By Stephanie Sesic Greer
Just as conflict is a common occurrence among young children who have yet to fully develop their social skills, so discipline is a common concern among parents who naturally wish to ensure that no harm comes to their child as the result of a conflict.
Here at Spring Garden, some traditional disciplinary tools, such as accident and behavior reports, are used when serious behavioral issues arise. On the whole, however, the teacher’s goal is not to punish children for a behavior but rather to help children progress in their ability to govern their own emotions and temper their own actions so that ultimately, outside intervention or punishment from an authority figure becomes unnecessary.
A child may be separated from the rest of the class as the result of a conflict, but this is not a punishment so much as an opportunity for the child to calm down enough to reflect upon the conflict and to help in resolving it through discussion with the teacher and the other children.
This focus on progress rather than punishment helps children establish an internally derived sense of self-worth. For example, a child who is frequently involved in conflicts on the playground, rather than being scolded or given a detention, may need to have temporary physical limits placed on her or his play area in order to limit the potential for conflict with other children. A child who has a hard time avoiding conflict may need more boundaries in order to feel secure and to succeed on a smaller scale. Once the child has successfully and consistently avoided conflict within this smaller play area where fewer children will be encountered, the teacher will gradually expand the child’s play area. This process allows the child to progress toward better self-control and healthier interactions and, ultimately, a greater sense of self-worth based on those accomplishments.
Avoiding a simplistic system of punishing bad behavior and rewarding good behavior provides real self-improvement to children who might otherwise be labeled as “bad.” In a less obvious but no less important way, the Waldorf method also better serves children who might otherwise be labeled as “good” for reporting the bad behavior of their peers. Children who are told they are “good” for following the rules and reporting the rule breakers for punishment are unwittingly being encouraged to become overly competitive and self-serving, and they are learning to base their self-worth on external factors rather than on a more reliable internal sense. Such labeling of children also creates a divide in the classroom, undermining the sense of community that Spring Garden prides itself on cultivating.
In the next post in our series, I’ll discuss how our teachers use the Waldorf academic curriculum to reinforce students’ social skills.
By Stephanie Sesic Greer
As part of the Waldorf model of educating the whole child, the teachers at Spring Garden make great efforts to nurture and develop our children’s sense of themselves as social beings.
A feeling of social inclusion is key to a child’s happiness and success in school, and the conscious development of social skills from an early age may be one of the most lasting benefits of a Waldorf education.
The Waldorf model takes the long-term view that, as with academic learning, healthy social interaction must be self-motivated. Our teachers seek to provide students with important social skills that will enable to them interact compassionately with others, to create a sense of community, and to confront and resolve conflicts within their community.
This is the first in a series of posts that will detail how these long term goals of social inclusion are achieved through the daily practices of Waldorf teachers and students from first through eighth grade.
The first and most important goal is to help students learn how to work together as a group and to view their class as a community that each student plays a vital role in nurturing and maintaining. Instruction in academic subjects cannot effectively progress until some social cohesion within the classroom is achieved, allowing the teacher to focus on letters and numbers rather than on policing students’ behavior.
Students learn to work together by first learning to play together. When conflicts occur among students, on the playground or in the classroom, the teacher acts primarily as a mediator, expressing sympathy for children who are upset, calming the children so that they are able to constructively discuss the conflict, making sure that all of the children involved in the situation are allowed to speak about what happened and how they feel, helping each student to think about what they can do to resolve the conflict, and finally, discussing how a similar conflict might be avoided in the future. Thus, children learn self-control, empathy, responsibility, and conflict resolution.
In the early grades, teachers may focus at least as much on developing students’ social skills as on academic instruction, thereby establishing a community of students that is able and eager to work together to learn.
In the next post in this series, I will discuss what happens in acute or ongoing situations that call for the teacher to be more than a mediator.
Here at Spring Garden, parents receive regular communication from class teachers about what the children are learning and what the teacher’s are observing. We wanted to give an example here on our blog of our thorough, and some might say, inspired, teacher communication.
This letter is from our Extended Care, Early Childhood teacher, Kathy Miller:
Dear Extended Care Families,
The children came back from holiday break relaxed, calm and happy to see one another. The afternoon life rhythm here at Spring Garden has become such a strong part of the children’s daily life that with only a few gentle reminders we were able to get back into the swing of things. It was like we had never been away from one another.
As a mother and teacher I always like to stress the importance of a daily life rhythm. Having a consistent routine (rhythm) is also a preventative to illness, builds an inner knowing of time, makes transitions easier, eliminates discipline problems, builds trust in children’s surrounding environment and overall decreases stress in children because they always knows what is going to happen next. Wow, all these benefits when we simply provide a rhythmical daily.
There have been a few questions/requests from parents regarding lunch meal requirements. The following table provides the elements of a recommended healthy lunch and some ideas for meals.
Bread/Bread alternative (1 serving)
Grains –oats, barley, millet, couscous
Fruit & Veggies (2 servings)
All types of fruits and Veggies.
Recommended amount( ½ cup of each)
1) 2 servings of veggies
2) 2 servings of fruit
3) 1 serving of each
(fruit cereal bars, fruit snacks, fruit roll ups, juices etc… do not count as one serving of fruit)
Protein (1 serving)
Milk (1 cup)
Meat/Meat alternative (2 oz)
Yogurt (¾ cup)
Cheese (1 ½ oz)
Peanut butter/or other nut or seed butter (3 TBS)
Peanuts/soy nuts/tree nuts/seeds (3/4 oz)
Cooked or dry beans or peas (1/2 cup)
I have recently introduced the Old Mother West Wind Series for the nap time story. The chapter book tells about the adventures of animals that live in the “Green Forest”. Throughout this series the children have been introduced to many different animal characters such as; Bobby Raccoon, Johnny Chuck, Jimmy Skunk, Jerry Muskrat, Grandfather Frog and Danny Meadow Mouse just to name a few. I read one to two chapters every day. Many children have captured these characters into their hearts as I’ve heard children question, to each other, whether the animals live in our woods next door.
Before winter break I mentioned that we were going down to the woods to play in the afternoon. I strive to go there every afternoon. However, it does depend how sleepy our children are and how the nature of the afternoon is unfolding that will predict whether we get there or not. With this being said, dismissal area has become different on a daily basis. If we are not in the meadow playing, it means we have made it to the woods and therefore dismissal will be in the hallway at 3:20 pm. If we are in the woods and you need to pick up earlier then 3:20 pm, please see Hazel at the front desk and she will verbally guide you down to where we play. You could also check the extended care room. Your child may still be in the room with Ms. Lori as she is helping the last group of children get ready to go outdoors.
The play area in the woods is quite, still and very magical this time of year. Together many of the kindergartners have created a home out of large sticks (tee pee like). I’ve observed children sweeping the ground with large sticks preparing the home. Some children have gone fishing (large wet soggy leaves have become large tasty fish) for dinner in the large puddle of standing water not too far from where the home was built. Sometimes the roof of the home falls in and the children call the ‘roofers’ to come and fix it. It really is magical to see all the children working together. The preschoolers continue to explore the open area. They are busier with moving their bodies. They climb and swing from fallen logs and branches. Some love to dig in the large dirt mounds. Some love running up and down the hill that guides them to the play area. The paths in our play space have slowly come to life again with work from teachers and children. These paths provide a large running area for all the children.
With a very chilly week a head of us, please remember to dress your child in layers. To dress in layers please consider the following; three layers on top for example: t-shirt, long-sleeve cotton shirt or sweater and two layers on the bottom for example: cotton PJ or long underwear & Pants. Going outside in cold weather provides opportunity for physical movement and sensory experiences. When the children dress for the outdoors we guide them in the following way; snow pants, boots, jacket, hat, scarf, and mittens/gloves. All children are encouraged to dress themselves. It is important to provide children with outdoor gear (including boots) to be successful in dressing themselves. This is the time of year we begin to get older kindergartners prepared for 1st grade, which includes dressing self.
Based upon the different areas I have touched on in this newsletter, there are follow up articles located in the Early Childhood Hallway, (by Extended Care Classroom on round table by double doors). Feel free to take and read.
As always if there are any questions or concerns do not hesitate to email or call me.
Stay warm on this chilly day!
Mitten Strings for God; Reflections for Mothers in a Hurry by: Katrina Kenison (Rhythm)
Illness By: Gudrun Davy (Trust, Blessing of a fever, Illnesses of Civilization)
More Nutrition Ideas By: Susan R. Johnson, MD. (Guidelines about the foods we eat & health)
Do Kids Catch Cold Outside? By: Robert Needleman, M.D & Gloria Needleman
We wanted to point you to a comprehensive collection of articles about the everyday role of music in Waldorf education at WaldorfMusic.org. This particular article, Waldorf Music Education: Living the Musical Life, walks readers through the music education focus for the different grades. In short, the author, Jason Child, says, “While [Waldorf music education] has the ability to produce fine musicians, its true aim is to help produce fine human beings.”
Here are the article highlights of music making by grade:
“In grades 1 – 3 . . . the music instruction is almost wholly qualitative. …Through their exploration, they experience the essential qualities of music: high, low, fast, slow, long, short, etc. This work is really only the vehicle, though. The real goal is to help the students become sensitive, active listeners.”
“In … classes 4 and 5, the music education sets its sights on literacy and more standard music-making. The children learn to read and write music, and they learn the names for all of the fundamental music concepts. They also begin playing a string instrument, and have their first experience of needing to practice and work at learning this new, awkward skill.”
“In the middle and high school, the children have an intense need to be creative and express themselves. … Over time, the music program will evolve so that the students are all in performing ensembles during their middle and high school years. The training in both subtle and practical music skills of the early years will come to fruition in middle school performance ensembles….”
People often note the quiet and concentration of our Early Childhood students and their ability to listen carefully to their soft spoken teachers.
Children learn best by doing. Movement is key to teaching math, writing and reading in Primary School children.
Music and art are woven into Main Lesson subjects like reading, writing and math.
Third graders are eager to learn about the world outside of themselves and have the skills they need to concentrate and absorb challenging information.
The Fourth grade day is rich, including special subjects like woodworking, clay sculpture, gardening and violin on top of regular academic rigor.
On tours of Grade 5 classes and beyond, many parents comment about on the amount of collaboration and vibrant conversation among the teacher and the students.
Spanish, geometry, history, language arts are all taught through engaging and interesting projects. Here is an example of the final result of a Sixth grade geometry lesson.
Our Seventh graders are often encountered in the Science Lab, being led to their own conclusions about experiments taught through Socratic inquiry and interaction.
On any given tour, you may find our oldest students helping their First grade buddies, making a chair in woodworking class, practicing for orchestra, studying algebra, anatomy or physics, or working on a paper for U.S. history.
You will also find, that whatever our students doing, they are not only passionate about it, but engaged with the subject and with one another, and respectful and grateful for their teachers.
Homework is in the news again. This time because French president, Francois Hollande, wants to put an end to homework for those in grade 1-8.
One big reason for the switch? According to author Peter Gumbel, a critic of the French school system, “The French are discovering — to their horror — that their performance internationally has been declining over the last 10 years. The French actually are performing [worse] than the Americans in reading and science,” he says.
This leads to a common question asked by NYTimes blogger Joyce Lau, How Much Homework Does It Take to Educate a Nation? Her answer: Who could know? She compares two drastically different educational systems with similar results –South Korea (with hours of homework each day) and Finland (with next to none).
The Latest Study
Much research is being done to answer this question and the results vary. In this most recent homework study, researchers at Indiana University and The University of Virginia concluded: “Contrary to much published research, a regression analysis of time spent on homework and the final class grade found no substantive difference in grades between students who complete homework and those who do not.”
But, as this recent Examiner article discusses, research studies like this one on homework’s benefits or lack thereof, must be taken under this consideration — the only way homework can be effective is if it constructively assigned, reviewed, and if students are given feedback. Most studies never filter for whether the homework consisted of unchecked worksheets or graded science projects.
What’s the Waldorf Homework Philosophy?
Waldorf schools, like Spring Garden, take a healthy approach to homework. There is little to no homework in Primary school, and, in early-mid Elementary, it is kept to a minimum and tends to be project based — used primarily to help children organize themselves and develop good habits at home. By Middle school, Waldorf students generally have a similar homework load to their peers, but the assignments are always related and relevant to the lesson block and in-class work.