Blog: The Light of Aurora
How a Waldorf Education Supports Strong Immunity10:05 AM - February 11, 2021
Waldorf Education is sometimes referred to as a healing education. Why is this?
For one, Waldorf education is founded on a philosophy that acknowledges the child as having not only a physical body and a mind but also a soul. The child’s body, soul, and mind affect each other, and the relationship among them ultimately influences the immune system.
Outdoor education, storytelling, and rhythm are three pillars of Waldorf education that support a balanced integration of a child’s threefold nature, as well as the development of a robust immune system.
It happens several times a day, every day. The school doors are held open while a sea of brightly colored, warmly dressed children run out onto the playground, into the fresh air.
While younger students collaboratively seek ways to move a heavy rock, make a balance beam out of a fallen tree, or climb like goats down a steep hillside, older students hike to observe various botanical or geologic specimens in their natural environment. Regardless of age or activity, within minutes of getting outside, the children’s breathing deepens, their blood flow quickens, their cheeks grow pink, and their eyes shine. They are moving!
Much can be said about the importance of movement for childhood. We can leave most of that to Jeff Tunkey, a founding teacher of Aurora Waldorf School. However, we know that when children move their temperatures rise. Maintaining a high body temperature inhibits bacterial growth. The increase of blood flow and oxygen exchange also supports immunity by flushing bacteria out of airways.
In addition to the many known health effects of physical activity and fresh air, a recent study shows a significant improvement in the gut health of children who play outdoors. It appears that even our digestive systems, a key to a healthy immune system, are strengthened by time spent in the natural world.
How can parents support the immune-boosting effects of outdoor education?
- Invest in good outerwear, essential for extended outdoor play.
- Dress your child in layers of natural fibers. Cotton, wool, and silk are best, as these materials breathe.
Stories engage students in their learning. Students sit on the edge of their seats as their teachers tell tales, describe phenomena, pose questions, and ignite their imaginations. Whether it is Mrs. Quinn (Ashgrove Kindergarten) telling her students the story of Rainbow Crow or Mrs. Naughton (Middle School) describing the celestial course of stars, students eagerly hang on their teacher’s next word. They are engaged in their learning.
A child who enjoys learning has lower stress levels than a child who is motivated by extrinsic rewards such as test scores. Stress weakens a child’s infection-fighting capacities. Stories naturally awaken intrinsic motivation for learning.
Stories also support the development of a healthy social/emotional life. Pedagogical stories are told so that children have enough distance to see themselves, and transform themselves. Stories pose questions. Stories give us something meaningful to chew on, take in, digest, and make our own. Stories are rich in soul nourishment.
How can parents support the immune-boosting effects of a story-based curriculum?
- Limit media exposure. The images that screens provide can dim the imaginative pictures that the child who is told a meaningful story creates while listening.
- Ask your child to recall the story they heard in school, possibly at bedtime.
A fussy baby is soothed by rhythmic movement. Five minutes of jump rope can do wonders for a 6-year old who isn’t yet ready to sit still. Children gravitate naturally to swings. Children seek rhythm. Rhythmic movement deepens our breathing, relaxes our nervous systems.
Kara McKenney, AWS’s music teacher, notes, “The classes breathe together and are ready to learn after we play rhythm games.”
Teachers consider the healing effects of rhythm in planning their lessons. As Ms. McKenney observes, movement at the beginning of a lesson prepares her students for the stillness necessary to actively take in the curriculum.
Teachers work creatively to ensure lessons and days flow smoothly between expansive/gross motor activities and contractive focused deskwork. Lessons are taught in a three-day rhythm to ensure students have days and nights to digest the curriculum. Festivals are celebrated schoolwide throughout the year to honor and reconnect with our earth’s annual rhythms.
How can parents support the immune-boosting benefits of the rhythmic nature of Waldorf Education?
- Establish regular meal times
- Give your child a regular, early bedtime and simplify your child’s bedroom to help promote deep sleep.
Time spent playing outdoors strengthens the child’s physical body. Stories engage students and provide nourishment for the child’s soul life. Rhythmic lessons calm the child’s nervous system so that they are better prepared to focus. A child who is gifted with an education that nourishes body, soul and mind, radiates strong health and becomes a wellspring of life-giving energy. They, in turn, become a source of healing in the world. The healing qualities of a Waldorf education are the light of Aurora.
Sarah Battles Franklin, has been an Early Childhood and Grades teacher at Aurora Waldorf School. She received her M. Ed. from Sunbridge College, and her B.S. Elementary Education from SUNY Geneseo. Sarah is also a graduate of Green Meadow Waldorf School.