Chalia Tuzlak wants to develop the hearts, minds and hands of little children.
But she needs space to do it.
Currently Tuzlak rents a room in Whitehorse Elementary School for her early childhood education program, Root Children, but next year the school needs the room for other purposes.
Root Children is based on Waldorf Education, which is a holistic approach to learning through which children address subjects on three levels.
One level is the intellect, thinking and logic.
The other appeals to the heart, feeling, art and spirit.
The hands are turned to craft and practical work.
Tuzlak focuses mostly on sensory stimulation to teach her children about the world.
“We push a lot of academics, but in the first years it’s actually not so important to develop the brain, the brain is developed by developing the hands and by developing the heart,” she said.
“It’s kind of like our whole body is capturing all the senses and that we kind of fill our brain with all we capture from the outside.”
In her classroom Tuzlak makes sure there are a variety of textures for her children to touch and feel.
She has wooden blocks, dolls made out of cottons and wool, shells, pinecones and bread dough for modeling. She tries to limit the number of plastic toys.
“We try not to have too many plastic toys because if the children are just in a plastic environment, it’s not a very rich environment.
“You pick up a doll and it’s plastic; you pick up Lego blocks and they are plastic and everything has more or less the same weight so the brain is actually losing information.”
Memory is important in learning, said Tuzlak.
“You can see how a child remembers a scent or texture or smell and that stays with them for years,” she said.
“I remember, as a child, sitting on a wool sofa in my parents’ house and back then I didn’t like the feel of the wool and I can remember the feel of it so clearly now.”
Learning through the heart requires that Tuzlak’s children develop a great respect for nature and beauty and learn to live together in a peaceful way.
Her children don’t fight much, but when they do she talks to them one-on-one and tries to redirect their focus to another task, said Tuzlak.
Waldorf children connect to nature by following the rhythms of the seasons and celebrating cultural festivities such as Easter and Thanksgiving.
They take note of the seasons through trips outdoors, although Tuzlak is limited to the Whitehorse Elementary school ground.
They also focus their crafts on the season they are celebrating.
“When we do a painting we always try to do something with the painting so it’s not just doing a painting for painting,” said Tuzlak.
“We do a painting for a little basket for Easter or coloured ribbons or something, which we’ll use after on things they can take home to bring a little beauty home.”
Tuzlak offers two different programs.
One is for children aged 18 months to three-years-old. Parents come to her class from 9:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. Mondays and Fridays and participate in “a flow of daily activities.”
Her Monday group is taught in French, her Friday group in English.
The second program is for children aged three and four who come to the class on Tuesdays and Thursdays and are taught in English only.
Tuzlak begins sessions with a time for the children to play freely with the toys.
Free play is important to developing creativity and is a facet of Waldorf education.
She then plays circle games where songs are sung and puppet plays are made up.
The connection between children in a circle is important to Waldorf education.
During snack time, Tuzlak has the children sit around a table and hold hands and form a circle.
She lights a candle and the children — even the 18-month-olds — give thanks to the light from the candle and for the food that they are about to receive.
This develops a child’s spirit, which is also important in Waldorf education.
After that, group activities are undertaken such as making bread or cookies together.
The children then put toys away, wash dishes and wipe down the tables.
“The parents are always amazed at how all of a sudden the children enjoy cleaning or picking up toys to put them away with the little songs we sing,” said Tuzlak.
Tuzlak can be as enthusiastic about teaching as she wants, but the fact remains that if she doesn’t find a place for her program by next fall she will have to drastically change the education she offers.
“As a rescue I can have it at my home, which is fairly big and it would kind of be possible to do a program there, but if I do it at home, I have to do it as a Day Home and then I’m limited at eight children and I really like to work with a staff and I like to pay my staff fairly.
“I find that a lot of early childhood workers don’t have decent wages.”
Being limited to eight children would make it impossible to expand her hours or please all the parents who want their children to have a Waldorf education.
“Price is for sure a concern and I’m looking for quite an affordable room and it’s just that, here in Whitehorse, it’s so hard to find … an ideal space,” she said.
An ideal place would be built with a garden around it: “Because I think that our children, even in the Yukon, are really nature deprived in most of the daycares and early childhood activities,” she said.
She needs a classroom-sized room, water and a washroom nearby.
Originally, Tuzlak is from France, though her family has a German background. She’s lived in the Yukon for 16 years.
She started her career as an engineer and environmental counsellor, but when she moved to Canada and had children she realized her passion was teaching little children.
Tuzlak earned a diploma in early childhood education from Yukon College.