Human Interest

Before most Sedona residents could call this city their home, Charity Cygal started Red Earth Waldorf Kindergarten. REWK is a school designed around Rudolf Steiner?s theory of child development based on his anthroposophical view of the human being.

By Nate Hansen
Larson Newspapers

Before most Sedona residents could call this city their home, Charity Cygal started Red Earth Waldorf Kindergarten.

REWK is a school designed around Rudolf Steiner?s theory of child development based on his anthroposophical view of the human being.

The view considers child development as ?a process of the child?s soul and spirit incarnating into a developing, living and physical organism.?

As Cygal explains, his practices nurture the body, soul and spirit.

In the late 1980s, Cygal taught at Waldorf schools in Gainesville, Fla., and Durango, Colo. During her tutelage, she felt drawn to the spiritual theories of child development.

Steiner?s theories are based around three levels of development which are separated between ages birth to 7, 7 to 14 and 14 to 21.

The first level emphasizes ?learning through doing.? In other words, the imitation

of practical


The second level emphasizes ?learning through the feeling life? and makes all education artistic ventures.

Lastly, the high school and collegiate years are based around intellectual understanding. This is the time when education strongly encourages academics, in addition to maintaining the previous years? participation in art and music.

The idea is that, eventually, when the child is ready, all three stages will integrate as one.

In 1991, Cygal, 56, opened the home-based Red Earth Waldorf Kindergarten in Sedona.

She attended Waldorf Kindergarten Training at Rudolf Steiner College in Fair Oaks, Calif., shortly thereafter and has since become a Waldorf remedial trainer, as well as an Aware Parenting facilitator.

Cygal consciously chose to work as a kindergarten teacher because she felt it was the foundation to a person?s identity, she says.

Cygal maintains direct eye contact with whomever she speaks. Her voice is soft and delicate. She calls it ?being in the present? — a mandatory characteristic to work with children.

At REWK, childhood is mandatory — not sanctioned. Play is the way children digest the world around them, Cygal says.

As Steiner proposed, children learn through touch, balance, movement and life, Cygal says.

It isn?t about intellectual concepts, instead, it?s about spatial integration Steiner believed supported children, she adds.

?They learn by mirroring practical activities. The goal is to make everything purposeful,? she says.

Cygal walks among children swinging, climbing and coloring. They finished storytime and arts and crafts minutes earlier.

She says the vestibular movements she observes relate to how they will progress in other skills, such as communication.

Written language is avoided with Cygal?s students. Instead, oral language development occurs through songs, poems and games in movement.

Arts and crafts stimulate creativity and imagination and, again, everything is interactive and purposeful.

It takes a special person to be present with a child, Cygal stresses.

This is one reason she provides home visits and support groups for her families. She says she feels there is no other way to gain a complete picture of how a child is expected to develop without seeing all the factors in their life.

?I hold a lot of reverence for parents. I like to tell them, ?You?re doing something monumental here,?? Cygal says.

With 20 years of teaching under her belt, Cygal says she regularly sees change.

As of late, children are coming in with more challenges such as attention deficit disorder and other extra needs.

Although there are various reasons for these challenges, Cygal can think of two off the top of her head.

Diets full of sugars and dyes are inadequate for anyone, let alone youth, she says. Not to mention children have difficult times processing things they can?t understand yet, such as media, video games and mature themes.

?Children are very perceptual. They?re sponges and they can?t say ?no,?? Cygal says. ?It?s hard to hold integrity for our child when we see the world changing as it is.?

As an Aware Parenting facilitator, Cygal teaches parents to honor the child?s emotions and acknowledge the child?s wants.

Too many times people shrug off the trauma children may be experiencing when ?being in the present? can offer the necessary empathy a child needs, she says.

?If nothing else, I will love your child. They will be seen, heard, held, respected, nurtured,? Cygal says.

?It?s our job to develop the child into who they are, not who we think they are,? she adds.

Tuesday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., Cygal operates her school for children ages 3 to 6. In addition, she offers parenting instruction and therapeutic advice.

Cygal laughs when she thinks of how everything began. The birth of her daughter, Summer, wasn?t only the conception to her thoughts of becoming a teacher, it was also an ?experiment? to her success.

She smiles when she thinks of her children and her students. She says she can?t help but feel pleased and a bit responsible for such fine young adults.

?I plant the seeds, parents do the cultivating,? she says.


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