Wendy Weinrich has been an early childhood Waldorf teacher for the past 19 years. She spent 11 years teaching at Mountain Laurel Waldorf School in New Paltz. Eight years ago she opened Mountaintop School in Woodstock. She moved the school to a building that used to house a Volkswagen repair shop on the property adjoining her home on Band Camp Rd. three years ago. In addition to working as the director of the school, she currently teaches a mixed-age kindergarten class of 16 three- through six-year-old students.
What makes Waldorf schooling unique?
For early childhood it’s really unique because there’s not a big stress on early academics. We really believe that children should be allowed to be children. There’s a lot of free, imaginative play. There’s pre-literacy, rich verses and songs and stories that children take in.
The aesthetics are very important. Young children take things in deeply. Their senses are so fresh and alive. We want to give them things that are real. Wool, wood, toys that are not so formed. You might see dolls without faces so they can imagine the faces.
We have a very strong rhythm in our day. We have the same lunch. Every Monday is rice day, Tuesday is porridge day. Children learn the days of the week that way. We start outside every day, then we come in for snack, then it’s free play, so they know what to expect.
How did you get into this line of work?
When I was looking for a nursery school for my now 24-year-old son, I discovered the Waldorf school in New Paltz. I was a dance/movement therapist at the time and I walked into the classroom and said, “I could do this.” I was lucky enough to become an assistant that first year. Then I went for my training.
What is the training like?
You get a certification in Waldorf early childhood. The training I went to was at Sunbridge College in Spring Valley, New York. It was for someone who was already working in a Waldorf school, so you went for a four-week summer program, then a week in January, a week in March, and another four weeks for about three years of that part-time kind of training.
What sort of person makes a good Waldorf teacher?
The grandmother is the archetypical image, and makes for a better teacher than a young, lively person, which is interesting. I think the reasoning is that it’s someone who is just that rock, who holds the rhythm of the day and the children can come and go.
The other attributes would be love of children and an understanding of the whole child. Rudolph Steiner, who developed Waldorf education, really talked about the head, the heart and the hands, looking at those aspects of how the child learns.
What makes for a really good day?
A good day is when the children come in with smiles and give you a hug and the parents express their gratitude and support. Things just flow in a rhythm. The children move from one activity to another without feeling rushed.
A bad day?
The days when things don’t flow, or children aren’t feeling like they have the time to do what they want to. A really bad day is if I’d have to call a parent and say, “He really can’t be here today; you need to come and get him.”
How has the job changed since you started?
I think children have changed. Children are coming now with some difficulties in this incarnation, if you will. Their bodies don’t fit right, and it comes out in awkward movements or behavioral things, so I think I see a lot more of that. Right now I’m doing an advanced training for therapeutic movement as a Waldorf teacher.
Do you see yourself at the same job ten years from now?
I do. I think I’ve got another 10 or 15 years left. Then I really can be that grandma.
How’s the pay?
It’s better than what I got paid at Mountain Laurel. It’s challenging at some times and good at other times. We’re making it.