Kimberton Waldorf School’s robust gardening program weaves its way into the curriculum across the grades. From connecting seasons and subjects to providing food for our organic lunch program, gardening provides opportunities to educate the whole child.
The approach of Waldorf Education reflects the prevalent theme in childhood and adolescence of growing and learning through varying iterations of Form and Freedom. This is especially in the forefront of our Early Childhood programs. In these first few weeks of school we are very consciously building the form of our classes through acute observation of what the children bring to us in their freedom, both as individuals and as a group. This is how we meet the children and provide them with an education we bring through a form that can be met by them in their freedom.
Form and Freedom come in many different flavors. In our work with young children form also often means boundaries and those boundaries, however simple, are sometimes the most important as they are laying a foundation for a lifetime of learning and contribution to humanity and the world. These boundaries often come in the forms of living out truth, beauty, and goodness; we learn to be kind and have empathy, to have reverence and respect, and we learn how to be our very best selves. Healthy freedom comes within these boundaries in the forms of child led play with explorations in the social, emotional, and cognitive realms through imagination, intuition, inspiration.
What mighty and important work our youngest students are doing! We want to bring children into the world knowing and believing that anything is possible, to have an awe and wonder for life, and to trust in themselves. We foster this in part through our festival life which connects us to the natural world and it’s ever changing seasons and to representations of spiritual presence which helps, guides, and inspires us.
As we approach the Fall Equinox and the turning point between summer and winter, we celebrate the season of Michaelmas with the children. Michaelmas is a festival of courage that is celebrated in many Waldorf Schools at the end of September. At this time of year, daylight and darkness are very close to their exact balance point and Michaelmas, on September 29th, falls within the astrological sign of Libra, the Scales.
The Archangel Michael and the story of Saint George and the Dragon represents courage and strength – just what we and all children especially need at this time year as the days grow short and dark and the outer world is going to sleep and we need a connection to our and life’s inner fire and growth and strength to meet our own dragons. Michaelmas is a time of finding our courage and acting, it is a time for being thankful for the harvest bounty, and it is the season when we must strengthen ourselves and hold within us the light and warmth that was received during the summer months. Through-out history the Archangel Michael has been given a variety of attributes: hero of the sun, lord of the harvest, helper of human beings, protector of the globe, the ability to decide between good and evil, and to infuse humanity with the power to become effective in deeds. These are all wonderful attributes to embrace and hold for and with the children.
Wishing you all a beautiful and courageous season!
On behalf of the Early Childhood Section
Dear Kimberton Community,
After 20 years in the news media, training at the Rudolf Steiner Centre in Toronto in early childhood education and Anthroposophy, and teaching at Potomac Crescent Waldorf School in Virginia with work in Development, I am thrilled to be able to merge all three passions into my role as Director of Development at Kimberton Waldorf School. In doing so, I am really looking forward to meeting and working with you and developing strong friendships through our work together.
My goal is threefold: to cultivate our past, present, and future of our school. Our relationships with our alumni and all of our friends who have generously supported Kimberton are what holds our school up so that future generations can receive the same inspiring education you fondly remember. It is my hope that you would connect with us through various avenues. Fellow alumni, perhaps even your own classmates, have expressed interest in a newsletter as a way to stay connected with the school and in this spirit we hope to bring Quarterly Issues and Special Announcements to your inbox, and as current times allow, opportunities for alumni gathering in-person and virtual.
For the current children and caregivers that walk the same paths and classrooms you once walked, our school will continue providing inspiring curricula that reflects our diversity and rich festivities and events that have been anchors to our rhythm of learning. The heart of the school is still beating strong with passionate teachers who believe that children are born with innate capacities—and that their responsibility as educators is to hold this space, to nurture this becoming, until each child at their own time is ready.
Our future is clearer when we honor the interconnectedness of the legacy that inspired the formation of our school; the trained teachers who work from these beliefs; our alumni who have given of themselves to the world through a consciousness nurtured by Waldorf education; our current families who continue traditions and bring new energy; and our friends who generously support our school for the immeasurable value it reaps onto our world.
A seed was planted 80 years ago … and together we are only stronger, louder, and more powerful in impacting our world for the better. I look forward to working with you, welcoming your ideas and your support needed to make these ideas a reality.
Editha D. Tendencia
Dear Kimberton Community,
It is a true honor and a great joy for me to write to you as the Dean of School. After having a lovely visit with my wife Simone and daughter Maitreya, and now having been in communication with several members of the community leading up to my official start, I am feeling overjoyed to have found this precious gem of a school. There is so much that I look forward to sharing with you and talking with you about, and there are so many possibilities for how we can work together to write the next chapters in the story of KWS.
I have been very fortunate in my life to be exposed to many different philosophies, structures, traditions, and practices in education. I served the public in charter schools. I learned from the lineages of Montessori and Reggio Emilia. I integrated practices of silence and social justice in a Quaker school. I researched complexity and leadership and wrote a book about it. But now that I have finally found myself at Kimberton Waldorf, I have a clearer sense of what was missing in my search for the Holy Grail of Education: a coherent, comprehensive, holistic, integrated vision of pedagogy, curriculum, and human development.
This is precisely what we have at KWS. And believe it or not, sad as it may be, most schools do not have this foundation to build on. (I have spent a lot of time trying to understand why, but that is a story for another day). This foundational vision is a pearl beyond price, the precious jewel that we don’t have to search for or reinvent. We have only to cherish, appreciate, cultivate, polish, and nurture. This is easier said than done, and more like an intricate garden than a gemstone, but my hope is that everyone in the KWS community will share two things with me: a deep sense of gratitude for the gift we have been given, to be at a place with so much potential, and a feeling of shared purpose and commitment, to do our best to nurture the possibilities that we all intuit to be present in this community.
I came to KWS because I am inspired by the vision of education – and the vision of humanity – that Waldorf education instills. And I came because I sense that this community has worked to honor what is essential and sacred while nurturing and making room for what is alive and growing. I sense that we are standing on the shoulders of giants, while peering into a distant future that our forebears could not yet see. May we work together to lift each other, so our vision may ever improve, and the road ahead may become ever clearer and well-defined.
These are just some of the thoughts that animate my entry into this role as Dean of School. I hope they resonate with you, and perhaps even light a spark of reflection that we can kindle together in a future conversation.
It’s going to be an exciting year. The pandemic fog is lifting. The path ahead is promising, yet filled with unknown twists and turns. It’s an exciting time to be alive, and I feel blessed to be joining in this shared venture with you.
I have been working closely with Ona Wetherall, the Board, school staff, and the Governing Team, and will continue to do so throughout the summer, as we prepare to turn a new page and start a new year together. In the month of July, I will be in the process of moving from North Carolina with my family, but please know that I am here for you, and you can reach out to me as needed.
There is much more to say, and I look forward to many opportunities to share, listen, and learn with you all in the coming months and years. For now, I just want to share my deep appreciation for the school legacy that I am now a part of, my deep trust in the process that brought me here, and my unshakable optimism about the possibilities and potentials of our work together.
Sending blessings for a peaceful autumn and a wonderful school year.
Dean of School
Historically, early childhood education was developed for nurturing and cultivating a child’s natural propensity to learn through play. The focus of early childhood education was on developmentally appropriate activities for young children as a preparation for schooling when children were ready (around age six or seven). In the 1990s and the 2000s a shift occurred in education through No Child Left Behind and other government programs that changed the focus of early childhood education from a developmentally based approach to one based on academics and testing. The thought was that children needed to learn how to read and perform mathematics at earlier ages in order to be prepared for standardized testing. Unfortunately, this approach was not based on an understanding of child development and how children learn and has resulted in a rise in anxiety in young children as they are pushed to participate in activities and modes of learning that they are not ready for.
Waldorf schools, on the other hand, have remained committed to providing education for children that is developmentally based. In a Waldorf early childhood classroom children are engaged in child-directed creative play, storytime, artistic activities, and time outdoors. These activities help to support healthy development of young children and teach them essential skills they need for future academic learning.
Teaching to a child’s experience and level of development is the key to good education at all grade levels. Pre-Kindergartners and Kindergarteners are no exception. They experience their world with their intrinsic will and self-centered curiosity. They learn most naturally by doing, not be didactic instruction or abstract information. Waldorf educators use this knowledge of child development to teach young children the skills they must master by providing an environment and experiences which support their development.
The opposite approach which seeks to make an active, intrinsically motivated and curious young child sit still to recite or memorize, is detrimental to the child’s emotional and academic development. It is critical at this stage of life that children’s propensity for self-directed creative and imaginative play is nurtured.
When children are busy playing an atmosphere of work permeates the room. Play is the work of the young child. During play activity, children are learning to develop a rich imagination, which will serve their reading comprehension as they take words on the page and transform them into narrative memory. Group play also helps children to learn to compromise with their peers, communicate their desires, carry tasks to completion, and problem-solve with others.
Just as free play uses the child’s self-directed will for learning, structured activities help children master their will in a gentle and natural way. As the class comes together to sing songs, recite verses or listen to a teacher-told story, children are learning how to listen and develop attention. As they repeat and remember verses or songs, they build their long-term memory. The story told by the teacher also exposes children to the beauty of language which supports literacy skills and builds the person-to-person relationship between teacher and child. Artistic activities such as watercolor painting, beeswax modeling, and finger knitting are done as a group activity, although each child is absorbed in their own work. They are learning the joys of bringing a task to completion. They also help to develop the children’s small motor skills.
Our goal in our early childhood program at KWS is to inspire a lifelong love of learning. We want our students to transform their intrinsic curiosity to a desire to learn the academic tasks required in the grades and in life beyond school.
In Waldorf Schools, math is taught in a multidisciplinary manner. When students are young, math is introduced through imaginative stories, movement, and rhythm games. Manipulatives are often used and help to make concepts like division and fractions easier to grasp. As grade school students get older they work with story problems and use practical applications of mathematics processes. Mental math is also frequently practiced to help the students develop their computational skills and flexibility in their thinking. Algebra and geometry are introduced in middle school, and the high school curriculum includes algebra, geometry, pre-calculus, and calculus.
Learn more about how math is taught in Waldorf schools:
At KWS our educational approach is developmentally based which means we introduce skills and concepts when students are ready for them intellectually, emotionally, and physically keeping our knowledge of child development as the guide for our curriculum. Your child will be engaged through a challenging and multi-sensory environment focused on meeting the whole child: head, heart, and hands.
The founder of Waldorf Education, Rudolf Steiner, formed the first school with these principles over 100 years ago. Today there are over 1,100 Waldorf schools and almost 2,000 Waldorf kindergartens in 80 countries around the globe. When people first come to Kimberton Waldorf School they are impressed with our beautiful 430-acre campus and farm, cozy classrooms filled with student art and hands-on work that imbues every subject.
When was Kimberton Waldorf School founded?
Our school was founded by Alarick Myrin and Mabel Pew Myrin in 1941. The Myrin’s were deeply interested in a renewal of education and agriculture and they were inspired by Rudolf Steiner’s ideas for both. The legacy of their interest, commitment, and generosity is our EC- 12th-grade school with its strong connection to gardening, farming, and the natural environment. Our 430-acre campus and farm is bordered by scenic French Creek and has wooded areas and meadows, and a beautiful organic school garden.
What is the philosophy behind Waldorf Education?
Austrian scientist and philosopher, Rudolf Steiner held that human being’s capacities unfold in specific developmental stages on the path to adulthood. The guiding principles of Waldorf Education are a developmental approach and educating the whole child: head, heart, and hands.
What is the curriculum and a typical day of an early childhood student?
We see our Early Childhood Program as an extension of the family experience; a step between home and formal schooling. We offer a pre-Kindergarten and Kindergarten program for children that range from age two to six, and a parent-child program for children under the age of two and their parents. In each classroom, the day’s activities unfold in an unhurried way, with each day following the same rhythm, which gives the child a sense of security and consistency. A typical day begins with free-play outdoors, followed by circle time, a structured artistic activity (such as watercolor painting, beeswax modeling, or bread baking), and then the children prepare and eat a healthy, homemade snack and enjoy storytime. From there, they go outside to play, use their imaginations, and experience the outdoor world. Early academic foundations are formed through these activities. As just a few examples, beeswax modeling cultivates small motor skills, puppetry helps children develop memory and language acuity, and nature walks increase large motor abilities and scientific curiosity. The sharing of practical activities such as snack preparation and clean-up starts the child on the path toward personal responsibility and respect for others.
What is the curriculum and typical day of a grade school student?
The focus of grade school is learning to learn and loving to learn. Our curriculum seeks to inspire the artistic, creative, and imaginative life of the child while providing a strong base for academic studies. It also seeks to keep student engaged through relevant, hands-on learning, so that they do not just memorize but learn through an experiential approach, and develop comprehension. The day begins with a two-hour period focusing on an academic topic that we call Main Lesson. The focus of Main Lesson is on an area of study such as Literature and Language Arts, Mathematics, History, Science, and Social Studies. Main Lesson, however, does not consist of children sitting rigidly at desks, listening to lectures, but instead engages them through movement, arts, music, recitation, and other multidisciplinary activities. Part of Main Lesson involves the students making their own books as a record of what they have learned. They fill these books with written compositions and illustrations. After Main Lesson, there is a snack for all grade 1-8 students, outdoor recess, and then subject lessons, which continue through the day and are also taught in engaging and interdisciplinary ways. Subjects typically include math and language arts practice, choral and instrumental music, foreign language, handwork, gardening, woodworking, physical education, and Eurythmy (artistic movement). We also have an after-school sports program that begins in 6th grade. At the end of the day, our students have spent their day immersed in experiential learning while also having time in unstructured recess and outdoor experiences. They go home tired, but joyful, and return eagerly the next day with an inherent curiosity and love of learning.
What is the curriculum and typical day of a high school student?
The Main Lesson format continues into high school as does an interdisciplinary and multi-sensory approach to learning, although there is an increased emphasis on developing academic skills and independent thinking. In high school, students often create projects and make presentations as part of the Main Lesson experience. Subject classes in high school include mathematics that covers algebra, geometry, trigonometry, and calculus; English, language arts, and humanities; foreign language; science; choral and instrumental music; and the fine and practical arts. After-school activities include sports and the high school musical. Students interested in overseas study can participate in our foreign exchange program.
Are Graduates Prepared for College?
Our graduates are well prepared to attend college. Over 94% go to college and most of our graduates attend universities and colleges in the U.S. in a range of academic areas in STEM and Liberal Arts. As examples of graduate employment, we have amongst our graduates doctors, nurses, scientists, psychologists, social workers and therapists, lawyers, engineers, accountants, entrepreneurs and business people, government employees, military personnel, educators, musicians and artists, agriculturalists, naturalists, craftsmen, and many more out doing what they love in the world. Amongst our graduates, we have a National Book Award winner, a Grammy Award winner, and Fulbright and Rhodes scholars.
Throughout human history, festivals have played an important part in culture. In all civilizations, there have been celebrations reflecting nature’s rhythms, important transitions, and significant moments in the life of the culture. For people in the past, the rhythms of the seasons, of reaping and sowing, of dark and light, of birth and death were immediate and tangible experiences. For people today, we can easily become detached from these rhythms in our climate-controlled homes and workplaces with the conveniences of electric light, heating, cooling, and 24-hour grocery stores that provide us food at any season of the year. But the urge for these markers still live in us and remnants can be seen in our modern rituals of Thanksgiving, Halloween, or the markers of the beginning and end of summer: Memorial Day and Labor Day.
In Waldorf schools, the rhythmical element in life is an important part of the education and the school community experience. Every day we honor the start of the new school day by greeting the students with a handshake and saying the morning verse together. Each day begins with a two-hour block we call the main lesson which has its own rhythm of activities within the course of the lesson that calls on the thinking, feeling, or active hands-on doing capacities of the children. The main lesson is also structured in such a way that concepts are built upon over a series of days, as the rhythm of waking and sleeping is an important part of the learning process for the children. During sleep, the students have the opportunity to digest what they have learned during the day. And, at the end of roughly four weeks, or a month (which is another natural cycle based on the moon), we change main lessons, and the previous main lesson is put to sleep in a sense (often to be returned to later).
The rhythm of the year also receives form through our school festivals and celebrations. We begin and end the year with the Rose Ceremony in which we honor our 12th graders who are about to complete their education at Kimberton, and the 1st graders, who are beginning their journey. This is followed by Michaelmas in September, Lantern walks for the younger children in November, Advent assemblies in December, Martin Luther King assembly and day of service in January, and our May Faire in, you guessed it, May.
In the autumn, we celebrate Michaelmas (pronounced mick-el-mas). The roots of this festival come from ancient festivals that celebrate harvest, human courage, and the triumph of light over darkness. In autumn we begin to experience the loss of the vitality of summer. We witness the withering of plant life, the days get shorter and darkness seems to grow, and the warmth of summer wanes. As the seasons transition from the outer light and warmth of summer to the growing darkness and coldness of fall and the coming winter, we turn inwards, towards ourselves and towards our community for inner warmth. The experience of moving from summer to fall and winter is much different than the experience of moving from winter to spring and summer. The latter is an experience of increasing outwardness, while in the transition from summer to fall and winter we need inner courage to face the growing dark and cold. The ease and comfort of summer is fading away, and we must face the challenge and discomfort of the approach of winter. In the Michaelmas tradition, St. Michael, who is an image of courage and what is honorable in us, confronts and tames the dragon, which represents fear and that in us that is not so honorable. An essential part of life is learning to have the courage to step out of one’s comfort zone, to stretch one’s self to try new things, to overcome one’s own inner fears. As educators and parents, we have many opportunities to help our students to stretch themselves, to step out of their comfort zone, or to face their fears. Each time a child or young person does this, they develop strength and confidence. To quote Eleanor Roosevelt, “You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really look fear in the face…you must do the thing you think you cannot do.”
Currently, we celebrate Michaelmas at KWS with a pageant that all the grades participate in. Each class has its appointed role, complete with a fierce dragon, and a courageous St. Michael. Later in the day, students participate in community activities such as bread making and games. Some years we have a speaker for the older middle school and high school students who represent a contemporary version of courage or initiative.
As human beings we naturally live in a world of rhythm; the rhythm of our breathing and our heartbeat, the seasons that surround us, the continuous alternation of day and night, sleeping and waking, unconsciousness and consciousness. Rhythm is part of who we are. It is built into us and affects us physically, emotionally, and mentally. When we separate ourselves from it too dramatically we become ill (try holding your breath, or stopping your heartbeat, or not sleeping). Children are particularly sensitive to rhythm and the lack of it. By providing a rhythmical environment for children, we strengthen their physical, emotional, and mental constitutions. One of the many things that are unique and fascinating about Waldorf education is its conscious application of the principles of rhythm within the educational experience of the children, on a daily, weekly, and annual basis. At a time in human history when we have largely lost touch with the rhythmical nature of life, this aspect of Waldorf education can be of great benefit to children and their families.
Children today often lead highly structured lives with much of their time filled with activities that adults have planned for them. Outside of school they may be playing sports or are in enrichment classes of some sort or other. We also live in an age where we can easily find entertainment and distraction with screens and other electronic devices. While activity is good, there is also a benefit for children to have plenty of time for their own self-directed activities without outside influences or structure, and to also experience the challenge of boredom.
We often view boredom as a negative, but research is showing that boredom has its benefits. In his article The Bright Side of Boredom, Dr. Andreas Epidorou writes that boredom plays a role in helping us to find or set new goals: “Despite its impressive historical backing, the view that boredom is entirely negative should be rejected. Recent empirical work on boredom, taken in tandem with theoretical considerations about its nature and character, suggest a rather different picture of the state of boredom. In broad strokes, the picture is as follows: on account of its affective, volitional, and cognitive aspects, 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.” (1)
“In the classic story Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Alice chases a white rabbit down a well and then begins a long fall. While falling, Alice’s attention shifts frequently. Alice begins by considering what is beneath her (the outcome of her fall). Next, she notices the cupboards surrounding her, and even interacts with them. She then considers how she will relate this fall to other everyday falls, and eventually simulates the conversations she will have with the people she meets on the other side of the Earth. Alice does not remain afraid and focused on the outcome of her fall (what is beneath her)…Much like Alice becoming distracted from her fear of falling and shifting her attention towards the cupboards and her upcoming conversations; we propose that boredom will motivate the pursuit of new goals as the intensity of the current experience fades.” (2)
Furthermore, boredom can lead to creativity. (2) When one is bored, the mind starts to wander and in its wanderings may make new associations leading to new ideas of insights. Research has shown that the brain is quite active during states of boredom. (3)
In children, boredom can spur them to creative play, and when they get frustrated, to problem-solving. In her article, Boredomtunity: Why Boredom is the Best Thing for Our Kids, Dr. Alison Escalante recommends ways to support and encourage children to deal with boredom. These involve trusting that children can be creative, problem solvers and allowing them to deal with their own boredom without adult input, and leaving unstructured time in their daily schedules. (4)
Instead of viewing idle time and boredom for our children as something to be avoided, we can embrace its positive aspects and even encourage time in our children’s daily schedule for unstructured, self-directed activity, which may, hopefully, include some boredom!
The Board of Trustees of Kimberton Waldorf School is honored and delighted to introduce our new Dean of School, Dr. Brad Kershner. Please join us in welcoming Dean Kershner, his wife Simone, and their daughter Maitreya—who will be joining our sixth grade. The whole family is very excited to become a part of the KWS community.
The Board of Trustees, in collaboration with the faculty and staff, worked diligently for the past few months in our search for a new Dean of School. The Dean Search Committee, comprised of five board members and five members of the faculty and staff, made a recommendation to offer the position of Dean of School to Dr. Kershner. The Board of Trustees then unanimously agreed to select Dr. Kershner, and he accepted with pleasure. He will be joining us on July 1.
Brad obtained his bachelor’s degree in Philosophy from John Carroll University, his Multiple Subject Teaching Credential from San Francisco State University, his master’s degree in Philosophy of Religions from the University of Chicago, and finally his Ph.D. from Boston College in Education in 2018.
Brad is an experienced educator and school leader who has served as the Primary School Director at Conservatory Lab School, as the Principal of Codman Academy, and most recently as Head of Early School at Carolina Friends School. Brad is also an accomplished write and scholar, with numerous articles, book chapters, and conference papers, as well as his recently published book, Understanding Educational Complexity: Integrative Practices and Perspectives for 21st Century Leadership.
Brad is looking forward to joining our school community as a leader who can help to nurture and honor what he describes as the “sacred legacy” of Waldorf education. In his words, he is “excited to join a close-knit community that nurtures, challenges, and supports young people through relationships of care and commitment,” and those of us who met Brad and his family during their visit to our campus are equally excited that they are joining us.
You will be hearing more from Brad soon. He is eager to meet everyone at KWS as soon as possible. Until then, we hope you will share in our sense of joy and excitement that Brad and his family will be a part of our future at Kimberton Waldorf School!
One can often walk through the class room buildings at KWS and see projects that the students have done in relation to their academic studies. It might be projects related to the history of Ancient Rome in 6th grade, or models of human shelters from the 3rd grade, or painted portraits of historical figures for 9th grade contemporary history.
An invaluable value of the education at KWS is the opportunity that our students have to learn through a variety of activities that engage their creativity, design, and problem solving skills. Imagine how designing and building your own ship or aqueduct makes Roman history come alive, but also allows you to use all of yourself in the learning process: head, heart, and hands. A number of years ago the Philadelphia Inquirer published an article on the benefits of art in education (Closing in on Proof of Art’s Value to Kids, Philadelphia Inquirer. March 23, 2014.) The article was about a study being done by a psychology professor at West Chester University. Her research was on the effects of art on reducing stress levels in young children and involved measuring cortisol levels (a hormone associated with stress) in children in learning environments that are arts-based as opposed to those that are not. Her findings point to an association between art classes and reduced levels of cortisol in the children in the study.
In contrast, I am reminded of a friend of mine who had a child in a school that was putting the students through a battery of standardized tests. This friend shared with me how stressed her child was because of the testing. She commented that it wasn’t just the children who were stressed. Everyone seemed to be, teachers and students. More and more, children in school settings are expected to perform academically through high-stakes testing in younger and younger grades. Play is no longer a part of kindergarten programs in many schools. The arts and movement are secondary, and often cut from programs. Recess is reduced or eliminated. Students do not spend time in nature during their school day. Is it any wonder that children are stressed and anxiety is on the rise in children? According to the study noted stress impacts cortisol levels which in term impact learning: “Chronic elevations of cortisol impair cognitive and emotional functioning, as well as physical health. Cortisol is closely related to the hippocampus, the part of the brain involved in learning and memory, and scientists believe that higher cortisol interferes with both.”
Why are we doing this to children? In large part it has to do with educational systems that are no longer based on an understanding of healthy child and human development, but rather are driven by standards set by bureaucrats focused on test scores rather than healthy childhood development. Adam Winsler, a psychology professor at George Mason University who edits the Early Childhood Research Bulletin and is quoted in the Inquirer article says,“These days people are trying to do reading, science, and math a lot earlier, and a lot of developmentally inappropriate things are happening . . .the arts may prepare youngsters for math, reading, and science better than a pure math, science, and reading curriculum would.”
I believe that there are many invaluable values of Waldorf education and the education provided at KWS, including an education that is firmly rooted in an understanding of healthy child and human development, and an education that makes art and the using of one’s hands and imagination an integral part of the academic learning experience. A number of years ago a graduate of Kimberton and Brown University gave an evening presentation for our community on the business that he started in Kenya after he graduated from college. At the end of the talk he was asked by someone in the audience about his perspective on the value of his Waldorf education at KWS. He spoke about the importance of art in helping him develop creative capacities. Later, in a card he sent to me thanking me for introducing him at his presentation he said, “Remember, it’s all about the art.”
A few years ago I attended a symposium on small independent schools. There were a number of points from the symposium that are worth sharing. The panel of speakers at this symposium included the CEO of a local corporation and the director of admissions for Muhlenberg College.
The perspectives of the panel members and the keynote speaker on the needs for education in the future and what they are seeing in young people today were interesting. They noted that 38% of college students flunk or drop out. They said that when we educate to the test, we are essentially educating robots to be good at tests, but we don’t educate students for life. One of the things they focused on was the inability of young people to work with other people. They noted that the single biggest reason people get fired from their jobs is because they can’t get along with their colleagues.
They stressed the need for education that helps students develop self-awareness, the ability to be flexible and to work with others, and a sense for language. In order to be successful in our world students need to be able to frame and express ideas. They said that as employers they are looking for young people who are able to grow, learn, and develop. They observed that as a society we are educating young people to be paper pushers, but not craftsman or entrepreneurs. We are not educating students to make things. They see that the ability to make something as well as to administrate are skills critical to success in the world today.
A number of times they touched on how young people today have a sense of entitlement, equating effort with success (I worked hard on this, why is it not an “A”?). They expect to be promoted quickly in their jobs. A disconnect exists between where they are and what they have to do to get to where they want to be. They are not equipped to deal with failure. The speakers felt this was caused in part by well meaning parents who limit their children’s autonomy and attempt to clear the way for their children so that they are always successful and never experience set backs or failure. They spoke of how parents today will even intervene in their children’s education at the college or university level, complaining to professors or administrators about grades their children are given.
Of course, my reaction to much of what they were saying was, “I wish they knew about Waldorf Education!” Education for life is central to the Waldorf pedagogical philosophy. Waldorf education is an education that provides students with the opportunities on a daily basis to develop the capacities of self-awareness, the ability to collaborate with others, an intrinsic love of learning that is not grade or test score driven, skill with written and spoken expression, and the experience and satisfaction of making something with one’s hands. It is also an education that focuses on the development of the will, or the ability to apply oneself and follow through on projects. This is accomplished through a project-based approach to academics where students often work on projects related to the topic and make their own books as a record of what they have learned, and a fine and practical arts program and gardening program where students experience first hand the necessity of perseverance, practice, and follow-through.
There has been an increasing amount of information on the health benefits of spending time in nature. These benefits include improvement of emotional and physical health, and benefits for learning for children. Now, a new study in JAMA Ophthalmology and reported by the New York Times points to the benefits of being in nature on healthy development of the eye and eyesight in children, and the negative impact of not enough time spent outdoors in natural sunlight.
The Times article notes that there has been a significant increase in myopia in children since the 1970s, and the research reported in the JAMA study points to behavioral changes in children and lack one time spent outdoors in natural light as a factor.
“The growing incidence of myopia is related to changes in children’s behavior, especially how little time they spend outdoors, often staring at screens indoors instead of enjoying activities illuminated by daylight.” (1)
The article does say that genes and family heredity play a role in myopia, however the rapid increase in myopia is likely not just genetic: “Given that genes don’t change that quickly, environmental factors, especially children’s decreased exposure to outdoor light, are the likely cause of this rise in myopia, experts believe. Consider, for example, factors that keep modern children indoors: an emphasis on academic studies and their accompanying homework, the irresistible attraction of electronic devices and safety concerns that demand adult supervision during outdoor play. All of these things drastically limit the time youngsters now spend outside in daylight, to the likely detriment of the clarity of their distance vision.” (1)
While this study points to the lack of sunlight as the main cause of myopia in children, there have also been studies that indicate a correlation between myopia and sustained near-work activity: “Both genetics and environmental factors play a role in the development and progression of myopia. Near-work is activity performed at a short working distance, such as reading and use of electronic devices. Near-work activity is one of the environmental factors that has been considered to be a potential cause of myopia.However, other studies do not support this claim.” (2)
This recent research on the importance of sunlight on the development of the eye and eyesight is another example in a growing list of evidence supporting the benefits of spending time outdoors in nature. Since children spend a significant amount of their time during daylight hours at school, it makes sense that school programs that incorporate time outdoors in nature will support the healthy development of their students. Additionally, school programs that provide a balance of near-work activity with activities that allow for my distance and varied focusing will also support healthy eye development.
What is happening in your mind’s eye when you hear a story? More than likely, you make pictures of what is being told to you. And the pictures that you create are your own, unique pictures. If you are in the company of other people when you hear a story each of you is making your own pictures. If you could compare the inner pictures that you all created there would be similarities, but there would also be differences, as each of you are involved in an inner generative process. The activity is taking place inside of you, in your mind. Now in contrast, if you were to see a movie or a video of the same story there would be no need for an inner generative picture making process in your mind. The picture would be given to you from outside. Nothing of an inner generative activity would have been necessary. The information would be coming from outside into you, and you would simply remember it, or not.
Some years ago a boy enrolled in our high school. After his first biology course here at Kimberton, in which he studied marine zoology on the coast of Maine studying marine organisms in tide pools and along the beach, his mother, who was a biologist by profession wrote to us and said that in his previous high school his experience of biology had been memorizing power point presentations, in order to prepare him for tests, and she was so happy that at Kimberton he was practicing science and not just memorizing information.
One approach to education is an information based education, and it assumes that students of any age are information processors. The primary method of learning is rote memorization of information or concepts. I call this the movie approach to education. Everyone gets the same information and an inner generative process is not necessary. “The success or failure of this form of education is measured by the student’s ability to give information back on high stakes tests, that do not assess depth of understanding, meaningful application of knowledge, or original thinking.” (Olfman. 2003) It has become the dominant educational model in the United States over the past 30 years through such programs as No Child Left Behind.
The movie version of education, the information centered approach to education is based on a “model of the human mind as a kind of computer, and a view of students as information processors. However, in sharp contrast to a computer, a developing young person possesses a Self which imbues that young person with the desire to give his or her life meaning, purpose, and a moral compass. Children and young people are naturally motivated to learn by the desire to be a part of their community and the natural order, but at the same time to express their individuality and to place their own personal stamp on the world. A young person’s thinking is infused with emotion, sensory and bodily experience, artistry, imagination, and an inner life. It is through this uniquely human prism that a young person processes information; a far cry from a computer. When mere information is what we seek to instill or elicit from students, real psychological growth”, and the development of the whole human being is impaired. (Olfman)
There is another approach to education that we practice in Waldorf schools, that I would call an inner, generative approach, where students are guided to discover concepts rather than being fed concepts. I once walked into our chemistry lab before school started and I found our chemistry teacher and a visiting science teacher from another Waldorf school preparing a demonstration for a 9th grade chemistry class. They were carefully arranging a flame from a bunsen burner so that the students could observe them placing an unlit wooden match into the flame in such a way that the match would be in the flame, but would not ignite. There was a concept that the teachers wanted the students to learn that has to do with various zones within a flame and the ability for combustion to happen within those zones. Now, if their educational goal had been to simply give the students the already formed concept that there is a zone in a flame that does not have enough oxygen for combustion to take place, if their goal was to simply give the students that information, to be tested on, there would be no need for the demonstration. The students could just look that information up on a computer. But, if their goal is to educate in such a way that students have the opportunity to train their inner generative powers of thinking then that demonstration is key, because it is the first step in the process of providing a situation for the students to move from experience to concept; to discover the concept for themselves rather than being given a pre-formed concept. It begins with an experience, with perception, and through questioning and discussion the students discover the concept.
If we simply give the students the concept we rob them of the opportunity to practice the thinking that leads to the concept; we rob them of the opportunity to develop the capacity for independent, self-driven thought. This is a serious concern in the world of education today, especially higher education. College and university professors have complained in recent years that young people today can’t think for themselves, they just want to know what is going to be on the test.
In the Waldorf high school we practice the thinking of various disciplines: the thinking of the scientist, the thinking of the historian, the thinking of the mathematician, the thinking of the writer or the philosopher. Our approach is to give students the opportunity to develop their own thinking capacities through experiences, discussions, questions, projects, essays and other written assignments and artistic presentations. I have given you an example in the sciences. In English or Humanities our students will explore through readings, discussions, projects and essays the nature of truth, or evil, or what it means to be a human being. Our teachers don’t give them the answers to those topics. They lead them through a process of discovery. In History our students might interview someone who lived during a particular period of our nation’s history for example, research primary and secondary sources, and write essays to support conclusions they have reached about historical events. Our focus is not teaching students to get the one right answer on a test, but to test their own inner developing capacity of thought. That’s not to say that we don’t ever give our students tests. We do. But for us, tests are not the be-all-and-end-all of how we assess our students. We provide our students with many avenues for demonstrating what they have learned such as essays, projects, and artistic presentations.
Our goal in the Waldorf school is to provide for our students an education that guides them to be caring, ethical human beings who can consciously engage their inner generative capacities of thought and creativity, and it starts with stories. In our pre-school and our early grades much of the curriculum is built around stories that enrich our student’s imaginations and engage the inner generative process of picture making that will later develop into an inner generative process of thinking as the students get older. At each age our students have many opportunities to exercise their own inner generative capacities in a developmentally appropriate manner.
Olfman, Sharna (2003) All Work and No Play
One of the unique aspects of Waldorf Education is that teachers stay with classes or groups of children over a period of years. The benefit of this model is that it provides stability and a sense of security for students. In Grades 1-8 the class teacher will typically stay with his or her class for all or most of those eight years. In some school systems, middle school students are separated from the rest of the student population. Middle school can be a very challenging developmental period for young people and some studies are showing that students in the middle school grades benefit from being in a safe a familiar environment. Read more here from the Association of Waldorf Schools in North America:
In recent years there has been a push to introduce academics into Kindergarten and pre-Kindergarten. This is a trend that has alarmed developmental psychologists and educators because it is not grounded in an understanding of child development and how children learn. The young child, before the age of six, learns by doing and by imitation. They are not developmentally ready for didactic instruction and using their memory for abstract learning. Calling on these faculties before they are ready to be called upon can be damaging to children’s development and blunt their natural love of learning if they are forced into abstract learning at too young an age. Before the age of six children should be exercising and preparing their capacities through imaginative play, socialization, and imitation. Through play, children learn to interact with their peers and to engage in developmentally appropriate problem solving. The songs and games of the early childhood classroom lay the groundwork for the development of reading and writing in the grades. Through imitation of activities that are necessary in the life of the classroom such as baking bread for snack time, or raking leaves in the play yard children learn skills without the need for didactic, abstract instruction. Young children take joy in all of these activities. Read more about the importance of developmentally appropriate early childhood education from the Association of Waldorf Schools in North America:
We learn through making mistakes, missteps and failures. A supportive educational environment provides a safe place for students to make mistakes and learn from them. For example, all of our students participate in fine arts and courses that we call practical arts such as woodworking or handwork (where students learn to knit and sew amongst other skills). In all artistic endeavors, students are faced with artistic or technical problems or challenges that they need to overcome. Often the process of completing a project in any of these disciplines will involved mistakes that result in a new problem or challenge that the student will have to address. This is the nature of working with visual or practical arts and it exercises the students ability to try, make mistakes, adjust, and move on. In academic work, our teachers strive to create an environment and culture in the classroom where students can make mistakes as part of normal learning process, instead of feeling shame. One of our parents remarked that when they visited one of our classrooms as a prospective parent they observed a math class and students were asked to share their answers to a problem and he was impressed with how many students eagerly offered to share their answers—there was no sense of fear about potentially being wrong. We also don’t give letter grades until high school. We believe that this helps to foster a love of learning for learning’s sake in our students and helps them to learn to see making mistakes not as an end but as part of a process of learning. Read more about the value of making mistakes in learning from the Association of Waldorf Schools in North America:
Kimberton Waldorf School is blessed with a beautiful organic school garden, and to be surrounded by an organic and biodynamic dairy farm and CSA. Through direct experience and courses and through the environment of stewardship that is created by these activities that surround and imbue our school our students develop a deep appreciation for the earth and what it takes to grow good, healthful food. Our youngest children often take walks to the school garden or to the farm to see the work that is being done there. In 3rd grade our students study farming and have a “farm week” when they spend an overnight and get up early to help the farmers milk the cows. In 3rd grade our students also being having gardening classes which will continue into high school. They learn how to plant and harvest vegetables, to prune fruit trees, and to preserve foods. They will even eat some of the fruits of their labors in our organic hot lunch program which we call Food For Thought. Apples from our apple trees are made into applesauce. Vegetables go into our salads or soups. Why is this important for students? We believe that it is important for young people to understand what is involved in growing healthful food and to understand what stewardship for the earth means. In the future, they will be the people making decisions about food stewardship and food production and those decision need to be grounded in experience. In addition, the students are have an enriching experience in nature which has many benefits for their own health and development. Read more here about the benefits of farming in education from the Association of Waldorf Schools in North America:
The benefits for children’s learning and development from spending time outdoors has been well researched over recent years. At KWS, helping our students to develop an appreciation for the natural world has always been one of our key values, and outdoor education has been a long standing component of our curriculum and program. Children in our Early Childhood program spend a good part of their day outdoors engaged in creative play and exploration of nature. In grades 1-8 our students are able to have experiential nature study by spending time in our woods and along our creeks, learning how to grow good healthful food in our organic school garden and learning about farming on our organic dairy farm. They also have two outdoor recess periods per day on our green campus. When it snows, they get to sled on “Shouting Hill” which is adjacent to one of our outdoor recess areas. Many of our grades classes start taking camping trips and will often take a weeklong trip with one of the outdoor education guiding companies that we partner with. In high school the experiential study of the life sciences are often supplemented with trips to locations like Hermit Island on the coast of Maine to study marine biology, or backpacking on trails in the Appalachians in connection with geology. In addition to the health giving benefits of being in nature, these experiences help our students develop a love and appreciation for the natural world and foster a sense of stewardship. Read more here about the importance of outdoor education from the Association of Waldorf Schools in North America:
Our students at KWS have the benefit of learning a foreign language. We start teaching languages in 1st grade and our students in grades 1-6 learn two languages: Spanish and German. I grade 7 our students choose one of those languages to focus on through grade 12. We offer an international exchange program in high school were our students can study for a semester at a Waldorf school in a German or Spanish speaking country. Language study helps our students become more flexible in their thinking and it exposes them to other cultures, helping them to feel that they are a global citizen. Read more here about the importance of learning a second language from the Association of Waldorf Schools in North America:
Adolescents are in a special and unique place in their development. They are leaving childhood and on the verge on entering adulthood when they will engage with the world. With the burgeoning of critical and analytical thinking in high school and powerful emotions adolescents have strong ideals and need to feel that they can have an impact. In recent years social justice has become an important part of our national conversation and educators across the spectrum are looking at incorporating social justice in their school curriculum, and our high school teachers at Kimberton are doing the same through service projects, courses, and special events. Read more here about high school students and social advocacy from the Association of Waldorf Schools in North America:
Community Service is an important aspect of the education at KWS. We think it is important for our students to have experiences to give back to their local community and to learn the value of volunteering. Our older middle school students and high school students have a variety of opportunities for community service, including practicum weeks in high school, required community service hours in high school, and a day of service in honor of Martin Luther King Day. Read here to learn more about the value of community service for students from the Association of Waldorf Schools in North America:
An important feature of the education at Kimberton Waldorf School is our emphasis on experiential education. Experiential education has become a bit of a buzzword in the educational world, but at KWS we really live it. Our approach to academic subjects is to start with experience and then through discussion and questions, to help the students discover concepts. We teach them to think like a scientist, an historian, a mathematician. We also have built into our curriculum an incredibly rich experiential program that includes many hands on courses such as handwork, woodwork, metalwork, and gardening. In the our high school our students have practicum courses each year that get them outside of school and learning in the community around us. Our high schoolers also take week long class trips each year that are connected to particular academic subjects in the sciences and humanities. Read more here about experiential education in Waldorf schools from the Association of Waldorf Schools in North America:
Students at Kimberton Waldorf School are fortunate to experience and education that fosters their creativity through artistic coursework but also through an approach to academics that focuses on providing experiences and discussions for students so that they can discover concepts rather than being spoon-fed concepts. Both of these elements of Waldorf Education help our students to be independent thinkers and exercises their creative capacities. In a survey of CEOs of top US Corporations, creativity was considered the number one capacity needed for future leaders. Read more here about creativity and divergent thinking in education from the Association of Waldorf Schools in North America:
Kimberton Waldorf School is committed to promoting Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in our curriculum and our school. The Board of Trustees and our Governing Team have supported a Diversity Committee and our teachers have been working to address systemic racism in our curriculum. In on-going conversation in our faculty meetings and in our inservice meetings our faculty and staff have been discussing ways to incorporate more diversity and inclusion in our curriculum and teaching practices. Some of our faculty and staff have attended workshops and courses and have been sharing the fruits of what they learned. We are incorporating more diversity in our library collection. We have also formed reading groups on recent publications about strengthening anti-racism. This is ongoing, challenging, and important work for all schools including KWS. Read more here about DEI in Waldorf schools from the Association of Waldorf Schools in North America:
At Kimberton Waldorf School students in grades 1-5 typically participate in a subject that is unique to Waldorf schools: Form Drawing. Form drawing can be described as freehand drawing of patterns (often repeating forms) that introduces form and movement to our students. The practice of form drawing helps the students integrate developmental reflexes, develops fine and gross motor skills, eye-hand coordination, and control of movement. Form drawing also lays the groundwork for the study of geometry and geometric drawing which is introduced in 6th grade. Learn more about form drawing in Waldorf schools here from the Association of Waldorf Schools in North America:
Kimberton Waldorf School prides itself on being a strong and close-knit community. Our curriculum and our teachers help our students develop empathy and the ability to appreciate others, and to work together in teams. Learning to sing in a chorus, play a musical instrument in an ensemble, produce a play with classmates, work on a group project for a class assignment, or cook meals together on a class camping trip all help our students to develop these important social skills. Learn more about the role of empathy in education here from the Association of Waldorf Schools in North America:
At Kimberton Waldorf School the arts are integrated into the whole curriculum and often are part of the experiential approach to academic subjects as well. Research has shown that artistic activity develops important capacities such as problem-solving. Read more about the role of the arts in Waldorf Education here from the Association of Waldorf Schools in North America:
21st century skills are more important now than ever as employers seek diverse thinkers who are knowledgeable in a wide range of fields and who are able to creatively solve problems.
Competencies commonly associated with 21st century skills include critical thinking, problem solving, creativity, innovation, perseverance, self-direction, collaboration and teamwork. The rapidly changing world requires students to be equipped with cross-disciplinary skills in order to be successful in furthering their education and to meet the challenges in the workplace.
For almost 80 years, Kimberton Waldorf School has been providing a multimodality, integrated education with a curriculum based on the developmental needs of the child, validated in scientific research. Our unique approach to education utilizes movement, music, arts, and handwork to strengthen academics and help develop motor skills, focus, perseverance, creativity, and critical thinking.
Emphasis on the breadth of skills and opportunities that we value in childhood and in adulthood provides a reminder that education needs to be designed to produce holistically developed learners who are well-equipped to navigate the challenges of life in the 21st century.
Studies demonstrate that the arts develop neural systems that produce a broad spectrum of benefits ranging from fine motor skills to creativity and improved emotional balance – the driving force behind all other learning.
Creativity is nurtured as students learn to approach tasks from different perspectives and to think “outside the box.” Artistic creations are the result of problem solving. Students’ typically ask themselves: How do I form this clay into a sculpture? How do I step into my role in the play? How will my character react in this situation? How am I going to learn this piece of music?
Movement activities in younger grades, such as circle time, handwork, string games, or playing on a balance board may appear as simple play in the classroom are actually promoting growth toward skills acquisition. The same regions of the brain responsible for movement are also involved in higher level thinking such as problem solving, creating, designing, and anticipating outcomes.
Observational learning is another key component in skills acquisition. When students contemplate a phenomenon with deep curiosity, they are able to hypothesize potential outcomes before testing for the actual answer. Divergent, creative thinking occurs, which is essential for innovation and solving problems.
The goal of Waldorf education and the curriculum at KWS is to provide students with opportunities and training to become autonomous, creative thinkers with the ability to accelerate their ideas into actions. An education that asks students to develop the capacities for collaboration and teamwork, creativity and imagination, critical thinking, and problem solving is an education that prepares students for what lies ahead.
Read more in our article Equipping Students with Skills for Lifelong Success
Critical thinking is essential in health sciences.
Creativity leads to ideas and innovation.
Perseverance is found in entrepreneurs, lawyers, and journalists.
“Play is essential to development because it contributes to the cognitive, physical, social, and emotional well-being of children and youth. Play also offers an ideal opportunity for parents to engage fully with their children. Despite the benefits derived from play for both children and parents, time for free play has been markedly reduced.”
Jeffrey Goldstein, Ph.D., author and research associate at Utrecht University also says, “Play seems to have some immediate benefits, such as aerobic conditioning and fine-tuning motor skills, as well as long-term benefits that include preparing the young for the unexpected, and giving them a sense of morality. How? Learning to play successfully with others requires ‘emotional intelligence,’ the ability to understand another’s emotions and intentions.”
Click Here to Read More in “Play in Children’s Health, Development and Wellbeing.”
Waldorf schools offer a developmentally appropriate, experiential, and academically rigorous approach to education. They integrate the arts in all academic disciplines for children from preschool through twelfth grade to enhance and enrich learning. Waldorf Education aims to inspire life-long learning in all students and to enable them to fully develop their unique capacities.
To learn more watch this video produced for the 100th Anniversary of Waldorf education.
Wonderful college news has been arriving in mailboxes and inboxes! Congratulations to our accomplished seniors!
“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.
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.
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