Polaris has been a wonderful safe haven for my anxious, restless son. Everyday he came home with lessons learnt so unobtrusively, with his lessons learnt and drilled through an endless succession of stories, games, activities with movement, music, and rhyme. Sometimes the children didn't even seem fully aware that a lesson had, in fact, taken place. What my son loves best is the amount of outdoor time they get everyday in all weather. His reports are filled with affectionate accounts of all his teachers, those he interacts with at recess, or volunteers. The overwhelmingly reassuring feeling i have as a mother is that all his day to day encounters with adults are kind and positive ones. He also loves his handwork projects. He is filled with satisfaction for all the things he has either made or is learning about- the spinning he is sanding, his knitting needles which he has made himself, the dish cloth he was knitting before the shutdown, finger knitting, corking, needle felting, and on one snowy day-- spinning on a large, wooden spinning wheel.
What I have observed is that everyone is very willing to make adjustments. We have, on occasion, had problems that needed tactful handling, and I have found that in general the administration has been very open and willing to troubleshoot. They are also very sympathetic to the individual needs and weaknesses of a child. In kindergarten, Ms Osman allowed us to come at a flexible time in the morning, and we gradually increased attendance from two half days to two full days to more. In first grade, despite a very rough beginning, my son slowly adjusted from tears and tummy aches in the morning, with careful coaching of inhale/exhale outside the class door to a casual goodbye and sunny smiles. He told me once he would rather be at school on weekends as well!
I have been impressed by how the teachers have been tackling Math in first grade as I watched my son learn addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. It has not been taught painfully, with anxiety and needing additional coaching at home. Rather, my son came home chanting rhymes as he practised numbers. And he genuinely seemed excited by this new skill and felt that he was good at it! What i appreciate about Waldorf schooling at this level and for this age is that there is very little anxiety or stress over lessons, which arise very intuitively and organically out of play, rhythm, and stories. They are also learning to read, but at a slower pace. I am confident that my child, when he does eventually read, will have learnt joyfully and easily without really noticing, rather than painfully and before his mind is fully ready, with all the joys of a tooth extraction!
I think one of the greatest strengths of Polaris, if I may be permitted to approach the subject sideways, is its determinedly low tech stance on learning. At a time when children spend the bulk of their time at home on electronic devices, it is an amazing gift if our children can learn via interactive humans rather than interactive software! This genuine meeting of mind to mind has a deeper and more lasting impact that, in the long run, will develop our children's characters and nourish their spirits, so that they can learn. As my children are 6 and 7, my most immediate concern is the health of their mind and spirit, rather than facts absorbed and concrete skills mastered, although this too is happening. I think the gentle, slow, and patient approach of Waldorf schooling will allow my children to tackle any subject or discipline they wish to pursue.
As my children are very young, i cannot comment on the programmes for older ages, although my impression of that is very favourable as well. Our first year with Polaris, I recall that the high schoolers had been away for quite a long period for a work/learning experience farm. There is a wonderful nature day programme on Fridays which all the children who attend absolutely love. There is opportunity for play, but also much learning takes place, knowledge of bushcraft, survival, food foraging, and botany.
At present, it is a small school, but what i can say is that all the children by and large know each other. They know who all their friends' siblings are, and who their parents are. There is a very real sense of comfort and camaraderie that is tangible as you walk down the slightly worn halls of Polaris. After school, l watch as the children hold intense conferences about who is available to play at the park. There are quarrels and conflicts which get ironed out, and at end of the day, we understand that our children are growing up together. My son's class had 8 children this past year, and, despite the strange, interrupted year they have had, they are all looking forward to being together again.
My son had a difficult start in first grade. He had terrible anxiety and we struggled to get him to class every morning, and to nurse him through the week. His teachers were supportive-- he had the option of coming later if necessary. There were other adjustments made to help him cope better. Slowly over the months, he overcame his anxiety, and his teachers and i discussed triggering factors and they helped to remove/reduce them. Now he looks forward to his school day, calm and composed in the morning, and cheerfully exhausted at pickup time. He chats with friends in the hallway and speaks to all his teachers, and it is clear that he is comfortable. This would not have been possible without the patient understanding of his teachers.
Parent involvement is perhaps one of the bywords of Waldorf schooling. At Polaris, we are part of all aspects of the school. Parents attend general meetings regarding budget, fundraising, enrolment, they volunteer to fulfill different roles in the school, participate in craft groups, and are involved with the running of the school. We take part in the fundraising campaigns and help to organize fairs and festivals. I think on the whole everyone feels welcome and appreciated. As you walk down the halls or chat with others, much like the children, we feel comfortable and at home. We know everyone else and care for the wellbeing of everyone else's children as well. We all feel committed and concerned with the health and continued survival of the school.
Polaris uses space in part of a large building located on Donald Street. The Hardin Centre is home to a number of other organizations, and on occasion, I believe they have allowed us the use of their rooms for fundraising events. We have contributes likewise to neighbourhood projects like Christmas food baskets. I think we have been part of a larger community in a positive way. Though the building is not shiny and new, our spirit of community gives it a degree of warmth and comfort. The children play at a park attached to the grounds of the school and in the open spaces around that belong to the Hardin Centre. Someday the school hopes to have a permanent location with lots of indoor and outdoor spaces designed.