Gardening and Waldorf Education
Although gardening was not included in the curriculum Steiner instituted at the opening of the first Waldorf School, by Christmas of 1922 he had amended the oversight. Of particular concern to Steiner was the effect on children of a trend that has only accelerated in the intervening century, namely, the migration of the majority of the population from pastoral to urban communities. Growing up in towns and cities, children have difficulty even in recognizing the various plants and animals upon which humans depend for food, much less understanding how crops grow and appreciating the close connection between geography, climate, seasons, plants and soil. Many children and adults have lost the sense of themselves as part of nature.
Gardening provides an avenue for reconnection as well as a practical field in which to demonstrate and put into practice principles related to Steiner’s broader anthroposophical studies, such as biodynamic soil preparation and balanced livestock/pasture/crop management. Gardening also provides opportunity for meaningful work, healthful exercise, and extremely fresh and nutritious food.
The Santa Cruz Waldorf School Garden & Permaculture Education
At the Santa Cruz Waldorf School we have a large and well established garden which contains a variety of fruit trees and perennials, over 30 beds for flowers, vegetables, and herbs, chicken and duck housing, a community kitchen and a fire pit. There are also numerous fruit trees throughout the grounds and a young orchard behind the main campus. We are continually learning and improving the design of the garden to create a regenerative site using permaculture principles for water harvesting and conservation, ease and quality of care for the plants and soil (including biodynamics), gathering space for classes and the greater community, provision of food, flowers, and other things needed by the community, and a resource for skills such as food preservation, animal husbandry, butchering, erosion control, and orcharding. Additionally, a permaculture training for adults takes place once a month at the school providing further opportunities for community education and participation in regenerative projects on the campus. (for more information, visit www.regenrativedesign.org )
Gardening for K-2
Children are invited to interact with the garden as early as possible. Kindergarten children work in a small kindergarten garden alongside classmates and teachers throughout the year in a casual way, and they pop into the adjacent main garden frequently to collect eggs, bring materials to compost, or visit with the chicks and ducklings.
First and second grade students do not have formal gardening classes, but they do spend a lot of their recess times in the garden, coming in with their teachers to visit the birds, pick flowers or deliver compost.
Gardening for 3-8
Formal instruction with the school’s gardening teacher begins in the third grade. All grades 3-8 practice quiet observation time both in the garden and on hikes in the surrounding creeks and forests, and participate in whatever activities are needed in the garden including bed prep, weeding, seed starting, transplanting, harvesting, tool care and bird care. Children work with natural cycles of time, water, fertility and decomposition, and older grades are introduced to the concepts of sustainability and regeneration through permaculture and biodynamic practices.
Third grade gardening emphasizes farming and animal care in keeping with their curriculum. With the help of parent volunteers they enjoy a special Breakfast in the Garden program throughout the fall, during which they harvest, prepare, eat and clean up a meal once a week. Popular dishes include garden frittata, veggies and dip and apple muffins, or pumkpin pancakes with deviled eggs and fresh pressed apple juice.
Fourth grade has a special emphasis on animals and takes the lead on our spring incubating and hatching projects. Fifth focuses on small plants and botany, sixth grade works with tree planting and orchard care, seventh grade explores wilderness skills and long term garden planning, and eighth grade works on garden and campus service projects as well as making goods to sell for fundraising.
The principle themes for gardening classes are working together and caring for the earth. Children are taught to work for the love of work and for others, to enjoy the strength of their bodies and their connection to the earth and each other, and to see the interconnected whole rather than the parts. In so doing they are provided with a basis for building true community. They learn to work together socially and develop a love and respect for nature, taking pride and experiencing pleasure and satisfaction in the vibrant and lively garden space that is created with their help and care.