Happy New Year!

Posted by: Chris Nelson   -   Posted in: News- Dec 31, 2017 Comments Off on Happy New Year!
“On New Year’s Eve it is always fitting to remember how past and future are linked together in life and in the existence of the world, in the whole life of the Cosmos of which man is a part—and in every fraction of that life with which our own individual existence is connected. Interwoven through all this are those things we were able to do and think during the past year, and what we are able to plan for the coming year.”

~ Rudolf Steiner, 31st December, 1919

What does the idea of the New Year mean to you? Is it a time for new beginnings, for resolutions about positive additions to your life—or about what to say goodbye to? Or is it just another day?

We can, in fact, reinvent ourselves in any moment, whether on New Year’s Day or, say, May 27th at 5:17 p.m. We are not bound by the magical constraints of a specific day and time. Our personal power lies in the present moment, in the now, and in moments of self-awareness we can rediscover ourselves and our potential for transformation.

All the same, in our busy lives it’s easy to forget that this potential lies ever-present within us. In all likelihood, 5:17 p.m. on May 27th will find us working, navigating traffic, listening to the news, reading a book, making dinner, or doing something else that we are called to do in the moment. We probably won’t be making resolutions.

But on New Year’s Day, as Steiner points out, we are invited to pause and reflect on who we are in the continuum of our individual lives, in our communities, in the world, and even—if we are so inclined—in the Grand Cosmic Scheme. More than this (as if that weren’t enough!) New Year’s invites us to ask what we want to become in the days ahead. How can we shape our lives and our world into something richer?

At the very least, then, we can use the occasion of the New Year to remind ourselves that wherever we are on the journey of life, there is always more to explore and discover within ourselves and out in the world. There is always more life to live. We need only become awake in the present moment to engage with it.

Welcome to the New Year, and thanks for being a part of the Bright Water Waldorf community.  May 2018 bring you joy and all the richness of life.





The Bright Water Alumni Panel, 2017

Posted by: Chris Nelson   -   Posted in: News- Dec 03, 2017 Comments Off on The Bright Water Alumni Panel, 2017
BWWS Alumni Panel Recap

The Alumni Panel evening was a terrific success! Many, many thanks to all our participants: Skyler Burke, Owen Crandall, John Curry, Lyra D’Souza Jonah Hillman, Louise Greer, August Hartung, Jazmine Hope, Sophia Johnson, Alli Nelson, Audrey Shuman, Betsy Siegal, Lyra Steiner, Charlotte Thone, and Miranda Wu-Georges. Thank you, too, for facilitators and BWWS parents Sam Blackman and Joel DeJong.

In Sam’s words of gratitude to the panelists after the event: “The panel was a terrific representation of BWWS students at various points in their lives . . . Your answers were smart and funny and warm and honest, which didn’t surprise me at all. You demonstrated to me, and to the parents and students who were present, the depth and durability of the value instilled via a Waldorf education. You represent not just the hard work you’ve performed over the course of your education, but the work product of the school and the entire community here at BWWS. I left feeling proud and so very glad that my wife and I chose BWWS for our daughter, and confident that what I intuit and feel every day is in fact true: a BWWS education is very, very special.”

UPDATE: We now have audio of the event! Click here to download.

Spotlight on Science in Waldorf Education

Posted by: Chris Nelson   -   Posted in: News- Oct 23, 2017 Comments Off on Spotlight on Science in Waldorf Education

Science & Art

Walking down the halls of Bright Water or any other Waldorf school, you could be forgiven for thinking that the Waldorf pedagogy is more focused on art than anything else. But first impressions can be misleading…

Not only is a Waldorf education comprehensive and rigorous, modern research supports its emphasis on art as vital for a deeper appreciation and comprehension of science and math. Art does indeed infuse most aspects of the curriculum. But along with the sense of beauty it reflects and inspires for its own sake, art is also used as a medium to support learning.

As Grace Hwang Lynch writes in “The Importance of Art in Child Development,”

“Studies show that there is a correlation between art and other achievement. A report by Americans for the Arts states that young people who participate regularly in the arts (three hours a day on three days each week through one full year) are four times more likely to be recognized for academic achievement, to participate in a math and science fair or to win an award for writing an essay or poem than children who do not participate.”

What is it about the arts that informs an individual’s acumen in mathematics and the sciences? Why should drawing, painting, reading literature or playing an instrument be helpful in fields that at first glance seem so separate? 

 An article in the Los Angeles Times offers several theories, which we can summarize as follows:

  • Scientists and artists are trained to pay attention “both to detail and to the broader context. Scientists, like artists, are people who notice things.”
  • The hand and the brain are connected in such a fashion that “the hand’s knowledge about the world . . . actually teaches the brain new tricks,” and “people who use their hands are privy to a way of knowing about the world inaccessible to those not schooled in manual arts.”
  • “Logic alone is sometimes inefficient to solve really complex problems.” What this means, in essence, is that there are other factors at work in the mind. The greatest scientists have always known this. Intuitive leaps, the ability to visualize problems or to “sleep on” complex issues and awaken to new connections that were not readily visible to the logical mind—these are vital elements in the discovery of new knowledge.

The arts, then, support and enhance scientific and mathematical thinking. They are, in fact, essential elements in an individual’s backpack for exploring and understanding the world.  

The Waldorf Approach to Science

Although Waldorf schools have been around since 1919, they have been operating with an intuitive understanding of the relationship between art and abstract thinking since their inception.

According to the Waldorf pedagogy, the individual goes through a series of developmental stages. Up to the age of around seven the child is like a sponge, absorbing experience subjectively. There is time later for abstract concepts after the critical foundation of observation and experience are laid. Science education in the early grades reflects this understanding. Experience and observation are the teachers here. The child is an explorer. Much time is spent outside. Discussions might focus on the visual and tactile qualities of certain types of rock or animal fur, for example, but abstractions are generally left out of the picture so that the child can simply be with their experiences and observations.

In third grade there is an emphasis on farming, which serves as a springboard for discussions about the seasons, weights and measures, seeds and growth, and so on. Learning is infused with practical experience; many classes go on their first farm visit during third grade.

In fourth grade, students continue their exploration of the natural world through a study of zoology. Among other work, students typically choose and study in depth an animal and its habitat. Their final projects in this area incorporate writing, painting, and models of their chosen animals, as well as presentations to their class.

Fifth grade turns to botany. Here again, artistic studies of plants by students inform more detailed understandings of the scientific names and component parts of plants, and of their relationship to their particular environments.

In the  sixth, seventh and eighth grades, physics, physiology, chemistry, minerology, meteorology, astronomy and more are introduced. In these later grades there is significant emphasis on precision, on measurement, and on more abstract and theoretical concepts. This approach continues to be refined as Waldorf students progress through high school, growing ever more disciplined and rigorous in their thinking and approach to science.

The Continuing Importance of Art

The arts continue to play a role throughout this process, for precisely the reasons discussed above. They play an integral role in deepening students’ relationship with and understanding of the world. In practice, for example, the visual arts, have the capacity to connect a child with the subject matter at hand more readily than simply looking at a picture in a textbook. Drawing and labeling the bones in a human skeleton engages the hand and the eye, as well as the mind and an individual’s unique sense of artistry. This makes absorption of knowledge a more holistic process—one that resonates within the individual for some time to come. Drawing a diagram of a lever, or the structure of a protein or a map of weather systems does the same thing.  

So the arts are never abandoned. They support the holistic development of an individual who is eminently capable of creative and critical thinking, and this is one of the primary goals of a Waldorf education.

*Artwork by current and former BWWS students.

Further Reading

Cole, K. C. (1998, August 13). Why the Arts Are Important to Science – latimes. Retrieved from http://articles.latimes.com/1998/aug/13/local/me-12745

Lynch, G. H. (2012, May 16). The Importance of Art in Child Development . Music & Arts . Education | PBS Parents. Retrieved from http://www.pbs.org/parents/education/music-arts/the-importance-of-art-in-child-development/

Mitchell, David. The Wonders of Waldorf Chemistry. AWSNA:Fair Oaks, CA. 2001.

Bright Water Alumni Panel

Posted by: Chris Nelson   -   Posted in: News- Oct 16, 2017 Comments Off on Bright Water Alumni Panel

Where do our students go after graduation from eighth grade? Are they ready for the new challenges—academic and otherwise—that come their way? What effect has their Waldorf experience had on their lives?

These are the kinds of questions many parents start wondering about long before that joyful (and bittersweet) graduation day arrives. For many years now, BWWS has convened an annual Alumni Panel where we invite former students back to share their experiences in high school and beyond. This year’s event will be held on Wednesday, November 29, from 6:30 to 8:00 p.m.

The panel will be composed of both recent and older graduates of BWWS, all of whom will share their experiences in local public and private high schools, and beyond. This year’s panel is still being composed, but in the past we’ve had students from Franklin, Roosevelt, Garfield, Lakeside, Holy Names Academy, Seattle Waldorf High School, the University of Washington and other area schools.

The event is open to families wherever their student happens to be on his or her journey through Bright Water—even if they’ve just started Kindergarten! This is an opportunity to learn more about the impact of Waldorf education on students’ lives once they depart our school for new adventures. So whether you’re well on your way or just beginning to explore your opportunities as students and parents, this special evening offers insight into the potential challenges and rewards awaiting BWWS’ future graduating classes.

Come with questions!

Sugar Plum Faire – Vendors Needed!

Posted by: Chris Nelson   -   Posted in: Community Spotlights, Extracurriculars, Festivals & Celebrations, News, Outreach, School Culture- Oct 13, 2017 Comments Off on Sugar Plum Faire – Vendors Needed!

Sugar Plum Faire is just around the corner!

On Saturday, December 9th from 10:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. Bright Water Waldorf School will be hosting our annual winter event. In addition to all of the great crafts, activities and delicious chili and sweets, we’ll have vendors peddling their wares: books, handmade dolls, clothing and everything in between! If you or someone you know is interested in selling at Sugar Plum Faire, please fill out and submit a completed vendor application by November 15th.

And of course, Sugar Plum Faire is a celebration replete with food and fun, and we now have all of the grades-specific activity sheets available online (except Grade One) so parents can get started with planning and sign up! Grade One will have a new activity this year and we are just putting the finishing touches on what that will look like. Stay tuned . . . The forms are available here, along with more details about the faire.


Third Grade Trip to Sunfield Farm

Posted by: Chris Nelson   -   Posted in: Early Grades, News- Oct 13, 2017 Comments Off on Third Grade Trip to Sunfield Farm

The Third Grade trip to Sunfield Farm in Padlock, Washington, took place earlier this month. This was just in time for harvesting potatoes and wheat, and winnowing and grinding grain. Students also encountered—and milked—goats, which inspired some of the writing and illustrations below.

Sunfied is a Rudolf Steiner-inspired farm using biodynamic farming techniques and serving the local community. It also has a Waldorf school and offers community-education programs. Sunfield has hosted Bright Water students for many years now, helping bring home a sense of the rhythm of the seasons—particularly during the Fall harvest time. To learn more about Sunfied, click here.

Emerging Future interview with Michael Preston, former BWWS teacher

Posted by: Chris Nelson   -   Posted in: News- Sep 16, 2017 Comments Off on Emerging Future interview with Michael Preston, former BWWS teacher

Michael Preston small imageAs part of his Emerging Future podcast, BWWS parent Joel William DeJong has conducted a fascinating interview with former Bright Water teacher Michael Preston. In a wide-ranging discussion covering personal stories, philosophy and more, Michael offers insights into Steiner, Waldorf education and much more that will be of interest to many BWWS parents and others. Many thanks to Joel and Michael for sharing their wisdom and humor. You can check out the interview here.  


All School Work Party!

Posted by: Chris Nelson   -   Posted in: News- Aug 09, 2017 Comments Off on All School Work Party!

Join us on Saturday, August 26, from 8 AM to 12 PM to help us get the school ready for the new school year. This is a great opportunity to reconnect with friends, faculty and staff and share in the glorious weather that has graced Seattle this summer. We look forward to seeing you!

BWWS Literary Arts Magazine!

Posted by: Chris Nelson   -   Posted in: News- Jun 05, 2017 Comments Off on BWWS Literary Arts Magazine!

It’s here! The inaugural issue of the Bright Water Waldorf School Literary Arts Magazine is now available for download. Many thanks to every student who submitted materials and participated in any way in the creation of what we hope will become an annual publication. Thanks are also due to Project Advisor Katie Söderlind who took it upon herself on short notice to guide students in pulling the magazine together.

You can download the inaugural issue as a PDF here.

Guest Post: On the Intersection of Waldorf Education and Medicine

Posted by: Chris Nelson   -   Posted in: News- May 25, 2017 Comments Off on Guest Post: On the Intersection of Waldorf Education and Medicine

By Sam Blackman, M.D., Ph.D.

Sam is a BWWS parent and Board member. Many thanks to him for this post and for his other contributions to our school.

I recently had the privilege of spending an hour and a half speaking to the eighth-grade class at Bright Water Waldorf School.  This wonderful opportunity was presented to me by Nazneen D’Souza.  May is typically my “teaching month” where, for the past five years, I have lectured to undergraduates and graduate students at the University of Washington on topics related to my work in oncology drug development, so I was thrilled to have the opportunity to work with an entirely new group of students where I would have to take an entirely new approach. The prospect of working with eighth graders was, truth be told, a little daunting, and I wasn’t quite sure how to keep them engaged.

Ms. D’Souza’s charge to me was that I should attempt to bring forth the connections that I observed between the sciences and the humanities, especially as I saw them from my current perspective working in the biomedical sciences. I studied philosophy as an undergraduate, so the seventeen-year-long course of study that I undertook in science, medicine, pediatrics, and oncology might seem either like a remarkably long detour or my having gotten incredibly lost along the
way to a career in the humanities. It turns out that neither was the case. I gravitated towards a study of the humanities as an undergraduate as a purposeful, equal, and opposite reaction to my father’s relentless pressuring of me to pursue a career in medicine. And I gravitated towards a study of science and medicine—upon graduating from college—as a way of bringing the abstract philosophical precepts and concepts I had been taught to life (as well as a way to avoid certain starvation).  But how could I make this approachable, interesting, and relevant to eighth grade BWWS students?

In the days leading up to my appointment with the eighth-grade class, and only after a number of hours of brainstorming, I happened upon the “thread” that I was looking for—and it turns out it was in front of me all along.  So, upon entering the classroom, I wrote the following list on the blackboard:

  • Art
  • Music
  • Movement
  • Patterns/forms
  • Seasons
  • Languages
  • History
  • The five senses
  • Stories
  • Experiential learning

After spending a little bit of time telling the students about my path, I opened the discussion by asking the class what this list of words meant to them.  The answer came immediately from multiple voices: these were the defining characteristics of a Waldorf education (as seen through the eyes of the eighth-grade class).  I couldn’t agree more, I said, but they also happen to be the aspects of science and medicine that initially drew me in and built upon my undergraduate background in the humanities. And, more recently, the points I listed were the very aspects of science and medicine that are most satisfying to me today, over twenty-five years after I started my journey.  This was enough to hook the students, and with that we spent the majority of the time discussing episodes and anecdotes from the laboratory, the hospital, and from the history of science and medicine to illustrate these points.

For example, while I am a terrible artist in the traditional sense, I revel in the art and beauty of histology and immunohistochemistry to allow us to visualize microscopic anatomy, and the use of confocal microscopy to probe even further into the subcellular anatomy. I encouraged the students to look at the winners of the annual Nikon “Small World Photomicroscopy Competition” to revel in the beauty of the otherwise invisible.  We discussed the ability to use clock drawing to diagnose and monitor neurologic disorders such as Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease

Science and medicine are musical in so many different ways.  From the high-pitched bowel sounds of intestinal obstruction to the onomatopoeia of borborygmi (the rumbling of your stomach). From the scratchy hoarse voice that comes from injury to the recurrent laryngeal nerve to the “irregularly irregular” drumbeat of a heart in atrial fibrillation and the cacophony of alarms and noises and whooshes and vibrations in a modern intensive care unit (which, by the way, is bad for patients).

We spoke about medical history, and how self-experimentation has led to the development of new techniques and an understanding of the etiology of different diseases.  The eighth graders were simultaneously fascinated and grossed out by the story of Dr. Werner Forssman, who in 1929 put himself under local anesthesia then inserted a catheter into the antecubital fossa in his arm and threaded it up the brachial vein to the subclavian vein and from there into the right atrium. As the first person to demonstrate (albeit in an unusual and dangerous manner) that this was possible, he unknowingly developed a procedure that allowed for modern cardiac catheterization and all of the amazing knowledge that has followed, including our detailed understanding of cardiac physiology and the development of less-invasive procedures for treating heart disease.  We also reveled in the story of Dr. Barry Marshall, the Australian physician who defied all conventional knowledge and proved that the bacteria Helicobacter pylori could live within the acid environment of the stomach and cause stomach ulcers. And he did this by drinking a liquid culture of H. pylori!  Of note, despite the scorn they initially suffered for their self-experimentation, both Forssman and Marshall won Nobel Prizes for their discoveries. 

Finally, we spoke about the use of the five senses in medicine and how important they are in diagnosing disease: from visualizing subtle changes in skin color that can give hints about blood pressure (pallor) or inadequate oxygenation (cyanosis), to the sweet and fruity smell of ketones on the breath of patients in ketoacidosis and the foul smell of an infection with Pseudomonas aeruginosa, to the importance of touch in palpating the abdomen or feeling the point of maximal impulse when conducting a physical examination. From the sound of the internal world that you revel in while auscultating the heart, to the empathic listening necessary to tease out a complex medical history.  Of course, students were curious about whether or not you use the sense of taste in medicine, which reminded me of this classic and crowd-pleasing story of the great physician Sir William Osler:

Osler is often called the father of modern medicine, and for good reason. He was one of the founding professors at Johns Hopkins and created the first residency program. Osler was obsessed with the need to pay careful attention to even the tiniest details when it came to observing patients. When he served as medical professor at Oxford University, he lectured his students – stressing the vital importance of careful observation, as it was often the key to accurate diagnosis of a patient’s ailment.

A diabetic’s urine, Osler pointed out, often had sugar in it. According to this apocryphal story, Osler displayed a bottle of urine to the trainees, dipped his finger into the bottle, and brought his hand to his mouth to taste the urine. Passing the bottle around the room, he asked the students to do what he had just done.  The students dutifully participated in the unpleasant task – knowing that if they paid careful attention, they might taste the sugar in the urine. After the students had finished their exercise, Osler said, “Now you will understand what I mean when I speak about details, because had you really been watching, you would have seen that I put my index finger into the urine . . . but my middle finger into my mouth.” (1)

The ninety minutes with the eighth-grade class went by way too quickly for me and ended in a flurry of thoughtful and insightful questions that demonstrated to me how well Waldorf education, and Bright Water Waldorf School, have been preparing our children to journey forth into a world where scientific discoveries are happening at a torrid pace.  In the end, we each learned from the other. I walked away with an appreciation of the sophistication and abilities of these young adults, and of how to make science and medicine approachable for them. The students, hopefully, left with a sense that, as the evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins so elegantly put it, “science is the poetry of reality.” My sincerest appreciation to BWWS and Ms. D’Souza for providing me with this remarkable opportunity.


(1) Stein, Harold A. The Way I Saw It: Memoirs of an Ophthalmologist. Bloomington, IN: AuthorHouse, 2013.