Managing a classroom of young children is a monumental task. Anyone might be tempted to use a chart, a visual, to help the children see the consequences of their behavior, but these tools have become the center of a debate among many parents, educators and psychologists.
In Waldorf schools, reverence for the child’s individuality applies as much to their personality as it does to their learning style. Teachers work to build social cohesion and empathy among students. The consistency of the one classroom, one teacher model in Waldorf is key to the success of our students learning to behave within a community of peers. Parents will be hard pressed to find a behavior chart in a Waldorf school. Which, according to recent research on the topic, is a good thing.
We all know stress has long term negative effects on health. So, in an age where younger and younger children report feeling increasingly stressed, adding shame to the mix is ill advised. As it turns out, the stress hormone, Cortisol, spikes in children as young as four when they experience embarrassment or shame.
In this recent article in Psychology Today, Understanding Children’s Emotions: Pride and Shame, author Ken Barish, Ph.D. (Pride and Joy: A Guide to Understanding Your Child’s Emotions and Solving Family Problems) states the importance of the issue at hand.
“A child’s need to feel proud, and to avoid feelings of shame, is a fundamental motivation, and remains fundamental, throughout her life. It would be difficult to overestimate the importance of these emotions in the psychological development – and emotional health – of our children.”
But if teachers don’t use shame, then how can they let children know that what they’ve done is wrong? Aren’t guilt and shame an essential part of learning right from wrong? Dr. Gwen Dewar sees a difference, and speaks to it in her recent article at Parenting Science – Correcting behavior: The magic words that help kids cope with mistakes.
“Psychologists make a distinction between feelings of guilt and feelings of shame. Feelings of guilt are linked with a desire to make amends. Feelings of shame tend to make people angry—and not necessarily repentant. In fact, people who feel shamed may be less likely to take responsibility for their transgressions (Tangney et al 1992).
Also in Dewar’s article, she cites a study that observed how children reacted to different types of correction and then measured the effectiveness of three different types, the first of which, called “Personal,” resembles the behavior-chart method of correction.
The study, Correcting behavior: The magic words that help kids cope with mistakes (Kamins M and Dweck C. 1999. Person versus process praise and criticism:Implications for contingent self-worth and coping. Developmental Psychology 30(3): 835-847.) defined three types of correction, summarized here as:
- Personal – You failed.
- Outcome based – This is incorrect.
- Process Based – This is incorrect, can you think of another way?
As one might expect, process-based criticism is the most effective for inciting change and continued trial and learning. Most children experiencing the Personal Criticism model said they would not repeat the task at hand. And while this study did not directly deal with moral-based behavior mistakes, some experts infer that a similar approach to ethical behavior modification would be more beneficial than a “you failed” chart system.
So, shame is not only detrimental to health and self esteem, but is also the least motivating form of criticism and zaps kid’s resilience and desire to learn by trial and error. While most wouldn’t blame teachers for using stoplight-type charts to help control a mob of misbehaving kids, experts are beginning to agree that it’s not the most effective means of modifying behavior in the classroom.
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.
The New York Times calls Waldorf education, “a teaching philosophy focused on physical activity and learning through creative, hands-on tasks.”
CNN says, “It’s true that most people learn by doing. That’s the innovative approach of a Waldorf education.”
Come to Spring Garden Waldorf during the 2013/2014 school year and experience, first hand, the learning style that is garnering so much attention.
- October 9, 2013 – Walk through the Grades; 9 a.m.
- November 10, 2013 — Open House; 1 p.m.-3 p.m.
- November 13, 2013 – Walk through the Grades; 9 a.m.
- January 12, 2014 — Open House; 1 p.m.-3 p.m.
- January 15, 2014– Walk through the Grades; 9 a.m.
- February 12, 2014 – Walk through the Grades; 9 a.m.
- March 12, 2014 – Walk through the Grades; 9 a.m.
- April 9, 2014 – Walk through the Grades; 9 a.m.
- April, 13, 2014 — Open House; 1 p.m.-3 p.m.
- May 14, 2014 – Walk through the Grades; 9 a.m.
Watch the most recent news, below, about Waldorf Education from Sanjay Gupta MD at CNN. And if you’re interested in learning more, sign up for a visit using the form below.
In Waldorf education, especially in a Waldorf Early Childhood classroom, each day is enriched by ritual and routine. While many parents appreciate how this helps children feel secure, structure is also essential for social and academic development. Why is it so key to the development of children both behaviorally and neurologically?
A recent study of infants, as examined in the book, How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience and School, (edited by John D. Bransford, Ann L. Brown and Rodney R. Cocking [National Academy Press]) has determined that children as young as 5 months notice and respond to patterns and routines. We are, it seems, hardwired for structure.
In fact, surveys of human fears find that “the unknown” ranks consistently in the top five. And, as Dr. Laura Markham further notes in her article, Structure: Why Kids Need Routines, everything is unknown and changing in a child’s life — their bodies, brains and skills. If a child’s external day-to-day life is also in constant flux, children will have nowhere to turn for a sense of safety and security. Markham also believes that structure encourages children to have self discipline since they are not distracted by having to manage their environment. But HOW does structure help self discipline? How does that work in the brain itself?
Psychology Today Author, Karen Spangenberg Postal, Ph.d. explains it here: How Structure Improves Your Child’s Brain. Studies indicate that when parents set structure and assist with follow through on structured tasks, they are acting as the child’s adopted executive brain function.
“Think back to your child’s third birthday party. The parents all stayed at the party in order to follow their child through the chaos, squashing their impulse to grab a present, drying tears after they didn’t get the first piece of cake, and keeping an eye out for the first steps in the “bathroom dance.” A neuroscientist would say that the parents are acting as external frontal executive networks, literally lending their child their own brain’s ability to modulate emotions, resist impulses, and plan into the future.
… The executive abilities to resist impulses, plan into the future, and modulate emotion are not only useful for being independent at birthday parties and staying awake during the day, but also for succeeding in the classroom. And yet there is a commonly held notion that as parents we should back off and leave kids on their own when it comes to learning and homework.”
Spangenberg Postal then gives examples of how parents must provide it, at different levels, at different times in life. As an example, she outlines the difference between helicopter parents (I’ll do that for you) and parents that assist executive brain function (let me create structure to help you do that yourself). Examples include – calendar’s and reminded check ins for primary school children, set homework time and place for elementary children and enforced bedtimes for adolescents.
Routine does not just help the brain develop discipline and future executive function, it is also key in academic and cognitive development such as language and social skills. A research paper written by Mary Spagnola, PhD; Barbara H. Fiese, PhD (Published by Infants & Young Children Vol. 20, No. 4, pp. 284–299 2007 Wolters Kluwer Health | Lippincott Williams & Wilkins) takes an even closer look at how routine affects brain function and child development.
The study discusses the value of many common rituals and routines and their affects, as corroborated by other studies, on language development, social skills, and self management. The authors specifically discuss how language development is directly affected by meal time routines, which are rich in what they call, “meta-language” opportunities “exposing children to a broad range of its use including narratives, explanations, clarifications, and cultural rules about speech (Aukrust, 2002; Ely, Gleason, MacGibbon, & Zaretsky, 2001).”
They also note that In addition to meal times, reading routines, before bed or after school, encourage academic skills such as vocabulary and comprehension via “repetition and responsiveness.”
So, as it turns out, ritual and structure for young children and adolescents is not only about providing a sense of security in a changing world. Although that is key, the routines themselves have been shown to affect brain function as seen through social and academic development. That is why routines like daily opening verse, bread making on Wednesday, or keeping the same teacher for 8 years are not just novel or comforting tenets of a Waldorf education. They are essential structures used to successfully educate the whole child.
Howard Gardner, American developmental psychologist and 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, he outlines the types of intelligences, claiming that people process information in several different, independent ways. For example, ever known a math whiz that can’t jump rope? Or maybe you know the world’s most competent linguist who is tone deaf or cannot balance their checkbook. “Smart” is not one thing, hence terms like “book smart,” “street smart” and “common sense.”
This thinking has changed the way educators regard learning because it deconstructs the idea of one “general” intelligence ruling someone’s abilities. Waldorf educators, under the direction of Austrian scientist and philosopher, Rudolph Steiner, have been focusing on the education of the whole child since the late 19th century. For Steiner, this meant the integration of arts into curriculum, inclusion of cross-hemispherical brain exercises, and focus on developing multiple intelligences through a comprehensive system of education.
We have created a detailed blog series discussing how each of Gardner’s intelligences is fostered in the Waldorf classroom. Read more: