Mighty Oak Elementary opens in Essex

While public school students are sitting quietly at their desks during morning announcements, the kids at Mighty Oak Elementary School are outside belting out a ‘good morning’ song to the sun and trees.
Students at Mighty Oak Elementary begin their days outside with a good morning song. (Laura DaSilva/CBC)

While public school students are sitting quietly at their desks during morning announcements, the kids at Mighty Oak Elementary School in Essex are outside belting out a "good morning" song to the sun and trees.

The first Waldorf-inspired school in Windsor-Essex opened its doors Tuesday to the delight of local parents seeking an alternative education for their children.

The Waldorf style of teaching emphasizes the role of the imagination in learning. The program uses music, movement and art to cultivate students' intellectual, emotional and physical capacities and support children in their development. 

In addition to the usual instruction in reading, writing and arithmetic, students spend time in nature, hone skills like knitting baking and gardening, and learn to play a musical instrument. There are no computers or Smart Boards in classrooms. Students go back to basics and all learning is hands-on.

Movement and art valued 

Lindsay Logsdon founded Mighty Oak after homeschooling her five children. She said she hoped to send them to a Waldorf school, but that would've meant uprooting her family to the closest one in Guelph, Ont.. Instead, she decided to fill the gap in Windsor-Essex and open Mighty Oak.

"I really value art and movement, and I find there's just not enough of that in the public school system," she said. "We really feel that kids today are far too disconnected from the world around them."

Exposing children to domestic and performing arts allows them to connect with the natural world, according to Rena Upitis, a professor of arts education at Queen's University in Kingston, Ont.

"They learn to steward the environment and they learn what their interaction is, as humans, with this place we call home-planet earth," Upitis said.  

Class work often involves nature and outdoor learning at Mighty Oak. It's an alternative to traditional education. (Laura DaSilva/CBC)

There are currently 14 students enrolled at Mighty Oak. Small split classes are helmed by three teachers. Students will have the same teacher for the duration of their education from kindergarten to eighth grade. 

But Mighty Oak is not without its critics. It is not a certified Waldorf School and not all of the teachers have teaching degrees. Lessons are being based on Waldorf curriculum.

Upitis said understanding the thrust behind Waldorf schooling is more important than formal certification.

"There is no panacea. There is no perfect schooling. There is no perfect parent," she said. "The most important thing we can do is pay attention to our children's needs and find programming that supports what they need and helps them grow."

Instructors teach life skills

Glen Herbert is a writer and editor for Our Kids Media, a website that provides information to parents on different private school options for their children.

He said there is a myth that private schools don't require teachers to have any accreditation, or don't need to be educated.

"Yes, there could be possibilities where somebody is instructing in a private school and they don't have a teaching degree. In the instances where they don't, it's because they're bringing some sort of other expertise to the school," Herbert said.

Logsdon, for example, has a background teaching violin and piano at the Amherstberg Academy for the Arts and her own company.    

She said Mighty Oak has a lot to offer that public schools can't, and she anticipates students will walk away eager to keep learning.

"When they leave here, we hope every child is an enthusiastic and engaged learner with a strong sense of themselves in relation to the rest of the world," Logsdon said. "They'll leave here knowing their limits, their boundaries, their strengths and what they're truly capable of."