Fortlandia: The Kingdom of Learning

It is no surprise that children love forts. Chances are high that everyone reading this can recall a childhood memory of building a fort. And with good reason – forts offer humans (especially small humans) a plethora of sensorial and imaginative splendor. They are special places where learning occurs on an intimate level that is often overlooked by school systems.

At the Waldorf School of Baltimore we encourage our students to build forts in the schoolyard. We did this by offering them elemental loose parts – sticks, stones, string, leaves, and straw – and the modest invitation to “build something.” From those humble parts and simple words a magnificent kingdom was born. This kingdom isn’t some childhood paradise – it is as complex as our adult world (if not more so). Dragons, Spies, and Knights are everywhere – and, yes, dubious Bankers exist too. Life in the kingdom gets confusing. At recess, a teacher’s primary role is to ensure the physical and emotional safety of the students; the secondary role is help them develop the mental tools needed to navigate the rich experiences they are crafting. Teachers are not there to solve their problems, they are there to help them learn how to solve their own problems.

At the Waldorf School of Baltimore we understand that learning does not only occur in the classroom, and recess is not simply “taking a break.”  Recess is academic in its own right – it is a time of synthesis. Students are not only constructing forts; they are developing their social awareness and learning to manage the complexity of the world.


The special places impulse in a school setting invites children to relive the history of the species. They create primitive shelters, form tribes, battle over resources, learn to barter, create legal systems, invent currency, learn to monitor the own behavior, recognize the impact of the built environment on ecosystems.  — Excerpt from the book Childhood and Nature: Design Principles for Educators by David Sobel (Stenhouse Publishers 2008)

If you’re hungry to understand more about the academics behind the fort building impulse, Meet the World’s Leading Expert on Why Kids Build Forts, David Sobel (who also happens to be my graduate advisor at Antioch University New England).

Farm Trip 2015 – Part I

Every year, WSB’s 3rd grade heads to Hawthorne Valley Farm for a week-long farm trip. This is has a been a tradition for over 30 years! In fact, Ms. Smith, the 3rd grade’s homeroom teacher, was last here when she was a 3rd grade student at WSB!
On the farm, students work hard and play hard. They’re involved in just about every facet of farm life — from cleaning out the mudroom and washing dishes to mucking out the dairy barn and chopping firewood. Please enjoy the photos below. We’re two days in with two more to go and plenty more to do!

Welcome to 2014 at WSB

Welcome to 2014! This new year will see some new and exciting developments at WSB. Some of the green projects you’ll see happening (and be able to participate in) around our campus will be rebuilding the earthen oven, an expansion & beautification of our school garden, a new pop-up greenhouse on our terrace, and the building of an herb spiral and a cob structure in the garden. I’m also happy to report that our chickens & bees are doing fine and seem healthy and strong. (Much thanks to the Devecka Family for caring for them over our winter break!)
The Student Council’s TerraCycle project is underway and we already have over 6,000 points to put to good use! Currently up for vote is to help provide fresh water to an African Village or help preserve an acre of US wildlife land. (We’ll be doing both actually — this vote is to set our first goal.) Also, parents & faculty will soon see a surprise gift from the Student Council popping up at events . . . but I’ll leave it’s revelation to them.
With the warmish days, we’ve already gotten started! Below are a couple of photos taken at lunch time this week as dedicated students and I prepare the new flowing edges of our expanded garden. As well as a photo of Children’s Garden parent, Roland Oehme, taken as we were planting some of the trees he donated to our school.
Have a wonderful weekend!

Throwback: Farm Trip 2011

Greetings. Spring is here . . . Today! And as the light and warmth returns, our 3rd Grade Class is gearing up for their annual farm trip to Hawthorne Valley Farm in Upstate New York. We will be leaving on Monday, April 22nd and returning on Saturday, April 27th. For some of our students this will be their first experience away from home and on a farm. The students will participate in a plethora of activities — from cooking & cleaning to wood chopping, animal husbandry & yogurt making. (And I will spend a great deal of time enjoying the food they make and beating them at tether ball.) Before officially working for the school, I volunteered to be a chaperone on the farm trip in 2011. Below are photographs I took on that trip. If a picture is worth 1,000 words, you can consider this slideshow my 38,000 word essay on the experience. Enjoy.

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Posted by Michel.