’s visual exercises, alongside mental math games, skip counting, and the use of wood manipulatives, help build an awareness of numbers and an enthusiasm for math. With this sense of wonder and play imbued in their math work, second graders are naturally drawn to the more complex problems they encounter in second grade, like regrouping (carrying and borrowing), word problems, and multi-digit operations. In fact, ask our second graders and many will say math is their favorite subject! 

Middle School: Growth Mindset and Big Ideas

By 6th grade, students are ready for more complex and abstract mathematical thinking, and the curriculum meets their growing abilities with big ideas in math. Middle school math teacher Julia McIlroy aims to show students how mathematics is integral to all parts of life by looking at big ideas, patterns, and relationships between mathematical ideas and by grounding all subjects in experiential learning before moving to abstract principles. 

In 7th grade, for example, students measure large circles on campus to discover the relationship between the diameter and circumference (which we know as pi), before looking at it through the lenses of geometry, ratios, and algebra. Group work is also a key component to Ms. McIlroy’s teaching, requiring students to work together to solve unfamiliar problems in both concrete and abstract situations—to find patterns, make conjectures, and test those conjectures, and to understand that mathematical structures are useful as representations of phenomena in the physical world.

“What I’m trying to do is bring more complex tasks, where there are no immediate right or wrong answers. This prepares them for higher education and the workplace and keeps everyone engaged,” explains Ms. McIlroy. “If you have rich tasks, the students who may be behind academically can do something, and the students who are really high-achieving can take it to the highest levels.”

“My number one goal is to keep students interested and engaged in math so they will continue on with it in college and beyond,” Ms. McIlroy says. “I want to have as many of our students go into STEM fields as we possibly can. Our students have a complex and ethical view of the world and their contributions to science and technology would be profound.

Learning About Plastic in Environmental Education

By Donni O’Ryan, Environmental Education Instructor

Environmental Ed in the 8th grade classroom has included learning about the manufacture, use, and disposal of plastics and discussing the negative and positive aspects of this material. We have discussed options and how to make the best choices as future consumers. Later we will tour the Recycling Center to see how our single-use plastics are processed. 

During our recent lessons we pondered why developing countries have been the primary destination for all of our plastic recyclables until 2018 and what is happening in the world of recycling now that China and Vietnam no longer take our used plastic.  Recycling is a system that has made us lazy about using single-use items, but is recycling really a good idea? Most did not realize that plastic can not be recycled more than once before being tossed into a landfill.

We also investigated the use of plastics in our clothing and the rise and tremendous popularity of “fast fashion” that is primarily made in developing countries. Shein is the second largest manufacturer of clothing and is based in China. Fast fashion clothing that does not sell immediately is dumped into a desert in Chile where the mountains of clothing blanket miles of the environment.  Because of all the plastic content in the clothing, it will not decompose. 

On behalf of our study, and because winter gift giving is here, these are several websites that the students discovered that offer plastic free and environmentally friendly items:

The Earthling Co. — Shampoo Bars rather than fluid shampoo in a plastic bottle
Well Earth Goods – Plastic free laundry detergent and stain remover
Zero Waste Store
Treading My Own Path
By Humankind
Seconds Guru
Eco Roots
Package Free
For more information about the world of recycling:
Green Matters
Recycling Today
NRDC – On Earth
Several more field trips are planned-dates to be determined due to Covid
Marin Recycle Center
MMWD drinking water facility
Waste water facility

Categories MWS

Simplify the Holiday Season

As the days grow colder and shorter, the winter holidays bring a sense of warmth, connection, and community to the season. At the same time, a spate of holiday parties, blasts of sugar, vacation travel, and the frenzy of buying, giving, and receiving gifts can overshadow meaningful family traditions. 

At Marin Waldorf School, we encourage parents to thoughtfully simplify the lives of young children in order to cultivate a more peaceful home life. There are many ways to do this, from developing a dependable daily schedule to simplifying the number of toys and books to choose from in a child’s bedroom.

Simplifying the holidays means less waste, fewer tears, and a renewed focus on what really matters.

Create Homemade Crafts and Traditions
At Marin Waldorf School, we celebrate the winter season thoughtfully and with a focus on the natural world. One of our most beloved traditions in the early childhood classrooms is the annual Lantern Walk, for which kindergartners create handmade lanterns at school, then gather with their families to light their lanterns on a cold evening in late autumn. It is a simple tradition that builds community and warmth.

At home, our teachers suggest making a simple lantern by painting pieces of tissue paper onto a reused glass jar with white glue, then lighting a small tea light inside. Or create a bird feeder by painting nut butter on the leaves of a pinecone, then hang it in your backyard or in a nature spot. Our Sunflower preschool lead teacher Lisa O’Callaghan recommends the book Earthways: Simple Environmental Activities for Young Children as a source of inspiration.

Clean Up the Play Area
If your child gets a lot of presents anyway, put some away. “Get one toy from storage and then put another toy in storage. Keep five books out and rotate them,” Ms. Marieke explains. “When I clean up the play area and take out the toys that my children don’t play with, they start to play right away. Less is more.”

Remember the Rhythm
Marin Waldorf School’s early childhood teachers emphasize the importance of the family rhythm, or the set of activities that you do with your child every day. Keeping a sense of order and rhythm, even when school is closed and your daily routine is upended, can help maintain a peaceful atmosphere for young children. 

“The more rhythm they have, the more safe young children feel. They feel safe when they know what’s coming next,” says Fernanda Fuga, the Buttercup preschool lead teacher. “At school, after the first few weeks, children are comfortable and can be themselves, because we repeat and repeat and repeat the same thing every day—and young children love that.” 

Providing some predictable moments in the day—whether that’s the same thing for breakfast every morning or a bath before bedtime—will help children feel more relaxed and comfortable. But don’t worry about being rigid, either. “It doesn’t have to be a strict thing, like we always have dinner at 6pm. It should be an A-B-C. B always comes between A and C. For example, we always have dinner, then brush our teeth, then read a book—or whatever it is that you do,” says Marieke Duijneveld, the Morning Glory kindergarten lead teacher. “Maybe one day it’s a little later, one day it’s earlier, but we’re still going to do the same thing.”

Remember to Reset
“If there are days that are really crazy and overstimulating, balance it with a nature day,” suggests Marieke. A visit to the park, a day at home, or a walk outdoors after dinner can keep things peaceful when stimulation is high.

“Make sure they’re moving, they have time to run around and play and be outside. It’s a reset button,” Fernanda adds. 

Categories MWS

Harvest Fest 2021

There were so many beautiful moments at our first community gathering in two years! It was a heartwarming day, filled with bright smiles, uplifting music, and joyous dancing. Our amazing caller kept the crowd on its feet till the end, while little ones bounced around in the hay maze (thanks to Ms. O’Ryan and all the students who helped set it up!).

Please enjoy these gorgeous pictures of the day by parent Michael Weber. Thank you, Michael!

Categories MWS

Meet Julia McIlroy: Bringing Magic to Middle School Math

Marin Waldorf School’s marvelous math teacher, Julia McIlroy, has always been drawn to mathematics and sciences, but she’s also seen the world from many other perspectives: as a teacher, as a prison volunteer, as a public defender, and as a mother. As a graduate of Summerfield Waldorf School in Santa Rosa (which she describes as a “beautiful experience”), Ms. McIlroy learned to have a complex view of the world—and that’s just what she thinks the best students can bring to STEM fields. Learn more about her upbringing, her Waldorf education, her life as a public defender, and her approach to math education in the interview below.

Let’s start by talking a little bit about your childhood and education. Where did you grow up?
I grew up on a vineyard outside of Healdsburg, before Healdsburg was posh. My grandpa was a cardiologist, but he had a dream of owning a vineyard, so in the 70s he bought forty-five acres along the Russian River and transformed it into Chardonnay, Zinfandel, and Pinot Noir grapes. So that’s where I grew up—wild and free, roaming the countryside and playing in a winery.

My mom is a microbiologist and food chemist, so she was working when I was young and they had to find a school for me. They eventually found Summerfield Waldorf kindergarten. I remember the first time I visited the kindergarten: the classroom was so warm and inviting. You wanted to stay there for the rest of your life. 

My mom knew immediately that this is where we were supposed to be. My dad was not so convinced. But he came along. Eventually they both ended up going through the Waldorf teacher training and my mom is now a special education teacher. 

I remember kindergarten vividly: making soup and honey buns, building fairy houses in the field, and climbing trees and rocks. I still have the birthday book of drawings from all my classmates! 

I went to Summerfield through 12th grade. It was a rich experience and prepared me so well for college and law school. In fact, college felt a little easy after my rigorous high school classes. In high school, I read Emerson and Thoreau, studied Russian literature, and every year took physics and chemistry. The early and middle grades were similarly rich and I developed a deep love of learning and a strong foundation that is still benefiting me today.

Where did life take you after high school?
In high school, I had amazing teachers and I wanted to do and be everything. My biology teacher was particularly inspiring, and I thought I was going to be a biologist or maybe a doctor. Then I went to college and I really loved learning about people and how people worked, so I became more interested in psychology and sociology. There was a program that was asking for volunteers to go to prisons and interview women who had been battered. A new law at the time allowed for women who had been battered to have their sentences reduced. Our job was to go into the prisons and take their entire life history.

First of all, it’s so hard to be in a prison. Even visiting for a few hours is awful. And then the women would share their life history with me. Every one was a life of trauma and abuse that started at a young age. And then they would encounter the legal system, and the legal system would essentially do the same. They were punished for having lived a life of abuse. It was traumatizing, just hearing it. I felt I had to help. I couldn’t let the system just keep going as it was.

So I went to law school and I became a public defender. I did that for many years. What I learned is that you can help individual people, but it’s much harder to change the system. I’d keep seeing the same situations — and even the same clients — over and over again, and every time I felt that, yes, I can make this person feel seen and heard, but I can’t affect the entire system. At some point, it becomes a burden. It weighs you down.

I was teaching all along, but I think that’s really why I started spending more time teaching. Because teaching is a creative, hopeful exercise. Helping students reach their potential was healing in so many ways.

What other teaching jobs did you have?
I worked in the math department in college, and I worked as a high school substitute teacher and remedial teacher. When I was a public defender, I worked at Empire College in Santa Rosa teaching paralegals. And I helped create the San Rafael High School mock trial program.

There’s a really active mock trial program in the county, but San Rafael High School didn’t have one. We want more diversity in the legal profession, but if we exclude one of the schools in Marin that has a lot of diversity, you’re missing an opportunity. So we decided to start a mock trial program to get more students of color engaged and so they know that law is a possibility for them.

The students were remarkable—better than many attorneys that I knew. That’s how good they were! Every year there is a mock trial competition in Marin in front of real judges where the high schools compete against each other to go to the state championship. I encourage my students in middle school to go see it, because if they go to high school in Marin, they can participate.

So let’s talk about middle school! As a teacher, how do you approach math?
I am passionate about math education. My number one goal is to keep students interested and engaged in math so they will continue on with it in college and beyond. I want to have as many of our students go into STEM fields as we possibly can. Our students have a complex and ethical view of the world—I think having them in science and technology is really essential for our future. 

Math education hasn’t changed in over 100 years. The timing has changed: Schools keep shifting the curriculum younger and younger because they think that will prepare students for harder math, but it’s actually backfiring. What colleges are finding is that students aren’t actually prepared because they’re advancing in math too early and their brain development hasn’t caught up. 

If you look at the countries that are very successful in math, they often wait until kids are 7 years old to do any sort of formal math instruction. The other thing they’re doing is teaching math more conceptually. What I find is that once students figure out how to solve a problem, they’ll be able to repeat that problem 30 times. But they still won’t understand what it means. They can get a nonsensical answer and not even realize it because they’re not thinking conceptually.

How do I develop a conceptual understanding? What I do is encourage more problem-solving and active learning. I want them to be engaged in learning, so they have confidence in themselves to go out and solve any problem that they encounter. 

Part of that is having more complex work. Not just having worksheets with repetitive problems, but having complex tasks, where there are no immediate right or wrong answers. This prepares them for higher education and the workplace and keeps everyone engaged. If you have rich tasks, the students who may be behind academically can do something, and the students who are really high-achieving can take it to higher levels.

Unfortunately students believe that math is procedural work like times tables and fractions. While those are important, that’s not how math is in the real world. I went to a training at Stanford last week with a professor who is at the forefront of mathematics education, and changing mathematics education here in California and in the world. She told us about how she went to a PhD defense presentation in which there wasn’t even one number involved. It was for a PhD in mathematics, but there wasn’t even one number!

Math is really a creative, visual subject. But it is not taught that way. In fact, one of the most incredible mathematicians – she was the only woman to ever win the Fields Medal, which is like the Nobel Prize for math – would draw everything she was working on. Her daughter, who was 4 or 5 at the time, thought she was an artist because she was always drawing at the kitchen table. 

What we think of as math is not really what higher level math is. So I tell my students that just because you struggle with this one tiny aspect of math, it doesn’t mean that you can’t think mathematically and be a mathematician. It is so gratifying to watch my students become fully engaged in math and persevere with difficult material. Teaching is truly such a joy.

Interview by Julie Meade. This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

The Magic of Meaningful Work

(… And a recipe for a no-fuss fall soup to make at home.)

Gathering around a table to share a warm midmorning snack is an essential part of the preschool and kindergarten day at Marin Waldorf School. Each of our five classrooms have their own weekly menus for morning snack, and the children learn to recognize the days of the week by the food they share at school: Wednesday is “rice and beans day,” Thursday is “honey bun day” and so on. Soup day is special among them—a warming, handmade meal that all the children love. In fact, vegetable soup is the one snack that all five classrooms make every week of the year!

“Soup is a class community project, where everyone contributes by bringing a vegetable from home and then together transforms it into something that nourishes us all,” says Ms. Greta, lead teacher in the Manzanita mixed-age kindergarten classroom.

Tuesdays are soup day in the Manzanita room. Which means that every Tuesday children bring a fresh vegetable from home and then, together with teachers Ms. Greta and Mr. Rod, our 3-, 4-, and 5-year-old students use paring knives, crinkle cutters, and wooden cutting boards to help chop the vegetables into bite-size pieces for soup.

Added to a pot of browning celery, onion, and garlic, the vegetables are transformed into a colorful, aromatic, and warming autumn soup, which the children share with their teachers at snack time (and it makes plenty of leftovers for Thursday, too, which Ms. Greta tells us are “even tastier!”).

“It’s real work in the real world,” says Peggy Rock, our early childhood coordinator and a veteran kindergarten teacher. Part of that real work is using real tools, including small paring knives that fit in their hands and are sharpened to cut, a very good way to develop fine motor skills. “Children are more capable than you think,” says Peggy. “They may get a few ‘learning cuts,’ but that teaches them to respect the tool and learn to use it.” 

Plus, she tells us, “Making the soup means you enjoy it more. It smells wonderful and it’s magical.”

Manzanita teacher Ms. Greta agrees. “It is practical work with their hands,” she says. “The children have a vested interest in something they’ve made themselves.” In fact, many parents are amazed that their sometimes picky children will enthusiastically fill up on two or three bowls of vegetable soup at school.

Making soup with a young child is a wonderful way to spend an autumn afternoon at home, and the soup we make is super simple and incredibly versatile. Remember, we make it with whatever combination of vegetables the children bring to school — from mushrooms to eggplant to broccoli. Use whatever you have at home.

And, remember, of course, that the most important ingredient is love! 

Warming Autumn Soup 
(adapted from the Hollyhock kindergarten and Manzanita kindergarten soup recipe)


1/4 cup olive oil
6 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1 medium white or yellow onion, diced
3-4 stalks celery
1 tbsp sea salt, plus more to taste
1 tbsp Bragg’s Liquid Aminos or tamari
10 cups of seasonal vegetables, chopped bite-size* (see note)
2 tsp fresh or dried herbs
16-18 cups filtered water

* At Marin Waldorf School, we make soup with a wide and wholly unplanned selection of vegetables, which are contributed by our parents. Carrot, broccoli, mushroom, potatoes, corn, kale, or spinach are delicious, but we find more atypical soup veggies work just as well. Try beets, parsnip, cauliflower, eggplant, or sweet potato. 

Optional: cooked rice, beans, garbanzo beans
Required: love


  1. Work with your child to chop small pieces of carrot, potato, and other veggies you have at home. An adult should chop the onions, garlic, and celery.
  2. Heat the oil in a large stockpot pot or Dutch oven over medium heat. 
  3. Add the onion, celery, and carrots (if using) to the soup pot and stir until golden, about 15 minutes
  4. Add remaining vegetables and sauté, stirring occasionally, for 15 minutes
  5. Add water then turn the heat to high and let the soup come to a slow boil
  6. Put the lid on the pot and turn the heat off. Let the soup rest until serving.
  7. Serve a ladleful of soup in each bowl, topped with Parmesan cheese or nutritional yeast. Serve with bread or crackers.

Warm homemade snacks are a part of daily rhythm in our preschool and kindergarten programs, one of the many details that make our classrooms feel like home. With homemade vegetable soup, you make home feel a bit more like school too!

Categories MWS

Fourth Grade Spends Four Days on a Working Farm

The fourth graders enjoyed their trip to Live Power farm in Covelo, a beautiful valley near Willits.   Live Power farm is a biodynamic farm (based on principles put forth by Rudolf Steiner) and is run by Steve and Gloria Decater.  Passionate and dedicated, they commit to using power from the sun to produce food for 70 families that participate in their CSA program. 

Sheep shearing, potato harvesting, building a biodynamic compost pile, removing brambles, chopping overgrown broccoli and shoveling cow and horse manure were just some of the chores the children completed during their visit.

Waking in the dark, layering up and donning their rubber boots, the children rolled out of their warm sleeping bags when the last stars faded in the dawn light.  They gathered in front of the farm house to begin their morning tasks which included wood splitting,  milking the cow and feeding the horses, steers, chickens, dairy cows and sows. 

Once morning chores were completed, the breakfast bell rang for the children, who then enjoyed a warm breakfast complete with hot chocolate made with milk from the cows. Once nourished themselves, the children went to put the sheep and cows out to pasture for the day. Throughout the day, farm chores continued at a slow easy pace, which allowed children time to be on the land without feeling rushed and to watch the cows chew their hay and to be at peace with the beautiful still work horses.  

For over 40 years, Gloria and Steven have generously hosted thousands of Waldorf students for a three night/ four day farm trip. Children leave the farm with an understanding that humans have been cultivating land for 10,000 years, and only in the past 100 years have they depended on fossil fuel.  The children learned that everything on the farm is connected- the land, plants, animals and humans, and that without one the others would fail to thrive or even exist.   

One of the many gifts we received at the farm was the benefit of sleeping in a new building that has been a dream of the Decaters for a long time. We arrived in the rain, and felt blessed to have an option to have a roof over our heads to protect us from wetness and the chill of morning frost.  They are still fundraising for this beautiful conference room which will one day have a kitchen, bathrooms and a shower.  Watch this video to meet Steven, Gloria and their work horses!

More farms we love:

Botany, gardening, and learning to cultivate and care for plants are all part of the Waldorf curriculum, with even our kindergarten classrooms caring for their own garden patches. Here are a few other community farms we love.

Bramble Tail Herdshare Program, Sebastapol, CaliforniaBramble Tail Homestead is one part of the Green Valley Farm + Mill land project, located in Sebastopol. Their herdshare program is an opportunity to co-own their herd of Jersey cows and become part of their mission to promote an ecological food web. Members of the herdshare get a portion of their raw milk. Learn more on their website or email brambletailhomestead@gmail.com if you are interested in becoming a member of the herdshare!

Three Springs Community Farm, Bodega, CaliforniaLast year’s third grade class visited this beautiful 80-acre educational farm in Bodega, California, goats, pigs, chickens and biodynamically grown produce. The children were assigned tasks like digging and sifting compost, harvesting radishes, garlic scapes, and peas, planting potatoes, and using hand scythes for cutting grass and then getting to feed the pigs, chickens, and goats.

Categories MWS