My daughter adores her teachers at Kindergarten and feels a strong sense of ownership towards her classroom as a space and a community. Most significantly, she loves the rhythm of the day and the small routines associated with them. My daughter has made many friends this year, and has had enriching experiences of free play which are the result of intentional crafting and design of her day at school. This is especially unique because my child is aware of that sense of freedom to play, within a framework of boundaries that makes sense to her and is so solid and ever present. She often says to me, ‘I go to school to play. We have only some rules, but I can choose what I want to play and with who and like that.’ For my daughter, this was everything she needed for her strong spirit yet sometimes anxious self in times of irregularity and inconsistency. Within the nest which her classroom represents, she is secure in the certainty of what is and is not, yet free to explore and make sense of the world and her place in it.
The leadership at Polaris School and Centre is different than in most schools, as there is no role of a principal and vice principal and so on. This was new to me and I have come to learn of how the circle of teachers lead collaboratively in the pedagogy of the school, the culture of learning, student matters and so on. The board of governors also shares the leadership in terms of vision and long term sustainability of the school.
Polaris offers a Waldorf education and I am still learning about it as my child is experiencing, as well as through the books available for parents at the school. My daughter’s current teacher in Kindergarten is a master educator, one who brings the precious fruits of intentional and hard work from over two decades. I could not imagine a better quality experience for my child in the early years. Most significantly, the knowledge of the child is not lost in Waldorf education and the children benefit from having many years of contact with the same main classroom teacher and/or specialist teachers. This means that both the teacher and the child can tap into a deeper relationship with each other, and the educational experience for each child becomes significantly more “personalized” in an authentic way, and in a natural way extending from the teachers’ cumulative knowledgeable of each child. There is ample opportunities to learn about your child through conversations and detailed written reports.
To my knowledge, Waldorf academic education emphasizes the tools, skills and personal connection to learning. In other words, as a parent I am not so much concerned with what is being covered, as much as to how it is being covered and how my child is acquiring the skills, methodologies, approaches to learn for herself. The emphasis of the use of arts and handwork as a place to build transferable skills but also synthesize and make meaning of what is learned, as well as the use of Main Lesson books where children write and draw their own learning and understanding really appeals to me as a parent teacher as a rigorous way for children to learn, interpret and synthesize what they are learning. Traditionally, these skills were taught separately as “study skills” and have slowly been lost from mainstream education leaving a gap in engagement between content and the student. Most of all, this kind of education equips students with the experiences and dispositions which help them achieve mastery when learning something new, again, something which is absent in mainstream education where children are not allowed the grace of time or depth to master anything within the school day, month or year.
Polaris School and Centre attracted me because of its many community offerings. There are workshops and lectures for adults, as well as festivals and gatherings for the whole community. There are also magical summer camps, after school care, a parent-and-child program and potential for more in the future through its growing hub. As is common in Waldorf schools, events, family engagements and gatherings are part of the culture of the school and COVID has interrupted such offerings but hopefully they will resume.
As the school is fairly new, and has also experienced changes with COVID it is difficult to give an in-depth answer. However, anecdotally the families gather in the public park after school and children of all ages mix together, play respectfully, and resolve problems. There is a sense of common understandings of what is acceptable, appropriate, and of how to approach each other. I noticed that even though the children do not know each other as well between the different grades, they are amazing at organizing themselves as a whole group and have organic emergent roles of leadership and following. I will also say that within the classroom cohorts the relationships are close and children continue to connect outside of school through the various school COVID shutdowns in whatever capacity they can. These are strong indicators for a spirit of community at the school.
My child repeatedly says, ‘School is like home’. More significantly, when I leave Nabawa at school, I also feel as a parent that I left her in her second home. There is a sense of trustworthiness that I cannot quantify, but it is in the quality of how child-centred Nabawa’s day feels. As a child who has strong feelings about being given choice, and choosing for herself, I always receive her feeling satisfied that she did exactly what she came to do today, even if it was a hard day with some friends. And even when the days are hard, she feels seen, heard and understood but of course needing me and needing to process it with me.
The school has been challenged in providing these opportunities due to COVID restrictions and there were many events that had to be cancelled. The community behind the school is rich in history and commitment to seeing the school succeed, and hopefully now that there is better access to community gatherings both the current parent and community and the preexisting community of Friends of Waldorf Education in Ottawa can congregate as a larger community around the school. The current parent community has shown enthusiasm, commitment and envisioning and we are excited to see things begin to unfold this year. I am a volunteer in the formation of and launching of our Families Association (aka Parents Association) which we intentionally named so to be more inclusive of all families in support of the school, within and around.
As a user of public transportation I have appreciated how accessible the school is, located right in the heart of Overbrook close to many significant intersections, routes, etc. More excitingly, the host building the Hardini Centre also has vast green grounds around it which are home to the Nature Connect Program which runs on Fridays. There is space for the school to grow and neighbouring organizations which provide opportunities for classroom partnerships, inquiries, exchanges and networking.