There is a new trend in the U.S., especially in Early Childhood, called nature-based education. Although Waldorf is not an exclusive nature-learning environment, nature-based curriculum is a concept with which Waldorf educators are very familiar. Whether it’s hours playing in the meadow, science hikes in early elementary or a robust gardening program, Waldorf schools understand the health and academic benefits of nature study.
Like Waldorf methods, nature-based education originated and has been used widely in countries like Scandinavia and Germany. It is simply a matter of science. There are proven health and cognitive benefits to being out in nature. Such as this University of Michigan study citing a boost in cognitive performance after a walk in nature (city walks don’t produce the same results.) Or this study from Sage college scientists highlighted here that shows “ingesting or breathing in a common soil bacterium found in nature reduces anxiety and improves learning.”
Add that to studies like this one, which find that children do better on tests if given time for regular outdoor recess, and one can start to piece together the importance of nature in curriculum. But the groundswell of evidence does not stop there. In fact, The Children and Nature Network, offer an over-50-page PDF at ChildrenandNature.org outlining studies that prove how combining education with nature improves everything from health and well being to creativity, problem solving and literacy skills.
In a recent Boston Globe interview, Antioch University professor and leading expert in nature-based education, David Sobel, discussed his current research study, aimed at “directly showing the academic outcomes of nature-based education.” He believes an outdoor-focused education helps students develop independence and confidence because the environments are not “adult regulated,” which he hopes to prove gives children an edge in developing self-regulation and collaboration with peers.
There is clearly something going right out in Kansas, where educators took a failing public elementary school and turned it into a charter school for agricultural education. According to American Profile, not only did that effort save the school, but its student’s test scores now rank in the top 5% of the state.
Here at Spring Garden, like at most Waldorf Schools across the U.S., we keep nature at the forefront of the curriculum. Our greenhouse and gardens thrive with student-grown plants and produce. Our Early Childhood children spend much of their day outdoors playing and exploring in rain, snow and shine. All students have three separate recess times, taken outdoors in all but the most inclement weather. And main lesson subjects, along with (most often) science and gym, are often combined with regular outdoor learning. Learn more about how we incorporate nature into our education every day by visiting us.
Did you know that the cerebellum processes both movement and learning? There is a growing body of research in education and neuroscience about the link between learning and movement. Much of what is reported is about the influence of regular exercise on brain functioning and development. But the research goes beyond the importance of recess to boost academics.
Educator, Kathryn Kindrat’s blog, Movement and Learning, has compiled research about the physical changes from exercise that boost cognition, such as the increase in blood flow, brain mass, and neuron development. But she also points to studies showing that children who performed “learning activities with movement [had] higher academic achievements.”
As this article, Darwin’s Thinking Path, by Robert Dilts (published by NLP University, 1996 ) explains, many disciplines such as Feldenkrais or Tai Chi, explore the relationship between movement and mind. The idea being that the body is not simply a “mechanical shell” but rather a system or a means of both “representing and processing information.”
Waldorf Education has taught children through movement for over a century. This Friday, Spring Garden parents have a unique opportunity to learn more about this relationship between mind and movement by attending a special presentation by Waldorf Educator Mary Jo Oresti.
Mary Jo has been teaching children and guiding teachers in Waldorf education for over 30 years. She is a founding member of the Association for a Healing Education and has directed their Education Support Program since the mid-1980s. She has initiated publications and workshops to support schools and has been a guest speaker on the subject of Educational Support in many conferences and workshops.
Join us this Friday, October 4, 2013, from 7:00 – 8:30 p.m. here at SGWS to learn how Waldorf Education uses movement to help students learn.
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
9:00 a.m. - Kite Flying – Miss Kathy’s Class
11:10 a.m. – Kite Flying – Miss Olga’s and Miss Julie’s Classes
12:45 p.m. – Kite Flying – Grades 1 – 8
2:00 p.m. - Early Dismissal (Aftercare is still available until 6:00 p.m.)
6:15 p.m. - Students report to their classrooms to prepare for the play
6:30 p.m. - Michaelmas Play
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.
This year 50 pounds of potatoes have been grown and harvested by our students and families at Spring Garden. St. Paul’s has used the donated produce for their community meal – a free sit down dinner where all are welcome for food and fellowship.
Suzanne Smaltz, volunteer at St. Paul says they are grateful for all donations and feel the dinner is meeting local need. “One young woman was excited that it was a true community dinner and she didn’t feel as if she were accepting a handout. The longer we host the dinners the more stories we hear; the needs of our local community are many and varied.”
But, of course, we at Spring Garden benefit too. As Director of Admissions, Amy Hecky, explains, “We let the children know that their hard work is going to very good use. This helps them take pride in what they do in our gardening program, in addition to learning where their food comes from and spending time tending to nature.”
As part of their curriculum, Third Grade children at Spring Garden harvest Fall vegetables planted by last year’s Third Grade. This current class will also plant new vegetables from seed in the Spring, so that the next Third Grade class can harvest them in Fall of 2014. Also, SGWS families volunteered time to harvest potatoes on a Saturday morning.
Thank you to everyone that contributed to our St. Paul’s donation. Here’s some great photos of digging in the dirt!
Have you ever taken a year to make something with your own hands — a high quality, pragmatic work of craftsmanship that will last you a lifetime and become a family heirloom? Each one of our Class 8 graduates can answer that question with a resounding, “Yes.”
It begins with the study of the Industrial Revolution and the delivery of a huge log dropped in Spring Garden’s field. Where woodwork projects previously were individual artisan works of great creative license, this work is a reflection of their industrial studies and their ability to work together after all these years as a class. Students form an assembly line and learn what will be needed to create one chair for each student.
During the chair project, they will use typical hand tools as well as some simple machinery such as a hand crank drill press and a lathe that is powered by a student riding a bicycle. This also corresponds to their study of physics and single machines, yet another way chair making is integrated with their main lesson curriculum.
After the log is dropped in the field, students saw it into workable lengths with a two-man saw. They then begin splitting it apart with wedges and sledgehammers until it is small enough to bring into classroom. From there, the students form the assembly line and begin making the different pieces that go into each chair.
They will take turns moving around to each of the assembly line stations through the year, so they each can experience the different simple machines, bending of the wood, etc. Once they have enough parts created, they will begin to put the chairs together, stain them and weave the seats in handwork class.
This project begins with physical effort, requires great perseverance and teamwork, and embodies the ultimate in experiential learning. And it is all part of the integrated curriculum. But the greatest gift of this project is the final product — their own chair made together with their long time friends and classmates, that each student will sit on during graduation and then take home to mark the end of their journey at Spring Garden.
In the Waldorf tradition, festivals offer an important connection to the changing seasons of nature and the changing cycles of life. Children are encouraged to connect with the world around them and the rhythms found in nature and humanity. Below are brief descriptions of each festival. For more detailed information about a festival, click the festival name link.
The Rose Ceremony – 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.
Michaelmas – Our school hosts this celebration around the time of the autumnal equinox. St. Michael conquers the dragon using his star sword and represents external and internal strength. This festival has also been associated with harvest in the Northern Hemisphere.
Martinmas – Another traditional harvest festival, St. Martin, a patron saint of the poor and outcast, is celebrated by lighting and carrying lanterns to represent how St. Martin spent his life bringing light and warmth to those in darkness.
Pumpkin Walk –Spring Garden extends this theme of harvest and light in the darker days of autumn with our annual pumpkin walk. First the children create a hand carved pumpkin in school, then parents arrange and light them for the night-time walk. Our teachers also sit along the trail, dressed up and smiling to pass treats out to the joyful children.
Children’s Festival — Children adore this celebration. Spring Garden welcomes the greater community to experience our creative offerings – crafts, food, magical rooms, and fun activities can be experienced at our day-long celebration of family fun.
St. Nicholas – Still a treasured holiday in many European countries, St. Nicholas Day begins December 6th. At Spring Garden, St. Nicholas brings the children simple gifts that they find in their shoes, left out in the hallway the previous day. Many believe Santa Claus has his origins in this celebration.
St. Lucia– Celebrated primarily in Scandinavia countries,St. Lucia is celebrated by dressing a young woman in white with a crown of candles. Like many celebrations of light this time of year, St. Lucy, as she is nicknamed, brings light to Sweden on it’s darkest day — December 13th .
Advent — Derived from the Latin word adventus meaning “coming,” begins near November 30th and is a period of waiting for the return of light – from Christ or the Winter Solstice. Spring Garden celebrates this holiday with reverence by having children sing as they walk in a spiral with candles.
Valentines Day– Children bring small cards for their friends, often homemade, and exchange them during a classroom celebration, run by their main lesson teacher.
May Day – Near May 1st we welcome spring, even if Northeast Ohio wants to stay chilly. We all hope for a warm sunny day, but go outside regardless and sing and dance around the May pole.