When my son was a toddler we lived in Louisiana, and played in Lakeside’s play yard in the summertime when we visited my father’s family in Essex. That was before there were any summer activities at Lakeside, so we simply enjoyed the quiet, peaceful setting and space to play. When my son was 3, we came for our first winter visit. Having never seen snow, he gazed at the same play yard transformed by the seasons. I gazed at the children, coming out of the building wearing bibs, helmets and boots, and chattering away in some foreign language. I asked a nearby adult, “What’s going on?” “Oh, that’s Russian class,” she said. My search for a good Montessori preschool in Louisiana began to turn into a search for a way to move to Essex County.
I went to an Observation Day at Lakeside during that visit, where I was able to watch each class in action. The Sprouts and Kindergarteners were directed toward activities that engaged them with the way physical and biological properties of the natural world worked, while simultaneously prompting exploration of how their individual and collective manipulation of these properties changed their surroundings. The Grades classes were busy with math class, exploring multiplication through exchange and sharing of small shiny stones. This impressed upon me the importance of integrating social concepts into more traditional approaches to math and language, again emphasizing a person’s effect on the world through his / her actions. I asked the administrator what the difference was between Montessori and Waldorf approaches to education. She explained that Montessori methods focus on breaking a task into its component parts, whereas a Waldorf approach focused more on fitting a task into a broader context. Knowing my son, I knew then and there that he would thrive in a Waldorf setting. I figured out how to keep my job in Louisiana working at a distance until I found a new job up North. We moved to Westport 10 months later, my son started Lakeside’s kindergarten class, and I found a new job I enjoyed and still hold.
I’ve since had the joy of watching my son develop in a nurturing and caring community of children and adults. He spent two years in Lakeside’s kindergarten and continued at Lakeside for first, second, and third grade. As he now nears the end of third grade (and therefore his time at Lakeside), I occasionally pause to reflect on his development. When he arrived, he had never been in a large group of children away from me, and struggled to make sense of group dynamics and behaviors. He had some mild respiratory problems from air pollution in the city. He had never worn snow pants, winter boots or winter layers. Now he relishes time with large and small groups of friends, and uses his analytical skills to work out reasons and solutions to problematic social situations. He enjoys the seasonal changes outdoors, happily hikes miles at a time, cross-country skis, spurts out words from five different languages, and enjoys coming up with novel ways of solving math problems. He no longer suffers any respiratory problems. By engaging with the full kindergarten through third grade Waldorf-based curriculum at Lakeside School, I’m confident my son has the physical and mental tools he needs to adapt and thrive as he continues to grow into himself and the communities in which he interacts.