We are pleased to announce that our Early Childhood program is expanding to accommodate the growing interest in Waldorf education in Northeast Ohio!
We have a healthy waiting pool of applicants for our Early Childhood program for the 2016-17 school year, and the Administrative Faculty has made the decision to expand our Early Childhood program in two areas to accommodate the needs of our community.
We will be growing in the following ways:
- We will create an additional Nursery Preschool room for 3- and young 4-year-olds on Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays. This room will have one lead teacher and six students. The other Nursery Preschool room will have one lead teacher, one assistant, and 12 students.
- We will add a third afternoon room on Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays to accommodate the increased number of full day students in our Early Childhood program.
If you have any questions about this growth, please feel welcome to contact me. We will begin the hiring process and we look forward to introducing you to the teachers. If you have friends or family who are considering SGWS for their young children, please share the good news and have them contact Amy Hecky at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mrs. Andrea Zeno, an experienced Waldorf teacher and the current first grade class teacher, has graciously offered to give a talk for all parents. Her talk will cover how skills and curriculum are approached in the first grade. This is an exceptional opportunity to educate yourself on how Waldorf education meets the needs of the child by presenting developmentally appropriate material, or as we like to say “the right thing at the right time”.
This event is FREE and open to all SGWS families as well as the greater community. We hope you are able to join us for this informative presentation. Please feel free to bring friends, family, or acquaintances who would like to learn more.
To register for the 9:00 a.m. session, please click here
To register for the 7:00 p.m. session, please click here
“We can’t blame children for occupying themselves with Facebook rather than playing in the mud. Our society doesn’t put a priority on connecting with nature. In fact, too often we tell them it’s dirty and dangerous.” – David Suzuki
The National Wildlife Federation has essentially created a whitepaper on dirt to explain and encourage mud play among children. There’s an International Mud Day in June. And Immunologist, Mary Ruebush, has written a whole book about it: Why Dirt Is Good: 5 Ways to Make Germs Your Friends.
We know playing outdoors, in general, has a myriad of proven health and learning benefits. And sensory play is also essential for developing skills, especially in younger children.
But why is mud, specifically, so good for children?
First, there is the issue of children’s immune systems. As Ruebush says, “Let your child be a child. Dirt is good. If your child isn’t coming in dirty every day, they’re not doing their job. They’re not building their immunological army. So it’s terribly important.”
In fact, there are many ways in which dirt’s microscopic bacteria benefit children’s bodies and minds. One in particular, Mycobacterium vaccae, had been found to increase the levels of serotonin in our brains, which boosts mood and relieves anxiety.
Researchers at The Sage Colleges in Troy, New York also wondered whether, in addition to its antidepressant effect, M. vaccae may also have an effect on schoolwork.
“Since serotonin plays a role in learning, we wondered if live M. vaccae could improve learning in mice,” says Dr. Dorothy Matthews, who co-authored the study. “We found that mice that were fed live M. vaccae navigated the maze twice as fast and with less demonstrated anxiety behaviors as control mice.”
Turns out there are great body benefits, too. In addition to being good for the immune system, experts at the University of California at San Diego have found that mud play combats inflammation while improving wound healing. The researchers studied both mice and human cells in their lab and found that common bacteria, called staphylococci, can reduce inflammation after injury when they are present on the skin’s surface.
But most importantly, the kids love it because it’s fun to get dirty, fun to play outside, and fun to be with friends and have unrestricted playtime in nature. So let the kids be kids.
As American botanist Luther Burbank once said, “Every child should have mud pies, grasshoppers, water bugs, tadpoles, frogs, mud turtles, wild strawberries, acorns, chestnuts, trees to climb. Brooks to wade…bees, butterflies, various animals to pet, hayfields, pine-cones, rocks to roll, sand, snakes and hornets; any child who has been deprived of these has been deprived of the best part of…education.”
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.
Boredom is an uncomfortable, undesired, frustrating state of mind. As parents, we’ve been conditioned to alleviate these feelings in our little ones. We ask, “What do they need to reach a better state of mind?” So it’s really no wonder that a bored and whiny child makes a parent spout lists of fun ideas or break out a craft project. However, relieving the discomfort of boredom is one of those parenting instincts we should fight.
University of Louisville Professor and boredom expert Dr. Andreas Elpidorou, in his article The Bright Side of Boredom, defines the value of boredom this way: “…boredom motivates the pursuit of a new goal when the current goal ceases to be satisfactory, attractive, or meaningful to the agent. Boredom helps to restore the perception that one’s activities are meaningful or significant. It acts as a regulatory state that keeps one in line with one’s projects. In the absence of boredom, one would remain trapped in unfulfilling situations, and miss out on many emotionally, cognitively, and socially rewarding experiences. Boredom is both a warning that we are not doing what we want to be doing and a “push” that motivates us to switch goals and projects. Neither apathy, nor dislike, nor frustration can fulfill boredom’s function.”
Not only is it key for motivating one toward goals and meaningful activity, it is also the precursor of creativity. A paper presented at the Annual Conference at the British Psychological Society outlined two studies that revealed that boredom in subjects brought forth daydreaming and innovative connections that lead to more creativity.
In the first study, 40 people were asked to copy numbers out of a telephone directory for 15 minutes, and were then asked to come up with different uses for a pair of polystyrene cups. Those subjected to copying telephone numbers were more creative than a control group who had only been asked to come up with uses for the cups.
In the second study, researchers looked specifically at the influence of daydreaming. This time the control group was only given the cups, another group again copied the numbers as before, and a third group read the numbers instead of writing them, which left more time for daydreaming. Researchers found that people who had no boring task demonstrated the least creativity; those writing names showed more creativity, but those who had just read the names were more creative of all. This suggested the importance of passive boredom, the kind that allows for daydreaming and leads to creativity.
But it’s not just this one study confirming boredom’s role in creative living. This study from the Journal of Associative Psychology found boredom promoted “associative thought” – deeper connections between potentially unrelated ideas. And neuroscience is jumping into the boredom study game, finding that “a neural circuit called the default network, which is turned on when we’re not preoccupied with something in our external environment” – in other words, when we’re bored. At first glance, these boring moments might seem like a great time for the brain to go quiet, to reduce metabolic activity and save some glucose for later. But that isn’t what happens. The bored brain is actually incredibly active, as it generates daydreams and engages in mental time travel. In particular, there seems to be an elaborate electrical conversation between the front and rear parts of the mind, as the medial prefrontal cortex fires in sync with areas like the posterior cingulate and precuneus.”
So is boredom always good? Well, as it turns out, no. German researchers have identified four different types of boredom, and while three of them lead to creativity and focused goal pursuit, one of them does not. They call this bad boredom “reactant boredom,” and it is defined as boredom induced by an activity which requires attention in order to have meaning. You guessed it: this is classroom boredom, and it’s bad because “it prompts sufferers to leave the boredom-inducing situation and avoid responsibility and those responsible (teachers).”
Waldorf schools use multi-disciplinary teaching to avoid classroom boredom among our students. It’s hard to be apathetic and bored at your desk when you have to sing, draw, or catch a ball during a lecture.
Ultimately, however, boredom at home is a net gain for children. While it’s hard to watch children suffer and be uncomfortable, this trip out of their comfort zone and into the land of boredom leads to inspired, creative, and meaningful play. And that’s the work of the child.
Early Childhood classrooms in Waldorf schools look different. Some parents are initially surprised by the lack of primary colors and maps and charts that normally festoon the walls of “traditional” preschool rooms. Won’t the kids find this … boring?
According to recent research on the topic of classroom design, they won’t consider it at all, which is exactly the point. The teacher and the lessons – or, in Early Childhood, the play and cognitive, creative, and motor development – is what deserves the children’s focus, not the posters, mobiles, or charts.
And it turns out children do give busy decor a fair amount of their focus. This New York Times article, Rethinking the Colorful Kindergarten Classroom, reports on a recent early childhood study which found that “children spent far more time off-task in the decorated classroom than in the plain one,” as measured by time spent gazing at the walls and scores on a picture test about stories the teacher had been telling.
There is also concern that the material on the walls is simply part of a larger commercial agenda to sell teachers and schools pre-made banners, mobiles, and posters, when walls might be better served as display space of student work or functional space for teachers and students.
A comprehensive 2012 research study published in The International Journal of Building Science and its Applications conducted an extensive analysis and assessment of 751 students across 34 classrooms in seven different schools in order to isolate the characteristics of classrooms that “maximize pupils’ achievement.”
According to this study, a well-designed classroom:
- Receives natural light
- Is designed with a quiet visual environment
- Uses warm colors on the walls and floor
- Has a large area of free space for building and diverse learning/play
- Has high-quality and purpose-designed furniture, fixtures and equipment
- Allows ease of movement
- Allows flexibility in learning varied activities
- Contains ergonomic tables and chairs
- Is modular, meaning the teacher can easily change the space configuration
While stepping into a Waldorf Early Childhood classroom evokes feelings of warmth, simplicity and comfort, careful analysis reveals that almost all of the above features have been accomplished in its design. Open areas are filled with natural light and materials that emphasize function over primary-colored form. This helps young children feel comfortable and focus on what matters — their creative play with peers, and time listening to and working with their teacher.