In the News

City Garden School Announces Receipt of $14,901 Donation, as well as New Kindergarten Program for 2022-2023 School Year

City Garden School (CGS) in Columbia, MO announced today that it received a donation of $14,901 from the Veterans United Foundation to support a new kindergarten program.

The generous contribution from the Veterans United Foundation is an integral part of plans to expand CGS to include kindergarten for the upcoming school year. Through this expansion CGS provides an alternative school experience, giving knowledge, a path for creativity, and expanding the imagination of children.

Families with children in the Columbia area have few options when seeking alternative kindergarten experiences, and City Garden School is the only provider of outdoor education inspired by Waldorf methodology. CGS provides an arts-integrated curriculum in a healthy, joyful, screen-free environment for parents who want a balanced approach to educating their children –mind, body, and spirit.

City Garden School kindergarten is designed to open a child’s whole self to all of life's wonders. The overarching purpose is to inspire such a love of learning that students delve into open questions with genuine curiosity and reverence that persists in producing a rich and rewarding life.

Parents and caregivers who are interested in enrollment, learning more about the school and the partnership with the Veterans United Foundation are encouraged to contact the school by calling 573-326-9268 or by emailing for more information.

Missouri Environmental Education Association Organization Award for 2021

City Garden School was recognized by the Missouri Environmental Education Association with the Organization award for 2021 for all the work our staff, families, and students have put in to make outdoor learning a success. This award goes to an organization or program that provides outstanding environmental learning opportunities in Missouri.

City Garden School seeks to redefine education with shift to outdoor learning

Read full article in the Missourian

Neeley Current’s voice cracked as she considered City Garden School’s journey through the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We were able to take something that was so tragic for people all over the world and take the time to connect with nature and realize what matters,” said Current, who teaches first grade at the small, private school in Columbia. “What we are doing here, this school, it matters.”

City Garden School, for first through fifth graders, has taken the past year to rethink the role of the natural world in its instruction. Every Friday before the pandemic, students spent the day outdoors in a variety of nature parks around Columbia. For daily recess, students walked the few blocks from their classrooms at Calvary Episcopal Church to Peace Park, on MU’s north end.

In August, the school moved to Camp Takimina, a 33-acre nature camp about a 15-minute drive north of town off Creasy Springs Road. Students began spending their school days outdoors or, if need be, inside a lodge on the grounds.

The school, which returned to Calvary for January and February, plans to move to the camp permanently starting Monday and adopt full-time outdoor learning going forward.

“We have been able to move beyond and redefine what education is and can be,” Current said.

City Garden had been looking for an outdoor space for some time, said Tory Kassabaum, director of school affairs, but the pandemic “accelerated the timeline.”

Fusing learning experiences

In March 2020, the school went virtual and remained online for the rest of the semester. Summer programs were canceled as the City Garden team devised a plan for the fall. It is renting the camp space from the Friends of Camp Takimina group.

After resuming in-person instruction outdoors in August, the teachers noticed a change in students’ emotional state.

“The biggest difference we noticed was, while we were outside, how happy the kids are and how much they wanted to stay at school,” Kassabaum said after sharing an anecdote about a child not wanting to leave when her parent came to pick her up from school early.

Current said she thinks being outdoors has helped students’ mental health and social skills. “Being outside really brings out a sense of caring and compassion in these kids,” she said.

Monica Everett, who teaches second grade, said the kids don’t talk about the pandemic much.

“They are aware of keeping everyone safe, but out here, when they get to play and see their friends, they get to forget about it and be kids,” Everett said.

In addition to traditional academic instruction that occurs outside at the camp, students read and sing around a fire pit, go on hikes along a nearby creek and build forts out of limbs and shrubbery.

Instruction through lessons as well as recreation time focuses on age-appropriate learning activities, Current said.

“There is a trend toward accelerated learning that is not in line with kids’ developmental milestones,” she said. She believes being outdoors and incorporating play into academics allows “kids to be kids.”

Taking mask breaks and studying flowers

On Friday, as first grader Amelia Parker displayed her mud sculptures, she said she prefers to have school outside because there is room to “breathe better.”

“It is nice to be able to take mask breaks when I need it because keeping a mask on is hard sometimes,” Amelia said. Several other students nodded.

Neve Duggan, a second grader, said she and her classmates love being outside.

“I kind of get annoyed with (the pandemic) sometimes, like when we couldn’t go swimming in the pool over the summer,” she said. Neve explained that being outside helps her cope with the effects of the pandemic because she can play with friends while staying safe.

Third grader Avi Kloeppel theorized that a flower he had learned about at the camp has the ability to boost your immune system. “It’s a really healthy flower,” Avi said, “so I was thinking that maybe it could help with COVID.”

Nearby, several masked students piled onto a log balanced on top of a boulder. They giggled and yelled for others to join them, squishing together on one side to see how many of them it would take to topple the log.

“See, they are making a fulcrum,” Current said. “They are learning physics.”

It’s an example of what Current called experiential learning. “They are learning science. We don’t call it that or use that language, but they are learning academic concepts through experience,” she said.

‘Being at school replenishes him’

City Garden, a nonprofit since 2014, employs a Waldorf-inspired curriculum that takes a holistic approach to a student’s emotional, physical and spiritual development.

Since moving outdoors last March, the school’s enrollment has almost doubled, from 19 to 36 students. “We gained a ton of students because of our COVID response,” Kassabaum said.

One such student is second grader Adrik Koji. After Adrik attended virtual school when Columbia Public Schools went online last March, his parents realized it would not work for him.

“(Outdoor instruction) is the reason we enrolled last August,” said Karina Koji, Adrik’s mother. “We thought this might be the answer to our concerns about in-person school.”

Koji has noticed a major shift in her son’s behavior since enrolling him at City Garden. Instead of coming home cranky and overstimulated, he’s relaxed and happy at the end of the day, she said.

“It is like being at school replenishes him,” Koji said. “Now, it isn’t something he has to recover from.”

Second grader Flynn Gamble’s father, Kevin Gamble, is also pleased with City Garden’s move outdoors. “It is wonderful,” he said. “It has increased everything already good about the school.”

Gamble said nature provides more opportunity for imaginative and creative play without the limitations of a traditional playground.

“Almost every day, (Flynn) comes home with a new story of something they did or found out there, whether it was a cool rock or a new type of animal,” Gamble said.

He said Flynn’s reading and math scores have improved this year and thinks it could be associated with the extended outdoor time.

... Read full article in the Missourian

Nicole Knapp-Weber helps bring Waldorf education to Columbia

Full Article in the Missourian

At the City Garden School near downtown Columbia, a lesson on multiplication is demonstrated with carrots that magically reproduce.

A classroom garden becomes a wonderland of seeds that sprout, then bloom and continue to grow.

This type of imaginative storytelling is part of the Waldorf-based school that Nicole Knapp-Weber helped establish in Columbia last year.

Waldorf schooling was championed by Austrian educator Rudolf Steiner in the early 20th century, and focuses on developing children through a combination of hands-on play, environment exposure and artistic expression.

Today, there are more than 1,000 independent Waldorf schools in 60 countries. The City Garden School in Calvary Episcopal Church on Ninth Street is modeled on the Waldorf philosophy, although it has not yet been certified.

"We aren't sure if we want to certify it yet, because we enjoy the freedom of curriculum right now," Knapp-Weber said.

The private school has around two dozen children enrolled in first through third grades. Next year it will expand to fourth grade, with Maeve Pickus, Knapp-Weber's assistant as the school's future third and fourth grade teacher.

Knapp-Weber will teach first and second grade and hand over ownership of the school to a board when the school becomes a non-profit organization by summer.

How children learn

A typical day starts with circle time, a warm-up for the brain and body through physical exercise, singing, juggling and other creative play.

Knapp-Weber teaches first and second graders a lesson block — math, language arts or science — while third graders finish their work from the previous day. After snack and recess in Peace Park in mid-morning, the roles switch.

"Before they start learning all the scientific facts, they need to love being outside," Knapp-Weber said. "Just letting them play instills that love."

Being close to nature is one of the tenets of the Waldorf philosophy, along with other experiential and sensory-based learning.

So, the group heads outside every Friday, weather permitting, to Rock Bridge Memorial State Park, Three Creeks Conservation Area, Mark Twain National Park or other natural or rural areas.

The school partners with the Columbia Center for Urban Agriculture to give children an opportunity to experience an urban farm where they study plants and animals.

City Garden School also teams up with the MU Confucius Institute for Chinese lessons and the Columbia Art League for art classes.

"We're trying to create a balanced child, one that is as intellectual as artistic," Knapp-Weber said. "Something reminiscent of the Renaissance man and woman."

Starting the school

In 2005, Knapp-Weber and her husband came to Columbia to start a family. After her daughter Opal was born, she attended Columbia College at night to pursue a master's degree in teaching.

She enrolled Opal in Garden Gate School, a Waldorf-style preschool off South Garth Avenue started by Deborah Kallman. When Opal was ready for first grade, she joined Kallman's homeschooling co-op and Knapp-Weber became a first- and second-grade teacher.

City Garden School was started when the co-op parents needed a larger space to continue teaching. Kallman's leadership, Waldorf principles and Knapp-Weber's background laid the foundation for the new school.

Each child spends much of the year creating a large, personal workbook and records of the lessons, conversations and adventures they have had. The books might include drawings, collections, reflections, math homework and data from science experiments.

"It gives them an opportunity to discover who they are," Knapp-Weber said.

She said wants the books to be a beautiful array of visual stories that capture what the children have learned.

She hopes the Waldorf emphasis on nature, balance, stories, music and play will draw people to this alternative education.

"We live in a fast-paced world and children learn slowly — you can't rush a child," Knapp-Weber said. "That has drawn me to this because once you explore the curriculum you realize how intentional it is."