In a blog post this past Winter, we talked about the capacities that a Waldorf Education offers students. We want to talk today about the skills that a Green Meadow Waldorf School education imparts to students.
Let’s start from a theoretical perspective and hear from Jamie York, author and Waldorf math educator. In this post, he talks about the skills and competencies that make Waldorf graduates ready for math and beyond as they move into the world. He references an article by Pat Bassett of NAIS, who lays out how students can demonstrate the skills they are learning through performance-based assessment, used at Green Meadow and many other Waldorf schools.
Grant Lichtman is also relevant to this conversation, as an expert on the attributes of schools that are successful in teaching 21st century skills. Watch this video through to the end (15 well-spent minutes). At about minute 13.5, Lichtman shares three principles for schools: Teach into the Unknown, Develop Self-Evolving Learners, and Be a Self-Evolving Organization. These three principles align perfectly with Green Meadow Waldorf School's mission, and it's exciting to see alignment between mainstream thinking and the wisdom of Waldorf.
That’s the theoretical basis. Practically speaking, what are some of the skills that our students graduate with after 12th grade? (This is by no means an exhaustive list!)
Mathematical and scientific skills: Students learn cartography and surveying skills; they understand and practice the scientific method, including formulating and testing hypotheses; they study Anatomy and Physiology from a theoretical standpoint and from a practical perspective through drawing and modeling; they participate in lab experiments in Physics, Chemistry, and Biology; and they learn Algebra and Geometry and can go on to Trigonometry and Calculus.
Critical thinking and public speaking skills: Students compare and contrast multiple viewpoints; can write a persuasive argument and a research paper; give a Senior Speech, present a Senior Project, and write a “Song of Myself” as part of their 12th grade self-exploration; compose poetry; understand and discuss the works of authors as erudite and diverse as Geoffrey Chaucer, Wolfram von Eschenbach, William Shakespeare, Zora Neale Hurston, and Langston Hughes, among scores of others.
Linguistic skills: Students graduate at an intermediate level or higher in a second language, able to converse, read a newspaper, and watch a film in that language. About 70 percent of our students have completed a 3- to 5-month international exchange program by the time they graduate from high school.
Musical skills: Students play an instrument from 3rd-12th grades; perform in bi-annual concerts and at least annual recitals; and participate in Band, Orchestra, and/or Chorus.
Manual and practical skills: Students learn to camp, canoe and/or kayak, use many tools, measure accurately, serve those in need, identify plants and animals, build a fire, hike a mountain, garden, sew, knit, paint, draw, bind a book in leather, and make beautiful and useful objects out of wood, clay, and copper.
The graphics below illustrate the nine intelligences and the ways that Waldorf Education supports these disparate and necessary capacities and the skills that help them come to life.
Green Meadow Waldorf School is a private school near Bergen County, New Jersey. Just three miles from the New York/New Jersey border, we are easily accessible from the Bergen County towns of Woodcliff Lake, Montvale, Saddle River, Upper Saddle River, Ridgewood, Allendale, Park Ridge, Mahwah, Ramsey, Glen Rock, and many more.
From our new Forest Preschool to a very special new After-School Program for 2018-19 (open to the public!), to performances and plays and facility rentals, there is so much on our campus that you don't want to miss!
In this short blog series, we'll be helping prospective parents navigate the process of choosing an independent/private school. This week, we'll talk about some general characteristics of a good independent school, and in the coming weeks, we'll focus specifically on how to choose a preschool, lower school, middle school, and high school.
What are some general characteristics of a good independent school?
Look for a school that is accredited by a regional, national, or international body aligned with the school's philosophy. This guarantees that a school goes through a rigorous self-study and outside evaluations on a regular cycle, ensuring best practices and ongoing growth. Green Meadow is accredited by the Association of Waldorf Schools of North America (AWSNA), the NY State Association of Independent Schools (NYSAIS), and the Waldorf Early Childhood Association of North America (WECAN).
Is the school aligned with an particular educational philosophy? A guiding philosophy helps the school stay focused and true to its mission in a world where the educational landscape shifts constantly. Green Meadow is a Waldorf school, founded on a tried-and-true, developmentally appropriate, interdisciplinary philosophy developed in 1919 by Rudolf Steiner and constantly evolving to meet the needs of today's students. Read about Waldorf graduates here to see the outcomes of a Waldorf Education, and stay tuned: a new survey of Waldorf graduates from 1990-2017 was just completed and results will be published in the coming months.
Does the school have ample space for students in classrooms and outdoors? Is there good natural light, and beautiful spaces that inspire contemplation and learning? A gym and field for games, sports, creative play, and other movement? Practice rooms for private instrument lessons? An auditorium for concerts and plays? Lab facilities for science classes? A quiet, inviting, well-ordered library? Spaces for students to gather informally? Take a look at Green Meadow's facilities here. You can also see a gallery of classroom photos on each of these pages: preschool, lower school, and high school.
- History, traditions, and unique programs
How old is the school? How many teachers and staff have worked there for 10 years or more? Do students stay at the school from preschool through 12th grade? Are there traditions that build a sense of community life and belonging? At Green Meadow, the Rose Ceremony that opens and closes each year, curricular trips including the Third Grade Farm Trip, community events such as the Eighth Grade Talent Show, and unique opportunities including senior projects, senior internships, and our international exchange program are just a few aspects of campus life that excite and engage our students.
- Spirit of inquiry
Do you feel a buzz on campus, an excitement about learning? Are there campus lectures and other cultural events for students and parents? Is there a school newsletter or newspaper that showcases current events, discusses the school's philosophy, and alerts the community to what's happening on campus? Green Meadow has a full annual calendar of community education events, brings speakers to campus frequently for conversations with students, and publishes The Bulletin bimonthly and the Alumni Magazine twice a year, along with an annual yearbook and an annual student-produced literary magazine, The Burning Bush.
- Teacher qualifications and engagement
Are teachers at the school required to be certified beyond state teaching certification? What percentage of teachers are actively engaged in their field outside of school? Do the teachers lead clubs, coach sports, offer office hours for students, or engage in other after-school activities? How accessible are they to parents? At Green Meadow, several of our faculty have advanced degrees, all have received training and/or a degree in Waldorf Education, and they are actively engaged with students and parents through community activities like service learning, outside the school day.
Matt is currently at Queen's University in Ontario, Canada.
"All the best experiences I've had at school so far have been in my involvement outside of class. From competing in inner tube water polo to joining a club for impact investing, I've realized how important it is to take initiative and put yourself out there.
During my first week at Queen's, all the freshmen in my program (or frosh as they say up here) were interviewing for positions on the Queen's Commerce Society. I had never done a real interview before, however, decided I had nothing to lose, suited up, and took my shot. I ended up being offered a position on Queen's Social Investment Initiative which has undoubtedly been one of the highlights of my year. Being part of the club has exposed me to an industry I had no idea existed and aligns very closely with my personal values.
My transition to University was much smoother than I expected due to the vast differentiation of environments compared to Green Meadow. Tons of people go to Queen's knowing people beforehand and I was skeptical I would find a good group of friends. After being here for about an hour, however, all those worries vanished. Everyone is just here to get a good education and have 'the best 4 years of their life,' and I now find myself living on a floor with 30 people I can't imagine living without.
One thing Green Meadow helped me with greatly, which has benefitted me countless times already, is the school's emphasis on public speaking. Doing a 15-minute presentation in Rose Hall gave me confidence in my speaking abilities, which I have utilized competing in case competitions and presenting in front of my current class.
After leaving Green Meadow I felt more than ready to see what the world had in store for me and on what path my independence would lead me. Green Meadow prepared me incredibly well for the mental side of the transition, and I gained the skills necessary at Green Meadow to push through and teach myself in the areas where my background is lacking. All things considered, no high school has the ability to fully prepare students for the next chapter in their life, however, Green Meadow did exceptionally well preparing me for the mental transition."
Grayson is currently at Wesleyan University in Middletown, CT.
"I don’t mean this to sound facetious, but I can’t imagine anyone graduating high school anywhere and feeling particularly prepared for college or the 'real world.' I certainly felt that I had a fine variation in skills and a fine education with which I could do well in college. However, I was out of the nest for the first time in a big way. It felt like my first night on exchange when I tried to settle into my new bed in Argentina and tossed and turned for lack of sleep, trying to wrap my head around the crazy adventure I was in for, thinking that there was no turning back now. That is as close a parable as I can get to how I felt coming out of GMWS.
The world grew a lot in those first months and I felt smaller and less significant than ever before. That’s how the transition into college began. I was one face in a crowd of three thousand, and compared to some of the institutions which my GMWS classmates now attend, my university is tiny.
At first, it was a little overwhelming to just comprehend the moment and live in the experience without allowing myself to get washed away in a torrent of newness. But Wesleyan University is not a place where one is easily washed away. I met my best friend on the second day here. And I continued to meet the most extraordinary people during those first weeks.
I am sociable and enjoy a good time, so making friends, although of course stressful, was fascinating and fun. I understood early on that those first friendships aren’t and shouldn’t be binding. I let my true friendships blossom and grow without hard feelings toward those that withered at the onset of class and the continual learning of others’ interests and passions. I now have wonderful friends from across the country and from all around the globe. Like-minded people, yes, but friends who push me to be my better self constantly too.
School work had its bumps in terms of transitioning too. I had to use technology more than I ever had in my previous education, but that didn’t hinder me. My school, and especially my fields of study (government and environmental studies), are heavy on reading and writing, which GMWS prepared me for extensively.
I am reading a ridiculous amount, but I love it. And my ability to formulate articulate written arguments has advanced me in my academic standing without a doubt. I attribute these two skills to my education at GMWS.
The capacity for which I am most thankful for fostering at GMWS, however, is definitely the ability to speak publicly and to clearly express my thoughts, opinions, and feelings. I have come into contact in my life with very few people who could not clearly articulate themselves. I found it quite astonishing how rampant this problem is at my university, which is considered one of the foremost in the country. In fact, my capacity to speak in public or private circumstances has defined me most at this institution, for much of the out-of-class learning comes through conversation and rhetoric. I found so much success with speaking, I joined a debating society, the Wesleyan Political Union, a non-partisan group of student that convenes to debate contemporary political, philosophical, economic, and moral issues.
The quality I value most from my Waldorf education is my well-roundedness as a person. At GMWS, I was very academically minded; I took every science elective, did well on block tests and wrote fine papers, but I never pushed myself in the arts. I never pursued music with any seriousness. My Main Lesson books were always complete and beautiful, but I never prioritized them. When I arrived at Wesleyan, I found how untrue all my conceptualizations of myself as unartistic or as 'only academic' were. I am very well-rounded. And so I finally found the importance of liberal arts.
I am a liberal arts student, for I derive joy and fulfillment from studying just about anything. I push myself academically, but I am also active artistically, musically, and rhetorically. I finally comprehended how well-adjusted and balanced my Waldorf education made me. It brought that better self to the fore. Only after leaving GMWS did I fully understand just what went on there. I was a lab-rat freed, only to find out the lab-technicians in their experiments had not altered me in some sinister way, but instead, had set me free.I’ll close with this anecdote, this experience: as I write, about a week ago, on a wet day at the start of March, I sat atop Foss Hill and looked out on campus below me. The American flag whipped in the winds of an oncoming Nor’Easter, billowing out from its position at half-staff. I smelled the sea on the breeze and I pondered the date. Early March, I thought. Four years ago, on a Monday morning, I arrived at Green Meadow and entered the English classroom of the high school to find Mr. Wulsin standing in dead silence. On the board, a message told my 9th grade class to follow Mr. Wulsin in silence. We did. He led us on a rambling walk through the stretches of woods and fields, down into the hollows and across the streams of Chestnut Ridge. We reached the Red Barn and silently took seats scattered about the barn; I sat on a low rafter near the hayloft. Mr. Wulsin drew out a small, weathered paperback book, turned to the first page and read “Call me Ishmael...” He read the first chapter of Moby Dick to us. It was only in that moment atop Foss Hill that I realized what happened on that day. We were all Ishmael that day (the crew of the Pequod even) and we followed our captain blindly as they did in pursuit of that leviathan, that greater truth. I won’t spoil the end, but, happily, our ending was different from the book’s ending. We achieved what Ahab could not.
I began to reread Moby Dick that night a week ago, almost exactly four years to the day from when I first set forth on that same voyage. I want to tell you one thing about Waldorf very briefly: in the moment you might think, 'what on earth are we doing?' A lot of people do and and many of them never complete their Waldorf education. But, if you stick with it, it all becomes clear in the end. Just like Moby Dick and John Wulsin’s silent, wet March walk to the Red Barn."
Week 1 : What are capacities?
Over the next few weeks, we will be writing about one of the key differences between Waldorf Education and mainstream educational approaches: a focus on the development of capacities. The Waldorf curriculum and pedagogy (what we teach and how we teach) build capacities, first and foremost. We do this alongside skill-building, which we will also talk more about in upcoming blog posts.
What are capacities? How are they different from skills? One way to think about it is that capacities are related to character, while skills are tools. Capacities are part of who we are, how we approach the world; skills help us navigate specific tasks and solve specific problems.
In his book A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future, well-known author Daniel Pink talks about capacities. He outlines the "six fundamentally human abilities that are absolute essentials for professional success and personal fulfillment" (according to the book description): in his words, these six abilities are design, story, symphony, empathy, play, and meaning. These are capacities: everyone, in any industry or walk of life, benefits from having developed these characteristics (or approaches, or ways of thinking) and from applying them in any situation they encounter.
Whether there are six fundamentally human abilities or more is another question, but the important alignment between Waldorf Education and Pink's premise lies in the identification of broad capacities rather than specific skills at the core of success and happiness.
Pink says, "I think Waldorf schools are very much in synch with the notion of Conceptual Age and the ideas of A Whole New Mind. They foster internal motivation in students, as well as mastery and persistence. They teach the habits of the heart that children need to do well in life after school."
An example: if we have the capacities of curiosity and tenacity, we are likely to succeed in solving problems, since we will have developed a habit of approaching difficult situations or questions with interest and a willingness to learn their contours, and we will persevere as we develop whatever skills we need in order to arrive at a solution.
The cultivation of capacities takes many forms in Waldorf Education.
- Our students build intellectual capacities (academic approaches and habits of mind) by participating in a developmentally appropriate, interdisciplinary, rigorous curriculum that is nearly 100 years old, always evolving, and absolutely unique in the world.
- They build social and emotional capacities like patience, empathy, courage, and kindness by moving through their school life (and through their childhood and adolescence) in tightly knit class communities, forming strong bonds with the community of teachers and staff, and challenging themselves by taking advantage of curricular opportunities like performing a class play every year in the Lower School and going on an international exchange of three or more months in High School.
- They build physical capacities through experiences inside and outside the classroom that push them beyond their comfort zone: walks in the forest from the age of three, wilderness trips, games and sports, knitting and sewing, weekly instrument lessons and regular recitals starting in Fourth Grade, and the movement art of Eurythmy, unique to Waldorf schools.
- Finally, they build spiritual capacities like wonder, awe, and humility through a experiential education that prioritizes hands-on learning and a phenomenological approach, allowing students to come to their own conclusions through observation and identification with a subject.
In our upcoming posts, we'll look at the development of capacities in each section of the school: preschool (Nursery and Kindergarten), Lower School, and High School, and we'll talk more about the skills we help our students build, alongside the capacities described above.
You've probably heard about the Danish concept of hygge. You can read about it here and here (and, it seems, everywhere). We recently came across the hashtag #hyggeschooling and that made us think about how especially in Early Childhood, Waldorf embodies hygge.
The social atmosphere and the simplicity of the classroom, the aesthetic pleasure of the scents and sights and sounds, the tea and cozy slippers and wooly layers: Waldorf children get the best of hygge from the early years. (And then they go on to knit their own socks and go on camping trips...but that's for another post.)
This is not by accident. The founder of Waldorf Education, Rudolf Steiner, wrote and spoke about the importance of protecting and nourishing the developing child's senses. He articulated 12 senses and said, "Everything we have in us, even everything we experience in our soul, is related to the outer world through our twelve senses. These are the senses of touch, life, movement, balance, smell, taste, sight, warmth, hearing, speech, thinking, and the sense of the I." His work on this topic is outlined in The Care and Development of the Human Senses.
If you are curious to know more, join us on December 9 for Celebrate the Seasons with a Waldorf Teacher or come by any Monday for Tea & Play for 1pm. (Both events are open to families with children ages 2-6.) Register with our Early Childhood Admissions Coordinator at 845.356.2514 x326.
Join us on Saturday, December 9 from 10:30am-12pm for a special seasonal event. Spend time in our beautiful cozy classroom on a cold December morning, while children play and adults have time for conversation. We will make felted acorns and learn some verses about Little Jackie Frost and King Winter. We'll also share a bowl of warm oatmeal together. Slow down, connect with new friends, and allow your little ones some time for an unhurried, magical morning.
Please register with Barbara Mann at 845.356.2514 x326 or email@example.com.