Into the wild: Hearthstone gears up for day and overnight wilderness summer camps

Waldorf-inspired programs to multi-day ‘mountain adventures’

After a personally provided preview of what’s to come at Hearthstone School this summer, I only wish I were a kid again.

Hearthstone School exudes love, as seen by this student decorated greeting to school visitors — and indeed visitors to Rappahannock County arriving from adjacent Shenandoah National Park. By John McCaslin

Indeed, parents searching for combined educational and adventure camps for their children this summer needn’t look further than Hearthstone School in Sperryville, which is introducing a variety of fun and challenging summer camps for all ages.

First, for children ages 3 to 12, there is a pair of more traditional summer day camps — July 24 to July 28 and July 31 to August 4, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. The children will be divided into three age groups: 3-5, 6-8, and 9-12.

Hearthstone School principal Jane Mullen leads a tour of the school library. By John McCaslin

This pair of Waldorf-inspired camps include activities such as storytelling, beeswax sculpture, candle making, rhythmic movement and dance, water play, cooperative games, felting, basketry, beadwork, watercolor painting, paper making, drumming, instrument making, art derived from nature and nature walks, even baking.

And parents aren’t left out of the learning: at the camp’s conclusion each Friday, the school will host a presentation of the week’s activities for family and friends.

Instructors for the two camps are Kitty Keyser, a certified Waldorf kindergarten teacher of 23 years who has 35 years experience teaching movement and dance, and Janet Kerig, who has 30 years teaching experience. Janet is an exhibition fiber artist and a percussionist, who also specializes in earth basketry, wheat weaving and children’s folk art.

For the more adventurous children and teenagers there are Hearthstone’s four “Mountain Adventures” summer camps.

Session 1 is a day camp for ages 5-8, to be held June 26 through June 30, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. This introductory-level camp is designed to build children’s comfort levels with the outdoors: “We will nurture their relationship with nature through day hikes, low ropes course elements, rock-climbing, swimming, outdoor games, and nature crafts. Over the course of the week, we will highlight basic survival skills and native wildlife and plant identification.”

Session 2, for ages 8-10, is a day camp with one overnight camping trip, held July 10 through July 14, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. from Monday through Wednesday, then leaving at 9 a.m. Thursday for the overnight camping, returning Friday at 3 p.m. Here’s what to expect: “Cultivating the skills learned in the younger camp, this session includes more challenging day hikes, low ropes course elements, rock-climbing, swimming, outdoor games, wildlife and plant identification, fire-building techniques and other backcountry living skills.”

Session 3 at Hearthstone is a day camp/beginner backpacking camp for ages 10-13, to be held July 17 through July 21, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Monday and Tuesday, and then leave at 9 a.m. Wednesday for a 2 night/3 days backpacking trip, returning at 3 p.m. on Friday: “Geared toward the ‘in-betweeners,’ this camp gently introduces kids to backpacking as part of their deepening relationship with the outdoors. Session III features hiking, swimming, wildlife and plant identification, rock-climbing, survival skills, and backcountry living skills including tent and tarp set up, camp stove use, water purification methods, and fire-building techniques.

Archery classes at Hearthstone School — including during summer camps — are taught by Rappahannock County native Aron Weisgerber, who has a degree in Outdoor Education from Prescott College in Arizona. By John McCaslin

Finally, Session 4 is a backpacking camp for ages 14 through 17, to be held July 30 through August 4. Note: this session is a Sunday through Friday course — 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Sunday, then leave at 9 a.m. Monday for a 4 night/5 days backpacking trip, returning at noon on Friday: “For young adults seeking full immersion in the wilderness, look no further. This six-day course includes backpacking trip planning and packing, navigation skills, backcountry living skills, backpacking technique, and group problem solving. Come prepared to test your limits in the great outdoors.”

Teaching these four Mountain Adventures camps is Rappahannock County native Aron Weisgerber, a Hearthstone graduate and lifelong student of Waldorf education. Aron graduated from Prescott College in Arizona with a degree in Outdoor Education and minors in Environmental Studies and Photography.

While attending Prescott, Aron studied wilderness first aid, search and rescue, map and compass navigation, and rope course facilitation. He taught a highly academic month-long backpacking trip in the Grand Canyon. Since 1999, he has operated an outdoor summer camp for children and young adults in Sperryville.

“He hopes to instill in his campers a lifelong relationship with and reverence for the wilderness,” Hearthstone notes of the camp offerings.

But Hearthstone, of course, is much more than summer camps. Founded in 1996, Hearthstone is known for “Educating the Whole Child: Head, Heart and Hands.”

At what other school, for example, does each student tend to his or her own vegetable garden?

And, as founder and longtime school principal Jane Mullen tells this newspaper: “We start cursive young and teach calligraphy.”

Hearthstone School founder and principal Jane Mullen (right) and teacher Kitty Keyser pose next to the student-decorated maypole. By John McCaslin

These are just three examples of the Waldorf Education, a unique and distinctive approach to educating children. Waldorf schools, including Hearthstone, collectively form the largest, and quite possibly the fastest growing group of independent private schools in the world.

Which is why Hearthstone draws students from Rappahannock, Culpeper, Fauquier, Madison, Warren and Page counties.

The stated goal of the schooling is “to produce individuals who are able, in and of themselves, to impart meaning to their lives.” The curriculum is broad, and balances academic subjects with artistic and practical activities.

Hearthstone, located at 11576 Lee Highway in Sperryville, welcomes all inquiries concerning the Waldorf approach to education, as well as enrollment for the 2017-18 academic year. Call 540.987.9212 or visit

About John McCaslin 400 Articles
John McCaslin is the editor of the Rappahannock News. Email him at