20 May 19
The Ukiah Daily Journal
2019 is the 100th anniversary of the first Waldorf school being founded in Stuttgart, Germany, and is also the year Kayla Meadows is retiring. She has been teaching kindergarten for 30 years, 19 of them at River Oak Charter School, and 11 years before that at The Waldorf School of Mendocino County in Calpella. There are over 1,100 Waldorf schools and almost 2,000 Waldorf kindergartens around the world. There are about 150 Waldorf schools in North America, and three of them are here in Mendocino County.
After River Oaks annual Pastels on the Plaza fundraiser was postponed due to rain, Meadows leads the kindergarten class in a traditional maypole celebration inside her classroom. (Chris Pugh — Ukiah Daily Journal)
Waldorf education began in the aftermath of WWI with Austrian scientist and thinker Rudolph Steiner. While visiting the Waldorf-Astoria cigarette factory, he spoke to the workers about social renewal, and was asked by the factory’s owner if he would start a school for the children of the employees of the company. Stuttgart’s name derives from the original Stutengarten, which means mare’s garden, and is the home of Porsche and Mercedes-Benz. Waldorf education has been in North America since 1928.
One of Steiner’s quotes is, “If we do not believe within ourselves this deeply rooted feeling that there is something higher than ourselves, we shall never find the strength to evolve into something higher.” Meadows herself has fully immersed her career in the Waldorf method of teaching kindergarten, and shared her vast wisdom in this alternative form of early childhood education with her students, their families, and fellow educators.
Kindergarten teacher Kaya Meadows (middle) who has been teaching for the past 30 years is retiring from River Oak Charter School at the end of this school year. (Chris Pugh — Ukiah Daily Journal)
Meadows states, “What’s important about kindergarten is learning how to get along with other people. They learn a lot, but it’s in the essence of play. Help in cooking is chemistry. Building blocks is physics. They need to learn to be cooperative or it won’t work. They need to learn how to relate to other people. When they see me moving a puppet, that’s human interaction, and that’s what’s important. That’s why I’m a Waldorf educator, to teach them to fulfill their greatest capacity of being.” Specifically written into their charter is not having to teach reading and writing in kindergarten. This is certainly controversial in the field of education, but nevertheless for Meadows’ students, her kindergarten has provided an enriching year of learning, for families who have chosen the Waldorf option.
Meadows remembers playing with her sister and her dolls as a child, and going out on the Mississippi with her father in a little boat called Bold Venture. She was a Candy Striper hospital volunteer in a children’s ward, and later worked for two summers in an Iowa state mental hospital in a children’s ward while in college. At University of Iowa, she studied Early Childhood Education, Elementary Education, and Psychology. Later, as a single mom, she earned her Waldorf teaching credential for kindergarten and the grades at Rudolf Steiner College, which was near Fair Oaks, here in California.
Waldorf teaching “has really been the focus my entire adult life,” Meadows continues, “and working with the families, not just the children. Kindergarteners are free thinkers. I love to sing, have fun, wear bright colors, and so do the children, so it was really a natural fit. I want to meet you in the present. Every day and every year was a new experience in how you meet the needs of the child, so I just found it very invigorating – singing children into their culture and moving them consciously through space with joy.”
“I had all of Jan Hoyman’s and the Frey children in my kindergarten. Laurel Near’s son asked me if this was my home. At the time the school was called Mountain Meadow, so he thought that’s where I lived.” Meadows’ kindergarten contains elements of classical art and nature. On the children’s water play table sits a very large, beautiful ceramic bowl that Jan Hoyman made for her. Prints of Raphael’s Mother and Child painting and Grace Hudson’s Pomo Mother and Child are on the walls. There is a place for a nature garden which changes with the seasons in class, the paper is 100% cotton, and the crayons are beeswax. There are wood blocks instead of Legos, because the children have an understanding of where wood comes from, rather than plastic. “Our circle is a moving circle. We sing, we dance, we move. They need to move because that’s where they are developmentally. And through their play they learn about the world.”
Meadows memorizes a story about each child, with details given to her by their parents, to tell them on their birthdays. She makes a gift for each child that she gives them on their birthdays and at the winter holiday season. When asked what she hopes has been her greatest gift to kindergarteners in their early childhood education, she states, “Probably that they know that they’re loved and how good it is to have fun. And if you’re going to do something, do it well.”
Andrea Maples, who has had two of her children in Mrs. Meadows kindergarten, says, “We love her. She’s very nurturing but at the same time she knows how to handle my children, so I appreciate that. She was really good in the transition of when my husband and I were separating. She’s very loving. We’re going to be sad to see her go.”
Charlotte Scott says, “I had two of my older stepchildren, who are now nearly adults, and my nine-year old with her. I learned a lot about parenting from her, and I learned about the Steiner method and Waldorf. I saw all the children really thrive with her. I think she has a great ability to connect with children, and I love the stability in her classroom. She’s really an expert, and she’ll be greatly missed.”
Mrs. Meadows started the protected pumpkin path, as a healthy alternative to people going trick-or-treating, while she was teaching at The Waldorf School of Mendocino County in Calpella. She says, “All of life is a festival: one thing after another, just to embrace life.”
When asked what changes she has seen as having the most impact on childhood in the past 30 years, she immediately states, “Media. People on their cell phone too much. People not communicating with each other. Too much time watching a screen. When I was student teaching, I worked with master teachers at Rudolf Steiner College. When a teacher said, ‘You can tell if a child watches television or not,’ I thought that was really silly, but you can.”
Meadows explains to her students about the pauses in great music, and how pauses are also important in our lives. “People think you need to be doing something for your child. Sometimes children and their families just need to be together and not do anything. They don’t need to do things to enrich their child’s life; they just need to spend time together and read together.”
When asked what she will miss the most about teaching, Meadows responds, “I guess just being with the children. Maybe storytelling, the look of awe and wonder on their faces.” She has traveled to 59 countries over the years, including several international Kindergarten conferences. “I used to do the opening for each school year for many years here, and would bring something about the country I just traveled to.” Her son now lives in Singapore with his wife and two children, and is an executive with Google in the Far East. She states, “My son works for Google and he’s brilliant because of his Waldorf education and because he was read to every day.” In addition, she helped to raise her husband’s son, and her husband has a daughter.
When asked what she has loved most about being a teacher, and her thoughts on her upcoming retirement, she speaks about recalling her father’s boat the Bold Venture going out on the Mississippi each week. She says, “I was thinking about the journey…I was thinking about the journey I’ve taken as a teacher, and all the people I’ve experienced as a human being, will be with me. The journey and the joy that I’ve experienced. But I am excited about taking them in my boat – and not just the children, the parents, too, in my own Bold Venture.”
A retirement party for Mrs. Meadows will be held on Thursday, May 23 at 4 p.m. at Todd Grove Park. It is a potluck, and a green event, in which you’re asked to bring your own cups and plates. Friends, family, colleagues, parents and students of all the generations she has taught are invited. Mrs. Meadows would like to plant a retirement garden, so any perennials as a gift would be welcomed.