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Educating children's head, heart and hands

Blacksmithing, trapeze and making pizza at an outdoor oven are fused into the curriculum, with heavy doses of music and art, at the Summerfield Waldorf School on Willowside Road west of Santa Rosa.

In Waldorf schools, the three R's of reading, writing and arithmetic meet the three H's of educating the whole child — head, heart and hands.

In an 11th-grade geometry class, math teacher George Herschkowitz lectured for an hour on Pascal and Brianchon's theorem regarding hexagons. He told the 16 students, dressed mostly in jeans and hoodies, to take a five-minute break and then "come back on work on your books."

Waldorf students record their main lessons, taught in grades one through 12, in a large book of plain paper. Several of Herschkowitz's students said they spend anywhere from 30 minutes to two hours per lesson on the book, including text and colorful illustrations.

Storm Foley's geometry book looks like an ornate medieval scroll. She spends six hours on it per lesson. "It's a lot of work," she said. "I think it was worth it. I'm going to have it forever."

Other than the SAT, there is no standardized testing at Summerfield Waldorf. Letter grades aren't given until eighth grade. Cell phones are not allowed, except for high schoolers making "important" calls at lunch.

Bare midriffs, visible undergarments and flip flops are not permitted by the school dress code; hats and sunglasses may not be worn in class. Television and video games are discouraged due to their up-tempo assault on the senses.

But the key is style in the classroom, where teachers deliver the material rather than relying on textbooks. One teacher follows each Waldorf class through the first eight years of lower school.

"It's not about content," said Summerfield Waldorf high school teacher Beth Weisburn, an electrical engineer before she switched to Waldorf teaching. "It's about developing self-initiated activity."


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