GREAT BARRINGTON — A century after the first Waldorf school was founded in Stuttgart, Germany, its hands-on approach to learning can be found in more than 1,000 schools and kindergartens worldwide, including at the Berkshire Waldorf School in Great Barrington.
The private school, formerly known as the Great Barrington Rudolf Steiner School, sits on 32 acres of land and is split into two buildings on both sides of West Plain Road.
The main school building holds students through first through eighth grades, while directly across the street, the Betty Szold Krainis Childhood Building, sustains kindergarten classrooms and a nursery.
For Christi Nordoff, chair of the early childhood department at the school, and a Waldorf alumna herself, the end of August means getting ready for another school year. This fall, the addition of a new nursery class means some of the youngest Waldorf students will enroll in the school. A two-day-a-week program will be added to the already existing three- and five-day-a-week programs for children between the ages of 2-and-a-half to 3-and-a-half year-olds.
When Nordoff first moved to the Berkshires in 1993, she said was looking for a similar program for her 3-year-old daughter.
“At the time, the Rudolf Steiner School only had a five-day program,” said Nordoff. “I wasn’t ready to be away from her for five days a week, so we sent her to another program that had two-day programs.”
The new program will begin on Monday, Sept. 9 and will be held on Thursdays and Fridays during the school year. The program will provide a first step away from home in a small class size setting of 12 students, said Nordoff and Robyn Coe, admissions director for the school.
“We really want them to have an experience being in nature,” said Nordoff. “We’re really a play-based experiential program. We think that is how young children learn best; through play.”
In their 48th year of operation, the school features a campus with a greenhouse and farm animals along with gardens and surrounding woods for unstructured outside playtime.
“The teacher does a puppet show every day,” said Coe of the new program. “I’d say circle time and small games that we play on our hands … this is how they’re learning.”
The earliest-age program the school offers, the Parent-Child Garden program, is a one-day-a-week program offered to parents with children as young as 6 months to 3 years old.
In all of the early childhood programs, Nordoff says that teachers make a visit to each of their students’ homes before the start of the school year. She says it helps establish a bond that may last throughout their Waldorf educational career.
“It’s so nice for the child to see their teacher in their home environment. The [Children] like to show you their bedroom and introduce you to their pet,” said Nordoff, who just recently returned from a home visit in Connecticut. “Then on the first day of school, they have a different connection with you and you’re not a stranger. I think the different things we do before school starts really helps the child to feel safe and it’s easier to let go from the parents.”
At Berkshire Waldorf School, starting in the first grade, grade teachers move up with their students as they progress through each grade up until eighth grade. If students wish to continue their Waldorf education past that, the Berkshire Waldorf High School, located in Stockbridge, offers an education for students in grades 9 through 12.
Coe says that the new additions to the nursery program will help attract new families in the area and provide a way to ease into a Waldorf education.
“We’ve got families from all over the world coming to this school,” said Coe. “Families that are looking for a Waldorf school, that love the idea of living in this beautiful environment, but still having so much cultural and intellectual information, this is kind of an oasis and a beautiful destination for families.”