Staying Balanced, Staying Healthy

By Mia Terziev, 7th Grade Class Teacher, Marin Waldorf School

In this time of great uncertainty and what, at times, feels like chaos, I have been focusing a lot of my time and energy on the external, precautionary measures we need to take in order to be safe and healthy in the midst of a pandemic. There are many critical behaviors for us to commit to and create as habits in order to keep each other safe: regular hand-washing, mask-wearing, social-distancing, disinfecting. These are all very clear and necessary and specific – rules that we must follow as we navigate the stormy seas together. We are all in this boat, every single one of us. For me, the outlook can easily increase my stress levels. In addition to the necessary precautions we all need to take to limit the risks of Covid, what about the other aspects of our health? In a phone conversation with a parent in my class last week, I was pleasantly reminded of a free, convenient, healing immune system booster: sunshine! When enjoyed in moderation, the sun has many healing benefits. So, I am increasing my daily dose from not much to more. 

This week I have decided to remember and focus on all the ways I can take action to fortify my health and well-being while sheltering in place. Really there’s nothing new here, just reminders about what we already know. But sometimes I need a reminder, it is so easy to get out of balance with diet or sleep or screen time, especially when I am feeling fear, grief, overwhelm, and anxiety about the world and all the things I have no control over. Now more than ever I feel the need to recommit to myself by doing what I can to strengthen my forces. 

Here are some thoughts and articles I have found to be very helpful reminders as I strive to cultivate healthy habits. This is meant in a general way regarding general good health. Some people live with acute health issues and preexisting conditions for which these ideas and resources may or may not be helpful. 

On balance: 

“The best protection against any [contagious] illness is to have a healthy and balanced lifestyle, diet and work/sleep rhythm. One’s mental and emotional balance is critical. One should be prudent, but not obsessive or fearful; confident and self-possessed, but not thinking oneself invulnerable.” Dr. Philip Incao

On thoughts: 

“Thought is a vital, living force, the most vital, subtle, and irresistible force there is in the universe…The “power of the word” is a literal scientific fact…The spoken word is nothing more or less than the outward expression of the workings of (our thought) forces…And in a sense love is everything. It is the key to life, and its influences are those that move the world. Live only in the thought of love for all and you will draw love to you from all. Live in the thought of malice and hatred, and malice and hatred will come back to you. Every thought you entertain is a force that goes out, and every thought comes back laden with its kind.” Ralph Waldo Trine

On healthy habits:

Your immune system hums with activity. Cells, tissues, and organs work together all through your body to coordinate attacks against invading pathogens. You can help to keep this system running smoothly and efficiently when responding to threats.” (Read the full article)

On finding the essential:

“So all one needs to do is spend time looking at the visions one has for body, soul and spirit, and this will help clarify our goals and guide us to those essential and most important activities in our life.” Susan Johnson (Read the full article)

In addition to spending more time in the sunny garden, prioritizing nutritious foods, finding ways to move my body often, and taking time to have fun with my family, I am listening to this audiobook by our own Jack Kornfield,  Guided Meditations for Difficult Times. I highly recommend it. From the beginning I was laughing and crying and feeling hopeful. Here’s a short excerpt from the introduction: 

“If you can sit quietly after difficult news;

if in financial downturns you remain perfectly calm;

if you can see your neighbors travel to fantastic places without a twinge of jealousy;

if you can happily eat whatever is put on your plate;

if you can fall asleep after a day of running around without a drink or a pill;

if you can always find contentment just where you are:

you are probably a dog.”

As a person who thrives on making plans and knowing what to expect, I am being forced every day to navigate life and work during a pandemic, a difficult task which includes accepting the unknown while remaining open and flexible. Any plan I make is almost immediately thwarted. Of course, there are preparations I can focus on, and I believe one of my most important tasks right now is to cultivate my health – finding balance, and living more fully in the present moment. 

If you have found great ways to stay healthy and balanced, please share them! 

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.