Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to correct spelling of the name of school Director Kelley Lacks and to correct a reference to the name of the instrument Waldorf students play — the pentatonic flute.
KEAAU — Spend a day as a student at Malamalama Waldorf School, and you might play a pentatonic flute or re-enact fables and legends during drama class.
To learn science, you might take a walk through nature. For social studies, you might learn about ancient Hebrew or Nordic culture, and physical education class might include circus skills.
“The arts are integrated into the learning,” said Victoria Gold Sims, Waldorf’s pedagogical director. “Children are not just given a book and told ‘Read this and know this tomorrow for a test.’ That’s not what we do here. It’s not like we don’t use books but that’s not the format … We are feeding the two sides of the brain at the same time.”
Founded in 1978, Malamalama Waldorf School in Hawaiian Paradise Park is the lone private school on the island to operate under the Waldorf education model, which follows a “developmentally oriented curriculum, permeated with the arts” and aims to address a “child’s changing consciousness as it unfolds, stage by stage,” according to the school’s website.
The school is expanding during its 40th anniversary year — it hosted a soft groundbreaking for a new multipurpose building last month. The new building is planned to serve partly as a space for students to play the popular strategy board game Go.
Funding for the multipurpose Go building was kick-started by a $31,000 donation from couple Denji and Mitsuko Aihara, who flew to Hawaii from Japan to attend the groundbreaking.
“When we came here for the first time, we felt children at this school really wanted to learn Go and they were very passionate about it,” Denji Aihara said through a translator. “We were inspired to provide a building where children can play Go anytime. And we noticed how big the property was and we thought maybe a little building on the property for Go would be great.”
Malamalama Waldorf was founded by couple Donna Newberg and David Gradwohl, who initially wanted to start a preschool in Opihikao centered around developing the “whole child.”
In 1980, the school signed a 99-year lease with the help of David Watumull, developer of HPP, and moved to the 20-acre location at the corner of 26th Street and Makuu Drive where it has operated since.
There are about 133 students up to the eighth grade currently enrolled at Malamalama Waldorf. Students hail from throughout East Hawaii, spanning Hilo to Volcano to Honomu. The curriculum emphasizes “physical growth of the child” for the first seven years, according to the school’s website. After age 7, the emphasis changes “toward the inner life of the child” and eventually works to lead the child to a “love of learning” and to develop the “thinking mind.”
The curriculum also is “screen-free” and aims to allow students “to be children longer,” school Director Kelley Lacks said.
“The children are allowed to be children,” Lacks said. “They are allowed to dig in the sand and swing and just experience. That’s the big difference between us and other schools … we’re creating a well-rounded individual and when children leave here, they go into the world as free thinkers. They’re not taught ‘You have to think like this’ but instead ‘You can make up your own choices and decisions.’”
Waldorf education also reaches a milestone next year when it turns 100. The first Waldorf school opened in Germany in 1919.
There are now more than 1,000 Waldorf schools in 64 countries around the world.
Email Kirsten Johnson at firstname.lastname@example.org.