There’s a whole world beyond the classroom walls and at the Detroit Waldorf School, exploring that world is key to helping students thrive. In fact, the Detroit-based school practices place-based education, which provides students the opportunity to experience their community in a variety of ways while helping boost social-emotional and academic learning.
“Place-based education attempts to make the community in which your school is located part of the curriculum,” says Linda Williams, a sixth grade teacher at Detroit Waldorf School. “Children are learning many things based on where they are. The neighborhood, the school (and) the community become part of the curriculum.”
This curriculum is a mixture of project-based learning and service learning – and it boasts big benefits for students, leading to better academic outcomes and more engagement with the surrounding community, which are both integral parts of the Waldorf education.
“In Waldorf education, we always talk about educating head, heart and hands,” Williams says. “So we want people to have academic skills, we want them to be good stewards and citizens of the community,” Williams says – and to treat other people and the environment well.
Through place-based education, Detroit Waldorf is accomplishing those goals. Here, Williams offers insight on this form of education and how Detroit Waldorf School is giving students a better understanding of the world around them.
“For a young child, their most immediate place is home and their second place is school. But as you grow and mature and the world becomes larger and larger, the more you can connect what they already know to new things,” Williams says.
In order to make those connections, students venture outside of the classroom once or twice each month to volunteer with local organizations or explore the community.
For example, Williams’ sixth grade classroom volunteered with Cass Community Social Services and completed a number of tasks, including serving food and helping to recycle. That includes the agency’s efforts to turn old tires collected from around Detroit into rubber mats to sell, she says.
Working with one organization gives these students an opportunity to see how they can impact the community, Williams adds.
Eighth graders help to pack food at Gleaners Community Food Bank and Williams says that seventh graders participate in a program called Religious Diversity Journeys, which brings together middle schoolers from around the city of Detroit at different houses of worship to learn about these communities.
Benefits and advice
Aside from getting students out of the school building – and away from their desks – place-based education “gives kids an opportunity to exercise their agency about some of the disparities they see in the world,” Williams says.
For example, families may cook at home but Williams says if you go out further into the world, you’ll find out where these foods come from. And, as kids get older, they start to see some of the disparities in our culture, including who does and does not have access to that food. This gives students a better understanding of the needs of others.
Because parents are a child’s introduction to the larger community, Williams also encourages moms and dads to get out in the community with their kids. Do a service project, such as serving meals, together as a family. Make it a part of your routine.
“(It) is a wonderful thing, and it teaches the kids to care – and that they can do something about any disparities that they notice,” she says.
Place-based education can be something very small, Williams adds, such as noticing the park down the street and keeping it clean, or it can be something that really takes over.
“The more you can engage children authentically in the places they live, then the more you will make sure that they are active, intelligent adults able to see through problems in their community and also solve them.”
Content brought to you by the Detroit Waldorf School. For more information, visit detroitwaldorf.org.