Being a mother to an active and free-spirited child, Grace Ferreros dreamed of sending her son to a school where children are given the freedom to play. Unfortunately she wasn’t able to find any school in Cebu that incorporated play. Her solution? She opened one, instead.
About 20 years ago, she was introduced to Steiner-Waldorf education, which enhances learning by incorporating arts in all academic disciplines. She saw a teacher from Germany counting numbers and writing letters through dance, songs and other movements, which encouraged her to put up this kind of education for her son.
She immediately asked the organizers if they were planning to open a play group or day care in Cebu. Unfortunately, they had no plans. This then inspired her to open a Steiner-Waldorf kindergarten in Cebu.
Since then, Grace dedicated her life in advocating for this kind of education. She asked the Manila Waldorf School, the first Waldorf kindergarten in the Philippines, to help her open a Waldorf kindergarten in Cebu, but she was told to learn first its philosophy and undergo training. For a year, a mentor from Manila would come to Cebu and help her in reading the books of Rudolf Steiner, the founder of Steiner-Waldorf education.
“In Waldorf education, a child is considered as three-fold: a body, a soul, and a spirit. So the philosophy is very specific and the form of education is appropriate to the stage of development of the child,” she said.
According to Steiner’s philosophy, when a child is 0 to 7 years old (preschool), the focus is on the body. This means that they should be taught through play, movement, and imitation.
By the time they reach the age of 7 to 14 years old (grade school), the focus is on the soul or feeling. It is believed that by the time children reach this age, their feelings and emotions are strong which is why teachers should become loving authority and teach them through art to develop their imagination and creativity.
And when they are already 14 to 21 years old, the focus is on the mind or spirit. At this time, they should be given the freedom to think, create ideas, and discover the truth.
“This is the kind of education that is very interesting for me and it is the only way to develop a child’s love for learning,” Ferreros said.
In 1998, she opened the Cebu Children’s Garden, the first Waldorf kindergarten in Cebu. She admitted it was a struggle because there were only a few students.
“I was like a lone wolf in the wilderness, shouting let our children play, but I only had a few children. That is why in 2001 we closed,” she said.
“Filipinos want academics. Most parents think that their children are smart if they can already read and write at three years old,” she said.
Undaunted, she established the same year the Kids Life Foundation, which advances Steiner’s initiative. Kids Life is currently a partner of the Ramon Aboitiz Foundation Inc. Dolores Aboitiz Children’s Fund.
The foundation has been invited by a day care center inside Camp Lapu-Lapu in Apas, Cebu City, where it aims to train the teachers and develop the curriculum to make the school a Steiner kindergarten.
And through the help of her family’s foundation, Ferreros was able to establish St. Michael’s Play Garden, another Waldorf preschool here in Cebu, in 2011. Similar to the first kindergarten she established, it also started with a few students, but as the years went by the student population grew. It, however, did not have a stable community of supporting parents so that it closed five years later.
“I would not get tired for this kind of education,” Ferreros said.
She said she would continue her advocacy despite what happened.