Early Childhood Waldorf Full Time Studies — an Indigenous Student’s Experience

Wahsonti:io Hill is a one of six full-time students who graduated last month from the Rudolf Steiner Centre Toronto’s one-year full-time Professional Development for Waldorf Teachers program, and one of two who chose to specialize in early childhood. Their program is called Professional Development for Waldorf Early Childhood Teachers Full-Time.* Wahsonti:io is third from the right in the photo above of the full time grads cutting the cake at their graduation.

Everlasting Tree School Connection

Wahsonti:io’s first exposure to Waldorf came through her friend, Chandra Maracle, who was one of the founders of the Everlasting Tree School at the Six Nations of the Grand River Territory (near Brantford). Chandra recognized the benefits of the Waldorf approach for Indigenous children, and she would drop little seeds to stimulate interest among her friends.

Later Chandra took her friends to visit some Waldorf schools and shared with them the knowledge she had gained about Steiner’s approach to children and learning. From what Chandra showed her, Wahsonti:io saw the beauty in Waldorf education and appreciated how it fit with Indigenous culture.

Wahsonti:io’s path then led her to take part in the RSCT’s Foundation Studies Encounter program in Thornhill, with Paul Hodgkins in 2008. At the time she had no intention to teach. She just wanted to understand anthroposophy and the foundations of Waldorf for her own personal interest.

Photo above — Family members at the graduation June 2019, L-R: Audrey Hill, sister, Karonto:ton, daughter, Ienenhstaienthos, daughter, Kakwiri:io, son, Ollie Beaver, father, Rarahkwaseres, son, Teiehkwa, daughter, Atiaktatie, partner, Wahsonti:io.

Journeying with her Children

Then when the Everlasting Tree School (a Waldorf initiative) started nine years ago, she enrolled her daughter in Grade One and her son in Kindergarten. Those were the only two classes being offered at the time. Her daughter, Teiehkwa, graduated from Grade Eight at ETS last June (2018). And this past year when Wahsonti:io was living in Thornhill to attend the full-time program, her daughter, Teiehkwa (photo below), took on the role of being the primary female at home, even though she was only 15 years old.

She made sure her Downs-Syndrome brother got up in the morning and got off to school. She did the cooking, and played the role of the mom. Wahsonti:io said that her kids enjoyed school. But, over the four years she struggled with cancer, starting at age 11, Teiehkwa missed a lot of school, and needed tutoring. It was during that time that Wahsonti:io had started in the part-time Waldorf teacher program at the RSCT, but had to withdraw so she could be there for her daughter.

Benefits of the Full-Time Program

Later, Wahsonti:io decided to do the full-time program at RSCT (instead of continuing with the part-time program). She knew she wanted to have a more in-depth understanding of the early years in Waldorf education. She said that having completed the full-time program now, she would not even consider the part-time program, given what the full-time program provides.

She said that at RSCT, all the instructors brought to the classroom an in-depth understanding from their own classroom experiences. Each built on the other in terms of understanding Steiner’s model of education and child development. She said the opportunities to do practicums with master teachers really enabled her to put into practice what she had been learning.

Putting the Learning into Practice

Wahsonti:io was grateful to have been able to work with Mary and Genevieve in the TWS Birchgrove kindergarten, as well as with Mario and his helpers in the TWS childcare. And also with Lea in the Parent and Tot, and with Laurie in her Hearthstone home childcare. Wahsonti:io said they were all amazing people. She also spoke of her feelings of being welcomed into the community here and made to feel at home by everyone she encountered. She said she feels fortunate to have been a part of it this year during her full-time studies at the RSCT.

One thing Wahsonti:io wants to do next is to take some courses in the Pickler method to better understand how the lower senses are formed in the earliest years of child development, and to learn what a child needs, and what they will not benefit them.

Marionette Show about the Seven Dancing Stars

Wahsonti:io said that one of the parallels between Waldorf and Indigenous cultures is the central role of stories and storytelling. Last January she was invited by Patti Wolfe to work with a group of experienced Waldorf educators to help develop a marionette show based on an Indigenous legend about the Seven Dancing Stars.

Patti had come to her with a script, but Wahsonti:io was able to help her find a more authentic version of the story. Patti also wanted to consult with her about skin color and clothing for the puppets that were to represent the Indigenous parents and children in the story. The marionette show was presented as part of the Toronto Waldorf School’s Children’s Winter Festival, and again a few weeks later for audiences at the Everlasting Tree School’s midwinter festival.

Wahsonti:io played the drum for the performances and got to see how a Waldorf marionette show was put together from very beginnings through performance for audiences. She said she was surprised how much work was involved in really doing it well. Photo below: Wahsonti:io and Patti during rehearsal.

Wahsonti:io says that the story of the Seven Dancing Stars is about the constellation of the Pleiades. She said that her people watch that constellation rise in the night sky so that they will know when to celebrate the midwinter ceremony, which is the most important ceremony of the year. It’s the appearance of those stars that signals the timing of the ceremony. Wahsonti:io said that many Indigenous traditions connect that constellation with the origin of their people.

About the Full-Time Program

Earlier, Wahsonti:io had taken courses to qualify for an Ontario Teaching Certificate. It was a 3 to 4 year part-time program. She said that program was more about what you fill the children’s heads with, and about the legalities and liabilities of teaching. After completing that program she did some second-language teaching in Indigenous language and culture schools. But Wahsonti:io said that what she learned in the Ontario Teaching Certificate program doesn’t begin to compare with what she learned over the past year at the RSCT, in terms of preparing her to stand before the children with love and a sense of who she is as a person.

Wahsonti:io had nothing but praise for the leadership of the full-time RSCT Waldorf teacher program and how Early Childhood Program Director Jan Patterson and Teacher Education Director James Brian work together, bringing their compassion, their skills, their knowledge and their organization together to make it all happen for the students. She said she also appreciated James’ help with finding a suitable place to stay, and the help of the Toronto Waldorf School in including her daughter in the first grade class while Wahsonti:io completed her teaching studies.

In addition, Wahsonti:io said she also enjoyed being able to make friends with other aspiring Waldorf teachers from all around the world, including students from Mexico, China, and Korea, and to have the opportunity to learn about their cultures. Now she feels she has lifelong friends from around the world. And with the professional development she was able to achieve at the RSCT she feels she now has something more to bring to the Six Nations children that would immensely benefit their spirits.

Bringing it all Back Home

Now that she’s graduated as a Waldorf early childhood teacher, Wahsonti:io plans to start a home childcare program on the Six Nations of the Grand River Territory. She says that although there are already four Ministry of Education daycares on the reserve, as well as several private home daycares, there are still long waiting lists, and there’s still a need. In addition to a Waldorf approach to early childhood, Wahsonti:io wants to offer an immersion in Mohawk language and culture for the children in her home childcare.

And now that she has experienced the community of living and studying here, she wants to try to re-create something of that in her own life through her home childcare and by encouraging others to take an interest in Waldorf, and eventually come to study at the RSCT.

*In case you’re wondering why the convoluted names, it’s because, for the last few years, the RSCT has been limited by the government to enrolling students who already have teaching experience, or in the case of part-time program, students who are currently teaching in schools. An application process is underway to reclassify the RSCT as a private career college. And once that process is complete and accepted by the government, the RSCT will once again be able to accept students into teacher education programs and early childhood teacher education programs without needing them to have had prior teaching experience or current teaching positions.

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