What We Got for $140,000

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Tomorrow, my daughter graduates 8th grade, bringing an end to her twelve years of Waldorf education.

She’s been a student at Green Meadow Waldorf School since she was three years old, longer than she can remember. To her, Waldorf school is school, a Waldorf childhood simply what life was like when she was younger: dreamy, pastoral, timeless.

Sending her to private school has cost, in the very roundest of figures, about $140,000 (not including the cost for her younger brother, which will more than double this figure over time), a jaw-dropping amount of money even to me, and I wrote the checks. We did it on two public educators’ salaries, and I won’t bore you with the details of all that we have sacrificed to give our children this gift, other than to note that when my husband’s Dodge finally joined the choir invisible last summer, “trade-in” was not really an option.

$140,000 could have bought a lot of other things instead, and certainly would have meant much less household debt. Over the years, my husband and I have occasionally looked at each other over a pile of bills and said, “If it weren’t for their school…” If it weren’t for their school, by our reckoning, we’d be rich. Or maybe, if it weren’t for their school, we would have just spent the money on a lot of stuff we didn’t need.  But as we prepare to say goodbye, I find that I have no regrets at all about what we got for $140,000 or what we could have had instead. We got so much for our money.

Attending a Waldorf school gave our children an education and a childhood very far outside the mainstream of American culture. Waldorf schools begin with an entirely different set of assumptions about the purposes of education. Teachers are not preparing students for a test, or to meet the state standards, to get into an exclusive college (although many do), or even to compete in the workplace (although, of course, Waldorf graduates do that, too). The purpose of Waldorf education is to prepare students for their freedom and their destiny, and fulfilling those goals requires an expansive definition of education. Children’s relationships, physical health, spiritual development,  artistic expression, and imagination are given as much attention as their intellects (more, really, in the multi-age nursery-kindergarten), as is their ability to work and play with their hands, limbs, heads and hearts. The aesthetic of a Waldorf early childhood–the handmade toys, natural materials, and soft colors, the endless hours of free play in woods and fields in every kind of weather, the candle-time and gnomes and fairy tales–all contribute to the cultivation of a sense of beauty, ritual and wonder in the little ones. These capacities take time to develop, and the children have all the time in the world. Academic work of any kind, even the alphabet, does not begin until first grade, when the children are six or seven.

Kathe Kruse Waldorf Dolls

Because Waldorf schools have a media-free policy, meaning that children in the early grades should be exposed to no television, movies, computer games or any other kinds of electronic media at all, Waldorf also gave us a much quieter home than most and freed us from the constant demands consumerism makes on families with young children. Once, near Christmas, an adult at a friend’s house asked the preschoolers there what they wanted Santa to bring them. One little girl rattled off a list of brand-name products word-for-word from commercials she’d watched. When it was my daughter’s turn, she thought for a long moment, and finally came out with “Toys!” and a big smile. I won’t say her lack of consumer sophistication saved us money, because the gorgeous handmade dolls and toys that captivate the heart of a Waldorf child are expensive, but knowing that her head was filled with stories instead of commercials seemed worth the price difference between a Barbie and a Kathe Kruse.  We vacationed at cabins in the woods and shacks near the beach instead of in Disneyland, enjoyed the occasional quick dinner out at Whole Foods instead of McDonald’s. If advertisers hoped to imprint their brands on our children’s brains for life, they got a late start. Their desires arose from their experiences and observations, rather than from being rammed into their brains by the relentless advertising against which young brains have no defenses.

The media policy is less about protecting children from consumerism, though, than it is about privileging unmediated experience: play, imagination, interaction, working, moving, feeling, and thinking in three dimensions. To me, its greatest value was where it directed their attention, or rather, where it didn’t direct it. My children weren’t fixated on corporate-created, color-coded characters like the Teletubbies or the Wiggles, and they didn’t believe they were having a personal relationship with Elmo or Clifford or Steve from Blues Clues. They were relating to their family, teachers, classmates, and each other (for better or for worse). The imaginary friends with whom they had relationships were products of their own imaginations. Because all the other families, to varying degrees, were attempting to follow the media policy in their own homes, none of the children felt excluded or weird.

Being a part of this community of like-minded, though quite diverse, parents drawn to Waldorf education was in itself worth much of that $140,000.  Keeping a private school operating takes tremendous parent volunteerism: organizing class activities, assisting at festivals and fundraisers, chaperoning, serving on committees. It’s difficult for me to get to know new people in social settings, but working side-by-side for hours with the warm, lively mothers and fathers of my children’s classmates created community and friendship. We are from a variety of countries, religious backgrounds, careers and life experiences, but we share certain values  that bring us together. Since many of us moved to be close to school, the children have grown up in a quaint sort of village environment, where at the Co-op, the pizza place, the swimming pond, the Café, and all over the 400-acre campus of various Anthroposophical institutions here, they know nearly everyone they see. (When they were little and we occasionally had to go to the mall, they skipped off away from me. I would call them back, ask them to look around, and tell me who they saw that they knew. When they realized, shocked, that they didn’t recognize a single person, I would remind them that the mall is not the Co-op, and that they needed to stay close to me.) $140,000 bought a feeling of absolute belonging.

It also, of course, paid for the core of my daughter’s education, presided over by Jane Wulsin, a teacher of over 30 years’ experience, who, in the traditional Waldorf way, taught the class from their first day of first grade through today, their last day of eighth grade. She taught them everything from the alphabet to algebra, fairy tales to the French Revolution. She structured their days in a rhythm that alternated periods of quiet concentration with movement and singing. She took them on weeklong camping trips, on outings to New York City, and on walks to her house for treats. She supervised these children, who have become more like siblings than classmates, from hopscotch and jumprope through their first awkward school dances, always making sure that they played fair, took care of one another, and talked out their problems when they weren’t getting along. She had them reciting Tennyson in first grade, performing Julius Caesar in sixth grade, and singing The Magic Flute in eighth grade. She believed they could do anything they set their minds to, so they did. Mrs. Wulsin retires tomorrow, the day of their graduation, and none of us can imagine life without  this loving, earnest, gifted teacher, this third parent, lighting the way to their next accomplishment.

What else did we get for $140,000? My daughter and her classmates possess a marvelous confidence that they can figure out how to do difficult things. They can sing, dance, play the recorder, some guitar, and an orchestral instrument, draw very well, paint, make dyes from plants, knit wonderful socks, crochet, embroider, sew their own shirts, carve wood, sculpt, and garden. They can spell their names in EurythmyThey can run a fundraiser and put on a play and teach younger children and pilot a canoe.  My house is full of my kids’ handwork, all made from natural materials: the little knitted animals they made in first grade, the swirly watercolors with the corners of the paper rounded off, their pottery and candles and felted mats. I can’t bring myself to throw out a scrap of anything they worked on so hard and brought home to place in my hands so proudly. So much of who they are and who they will become resides in those little projects.

Waldorf education is not perfect, and it’s definitely not for every family. I won’t pretend, not even on this last day, that we haven’t had questions and problems over the years, and that there weren’t times we thought we might have to leave. My daughter will attend a public high school next year. Perhaps she will return to Waldorf before she finishes high school, and perhaps she won’t. Waldorf high schools have their own unique and fascinating curriculum, but she needs to go to school next year somewhere she hasn’t been known since she was barely out of babyhood and where she doesn’t know everyone she sees. She’s ready for different challenges, and we definitely need a break from paying for two private school tuitions. Financially, we have a lot of catching up to do.

It was hard to give this gift. It still is. We went without a lot of things we wanted, and sometimes, things we needed.

But for $140,000, we bought our daughter a beautiful childhood. It was worth every penny. And now, it is over.

****************************

A few more posts relating to Waldorf education can be found here.

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About Julie Goldberg

Julie Goldberg has lived a life entirely too entangled with books. She is a school librarian, former English teacher, compulsive reader, occasional jazz singer and the author of Lily in the Light of Halfmoon. You can email her at perfectwhole@gmail.com and follow her on Twitter @juliegoldberg.
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36 Responses to What We Got for $140,000

  1. Larry Seiler says:

    Fascinating! I know very little about Waldorf education.Our boys had little trouble sifting out the commercialism/consumerism of electronic media, but we found that both of them, for various reasons, benefited from some years of full or partial home schooling. An experiment with an ordinary private school was not successful, but our older son got a lot of benefit from Mass Academy (a selective math/science public school run jointly with a college — not a charter school). So different children need different things. I concluded years ago that the key skill for a parent is the ability to recognize when something is not working & try something different until it does.

    • Aron Gabor says:

      If i may: Please, oh please dont send your kids to waldorf schooling, coming from the honest opinion of a High schooler who went to public school for all but this one year, i have high hopes for myself (i am striving to be a psychologist) and from this year that i spent in waldorf, all i have done is waste my time. When i first transfered schools, i was shocked to see disorganization, sloth, and frankly, failure. I came in with education of public school, and i have not learned a single thing. The standard curriculum is far below what you would expect, when i came here, the ninth graders were learning the curriculum of a public school sixth grader. that does not nearly cover it. if you wish to contact me, please do so at gaborarix@yahoo.com. Thank you,

  2. Until I found out about Waldorf education, I had always thought I would homeschool. I was sure that I could handle the academics (well, maybe up to Algebra I in math). But I suspected then, and know for a fact now, that I would not have been able to give them the necessary socialization. Many homeschooling parents are brilliant at this, but I am not, and my kids would have been really isolated. Their social ease is something I could not give them because I have never had it. Yet another reason I’m so grateful to their teachers.

    • larry says:

      We were fortunate that our small town contained a very active “baby sitting co-op”. This connected my wife (not me so much) to a network of (mostly) mothers & connected our kids to a network of other kids in town. Another thing that helped was that our school agreed to partial home schooling in some years, that is, one or the other son attended school for some classes & was taught at home for others. In Massachusetts, the public schools were legally required to permit home schooling if we met the standards, but they were NOT required to allow partial home schooling. In that also we were fortunate — we had been part of a group that helped the school clean up a major problem, so the teachers & administrators were willing to put up with a lot from us. And they knew that we could be quite persistent in seeking what our kids needed.

  3. fransiweinstein says:

    It may have cost $140,000 but in truth what you gave your daughter is priceless. Sounds amazing to me.

  4. Julie, you are amazing!!! Thank you so much. I am forwarding to everyone I know, especially Vickie Larson, Bill Pernice, and Tari Steinrueck.

  5. Bill Pernice says:

    Julie, I agree with Donna, you are amazing. And you have a way with words! Thank you for putting in words what I have felt about my own children and their experience in this school. I hope to see you this weekend.

  6. Elizabeth Reid says:

    Hi Julie,
    I attended the Detroit Waldorf School with my two brothers. My parents also sacrificed much to afford our education. It is one of the greatest gifts they have given me. The confidence, creativity, and respect with which I approach life are, in great part, a result of my Waldorf upbringing. Thanks for sharing your story and inspiring other parents to value the quality of their children’s’ education over the cost.
    Elizabeth

  7. Lizzz says:

    Dear Julie,

    This is so beautifully written! Even though I’m a teacher, I have worn the parent hat as well – and there have been times when I’ve scratched my head (What? Another class teacher change?) but knew it was right for my three stepchildren – all girls. The school where I first worked didn’t have a Waldorf high school – so after a lot of research into the schools in our area, the oldest went to High Mowing, and the middle one went to a prep school for a year, and then transferred to High Mowing. The youngest went to a public arts high school.

    The financial burden and debt that came with sending the girls to this private school was enormous – but when I look at them today – one just out of college, the other almost there, and the youngest now a senior in high school – I know it was money well spent – even though I am sure that my car will have negative trade-in value as well (I’ll have to pay a “dump” fee or something)!

    Thank you again for expressing it so beautifully!

    Elizabeth

    • Thank you, Elizabeth. When I think of what we could have had instead, none of it is better. And I don’t feel we have to wait to see the results years from now. Isaac was just showing his uncle all his main lesson book work this morning. He’s so proud of how much better he’s gotten, of how much he’s learned this year. That is priceless.

  8. lora says:

    Our daughter had a lot of problems adjusting to the noise and chaos of our neighborhood school. we have been incredibly blessed getting her a spot in a waldorf charter school, where she finished first grade and blossomed. paying private school tuition is absolutely out of the question for us as well as homeschooling. Like I say, we are incredibly blessed. waldorf has been the best thing to ever happen to our child and our family..
    lora

  9. Katybeth says:

    As the mother of a Waldorf student who started in parent/child at 18 months and is entering 11th grade next school year–I could not agree more that the investment in money and time (as any Waldorf parent knows–the time investment is not to be taken lightly) has been well worth it. I’ve had plenty of doubts along the way, and the administration, at times, has made me hair pulling crazy but the teachers love my kid, and teach to his heart and his mind. My boy is growing up to be a Modern Renaissance Man with a love for learning, art, and an ability to talk to people on all different levels; he is compassionate, reverent and kind. Let’s not talk about Eurythmy.
    I realized just how priceless our Waldorf community was when my husband died of a sudden heart attack in 2009…It wasn’t just the food (doesn’t every Waldorf community excel at food) it was the love that surrounded us and the depth at which the teachers knew my son that has helped make our lives whole again.
    Thanks for validating my experience once again.

    • So sorry to hear of your terrible loss, and so glad your community gave you the love and support you needed.
      I have seen the power of the Waldorf meal chain in action, and it is a force to be reckoned with! And you’re right: it’s not just the casseroles.

  10. Will says:

    Thanks for a great article. We’re just on the cusp of starting our daughter at a Waldorf school and the $140,000 number looks terrifying. It’s also, I suppose, a graphic reminder of how hard it is, and how much determination is needed, to help a child escape the pervasive consumerist miasma of the contemporary world. Being a consumer is easy by comparison, and that is likely why it is so successful in penetrating the lives of families.
    I wondered if you had any thoughts about whether, looking back or looking at your kids now, Waldorf schooling had any significant weaknesses in any general topics. The emphasis on connecting with a more natural world appeals to me, but I worry that this path, as offered by a Waldorf school, may risk ruling out or limiting future options for my daughter. Particularly I don’t want her grasp of sciences or math to fall short. If she wants to be an astronomer or materials engineer, then I want that to be as possible as being an artist.

    Thanks again for the article, your comments are encouraging. I was especially interested by your remarks about social ease, as you put it. I have little use for socializing but don’t want my daughter to be limited by that either.

    • When we first began, I think the math curriculum was weaker than it is now. Parents were concerned, and the school took steps to address shortcomings. They hired a dedicated math teacher last year, and in the previous years had high school math teachers coming to teach math blocks in the middle grades. I think I’ll know more about how well my daughter was prepared for science in a few months, once she begins at the public high school. I think the adjustment there is going to be more in methods rather than content. Science in Waldorf education is very much about observing phenomena closely and discovering principles. That’s a good foundation, but I’m not sure how prepared she is to absorb the vast content of a high school biology textbook. We’ll see.

      My view of any curricular shortcomings I perceived in my children’s school was always balanced for me by the idea that these were problems that could be addressed, or, if they couldn’t, that I could supplement with outside assistance. At one point, I hired a math tutor for my daughter, which helped her tremendously. But if I had pulled her out of Waldorf, the things she would miss were not things I could easily replace on my own: the camaraderie of being part of a class, the artistic work, the rhythm of the day, the media-free environment.

      Of course, we all know that there’s no such thing as a perfect school, or indeed any human institution. I’ve worked in public schools all my adult life, and I haven’t found perfection even at the best ones. What was important to us was finding what came closest to our values, what gave our children what we couldn’t give them at home or anywhere else.

  11. StoryEnzin says:

    StoryEnzin에서 이 항목을 퍼감댓글:
    캐나다 발도르프학교를 졸업시킨 한 엄마의 글…

  12. Irene Coventry says:

    Thank you for your wonderful recount of what Waldorf (Steiner) education gave your daughter. I would like to agree wholeheartedly with everything you have said . We have 3 children that have been Steiner (Waldorf) educated, both here in Australia and also New Zealand. My daughter right from playgroup at 2 months through until graduation in Year 12, and our 2 sons through to grade 9. You cannot put a price on such a fabulous education. Everyday I am amazed by my children’s attitudes, abilities and self confidence, of course some of it comes from us, but the majority I put down to the fantastic education they have had. So thank you again for sharing your experience of this precious gift we can all give our children

  13. Pingback: Adventures in Bothmind | Perfect Whole

  14. K says:

    Dear Julie

    So much of our story is the same. I too am a teacher, trained in a traditional manner. I felt something was missing & always thought I would homeschool. I found Waldorf schooling through a wonderful happenstance & my daughter went from nursery/kindergarten through 8th grade. She then went to a non-Waldorf high school & did very well in the demanding academic setting. She is about to complete her masters in Conflict Resolution & she found this particular niche because of her Waldorf experience.

    My husband & I decided that the most important gift we could give our child was a solid foundation in her most formative years…early childhood through high school. While we wanted her to go to college we figured that scholarships, financial aide & the like would be there for that leg of her educational jaunt & we spent what many people spend on college for her 8+ years in a Waldorf school. We are so very happy we did. This young woman is thoughtful, invested & working in her local community & globally aware of how her actions effect all communities. I have confidence in our future with young people such as her coming into adulthood.

    I really appreciated your comment that this education is not for everyone & that there were those times of doubt & troubles. It is what I tell perspective/new families as well. There is personal work that I needed to do while being part of this community. The Waldorf school education is a journey for the whole family that has been tremendously rewarding for my personal growth.

    Thank you for your thoughtful & honest essay.

  15. Pingback: What we got for $140,000 | The Waldorf School of Philadelphia

  16. Sharon West says:

    I so enjoyed reading this and meeting you, Julie. It reminds me not to lose sight of the core values we hold dear in educating our children, despite the sacrifices, setbacks and energy required. All. Completely. Worth. It.

  17. Margaret says:

    There is such truth in all you said. I had the blessing of being sent to Spring Garden Waldorf in Ohio, and I plan to send my two sons there as well in a few years, when they reach that age. Something really to be noted is the amount of community you feel in such a setting. During my 7th grade year I was diagnosed with diabetes and I remember being sent handmade cards while still in the hospital from all my classmates! They even went out of their way to learn about diabetes before I came back to school in order to be able to encourage and help me during that major transition in my life. Then again, in my 8th grade year, these same classmates came to my rescue as I tried to cope with my mother’s terminal illness and watching her deteriorate each day. My classmates’ parents would bring food to our house so my mother did not have to cook dinner. They would drive her to chemotherapy. They meditated with her. They prayed with her. And they helped me learn that in her passing, I could still have a relationship with her. Waldorf education is not just an education – its a family and a way of life.

  18. Betsy Connelly says:

    Hi Julie. I want to say to you , it’s NOT over. We have 3 adult children who went to a Waldorf school from pre-K (Kindergarten for the oldest) through 8th grade. They are now 30, 28 and 22. Their lives are so different than they would have been, I’m sure, because of Waldorf education. The lessons, the essence of it all reverberates in their minds, hearts and souls still, and I think always will. It’s far from over. You have gifted your child with education that will enable her to think outside the box always, to imagine new and better ways of being, of functioning, of serving others, of being with others, to see in color rather than in black and white (I am quoting another who made this observation of his Waldorf-educated students, sorry I don’t remember who, but it describes my kids to a T.) There’s an impulse that lives on in the hearts of Waldorf children, that changes their perspective on everything.
    Your investment was the best you’ll ever make. Take it from one who has seen the long-term gains.
    Betsy

    • You’re right! I already see this in the way she is adjusting to her new school. She is figuring out how things are done in her new environment, finding friends with common interests, communicating with her teachers about her transition and its challenges, seeking help when she needs it. I see her character in the way she is rising to these challenges, but I also see the fruits of her Waldorf education.

      Glad to hear things worked out so well for your Waldorf kids, too!

  19. Sheryl Morris says:

    My background is in Montessori. Current movements to “simplifiy” child rearing and parenting lead me to independently “study” Waldorf. Your article here, I’ve found, to be a great resource; thank you! One response mentioned a “charter Waldorf.” I want to follow this thread because I believe that there should be a greater effort to bring the choice of Montessori and Waldorf to the private sector. I understand the effort and sacrifice it takes on the part of parents to find the “right” place for their own child(ren); a satisfaction and feeling of release and relaxation follows once your child is in his/her “best” place. At the risk of sounding preachy, I’d ask parents who have children at more “holistic,” “child-centered” schools to engage in the conversations and debates about public education. We’re all in this together. The more children that experience the best in education, the better the entire world will be for your own child.

  20. c burrell says:

    so moving……..

  21. jo says:

    Hi Julie,

    Thanks for ‘What we Got for $140,000. ” I am a School Librarian with over 15 years of experience in the USA and England. I LOVE working with teachers, parents, and children sharing my passion for libraries and books. I’ve taken five years off to raise my daughter Lydia. I am considering applying for a School Library job at a Waldorf School (preschool-grade 8). I’m at a loss for locating any information on Libraries and/ or Librarians at Waldorf Schools. Did your daughter’s school have a library and/or librarians? Did anyone teach her research skills? I’ve read countless articles on the use of computers/media in Waldorf schools.

    Any articles and or resources to help me understand the purpose of libraries and librarians at a Waldorf School would be extremely appreciated!!!

    Kind Regards,
    Jo
    UK

    • Hello, Jo! Glad to meet another school librarian/Waldorf mom!
      My kids’ Waldorf school had both a Lower School and Upper School library, but has never, to the best of my knowledge, employed a certified librarian. There were teachers who were responsible for library tasks, in addition to teaching their classes.
      I had inquired several years ago about whether they would be interested in hiring a school librarian, but there just wasn’t the money for it.
      Some teachers are stronger at teaching research skills than others. I did an inservice day for the teachers about research skills, but I don’t know what kind of follow-up there was.
      I would like very much to see a greater role for librarians and for the teaching of information literacy in Waldorf schools. Let me know if you have any luck!

  22. Jennifer says:

    Do you have an update on how she has transitioned to high school? Did she have any problems adjusting?

    • Unfortunately, she did have a pretty difficult adjustment, but that was in part for some personal reasons that had nothing to do with Waldorf (a death in our family, for one). I don’t think the high school she is attending now is a good match for her, but again, that’s not necessarily a Waldorf issue. I think she might have done better at a smaller school, but we really didn’t have a smaller school to send her to. Thanks for asking, and good luck!

  23. Pat says:

    Hi Julie,

    Thanks so much for sharing your experience, which has been extremely helpful. In particular, this really answered a lot of questions that we’ve been concerned about:

    “My view of any curricular shortcomings I perceived in my children’s school was always balanced for me by the idea that these were problems that could be addressed, or, if they couldn’t, that I could supplement with outside assistance. At one point, I hired a math tutor for my daughter, which helped her tremendously. But if I had pulled her out of Waldorf, the things she would miss were not things I could easily replace on my own: the camaraderie of being part of a class, the artistic work, the rhythm of the day, the media-free environment.”

    Hope things improve for your daughter.

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