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Educational Overview  

The Mountain School provides an environment that sets the foundation for a life-long love of learning and holistic balanced living. Our learning environment and our programs strive to awaken and encourage exploration through the head, heart, and hands (thinking, feeling and willing). Learning becomes much more than memorizing facts -- learning becomes an engaging voyage to discover the world and oneself while the magic and wonder of childhood are protected and respected. Our educational philosophy and pedagogy is inspired by Waldorf Education and our accountability is to its governing body -- AWSNA, the Association of Waldorf Schools of North America.

Holistic Character Education:
We are committed to providing our students with a hands-on, experiential learning environment that integrates character development into every aspect of school life. The young child primarily learns through imitation of adults, imaginative play (practice work), physical activity, and sensory integration. Whenever possible it is always preferable to educate a young child through concrete, real-life (rather than abstract) activities as this stimulates the whole child -- the physical (will), emotional (feeling) and cognitive (thinking) capacities together. Anything we may wish to successfully accomplish in life requires a balanced integration of these capacities; for example, we may be a dreamer unable to implement our visions, or a brilliant thinker unable to sustain relationships with others, or a go-getter who stumbles through life without thinking consequences through or considering our effect on others. We can probably all think of people like this we've known and these imbalances bring much frustration and unhappiness. Just as our government system (executive, legislative and judicial branches) provides checks and balances, well-adjusted cognitive, emotional, and physical capacities result in noble character.

"When we think about the kind of character we want for our children, it's clear that we want them to be able to discern what is ethical, care deeply about what is ethical, and then do what they believe to be ethical-- even in the face of pressure from without and temptation from within."--Tomas Linkona, "Educating for Character" 1991

"We must seek the balance in children's lives that will create the optimal developmental milieu to prepare our children to be academically, socially, and emotionally equipped to lead us into the future-- certain character traits will produce children capable of navigating an increasingly complex world as they grow older. These traits include confidence, competence or the ability to master the environment, and a deep-seated connectedness to and caring about others. In addition, to be resilient -- to remain optimistic and be able to rebound from adversity -- young people need the essential traits of honesty, generosity, decency, tenacity, and compassion."
-- Kenneth R. Ginsburg, MD, MS Ed and the Committee on Communications and the Committee on Psychosocial Aspects of Child and Family Health, Pediatrics: The Official Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics: January, 2007

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Future Leadership & Earth Stewardship:

"The best employers the world over will be looking for the most competent, most creative, and most innovative people on the face of the planet and will be willing to pay them top dollar for their services."
-- "The Report of the New Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce: Tough Choices or Tough Times" by The National Center on Education and the Economy, December 2006.

We are dedicated and confident about our ability to initiate the education of our world's future leaders for the global economy and the management of sustainable Earth systems. From every sector of society, be it science, health, economics, agriculture, energy, or education the same call for innovation and renewal can be heard. The Center on Education and the Economy has recently released its report by the New Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce, called Tough Choices or Tough Times, which calls for "massive fundamental change in education structure, curriculum, teacher compensation, and student assessment, as well as in the roles of virtually all our education institutions." Susan Fuhrman, President of the Teacher's College, Columbia University says of the report, "It is an exciting vision of a reformed and revitalized American education system. It has many important ideas that should generate considerable debate and are worthy of serious consideration." Finally, Albert J. Simone, President of Rochester Institute of Technology, comments "The current public education system at the K-12 level is broken. Can it be fixed? This report says no, it has to be replaced. This is more than a wake-up call. It is a call to arms. The reasons to be alarmed are clearly and persuasively documented. Out-of-the-box, stretch recommendations are offered."

Waldorf Education has nearly 100 years of experience in implementing significant aspects of seven of the ten recommendations of the Commission. Several of the Commission's recommendations apply to high school graduation requirements, college and continuing education and obviously we would not be applying these. The seven which we do employ include an excellent understanding of early childhood education, a well-proven ability to activate the student's motivation through a holistic pedagogy, and student achievement assessment that recognizes and rewards creativity and innovation. Waldorf Education is unique in its school structure in that those who have the responsibility, the teachers, have the power or the authority over the school. The teachers determine the schedule, how funds are spent, and its programs rather than non-educator-trained forces. All North American Waldorf Schools are accountable to the curriculum, testing, teacher assessment and school achievement evaluation requirements of AWSNA -- the Association of Waldorf Schools of North America. This is an organizational structure much closer to the innovative recommendations of the New Commission. It differs mainly in that Waldorf is mostly a private educational system; therefore, we are not subject to federal or state educational requirements. We are completely accountable to a governing authority, which is usually a benefit of public institutions over private. In this case, the benefit of being a private institution which has experience with important educational innovations is that we are not held back by the unwieldy nature of the public school system. When it comes to the foundational educational experiences of the young child our experience is that huge systems are unsuitable, and will take a long time before implementing these recommendations. We must begin to educate for the future now.

The final recommendation by the Commission that we are in alignment with is its 10th step which is to "create regional competitiveness authorities-- as the most effective strategies for economic development --provide training that is related to the economic future of the region those people live in." Blaine County, Idaho is historically an agricultural and tourism-based economy. The future of our agriculture and our tourism require innovative renewal towards sustainability. There is ever more discussion of renewable energy developments in Idaho as we have exceptional amounts of unused land to grow bio-fuels and extraordinary amounts of wind and sunlight to harness. Our school site is by far the most advanced school site within Blaine County devoted to inspiring and preparing our youth to find meaningful work in our future regional sustainable economy.

"Leadership does not depend on technology alone. It depends on a deep vein of creativity that is constantly renewing itself, and on a myriad of people who can imagine how people can use things that have never been available before, create ingenious marketing and sales campaigns, write books, build furniture, make movies, and imagine new kinds of software that will capture people's imagination and become indispensable to millions--this is a world in which comfort with ideas and abstractions is the passport to a good job, in which creativity and innovation are the key to the good life, in which a high level of education -- a very different kind of education than most of us have had -- are going to be the only security there is." 
-- Tough Choices or Tough Times

Idealism vs. Realism: These are two different educational philosophies. Idealism is referred to as cooperative education while realism is referred to as operative. Idealism views education as a process supporting the gradual unfolding of a pre-existent set of possibilities within the student while realism views education as a process of acquiring a central core of subject matter in order to acquaint the student with the cultural environment around them. Idealism holds the viewpoint that there is more to our reality then meets the eye, or can be measured by scientific means alone, while realism views the world as primarily material and entirely explainable by natural scientific laws. Idealists view the human being as having inherent, unique talents and capabilities and realists view the human being as being a biological-social being whose abilities are determined by the impact of the physical-social environment and by genetic make-up. Idealist educators view their role as being to draw out that which is latent in the child by cultivating a compatible learning environment which supports the psycho-physical developmental process while realist educators view themselves as purveyors of knowledge and facts about the culture and the world. The curricular emphasis is on the mastery of subject-matter content as an end in itself and curriculum is largely determined by the needs of society and tradition and tends to be mostly intellectual/academic. For the idealist, subject-matter content is a means to an end, the total development of the child. We cite these opposite educational philosophies for your consideration. Here at The Mountain School we strive for balance in all things. We do recognize our student's holistic and individual natures and prepare our curriculum to allow for the development of both. We apply both tried and true traditions and allow for innovation when something else seems to be called for by a student or a class. Above all else joy in learning is our barometer. If a student is delighted by numbers and letters we will encourage their interest and bring living experiences before them that meet this interest. If a child benefits from being sung to in order to focus we will honor that need as well. Our small but diverse learning environment makes meeting our student's individual needs and learning styles entirely possible.

Sustainable Living: We introduce our students to simple, ethical, and balanced energy-efficient living through permaculture with gardens, greenhouses and animals. We provide a healthy, living, green classroom in which the children learn responsibility for their basic needs -- namely, food, shelter, and clothing - through hands-on experience working within the interdependent relationships of the mineral, plant, animal and human kingdoms. All basic mathematical skills are presented naturally and concretely within this daily activity. Enormous fine and gross motor skill development is required for this real-life work.

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Early Literacy:
-- Susan Neuman and Kathleen Roscoe, "

"There is no evidence that ever earlier instruction in decoding helps children to become better readers. This type of instruction may consign children to a narrow, limited view of reading that is antithetical to their long-term success not only in school, but also throughout their lifetimes. In other words-- such instruction might actually undermine, rather than promote, literacy learning"

Whatever Happened To Developmentally Appropriate Practice in Early Literacy?"
-- Journal of the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), July 2005.

The teaching of the technical aspects of reading, also referred to as decoding, which is the ability to know which symbols (letters) represent which sounds and that clusters of those symbols represent words, has moved from 1st grade to kindergarten and now even into preschool. Reading, however, is a developmental skill and requires these other following skills:

  1. A rich and varied experience of language
  2. A large vocabulary
  3. A broad conceptual knowledge based on varied life experiences
  4. Verbal reasoning skills

Our students, through play with undefined materials which call forth their imagination, artistic activities, games, and poetry, song and story, often involving sequencing of movements and mental processes (intrinsic to reading, writing, doing mathematics, and thinking abstractly) are acquiring the very capacities that will help them to be skilled readers. Our curriculum offers them a varied experience of language, the opportunity to develop a large vocabulary enunciated clearly, and a broad experience of life and the world--a store of conscious content knowledge.

The factors that contribute to reading ability are all intellectual capacities and must be supported by proper brain development and function. Much research indicates that sensory experience and physical movement are crucial to full and healthy development of the brain during childhood. Our site and curriculum combined offers our students many varied opportunities for sensory stimulation and physical movement--both fine and gross motor skills--as a means of discovering the world.

"Higher-order thinking skills, knowledge, and dispositional capabilities, encouraging children to question, discover, evaluate, and invent new ideas enable them to become successful readers"
--
Susan Neuman and Kathleen Roscoe.

Mathematics: In a similar fashion to teaching early literacy we refrain from technical instruction of mathematics to our young students in favor of imbuing them with an intrinsic bodily sense for numbers and their qualities and a real-life use of mathematical processes. We also expose our students to numbers and mathematical processes using rhythm, movement, songs, stories and games that involve sequencing.

The young child has the opportunity to learn joyfully, through movement and artistic sensory-integration. By hearing and moving with musical and poetic rhythms (which are mathematical in their every essence) and finding an emotional connection to the subject proficiency with numbers is learned in a very unforgettable way.

Storytelling: Oral storytelling rendered from memory by the teacher (without accompanying images) stimulates mental picture imaging, the correct brain development stimulation for symbolic cognitive activity (making connections between symbols and their meanings). Symbolic cognitive activities includes literacy, mathematics, and foreign and music language acquisition, for example. Our story telling exposes children to complex and beautiful vocabulary, builds concentration and memory capacity.

It also naturally passes on culture-including ethical expectations without finger-wagging moralization. We tell stories from many diverse cultures and historic eras.

Free Work & Play-- both indoor & outdoor: This undirected, uninterrupted time for child directed work and play within a diverse and developmentally appropriate environment allows them to use their creativity while developing their imagination, dexterity, physical, cognitive and emotional strength. It also allows children to learn how to work in groups, to share, to negotiate, to resolve conflicts and to learn self-advocacy skills. Children practice decision-making skills, move at their own pace, discover their areas of interest and ultimately engage fully in the passions they wish to pursue. Work and play builds active, healthy bodies and increases physical activity levels in children.

During these times at school the teachers are engaged in the work activities and ethic of the adult world. Children are instinctively imitative. This environment allows the children to observe the adult world and safely practice this work in an unselfconscious way. After being given the time to build confidence through imitative play they may then choose to join the teachers in their actual work. This is a less stressful path to improving their fine and gross motor skills. This teaching method of modeling activity without giving instructions calls forth the young childÕs innate capacity for a joyful work ethic.

Drama: After our students have become thoroughly familiar with the stories we tell them orally they are given the opportunity to act out these stories many times, trying on different roles as they wish. This activity allows them to explore different personality types: the hero, the witch, the simpleton, the princess, etc. It is a powerful tool for self-discovery and self-knowledge. It also ignites imagination, encourages creative expression and builds social relationships.

Artistic activities: Painting, handwork, woodwork, dance, drama, music, and sculpture Ð using natural and environmentally conscious materials - provide our students with the opportunity to develop mentally, emotionally and physically through the sensory integration of color, texture, smell and sound. The Arts develop fine and gross motor skills, encourage self-expression, and create social bonds.

Cooking and Nature Crafting: A great benefit derived from the farm and nature element of the site is the endless opportunity for working with the vibrant natural materials we will be producing and collecting. From preparing meals with our vegetables and animal products to nature crafting with herbs to make soap, essential oils, and toys, our students will benefit from the nourishing sensory-integration benefits of such fresh resources.

Outdoor Activities: Garden and farm work, creative free play and nature exploration all foster healthy physical development and nurture strong bonds with the natural world. It is this exposure in their early lives that will set the foundation for their future relationship to the Earth, a stewardship complete with reverence for the simple but true, an awareness for the interdependence of all natural systems, and an active responsibility for a balanced existence in the world.

 

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The Mountain School, 100 Mustang Lane, Bellevue, ID 83313 - 208.788.3170
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