I was fortunate in my early years of teaching to have a large measure of freedom to employ the artistic approach typical of Waldorf education. As someone who identified as a poet prior to becoming a teacher, I was eager to take up the challenge of artistic teaching, or teaching through art. Below is the introduction to Working With LMNOP, the manual that accompanies LMNOP and All the Letters A to Z, my first published book:
During my nearly thirty years of Waldorf school teaching I have seen it confirmed, time and again, that young children are far more of a feeling and imaginative nature, than they are little thinkers. The heart is the gateway to a child’s mind; and the story is the gateway to the heart. In play and in artistic work they come to understand and integrate their experience in the world. Play is their work. To learn in a playful way nourishes the child in a way appropriate to their stage of development. This reality, astonishingly, is almost completely overlooked in our headlong rush to ‘educate’ children.
With competent teaching, children will most certainly develop phonemic awareness, and other skills, but will they develop a sense of the richness, beauty and manifoldness of language, and become creative thinkers and compassionate, feeling adults. Many children today can read words and sentences, and yet have little comprehension or feeling for what they have read. The child is a natural artist and creator, and needs to be in a milieu where he/she has opportunities for a range of creative experiences which ‘touch them’. Otherwise the educational experience will be, more than likely, disappointing.
It was out of this recognition that I wrote LMNOP and All The Letters A To Z. I wanted to write an alphabet book that was worthy of the promise of childhood, one that contained creative images and which suggested stories and voyages, a journey which could form the basis for a language arts curriculum that children would love.
To set the tone I told the story of the emperor who had a palace with hundreds of rooms, yet he was miserable. His daughter, seeking to heal him, dressed as a man, and, with a group of loyal soldiers, set off to find the cure for his malaise. They marched over the misty mountains until they came to a silver stream. There they discovered the various tones that lived in the river’s rapids, and hummed them. Later they created a flute. At one point they found a cave with a rainbow of colored crystals and minerals. Wherever they went they created symbols to record their experiences. Returning home, they transformed the palace into a place which resonated with music, and whose walls breathed with the art and poetry that they created to describe what they’d seen in the world outside the palace walls. Surrounded by all this beauty and creativity the emperor was at last healed.
Our classroom walls were covered with watercolor paintings and with crayon drawings. We played wooden flutes and brass glockenspiels. We recited the poems which now comprise LMNOP. We sang songs. We danced. We called our classroom The Palace of Wisdom and Art.