By Helga Roe Conklin
Several years ago when I began my journey as a California certified kindergarten teacher, my first job was in a most “non-Waldorf” setting. I was expected to teach nine 5-year-olds geometry, fractions, reading and writing. It was a school with no holidays, thus no festivals, though we did have special days in which we dressed up in funny ways or celebrated Dr. Seuss. I figured out time to allow free play during “language arts” because play led to stronger imaginations, the foundation for writing and reading comprehension. With such a setting, I had very little opportunity to bring in the elementals: there were no candles for telling stories, though we did have a tiny patio garden so we could immerse our hands in soil and bring water to our plants. Bubbles were a great way to bring in observation of air.
So it was that one day I found myself sitting on the Astro-turf in the outdoor play area, reciting silly rhymes and laughing with the children, when one of the little boys quietly sat down beside me and tugged on my shirt. I looked at him, and he whispered, “I saw a fairy in my backyard yesterday.” My breath caught and my eyes grew wide.
The fairies, I thought, I nearly forgot about the fairies in this sterile environment.
I also forgot to quietly listen. “What did it look like?” I asked. “She wore yellow,” he quietly answered and I ruthlessly plowed on. “What was she doing? What did you do? Where…” I nearly gasped with my enthusiasm. “That’s all, I just wanted to tell you,” he said in his sincere manner, getting ready to walk away. “Th-thank you…” I stammered out. I wanted to kick myself for not just listening quietly.
I left that job when it ended that May. The children were delightful, the parents loving, the other teachers and director very caring, but I just knew my heart belonged elsewhere. I lucked out and landed the position of teaching kindergarten at a newly started public Waldorf charter school. I felt as though I were going home.
Over the next 5 years I enthusiastically brought the elementals into my program, though again it wasn’t as straightforward as at a private school. I was chastised just a little by a parent for my love of all things fairy, so I learned to remind children to let the flowers stay on their stems/vines/bushes for the fairies and the butterflies, both the unseen (by me) and seen were to be honored. An important lesson to remember in this day and age of heavily debated science vs. spiritual science. I’m as open minded as I can be, and am happy to allow space for all.
Today our Play Garden flourishes through the many loving hands of parents and children alike. We explore the fine dust that accumulates on the asphalt we’ve overpowered with falling leaves and pine needles, rivers of mud and spilled soil. Baskets of seashells, quarries of rocks and concrete, and loads of bricks are lugged here and there, to and fro. Even sand was once sifted through little fingers until neighborhood cats came to do their business and caused panic in stricken homes. Every so often Mother Earth offers bounty from our veggie gardens for our soups and salads.
Daily we carry water from our dishwater left over from snack cleanup, to the thirsty garden beds. We mix water with dirt to make mud cakes decorated with flower petals, setting them in little fairy houses built from sticks and twine. We watch fine mist spray into the air, cascading down on little heads made hot from running in epic games of tag, their joyous voices raised in surprise at the sudden appearance of rainbows in the mist. Then they go guzzle down ounces of purified water brought from home in a myriad of colorful bottles in all shapes and sizes. Occasional downpours of Sister Rain fall on rubber-covered feet and shoulders, washing off the dust accumulated on the seldom-used outerwear.
North Wind blusters in on sunny winter days, catching bare arms by surprise, everyone running with squeals to reenter their wool sweaters and cotton sweatshirts. Rainbow orbs of bubbles rise and fall, blown on puffs of little ones’ breath. Paper airplanes fly on drafts made by Brother Wind, while pink showers of flower blossoms settle to the ground, dancing gracefully through the caressing air.
Not being allowed to use fire outside (I am working on this…), inside we light candles at snack time, and small voices call out concerns for “will the flame reach out and get us?” and little mouths form “oh’s” of hopeful breaths to blow out the flame at meal’s end. Hot food is served and steam rises above every bowl, dancing before their eyes. Each Story Time is started with a song of “I can light a candle, above us shines a star, both of them are helpful shining where they are” as Father Sun beams down on our Southern California school nearly all year round. I have plans for making sun tea and baking in a solar oven this coming fall in order to truly tap into our abundance of sunlight.
Feeling right at home, as though this is just the way all schools ought to be run, full of the life-bringing elements and gratitude for the elementals–and to secure my position at my school–I added to my understanding of Waldorf education by completing the Lifeways Training. As I’ve come to realize that we’ve only truly learned something when we can then bring it to other students as mentors, I became a LifeWays Mentor this year.
As I sat in her LifeWays program, observing and enjoying the beauty of a toddler running sand between his fingers, I noticed a little girl pass me and sit down directly behind me. Having come a long way in my own learning, I stayed quiet. She played silently for several minutes, when suddenly she exclaimed, “Oh! It splintered me!” Rubbing her finger as she walked away, she said over her shoulder, “She used to be a rose, you know, but now she’s a fairy.” Stopping for a second she looked right at me then kept on walking.
As someone who has not seen a fairy but believes life is more than our eyes can show us, I sat on my stump and allowed her moment of sharing to sink in, grateful for the simple gifts in life.
Helga Conklin is a preK/Kindergarten teacher at a public Waldorf charter school in Southern California in which she utilizes her LifeWays training. She graduated from Lifeways Oregon in 2015. She has a BA in Child Development with an emphasis in Early Childhood, and a minor in Family Studies. Her newest passion is learning to write modern fairy tales for children and novels for Young Adults.