Meredith Kenzie graduated from our school in 1993. When she was 18, she wrote this article about her high school experiences and how they had been influenced and affected by her years here at HWS. This article is remarkable for its honesty and insight.
Life as a Waldorf Graduate
When I think back to my last few months in Grade 8 at the Halton Waldorf School, I remember being a little nervous, a little excited, but mostly, I was worried about whether Waldorf had prepared me well enough for the challenges of high school. I remember a lot of ancient history and geography, writing compositions, German and French, a lot of music, drama, and art, woodwork and handwork, choir, many exciting science experiments, and perhaps a sprinkling of math and English. When I heard how much more class time my friends from public school spent on the “basics” (math, English, and science), and how much more homework they had, I was worried that I would be behind. However, I can reassure you that nothing was further from the truth. When I entered Grade 9, I found myself so far ahead that I was almost bored. I had already learned a lot of what was being taught, and what I did not know, I picked up easily because of the training I’d received at Waldorf. The school had prepared me above and beyond my wildest dreams!
Some of you may not agree with me, but I believe that the best way to promote learning, and instill knowledge in a child is to make it fun. This is one of the most important aspects that I found stood out at Waldorf. Now, perhaps this was partly due to one of the greatest men and teachers I have ever known, Mr. Helmut Krause. He was my teacher from Grade 5 until half way through Grade 8, when he was taken ill with cancer. I feel very privileged to have been in his last class, and though I did not know it at the time, he taught me more than he will ever know. Mr. Krause had a marvelous talent for making everything he taught come alive.
Nothing we ever did seemed like a chore; there was some kind of fun in every lesson we had. My fondest and best memories from Waldorf are not the two or three book reports or projects we had to do each year. Instead, I remember many experiments which taught me that science could be exciting and fun, not boring and “uncool”, like everyone else thought when I reached high school. I remember the fascinating stories that Mr. Krause would tell us about Vasco de Gama, Marco Polo, Isis and Osiris, Ahuramazda, Johannes Kepler and Nicolaus Copernicus, and many more historical figures and gods of whom most of my fellow classmates in Grade 11 history had never even heard.
The story telling at Waldorf has to be one of the most crucial, different, yet successful theories in the Waldorf curriculum. Rather than reading a boring account of Alexander the Great’s adventures from a textbook, Mr. Krause would bring it to life by telling us interesting stories about him and his life, and then having us retell it the next day. I have remembered so much because of this approach. When you actually hear and write the story yourself, not to mention telling it back to someone, it stays in your mind so much better.
I remember family discussions at dinner where I would be trading historical stories about Charlemagne or Julius Cesar with my father, and my older sister, who went to public school, would constantly be saying, “I wish I’d learned fun things like this when I was in elementary school!” I had such a head start because of all the tales I’d heard from Mr. Krause. While other people in my history classes were hearing it for the very first time, and simply trying to remember the names of everyone and who they were, I already knew who they were, and had at least a rough idea of what they had done; therefore, I could concentrate on the details of the lesson.
The same applied to physics and biology, among others. We would learn the basic theories and concepts in Waldorf, but not all the math and calculations needed in the upper grades, so when I got to high school, I had some idea of what the teacher was talking about, instead of starting from scratch like my peers.
I learned so much more at Waldorf than some of my other friends at high school did, and not just in what some people consider “frivolous” subjects like history, music, or art. Up until my Grade 8 year at Waldorf, we had math blocks and a math class twice a week with no homework. We were content with this until, in Grade 8, we all realized, “Uh-oh! We have to go to high school next year!” I remember panicking, thinking that everyone else from public school would be so far ahead of us – after all, they had had math every day since Grade 5 or 6, with homework most nights too! They must know so much more than us! With this pressure over our heads, we asked Mr. Krause to make sure we would be ready. So, he got us a Grade 8 textbook, and we worked through it all year, and made it through quite easily. I entered Grade 9 math ready to be perhaps a little behind, but I was confident that I could catch up. Well, as it turns out, I was so far ahead, half of the year was review of what we’d learned in Grade 8, and the rest was easy! My younger sister, Laura, is going through the same thing right now. In a Grade 9 de-streamed math class, she is pulling off a high ninety average, and having fun helping her classmates.
This kind of preparation also happened with French. We were so worried that we would be behind in high school, even though we had had French since Grade 1, so we also got a French textbook and workbook, and Flora Jacklein taught us everything we needed to know. However, the same thing happened once I got to high school, only this time, after my teacher saw my transcript and what I had already learned in Waldorf, I was put straight into a Grade 10 French class, where I actually ended up with the top mark, because I had already learned all of the Grade 9 work. My French teachers also told me that I had one of the best accents they had heard in a Grade 9 student, and I have only Waldorf to thank for this. Those years saying verses, singing songs, usually having no idea what I was saying, and supposedly learning “nothing”, had taught me more than anyone ever knew. I had learned not only the grammar and how to memorize sayings and conjugate verbs, but also how the language sounded: I had an idea of how it was supposed to feel.
The fact that Waldorf over-prepared me academically meant that I could spend a little time on the scariest part of all, for a teen – would I fit in? Coming from a private school, I did not know anyone, except for a few neighbours, and people with whom I had gone to kindergarten or primary school with (yes, I was once a public school child myself, but I hated it!). Because I did not have to spend too much extra time on my schoolwork, I could focus a little more on making friends, and joining extracurricular activities. I did not have too much difficulty making friends, partly because I had known some people when I was younger, but my sister Laura, who knew maybe two people when she entered Grade 9 now has lots of friends, and is fitting in just fine.
Upon reflection, I discovered that the most important lesson that Waldorf instilled in me was a profound love of learning; a need to grow, investigate, question and discover new things. Through various science experiments, historical stories, nature walks, and interesting main lessons, plus the constant encouragement to question and give my own opinions and ideas, I grew up believing that learning was exciting, stimulating, and an essential, wonderful part of life; a part that happens all the time, not just in the classroom, when taught by a teacher. I was never given the impression at Waldorf that learning was an arduous task, something to be endured at school and then forgotten when I was done my work. Learning could happen in any place, at any time, with anyone, and was something to be enjoyed, not dreaded.
I apologize if I have rambled on a little, but I feel very strongly about the Waldorf School, and the positive impact it has had on me. I could write for hours on so many other topics; the importance of the art and drama, and the edge it gave me in public speaking; the freedom and flexibility; the family feeling generated by having the same teacher your whole life; the creativity and the innovation that was included in every lesson; and many more.
I know the transition to high school, and the Waldorf experience in general, will be different for every child, but I believe Waldorf will give any child a head start at high school. As strange and hard to believe as it may seem to some parents, the lack of homework and sitting-at-a-desk-all-day learning, the prevalent element of fun, and the wonderful stories, memories, and values I have retained all combined together with numerous other factors to provide me with a wonderful, enriching, elementary education that prepared me time and time again for the challenges and delights of high school. I am thankful for the success I have had in high school, and I hope your child will be able to do the same when they are my age. Thank you, Waldorf, for doing such marvelous job of preparing me for the life ahead of me.