Silke Markowski was born in a small village in southern Germany in 1965. Raised on a small dairy farm, she was strongly influenced by the ancient fields and forests, the seasonal life of the farm, and her multi-generational household. As a child she built mud houses, jumped hay stacks, planted, harvested, and drove the tractors. In the winter, when the fields were bare, the forest was her playground where she cared for the trees and made fairy homes. Harvest festivals, solstice fires and May Day celebrations were a significant part of her upbringing, and these annual festivals continue to figure significantly into her life and the seasonal structure of Taos Earth Children.
Silke holds a BA as a state licensed European Educator. In Europe, such training requires a comprehensive knowledge of human development from child to adult. With a focus on early childhood development, her intention is to create and teach in play-based environments, according to the work of Friedrich Frobel. In 1986, having immigrated to the United States, she was distraught at the lack of play and joy in US public schools, choosing instead a path as a certified Waldorf educator, which was, in her words, “a philosophy that I could stand behind.”
In 1995 Silke co-founded the Taos Waldorf School with three other teachers and parents. The school served their children and opened doorways for each founder to continue on their life's path. Silke taught at the school for twenty years, giving her life energy and infusing the school with a community spirit. She supported the school community through challenging times, including financial crises, the death of a student, the death of a teacher, the death of a parent, and her own divorce. Her final year was dedicated to a group of kindergarten students who she carried into first grade, during which she created a "movable classroom." After thirty years of teaching, during which she saw the rise of technological influences, she saw the need for movement in her class. "We have to create balance in these changing times and help the children stay present in the midst of chaos," she says.
Burnout and illness led to a sabbatical in her 49th year of life, during which she developed a deep understanding that she could not return to a structure that required many meetings in addition to teaching. Self-care had become a vital lesson. Thus, Taos Earth Children was born. Silke has a strong desire to create a stress free environment that serves students and teachers to stay strong and healthy throughout the year, including fresh air, movement and the beauty of nature’s seasons. Today, she has newfound strength that is a true inspiration. She is also mentoring Golden Bridges Waldorf School in San Francisco to support teachers in identifying burnout and to clearly evaluate the position each person has in a school setting.
During her twenty-six years in Taos, Silke has become involved in indigenous spirituality, and her work with the elements and directions strongly influences her teachings. "I have truly arrived and feel at home in the diverse landscape surrounding Taos,” she says. “I have deep connections with communities and established the Sun Rose Sanctuary as an education center in my home.” Gratitude prayers and blessings are part of her educational philosophy. She also works with and supports elders, bringing her full circle in her work with young children. She offers mother support groups and grief support to the parent community in Taos, helping to bring healing and create environments that relieve the stress on parents in modern times. She builds and maintains labyrinths, and walks them regularly with the children, giving thanks to the Mother Earth beneath our feet and the warmth of the sun above. “I want to create environments that invite people from all walks of life, so the children can experience wholeness and celebrate their traditions and cultural backgrounds.”
Silke is committed to strengthening a communal network, bringing educators, farmers, healers, craftsmen and communities into a living and thriving whole. Many of her connections are through former students, whose parents are happily lending support to the Taos Earth Children. “When the young child holds the center, there is pure joy radiating forth and we are reminded that every step we take is an invitation to the next seven generations.”
Silke was the Early Childhood Director for Country Day School and Taos Waldorf School from 1995- 2015. She has her BA as a German Licensed Educator through Bethlehem, Karlsruhe, Germany. She has attended ongoing Waldorf training courses since 1987, and is trained in Wilderness First Aid.
Born and raised in the vast suburbia that is Northern Virginia, Valerie felt extremely lucky to grow up in a home that was surrounded by deep woods. Amongst the giant oaks and maples is where she spent every summer and every day after school playing and exploring, and where some of her fondest childhood memories took place. As a young adult, her passion for being in nature has continued with adventures in hiking, camping, yoga, backpacking, skiing, and most recently rock climbing.
Valerie holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Virginia Commonwealth University and has worked with children of all ages in various settings (educational and non) for over a decade. She finds joy in stoking children’s curiosity and excitement about the natural world, and encouraging them to be adventurous, try new challenges and test their limits with confidence. She knows personally the true joy and self-awareness that come from spending time with Mother Nature, and believes it is extremely important for all children to have such experiences, today more than ever.
Right after graduating college, Valerie hit the road to work on a farm in Colorado for a few months. Upon returning to Virginia, she knew she was hooked on the southwest, and had to get back to it! So a few years later, she set out again, farming her way across the country one more time. In October 2015 an opportunity on a goat farm led her to Taos, and she never left. She has spent the last three winters at Taos Ski Valley working in the ski school’s nursery, and introducing some of the youngest skiers on the mountain to their new favorite sport. In the summers, she has worked with a landscaping company, which has enabled her to learn some of the native plants of the area (as well as keeping her outdoors).
Valerie is certified in Wilderness First Aid and CPR.