THE morning sun spotlights a blessedpiece of earth: the site of the WaldorfSchool in the town of Playa Chiquita, fivekilometers south of Puerto Viejo on thesouthern Caribbean coast. Two colorfulwooden houses built in the Caribbean stylesit amongst luxuriant tropical vegetation,painting an idyllic picture to the visitor’seye.While a climbing sloth captivates theattention of the kindergarten group, thefirst-, second- and third-graders in theirsun hats, spades in hand, are ready for theirouting to dig for fresh clay.“Clay is one of the main natural materialsused in Waldorf education to let thechildren touch the subject,” explainsThomas Hemelaar, first-to-third-gradeteacher and Waldorf teacher trainer. Hegoes on to describe how, in first grade, thechildren shape the letters of the alphabetout of clay; in fifth, they mold a map ofCosta Rica.THE classroom reflects a warm, simpleand pure atmosphere, with bright yellowcurtains, flowers, musical instrumentsand art materials stored on a shelf. Thewalls are covered with aquarelles anddrawings by the children, and the impressiveblackboard drawings show the hand ofa true maestro.Hemelaar, 44, from the Netherlands,arrived at the beginning of this school yearto train local teachers and root the Waldorfsystem in the area. Hemelaar, who says hegot “infected” by the Waldorf system duringhis studies in biodynamics, co-foundeda Waldorf school on his farm in France in1993, and later worked in England, Africaand Egypt. He speaks five languages.Hemelaar says children respond to theworld through their feelings long beforethey begin to think consciously.“Waldorf education takes into accountthe development of the whole child,” heexplains. “This is reflected both in what istaught and in how it is taught.”In teaching, Hemelaar says, knowledgemust come alive. The educator’s scientificunderstanding must be transformed into anart of teaching that will enable children toconstruct a living relationship with whatthey are learning. This is only possible ifteachers are as enthusiastic about whatthey are teaching as they feel the studentsshould be.A noisy, unusual scene is unfolding inthe classroom: the children are stampingtheir feet and clapping their hands whilelearning their multiplication tables.According to Hemelaar, educationshould nurture a child physically, emotionallyand mentally – touching head, handsand heart. To this end, Waldorf teachingmethods employ rhythm, art, music andstorytelling.“This awakens the child’s inner potentialand creativity, and opens up an innerpath to master any situation his or her lifemay require,” Hemelaar states.THE small Caribbean school, foundedin 1997 by a group of parents as the PlayaChiquita-Punta Uva Educational Center, isone of a network of three Waldorf schoolsestablished in Costa Rica. The school willbe expanded to at least the fourth grade inthe coming year, and, later, to prepare studentsfor the sixth-grade examination at theEducation Ministry. The other two Waldorfschools are in the western San José suburbof Escazú and in the Caribbean-slope townof Turrialba. A Waldorf education directoryfor Latin America can be found atwww.sab.org.br/pedag-wal/lawaldir.htm.The Waldorf method is based on theeducational ideas of 19th-century Austrianphilosopher Rudolf Steiner. Waldorfschools are self-governing, independenteducational communities involving bothparents and teachers, who manage theschool’s resources and set priorities in thebest interests of the children.“Nobody is left out because of economicreasons. Doors are always open toanyone interested in participating in ourschool,” explains Andreas Herb, presidentof the association board and father of twochildren enrolled in the school.Unlike in conventional schools, Herb adds, the financial situation of each parentis evaluated and discussed as a group.“Most parents pay the full amount, otherseven more, and some parents decide ona work exchange. If such an exchange isn’tpossible, the next step is to look for a sponsor,”he explains.AN opportunity to learn more aboutWaldorf School Playa Chiquita, its teachersand education program will be presentedtomorrow, at the school’s First San Juande Veranillo Festival. The event begins at11 a.m. and will feature art exhibits andpresentations by the students, games, children’ssongs, storytelling, a flea market,food, live music, fire juggling, a raffle andmore. Admission costs ¢1,000 ($2) foradults and ¢500 ($1) for children (a freeice-cream cone is included for each child).The purpose of the festival is to raisefunds to build a new gate and other facilities,as well as establish scholarships orsponsors to open doors for lower-incomemembers of the community to enjoyWaldorf schooling. All interested teachers,parents and sponsors are welcome to contactthe school (see box).