The Wawa-Wasi Country Schoolhouse is bringing a new approach to education to Mint Hill.
The grassroots Waldorf preschool located off Bartlett Road is grounded in the ideas of Austrian philosopher, social reformer and visionary Rudolf Steiner. Waldorf is a holistic educational approach based on the developmental stages of childhood with the goal of creating well-rounded, independent and free thinking individuals.
It’s an educational approach that founder Silvana Mitchell was well-acquainted with when she relocated to Charlotte over four years ago from Florida. Mitchell describes it as “heartbreaking” when she realized there were no Waldorf schools in Charlotte. “I say, OK, well, I have to start something,” she recalls.
“We started as a co-op,” says Mitchell. “I started this community, the Waldorf and the Wild Child Nature School, as a community offering, just a group that got together.” At the time, Mitchell was trying to raise awareness of the Waldorf methodology in the Charlotte area. Next fall, Mitchell will begin offering 2- 3- and 4-day preschool options for children ages 3-6.
A year and a half ago, Mitchell and her husband purchased the property in Mint Hill in an estate sale with the intention of using it as a hobby farm and schoolhouse. The first floor of the house is set up for use by the students with a low table in the dining area, a craft room and a playroom, but it quite intentionally retains the look and feel of a home. Students store spare clothes in a dresser in the craft room, help prepare snacks and bake bread in the kitchen, and engage in practical housework like sweeping and dusting.
“So many of the spaces, they are going to look like a home, and this is how it’s supposed to be because we want this, we want the children to feel like they are in their second home,” says Mitchell. “We don’t want to be institutional. In Waldorf schools around the world you’re going to see that, at least when they are in the preschools.”
This “back to basics” approach and joy in the tasks of everyday life are critical components of the preschool program. “We cook, we clean, we do everything with them,” says Mitchell, “because now life is so busy, they don’t see that!” You also won’t see a rainbow of kid-proof plastic gear in Mitchell’s playroom. Waldorf education is media-free; the toys in the playroom are wooden and heavy by design, “Everything is nature-inspired and made from natural elements,” says Mitchell.
Nature, too, is at the core of a Waldorf educational experience. Mitchell’s preschoolers can expect to spend 70% of their time outside, and she offers other programs that meet entirely outdoors. “We used to have this before when we were little,” says Mitchell. “Now we have become so foreign to nature.”
Also vital to Mitchell’s mission and philosophy is community. Each family has a garden bed in the school’s community garden that they plant and tend, and families come together for seasonal celebrations and festivals. “It’s very important for children to connect with the community they live in,” says Mitchell. “We are very involved with community, not just with the school community but also as an outreach.”
In addition to preschool, Mitchell also offers “Forest School,” a Nature Immersion Program for children ages 4-8. The seasonal program is held on Fridays from 9:00 am – 12:00 pm and takes place entirely outdoors. The day begins with songs at the fire and discussion of the students’ intentions for the day, but there is no predetermined curriculum. “It’s completely self led,” says Mitchell. “The class grows organically with the children’s interest.”
For children younger than three years old, Mitchell offers the “Wild Nest” forest parent-child playgroup. “In Waldorf philosophy, children need to be with their parents from zero to three,” says Mitchell. “That is very important at this stage in their life. They need their parents, their role models, that emotional connection.” Wild Nest is meant to be a bridge between a child’s time at home with parents and school, a way for young children to experience a place they can belong outside the home. The six-week playgroup meets for two hours on Saturdays.
Due to popular demand, Mitchell plans to offer Wild Nest Spanish Forest school this summer. Meant for both families who speak Spanish at home and parents who would like their children to be introduced to the Spanish language in a natural and non-intrusive way, it will offer the same nurturing program as Wild Nest, but with a strong Spanish component. Keep an eye on the school’s website for more information about Wild Nest Spanish Forest School and other summer offerings.
Mitchell is starting small next year with only six or seven preschool students. “Right now we are just doing four hours a day,” says Mitchell. “Right now we are just testing the waters.” Her long term plan is to grow expand, and become the first certified Waldorf school in Charlotte. “That would really be my ultimate goal, that this grows into a school.”