This latest TedX video circulating around on education is a must see. The talk is by Jack Petrash, founder and director of the Nova Institute, which, according to his TedX bio, “seeks to build a bridge between Waldorf Education and contemporary educators to encourage dialogue and a sense of common purpose.” Petrash is also the author of Understanding Waldorf Education: Teaching from the Inside Out.
According to Waldorf Today, Petrash believes education should “develop three essential capacities: a capacity for vibrant and vigorous activity, a capacity for a sensitive and yet resilient emotional life, and a capacity for clear, focused, original, thinking. . . . In order to develop these three capacities, we must educate our children in a multidimensional way in school.
Watch his innovative Ted Talk:
If you Google, “Summer break with children,” you get two types of search results — a variety of activity lists or articles about the evils of summer’s off. Turns out they call it “summer fade,” which is a one month backslide in learning coupled with an increase in Body Mass Index (BMI) for kids.
Many parents counter these issues with a rigorous schedule of summer camps, sport practice and tutoring. While watching television all day with a box of pop tarts is obviously not good, there are some other options beyond a highly structured and scheduled summer.
When planning, or not planning your child’s summer, consider the scientifically proven benefits of boredom, free play and time in nature. These research studies about children and learning support the idea of a summer slowdown.
In a recent BBC news article, Children should be allowed to get bored, Dr Teresa Belton said, “Cultural expectations that children should be constantly active could hamper the development of their imagination.”
Now couple that reality with studies connecting time in nature with increased learning and emotional capabilities. The positive results of being outdoors for children are vast as seen in this PDF of a decade of Scientific Studies on this topic. Some highlights include:
- “When children engage in authentic play in nature-based outdoor spaces, they develop skills in a variety of domains simultaneously.” – Miller, D.L., Tichota, K,.White, J. (2009).
- “Sullivan has revealed that the symptoms of children with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) are relieved after contact with nature. The greener the setting, the more the relief.” – Taylor, A., Kuo, F. & Sullivan, W. (2001).
- “Children who regularly have positive personal experiences with the natural world show more advanced motor fitness, including coordination, balance and agility.” – Fjortoft, Ingunn (2001).
In addition to the learning benefits to boredom and time in nature, there is also the issue of free play. This article from Parenting Science explores over a decade of studies about the benefits of unstructured play time. The author is careful to note that free play does not mean physcial education classes or sports. Free play is just that. Unstructured play time, which is proven to help math skills, language development, and creative problem solving.
- “Play and exploration trigger the secretion of BDNF, a substance essential for the growth of brain cells.”
- “Psychologist Edward Fisher analyzed 46 published studies of the cognitive benefits of play (Fisher 1999). He found that “sociodramatic play”—what happens when kids pretend together—’results in improved performances in both cognitive-linguistic and social affective domains.'”
And finally, before you schedule a summer of busy stimulation, consider this article and advice from Simplicity Parenting writer Kim John Payne. He says:
“[When Google is hiring they say] ‘we’re less concerned about grades and transcripts and more interested in how you think.'”
If we rewind to a childhood that makes an adult like that, what do we see? Is it racing around from one prep course to another? From soccer to piano to Mandarin? A childhood on the clock and filling up the gaps with zoning on the iPad and obsessing about making more friends on Facebook?
I don’t think so.
When we really look at what happens for a kid when they slow down, tune in to themselves, take space and get busy in serious play, we can see that what they are learning is how to be create a kind of inner structure that will serve them (and us) well in the world ahead. … Play provides a deep and wide-reaching domain for kids to experiment with the real work of the real world.”
The mind and the body are not separate; they function as one. Waldorf Educators believe that, for children, learning without movement can be difficult. Waldorf educators also deeply know and study the mind body connection in regards to learning. Nothing represents this Waldorf culmination of physical and intellectual togetherness quite like the Fifth grade Pentathlon.
Fifth grade students are transitioning in development. After having come to realize the isolated self in third grade, they have grown into this reality and are now ready to look at the world around them in an ordered sense (space and time) to better understand their place within that world.
When it comes to physical education, the students are ready to emerge gently from the world of cooperative-only games and into the world of individual competition – a necessary transition before the sixth grade introduction of team-based sports.
These mind and body elements of readiness combine with Main lesson teachings of history and culture. Class 5 studies ancient history stretching from 3000 BC to 300 BC beginning with ancient India, moving to Persian culture the Chaldeans, Hebrews, Assyrians, Babylonians, Egyptians and ending with Greeks.
So as the end of the Class five Main Lesson school year wraps up Greek History, the end of the Class 5 Physical Education school years ends with a five event Greek Pentathlon: discus, javelin, wrestling, long jump and running. In gym class throughout the year, students will have prepared for their individual events and then will compete in an all day Pentathlon festival with other regional Waldorf schools.
Here are all six of the Fifth Grade classes in the 2013, Ann Arbor Pentathlon, singing Glorious Apollo together for the first time.
Waldorf Education: A family Guide
As Waldorf parents, you know the value of screen-limited living. Now, help spread the word and encourage the people you know and love to take part in Screen Free Week this upcoming Monday, 4/29 through Sunday 5/5.
Screen Free Week is organized by The Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood.
And screen free week is not just for the kids. Stop checking that smart phone first thing in the morning and leave Facebook and Twitter alone in the evening and at lunchtime. You can do it. Turn Off media and turn On Life!
Knitting and handwork is a subject in Waldorf of equal importance to Music and Spanish and the other special subjects. Wonder why? Learn to knit! It requires counting, fine motor skills, spatial awareness and multilateral thinking. Best of all, unlike a math worksheet, this math lesson, a pattern of weaving and intertwining multiple rows, layers, and numbers according to formula, results in a beautiful and functional piece of art. Something each child is truly proud of having made.
Here is an excerpt from after the click:
“Needles are held in both hands, with each hand assigned it’s respective activity; laterality is immediately established, as well as the eye’s control over the hand. The right needle must enter a fairly tightly wound loop of yarn On the left needle, weave through it and pull it away, in the process of tying a knot. Only a steady and controlled hand can perform such a feat, so the power of concentration is aroused . . .”
Music is beautiful and enriching to our lives. Children who learn music gain confidence in their ability to master a complex skill. But research also shows music does so much more for our brains. Below, we have posted some music and intelligence research to go with this lovely video of our 7th and 8th grade orchestra performance.
From The M.U.S.I.C Foundation: “Music training is far superior to computer instruction in dramatically enhancing children’s abstract reasoning skills, the skills necessary to learn math and science.”
From Parenting Science:
“Moreover, brain scans of 9- to 11-year old children have revealed that those kids who play musical instruments have significantly more grey matter volume in both the sensorimotor cortex and the occipital lobes (Schlaug et al 2005).”
“People with music training often outperform their non-musical peers on cognitive tasks (Schellenberg 2006).”
“A new study of older adults–aged 65-80–found a correlation between childhood music training and cognitive performance. The more years a person had spent playing an instrument, the better he performed on tests of word recall, visual (nonverbal) memory, and cognitive flexibility (Hanna-Pladdy and Mackay 2011).”
From Science Daily: “Researchers have found the first evidence that young children who take music lessons show different brain development and improved memory over the course of a year compared to children who do not receive musical training.”
From the US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health: “Short-term music training enhances verbal intelligence and executive function. After only 20 days of training, only children in the music group exhibited enhanced performance on a measure of verbal intelligence, with 90% of the sample showing this improvement. These improvements in verbal intelligence were positively correlated with changes in functional brain plasticity during an executive-function task. Our findings demonstrate that transfer of a high-level cognitive skill is possible in early childhood.”