Waldorf education promotes individuality
While test scores can be make-or- break for public school teachers, Great Oak School instructors are given the freedom to focus on individualized instruction in a classroom with no standardized testing.
“Our curriculum is rooted in child development, so we allow children to fully live into their developmental stage and don’t push them too early,” co-director Keri Tegtmeier said. “Rather than flash cards and homework, kids are welcomed into a classroom where they’re doing bread making, handcrafts, nature play, knitting and sewing.”
Accredited through the Waldorf Early Childhood Association of America, the school follows a nearly 100-year-old philosophy established in Germany in 1919 and popular throughout Europe. While there are a now a number of Waldorf schools in the U.S., Great Oak is one of only two in Texas.
“We were founded by a group of trained Waldorf teachers and parents who feel very strongly about having this type of education available to Houstonians,” she said.
Great Oak School was founded in 2009 after The Harvest, a Waldorf school in The Woodlands, closed. Harvest teachers and parents, such as co-director Sara Moon, came together to start Great Oak. Moon said she had fallen in love with the instruction her daughter received at Harvest.
“My children are given the time and space, and appropriate developmental situations, to fully realize the beauty that comes with being a child,” Moon said.
Since then, the school has grown to approximately 45 students in its parent-child, pre-K and kindergarten classes. In the fall, the school will add a first grade class and plans to continue to grow a grade per year. At Waldorf schools, teachers traditionally move up with their students.
Dana Fleming, who will be the first grade teacher next year at Great Oak, spent five years teaching at the The Harvest, where she moved up with her students from first to fifth grade.
“We become a sort of family and I can watch them closely and keep parents informed,” said Fleming, who has a master’s degree from Yale. “It’s amazing how close you can get to the kids.”
One mainstay of Waldorf instruction she enjoys is the focus on play and being out in nature—she often takes her students on nature walks and bike rides.
Another tenant of Waldorf education is that every student learns every subject.
“Our big goal is to create a graduate who has tackled challenges in every subject. Every student takes classes in orchestra, theater, art—not just ones who are gifted in it,” Fleming said. “Everyone tackles everything so [graduates] can handle any challenge a boss is going to throw at them.”
Tegtmeier said the school hopes to grow to eight grades, and then will look into collaborating with a sister Waldorf school that is now starting in downtown Houston to offer high school instruction.
“We have studies done that show 94 percent of Waldorf graduates go on to a four-year university and a very high percentage of those students are seeking degrees in science and math,” she said. “Waldorf schools are the fastest-growing independent school movement in the U.S.”
Great Oak School, 715 E. Carrell St., Tomball, 832-458-3430, www.greatoakschool.org