Meet Adventure-Loving Marieke

A native of the Netherlands and a graduate of the Waldorf teacher training program in Stuttgart, Germany, Marieke Duijneveld joined the MWS family two years ago as a mom to four students before taking a place on our faculty last year as a parent-child teacher. In the fall of 2020, Marieke took the lead in the Morning Glory kindergarten class, where she leads twice-weekly song-filled play-based hikes in the hills around school. Read on to hear how Marieke’s free spirit and a love for adventure has propelled her across the world and all the way to Marin County.

Tell me a little bit about your background. Where are you from and where did you grow up?
I am from the Netherlands, from a little town close to the coast—right near the polders, or reclaimed land. In the Netherlands, a lot of the land is created, because it’s below sea level, so they pump the water out and create land.

My father was a teacher in a public school, but when I was two, he became a Waldorf teacher. I went to a Waldorf school from preschool through 12th grade. We biked to school every day. We used the car to go on vacation or to visit my grandparents, who lived two hours away, but we never used it for school—only on my birthday! That was very special, because on my birthday my mother baked a treat to share with the other children in my class, and so we had to drive to school to bring it. Otherwise, rain, shine, snow, we always biked. 

I was a very dreamy child. I had a vivid imagination. I would go into the woods with my friends in long dresses without shoes. I always dreamed of traveling, my ideal was with a covered wagon pulled by a donkey. 

Did you imagine yourself being a teacher growing up?
Not at all, because both my parents were teachers, and they taught at the school I went to. I thought I’d never be in that same situation with my own children!

And now you work at the school where your children go!
Well, at least I don’t teach them. 

What did you parents teach?
My father was a class teacher—but in the Netherlands, there aren’t many subject teachers, so the class teacher also teaches subjects, like form drawing, music, English, German, gym. My mom was the woodwork teacher. 

When I was 16, my father took his sabbatical and we moved to Sweden for a year where we lived on a farm with adults with special needs. I went to a school that wasn’t a Waldorf school. It was a huge shock! But it was good for me, and helped me to appreciate Waldorf education.

Then you went back and graduated from the Waldorf school?
Yes, and then I went to college and I met my husband while in college. We were in the students’ choir, and one weekend we were all on the train and someone found out I went to a Waldorf school. 

He called to Jasper, “Hey, Marieke, also went to Waldorf school!” So we sat together and talked about woolen underwear and no TV, and so on, and that was it!  

How did you end up in California?
When we were both 28, we wanted to move abroad. I had a dream: Let’s start an orphanage in Argentina! I was looking for something adventurous—something that sounded very far away. My husband is a bit more realistic. A friend of his worked at Weleda and it’s an international company, so Jasper applied to Weleda, and was hired in a role in Germany. Moving to Germany did not feel as adventurous as Argentina. And there were no palm trees!

Since we’d moved to Stuttgart, I decided to attend the Waldorf teacher training. I didn’t speak German very well, so I needed to find something to help me learn the language. I loved it. I studied to be a class teacher, and I taught in a local Waldorf school after graduating. Then our first daughter was born, and our second daughter soon after that. 

When Jasper was asked to lead Weleda North America, we had to decide whether we would move to the United States. At first, it didn’t sound appealing to me. But we both like adventure, so we said, let’s do it and see what happens. We moved to Chestnut Ridge, New York, a little north of New York City. 

We loved it there. I didn’t know much about the U.S., and the people were so helpful and so nice. It was nice to live close to New York City, because we could just go there for a night, for instance to Carnegie Hall. We loved the Waldorf school our children went to. In the Netherlands, all Waldorf schools are public charter schools, none of them are fully independent, private schools. So children have to take tests and the curriculum is heavily influenced by the public school system. The education at Green Meadow Waldorf School in Chestnut Ridge felt so much closer to what I think Steiner intended with Waldorf education. 

I worked as a parent and child teacher, and later as a kindergarten teacher at Green Meadow Waldorf School. After a total of 10 years in New York, it was time for something new. I still missed those palm trees and wanted to go to California. So we chose to move across the country and embrace yet another adventure here in Marin! 

Tell me about being a mom to four children. That’s a lot of kids!
Yes it is a lot. And I love it! 

I always wished for a large family and am so grateful to have four wonderful children. There is an anecdote about how to deal with a large family. With one child, both parents have their hands full, with two, it’s really, really busy but at least you have two hands, and in my case a partner. Three is stressful because you’re trying to stay in control, with four you just have to give up trying to keep everything under control. 

Working with children in kindergarten every day inspires me to be a better mom. And vice versa, my experience as a mom probably also helps me professionally. 

Kindergarten is different this year, but are there any upsides to early childhood during COVID?
It is wonderful to be outdoors more than before. We added more hike days to the program, which I otherwise maybe wouldn’t have done. Being on these hikes in nature with the children is so sweet. We go to places where there aren’t any toys, and they just play! They play for an hour and a half without taking a break, and they enjoy being in their dreamy worlds.

It’s lovely to be in kindergarten and to help create a world that is good, and forget about everything else that is going on. 

Also, I love that the groups are smaller as a result of the Covid pandemic. It seems to benefit the children socially. It feels more natural. 

Meet the Imaginative Rod DeRienzo

In the second installment of our interview series, we’re introducing the delightful Manzanita early childhood assistant teacher Rod DeRienzo. Mr. Rod is known to many children on our campus as the famous voice of the Gold Monkey and Jeremy the Giant, two characters from an original story series he created for his daughter (if you aren’t a fan already, you can listen to one of his stories by clicking here). To grades students, he’s Mr. DeRienzo, last year’s lead aftercare teacher and the creator of stories about Phillipe, Suzette, and the mice of Córdoba.

Below, Mr. Rod shares how he began making up children’s stories, how he found Waldorf education, and what he likes about working in the Manzanita classroom.

Tell me about your background.
I grew up in New Jersey, in suburbia. My father was the mayor of my little town for 30 years.

Wow! 
Yep. Proud Democrat! And I got my first job before I was a year old. 

And what was that?
I was a male model. I was the “dry baby” for the Pampers commercials that ran for about three years between 1972-75. You can still find them on YouTube. 

That’s amazing!
Yes, millions of people have seen my rear end.

How do you even get cast for something like that?
That was my mother. She thought I was such a cute baby.

Did you see yourself as a teacher growing up, or is that something that came later?
Again, with my father being mayor, he was always involved in Scouts and coaching and all that, so I think I inherited his interest in helping children. For a time I was the adult leader of the Boy Scouts and Cub Scouts, when I was 18 years old. Yup, I’m an Eagle Scout. 

I’ve always been interested in education. I helped tutor my niece and nephews before I had my own family. I went to a Montessori grade school so I’ve always appreciated alternatives to the standard.  

After college, I went right into the family business, which was corporate moving in the New York–New Jersey area. I ran crews of 100+ men, big trucks in and out. I got to yell a lot. But that experience probably helps with staying calm amongst herds of children.

What brought you to Waldorf?
My wife. She found it for my stepdaughter, Oona. To be honest, at first I thought it was silly. I thought the children would know nothing but churning butter and knitting. But when Oona was in kindergarten I volunteered in the woodworking class, as a father volunteer, and that’s when I started looking around and realizing how wonderful it all is. 

Dave Alsop, who was involved in the Bay Area Center for Waldorf Teacher Training, was running a new dad circle where we would meet at the school once a week, read a book, and talk about how to be good fathers. It was through him that I learned about the teacher training and my wife suggested that I take it. She knew my destiny long before I did!

I enrolled in BACWTT in 2013. That year BACWTT was moving their summer session from the East Bay to the Marin Waldorf campus and they needed someone with moving experience.

You’re kidding?
No, I’m not. 

So since 2013, I’ve been on BACWTT’s board of directors. Actually, now I’m the president of the board. So I’ve come a long way from my initial what are these hippies doing? 

My first Waldorf job was in the kindergarten with Ms. Lisa, even before I graduated from the teacher training. I was the early childhood aftercare assistant. I’ve taught a combined 5th/6th grade at another Waldorf school and have substituted in all the classes here at MWS and was the grades aftercare teacher here for a few years. During training, I wanted to be in the high school track, because my college degree is in medieval history, but fate seems to bring me to the little ones. 

What’s the best part of the day in the Manzanita class?
The best part of the day? Hmm, it’s hard to say. I think the best part of the day is observing the children during free play. I’m part referee, part lifeguard. And to see them—how they interact, how they’re growing, how they work through their dilemmas—it’s just wonderful to see.

What’s it like working in early childhood and having your son right across the way?
It’s perfect. We want him to be independent and not always with Daddy, but I get to look over the fence and see him playing. I can hear the teachers singing, “Ozzi, put that stick down!” 

You know, it’s precious, and I wouldn’t give it up for anything. Our children grow up so fast. Oona is already in 8th grade! And here we are, starting from the bottom up again. It’s kinda nice.

That’s where all the stories come from—it’s from Oona. Because I would tell Oona stories every night, and the books we had—the standard Doctor Seuss and whatnot—I thought I could do better. I started telling her stories and we would be giggling and laughing away in the room and my wife Tanya would wonder, What are you telling her, is it appropriate? What’s going on in there?

To provide proof of my appropriateness, I began to record our stories. It then became a tradition to record all of our bedtime stories. For Oona, I have 800 or so recorded. And for Ozzi, we’re on 604 as of last night.

So Tanya could hear them too?
Yup, she trusts me now. After a decade or so! 

Well, now your stories have made you famous on our campus. 
For years I’ve told the children stories in aftercare, both grades and early childhood, as well as during the distance learning last year. I also recorded stories during the summer for my fans.

Are you sure you don’t want to write a book?
No, you know, it’s the sound and the voices. I like uploading stories to my Patreon site. I intend to add some more stories for November. Actually, my wife and I do have a rough draft of a historical romance we’ve written together. But that story is not for the kids! 

Gallery: Early Childhood Outdoors

Many families at Marin Waldorf School were first drawn to Waldorf education when they discovered our magical early childhood programs. Every year, our skilled and nurturing early childhood teachers create a warm, homelike environment for their young students, with natural rhythms, homemade snacks, and lots of stories and outdoor play.

Our preschoolers and kindergartners generally spend a large part of their day outdoors, with large oak- and redwood-shaded play yards just for them. Even so, it was hard to imagine our cozy early childhood classrooms moved almost entirely outdoors! But, as we prepared to reopen campus, early childhood, like the rest of our school, is taking advantage of our abundant outdoor space.

Behold the magical environment our early childhood teachers created for Marin Waldorf School Outdoors. From the new vegetable garden in the Hollyhock classroom to Ms. Sarah’s seasonal felted fairy wearing her face masks, not a detail has been overlooked. Welcome home, students!

And here are a few shots of Ms. Brenda’s beautiful Sunflower classroom from our earlier post Sweet Spaces for Early Childhood.

Bravo!

Gallery: Orientation Days

This week, we invited small groups of students and their parents to campus on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday morning. It was an opportunity for the children to use their outdoor classrooms for the first time and begin learning the new safety procedures for the 2020 school year. It was also an opportunity for our parents to see the classrooms they’ve worked hard to create one last time: When school starts next week, parents and visitors will no longer be allowed on campus.

We continued to put the finishing touches on our classrooms, learned how to use the bathroom safely, and spent a lot of time practicing our 6-foot distancing.

We also have a few adorable videos from our first days back. Here’s the second grade students and parents sewing cushions for their outdoor classrooms, and the third graders trying out their new outdoor balance beam.

Here are some happy third graders with their harvest of fresh grapes. Gardening is always a central part of the third grade curriculum, and a small garden space on the east side of campus is usually set aside for the third grade to plant and tend. This year, that garden is their classroom!

2020 has been a year like no other, and as we head into Labor Day weekend, going back to school, and all the simple pleasures that come with it, has never felt quite so grand!

Sweet Spaces for Early Childhood

Over the past few weeks, we’ve had pictures of hay bales, wheelbarrows, and pickups rolling around campus. Now, we’re starting to put the finishing touches on our new outdoor spaces. For early childhood students, our teachers are hard at work re-creating the cozy, warm, homelike environment we love in their outdoor spaces.

Sunflower lead teacher and early childhood director Ms. Brenda has been busy in her new classroom, as she writes to her families this week:

“Every good Waldorf teacher knows that the classroom is another teacher for young children, so planning for a mixed-age class has provided me with the opportunity to broaden my imagination.  For the past week, I have been getting the basics in place. I have made, bought, received, rehabilitated, acquired, or polished wooden toys, huge building blocks, 12 new cutting boards for vegetables, 12 Kindergarten hammers + other woodworking equipment, place mats that ensure social distancing, hand-dyed silk for play, babies with dresses and pinafores, a little kitchen, soft rugs, outdoor rugs, and so much more.”

“All of this work has been done with an understanding of how to build a classroom during a pandemic,” says Ms. Brenda. “Can you believe it? I can. Now I am working on creating a pulley system for our older children (the younger ones will be captivated), one that will help us move all kinds of important items. It’s science in action!”

Outdoor Classrooms Across the Country

If you’ve been following along on this blog or are already a member of the MWS community, you know we’ve been working hard all summer to prepare our school’s outdoor classrooms for a safer reopening of campus this fall. Last week, our school applied for a waiver from the county and state to reopen to in-person learning on September 8.

While distance learning was a challenge for our close-knit, tech-free community, spending time outdoors is right within our element as a Waldorf school, where building a relationship with and respect for nature is an integral part of education. While we wait for a response to our application for a waiver, we’ve been feeling inspired to be a part of the nationwide movement to move learning outdoors. From Sioux Falls, South Dakota, to Burlington, Vermont, teachers are pulling out whiteboards and setting up umbrellas and shade sails to create new classroom spaces. Just yesterday, New York City shared a potential plan to move classrooms outdoors, taking students to nearby parks and even into (closed) city streets!

In this story from PBS News Hour, Sharon Danks, co-founder of the National Covid-19 Outdoor Learning Initiative, says, “Schools have a lot of potential to use their grounds that they’re not tapping.”

“So in this case, in the COVID context, we think they have plenty of space outside that can augment the inside space when they’re looking to spread kids out for social distancing,” she continues. (You can read more about Danks’s project, National COVID-19 Outdoor Learning Initiative, here.)

Here in California, we have mild (if, hopefully, rainy) winters, but Danks says it’s possible to move education outdoors across climates. “We have great examples from Canada and from northern Scandinavia where they can go outside in the winter. And actually in Chicago in the pandemic in 1918, tuberculosis and the Spanish flu pandemic, they did go outside even there all winter in some schools,” she tells NewsHour.

We love seeing so many other Waldorf schools across the country redesigning their programs for outdoor learning. Just this morning, the Lake Champlain Waldorf School was featured on the Today Show segment about outdoor classrooms while a fourth grade teacher at Prairie Hill Waldorf School was featured in the national news for her unique outdoor classroom design.

Is this the beginning of a new movement in Waldorf schools and education in general?

Gallery: Our Campus in Transformation

Every Monday this summer, our faculty has come together on Zoom to discuss our plans for the upcoming school year. During our meeting this week, each of our class teachers took a few minutes to describe their progress on and vision for their outdoor classroom. We heard about a planned arbor at the entrance of one room, a planting project atop the straw bales that form a classroom’s border, a wall made of twined willow, spaced tree stumps, and more. With each class, our excitement grew.

At Marin Waldorf School, we have always been grateful for our beautiful campus, with its big grassy field, abundant working garden, surrounding open space, and groves of redwoods and valley oaks throughout. As we approach the next year, this beloved space is becoming all the more essential as we re-envision our students spending their days almost entirely outdoors.

On Sunday, we shared some photos from the first few weeks of our classroom build out. We’re back today with some gorgeous shots taken by one of our parents. Look at these beautiful classroom spaces for the fall of 2020 (that’s 5th grade under the oaks in the first three pictures, 1st grade nestled amid the redwoods, and 7th grade in the last picture on the bottom right).

And here are a few more fun action shots from the building.

We’ll keep posting photos, so please check back for images of the arbor and willow walls, the new plants and the new chalkboards very soon!

Stumps, Straw, and Chips: 2020 Classroom Building Begins!

Last week, NBC News ran a story that featured our colleagues at the Detroit Waldorf School, who are planning to open their classrooms entirely outdoors this fall. The writers pointed out that their back-to-school shopping list is a bit “unusual.” “The Detroit Waldorf School in Michigan is buying carriage bolts, berry bushes and 8,000 square feet of cedar wood,” the authors report.

Our own shopping list is somewhat unconventional too: In the past week, our campus has received shipments of wood chips, tree stumps, straw bales, shade sails, recycled wood, and Crazy Creek chairs. (We’re also stocking up on Humanity Shields and alcohol-based hand sanitizer.) Last week, we shared how work on outdoor classrooms had started, and now, as supplies are arriving on campus, that work has begun in earnest!

In the photo to the left, Ms. Percey gives the 5th grade classroom a test run, with masked students seated on hay bales and fold-up chairs. Their lap desks, which students may use on top of a folding table or on their lap when seated on the earth, seemed to work very well in our test run.

What a lovely spot for our 5th graders to learn this year—and especially appropriate for the 5th grade botany block!

Beneath the shade of the oak trees in the Magic Forest, the 7th grade space is clearly marked with hay bales along its border, and tree stumps are set up at 6-foot intervals.

In this picture, you can see the frame for the chalkboard at the front of the 7th grade class, with the branch of all beautiful valley oak tree serving as a natural wall.

Early childhood classrooms will each their own dedicated outdoor space, where children will spend a large part of the day, rain or shine.

In the photo at the left, a family in our new mixed-age early childhood classroom Manzanita helps prepare the new play space for our smallest students. Manzanita teacher Ms. Sarah imagines a big garden in this space, where the children will grow plants all year.

We can’t wait to see the way our classrooms take shape over the next few weeks, as our teachers and parents bring their goodwill and creativity to the great outdoor classroom build out of 2020. We will have even more pictures of the outdoor classrooms this week… so check back soon.

Second Nature: Learning Outdoors in Waldorf Education

This summer, our faculty and staff are busy creating beautiful, sun-shaded outdoor classrooms across our 11-acre campus so that our students may more safely return to in-person education in September. (Read more here.) While outdoor classrooms may sound nontraditional, learning outside is, in fact, nothing new in a Waldorf school.

In Waldorf education, building a relationship with nature is central to a child’s development. Time outdoors teaches children about the Earth’s natural rhythms and cycles, allows them to experience natural phenomena before studying them in a classroom, and fortifies the child’s relationship with and respect for the natural world. To learn more about Waldorf schools and their relationship with nature, please check out this wonderful piece, “Waldorf Education and the Nature Connection,” from the blog Loving Learning by our colleagues at Philly Waldorf School.

At Marin Waldorf School students in every grade, starting in preschool, spend a large part of their day outside, rain or shine. Kindergartners take weekly hikes in the hills near campus and learn that, as the saying goes, “there is no such things as bad weather, only bad clothes.”

Throughout the grades, the relationship with nature that was built in early childhood continues through gardening, environmental education, outdoor education trips, and weekly hikes off campus.

For many of our students, a snowy ascent up Mt. Shasta or jumping into nearby Miller Creek during an environmental education class may be among their best memories at school.

6th Grade class trip to Mount Diablo.

A group of kindergartners stops for a snack on their weekly hike to Dragon Mountain.
Third graders harvesting in our school’s garden.
A 6th grade social ethics class takes places in the shade of an oak tree on campus.
A group of first graders climbs a waterfall.

Like Marin Waldorf Schools, many Waldorf school across the country are finding its an easy transition to create safer outdoor classroom spaces for fall 2020. Sanderling Waldorf School in Vista, California, was recently featured on their local CBS station for creating an outdoor program. Watch the story here.

Atlanta Waldorf School was featured in the CNN article “More than ever, we need nature. It makes us and our children happier.”

The many benefits of connecting with nature and learning outside have been studied by scientists and psychologists—long before the pandemic made the reality of outdoor classrooms even more urgent. Here are a few of our favorite recent stories about outdoor learning.

The Great Outdoor Classrooms

At Marin Waldorf School, we nourish the relationship between children and the natural world. Starting in early childhood, our students spend ample time outdoors, playing, hiking, and lunching beneath the oak trees. As grades students, they hike in the open space that surrounds our school, care for and study our campus flora, and work in our school’s abundant garden.

We are building on that foundation now. This summer, we are creating open-air classrooms for each grade, scattered across our 13-acre campus. (In the drawing above, you can see a snippet of our reimagined campus map, with outdoor classrooms for each grade level.) The classrooms will allow for fresh air and maximum social distancing—and of course they will also be beautiful! To the left, our woodworking teacher Mr. Neale paints one of the blackboards that will be installed in each of the classrooms. Lap desks, hay bales, and sun shades will follow.

There is strong research to suggest that outdoor classrooms would be safer for students during a pandemic, but are they effective places to teach?

Last week, many people in our community noticed this fascinating story in the New York Times (right), which documents the use of outdoor classrooms in early 20th century New York to fight rampant tuberculosis infection in the city.

The article outlines the compelling safety reasons for building outdoor classrooms (“one of the few things we know about the coronavirus with any degree of certainty is that the risk of contracting it diminishes outside — a review of 7,000 cases in China recorded only one instance of fresh-air transmission”). However, it also outlines the emotional and pedagogical benefits of being outdoors.

Among other compelling research, author Ginia Bellafante shares the following: “A 2018 study conducted over an academic year looked at the emotional, cognitive and behavioral challenges facing 161 fifth graders. It found that those participating in an outdoor science class showed increased attention over those in a control group who continued to learn conventionally. At John M. Patterson, an elementary school in Philadelphia, suspensions went from 50 a year to zero after a playground was built in which students maintain a rain-garden and take gym and some science classes, the principal, Kenneth Jessup, told me.”

This morning, the Marin Independent Journal shared another story, “Marin school finds pandemic workaround: the outdoors,” about the local Terra Marin School in Mill Valley, which is going to be operating outdoors this fall.

We’ll be sharing more photos and updates of our classrooms this summer, as well as more research about the benefits of outdoor learning, so please follow along.