By Stephanie Sesic Greer
As part of the Waldorf model of educating the whole child, the teachers at Spring Garden make great efforts to nurture and develop our children’s sense of themselves as social beings.
A feeling of social inclusion is key to a child’s happiness and success in school, and the conscious development of social skills from an early age may be one of the most lasting benefits of a Waldorf education.
The Waldorf model takes the long-term view that, as with academic learning, healthy social interaction must be self-motivated. Our teachers seek to provide students with important social skills that will enable to them interact compassionately with others, to create a sense of community, and to confront and resolve conflicts within their community.
This is the first in a series of posts that will detail how these long term goals of social inclusion are achieved through the daily practices of Waldorf teachers and students from first through eighth grade.
The first and most important goal is to help students learn how to work together as a group and to view their class as a community that each student plays a vital role in nurturing and maintaining. Instruction in academic subjects cannot effectively progress until some social cohesion within the classroom is achieved, allowing the teacher to focus on letters and numbers rather than on policing students’ behavior.
Students learn to work together by first learning to play together. When conflicts occur among students, on the playground or in the classroom, the teacher acts primarily as a mediator, expressing sympathy for children who are upset, calming the children so that they are able to constructively discuss the conflict, making sure that all of the children involved in the situation are allowed to speak about what happened and how they feel, helping each student to think about what they can do to resolve the conflict, and finally, discussing how a similar conflict might be avoided in the future. Thus, children learn self-control, empathy, responsibility, and conflict resolution.
In the early grades, teachers may focus at least as much on developing students’ social skills as on academic instruction, thereby establishing a community of students that is able and eager to work together to learn.
In the next post in this series, I will discuss what happens in acute or ongoing situations that call for the teacher to be more than a mediator.
We wanted to point you to a comprehensive collection of articles about the everyday role of music in Waldorf education at WaldorfMusic.org. This particular article, Waldorf Music Education: Living the Musical Life, walks readers through the music education focus for the different grades. In short, the author, Jason Child, says, “While [Waldorf music education] has the ability to produce fine musicians, its true aim is to help produce fine human beings.”
Here are the article highlights of music making by grade:
“In grades 1 – 3 . . . the music instruction is almost wholly qualitative. …Through their exploration, they experience the essential qualities of music: high, low, fast, slow, long, short, etc. This work is really only the vehicle, though. The real goal is to help the students become sensitive, active listeners.”
“In … classes 4 and 5, the music education sets its sights on literacy and more standard music-making. The children learn to read and write music, and they learn the names for all of the fundamental music concepts. They also begin playing a string instrument, and have their first experience of needing to practice and work at learning this new, awkward skill.”
“In the middle and high school, the children have an intense need to be creative and express themselves. … Over time, the music program will evolve so that the students are all in performing ensembles during their middle and high school years. The training in both subtle and practical music skills of the early years will come to fruition in middle school performance ensembles….”
Articles on the Importance of Play:
The Tech Debate:
Homework is in the news again. This time because French president, Francois Hollande, wants to put an end to homework for those in grade 1-8.
One big reason for the switch? According to author Peter Gumbel, a critic of the French school system, “The French are discovering — to their horror — that their performance internationally has been declining over the last 10 years. The French actually are performing [worse] than the Americans in reading and science,” he says.
This leads to a common question asked by NYTimes blogger Joyce Lau, How Much Homework Does It Take to Educate a Nation? Her answer: Who could know? She compares two drastically different educational systems with similar results –South Korea (with hours of homework each day) and Finland (with next to none).
The Latest Study
Much research is being done to answer this question and the results vary. In this most recent homework study, researchers at Indiana University and The University of Virginia concluded: “Contrary to much published research, a regression analysis of time spent on homework and the final class grade found no substantive difference in grades between students who complete homework and those who do not.”
But, as this recent Examiner article discusses, research studies like this one on homework’s benefits or lack thereof, must be taken under this consideration — the only way homework can be effective is if it constructively assigned, reviewed, and if students are given feedback. Most studies never filter for whether the homework consisted of unchecked worksheets or graded science projects.
What’s the Waldorf Homework Philosophy?
Waldorf schools, like Spring Garden, take a healthy approach to homework. There is little to no homework in Primary school, and, in early-mid Elementary, it is kept to a minimum and tends to be project based — used primarily to help children organize themselves and develop good habits at home. By Middle school, Waldorf students generally have a similar homework load to their peers, but the assignments are always related and relevant to the lesson block and in-class work.
Join us Wednesday, November 28 for “Coffee and Conversation” on sleep with Dr. Karen Cseak and nurse Susan Moss. This is a hot topic this fall thanks to two new studies from October of 2012 citing the affects of sleep on both child and adult brain function and behavior.
The latest study, published in Pediatrics mid October of this year noted that:
“A modest extension in sleep duration was associated with significant improvement in alertness and emotional regulation, whereas a modest sleep restriction had opposite effects.”
This study reinforces previous studies such as this one, which produced this chart about sleep and it’s relation to behavior problems in school age children:
Or this British study from 2 years back showing that sleep patterns of infants had a significant affect on learning in school age children – noting that “for every year that the child had a behavioral sleep problem, the likelihood of his having a special educational need at age 8 was increased by 7%.”
In adults, the relation between sleep and brain function persists. This study, also from October of this year, found that sleep deprivation impairs “communication between the hippocampus, which is vital for memory, and the brain’s ‘default mode network;’ the changes may weaken event recollection.” It also found a relation between lack of sleep and disrupted functioning of brain regions associated with memory impairment and Alzheimer’s.
If your child needs a better night sleep, check out http://www.sleepfoundation.org/ for bedroom optimization tips and other recommendations.
Spring Garden has partnered with Westminster Presbyterian Church, The Shaw JCC , Faith Lutheran Church and St. Paul’s Episcopal Church to bring you a four part series about important childhood issues and information. The first session — The Importance of Play in the Development of Children – will be presented by Dr. Joshua Magleby, Sunday, Nov. 18th at Westminster Presbyterian Church in West Akron. Childcare will be provided. Lectures begin at 6 pm. Come learn with us!