Students in Waldorf schools will ideally have the same main lesson teacher for first through eighth grade. The one teacher approach to elementary, intermediate and middle school helps children learn by respecting and modeling authority figures. Keeping the class teacher (by no means the child’s only teacher) as a steady authority in a child’s life is beneficial to social and intellectual learning.
Class teachers also have time to learn children’s gifts and challenges and are able to serve as the child’s true learning advocate by consulting with subject teachers and parents about learning styles and techniques that suit individual children and/or work well for the class as a whole.
Here is Spring Garden Waldorf Parent, Tyra Scott’s, experience with our one teacher approach.
On November 19th, Spring Garden’s current Grade Six teacher, Michael Gannon, hosted a lecture titled Child Development 101. During this Coffee and Conversation, he explored the Waldorf perspective on child development through the different classes and ages.
According to Gannon, “Waldorf education strives to see the child for where they are, right now, understand how they are developing, and then work to support that in the classroom.”
Gannon began by explaining Rudolph Steiner’s understanding of child development, which was very forward thinking at his time. A contemporary of Freud and Piaget, Steiner’s training as a philosopher inspired him to look beyond brain development and into the corresponding realms of the social, physical, and spiritual development.
He felt a child’s development was an Epigenesis — a cognitive, social, spiritual, and physical process through distinct stages– leading to a differentiated state of adulthood based on how these elements were influenced. And, of course, one of the primary influences is education.
Steiner divided child development into three distinct stages and labeled them based on the primary force driving a child’s experience in the world. Ages 0-7 are defined by Will, ages 7-14 by Feeling, and ages 14-21 by Thinking. Through each phase, the child works to understand and eventually utilize these forces.
Every action of an infant is done from their own will — a will that strives to survive, to crawl, to walk — all with little to no encouragement from the outside world. This intense desire to do their will continues far beyond infancy. According to Gannon, before the age seven, the child works from instinct converted into impulse and desire, which can then be harnessed into learning and behavior.
That is why, ideally, children during this stage spend as much time as possible learning to master the use of their bodies. It is best for them to do this on a schedule, using their will in a constructive way, as opposed to being told to subdue their will for a specific task. Imitation of the behaviors they see is a natural process for children of this age, and providing healthy models for that imitation, without intellectual explanation, allows the will to develop more fully.
This is also why the day moves between work and play in Waldorf early childhood classes. The work, a channeling of the young child’s will, happens through imitation of meaningful tasks versus an authoritative coercion to understand concepts. At this stage, children will develop their physical, cognitive, and social skills from unstructured play as their will and desire runs up against the forces of the outside world.
After age seven, a child’s world expands beyond the self, and with this expansion, they develop a great subtlety of feeling. Gannon explains that children’s feelings dominate their world in this stage as they move between joy and sadness and learn to manage these different emotions within the greater, more expansive world now open to them.
The healthy feeling life of the child is supported by providing a context of beauty for all things, from simple movements to complex ideas. By appealing to their natural imaginative capacities, children can be encouraged to use these active feelings to connect to learning as a process.
It is at this time that children are ready for academic instruction, as long as it continues to appeal to social and physical realms and, even more so, the realm of feeling. This is why Waldorf grade school lessons are taught through engaging stories of trial and triumph. Children who sympathize and relate to a story in these years are moved to carry the information and process it in a deep and meaningful way that persists as they grow into a more conceptual and thinking way of being.
By the time they reach high school, children are ready to work with their thoughts and beliefs. They are ready to think critically and evaluate the world around them. Where they first learned to manage their will and then work with their feelings, they now learn to work with their thoughts.
According to Gannon, children at this stage become immersed in the world of ideas and have the capacity to think abstractly and critically, seeing both sides of a story, which can then be broken down and criticized. Steiner believed that, along with their search for knowledge, children at this age also search for truth as they work to make their lives their own. He believed that teaching through a sense of idealism and justice was essential for the health of the young adult, who, if not given role models of hope, would succumb to cynicism.
This is why older children in Waldorf Education are often engaged in service to their community and encouraged to contribute their gifts to the world in a meaningful way.
It is with this understanding of child development that Waldorf educators work to support and teach children. Incorporating and addressing these stages of development, every day and within every subject, allows Waldorf schools to educate the whole child by teaching
the right subject matter at the right time, in the right way.
Last Wednesday, Spring Garden hosted speaker Cate Hunko, M.Ed., as she discussed Waldorf education and her experiences teaching math to 6th, 7th, and 8th grade students.
Ms. Hunko has been a Waldorf Teacher for over 15 years, is the mother of two daughters, and was previously an artist working as an automotive designer — all experiences that have helped fuel her passion to understand how young teens of both genders approach and process mathematics.
During the algebra block in Grade 7, Ms. Hunko noticed a divergence in her class between the boys and girls. This difference had never presented itself in the younger grades, where all children (for the most part) approached and learned math similarly. She wanted to know why she was seeing this happen in the older grades and began researching the topic.
Her studies led her to information on a developmental split that occurs when children enter puberty. Their physical maturity, it seems, alters their brains and their approach to mathematics.
While she acknowledges that every child is different, she has seen a few trends in differences between boys and girls. In her experience, boys in middle school seem comfortable with numbers and willing to move through the process of math without much questioning. As they gain new skills, they can become competitive about their accomplishments.
Girls have no trouble memorizing formulas, but they often seem more separated from the black-and-white process of mathematics; instead, they display a deep drive to understand the how and why of the calculations. The competition the males bring to the table is not always engaging or encouraging to their female peers. As girls bring memorized formulas to problems, they often hesitate in the application of those formulas, standing outside of the process and analyzing it instead of just jumping in.
According to Hunko, this difference between male and female students often requires teachers to give young women more time at math, both in the short term and long term, while understanding that their careful approach does not indicate a lack of skill.
She says, “They want to be intuitive about it, but sometimes it takes time for them to set that aside in order to accomplish the task.”
What does giving students “time” mean?
and ‘not talented,’ especially considering that more young women may fall into this lesser category during this important time in their physical development.”
Hunko feels adolescent girls are often left behind in STEM learning because adolescent boys, who often have fewer physical challenges and different brain development than girls during puberty, seem quicker at math – a quickness that doesn’t necessarily correspond with innate talent. However, it is a relatively short time before the young women can catch up with their male peers, and a slower and more dedicated teaching style that avoids labeling can ensure female students’ success.
What does effective STEM teaching look like for young women?
Hunko recommends engaging young women in both the history and practicality of math, but also stresses that they cannot stay in that place in their mind as they put what they know into practice. “They must transfer that enthusiasm to the formulas they’ve committed to memory and then they must focus, stay grounded, and commit to the formula.”
Hunko feels that even more than the teaching itself, the home life and support of parents makes the biggest difference in women entering STEM careers. “Many of the women currently in STEM had parents in STEM. Parent support in the sciences is key. First off, don’t give up on your girls, even if they struggle with math during junior high. That doesn’t mean they’re ‘not math people.’ Don’t use labels like that, and don’t discuss your own struggles so they have a chance to be true to themselves. Don’t say you ‘also hated’ math.’ Struggle and hate are not always the same.”
Hunko believes it is women’s different approach to math – careful, focused on the big picture, and less competitive – that makes female career roles in STEM essential.
“When it comes to teaching, the pendulum is swinging to a far side in STEM right now. We need to bring it back to the center. Women have a lot to offer the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math industry. They bring a different and essential perspective.”
by Caty Petersilge
If hand work has one ultimate purpose, it is to build students up in the direction of that knowledge until they no longer second guess their ability to create what they imagine. This takes a great deal of time and many accumulated successes, and confidence in one’s creations is a lifelong human pursuit. Consistently creating useful, beautiful objects with one’s own hands is a tangible and powerful support to this work, and giving those creations to others is fulfilling in even more far-reaching ways.
Here is a breakdown of handwork done, by grade, at Spring Garden Waldorf School.
Class One spends their first few weeks of school making two very important implements for handwork: a finger-knitted drawstring (for their handwork bag) and a pair of knitting needles. This is done in preparation for two days at the end of September when Class Eight comes down to join us for handwork class and teach their first grade buddies how to knit! This is an efficient and magical means of passing on such a nimble handicraft.
Class Two, having honed their knitting skills last year, begins this year by creating a thinner pair of knitting needles. Using these new tools, they knit their flute case, which holds their flute in second grade, and their recorder in third through eighth grade.
In Class Three, students get familiar with a new tool: the crochet hook. The students learn the single crochet stitch and make a ten stitch by ten row bookmark. Once this is completed, they will use the same stitch to make their pencil case. Later in the year, they will learn to crochet in the round and the students will make a pattern to grow a hat for themselves or a loved one.
Class Four, in preparation for their studies of Norse mythology, students do Norse knot work — creating bookmarks or bracelets from wool yarn. Students are also at the beginning of embroidery, learning the four basic stitches required to make a needle case, which will serve as a home for their needles as they work on their elephants in sixth grade.
Class Five knits toe-up socks in the round, which are certainly the most complex and difficult handwork the children have yet encountered. When the children finish their first pair of socks, they can choose to make a second pair or to create a pair of mittens.
Class Six sews elephants making use of the needle cases the students made in fourth grade. The elephant will be given as a gift to a younger friend, so special attention to detail is necessary where seams and stitches are concerned. Toys are meant to be loved and played with after all, so we must remind ourselves to make them durable!
Class Seven plunges into felt making, which comes at the perfect time for seventh graders, whose last few years of handwork have featured steadily smaller work and more fine motor skills. Felt making comes in as a breath of fresh air and gross motor skills, with hard work in the arms and shoulders forming a strong, grainless fabric.
Class Eight’s great work is to create a pair of flannel pajama pants using treadle sewing machines (they are studying the industrial revolution, so they are in a unique position to appreciate the difference these machines made in lives of people back then). We also pick up a paper craft skill: making Froebel stars. These sixteen pointed cousins to origami can be seen hanging from the ceiling in the handwork room.
Students in grade 3-5 can bring a friend to school this Monday, October 13th, to experience Waldorf Education first hand. Join us and see the educational philosophy that has caught the attention of the New York Times and CNN.
Children attending bring-a-friend-to-school day, will spend the day with their sponsor friend as a typical Spring Garden Waldorf student. They will shadow their friend in the classroom and experience a regular day, including main lesson and all the day’s subjects.
Students must be registered to attend. Please call 330-666-0574 to register or email Amy Hecky at firstname.lastname@example.org.