Midwest tour stops at Urban Oak
Creative play, artistic expression, individualized learning and nature-based experiential learning are buzzwords used to describe Urban Oak School. This small, independent school, inspired by these Waldorf education principles, is located in the former Coventry Elementary School building.
Urban Oak has been open in Cleveland Heights since 2013, but there has been local interest in the Waldorf philosophy for more than 20 years.
On Feb. 21, Urban Oak hosted Judy Erb, a regional leader of the Waldorf School movement. As part of a Midwest tour, Educating the Whole Child, Body, Mind & Soul, Erb was eager to share stories of the growing educational movement, as well as how the Waldorf approach to learning affects a child’s life.
While more than 100 years old—and with thousands of schools throughout the world, and hundreds in the United States—Waldorf schools in Ohio are rare. Urban Oak is only the third in the state. Schools in Akron and Cincinnati have been around for almost 30 years.
Erb shared stories of her experiences during her more than three decades of involvement in Waldorf education in Ann Arbor, Mich. There, she helped to grow a Waldorf elementary school, open a Waldorf high school, and now serves as board president of the Waldorf teacher training college.
As a young mother, Erb worried about the best way of educating her five-year-old son. He was having difficulties staying focused and paying attention. She was a highly educated mom (a Berkeley-trained biochemist), who continued to try to reach him using reason and adult-centered ways of communicating. They weren’t working.
Then she discovered a local Waldorf school. Faculty at the school helped her create a daily rhythm, eliminate television and provide more outdoor time. Her son, now in his 40s, went from struggling with traditional school environments to thriving in school, and eventually earned his Ph.D.
Waldorf is an alternative to mainstream education. Waldorf students spend considerable time creating art, working with natural materials, using movement to learn (such as stomping out multiplication tables), and using storytelling and songs as ways to learn. The focus is on developing the whole child from the inside out—mentally, emotionally, socially, physically and spiritually. Reverence for the world around them is figural. The ultimate goal is freedom; each child is able to live in her or his own truth, engaging with the world from a place of personal power and grace.
There are now three lower Waldorf schools in Ann Arbor that “feed” the high school, with total enrollment of more than 1,000. Erb's story and words of encouragement provided the families and supporters of Urban Oak with enthusiasm and energy for continuing.
Chris Kious has lived in Cleveland Heights most of his life, and is now a resident of Forest Hills.