Four visits to the Waldorf schools

I had a lot of time to think about things during Christmas vacation. Thinking about “Boo’s” school situation, likewise “Gubby’s” future school situation, now when he is not allowed to go to a special needs school. But also the fact, that thanks to everything moving so slow at BUP and habilitation, we in most likelihood have missed out on some good school opportunities. Going to the Montessori school information meeting, we found out that there is no room for anybody but “Gubby” at the school. No room for “Boo” nor “Kitty”, and what parent takes it lightly, that all children can not attend the same school. One creates a logistic nightmare by having them in different schools, especially if one lives out in the countryside and the schools are in other villages and towns, from where one lives. We should have put them up years ago whether we were seriously interested in the schools or not. That is how other parents do, even if it is somewhat irresponsible, because one creates a lot of air in the queues.

So during the Christmas holidays, I had the queue applications printed out, for the Waldorf school, and filled them out for “Boo” and “Gubby”, even though I had never visited the school, let alone did I know where exactly it was located. And then I prepared myself for phoning the Waldorf playschool, since they do not accept a person putting children up in queue, until the parent has visited the school and understands what it is all about.

After two meetings with habilitation and hearing what the Montessori headmaster said at the meetings and watching his body language, I really felt the urgency to check out options. Waldorf feeling like a strong contender to Montessori. Our first meeting at Waldorf, was meeting the head of the playschool on the 21st January. We drove out there on tiny roads and got lost a couple of times, walking in to the wrong buildings since it is a big school complex, spread out all over a village. The road is of gravel full of potholes and no street lighting, which made me wonder what on earth I was on my way to undertake. Finally we arrived at a newly built building which looked very nice indeed. Coming in through the entrance was an experience since it felt like coming in imageto a jungle or a hothouse. The entrance was full of plants and it smelled strongly of herbs. I was impressed and also with the cloakroom which came next, which made it the more sad, when we entered the room which is the actual playschool itself. It felt dark and old. Murky and perhaps not entirely healthy. Toys and furniture looked very worn and what upset me the most was to know that the room is supposed to house something like 17 children (I have lost my notebook) and two adults. It felt too small of a room for that large of a group and I wondered what the noise level would be when all of them play in there, doing different activities. I could see “Gubby” freaking out, meaning starting to flax about, because he would not find his place in this unorganized environment. The head teacher explained that they come in to the room in the morning and then it is free play. The adults do no interfere but are there if asked for help.

While the children play, the adults sit and knit or crochet or sew. At lunch, they open up a door to the next room, which also had a very old feel and smell to it. All different classes sit with their own class, behind a screen, looking like an old Victorian dressing screen, except it was just wood frames with apricot fabric hanging over them. It looked like they were drying laundry. I wonder at what the noise level in there would be. The kitchen lay adjacent to this big room and it was a big industrial size looking kitchen. The rest of the day, the children spend resting and listening to a story. Of course they also go out in the garden, which is nice and big. I felt more confused than anything after being told all of this. They make no changes, when the children turn 6 and ordinarily would go to zero class. “The change is in the attitude towards the children”. That is all. To me it sounds like just another year in daycare. Because to me this more than anything resembled daycare and nothing else.

Yes, Waldorf does not believe in trying to teach children anything before the age of seven, but still. “Gubby” has been taught things since he started Montessori pre-school. In a playful way, but still. And I think that is what has made him progress. Especially his language. I am afraid that if he starts at the Waldorf playschool, that he will regress and forget everything he has learned. He might withdraw in to himself even, because noone will be there to coax him to come out of himself. He will not ask for help, because he doesn’t know how to. She agreed that it might not be the best form of zero class for him and that if it was going to work, he would have to have an assistant. She was not against that idea at all but… The biggest problem was, that after our visit, she explained that there is no room for him at the moment, at the pre-school anyway. So why did we go there? We would have to stand in queue, but chances are very slim that he would get in.

When we stood outside ready to take leave, she pointed at an old house beside the new one. That is also a Waldorf playschool and THAT is an old house indeed. In other words, it might be more dark and murky. And they hardly have anywhere to play outside at all, since it is just a little gravel courtyard in front of the house. It sounded like his age group can also be found in that house. That would not be nice what so ever!

The way the class room is set up at Waldorf

The way the class room is set up at Waldorf

In the evening of the 22nd January, we headed for Waldorf again, to meet a teacher, so she could inform us about the school. Only when we finally found her, there was a big group there. I guess they decided to put all prospective parents and pupils to come on the same evening, which annoyed me. I wanted to talk about our specific problems and ask if they can be solved at the school. Now we sat with a family of Muslims, who had brought their kids, and lets face it, those children should have stayed home since this was very boring for them and they let us all know how bored they were. Surely one can get a babysitter for an information meeting. They did not have to come and see the school at this point. That can wait till later, if the parents are interested in the school and its methods. The other family had also brought their children and the mother was German, while the dad wanted a lot of answers, since he had read information books on Waldorf, written in the 1970s, when families were not allowed to have TVs at home, if they wanted their children to attend the school.

What did we find out? They start with both English and Spanish in grade 1. Which I feel so so about. “Gubby” has such delayed language, that it is enough for him to try to sort out Swedish and English in his head. To add Spanish, would not be that great. And why Spanish? We are not even half close to Spain! Waldorf comes from Germany so should it not have been German instead? Our neighbour almost! They are entitled to Mother Tongue, which of course is good, since poor “Gubby” has been deprived of that, for a year and a half, the pre-school feeling that it was too expensive to buy that in.

There are 17 pupils in the 1st grade, which “Boo” would join in the next school year, when they become 2nd grade. If we decide on starting him at the Waldorf school. There is no way he can go in to 3rd grade next year, when he has not caught up 1st grade yet and is barely starting to read NOW. So that was good news for him. But in 4th grade, they are 25 and there is no room for more. In other words, we can’t even contemplate moving “Kitty” over to the school, in order to have more children in one place. THAT was really depressing news. It really looked like a nice school to attend. It is not too big. It is old-fashioned with old wood tables and benches to sit on. The teachers told us that when a child has ADHD or is autistic, and has a difficult time sitting so close to others, they just put in an extra table for that child, so it can still be part. That was the good news, that they have had a lot of autistic children at the school and still have. They have experience in other words. Parents tend to seek themselves to the independent free schools, since you don’t get any help at the council schools, you have to follow your peers there, at their speed and the classes are too big. Neurologically handicapped children do not fit in to the Swedish school! That is just how it is.

They use the old chalk boards instead of white boards, there are no computers at all on the school and no WiFi. This I can object to, since sometimes an iPad can calm down autistic children and help them with learning, in a different way, than the traditional. But I guess one can only test it, and see how it works! Besides, they have taken the iPad away from “Boo”, after they discovered that one has to pay for the learning apps, after a certain amount of time. So, it was fun while it lasted, but it did not last for more than a month or something. Another thing I did like, was that they cook all the food and bake all the bread, at the school, and I guess it is all vegetarian. I am not sure what my boys will think about that? But one can hope that it is nice tasting food and I guess all the pupils there now, like the food. Home baked bread. Wow! Says I, who have to stay away from bread or I gain weight plus get a bloated stomach. But the boys do love bread. And the best of all, there is no big cafeteria. Every class eats in its classroom, so the noise level can never get too loud, nor can it become the utter chaos, my boys have to put up with today, when many people eat in the same room.

There is a school bus, which goes through our village, and how great it would have been if I could have utilized that. But there is no way that I can drop “Boo” by a bus stop and let him stand there and wait for a bus, with other children. He would pick a fight and storm off in anger. It would have saved us so much money though, if we could have used that! The fee being less than what regular buses cost and of course driving your own car. Instead, I will have to drive to the next village and drop off “Gubby” for zero-class at about 08:10-08:15, and then step on it, driving to the next village to drop “Boo” by 08:30 and then I can relax and drive home to our village. I have not timed it, how long it takes from the Montessori school to the Waldorf one. If it is feasable to do what I have to do.  Every morning the entire Waldorf school go for a nature walk. It actually becomes that the teacher walks to fetch all the school bus children down where the bus drops them, by the high school part. So maybe, I could drop “Boo” there with the others? Or I drive him to the teacher and she and he can get some alone time, walking to fetch the rest of the gang? He would enjoy the latter more, than waiting in a group and get anxious. And of course, there would have to be an assistant for him, for the walk back, since he can not handle walking in the big group. A lot of things to think about. Him always freaking out in the big group setting.

They also spoke of all the crafts the children get to do, like learning to crochet and knit, but also the music being integrated in the course work, them all learning how to play the flute. And then the Eurythmy lessons they have every week. I think that “Kitty” would have a difficult time with this, unless the cool boys did it without complaining. I am not sure how “Boo” will do with the latter either, since he has a difficult time coordinating his body. (More about this in a later post, since he has been to see a physical therapist and work therapist, but I don’t know their conclusions yet. Except that he does have problems.)

Many years ago, I shied away from the Waldorf school, since someone told me that it does not tolerate religions. I just had to ask the teacher about that, since it is important for me, that my children do not get bullied by students or teachers, because they do believe in God and go to church. The teacher, who is in charge of 5th grade, told us that there is a Jewish girl in the class and they had all celebrated Rosh Hashana with her, she telling them about the Jewish traditions. She has never been pointed out as different and they all appreciate learning about her religion, so I thought that this was good news. If one religion can be accepted, all must be accepted, as being alright. I am surprised the Muslim family did not stay to ask the same question, but they of course have got used to that Swedes bend over backwards for them. They just demand to be tolerated!

Friday, the 30 January, I was back at the Waldorf school, this time to observe in the 1st grade. I wish I had arrived when they started, but they had said for me to come at 09:00, so that is what I did. So I had missed their walk and also what they had done the first minutes. When I came in, they were standing in a ring, with a little bean bag each, in their hands. They let the bean bag travel around their bodies from toes to head and then back down, saying this little verse. I thought it was perhaps Eurythmy, but it wasn’t. When they were done with this, they all sat down in a ring and told me their names and I had to tell them mine. And then the teacher told them, that they would start with Math. They were counting up to 100, walking in place, but on every ten, they had to jump in the air. “Boo” would have loved this, since it is moving about instead of sitting still, and doing things practically. Although I could see him jump in the wrong place. Then they were supposed to go to their boxes and fetch their math books, which are books they make themselves. They get big sheets of paper. They fold them in half and create a book by putting several papers together. They use really thick colured pencils and the teacher writes with chalk on the board, all these math problems. They have to copy them in to their individual books and fetch chestnuts, if they want to, to have as aids in the counting. I was horrified when I saw the problems, because they were way further than “Boo” is, who can not count beyond ten and who can not do subtractions. Some got done quickly, and got additional problems, others chose not to do the extra ones, but started to crochet instead. 6th graders had just been in teaching them how to do that, some weeks earlier, and they are all making some simple rabbits.

It was fun to watch. But then it was time for recess. We all walked out and there was time for me to ask the teacher all sorts of questions and discuss “Boo” with her, because this was the teacher which will be his, if he starts there. I guess she has had her own two children in the school and was very pleased. A teacher starts with the pupils in grade 1 and is their teacher till they graduate from school, in grade 9. She had just finished with a 9th grade in June last year, and there had been an autistic boy in the class, so she has lots of experience. And she has had autistic children before, as well, during her career, which of course is a GREAT bonus. I had to go to the loo, and this was the backside of the equation. The loos are in another building, than were the children in grade 1 are housed. Which means that “Boo” could walk off and not come back! And the loos were really gross! Pretty wood doors, but it did not really feel safe to sit down. So that is something that perhaps one must bring up at parenting meetings?

We talked a lot about the need for an assistant and what can be done if things get too much for “Boo”. Many teachers were absent that day, because of further education, so many classes had substitutes and were not out at recess. It would have been good to have seen the entire picture, what it is like, with all of them present. She seemed to be positive, that all children needing an assistant, have one at the school. When it was time to walk in, she set up for painting. They all fetched paints, big brushes and water, while she wetted down all the papers in a box on the floor, and then they all got a board on their tables and a wet paper on imageeach. They were talking about the sun and how it looks and feels when it is up during the day. Then they were supposed to paint how the sun feels and what it looks like. Various interpretations. But I think that “Boo” would have liked this. To see the paint float out on the wet paper. To be artistic without too much effort, not having to hold on tight to a pen or a brush, to get results. She said that this is a classic Waldorf thing, to paint on wet paper. After they were all finished, they got to sit on the floor discussing what each one had painted, having the paintings in a group on the floor. They had all done very different things. When she had talked to each child, it was time for a game. Fruit salad, I think it is called. They needed for me to join them, in order for the game to work. I who am way too shy to play games. I became an apple and they had to explain the game to me, before I could join. I never took part in things like this as a child, since I was too shy to end up in the middle, calling out a fruit or “fruit salad”. You can call “bananas” and all bananas must change place and the person in the middle must try to steal one. If you call fruit salad, everyone has to change place and the girls liked to call this out since they were trying to sit down beside me. I was really popular to sit down beside, even if it was only for a couple of seconds!

After the game it was time for them to have lunch and they were divided up in groups. Some setting the tables and some fetching things. It was sad that I had to leave right then, because I would have liked to have seen the food and the children’s reaction to it. But also perhaps having got to taste it. When they have eaten, they go out for recess and then they finish with sitting on the floor on fur skins, a candle lit and listening to the teacher reading a story. I had to leave and then go fetch “Gubby” after a while. My impressions of the school were good ones, at the same time I can feel that there are concerns. He really needs an assistant to be able to handle the classroom situation. And will the other children accept him, when they have already formed friendships and has become a group? The outside situation with all ages out in the same spot, is another concern. And how will he handle moving class room every year? It is so difficult to make a decision. I wish I had a crystal ball and could look in to the future and see if I made the right decision!

On the 3rd of February, I went on my last school visit. I was not really keen anymore, since it was to the Waldorf playschool. First of all, the head is the grandmother of a bully, who will not leave “Kitty” alone. He gave my son a black eye after Christmas and I do not quite appreciate the way his other grandmother deals with her grandchildren. Seeing them as angels and my son as, well I am not going to say it, but the opposite. He doesn’t have that grandmother for teacher anymore, which I am grateful for, since what started out as a good relationship between her and us, deteriorated over the years, so that I finally could not stand being around her. She was so disapproving in the end that I could hardly shake her hand and say goodbye when she retired. She wanted our son heavily medicated or she was not going to bother with him! And now I had to meet the other grandmother, who had a very chilly attitude towards me, on this second visit. Perhaps she had spoken to her son’s mother-in-law? Or she just felt the visit a waste, because they do not have room for him anyway? Or she felt that she does not want an autistic boy in the group, not knowing how to handle him? I tried to avoid her as much as possible and talk to the other teacher instead.

Another thing which bothered me, was the fact that she felt somewhat absentminded, like she never knew what to do next. And with children you do need to know what happens next, or they will start climbing the walls. Especially “Gubby, will start flaxing when he doesn’t know what to do next, when things feel like “chaos”. I walked in at 09:00 again and had missed their walk and their free play, the one I don’t think that “Gubby” would be able to handle. I would have liked to have heard the noise level. Several pupils were also missing this day, which meant that instead of about 16-17, there were only about 11 children, which makes a big difference as well in a small room. I wanted to see a typical day and this was not at all a typical day. So many children missing and them already putting away all toys when I arrived. One boy was sitting screaming in a box and I wondered if he was retarded or what his problem was, because he acted strange all day long. And the head told the other teacher to just leave him, so it seemed that he was new or? I also noticed that this particular boy was allergic to basically almost everything. It just disturbed me, that he sat in his big box screaming and everyone ignoring him. I don’t know what he really wanted. Attention or to be left alone? I would actually have guessed that he was autistic, just because his behaviour was really bizarre. It just felt like the personnel did not know how to handle him. And that did not feel like a good sign.

image

I know it was not an ordinary day, but still it was. Because they have Eurythmy once every week, so things should not have been as chaotic as they were. I don’t understand it. When teachers act like they don’t know what they are doing, act nervous and act like they don’t know what happens next, it does not give a good impression of the school. These two are old routined teachers, so what was going on? Suddenly the things were put away and they told me that I just had to blend in, because it was Eurythmy time and they opened the door to the room where they eat, and we all squeezed in to the middle, between the wash line looking room dividers. I was told that I had to take part which was difficult for me, since I am so shy. I don’t like when people look at me and I did not know the movements at all. We walked around and around in a circle, while this special teacher, a parent actually, was reading a story rhythmically. I don’t know how long we were doing this thing but I really felt uncomfortable since I am not used to doing this sort of thing. As a child, I would have crawled under a table as usual, which is what I always did. I never dared to take part being so horribly afraid of being laughed at. And I can never get over that feeling. The screamer boy and one girl, refused to take part, so why could I have not been allowed to just watch? It was alright I suppose, doing the movements, listening to the story, and I actually think that “Gubby” would have loved this, but would not have understood why they did it, nor the story told except here and there. After this was over, we walked back in to the room and closed the door behind us. It was time for tea.

Now, five children were missing like I said before, and still there was not seats for everyone. “Gubby” would have flaxed around or just stood looking, wondering what to do. They do this every day, so why was there not room for everyone? It should have looked like this picture, that I took off the internet, from a German Waldorf playschool:

imageRoom for everyone. And notice that even if everything looks old, it looks fresh and light! Take away all windows but one and see the walls in a dark colour, in your imagination, and you know what it looked like where I visited. What do they have against light? The table was also just half the size or length. The room we were in, was half the size of this one. I don’t know what to say and feel.  When everyone finally had a seat, some sitting on a sofa, us grown ups on extra things, the herbal tea was finally served and knäckebröd, which is a crispy  bread. I wondered why this was served so close to lunch. As soon as everyone was ready, the children sat down on the floor and the head massaged each child. Either on the back or on the feet. One by one, they headed out to get dressed to go out and play. I should have stayed for another hour and a half but no way was I going to stand out in the cold, not dressed for being outside for that long, watching the children play. So I left, passing the school hens and rooster at the gate. That was fun! What conclusions did I draw? That poor “Gubby” would feel lost at this place. He is used to organisation and that there is always something to do. No dead time, like there was a lot of here. And I don’t think that it is right to cut out all learning for children under the age of seven. If they show an interest, by all means, let them have a go. Natural curiosity should not be suppressed and that is the feeling that I got from this place, that they are supposed to play only. And autistic children can not play, they can’t usually entertain themselves. One has to give them things to do, suggest things for them to do. He is learning at pre-school, so I can not force him to go back in development. And the last thing the head told me, before I left was that the next day they were going to be in a meeting, deciding if they were going to accept any more children in, but she did not think there would be a place for “Gubby”. Thanks a lot!

On the way to the car, I decided to swing by the headmaster’s office. So I drove down to that. He was pretty aggressive at first and wanted me to make an appointment. Even though I only had a quick question about the queue situation and how he feels about getting a personal assistant for “Boo”. He finally decided that the article he was writing could wait a couple of minutes and he sat down to discuss things. In Malmö, they are trying to open up a Waldorf school, autumn of 2016. But nothing is for sure, if they will be given permission to do so. So, all Malmö children are in queue for this Waldorf school as well, far away from where they live. If the school doesn’t open in Malmö, all those children will start in the village instead, and there will not be any room for “Gubby” at all. So I would have my children in four different schools. A situation I would have wanted to avoid if I could. And I just can’t start him in 1st grade this autumn. He is not ready for that at all. Besides, this lady I know, will have her son start then, and I do not want to have to meet her at parenting meetings and hear her insane ideas. She wants us all to live like in the stone age and that is just not my thing, even though I am a historian. I avoid her as much as I can because I do not want to hear her propaganda. Its enough with all the e-mails that I dump in the trash unread. Her son clearly shows signs of ADHD, as well, and no teacher would be able to cope with one child having  undiagnosed ADHD and one being autistic, in the same classroom!

The headmaster did not sound too keen on starting out “Boo” with an assistant either. Which means he would have a lousy start, like at the Catholic school, and all parents judging us of course, for bringing an awful child to the class that was so nice before his arrival. He will hit other children so that they get scared of him and don’t want to go to school and the teacher and the parents will tell me this of course. Like it is my fault. No, the headmaster wants to try things without an assistant first and then sit down for an evaluation meeting after six weeks. That is not going to work. Six weeks and he will already be hated by all the other pupils. I tried to explain the situation in detail for him and he started agreeing that IF I can get a lot of documentation in, on his weaknesses and problems, and IF someone from the school can go and observe him at his present school, perhaps there might be another option. And sadly I realized that there is hardly any documentation yet, since habilitation has not got that far with him. They are way behind in the testing when it comes to “Boo”, the one who really needs help NOW! So, I certainly knew what I needed to tell habilitation the next time I had a meeting with them.

How do I sum up my visits to Waldorf? On the whole, I like it and I think that these alternative schools who look at children in a different way than the main stream schools do, who do not allow for any difference, are the answers right now, for neurologically handicapped children. There are no other options. There is no perfect school! All schools have their shortcomings but some have less than others. And the headmaster agreed that there must be a reason why more and more parents with autistic children, try to get their children in to his school. I would say, that the lack of pressure not being there in the early grades, might be one reason. Because you can’t force these children. You can’t hurry their development. Things have to take the time they take. And as for as I am concerned, I like the fact that “Boo” would get to do crafts and music, to ease up the school day, stand up and move about, doing the Eurythmy. I can only see benefits with this for him, since he can’t sit long periods and concentrate. But I don’t know, I wish I knew what was the best for him. I wish habilitation could advice me properly and tell me right out which schools have been good so far. But they are not allowed to do so.

I can understand this though. They want to protect themselves from angry parents when things do not work out. Because it is enough that the school changes staff and things can go from good to bad in one day. And at one school there can be good teachers and bad teachers and as a parent you will never know which ones will be assigned to your children’s classes. Even when two children get the same teacher, it can be that it worked personality wise between the one child and the teacher and then it doesn’t with the other child. I wish that the Swedish school system was not such a jungle for us parents, to wade through. And I wish the law really worked, so that no school could get away with doing nothing for the children, who are in need of special help.

 

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