No. 46 – Helping at the Pucón Waldorf School

Sometimes good intentions don’t fully come to fruition, but turn out well anyway. Such was the case with service project #46.

During our time in Pucón we had the pleasure of meeting Andy, an American teaching at Language Pucón and the parent of children attending the community’s Waldorf School. After hearing about our goal to volunteer in the communities we visit, Andy worked hard to find a way for us to help with the school’s ongoing construction project.

Waldorf education was developed by the Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner in 1919 with an emphasis on imagination, critical thinking and spiritual development throughout the learning process. Over a thousand Waldorf schools serve students in countries around the globe, following students through life with learning strategies considered appropriate for their age. It probably goes without saying that the Waldorf philosophy stands in stark contrast to many of the standard expectations of students in the United States, where we try to get our kids reciting letters and numbers as soon as they can talk and reading before they leave preschool. Despite the fact that studies have shown this push for structured curriculum earlier and earlier in our children’s lives can actually hinder their academic success and love for learning later on, we continue to have an “earlier is better” attitude in my home country.

ANYWAY, off my soapbox and back to Waldorf! Andy arranged for us to help with the school’s construction work one weekend. At the start of the Chilean school year this past March the Waldorf program opened its new facility, which was designed and in large part constructed by parents and volunteers. For the first two weeks of classes, all grades incorporated construction work into the curriculum and the students helped put the finishing touches on their own classrooms. The construction process still continues after school and on weekends in some sections of the 3-building campus.

Andy arranged a time for us to help at the school and even came by our cabin to give us a ride there on what turned out to be a very rainy day. Our tour of the school’s buildings has made the girls look forward to their return to the typical classroom environment. The pull-up bar, clay modeling displays and shelves full of musical instruments were their favorite parts.

After the tour, the plan was to help finish off the school’s new cafeteria. As the girls’ narrative will tell you, it didn’t work out quite how we’d planned, but it still wound up being a great afternoon.

Something From Nothing
by Emily, Liv and Alison Carisch

It was raining. We all ran for cover (a.k.a. the cafeteria). Andy had just given us a tour of the school and now we were ready to start working—we were just missing one thing. The work. The man who was telling us what to do was M.I.A. (missing in action). After a few minutes of rummaging around, Andy made a statement: “This cafeteria could use a coat rack. Wanna build one?” It was only sprinkling now, so we went to look for good pieces of wood. Fortunately, there was an overflowing supply. After choosing the perfect plank from a five-foot-high pile, Emily began sanding it down with a mechanical sander. The tool vibrated in her hands like a snake trying to wiggle free, leaving her arms tingling.

While the plank was being sanded, Andy took Liv and Ali to find branches that could be used as hooks for coats. When the plank was all sanded Emily measured and marked where the pegs would go, using a nail to mark and tape to measure, making sure to do each one exactly five inches apart. Liv got to use a HUGE saw to chop the branches into small chunks.

After the branches were cut, Mama, Daddy, Andy and Liv used pocket knives to carve the bark from the chunks. The carvers stood on the cafeteria’s open door step with pocket knives, talking, laughing and occasionally working. Some dogs that belong to the neighbors ran in a few times. Ali played with Fluffy a dog, who sheds a lot and was is not fluffy in the least. Ali spent most of her time sweeping up dog hair, but also got to help whittle down the pegs with a pocket knife. (I know! We were shocked Mom let her.) Daddy began drilling holes into the plank when there were only a few pegs left to carve, using Emily and Liv as a weight to help hold it down.
Ali whittlingDSC09918DSC09921
Ali had finished with the broom and was helping Andy and Mama finish the pegs. After a lot of holding down the plank, drilling, loud sounds and sawdust, Daddy stepped back from the plank which now bore thirteen holes. Andy took down a liter of glue from a shelf and showed Emily and Liv how roll the pegs in it and hit them with what Liv called a “claw-ended-bangy-bangy” (a.k.a. a hammer). DSC09926
After a few redoes, mess-ups, math-problems and a bucket-load of team work, we stepped back to admire our work. A newly made coat rack was before us. What had once been scrap wood and some sticks was now a functional part of the school’s cafeteria. We were pretty proud of ourselves. But soon we had to leave before it started pouring again.

The thing I will take away from this project:
Emily – “You can do anything you set your mind to.”
Liv – “School can be a lot more fun than you think.”
Ali – “I have a good mother who lets me use a pocket knife!”

Thanks to Andy for a great afternoon and helping us find a small way to help this innovative and unique school in Pucón.

About the Author

Mom, wife, friend and change agent traveling the world with my family to learn our place in it. After spending a career in organizational change management and community initiative implementation, I put my career on hold for our family's trip around the world. In April of 2014 we sold almost everything we own, put the rest in a storage container, and departed on this journey. While my husband continued his software development work to financially support our trip, I planned and documented our adventure, homeschooled our three daughters, and found volunteer work opportunities for us to do in the communities we visit. Now that we've returned to the U.S., I'm completing book about our family's adventure and our lessons learned.

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  1. A lot to be said for Emerson Waldorf. My neice and nephew attended such a school, in Chapel Hill, NC, and Ellie just got accepted into the honors program at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Despite (perhaps because of) no emphasis on early reading, both kids became avid readers–perhaps mostly thanks to J. K. Rowling!

    1. That’s great, Robin! Yes, the more I learned about it, the more I like the Waldorf philosophy. This school required every student to learn a musical instrument, which I think is a great way to incorporate math and the arts into the classroom. Very glad we had the opportunity to learn more about it.

  2. Brian, we met your dad on the plane from Indianapolis to KC as he and Adrian were on their way to somewhere up north for a vacation. Great talk and learned of your venture and blog. I’ve enjoyed reading it this afternoon. We can identify with how overseas travel and work can change you and your view of the world and your view of what’s possible in the world. We taught English teaching methods in Vietnam for many summers at several universities, starting in 1992.

    1. Great to hear from you, Leellyn. Thanks for reaching out, and I bet Vietnam in the 90’s would have been amazing.

  3. What a fun day we had! It is thanks to the efforts of so many people that this educational project has advanced so far. Perhaps my connection to Waldorf education is strong because of the emphasis on art and creativity (with a bit of improvisation mixed in).

  4. Hi!

    I have just come across your post while searching for volunteer opportunities in Pucon. My friend and I are currently travelling and are planning to be around Pucon at Christmas. We would love to do some volunteer work over the holidays and wondered if you could point us in any direction, given your experience here. We would appreciate any advice.


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