In the meantime, enjoy this Coffee and Conversation presentation, also by Michael Gannon, about the whys behind Waldorf’s approach to at-home and in-school media use in elementary students.
In today’s busy public education environment, recess is typically shelved by Grade 4 for deeper dives into academics. Considering this, parents are often shocked to learn that Waldorf students not only continue to have three recess periods through Grade 8, they also take whole days off to experience non-academic learning. Or do they really take time off?
The connection between our minds and bodies is being more greatly understood as researchers take on the topic. What we eat, how we sleep, and how we play, move, and use sensory information all directly affect everyday learning. In other words, when our students are camping or ice skating, they are engaging their brains in purposeful ways that will enhance their academics.
This is due not only to the interrelation of movement and brain activity (such as arms crossing the midline helping brain hemispheres communicate), but also because intelligence and academics are multi-layered and dimensional subjects represented in different forms.
Howard Gardner, American developmental psychologist and Hobbs Professor of Cognition and Education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, developed the theory of multiple intelligences and revolutionized the way educators think about learning. In his book Frames of Mind, Gardner outlines the types of intelligences, claiming that all people process information in several different, independent ways.
Gardner asserts that all eight of a person’s “intelligences” – verbal / linguistic, logical / mathematical, body / kinesthetic, visual / spatial, music / rhythmic, interpersonal, intrapersonal, and naturalistic – need to be stimulated and explored to best tap into a person’s academic talents and gifts.
When we take our students camping, we are helping them connect “real” experiences to learning and also are testing their growing abilities. Not only will the outdoor education experiences that occur during the trip help children learn courage, compassion, and cooperation, but they will also challenge and advance their different forms of intelligence. Children who participate in horseback riding, canoeing, climbing, and sports like archery and team building games are exercising their body/ kinesthetic, visual/ spatial, interpersonal, intrapersonal, and naturalistic skill sets in ways that are not always as prevalent during class time.
So while the students may see ice skating or camping trips as fun days “off” from academics, Waldorf teachers understand that these immersive experiences offer a depth of experience and varied learning to students that directly benefit classroom time.
Want to learn more about how different types of movement support academics? Please visit: Movement for Childhood, which focuses on how movement programs, solidly based on the developmental needs of children, have school-wide benefit.
In Waldorf education, we celebrate Michaelmas — a traditional Christian celebration of the Archangel St. Michael — observed in the Northern Hemisphere since Roman times on September 29th and typically honored by a feast. Michaelmas is also held around the equinox and has been associated with the beginning of fall and the darker, colder days to come when all of mankind will need strength to survive.
St. Michael is a symbolic leader of the force of good over evil, courage over cowardice, and of watchfulness of languor. The celebration of Michaelmas teaches the importance of overcoming fear and strengthening resolve.
Spring Garden, and many other Waldorf schools, celebrate Michaelmas by performing a play in the saint’s honor. Our performance’s is a story of King George and how with St. Michael’s help he is able to save the town from an evil dragon. We also fly kites with dragons on them to symbolize taming the dragon and overcoming fear during this “festival of courage.”
The exact story of the play we perform for Michaelmas is not told the same way in biblical or legendary tradition, but it is a variation on a theme of Michael being a warrior saint. The Archangel St. Michael does fight a dragon, in heaven and not on earth, in Revelation 12: 7-9:
“And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels”
There is an earthly legend, however, of a dragon fighting saint, but it is the story of St. George. St. George was a Roman Soldier tortured and beheaded for his faith in 304 and declared a Saint in 494. He has had many fanciful stories told about him, but the most popular tells of St. George saving a village by slaying a dragon that makes ongoing demands for sheep and maidens.
But it is not the literal story that represents the importance of the day, but the idea behind the story of good triumphing over evil and light triumphing over darkness. Humankind has many battles over darkness to attend too, many dragons to slay, and this is an essential lesson for our students.
Each student must face their own difficulties in life, both internal and external, and Michaelmas both educates and empowers the children to find the courage to take on and defeat their personal dragons. And so, we celebrate Michaelmas in the Waldorf tradition to remind ourselves of the strength we need in the coming season and in our personal lives to defeat darkness and let hope prevail.
First Grade: Gnomes
Second Grade: Meteors
Third Grade: Peasants and Farmers.
Fourth Grade: Knights
Fifth Grade: Chorus, Voices for Meteors
Sixth Grade: Chorus
Seventh Grade: Chorus, Voices for Gnomes, Ringing of the Irons
Eighth Grade: The Dragon
Parents, families, and friends are welcome to join us for kite flying! Weather permitting, the play will be performed on the outside stage; otherwise it will be performed in the gym.
At Spring Garden, like at all Waldorf schools around the world, The Rose Ceremony takes place on the first day for all students. But this traditional event is most influential for the incoming first grade and last year students at the school.
Our First and Eighth graders are embarking on milestones in their school careers and we mark this important transition with our annual Rose Ceremony. Pairing young incoming students with their responsible eighth grade buddies, is a milestone for both young people in the pairing. The young children are entering a new phase in life — where schooling and community, away from parents, will support their budding sense of self, learning and individuality. The older children are entering into young adulthood and are ready to be leaders and guides in their own life and in their community.
Eighth grade students will guide their first grade buddies throughout the year including helping the first grade during assembly, having a caregiving presence at other festivals and celebrations, and chaperoning and teaching the young children to ice skate during our spring field trip.
This reverent event is a reflection of the beauty, kindness and care given to all students, each year, at Spring Garden.
Here are some photos from this year’s event:
Q. When did you first become interested in Waldorf Education and why?
A. In 1996, I was introduced to Biodynamic Agriculture while studying Horticulture at OSU/ATI in Wooster, OH. I was pretty passionate about the Philosophy and spoke with everyone about it. I had just met my husband and he explained that he lived with his Aunt in CA for awhile who was and continues to be a Waldorf teacher. I fell in love with the approach to both Education and Agriculture. I discovered that a Waldorf School existed in NE Ohio and my mother (also a teacher) and I visited Spring Garden Waldorf School together in 1997. During my undergraduate work I studied in VT and CA interviewing Waldorf Garden Teachers. I compiled a garden curriculum and distributed it back to the teachers who shaped it. I worked and interned at the Sacramento Waldorf School and Rudolf Steiner College for 5 months before moving to Pacific Grove, CA for my student teaching semester and to finish my thesis.
Q. What is your teaching and education background?
A. I graduated with my BA in Education in 2001 and was offered a position to teach 4th grade at Monterey Bay Charter School (A Waldorf Inspired Charter). I met Cate Hunko at the 4th grade summer intensive training at Rudolf Steiner College. I taught 4th grade and then decided to begin my Waldorf Teacher Training at Antioch the following summer. I taught 4-6th grade at Monterey Bay Charter School. Then a few months before our Ohio wedding we decided we really wanted to be closer to our families again. We moved to Akron, knowing we would be close to a Waldorf School, were wed, I finished my summer sequence Waldorf training in NH, and then spent a semester writing my thesis and waiting tables. I completed my Master’s degree in Education in 2004.
I was then a substitute at SGWS and surrounding schools for 2 years before I took a first grade at SGWS in 2006. I taught a wonderful group of children from 1st – 3rd grade at SGWS until my eldest son was born.
Q. How do you feel about teaching the same group of students for 8 years?
A. I love teaching the same group of children over a span of years. It is a very special and unique task to hold a group and watch them change, grow, and succeed. Due to life circumstances I haven’t yet experienced the entire span, but I will consider it a special gift when I am able to complete a cycle.
Q. What do you most love or look forward to about teaching at a Waldorf School?
A. It is a beautiful curriculum! Every year I teach, I find joy in the stories and methods. I was so moved by the stories of 5th grade that I wrote my Master’s thesis about the Creation Myths from around the world and the influence of storytelling. As a Waldorf teacher we read stories all the time! Then we are blessed to experience the magic as we share them with the children and watch them work through the morals, concepts and themes.
Q. What is your favorite quote about teaching or education?
A. Rudolf Steiner has so many! Here are two from him:
“Our highest endeavor must be to develop free human beings who are able of themselves to impart purpose and direction to their lives. The need for imagination, a sense of truth, and a feeling of responsibility—these three forces are the very nerve of education.”
“A healthy social life arises when the whole community finds its reflection in the mirror of a person’s soul, and when the virtue of each person lives in the whole community.”
Thanks for sharing Andrea!
In Part 1 of this series, Waldorf vs. Public School – Early Academics, we explored child development and testing in its relation to academics in Waldorf and Public schools. Now we’ll compare the academic philosophies of each education system, beginning with an in-depth discussion of Waldorf early academic pedagogy.
What is the objective of Waldorf Early Academics?
Waldorf educators believe test standards cannot be rigidly adhered to in a child’s early years. We all have heard stories of geniuses and other successful adults that “underperformed” in early grades. For example, a student’s inability to read fluently until the end of second or third grade could be due to a learning challenge, or it could be that the child has not reached the developmental milestones necessary for them to read and it’s important not to label or stress children in these early years if a love of learning is to be established.
Waldorf educators understand that most children taught academics in early years will learn academics, but at what cost? A growing body of current research indicates that early academics actually hurt the long term test scores of students. Also, Harvard research found that by eighth grade, Waldorf students outperform their early-academic-focused peers.
But why? Waldorf educators believe it is because our early academic curriculum takes a child’s development into account and focuses on more than one kind of intelligence, which is key to educating the whole child for long term academic success.
While reading and math is taught in Waldorf early academics, Waldorf teachers have, and take, time to focus on all the varying forms of intelligence as defined by Howard Gardner, American developmental psychologist and professor of Cognition and Education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. In his book, Frames of Mind, he discusses the different ways in which humans cultivate intelligence, which include: Verbal / Linguistic, Logical/ Mathematical, Body/ Kinesthetic, Visual/ Spatial, Music/ Rhythmic, Interpersonal & Intrapersonal and Naturalistic.
Waldorf students in Grade K-3, unhindered by test-centered curriculum and schedules, have the time to do what public schools used to accomplish. Students learn art and music for visual and musical learning, which studies show aids future learning of abstract mathematical concepts. They are given time to use their bodies during each of the three recess periods and during gym class, eurythmy, and main lesson movement to develop body/kinesthetic and spatial learning. Collaborative classwork and free play allows students to develop inter- and intrapersonal intelligence. Special subjects like gardening allow science curriculum to occur in a meaningful, naturalistic environment.
By giving young children time to learn and develop layers of important skills that go beyond the three Rs and testing concepts, Waldorf educators are fostering deeper learning that pays off in the long term.
The Philosophy Behind the Pedagogy
- The importance of standardized testing
- The idea the learning is linear and cumulative
Public school adheres to the ideas that testing is essential. As the old adage goes: “everything measured improves.” They also believe that learning happens on a linear incline and students ascend in measured time. If this is true, then making students walk up the learning incline earlier, even as early as Kindergarten, means that students will climb higher learn more in the 13 years before graduation.
A metaphor for Waldorf pedagogy would be better represented by a campfire. The imagination is the fire starter, sparked by genuine interest in academic topics (typically told through story). Then other skills, like those explored by Howard Gardner, layer on as small kindling and build up the flame of cognition. Only then, with a stable and hearty love of learning established, can students take on and fuel their intellect with the logs of heavy academic rigor that come in grades 4-12.
As one can see in this metaphor, measurement becomes difficult. Measurement of the kindling does not directly influence the growth of flame. And so, although Waldorf educators believe testing has its place in older grades as a benchmark for certain learning, they also feel it has no place as a measure of early intelligence.