Nestled into the Main Street Market in Gainesville lies a room fit for fairies with strings of lights hanging from the ceiling and toadstools surrounding a large wooden table.
“We make an atmosphere that feels imbued with magic,” LaSha Ackerman, owner of Waldorf & Wonder said. “I feel like kids really respond to that.”
At Waldorf & Wonder, which held its first workshop in November, kids 13 and younger experience a holistic approach to learning. The business additionally hosts needle-felting classes for adults and children, and high-end birthday parties for kids.
Ackerman said her business is separated into two categories.
The Waldorf approach involves education, while the wonder side involves creativity.
“We focus with the holistic approach because it’s not just about what you learn, it’s also about fostering creativity,” Ackerman said.
Each Friday, as a part of a workshop series, kids engage in a particular theme inspired by a book Ackerman reads during storytime. They then complete a couple of craft activities, which pertain to the book’s plot.
Ackerman said she always chooses books that have a strong moral. She purchases all of her books at The Next Chapter Bookstore next door to her space in the market.
With every lesson, Ackerman said she begins with a mindfulness exercise, meditation or yoga, depending on the group’s needs.
On average she has 10 kids per workshop, and most of the time she said they arrive with rambunctious energy.
“The change in the kids after the exercise is immediate,” Ackerman said. “It puts them in a frame of mind that makes them more receptive to learning.”
She said lighting also comes into play when creating a calming atmosphere. With large windows, natural light filters into the room decreasing the need for flipping on a switch.
On Friday, March 8, Ackerman’s workshop encompassed the theme of the book, “The Great Kapok Tree,” which tells a story about rainforest conservation. The children made vine crowns, beaded snakes, paper butterflies and learned about the different species of animals that live in a rainforest.
“Today I hope that they leave with that sense of being a part of that ecosystem, and that everything is connected,” Ackerman said after Friday’s lesson. “It makes kids care about the environment more.”
Brittany Bowen, who has been taking her three kids to Waldorf & Wonder’s workshops for the past couple of weeks, said Ackerman’s lessons take the place of her homeschooling for the day.
“I like that they’re learning while they’re using their hands,” Bowen said. “They have a story to listen to and take away actual learning while they’re having fun.”
Her 8-year-old son Scout said the “Kapok Tree” workshop was one of his favorites because of the animals.
“I want to work at a zoo when I grow up,” he said. “The harpy eagle and the ocelot are my favorite, and I like to color.”
Ackerman also teaches the importance of gratitude and contentment during her workshops. She finds that intentionally instilling those skills in children is important for their growth.
“Contentment, I think is something that a lot of adults struggle with,” she said. “We’re not really taught that, especially in our society.”
Waldorf & Wonder embraces the philosophy of fostering relationships among older and younger kids. She said through mixing the older and younger kids throughout the room, both benefit through their interactions.
Those who are younger learn from the older children, which reinforces the lesson with the older kids.
Ackerman lets the children move at their own pace, understanding that their competency varies with age.
“If all they do is scribble on the page, that’s totally fine because they’re developing prime motor skills,” Ackerman said.
One workshop, which lasts for two hours, costs $25. If someone signs up for six weeks of workshops, the price is $125.
Waldorf & Wonder works to support other businesses in the market and around the downtown square.
Ackerman said while parents wait for their kids to come out of a workshop, they often read books from The Next Chapter Bookstore or eat at one of the local restaurants.
Waldorf & Wonder partners with Love Is All You Knead, also located in Main Street Market, for some lessons and birthday parties.
One of Ackerman’s favorite workshops with Edrick Ordonez, the owner of Love Is All You Need, involved crepes.
After reading the book “Madeline,” the kids then learned from Ordonez how to make their own crepes, adding whatever toppings they wanted from his shop’s large spread.
As for Waldorf & Wonder’s party-hosting side of the business, Ackerman describes the events as “the birthday parties you see on Instagram.”
With an exception to food, Ackerman organizes all aspects of the birthday party to host throughout the Main Street Market. The events typically take place on Sunday, when the other businesses are closed.
Once a theme is chosen, Ackerman presents a menu of craft activities to incorporate into the birthday party. She said this gives them options, so the kids are constantly doing different tasks.
“You can literally choose whatever crazy stuff that your kid wants to throw at you,” Ackerman said.
People can view or sign up for Waldorf & Wonder’s workshops by visiting its Facebook page. For more information contact the business at 770-540-8368.