by Caty Petersilge
Consistently creating useful, beautiful objects with one’s own hands is a tangible and powerful life lesson — teaching students that they are capable of great things with time, patience and practice leading to accumulated success. If handwork has one ultimate purpose, it is to build students up until they no longer second-guess their ability to create what they imagine.
Here is a summary of the handwork projects at Spring Garden Waldorf School, by grade:
Grade One is spending 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. The needles are made from wooden dowels which are sanded, waxed, and buffed by the children until they are smooth enough for yarn to glide over easily. Each child will then use two colors of sculpey clay to make a pair of “bobbles” (the little knobs that go on the ends of the needles to prevent the yarn from sliding off).
All of this is done in preparation for two days at the end of September: on a very special Monday and Tuesday, Grade Eight will come down to join us for handwork class and teach their first grade buddies how to knit! This is a wonderfully efficient and magical means of passing on such a nimble handicraft, and both classes always take great joy in the occasion. The first graders’ first knitted project will be a butterfly (a knitted square of white yarn which we will dye with plants found on the school grounds, then sew up the middle to create wings).
Grade Two, having honed their knitting skills last year, have now begun their largest handwork project to date: the knitted flute case! This will be the home for their flute in Grade Two, and eventually their recorder in Grades Three through Eight, so great care is taken to make sure the stitches are neat and consistent and the colors are beautiful. The flute case is 25 stitches wide and 13” long, so students in Grade Two have a good long first project ahead of them!
In Grade Three we are getting familiar with a new tool: the crochet hook. The students are learning the single crochet stitch and making a small bookmark to practice these new movements. Once this is completed, they will use the same stitch to make their pencil case – which will be 21 stitches wide by 18” long. Later in the year, when the weather is colder, 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.
Grade Four, in preparation for their studies of Norse mythology later this year, have begun doing some Norse knotwork – creating bookmarks or bracelets from wool yarn. Our next project will introduce embroidery; they will learn the four basic stitches required to make a needle case, and they will each create a personal design. The needle cases will serve as a home for their pins and needles as they work on their elephants in Grade Six.
Grade Five will be knitting toe-up socks in the round this year! Toe-up socks are certainly the most complex and difficult handwork the children have yet encountered, and every one of them are eager and undaunted. When the children finish their first pair of socks, they can choose to make a second pair or to create a pair of mittens which, conveniently, are just toe-up socks with a thumb instead of a heel.
The Grade Six handwork curriculum calls for the sewing of a toy that will be given as a gift to a younger friend (a sibling, a fellow student) 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.
Grade Seven will be plunging into feltmaking. Our first project will be wet felting (scrubbing at sheep fleece with hot water and soap to shrink it into felt) and we will be setting up tables every Thursday morning to work outdoors most of this season. Feltmaking comes at the perfect time for students in Grade Seven, whose last few years of handwork have featured steadily smaller work and more fine motor skills – then, feltmaking 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. The appeal of this change is clear in the students’ enthusiasm for the work!
Grade Eight’s great work this year is to create a pair of flannel pajama pants using 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). Before we approach the pants, however, we begin the year with a very familiar verse – in fact, the same verse many of them began with in Grade One! “Under the fence Catch the sheep Pull him through And off we leap!” Our first few classes are spent learning how to teach others to knit.
Their special task will be to pass on this skill to their first grade buddies in the final week of September, so we practice in pairs saying the verse and guiding each others’ hands until everybody feels comfortable.
by Jennell Woodard
Waldorf Education is about the whole child – mind, body, and soul. The body and movement are intimately interconnected and interdependent in learning from this whole child perspective.
The goal in Waldorf Education is to support development in which education is more than gaining knowledge. Learning is not all in our heads. Waldorf Education recognizes that there are multiple ways of knowing, which take into account sensory experiences, temperament, emotion, how the child is “hard-wired,” and where neural networks are malleable to change.
We have more than just the five senses – Waldorf Education recognizes as many as 12 sensory systems – and learning comes also through these other senses like the kinesthetic, vestibular, and proprioceptive systems. Extra Lesson at Spring Garden Waldorf School incorporates movement, drawing, and painting exercises that help students with difficulties in writing, reading, and math, as well as behavior.
The premise is that the challenges a student experiences may be a result of inadequate spatial orientation and poor body geography, and research supports this link between learning difficulties and early child development.
Extra Lesson is an assessment and intervention program based on Rudolf Steiner’s holistic developmental perspective and the Waldorf philosophy of education.
- Improving mobility, motor skills, and flexibility
- Building and strengthening neurological networks
- Providing change without labels
- Providing opportunities to re-navigate possibly missed developmental stages that contribute to underlying problems emerging now
- Helping sensory input connections in the brain
- Building patterns for cross-referencing experiences
- Connecting movement with sensory input, gravity, spatial awareness, tactile sense, proprioceptive senses, and sensory integration issues
Here are some of the learning difficulties Extra Lesson is designed to address:
- Low frustration tolerance
- Avoiding certain learning tasks
- Difficulty following directions
- Low academic performance
- Balance, coordination, and organizing
- Confusion with numbers, letters, and math signs
Extra Lesson at Spring Garden is taught by Jennell Woodard. She has been with SGWS for over 30 years and says, “My interest in “how we learn” began when I was a class teacher and looking for new avenues to unlock this mystery in some of my dear students. Then I discovered the work of Audrey McAllen, who worked diligently with the Foundation of Waldorf Principles designed by Rudolf Steiner.”
Ms. Woodard pursued a course of study with Extra Lesson from the Association for a Healing Education and currently works weekly with students in Kindergarten, Grade One, and Grade Two. She also works with individuals and small groups referred by class teachers.
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: