In the Classroom
“Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.” – Aristotle
We are not an art school but every senior at KWS paints a self portrait. This not only represents the culmination of the Waldorf painting curriculum, but requires students to engage with the deep questions of identity: “Who am I?”, “How am I seen?” and, most importantly, “What is my place in the world?”
In high school, a new questioning about life and the personal search for truth and self-knowledge emerges and students are ready to confront good and evil, questions of destiny, evolution, and identity. Through the self-portrait project students are challenged to really look at themselves closely to create a physical likeness but to also look deeply at who they are in this world.
Our high school curriculum encourages students to look at themselves, reflect back on their lives and go out into the world and contribute to it from the sense of who they are.
When students graduate from Kimberton Waldorf School, they leave with not only a strong academic foundation but with a sense of who they are, the ability to think for themselves, and the confidence in their capacity to learn and do whatever they put their minds to.
“The senior portrait class represents the culmination of the Waldorf painting curriculum, making use of all the years that come before it in the pursuit of a meaningful piece of art that students and their families can take with them and cherish for years beyond graduation. Pulling from drawing tools introduced and sharpened in 9th grade, painting technique developed in 10th grade, and color theory explored in 11th grade, seniors work for about two months to produce a self portrait that expresses their inner spirit coming into harmony with the external realities of their body.
“The potential for such a portrait is boundless, and seniors are often at first a little daunted. First of all, there is the hard work of really looking at themselves, of being objective and making measurements about things that often times they don’t want to dwell on. Throughout the course, students have to learn to be comfortable with how they look, and in doing so they come to understand that they themselves are beautiful despite what they think of as imperfections. The second daunting task comes in dealing with the number of choices they must make. Do they paint a realistic skin tone, or one that expresses some quality of themselves more metaphorically? Do they choose a background that puts them firmly rooted in the world, or do they paint one that uses color to make it, as we like to say in the painting room, “pop”? How do they pose for their initial photo session, which determines the basic structure of their drawing? The best way to answer these questions is always to jump right in, to do something fearlessly and know that mistakes are where the good stuff happens — learning, growing, correcting. One choice leads to another, which leads to another, and eventually the final outcome looks as if it couldn’t have been painted any other way.” – Todd Stong, KWS Painting Teacher
This is EDUCATION THAT MATTERS.
Unique to Waldorf schools, form drawing is an approach to geometry that begins with simple repetitive ribbon forms in the first grade and becomes more complex by fifth grade. Its effectiveness is realized in the process, not in the product. It is the act of drawing that educates, not the result.
In the early grades students begin to draw a form with physical movements before they draw the form on paper. Children trace a form in the air with their arm or in the air with their eyes closed or by walking out the form in the grass. From the very first core forms of straight lines and curves, form drawings address spatial orientation, body geography, inner visualization and observation. To walk a form and then draw it, to keep lines straight, curves smooth, angles sharp, to begin a line in the right place, and stop it exactly where you mean to and to center the form on the page are demanding tasks for the 6 year old. These lead to foundations for writing and reading by training the eye and hand to work together.
In the later grades, geometric forms further math skills and spatial orientation and running forms help with small motor and body geography skills. Woven forms are introduced and work with forward-backward, estimation, self-movement, balancing the parts, spatial orientation. This type of kinesthetic form drawing encourages visual spatial skills, visual motor skills and body awareness. It is a definite challenge for kinesthetic awareness.
In the high school, 3 dimensional sculpture circles back to the form drawing work of the earlier grades, working with negative and positive space, and helps to develop more complex skills of inner visualization and design, strong self-movement, flexibility in thinking and balance.
This form of multisensory learning has long lasting benefits for children. They include a sense for beauty, harmony, and proportion; problem solving and critical thinking skills; creativity and self-confidence.
“Logic will get you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere.”
~ Albert Einstein
Why play-based learning?
The right brain develops first and does so by the time children are 3-4 years of age. The left brain, on the other hand, doesn’t fully come online until children are approximately seven years old; hence the first seven years being recognized as such a critical period in child development. Play-based education fits the developmental needs of children.
The left brain’s functionality is one of language, numeracy, literacy, analysis and time. It is the logical, calculating, planning, busy-bee part of us that keeps us anchored in the pragmatic world, and in past and future. The right brain, on the other hand, is responsible for empathy, intuition, imagination and creativity. It is where we wonder, dream, connect and come alive. Through the right brain we dwell in the space of no-time, in being absolutely present and our boundless sense of being. Being is primary; hence the right brain developing first; hence, human being, not human doing.
The play-based approach
Children are naturally motivated to play. A play-based program builds on this motivation, using play as a context for learning. In this context, children can explore, experiment, discover and solve problems in imaginative and playful ways.
A play-based approach involves both child-initiated and teacher-supported learning. The teacher encourages children’s learning and inquiry through interactions that aim to stretch their thinking to higher levels. Teachers take an active role in guiding children’s interactions in the play. Children are supported in developing social skills such as cooperation, sharing and responding to ideas, negotiating, and resolving conflicts.
Play also supports positive attitudes to learning. These include imagination, curiosity, enthusiasm, and persistence. The type of learning processes and skills fostered in play cannot be replicated through rote learning, where there is an emphasis on remembering facts.
The skilled early childhood teacher highly values and nurtures the child’s fundamental creative and imaginative nature with countless opportunities and environments for exploration and play. Play can provide children with the opportunity to develop social, emotional, physical and creative skills in addition to cognitive ones. Preschool and kindergarten programs that strike a healthy balance between stimulating work and engaging play prepare the child for success in primary school and beyond. They empower these individuals to go beyond functioning in a competitive world to making valuable changes in that world.
Children with stronger social skills do better in school, in the workplace, and in life. Child-directed play and modeling of helping behaviors are key to the development of social skills and need be prioritized in early education. We agree with the research that indicates that social skill development should be an intentional outcome of all educational experiences for children from preschool through elementary school. Getting along with others, being helpful and cooperative, and demonstrating empathy certainly make for better community. Additionally, a child’s early skills with building positive relationships with peers and with adults are correlated with positive life outcomes overall.
Research on the brain demonstrates that play is a scaffold for development, a vehicle for increasing neural structures, and a means by which all children practice skills they will need in later life. Because play often involves physical activity, it is encourages the development and refinement of children’s gross and fine motor skills and their body awareness. As children vigorously and joyfully use their bodies in physical exercise, meaningful work and unstructured play, they simultaneously refine and develop skills that enable them to feel confident, secure, and self-assured.
Planning, self-awareness, and self-control—what psychologists refer to as “executive functions”—predict positive school and life outcomes. Studies show that children develop executive functions through experience. Children use components of executive functions when they make decisions and interact with peers in everyday classroom settings. For example, they use planning to generate ideas for what to play, while working memory and inhibitory control help with remembering and following the rules of play. As children get older, they will need an efficient working memory to process all of the information that they encounter in the upper grades.
The need for developing skills of complex problem solving, critical thinking, creativity and collaboration are essential for 21st century learning. These skills are built and enhanced by learning through play across the lifespan.
How does play-based education build the foundations for learning?
Play-based education embodies a plethora of activities integrated in the day that encourage school readiness, build academic capacities and create a lifelong love of learning.
An important literacy skill for reading is acquisition of language, as shown by children’s vocabulary and capacity to articulate their thoughts. The depth of a preschooler’s language skills—like early conceptual mathematics—is more predictive of long-term reading than simple measures of early literacy like letter recognition.[/tab] [tab]Hands-on experiences in art, science, and making – such as cooking, playing with sand and sticks and natural materials, painting, knitting and building –are terrific, and developmentally appropriate, ways for young children to build their fine motor coordination and the musculature for later writing.[/tab] [tab]A powerful indicator and predictor of long-term success with mathematics—and with other academic domains—is early conceptual mathematics. By helping children see mathematics in the world around them, using rich mathematical language as we work with children, building a growth mindset in mathematics by modeling our own use and learning of mathematics we create strong foundations for mathematical capacities.
Resources on play and play-based education
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“Projective geometry has the capacity to open minds and broaden thinking. I learned about things like perspective and duality, and all of this came together at infinity to create an understanding that I knew I didn’t have at the start of this block.”
Problem Solving and Perspective
The central point of mathematical activity in the Waldorf high school is problem solving. The important thing is learning how to solve problems, not what the answer is. With this as the focus, high school mathematics builds on both bases of mathematics: inspiration (induction) as a beginning and logical conclusion (deduction) at a later stage in the mathematical activity.
The most important aim is to develop the students ability to think with a wide range of approaches until they get to the logical conclusion, and to give them confidence in themselves and in their thinking. Another important goal is to prepare the students to apply calculations methods to everyday life and also to give them the foundation for further education.
Geometry is the mathematical discipline that deals with the interrelations of objects in the plane, in space, or even in higher dimensions. More than any other mathematical discipline, the field of geometry ranges from the very concrete and visual to the very abstract and fundamental. In one extreme, geometry deals with very concrete objects such as points, lines, circles, and planes and studies the interrelations between them. On the other side, geometry is a benchmark for logical rigor, the elegance of axiom systems, logical chains of proof, and the parallel world of algebraic structures.
In tenth grade, students study the projective properties of geometric figures
In high school, children reach a new stage of development where an individual’s inner life confronts the outer world in a relationship that still has to find a form. In an integrative education, even geometry has its place in the deep work of young adults. The deeper concepts of mathematics around perspective, infinity, transformations, angles, boundaries, and duality lead to new insights and broader understanding of not just geometry, but of life.
Introduction to Projective Geometry from a student’s main lesson book:
The Euclidian geometry we have worked with up until this point has dealt with the finite, the measureable. In the consciousness of the ancient Greeks, even the realm of the gods was considered in finite terms. Of course this finite or measureable nature implies ideals; for in actuality we can never be exact. As soon as we try to represent a point or line on paper, it is only an approximation, or rather a two-dimensional representation of the ideal. A point, as defined by Euclid is that which has no part, and a line is breathless and thus can never actually exit in the physical.
Projective geometry takes the elements of Euclid but stretches them in space toying with the idea of infinity. This geometry has seen application in the perspective drawings done already during the Renaissance by such artists as DaVinci and Durer. Projective geometry challenges Euclid’s elements asking us to see points as lines of infinity and whole planes becoming points. The mysteries of infinity order the random and obscure the ordered.
This block is an exploration of space, projecting lines and points to infinity with geometric nets and conic sections, observing the phenomena as they occur. We can wrestle with the ideas, but this course also gives us the opportunity to step back and relish the beauty and magic of these lines and points as we strive for exactness and perfection.
Students need to develop an intuitive understanding of geometric relationships and how to manipulate them. Learning how to do geometric proofs with compass and straightedge is an essential part of developing that knowledge. That knowledge will be used by an architect in many ways, from the creation of complex computer models to hand-sketching. In fact, one of the first things they teach in architectural perspective drawing class is how to use basic geometric principles we all learned in 10th grade geometry to quickly draw realistic and correctly-proportioned perspective images.
The relationship between mind and hand through pencil and paper is very direct (same with sculpting clay, for that matter). You lose that direct connection when a computer interface is involved. Once you know and have intuitively internalized the principles, the computer allows you to magnify that knowledge in practical applications.
I insist on seeing a demonstration of hand-drawing skills even for prospective employees who will only be doing computer drafting or modeling. What they can do with a pencil shows me in a very direct way how their brains work and whether or not they really understand what they’re doing when they try to graphically represent spatial concepts and systems,
So, yes, I think it’s important that students still learn how to do geometry the old fashioned way. Even though a computer will automate a lot of the calculation and construction for you, you still need to understand the geometric principles at work in order to use them. – Archinect
Why We Teach This Way Matters
THIS IS EDUCATION THAT MATTERS
Geometry holds a central place in Waldorf education’s mathematics curriculum and emerges out of form drawing which students begin in Kindergarten. In sixth grade, students move from creating flat two-dimensional geometric designs to kinesthetic art with curve stitching, which creates circles and curves from straight lines. They are colorful and beautiful and very visually interesting but do you wonder what they have to do with math?
Artistic, but also Technical
In order to construct and shade those drawings or string designs, the students need to have learned many things, including a knowledge and understanding of circles and polygons, how to use a compass and ruler with competence, and how to bisect an arc or a line or an angle. The students learn how to construct straight lines from a curved line by drawing exact polygons within a circle as they learn how to divide a circle into 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 8, 10, 12, 16, and 24 divisions. Line and string designs show them the many ways that curved lines can be constructed from straight lines. The drawings done in sixth grade represent foundational Geometric concepts, presented beautifully and artistically, that are carried into the high school when students learn about Conic Sections, Trigonometry and Projective Geometry.
Engaging the Hands Creates a Deeper Understanding
Use of string art in learning geometry is a powerful method to ‘experience’ the facts and laws of geometric forms. The precision and beauty of these geometric forms lead the children to a deeper understanding of mathematics as they use their hands to illustrate concepts and develop skills.
These constructions offer abundant opportunity for students to learn mathematical vocabulary and concepts, and the ability to follow directions. String designs helps to improve spatial perception, encourages students to experiment, enriches their learning and lays a foundation for advanced Projective Geometry and the three-dimensional graphs and surfaces encountered in Calculus in high school and college.
The brain discovers what the fingers explore.
In sixth grade, geometrical rules are sought and formulated:
Geometrical proof of sums of angles of triangles
Construction of angles using compasses, bisecting angles
Congruent triangles and the four principle cases for congruency
Movement properties of triangles and quadrilaterals
Congruent shapes, construction of similar angles, complementary, supplementary and other angles
Construction of triangles, with altitudes, and angle and side bisectors
Why We Teach This Way Matters
THIS IS EDUCATION THAT MATTERS
Every year our 12th grade students take a week-long trip to Hermit Island in Maine. They join about 100 seniors from other Waldorf schools for a week-long course on invertebrate zoology. They take daily trips to the tide pools and mud flats to investigate sea plants and animals. They discover creatures only visible in tide pools and under the microscope, as well as sea urchins, squid and sea stars. There are opportunities to experience the glowing of comb jellies and bioluminescence in the ocean. The students hone their observational skills by identifying various species of crabs and snails living in this vibrant ecosystem and come together as a group to discuss the week’s theme of earth as an organism.
As with all great Waldorf curriculum, learning is multi-modality and integrated. Students balance the scientific with the artistic through sketching organisms and watercolor landscape, to writing sea-based poetry and stargazing. And as always, they had fun and made new friends.
What an amazing opportunity for our children!
Our 9th grade was recently “away” on their Agricultural Practicum. We use the word away loosely. They were away and here at the same time. Students worked all week at Camphill Village Kimberton Hills, helping them harvest in the CSA, herb garden and orchard. While there, the students participate in the life of that community, work and share meals with villagers and co-workers. They also get a taste of work in the cow barn and in general farm maintenance. All of this plus staying overnight in the Garden Building! While there, they work with Celia Martin in the evening preparing beef jerky for their backpacking trip in the spring. Kimberton Waldorf students are introduced to a variety of complex issues around food and nourishment through the Agriculture Practicum, our gardening program and through exploring topics around food justice and food insecurity.
There is a widely-held belief that if we just start teaching children to write, read, and spell in preschool, they will become better writers, readers, and spellers by the time they reach the first and second grades. This is, however, not true. The truth is that children only should be taught to write, read, and spell when their neurological pathways for writing, reading, and spelling have fully formed. There are many neuropsychologists, developmental specialists, occupational therapists and teachers who are concerned that our current trend in this country of pushing “academics” in preschool and kindergarten may increase attentional problems and visual processing types of learning disabilities.
The Proprioceptive System
In order for children to be able to sit still, pay attention, and remember abstract shapes, like letters and numbers, they first need to have developed their proprioceptive system.
The proprioceptive system is strengthened by physical movements, like sweeping with a broom, pushing a wheelbarrow, carrying groceries, emptying the trash, pulling weeds, or hanging from monkey bars. When children do these types of activities they stimulate pressure receptors within their muscles, tendons, and joints, thereby allowing their minds to make a map of the location of these various pressure receptors within the body. A connection is made between the mind of children and the various parts of their physical body. In this way children develop a sense of where their body is in space (proprioception), and even if their eyes are closed, the children will be able to feel or sense the location of muscles, joints and tendons within their trunk, arms, legs, fingers, and toes. In addition, as the children move their arms, legs, hands, and feet forwards, backwards, up, down, left and right, they will start to gain a sense of the spaces around them. Now, when these children look at the shapes of letters and numbers, their eyes will follow and track the lines and curves. The memory of these movements will then imprint upon their mind. They will have the capacity to make mental pictures or images of these numbers and letters. They will easily remember the correct orientation of numbers like 2 and 3 when they are writing.
Reading, Spelling, and Writing
Our current educational system is teaching children to read in a way that doesn’t make sense developmentally. Children in preschool and kindergarten are expected to memorize letters and words before their minds have developed the necessary pathways to identify letters, easily read words, and comprehend what they are reading. We are asking these young children to read, when the only part of their brain that is developed and available for reading words is the right hemisphere.
The right hemisphere first develops for reading, usually around four to seven years of age. This right part of the brain allows children to recognize words by sight. It enables children to focus on the first and last letters in a word and the overall length and shape of the word. It allows children to guess at words without paying much attention to spelling or matching sounds to letters (phonics). In contrast, the reading center in the left brain and the connecting bridge-like pathway between the left and the right brain don’t start developing until seven to nine years of age. It is this reading center in the left brain that allows children to match sounds to letters and enables them to sound out words phonetically. Now they can remember more accurately how words are spelled.
Because the reading center in the right brain sees abstract forms like letters and numbers as pictures, it makes sense to first teach children to read by relating the shapes of letters to actual pictures that children can relate to and draw. For example, the letter “M” can be represented by two mountain peaks with a valley in between. As teachers we can tell children that the sound “M” is the first sound one hears when saying the word “mountains.” Other examples might include drawing a king out of the letter “K,” a bunny out of the letter “B,” or waves out of a “W.” What doesn’t make developmental sense is expecting children to just memorize the abstract shape of the letter “F,” or memorize phrases like “F” as in the word FOX, “B” as in the word BOY, or “C” as in the word CROCODILE. These words do not make any visual sense to the reading center in the right brain. The letter “F” doesn’t look like a FOX, the letter “B” doesn’t look like a BOY, and the letter “C” does not look like a CROCODILE.
When we push young children to read when they only have access to their right hemisphere for reading, we create learning problems for them in the future. Since children using the reading center of the right hemisphere look at the first and last letters of a word, the length of that word, and then make a guess, they will look at a word like “STAMP” and may guess that the word is “STOP” or “STUMP.” If you show them the word, “TGOEHTER” they may read the word as “TOGETHER,” but will not realize that the word is misspelled. Words like “FRIEND,” “FIND,” and “FOUND,” as well as “FILLED,” “FILED,” and “FLOOD,” will all seem the same.
It takes a lot of mental effort to read words using only sight memory. Sight memory was meant to be used for only small words. Children who are reading using only their right hemisphere often are exhausted after reading just a few paragraphs, and can only parrot back words or sentences by memory. In addition, their minds are busy deciphering each word and therefore are not free to create the pictures and actual scenes associated with the words they are reading. This limits their overall comprehension. This may lead to difficulty being able to summarize, condense, or comprehend ideas very easily.
For all of these reasons, many experts are recommending that reading should be taught in school only after children have developed both their right and left reading centers. This will enable children to use sight memory for small words and the more efficient method of phonics for larger words. In addition, children need to have developed the “bridge” pathway that connects the two reading centers together. When children have developed this connection between the right and left cerebral hemispheres (bilateral integration), they can access both the right and left reading centers of their brain at the same time, and therefore can decide at any given moment whether to read a word by sight, if the word is short (a right hemisphere activity), or sound out the word phonetically if the word is long (a left hemisphere activity).
A physical sign that children have developed bilateral integration and can now read both by sight memory and phonics is shown by their ability to do cross-lateral exercises such as crossing the midline in form drawings, knitting or cross-lateral skipping which require both brain hemispheres to communicate. Children who can simultaneously access their reading centers in the right and left hemispheres of their brain will read easily and will create visual images and pictures in their mind related to the content of what they are reading and will have an easier time understanding the meaning behind the stories and books they are reading.
First grade is the time to introduce form drawing, learn the capital letters (as pictures that children can draw), and practice cursive writing. As the majority of children in the classroom strengthen their proprioceptive skills and integrate their right and left hemispheres (as evidenced by their ability to stand on one foot with their eyes closed, remember the shapes that are drawn on their backs, jump rope forward and backwards by themselves, and easily perform the cross lateral skip), then children are ready to read and write.
It is time to remove the desks from kindergartens and preschools. Our preschools and kindergartens need to fill their curriculums with play consisting of lots of sensory integration activities that will strengthen fine motor movements, visual motor abilities, balance, muscle tone, proprioception, as well as strengthen children’s social and emotional development. Activities like imaginary play, climbing, running, jumping, hopping, skipping, walking the balance beam, playing circle games, singing, playing catch, doing meaningful chores, painting, coloring, playing hand-clapping games, doing string games, and finger knitting will strengthen their minds for learning. Children need these healthy, harmonious, rhythmic, and noncompetitive movements to develop their brains. For it is the movements of their body that create the pathways in their mind for reading, writing, spelling, mathematics, and creative thinking.
Adapted from an article by Susan Johnson, M.D., a Behavioral and Developmental Pediatrician in Colfax, California.
When educating students for the future, preparing them with 21st century skills that are critical in our information-based economy, together with a rich and rigorous curriculum, are instrumental. In our ever-changing world, employers desire more than just workers. They favor diverse thinkers who are knowledgeable in a wide range of fields, who are able to creatively solve problems. Individuals must be innovative and collaborative and possess strong communication skills. The majority of today’s business leaders report that creativity is the most important skill they seek when hiring. Read more about how Kimberton Waldorf School prepares students for the future in our feature article in Chester County Life magazine.
The senior year at a Waldorf school is designed to be a synthesis of the students’ education and a preparation for their next step in life whether it be college studies or professional life. A highlight of the senior year at Kimberton Waldorf School is the Senior Project. The Senior Project is an opportunity for students to show personal initiative and independence in a study or work of their choice. Students must design a project that includes a research component, artistic or practical component and stretches their abilities mentally, physically and/or emotionally. Teachers step back while the students work under the guidance of a mentor. This creates a space for growth toward academic freedom.
Mirabelle Kunz is a senior at Kimberton Waldorf School. Mirabelle has been working on designing and creating a line of clothes that highlights her love of fashion and is full of color and texture. “I chose to make a clothing collection because I am interested in studying fashion design. My goal is to present my collection by holding a fashion show in the spring.” As part of her preparation for her senior project presentation, Mirabelle recently did a photo shoot in New York City to highlight her clothing line. “I planned a photo shoot to take pictures of my collection that I can now use in my college portfolio. I like fashion design because I enjoy the individuality that clothing can give a person!” Mirabelle hopes to study fashion design in New York City in the fall.
Past senior projects at Kimberton Waldorf School have included photography exhibits, pottery collections, mastering a foreign language, dance, building a 3-D printer, creating mobile phone apps, music and art. 2016 graduate, Hannah Wolfram flipped a house for her senior project. After purchasing a house in need of repair, Wolfram spent every weekend and holiday working on the house. Hannah worked to repair a leaky roof, replaced the kitchen and bathroom, updated electrical and plumbing, dry walled, sanded floors and painted. Learning the importance of budgets, timelines, inspections, collaboration and planning became a secondary level of education during her project.
Students can spend more than 100 hours working on their projects. They encounter real life problems as they work to overcome challenges, dead-ends and unexpected complications. They learn to persevere through difficulties, find new resources, and examine the subject from multiple perspectives. In the spring of their twelfth-grade year each senior presents an extensive written report and an oral/visual presentation of their work. The project is presented to a committee of faculty and outside community members, and before the entire school, families and friends. Students learn valuable public speaking skills as they explain and defend their work before a group. For many of our students, the senior project is one of the most challenging, memorable and ultimately valuable experiences they have in their senior year.
“The ability to play is one of the principal criteria of mental health.” Ashley Montagu
Over thirty years of working with children, families, and teachers in Waldorf kindergartens all over the world, I have observed one overwhelming similarity: creative play is a central activity in the lives of healthy young children. It helps children weave together all the elements of life as they experience it. It allows them to digest life and make it their own. It is an outlet for the fullness of their creativity, and it is an absolutely critical part of their childhood. With creative play, children blossom and flourish; without it, they suffer a serious decline. – Joan Almon
7th grade black and white drawings in charcoal and pencil.
Chalk drawing on pavement by students in our extended day program.
Paintings from 2nd graders at Kimberton Waldorf School from their study of Fables.
Last Friday, March 4, the 10th grade finished their Physics block on Mechanics with Mr. Haut. In this block each student works with a partner to create a projectile launcher that can be calibrated to go specific distances. In spite of the snowflakes falling, the class went out in front of the high school to test their launchers. Many teachers came out to watch this yearly spectacle and competition. There was an amazing array of styles and sizes of launchers; there were catapults, a crossbow, and spring-loaded launchers with tubes. Each pair demonstrated their ability to calibrate correctly (having learned the math in the block!). Then Mr. Haut set a bucket at 23 feet, not a setting they had to accomplish for the test of their launcher. Each pair had three tries to calibrate and aim to get a marble in the bucket. Sadly, no one succeeded in the first round. A second round began and after everyone had gone three more times, only one team – Jorin Volke, Andy Qu, and Simeon Dancey – was able to get the marble in the bucket. Congratulations, boys!
Platonic solids designed and constructed by 8th graders at Kimberton Waldorf School for their course in geometry.
Landscape studies by our high school students.
Children’s books designed, written, and illustrated by our 12th graders for a zoology class.
Illustrations from our 8th graders for a course on the History of the Reformation.
Scratch-board art from the 8th grade at Kimberton Waldorf School.
Painting by some of the second graders at Kimberton Waldorf School.
These photos are of a 6th grade handwork project at Kimberton Waldorf School. Students first draw an animal, then design their own sewing pattern, and finally construct the animal. Design, problem solving, and manual dexterity, all being developed in a fun and engaging way.
Read how mainstream education is discovering what Waldorf education has known all along: Schools reprioritize playtime to boost concentration and teach social skills.
An Advisor’s Perspective by Celia Martin
I had been hearing about “the Tenth Grade Odyssey Trip” for years. That title denotes challenges, struggles, and obstacles to be overcome, but also triumph at the end. I had viewed photos of the trip, heard stories and seen the tired yet confident students limping or walking slowly down the halls the Monday after, and I wondered what the trip was really like. How difficult was it? Would I be able to do it? This year, as a tenth grade advisor, I found out.
After a seven hour drive on Sunday, October 7, we (28 students and three adults) arrived at our campsite along the Appalachian Trail in Virginia in a cold drizzle and set up our tents in a wet fog. We managed to get the charcoal lit and then worked to hack off slabs of frozen ground beef and cook the “hamburgers” in a steady rain. Thirty people were trying to hover over the sizzling meat, not only to keep the rain off the burgers and prevent it from putting out the fire, but also to feel a little bit of that wonderful dry warmth. There were no tables and no chairs so we stood around awkwardly, not wanting to sit on the cold, wet ground. We were chilly and damp and it was so foggy that the flashlights couldn’t cut through the mist. This was already an Odyssey! We were all very grateful for the warm, delicious food. Almost miraculously, the wet wood that we added to the charcoal after dinner started to burn and we crowded around a big campfire and laughed and talked and sang, the fire lifting our spirits. We looked forward to crawling into nice warm sleeping bags and we hoped that our tents wouldn’t leak.
The next day we were paddling down the James River and even though it was misting a bit, and a little cool, it was great to be paddling down that beautiful stretch of water. I couldn’t think of anyplace I’d rather be on that Monday morning, surrounded by the peace and tranquility of the river and that fantastic group of students. Everyone was full of energy and in high spirits.
For two more days we followed the river going through riffles and rapids and stretches of calm. We saw turtles and Great Blue Herons and the Kingfishers went chattering by. Each night we had a big campfire with songs, riddles and a story or two from Andy Dill. Everyone had their jobs to do so while some gathered wood or scooped water from the river, others cooked or washed dishes. Everyone was so willing to pitch in that it never seemed like work at all. We were tired from the long days of paddling and it felt good to crawl into our tents at night.
On our third night we camped just above Balcony Falls and we listened to the loud sound of the water pouring over the rocks all night. In the morning Andy charged the students with creating their own canoeing partners so that everyone felt confident about getting over the falls safely. After much discussion and rearrangement, we were ready to challenge the falls. Those on shore shouted encouragements to each pair as they prepared to go through, guided by Andy standing out on a high rock giving signals. Everyone was nervous but once we were all safe on the down river side, albeit a bit wet, we felt re-energized to keep going.
Later that day we traded in our canoes for backpacks and hiked three miles to our first campsite on the Appalachian Trail. The outhouse there was much appreciated after having nothing but the trees for three days. Some already had blisters and other foot problems. After just a few miles with those heavy packs, we all decided to eat the dinner that weighed the most so we wouldn’t have to carry it the next day. After a delicious and filling meal of lentil stew with vegetables, we had another wonderful campfire filled with fun and laughter and went to bed early in preparation for the nine mile uphill hike the next day.
Our first full day on the trail was very challenging. Our packs were full and heavy and the trail was very steep and rocky. It wasn’t easy for anybody but we all kept going and we elevated our spirits by singing, joking, playing word games and by believing that soon, very soon, we really would be at the top. At one point we were treated to a beautiful view of the landscape below and there, far, far below us, was the James River winding around the base of the mountains where we had just been the day before. That was the first time we had a sense of how high we had climbed, and it felt very gratifying.
At our campsite that night we found that the spring was very shallow which made it difficult to scoop out the water. A group of dedicated students worked for hours into the darkness scooping and filtering water to painstakingly refill everyone’s bottles. I was amazed by how well everyone worked together and how irrepressible this group of kids was, despite the difficulties. They smiled and sang through the struggle and helped each other always.
The next day was technically not as difficult as the previous but because we were so tired from the day before, it was a challenge. Andy spent time each morning caring for foot problems and blisters and now we also had some wrapped knees and ankles and sore hips where the backpacks sat. Almost unbelievably the trail still continued to go up, but not as steeply as the day before. The views were awe inspiring and gave us a reason to pause to catch our breath. When the first group arrived at the campsite that afternoon, a few of the boys left their packs and ran back to help those at the back of the group who were still about a mile out. We were really tired that night but there were tents to erect, water to be purified, meals to cook and dishes to clean. Remarkably, the students were still singing and laughing and helping each other through their exhaustion. We talked about how much we missed the conveniences of home but no one was complaining.
At the campfire that night we calculated that if we wanted to be home at 8 pm the next evening, we needed to get up extra early at 5:30 am. We all readily agreed and the next morning we quickly took down our tents, ate breakfast, loaded up our backpacks and were silently hiking out of our campsite in the dimness of the morning at 7:10 am. After two miles we reached one of the vans along a road and were able to leave our heavy backpacks to continue the last five miles carrying only water and food. This was our steepest elevation rise yet – a 2000 foot gain in only a few miles. It was an arduous climb even without heavy packs; steep, rocky and seeming to go up forever. Whenever we thought we were at the top, the trail kept going higher. We could feel the air getting colder and colder. Finally we arrived at a beautiful grassy meadow stretching out along the top of the ridge. It was sunny and peaceful and many of us just wanted to lie down and take a nap. But we were so close to the end of the journey that a whole new energy overtook us and we hiked the last mile to the vans full of energy and triumph. We had done it!
On Monday morning, there we were – limping or walking slowly down the hall, tired yet very satisfied, each of us feeling an unspoken connection to everyone else. We had struggled together, overcome obstacles together, supported and helped each other and kept each other going. We had met the challenge and met it well. Now we knew, really knew, what it means to go on an Odyssey.
For the typical American kindergartner, unstructured free play during the school day consists of 20 to 30 minutes of recess, and perhaps some time at indoor “stations” — perhaps creating with building blocks, costumes, or musical instruments. But what if there was more? What if the answer to “what did you do in school today?” was, “I climbed a tree, played in the mud, built a fire”?
Torin Finser, PhD and John Bloom discuss why Waldorf education waits to teach literacy until children are developmentally ready.
John Bloom is Senior Director at RSF Social Finance and a Waldorf parent. Torin Finser, PhD is the Chair of the Department of Education, Antioch University New England and the General Secretary of the Anthroposophical Society in America.
Are you seeking an education for your child that…
-is a journey, and not a race?
-integrates art, music and movement into a classical academic education?
-deeply respects children?
-reinforces your child’s connection with nature?
-nurtures an enthusiasm for learning?
-motivates children intrinsically?
-nourishes the spirit of the child?
-provides active and creative learning?
-fosters healthy social development and community building?
-challenges the whole child — mind, body and spirit?
Waldorf Schools offers:
Family and community life
A healthy unfolding of childhood
Joy in the learning process
An education focused on wholeness in body, spirit and soul
Intellectual excellence, imagination, strong memory and problem-solving skills
Viable alternatives to high stakes testing
Age-appropriate use of media
Training in ethical and moral judgment
Beauty of the environment as a formative force in the child’s world
Pre-school & Kindergarten,
Elementary grades 1-8, as well as high school
Parent-infant and parent-child classes