Play is essential for young children

This article from last year in The Atlantic sheds light on one of the many reasons that play is essential for young children. The author, pediatric occupational therapist Angela Hanscom, notes:

"Like many other American parents, I had an obsession: academic success for my child. Only, I was going about it completely wrong. Yes, my daughter would later go on to test above average with her academic skills, but she was missing important life skills. Skills that should have been in place and nurtured during the preschool years. My wake-up call was when the preschool teacher came up to me and said, “Your daughter is doing well academically. In fact, I’d say she exceeds expectations in these areas. But she is having trouble with basic social skills like sharing and taking turns.” Not only that, but my daughter was also having trouble controlling her emotions, developed anxiety and sensory issues, and had trouble simply playing by herself!

Little did I know at the time, but my daughter was far from being the only one struggling with social and sensory issues at such a young age. This was becoming a growing epidemic. A few years ago, I interviewed a highly respected director of a progressive preschool. She had been teaching preschoolers for about 40 years and had seen major changes in the social and physical development of children in the past few generations."

At the heart of Green Meadow's Early Childhood program is our understanding that self-initiated play is critical to healthy development. As soon as children learn something new, they start to play with their new capacities, practicing and testing their skills until they tackle more and more difficult tasks. Therefore, ample time for creative play is part of each morning.  

Open-ended toys made from natural materials, like silk scarves, knitted wool puppets, wooden blocks, and acorns collected from nature walks, nourish the child’s developing senses. With these natural items, children may flex their creative muscles and imaginative capacities, and further develop their emerging fine motor skills.  In addition, involving moveable structures that they can explore in environments that invite movement helps to develop gross motor coordination. We believe that creative play is the child’s most important developmental tool, whether to discover new skills, work with experiences, or express emotions.

Our children benefit from a rich variety of outdoor play spaces.  In addition to our beautiful playground, they experience the natural wonders of the forest, field, farm, garden, pond, and woodland stream, all within walking distance of our classrooms.

Rain or shine, ample opportunities exist for developing strong, healthy bodies.  Depending on the time of year, children sled down snowy hills, climb rocks in the Rocky Dell, and balance on fallen trees in the Fairy Woods. Munching on autumn apples in the orchard or tasting a maple tree’s sweet water in late winter can foster a lifelong respect for the earth and a deep appreciation for nature’s bounty.

Read the rest of The Atlantic article.

Come to Morning in the Nursery/Kindergarten on March 4.

 

Reserve your seat today for Screenagers on March 7

In collaboration with our friends at The Nature Place Day Camp, we are hosting a free screening of the important film Screenagers on Tuesday, March 7 at 7:30pm in Rose Hall. Tickets are free, but please reserve your seat now. We expect a full house! The screening is open to the public, and students in Grades 6-12 are welcome. (We ask that students in Grades 6-8 attend with an adult.)

Watch our school videos!

Have you seen our four school videos yet? We produced them in Spring and Summer 2016: a general short film on Waldorf Education, and one video for each section of our school: Early Childhood, Lower School, and High School. Take a look, and deepen your understanding of why and how we do what we do at Green Meadow.

Science in the Waldorf School: Developing an Ecological Consciousness

By Harlan Gilbert, High School Math and Science Teacher

In the Kindergarten, children are active in wind, water, and soil conditions in every weather. These rich, holistic, practical experiences are not only joyous parts of childhood. They also give an unparalleled basis for comprehending the world in myriad ways. Upon this solid foundation of investigation into the natural world, scientific understanding can later build. At this age, the first ecological consciousness of the immediate environment forms through the children’s daily experiences of adults cultivating the natural world in healthy ways. One of the teachers’ primary goals is to model responsible citizenship in the natural world. Thus the importance given to garden work, tending the land by planting, watering and weeding in springtime, harvesting in summer, raking in autumn, shoveling snow in winter, and many more activities.

The curriculum of the first elementary school grades wisely includes extensive time for lessons on environmental awareness. In these years, students learn to “read the book of nature,” coming to recognize the wondrous range of animals and plants that live and land formations that form their surroundings. Imaginative descriptions form the basis of nature education at this age. For example, some years ago a First Grade teacher at Green Meadow named the low-lying area near the Arts Building the “Rocky Dell,” turning the area into an imaginative homeland for a generation of students, whose creative play has blossomed in this complex landscape.

Science lessons in these early grades center around stories of nature, bringing alive the wild and cultivated plants, the domesticated and wild animals, the streams and hills, the winds, and the stars, sun, and moon as intimately experienced aspects of our lives, just as the traditional stories of native peoples did for their children. After hearing a story about the mighty oak and the lithe willow, for example, students visit these in their natural setting. Ideally, the names and character of the elements of the natural world become a natural vocabulary for young children, so that by the time they are around nine years of age they should be able to recognize and name many of the local plants and animals, land formations, constellations of stars, etc., as naturally as they recognize and name each other.

In the following grades, the Waldorf curriculum leads students systematically further in their scientific understanding. This begins in Third Grade with an exploration of the ways humanity can take responsibility and care for the natural world of soil, plants, and animals. The Farming block in this year guides children to comprehend the farmer’s role as sustainer of the health of the Earth, balancing the interrelated needs of soil, crops, and livestock. They come to understand that healthy soil is the basis for healthy crops, that healthy crops are the basis for healthy livestock, and that healthy livestock and crops provide the manure and compost needed for healthy soil. The cycle is complete.

The Third Grade also includes a study of Building. Building depends upon understanding how the natural environment can be used to create stable structures, Understanding how different peoples developed unique architectural styles based upon the available materials illumines the natural environment from a new perspective. Building structures using at least one of these styles allows students to comprehend on a kinetic, tactile level the nature of materials and the principles of structure. As architecture advanced, building also came to depend upon the cooperation of a variety of people, each with special skills (masons, carpenters, glaziers, roofers, plumbers, electricians, etc.). Imagine if we each had to excavate, build a foundation, put up walls and a roof, insulate, glaze, plumb, and wire our houses! What would most houses look like if each was wholly built by its owner?! Thus building offers insight into the importance of the ecology of human interaction.

In Fourth Grade, students study animals. They quickly discover how each animal has a specialized form and particular way of life suitable for its particular environment. Comparing this to how human beings live—and recalling the many building styles they explored in Third Grade—they can discover that, while animals’ relationship to their surroundings is fixed, human beings can live in harmony with any environment. This flexibility is possible because we can both adapt our way of life and transform the environment. We rely on wisdom, where animals depend upon instinct.

In Fifth Grade, Waldorf students study plants. This usually begins with a broad survey of the simplest organisms—mushrooms, algae, and mosses—and proceeds through increasing complexity to arrive at the flowering plants. Each plant is suited to a particular soil and climate, so it is natural to study the climatic zones, and to see how these are affected by both latitude and elevation.

The study of plants offers a glimpse of the principles of sexual reproduction. This has wondrous consequences: the “offspring” of simpler plants, which use asexual reproduction, are exactly like their parents; however, through sexual reproduction, each organism is absolutely unique. This applies to them, too: each human child, too, is absolutely unique.

In Sixth Grade, the stones come into focus. These offer a fascinating plethora of form, texture, and color, all arising through three basic processes: intense heat (igneous rock), intense pressure (sedimentary rock), and a combination of both heat and pressure (metamorphic rock). Crystal formations are highly geometric, allowing connections to the study of geometry undertaken in this year. 

Also in Sixth Grade, students systematically explore the senses that inform us about the world around us. They explore optical, tactile, thermal, and acoustic experiences, and seek to comprehend the laws that underlie these. What conditions give rise to a rainbow? (Try a prism to find out!) When is sound transmitted along a material? (Does it matter if this material is wood or string?) Is our experience of warmth and cold absolute or relative? (Compare your experience of a 50-degree day in November with that of the same temperature in June!)

Many Sixth Graders are beginning to experiment systematically on their own, building model airplanes, creating stop-frame animations using materials such as clay or Lego, or trying out chemical experiments such as a vinegar and baking soda rocket. Green Meadow has recently started a Science Club, open to Sixth Grade and up, which extends the range of experimentation available to middle school students.

This new interest in experimental method is met strongly in Seventh and Eighth Grades through practical studies in mechanics (Can you lift a dumpster? Pull yourself up into the air?), chemistry (slaking lime, analyzing the elements of a burning candle), and electricity and magnetism (building a telegraph and motor). They study human anatomy, examining a real skeleton and drawing the organs of the body, and physiology, exploring how the human body operates and how diet, sleep, and lifestyle choices affect their health.

I hope that the above has whetted your appetites! To explore the rich scientific and technological curriculum of the high school would go beyond the limits of this essay, but perhaps another day… 

 

Astonishingly, pyrites naturally crystallize into the shapes of all five Platonic solids. The cube (below) and octahedron (above) are shown.

Astonishingly, pyrites naturally crystallize into the shapes of all five Platonic solids. The cube (below) and octahedron (above) are shown.

An Interview with Anna Silber

We are looking forward to The Essentials of Waldorf Education with Anna Silber on Tuesday, December 6 at 7:30pm in the Arts Building Music Room. Anna is a GMWS parent, a former Class Teacher at Green Meadow, and now serves as Director of Education at Sunbridge Institute. We caught up with her this week and asked her to share a few things with us prior to the talk.

In a few sentences, what makes Waldorf Education unique?

There are many things Waldorf is known for that are viewed broadly as excellent educational practices, but are not necessarily what make it unique, like teacher looping, experiential learning, and artistic expression, to name a few. To discover why it is unique, though, we need to strip away what we take for granted as the "tangibles" of Waldorf Education and look at the "intangibles:" the view of child development out of anthroposophy, for one. We also need to shift the conversation from what we teach to why, how, and when we teach it.

How did you decide to become a Waldorf teacher?

I was enjoying a career as an analyst in an investment firm in Manhattan and had been studying anthroposophy as a spiritual path for several years. Out of personal interest, I took a tour through the Rudolf Steiner School on the Upper East Side and was deeply moved; I simply knew it was something with which I had to be involved. As cliche as it may sound, it had to do with a wish to contribute in a potent way to changing the world, and I had never seen anything so potent as the work being done in a Waldorf school! 

I quit my job two months later and enrolled as a teacher training student at Sunbridge, then took a class teaching position at Green Meadow, bringing my class from fourth through eighth grade. After that I became a mother, and I'm now a GMWS parent.

As a trained Class Teacher, how do you answer a parent who wonders about teacher looping? How do teachers manage the challenges and personality conflicts that may arise between teacher and student when accompanying a class for 4-8 years? 

The short answer is that we believe a team of teachers accompanying a group of students for a number of years offers many important benefits to a class community and to individual students. The challenges of human relationships are inevitable in life, and certainly school life is no exception. A commitment to looping is successful when it is coupled with an equal commitment to the hard work of tending to relationships with students, parents, and colleagues.

One of our main concerns in educating Waldorf teachers is equipping them with tools to navigate these very human challenges out of love, not power, not fear. We need to approach our students a bit like parents think of their own children in this particular sense: parents don't ask whether they like their children or not; they love them. Teachers in a looping situation can embody the same disposition; our job is to educate through love. That in itself is a whole separate topic which I will take up more fully in the upcoming talk. 


As Director of Education at Sunbridge Institute, what do you feel are the most important things a Waldorf teacher needs to learn in preparation for taking a class?

Part of the preparation is what teachers need to learn, and the other part is who they are or are becoming. I'll take as a given the obvious list of grade level skills and competencies that are required, and go right to the ideas about child development out of anthroposophy. It is the ongoing interest in and digestion of this paradigm that will guide and illuminate a teacher's work with her or his students.

In our teacher education program, we spend a lot of time exploring this theme, along with curriculum work, the arts, and anthroposophical studies. There is of course a long list of human qualities that makes for good teachers, as well as good human beings, like humor, imagination, flexibility, and interest in the world. However, these are qualities you can't teach someone; they are developed, and freely developed at that, if they are to be authentic. As Steiner said to the early Waldorf teachers, it's not just what you know, it's who you are that matters.

Talking to Young People about the Election

The election has been on all our minds for months. We know that many of you are trying to decide how and what to communicate to your children right now.

We would like to offer a few humble words of guidance. We suggest that you provide security for your children, whatever their ages, by reminding them that the world is good. Remind them that, among the capacities their Waldorf Education is working to build in them, there are some we need urgently today and in the future: clear and balanced thinking, kindness and compassion, courage to speak the truth, willingness to listen, and practical skills to work together to make positive change in the world for all people. Remind them that they will be the leaders of tomorrow, and that they are needed in the world. Remind them, as we remind ourselves, to put themselves in another's shoes before judging anyone.

Today at school, we spent the day holding the students and moving forward in positive ways. Lower School teachers reminded the children that the world is a good place. Some students shared experiences about waking up this morning. Despite their different experiences, they found the universal thread was that we all woke up to greet a new day, which will continue to happen every day. One teacher told students that in every moment and in all our actions, we vote. When we continue to act in ways that are good, kind, true, and beautiful, then we are showing ourselves and others what is most important.

At the weekly Wednesday morning High School meeting, we focused on the strong bonds and love in the room. A junior brought Steiner’s Michaelic verse (copied below), which was very powerful. One of our seniors gave an eloquent talk focused on moving forward with empathy and hope. In classes, teachers help students process their feelings through course material. In the Birth of American Literature main lesson, for example, seniors reviewed what the revolutionary voices of the Transcendentalists told their nation in the mid-1800s. Then they meditated on and shared what revolutionary messages people in the United States need to hear today. 

All teachers and advisors are available if you have more questions about how to speak to your children. 

Wherever we fall on the political spectrum, we are a community, united in our wish for a better world for our children, for all children. May we learn from each other every day.

Michaelic Verse

We must eradicate from the soul
all fear and terror
of what comes towards us from the future;

We must look forward
with absolute equanimity to whatever comes, 
and we must think only
that whatever comes is given us
by a world direction full of wisdom.

It is part of what we must learn during this age, 
namely to act out of pure trust
in the ever present help of the spiritual world; 
Truly nothing else will do if our courage is not to fail us.

Therefore let us discipline our will, 
and let us seek the awakening from within ourselves, 
every morning and every evening.

                          Rudolf Steiner

 

GMWS Teacher Presents in Argentina on Waldorf Education

GMWS Eighth Grade Teacher Elizabeth Hall returned on September 4 from a short trip to Argentina, where she traveled (at the invitation of the country's Ministry of Education) to present about Waldorf Education to educators from across Argentina. Stay tuned: we will be featuring an article by Elizabeth about her trip in the November/December issue of The Bulletin

Here are a few photos from Elizabeth's trip:

Evita Peron's grave

Evita Peron's grave

Teatro Colon

Teatro Colon

Buenos Aires Cityscape

Buenos Aires Cityscape


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's mission, and it's exciting to see alignment between mainstream thinking and the wisdom of Waldorf.

Different language, similar ideas
At GMWS, we understand that Waldorf Education prepares students not for the world of today but for the world they will enter when they graduate, the world of tomorrow (Lichtman's "teaching into the unknown").

In our materials, we have used the phrase "lifelong learners" (akin to Lichtman's "self-evolving learners").

And we are committed, through faculty training and regular self-reflection and accreditation processes, to being an evolving organization that changes to meet the needs of the students in our care.


Why Young Kids Learn Through Movement

Read up on this terrific article from The Atlantic discussing children and learning through movementOne of our favorite quotes: "Research has shown time and again that children need opportunities to move in class. Memory and movement are linked, and the body is a tool of learning, not a roadblock to or a detour away from it."