On the first day of school, Tracy Bennett and staff members at Seattle's Waldorf High School stood on the shores of Lake Washington to welcome one of its students. The high schooler had swam across the lake from his home on the eastside to class at his high school's new home in Magnuson Park.
Several other students rode in on their bicycles, and only a handful arrived by car.
"That's our students," chuckled Bennett, the head of administration at the only Waldorf high school in the state. "They're always on the move."
Educators at the Waldorf School in Seattle take a lot of pride in showing off just how handy, athletic and artistic their students are. The high school students are, after all, on the last leg of their Waldorf experience - a culmination of 12 years of education almost entirely free of television, video games, computers and smartphones.
The Waldorf philosophy is simple: Students do not benefit from using computer devices before the age of 12.
"To see a 3, 4 or 5 year old using an IPad is like giving them a steak knife," says Bennett. And she's serious. "It is potentially just as harmful and dangerous. Technology is powerful, and should be used when it is appropriate."
The Waldorf approach has been around since 1919, but in our tech-obsessed world its stance on media and electronic devices seems to resonate more than ever according to Bennett. Elementary students are discouraged from using all forms of technology, even at home. In middle school, students are introduced in controlled environments. In high school, students are encouraged to use technology as a tool for learning.
Like the middle and elementary students, the high schoolers are given breaks to play games with each other - with classes offered like woodworking, sculpture and how to make root beer and sauerkraut.
"It's the fastest growing movement in the world," says Bennett. But what may be even more surprising is the type of parents that choose this type of education. According to Bennett, a good number of them work for tech companies like Microsoft, Amazon and Google. "They want their children to be children. We are not anti-technology. We just believe it is one tool in the box."
Brenda Baker, admissions and coordinator for Waldorf continues. "It's about developing and honing the power of observation. Our students are highly curious and creative. The sensory experience gets to the heart of learning. Bringing in technology at a later age gives them the tools to discern the best times to use it."
This summer the high school moved into its new home tucked away in North Seattle's Magnuson Park. It is an unlikely location, housed just off the banks of Lake Washington and surrounded by public wetlands and sports fields. As part of the curriculum, the students will have access to many of the park's amenities. "This area fits into our curriculum nicely because our kids will have access to real life experiences."
Waldorf High School costs about $21,000 a year, and about 30 percent of the students receive financial aid. Baker says you don't have to attend Waldorf to experience the benefits of cutting down on technology.
"Maybe put the phone away during dinner with your kids. It's all about finding ways to be human and connect on a human level."