Enjoy our annual December slideshow. We wish everyone a wonderful break.
Our new curriculum map shows what students learn when. A clear picture organized by subject, this allows parents and prospective parents to see how our developmentally appropriate education unfolds, from grades 1-12.
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!
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.
Our Summer blog series continues through early September, as we share some of our favorite articles published this past year in The Bulletin. Enjoy!
Student Spotlight: A Brief Story of My Summer Internship
By Sam Wheeler, current Twelfth Grader
During the summer of 2016, between Tenth and Eleventh grades, I returned to my home city, Beijing, to attend an engineering internship. The internship took place at Tsinghua University, where my grandfather is a professor emeritus; he specialized in artificial intelligence and taught there for 40 years before he retired. I was lucky to have the opportunity to join the post-graduate robotics department for a whole month where my grandfather’s students, the robotics professors, were teaching.
First, I would like to give a background of Tsinghua University itself: Tsinghua University was established in 1911 using funds donated by the US and is a comprehensive research university with 20 schools and 54 departments covering disciplines in art, economics, education, engineering, history, management, medicine, law, literature, philosophy, and sciences. Its strong research and training offerings consistently place Tsinghua University as one of the top academic institutions in China, alongside Peking University. Of course, this leads to the belief in many Chinese people's minds that these two universities are the only two worth graduating from in China, in the same way that they consider Harvard and Yale to be the “only” two schools in the US.
Situated in northwestern Beijing, Tsinghua University’s campus has been named one of the most beautiful in the world. The campus, which was established on the site of a former royal garden, contains beautiful buildings that are over a century old, with Stalin-esque monstrosities modeled after Soviet era architecture, and beautiful modern buildings designed by incredible architects. It is safe to say that Tsinghua University is an incredibly unique university.
For my internship, my first task was to write an essay on the future of robotics, particularly the domestication of robots. I was asked to consider the current technology in the field and its availability, as well as the practicality of domestic robots and its possible impact on society in general. After a week of intensive research on the matter, I presented my report to the professor in charge, and he took it in for review. I was given two more tasks for the remainder of my internship, which were to assist the post-graduates with any experiments they needed help with, and to teach myself during the time in between.
Over the next few weeks, I would help with the experiments of the two main focuses in the department. One of the focuses was an autonomous bike designed for delivery through busy situations, like the streets of a big city. Not only that, the bike needed the durability to travel moderate distances with a heavy payload. I was told that a completely autonomous real time detection system needed incredibly complex code, and it required a great deal of adjustments. I assisted with these adjustments, and learned the improvisational capacity of post-graduates were almost limitless. Instead of properly setting up obstacles, they would place a bag of soccer balls, or even just run around the bike themselves to test the code.
When my professor returned my report, he said that it was a very useful insight on the future of robotics and that he would possibly use it in an investment pitch to potential donors for the robotics department.
During my time there, I discovered that as a post-graduate, it is entirely up to them to build their projects and to create a reasonable schedule. Of course, the professor will be there intermittently to be a guide, but the bulk of responsibility lies on the post-graduate to create the project, mark the deadlines, and to create a schedule so that the result is high quality. This extends to daily schedules as well; if confident in their own abilities, they can change their working hours to suit them, and in doing so gain the ability to self-manage more appropriately.
This Summer, we are sharing some of our favorite articles published this past year in The Bulletin. Enjoy!
Women's March on Washington – Two Perspectives
Emily Lauer, Twelfth Grade Student
Sunday, January 21st will go down in history as an extraordinary day. On this day millions of women and men came together not just across our country, but across the planet to stand together, united, to show their support for each other and to rally against the mistreatment of women, in general and by the new administration in particular.
With the help of Bonnie Johnson and Vicki Larson, the Student Activism Committee organized a bus that brought 52 energized, powerful, and spirited souls to Washington for the march. On our way to D.C., we made signs, sang songs, and told stories. There was a buzz of excitement and a commitment to be heard. After fighting our way (peacefully) through the mad metro crowds we were greeted with roaring waves of sound from the thousands of March participants; the energy was palpable. It was wonderful having so many Green Meadow representatives walking side by side sharing in the smiles and tears of the masses.
Experiencing our ability to express ourselves in a peaceful but strong way highlighted one of the key foundations of our democracy and brought to life how truly fortunate we are.
Miana Johnson, Eleventh Grade Student
On January 21, I joined a group of students and community members and attended the Women's March on Washington, one of the many marches around the country and the world that took place that day. This was my first protest and I don't think I could have asked for a better, more peaceful one. After five hours on a bus we arrived and took a long very crowded metro ride, walked a few blocks, and then joined the march. As far we could see in front of us were people, there was a vast sea of pink hats and signs and all 50 of us eagerly joined in with our own signs and even our own chants. That day I felt I was a part of a community; I was marching in solidarity with thousands of protesters in D.C., and I felt I was part of something really cool and special. It was very inspiring to see such a large group of diverse and empowered people. Thousands upon thousands peacefully came together to spread love and support and stand up for what they believed in. It wasn't just about women, it was about anything and everything that people felt was unjust. Although many aspects of the day were unpleasant: the long bus ride, the ride in the packed metro, my sore feet, just being able to be a part of something like this was an experience I would not trade for anything. I felt like I was a part of something really inspiring, something so much more powerful than myself, and it gave me just a little bit of hope.
This Summer, we are sharing some of our favorite articles published this past year in The Bulletin. Enjoy!
11th Grade Parzival Trip
by Angela Nusbaum, High School English Teacher
On a cold, rainy, Sunday night, our trusty Green Meadow buses fought their way through the harsh January rains. It was dark on our arrival at the Camphill Special School’s Beaver Run campus. The 11th grade unloaded the buses valiantly, perhaps inspired by the knightly fearlessness and constancy of the heroes in Parzival, Wolfram von Eschenbach’s rich tale of a Grail quest. Already halfway through the book, the students were deep into an experience which begged the question—among many questions—“How can I come to know the one standing in front of me?” With few expectations, the students were eager both to meet the children with special needs living at Beaver Run, and, through this intensive week, to meet each other newly. The weather echoed and enforced the class’s transition through the week. While the torrential rains made it hard to see past one’s own nose to begin with, by Thursday the sun lit up the rolling Pennsylvania distances, and gilded the fields and houses in which we had witnessed so much joy and steady love. The houses seemed woven together not just by their shared schedules, but by their shared goals and the wakeful practice of recognizing the highest humanity in each member of the community. Our concentrated morning conversations in the carpeted library or the vaulted, gloriously lit “Rainbow Hall” informed and were informed by the long, joyful exhale of activities the rest of the day. The trip was filled with quiet moments, outdoor work, conversations ready to happen, and a sounding chord of being open and awake to others. As students took up their own breaking through boundaries, the words of Karl Konig, founder of the Camphill movement felt true:
“There is a knighthood of the twenty-first century, whose riders do not ride through the darkness of physical forests, as of old, but through the forest of darkened minds.”
The following are words from the journals students kept during the course, writing on impressions of the people, the book and their experience.
“ Her constant stream of jokes ever fail to make me laugh, and if life were to weigh me down, she would be the one to lighten my load. Going on 20, She bears the resilience and positivity of a child..”
“I was upset to leave because I enjoyed talking to him, but we both knew that we would see each other for lunch, as he asked me, ‘Corey, you need to leave? Aw. Will you come back?’ To which I replied, “Of course! I’ll be back for lunch!” He was ecstatic, as was I.”
“The trip was incredible in many ways, but but most of all, it taught me how compassionate and caring my classmates can be…”
“I have never seen an institution similar to this, and have already gained a massive admiration for it. Witnessing the intensive care and interaction that the aids and house parents give to the children shows the dedication of the school. The happiness of the children reflects the environment that they live in.”
“Like Gawan, the creator of Camphill and all the caretakers and teachers dedicated their lives to asking questions. ‘What is hurting you? How can I help?’ Gawan, the asker of questions, would sacrifice his life for the sake of others.”
“I hope that this coming summer I will have the opportunity to return to Beaver Run and volunteer for a few weeks. In this way I hope to create stronger relationships with the incredible children, and perhaps have a greater appreciation for the abilities that I have been blessed with.”
“Answers are an odd thing. We yearn for them, are impatient for them…sorrow for them. It seems, though, that once we have our answers, we only have more questions.”
“Parzival learns from trial and error, sometimes, which we are strongly able to experience when entering into someone else’s house. Just as when Parzival intrudes on Jeschute, we might rudely interrupt or cross over boundaries into someone else’s space, because we do not know better.”
“We experienced and witnessed many moments that connect to the book: the ability and inability to be observant and aware (as seen in Gawan and Parzival); the innocence, honest and purity in each child; the sensitivity, love, and above all, the bravery these children hold.”
This Summer, we are sharing some of our favorite articles published this past year in The Bulletin. Enjoy!
By Defne Caldwell, High School English Teacher
You may or may not have read a little book with a compelling title, Why Read Moby Dick?, by Nathaniel Philbrick. In it, Philbrick explores elements that are significant to Herman Melville’s novel, such as the disastrous tale of The Essex, a ship sunk by a sperm whale in 1820 which inspired some aspects of Melville’s tale (and Ron Howard’s recent film). Philbrick’s book also includes several essays on themes, characters and scenes within the novel, and a wonderful chapter on chowder. Margaret Atwood wrote a column in the “New York Times” (4/28/12) about what she would tell Martians wishing to understand America. Among other things, she tells them to read Moby Dick. Their response, “Holy crap! Does this mean what we think it means?” They understand the novel as a metaphor for North America’s 21st century role in the oil industry. In March, I will be teaching Moby Dick to the ninth graders in “The Novel” main lesson, so I too am thinking about why we read Moby Dick, and what the ninth grader has to gain by it.
In some ways the novel, a form of literature that followed epic, lyric, and dramatic literature by around 2,500 years, is a more contemporary art form. In the adolescent’s appreciation for what is real, what is present and now, this form of literature meets them where they are. Moby Dick has within it passages that are decidedly epic, lyric and dramatic, and in this way it encompasses all literature that has come before, but is revolutionary and new in the way that it takes them up. This is also the experience of the adolescent who is picking, choosing and recombining what she inherited, to make herself her own. The theme of independence runs through Melville’s novel, which speaks strongly to the 14 or 15-year-old who is close enough to home and school to notice the sharp contrast of moments of independence. And the young person’s desire to travel far from home is matched by Ishmael’s need to escape the weighty experience of land and go to sea. The novel also meets the adolescent’s experience of strong, dizzying waves of sympathy and antipathy. Moby Dick too is rich in polarities, Ahab’s selfishness and pride vs. Pip’s selflessness and shame, Ahab’s passionate monomania vs. Ishmael’s thoughtful open-mindedness, lulls vs. storms, descriptive passages vs. dramatic passages, the list goes on and on. In considering polarities, the adolescent’s thinking and feeling has freedom to move and to come into balance.
Melville’s novel is rich in symbols uniquely meaningful to young readers. The gold doubloon, promised to whoever spots Moby Dick, is regarded by many characters on the ship. Each view of the coin is in a way true, yet the truth lies somewhere in the combination of all points of view. This meets 14-year-olds who have an increasing appreciation for varied points of view, yet an increased interest in truth. Ishmael studies a loom on the ship used for weaving mats. Always on the lookout for meaning, Ishmael muses that fixed parts of the loom represent necessity and fate, while the moving shuttle must be free will, and Queequeg’s sword which pushes down on the weave to tighten it, chance. This is a rich subject for young people to consider as they begin to develop true freedom. Perhaps the most interesting and most elusive symbol is the white whale: A body of colorless void? An uncontrollable urge? Melville mentions that within the ocean is “the ungraspable phantom of life.” Is that it? What is it?! If you remember, becoming aware of the existence of forces one can’t understand or control is the mark of adolescence, it is what filled us with feeling and got us thinking.
When I taught the course in past years, the students’ conversations were a journey into an uncharted sea. Their writing was a kind of charting of a path of thought and feeling. Their essays were marked by strong, objective observations, clear thinking, emotional commitment, and beautiful language. To ground their thoughts and feelings, students learn how to tie knots, memorize parts of the whaling ship, chart the path of the Peaquod and work on an independent project of their own. They also spend two days at Mystic Seaport where they have an opportunity to climb rigging, row whale boats, throw harpoons, and speak to the world famous Melville scholar Mary K. Bercaw Edwards.
Lastly, Moby Dick is indeed a sophisticated read. Herman Melville’s language is elevating, and the students read it, speak it, learn it by heart, choose passages that they love, and begin to ingest it and make it all their own. Last time I taught the main lesson, we closed with a final conversation reflecting on the course where one student remarked that his own creative writing had improved during the main lesson. A girl called from across the circle, “It’s the language; it’s because of the language [of Moby Dick].”
I don’t think the ninth graders would be surprised by Philbrick’s book. Once they study Melville’s epic novel, they will have touched upon Philbrick’s ideas themselves. I did find one detail in his book that I treasure and will hold in my mind as I savor this course with the ninth graders. According to Philbrick, after Melville died his family found a piece of paper taped inside his writing desk inscribed with the words by Friedrich Schiller: “Keep true to the dreams of thy youth.”
We wrote last week that every child goes through three developmental phases: birth to 7, 7 to 14, and 14 to 21. In this third post in our Summer blog series, we want to talk about the way that Waldorf Education offers a developmentally appropriate curriculum. Here are some of the ways that we engage students at each stage:
Birth to 7
In the period known as Early Childhood, children learn best through play, exploration, and imitation. Our approach to education meets students with a balance of activities that challenge their emerging skills and capacities. In warm, home-like classrooms and nature’s bountiful wooded play spaces, children at Green Meadow are welcomed into learning environments that nourish their senses. Our instructors invite their innate desire for self-initiated exploration and movement, and inspire their budding imaginations. These are the seeds for a lifelong love of learning, and they provide the foundation that every young child needs for self-confidence, resilience, and future academic excellence.
7 to 14
Green Meadow’s integrated Lower School curriculum is designed to engage the vivid imaginative nature of the child from ages 7-11, weaving together storytelling, creativity, and engagement in every academic and specialty subject. By helping children connect their experiences with their education, we help deepen their understanding of the subject matter while planting seeds for future creative and analytic thinking.
The curriculum broadens in Middle School, where students are engaged in a new way, appropriate for this developmental stage filled with rapid growth and transformation. Designed to engage the tumultuous, questioning inner life of the young person aged 12-14, our middle-school curriculum helps students connect their experiences with their education and begin to develop analytic thinking.
14 to 21
Green Meadow’s High School is a place that inspires a true engagement in learning: where rigorous academics are brought to life through exploration, inquiry, and experience in order to promote critical, independent thinking. Our academic curriculum is inspired by opportunities in the arts, music, drama, movement, and real-word experiences. Students become part of a cohort of dynamic peers, supported by an engaged and accessible faculty, to create a strong community that values integrity, honesty, and empathy for and understanding of others. As a result, Waldorf graduates can look at the world from multiple perspectives and chart their own path in life with confidence.
This Summer, we want to share some of the foundations of Waldorf Education with you.
First up: intrinsic motivation, which means doing something out of oneself, out of our own initiative, rather than out of fear, duty, obligation, shame, peer pressure, parent pressure, or another external motivator.
Self-discipline, autonomy, independence
One of the ways that Waldorf Education develops intrinsic motivation is by strengthening the will and offering increasing autonomy and independence. Many activities that the students participate in (making main lesson books, washing dishes in Kindergarten, taking out compost in the grades, cleaning up after themselves in the classroom, being faithful to daily instrument practice, creating Handwork projects) are undertaken in part to develop the will, so that when a child wants to accomplish something, s/he has the strength of will or the discipline to do it. This autonomy culminates in high school, when many students go on an international exchange for 3-5 months in 10th or 11th grade, and when seniors take on a 3-week internship and a year-long senior project.
Waldorf Education also helps students find intrinsic motivation for schoolwork by allowing them to develop a relationship to their learning: we offer a developmentally appropriate, alive, relevant curriculum that excites and engages them, which fuels their desire to learn and do. Teacher looping also helps students develop a relationship with their teacher, and the social inclusion work that we do, along with class trips and class plays, builds deep relationships between students.
Competence and mastery
At Green Meadow, we offer students work that is worthy of them. No rote memorization, no standardized testing, no teaching to the test. Instead, we use story and experiential learning to help students develop visible, tangible mastery and competence in each subject, which deepens their feeling of ownership of their learning and compels them to want to do better.
Here is a terrific article from The Graduate School of Education at Harvard University about fostering intrinsic motivation in children.
In this series, we have been introducing you every week to a teacher, parent, or student who shares something about why they love Green Meadow and Waldorf Education. Today we hear from Maureen Allen, the mom of Alex, a twelfth grader who has been at Green Meadow since Kindergarten.
Click on the title of this post to see a photo of Maureen and Alex.
You can read this as one-part love letter, one-part thank you note, from the mom of a senior about to graduate from Green Meadow. My son began his tenure here in Kindergarten, pulling up carrots, churning butter, and stealthily removing eggs from beneath the hens, while stalking the escapees and gently tossing them back into the coop. The soundtrack to my reminiscing is always the song Africa by Toto; they sang it in 8th grade choir and it’s embedded in my heart, like so many rich memories. I still tear up thinking of these moments: Advent Circle, did my rambunctious son really navigate that alone and perfectly? Watching him receive his rose in 1st grade and knowing he was being welcomed, for real. A puppet show, so quiet you could hear a pin drop, 5-year-olds in awe of such a seemingly simple performance but with recognition for the gift it truly was.
The years seem like a blur but luckily I have many souvenirs to bookmark them: framed watercolors line our walls, knitted treasures line the bookshelves. So many excursions: the 3rd grade farm trip where Alex and I learned we could be apart for the first time, a week in the wilderness following the beat of a drum, a whirlwind tour of Boston’s historic sites, community service in Washington, DC. Each experience filled the class with hope in the greater good, a desire to give back, confidence in their abilities.
The high school years have included independent student exchanges to other countries+, graceful solo Eurythmy performances, and senior projects taken up with poise, determination, and drive. These are all evidence that the roots developed in the Lower School are manifest in the abilities achieved in the High School.
Having a senior on the verge of graduation is bittersweet: a lifetime of memories, a child ready for the next step. Each new experience along the way seemed to meet Alex exactly where he was. Just like Waldorf claims to do. Someone once told me that my job as a parent was to love Alex unconditionally, so that his core would develop unhindered and he would be able to do his job, which is to find his path. I did my part but I cheated a bit. I sent him to Green Meadow, to ensure he is fully equipped to find his way.
It’s with much gratitude that I look back on these many years, knowing everyone contributed in meaningful ways, to guarantee all of our children are ready to take on the next chapter of their amazing lives.
In this series, we have been introducing you every week to a teacher, parent, or student who shares something about why they love Green Meadow and Waldorf Education. Today we hear from Maskit Ronen, Life Sciences teacher in the High School, and mom to four children in the school.
The science curriculum in the High School is designed to meet the needs and interests of the students, which change and expand every year. I love that all the students learn the basic concepts of different sciences, regardless of the path they are going to take in life. Since I teach some of the life sciences and earth sciences curriculum in each grade, I can introduce a topic in 9th Grade, give the students some knowledge about it, and then revisit the same ideas and expand on them the following years. This spiraling back and deepening methodology helps the students integrate new ideas with previous ones, which increases their ability to then apply their accumulated knowledge to real-life situations.
I am lucky to be able to observe and address the students’ thirst for facts in the 9th Grade, followed by their need to better understand processes in 10th Grade, then by their interest in causality and hidden forces behind these processes in their junior year. When I meet the seniors in the Fall of their last year in high school, their interest in who they are becoming and how they fit into the world around them is palpable. The curriculum meets these needs with a wider look at the Animal Kingdom, and explorations of ideas such as natural selection, philosophy, architecture, and modern history. As with any group of young adults, there are struggles along the way, but the enthusiasm our students have towards the future keeps me hopeful and motivated and makes it all worth the effort.
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…