This is a guest post by Sarah Barrett, homeschooling mother of two and founder of The Dreamers’ School, a Waldorf-inspired homeschooling enrichment program in Atlanta, GA.
I invited Sarah to share her experience starting Waldorf enrichment programs for homeschoolers because I get questions all the time from readers wondering how to find like-minded families.
One way is to create an enrichment program for your homeschooling community.
Sarah’s Journey to Waldorf
I found Jean’s website, Waldorf-Inspired Learning, in 2015 as I was anxiously searching the internet for resources on how to incorporate Waldorf methods into my homeschooling. We had been homeschooling for four years already, using mostly an eclectic and traditional approach, and I had a fourth grade girl and a kindergarten boy.
At the time, I was struggling to find ways to present “school” to my fourth grade daughter so that she enjoyed it. It had become a chore for her, and I so badly wanted her to love learning. She loved imaginative play, crafting, dancing, theatre, and singing. But I did not yet know how to make these things part of our homeschooling. And I didn’t yet know how to make these lively arts a part of the “rigorous college-prep education” I wanted her to have.
I had been attracted to Waldorf methods for years and finally decided I wanted to transition our home to a Waldorf home all the way around. I knew this would be quite a challenge for me! My background is in engineering. And although I am drawn to the beauty of the arts, I received very little exposure to them throughout my early years. Probably due in part to an average suburban public school education and a math/science track.
After reading everything I could find on Waldorf education, I decided that I really could use a live conversation or in-person training with someone who could answer my questions.
I was secretly wondering if I would be ostracized in these circles of what appeared to be very peaceful, creative, and talented mothers who had it all figured out. One look at my complete lack of artistic ability, would they tell me I’m not worthy? Ah, looking back, I see that I was about to learn so much about myself, too!
I set up a Mentor Session with Jean over the phone and I connected with her immediately. She gave me in-depth, detailed, genuine guidance. I ended up setting up another call with her the following week. I still go back to the notes from our first calls from time to time.
Last May of 2017, I was very fortunate to have an in-person mentoring session with Jean at the Waldorf Homeschool Conference in Orlando, where she led several workshops. I also took part in her Plan it Out online group coaching program last summer.
I decided to purchase a Waldorf curriculum package from Christopherus Homeschool Resources at the time, and began to incorporate one subject at a time into our homeschooling. Slowly, over the past three years, I have brought in more and more of the Waldorf approach and each month has been more rewarding than the one before.
My daughter enjoys creating her main lesson books (most days!) and both of my children love when I tell them a story. The storytelling, both fiction and non-fiction, is the single most amazing thing I would encourage someone to add to their homeschooling.
The amount of focus and attention and retention I see in my children after hearing me teach through story has been amazing and unexpected. I have recently learned to pray and meditate, albeit for just a few minutes, on what particular aspects of the lesson my children need to hear most from me, and this has been insightful.
Founding The Dreamers’ School
In July 2015, I started a homeschool enrichment program called The Living School Orlando with a friend. (It’s now called The Lighthouse School.) We rented classrooms at a local church and decided to develop a one-day-per-week program for homeschoolers interested in “whole child learning.”
Even though we were Waldorf-inspired homeschoolers, our program was not specific to Waldorf homeschoolers, but open to any homeschoolers who were interested in this type of enrichment. We chose our class offerings based on what we wanted for our children and we hired teachers who were experts in that area.
Our first semester, our program offered yoga, gardening, Spanish, literature studies, human anatomy, music, and theatre. Students would come one day a week from 8am to 3pm and participate in these classes. Students were homeschooled by their parents on the other days.
In 2018, I moved to the Atlanta, GA area and opened The Dreamers’ School, a sister-school to the Orlando program.
Our Orlando program is now in its third year and has close to 100 students! Classes fill up almost as soon as registration opens. Not surprisingly, there is abundant interest in many communities for a creative, fun, nature-inspired, whole-child enrichment program!
Student-families pay a tuition, and we use the money to pay teachers, rent, insurance, and supplies. We occasionally add in fun activities like a Valentine exchange, Father Daughter Dance, field trips, and summer camps.
In the beginning stages, we combined several age groups and offered classes that would appeal to a range of ages. As we grew, we could separate the ages more and offer classes that are suited for specific ages and stages of development from a Waldorf perspective.
We sometimes change our class offerings from year to year, but our staple classes like yoga, gardening, theater, Spanish, and art are always part of our curriculum. This summer, we are offering a needle-felting day camp and a beach clean-up day. In the fall, we are adding ecology & marine biology, medieval history and creative writing to our program.
It has been fun watching our program grow, and, most importantly, our children love being a part of it. The Dreamers’ School offers a way for me to help my children gain exposure and opportunities to learn things that I could not otherwise teach them like drawing, painting, yoga, and Spanish. And they both have roles in our upcoming theater production of “The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe.”
I have received several messages from homeschooling mothers asking if we will open a branch in their area. Without wanting to take myself away from my own children too much, I have developed a model for opening branches in other cities. We tested our model locally over a year ago in Orlando by hiring a director for our second location, and it worked very well. I would love to help people open The Dreamers’ Schools all across the country!
I love to learn, and I have definitely learned a lot about Waldorf-inspired homeschooling over the past couple years, but still feel like there is so much more to learn given the richness of this approach. The Dreamers’ School’s focus on whole child learning and the lively arts has triggered a great interest in Waldorf homeschooling in our community.
The Waldorf Homeschool Conference
We hosted the first Waldorf Homeschool Conference in May of 2017 in Orlando, FL in response to the interest we saw in the community. Waldorf experts from around the country, including Jean of Waldorf-Inspired Learning, taught workshops to attendees. Other speakers included Carrie Dendtler of The Parenting Passageway, Kristie Burns of Earthschooling, Jodie Mesler of Living Music, and Donna Ashton of The Waldorf Connection.
I hope to offer another conference like this in the Atlanta area soon. Please be sure to follow our Facebook page for updates on when the next conference will be. These conferences offer an opportunity for Waldorf homeschoolers — beginners and seasoned — to learn in-person from these speakers, furthering the movement of Waldorf homeschooling throughout our state and region.
The Waldorf method of education has been, and continues to be, a blessing for my family and I love watching other people get excited about it, too.
Sarah co-founded The Living School Orlando (now called The Lighthouse School) in July 2015 after seeking a homeschool enrichment program for her children that combined creative, fun, nature-inspired, whole-child learning and Waldorf philosophies. After envisioning what an ideal program would look like and not finding one nearby, she and her friend decided to open a school in Orlando, FL that offers this unique program one or two days a week for homeschoolers. Since then, Sarah has moved to the Atlanta, GA area and opened a sister-school called The Dreamers’ School.
Before starting The Dreamers’ School, Sarah owned a consulting company that primarily worked with health & fitness brands and functional medicine doctors. She organized medical conferences, was a ghost-writer for doctors and also served as editor for two magazines. Sarah’s educational background is in Industrial Engineering. She graduated from the top Industrial Engineering program in the country, Georgia Tech, and she worked for Walt Disney World for five years after college. Sarah currently homeschools her two children using Waldorf methods.