My wonderful friend Amanda Evans recently read the book “A Gift of Wonder: A True Story Showing School as it Ought To Be,” written by teacher Kim Allsup, and kindly offered to share her impressions and thoughts here. Thank you, Amanda!
A Gift of Wonder Review
Home education is such an interesting journey. The reasons that lead us to embark upon it, and the reasons that cause us to stay, are unique. There are, however, a few major themes that seem to beckon most of us to undertake the journey, and I believe one of those is to cultivate a wonder-filled childhood for our children.
Kim Allsup’s new teaching memoir, “A Gift of Wonder: A True Story Showing School as it Ought to Be”, invites us to consider the points where childhood wonder and education intersect. While the book reflects Ms. Allsup’s journey as a Waldorf classroom teacher, I found it spoke to me as both a home educator and a parent, and I feel that her story is worth pondering for anyone involved in education. Certainly those committed to the Waldorf method will find it pedagogic. I feel it will join Torin Finser’s “School as a Journey” and Marjorie Spock’s “Teaching as a Lively Art” as a “must-read” Waldorf teaching memoir.
Each chapter of the book cradles a pedagogical lesson within the comfortable embrace of a well-told story – quite perfect for a Waldorf teaching memoir. Even adults learn better from a story. This made the book a breeze to read – a boon for any busy homeschooling parent, to be sure!
What I found particularly remarkable is how the lessons shared throughout truly transcend the vehicle of learning, whether that be through a traditional classroom setting, or a homeschool. I found myself nodding along in understanding as she shared about learning the dance between keeping order and being spontaneous, and realizing that we are, in fact, students of the student in this endeavor. I felt excitement with her when she experienced afresh that the key to effective teaching *truly is* meeting the child at their developmental stage – something that is foundational to the Waldorf approach, but never ceases to be incredible when we see it in action, right in front of us.
As I read the introduction, it dawned on me that what I was reading is, in fact, at the core of why many parents choose to homeschool. “It is impossible to underestimate the value of wonder in childhood. It is the mother’s milk of the soul, the human foundation for a lifelong worldview that affirms our joyful existence in the web of life. When we experience the condition of awe called wonder, we are lured outside ourselves and the soul is stretched and is irresistibly drawn to become one with a piece of the universe previously outside of our awareness.” (Intro, xv)
While I agree with the premise of the title, that school should be a habitat for developing wonder in its students, in practice, many of the available educational options fall short of that purpose. And often, those institutions that embrace such values are beyond the reach of families due to finances or extensive travel commitments (or a plethora of other reasons). So, when the school system cannot offer a space for our children to inhabit wonder as described, many of us elect to come home.
I took heart later in the introduction at a beautiful description of the role we play as adults, which I feel is the essence of a living education at home. “If the offerings of parents and teachers and their own encounters in the natural world are beautiful or significant to the child, his or her experience of an ever-evolving symphony of wonder can be almost continuous.” As we feed our own wonder, we can walk together with our children as they also feast on the wonder around us, and we spiral in and out as the glorious world around us unfolds. And in doing so, we’ve given both ourselves and our children a remarkable gift. Coincidentally, Ms. Allsup chose one of my favorite quotes to open her first chapter, which illustrates this quite beautifully: “If a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder, he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement and mystery of the world we live
in.” (Rachel Carson)
As someone who loves Waldorf education, the book provided a wonderful window into how a Waldorf teacher connects with her students, and how she considers their needs on a daily basis. The mixed-grade progression of her class from first grade to fifth grade (when Ms. Allsup had to step away due to family illness) gave me much food for thought. When she wrestled with the content of certain blocks meeting the children, and for some, needing to patiently wait for them to engage with the material, I felt encouraged because I, too, have had to wrestle and wait for a child of mine to be ready for material. When she had to ditch the “plan” in order to provide a hands-on experience the students needed to understand a certain concept, I felt a sense of solidarity, for when you’re a homeschooling parent, making adjustments to the “plan” often seems to be your main job description!
“The world will never starve for want of wonders,” said G.K. Chesterton, “but only for want of wonder.” Here in America, we celebrated “Screen-Free Week” a few weeks ago. At this point in humanity’s journey, we have the greatest access to information there’s ever been. We can walk outside, find a plant, google what it looks like, and discover every detail and facet about it. Yet, information is not an education. While the world is at our fingertips, perhaps we are losing something more valuable in the process. Reading “A Gift of Wonder” left me more committed than ever to the pursuit of education in the context of the child – whatever educational approach we take, and whatever choices we make at home to support that, the child’s capacity for wonder is paramount.
Thank you so much, Amanda! I am really looking forward to reading this book, available at Amazon.