Language Skills, Cursive Writing, and the Orton-Gillingham Approach

Language Skills, Cursive Writing, and the Orton-Gillingham Approach

Class 2/3 Teacher Laurie Kozar and Grade 1 Teacher Svenja Donjon are currently taking the Level 1 training in the Orton-Gillingham approach to literacy through the Stern Center for Language and Learning hosted by Castletown University. Here Ms. Kozar shares some of the critical thought and science behind this training and why OG works so well for students.

As we shared in the September Apple Core, cursive handwriting is an integral part of language acquisition skills--and brain science researchers can see how this kind of multi-sensory education works through Functional MRI (fMRI) imaging of the brain. The Orton-Gillingham (OG) approach to reading and writing uses cursive writing as a foundational element in its structured approach to teaching language skills--at a time when many schools have dropped cursive writing from the curriculum.

OG was developed in the early part of the last century and its approach informs the principles of most other language and reading skills programs. The fact that many "new" programs, including Wilson, Barton, and Pearson, are based in the OG approach attests to the effectiveness and successes of OG's inherent flexibility. OG's approach is not a program; rather, it is an approach that is designed to be infinitely flexible and meet individual readers where they are. It builds success through strong, logical foundations of experiential and sensory learning. OG's success has been proven to effectively teach language skills and successfully remediate the challenges faced by students with dyslexia. 

The OG approach ties together handwriting and reading skills. Handwriting is an integral part of the process of language acquisition and fluency in literacy. In OG lesson plans, students are directly taught spelling, reading, and handwriting, as well as expressive writing. Lesson plans are student-centric and specific, and engage students with multi-sensory experiences that help to create memory "flagging." Memory flagging reinforces the brain's memory channels and enhances recall capacities, retention, and fluency. The OG principles are surprisingly simple and engage all the senses: the visual channel, auditory channels (hearing and speaking), and kinesthetic-tactile channels of movement and touch. The latter is a large part of the argument for cursive handwriting as a modality for language skills success. 

To learn more about cursive, dyslexia, and the fascinating world of brain science research and language skills, please follow these links:

Beringer, V.W. (2012, May-June). Strengthening the Mind's Eye: The Case for Continued Handwriting Instruction in the 21st Century. Principal. Reprinted with permission. Copyright 2012 National Association of Elementary School Principals. All rights reserved. http//www.litracyhow.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/b3ringer-minds_eye_handwriting_2012.pdf

Hanbury King, Diana. Why Bother with Cursive? (IDA Examiner April-May 2015) http://eida.org/why-bother-with-cursive/

The Big Picture: Rethinking Dyslexia
Filmmaker James Redford examines how dyslexia affects youths and their families through the experiences of four dyslexic students and the work of Drs. Salley and Bennett Shaywitz.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I5NFhTrXMqQ

Why are they playing with strings? Shouldn't they be working on mathematics?

Why are they playing with strings? Shouldn't they be working on mathematics?

From Grade 2/3 Mentor, Mary Fettig. Mary is a long-time Waldorf teacher working with new grades teacher Laurie Kozar this year.  

“String figures are a visually pleasing and wonderfully tactile way of learning to appreciate complex consequential phenomenon.” James Murphy, Math teacher, LaGuardia HS of Language and Arts, NYC.

String figures, also known as Cat’s Cradle, have been played worldwide throughout the ages in cultures as varied as the Inuit to the Maori. Long studied by anthropologists, and now used by teachers to develop skills needed for mathematics, these "simple" games support neurological pathways which lead to the development of the neocortex area of the human brain.

When children are working to create the complex patterns the twisting, turning, sliding and dropping of the strings form, they need to have an understanding of body geography and spatial orientation; not just the names of their fingers and which is the right or left hand, but also the meaning of above and below, towards and away, inside and outside, geometrical shapes, and more. Directions for the Starry Sky ask one to: “…Bend the thumbs over the front crossed lines, between the back crossed lines, under the front crossed lines, and pull these towards you. Bend the middle fingers over the index finger lines and from below put them behind the back thumb lines and pull them back.” And that is just a small part of the directions!

One has to work rhythmically, with coordination and concentration and have the mental and physical dexterity to keep the string in place as they move through steps leading to the final figure. Sequential thinking and memory, along with an ability to visualize an outcome sounds like the skills needed to perform complex mathematical problems. You need to see the patterns and the form, and I believe that is ultimately what mathematics is—the seeing and understanding of more and more complex patterns.

In Grades 2/3, students not only used individual strings to play with, but Mr. Maynard, former OVWS Movement teacher, visited the class with a huge string which allowed students themselves to form the figures as each student stepped in for a finger! As he moved his fingers he told a story calling upon the imagination of the class to follow the steps. After forming the shapes with individual strings, the students were asked to work together, to feel the give and take needed to keep the string tight and to let it slip when needed, building on the social fabric to create a large star and to free a group of animals from a circus train.

Now students are creating their own string figures and perhaps one day these same children will follow the advice of anthropologist Louis Leakey’s mentor who once told him before his visit to sub-Sahara Africa, “You can travel anywhere with a smile and a string.”

Grade 2/3 Farm Block: Stories and activities from field to table!

From Grade 2/3 Class Teacher Laurie Kozar: The curriculum in our 2nd and 3rd grade combined class began with Farming, and many of the stories brought to the class were place-based stories from the Abenaki people. The Native American traditional stories make clear our connection to the physical world—including our dependence on the land for nourishment, plant fibers that provide us with clothing, and trees that provide fire/fuel and shelter, as well as our dependence on animals large and small. 

Students enjoyed learning these traditional stories and especially enjoyed learning about a character named Gluskabi who is a benevolent (and sometimes humorous) cultural hero featured in many Abenaki stories. Gluskabi often gets into scrapes and tangles, yet he escapes any serious trouble and becomes wiser for his experiences. It was Gluskabi who taught the people the arts of civilization, and protected them from danger. In addition to Gluskabi, there is a cast of animal characters that help humankind along the way. 

For our place-based farming theme, we took our direction from the season, and so we began with the harvest—a tasty topic! The children learned about the cycle of the seed, and how soil, air, water all come together to sustain life. We enjoyed learning about the harvest of grains, vegetables, and fruits, as well as learning how we prepare them. (Our apple crisp recipe offers an applied mathematics lesson that we may have to return to a few more times before apple season is over!)

To close out our Farm Block, as well as offer gratitude to our families, our class prepared a wonderful Harvest Dinner for their families—vegetable soup and salad and rolls and apple crisp for dessert! The children cooked the food and served it to their parents in fine-restaurant style, upon placemats lovingly dyed and embroidered in Handwork class.

The Native American stories will be drawn on throughout the school year as we continue to explore the theme of practical learning, such as measurement in our mathematics block, and again later in the year when we explore spring farming activities. Stories such as the Three Sisters (Beans, Squash and Corn) will come to life as we work along, hoe in hand, on the land.  

The importance of our connections to the land and the animals on whom we depend also became apparent on our farm visit field trip to Dog River Farm and Fresh Tracks Farm (both in Berlin) in September. Both farmers warmly hosted our class and shared their own passion for their family farms! We thank them for their time and care.

Why do we do so much art in Waldorf Schools?

From Grade 2/3 Mentor, Mary Fettig. Mary is a long-time Waldorf teacher working with new grades teacher Laurie Kozar this year.  

We are all familiar with the bright and colorful paintings our children bring home from their Waldorf experiences and we give them prominent spaces on our walls, frame them for gifts to share with relatives, and look on with wonder at our budding artist. Yes, the pictures are gorgeous, but the product is not the point; it is the outcome of a process that is deliberate and purposeful.

Beginning in Nursery classes, children are invited to sit at a table in front of small jars of blue, red, and yellow paints and they are left to explore the colors and how each one expresses itself. Red is bold and fiery, blue expansive and cold, and yellow a bright and cheerful mediator of the two. Moving into the early grades, the child experiences, they learn what happens when these colors meet--new ones are born! Now there are green, orange, and purple, and sometimes a form arises out of the meeting of color. Fine motor skills are brought into play, senses are activated, and an individual's inner being is lifted up. Slowly the student learns how much paint to leave in the brush, what to do when things are not going as planned, and when it is time to call a painting "done."

Bold, contrasting colors set a mood. Through color stories, or working on paintings that reflect a Main Lesson's content, our students find ways to reflect what is living deeply inside of them and to bring this out onto their painting.

In older classes, students work with more detail, more colors and even charcoals, exploring the contrast of light and dark, shadows and shapes. These are the years the class is studying the physics of light and color and the art classes support this.

Throughout their artistic experiences moving through the grades, the students are exposed to quality materials and can find a means of healthy expression through art, a relationship to the outer world, and a deep satisfaction that can only come from a creative impulse that finds expression in form.

"Pictorial solutions whose theme and form are in harmony, awaken confidence and stability within us."  Jane Mattis-Teutsch

Working With the Hands: Technique and Beauty Marry Handwork and Woodworking

Fiber, both soft (wool, thread, cloth) and hard (wood), play active roles in the Orchard Valley curriculum. And this year Kate Camilletti, long-time Handwork assistant now in her third year as lead teacher, will cultivate the connection between these types of fibers as she takes on the additional role of Woodworking teacher for grades 2/3 and 4/5.

Kate will be taking over the younger grades classes from Heinz Rathman, who has taught Woodworking for more than 30 years, and started at Orchard Valley during the 2011-2012 school year. Heinz is stepping back from teaching as he moves toward retirement, but he will continue to teach 6-week Woodworking blocks to grades 6/7 and 8 in the fall and spring this year, as well as work with the children in the Early Education program on the East Montpelier campus. Heinz created the Woodworking program at Orchard Valley and mentored Kate when she was his assistant several years ago. We’re so grateful for all he has brought to the students here, and that he’ll continue to work with the older grades during his transition.

A Look at How the Curriculum Unfolds

Each grades class has Handwork two periods each week. Grade 2/3 also has Woodworking once each week for one period, while Grade 4/5 has Woodworking once each week for a double period. "It is unusual for this age to take up woodworking in the Waldorf curriculum," Kate says. "This work typically begins in grade 5." To address the younger ages and maintain safety, the younger grades don't work with knives. Instead, rasps are used, and handsaws will come into use later. Rasps are tools that shape wood, and can be used to add detail (such as the hook at the end of a crochet needle or a deep cut into a straight edge) while being safe for all.

Classes have already jumped into both woodworking and handwork. All classes begin the year spinning wool—grade 1 using their bodies, and the older students make a drop spindle with a rock and a stick. In woodworking, grade 2/3 has begun making crochet hooks from apple branches which they will use later on in the year when they add crocheting to their handwork repertoire. Kate says the students "are having fun engaging with the material. They're loving it!"

Grade 4/5 has begun their first project as well--rasping an egg or a spinning top from a length of wood. Transforming something with straight sides into something round... "there's a journey you take when you do that," Kate says. "It's quiet work, internal work.”

Through handwork and woodwork, students "learn about finding their own edge and expanding beyond it." Technique is important with each, but so is having a sense of what is beautiful. And Kate works with the children on that, too.

While the projects don’t change much from year to year, the students doing the work change it. It becomes something slightly different because of what they each bring to the work. Kate is excited to take this journey with the students and see what comes. "I look forward to learning along with them," she said.

On The Land at Orchard Valley's East Montpelier Main Campus

“On The Land” is a new part of the curriculum at Orchard Valley’s Main Campus. We introduce this program here with a brief overview by On The Land Teacher Kelly Davis.

Afternoons at Orchard Valley will be taking on a new flavor this year with the addition of the On The Land program. On The Land aims to connect students with their environment through the practice of growing food, exploring the forest, caring for animals, and physically engaging their bodies through games derived from the Waldorf Movement curriculum.

While the On The Land program will take on some aspects of the Movement portion of the curriculum of prior years, students in grades 1 and 2/3 will also take part in Games class time with a teacher twice each week. Older students will still have the opportunity to participate in milestone activities and events such as the Pentathlon (grade 5), Medieval Games (grade 6), the Bolton ski program (grades 6-8), and snowshoeing/cross country skiing will also take place on campus for all classes. In addition, the fundamental elements of the Movement curriculum that follow the physical, emotional, and social development of the child, will be preserved within their time On the Land.

Each grade will take part in the On The Land class for one afternoon a week. It is a double block running from 1:30pm to 3pm. First grade will join together with the combined second/third grade class and the rest of the grades will participate in their individual or combined classes (4/5, 6/7, 8). (Due to early dismissal on Thursdays for faculty meeting, On The Land will not be offered on that day.) During the afternoons your child is not On The Land, they will be participating in their other subject classes, much like previous years; class schedules will be available from your child’s teacher.

Here is a brief look at the themes and activities that your child will be engaged in by grade.

A common thread that will weave throughout all the grades is the practice of sit-spots. This will be a unique practice to each grade and each child, but will be centered on fostering a sense of awareness through observation and reflection.

The first and second/third grades work will focus on Cycles. This theme will be examined through forest sensory exploration, working with the chickens, cooperative games, working with apples in the fall and sugaring in the spring.

The overarching theme for the fourth/fifth grade will be Interdependence. Students  will spend time looking at the relationship between plants in the garden, harvest and composting, the life of trees, and fire.

The sixth grade will be focused on Diversity. This will be explored through wildlife tracking, animal husbandry, and an interactive study of the native populations of Vermont.

The theme for the eighth grade is Systems. Students will learn the art of permaculture and use their experience at Orchard Valley to build a vision for future sustainability. Through community service, students will have the opportunity to engage with members of the broader community who dedicate their time to living and working in harmony with their environment.

This is just a brief glimpse into this upcoming year On The Land, a program which will grow and evolve alongside the students. The hope is that this time will serve as an out-breath in the overall rhythm of the day and forge a meaningful and lasting connection between our community and the incredible and rich landscape that surrounds us.

Farm and Forest Children "bask in the glory that is spring!" 

From Farm and Forest Kindergarten Teacher Lindsay Miles: 

The Farm and Forest children have come through the winter where we warmed ourselves by fire, drank tea we made from the trees we visited in the forest, and found shelter from the very cold in the yurt. Now, they bask in the glory that is spring.

The cold winds and snowy land brought good work and big movements where the children shoveled, went sledding, and moved through campus covered in snow gear, wool socks, and the occasional toe and hand warmer.

Now that the weather has changed and the children are eager to shed their bulky layers to run free, we can see how much growth has happened for each and every child. Their pants are just a tad too short, the sleeves of their rain jackets just barely touch their wrists, and new shoes are arriving daily as their feet have grown out of the shoes they wore when they first began their days in Farm and Forest. 

Spring time has brought a new connection with the earth. Where in winter it was a hard and often snowy ground when we began our morning circle with “Here is the Earth and here is the sky...,” now the earth has softened, and as we stomp our feet are greeted with warm mud and grass that is beginning to turn green. Our circles outside give us a chance to really experience the words we recite and the songs we sing. As we are “four little chickadees sitting in a tree, one flew away and then there were three” we can hear their call from the perch of our bird feeder. As we recite “in the heart of a seed buried deep so deep, a dear little plant lies fast asleep,” we can look over at our garden and truly see the seeds beginning to sprout. 

The snowmen and snow-shoveled paths are being replaced with energetic cooperative games and creative and thoughtful creations. Some of our toys from inside the tepee have come outside for play in the sunshine. Potions are being made from mud, grass, and hay. Their airplane (a leaning tree) has them crawling up in their “seats” and traveling to the great lands of Africa and Dorchester, MA. Their building of their giant nest has begun, using grapevine we harvested from the southern Orchard. The children become beautiful birds with wreaths of feathers and wings of fallen branches.   

This time of year brings a lot of energy in the children and we can meet this energy with new work to be done. This is achieved through practical jobs in the garden or woodworking activities and by giving them space to explore the changing natural world as their bodies are bigger and ready to do new things they weren’t ready to do in the beginning of the year. They are building bigger forts, climbing trees a little higher, and we will begin working on our jump-roping skills very soon!

Spring also brings a lot of farm work that the children eagerly ask to help with. We have put up a new arbor to our classroom entrance, added hay bales to be planted and to create natural borders, and we are ready to expand the goat yard. We have extended the chicken yard and have added a corn grinder where the children can make food for the chickens to eat. We are raking our classroom and the children use wheelbarrows to bring the fallen hay to their farm house they have made among the apple trees. The goats and sheep have grown from the babies they were at the start of the year. The sheep are eager to begin grazing again and to be sheared, and the goats are mischievous and playful. They love to jump up onto their new play structure and use the balance beam that was made for them over the winter. 

The garlic we planted in our Soup Garden long ago in the late fall is coming up beautifully, and the children marvel at this and the other seeds we have sown. This week we are adding more garden beds to house our Tea Garden, Our Bees and Butterflies Garden, our Herb Bed, and our Medicine Wheel.  

How lucky are we that we get to spend our days outside—still held in the traditional, rhythmic ways that meet our youngest students in our Waldorf school. At the same time, we are instilling a sense of love for our earth, our animals, and our classmates as we are on the land each day. We aim to cultivate a sense of flexibility and ease our movement through the day, the seasons, and the year—a skill that is so necessary as we move through this world.

The Middle Ages, the Renaissance, and Community Service in Grade 6/7

From Class Teacher Libby Case: For most of the school year, grades 6 and 7 have combined for their studies: chemistry, perspective drawing, creative writing, physiology, and our play, "The Little Mermaid." In the fall, the two groups separated for one block: the sixth graders studied the Rise and Fall of Rome, while the seventh graders studied The Age of Discovery.

This spring we are once again in our respective groups. The sixth graders are busy learning about the Middle Ages and preparing for the Medieval games that will take place on our campus on May 5. This is a wonderful event organized by Movement Teacher Jacqueline Gabe in conjunction with the Lake Champlain Waldorf School. Students will spend the day together participating in traditional knightly challenges: archery, axe and knife throwing, group challenges, and a quest. In preparation for this event, students have been busy during morning recess acting as squires to assigned teachers. This experience of service to another is designed to help them learn and understand the seven knightly virtues: courage, justice, mercy, generosity, faith, nobility, and hope. The culminating experience of this service will be the Knighting Ceremony, which will take place at the end of the Medieval games. All are welcome to attend this regal event, Friday, May 5,  9am to 2pm, with the Knighting Ceremony beginning at 2:15pm on the field.

The seventh graders, in turn, have been busy studying the Renaissance period. They began their studies with a look at the Italian Renaissance and the painting masters that arose from this period. Students not only studied the biographies of some of the great Renaissance artists, including Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and Raphael, but also some of their techniques with artist Laurie Demrow. As a culminating project, Ms. Demrow asked the students to select a portrait painted by one of the great masters of the period and had them reproduce this portrait using their own face as the model for the work. These works will be up in school, so come have look at the remarkable paintings they were able to create!

The full grade 6/7 class recently took part in a series of Community Service projects in our area. On Tuesday, April 11, the class split into three groups for the day to help out where they were needed.

  • One group headed to Chelsea, VT, where they first visited with elders at the nursing home in town. Students played games and chatted with the residents for about an hour, and then headed across the street to the Chelsea Food Shelf where they spent the rest of the day unloading food, organizing boxes for pick up, and helping visitors to carry food out to their cars. 
  • A second group headed to the home of community members Wolfgang and Louise who needed some extra hands packing and cleaning as they prepare to leave their home of seven years and head out on a two-month trip to visit friends and family around the US. Students vacuumed, sorted, and packed boxes, much to the joy and appreciation of the elderly couple who could not have done it without them!
  • Our third group spent the day at the Good Samaritan Homeless Shelter in Barre, VT. There they baked for the residents of the shelter, cleaned the attic of accumulated clothing donations, and helped with yard work for spring cleanup.

Needless to say, the students gained an incredible amount from these projects. When asked the next day, “What was it you gained from this experience?” Students replied, “It felt really great to help someone else and know that it meant a lot to the people we helped.”

Grade One Prepares for First Class Play!

From Grade One Teacher Stasha Ginsburg: In Waldorf schools one highlight of the year is a play that emerges in each class from the curriculum. Every child in the class participates, uniting the class artistically and socially. Out of imaginative play, first grade students bring a fairy tale play. The class learns the whole play; not all children are ready to hold individualized parts or to stand facing an audience alone. Typical of first grade, groups of students step forward to enact various parts, then step back to join their class, speaking in chorus.

A play entertains, inspires, instructs, and transforms. Magic happens among the players and on stage as they work together, have fun, build confidence and express themselves creatively.

The first grade is currently learning the lines and songs for "The Brementown Musicians," a delightful Brother's Grimm fairy tale. In the story, a donkey, dog, cat and rooster have been rejected by their masters. Each laments that his or her end is near. "Woe am I, master says I'm bound to die. But, this won't be my last day!" The colorful band of outcasts come up with a lively solution to transform their worries and leave their troubles behind. How? By creating a new position, they will follow their dreams to become musicians in the town of Bremen. Freedom awaits!

The class will perform the play on April 12 and 13 for the Early Childhood children and the first grade families. They hope to put a smile on your face and a song in your heart. And, as Cat Stevens sang, "If you want to sing out, sing out, if you want to be free be free, for there's a million ways to be, you know that there are..."

Celebrating the Contributions of Women on International Women’s Day

“A Day Without A Woman” Became “A Day to Reflect on Women” at Orchard Valley

In honor of International Women’s Day and the worldwide “Day Without A Woman” events on March 8, Orchard Valley Waldorf School faculty transformed the curriculum to focus on women’s contributions in history throughout the classes.

This creative educational opportunity sprang from the faculty pondering the dilemma that the national “Day Without A Woman” strike would bring to the school and families. Instead of creating havoc like a strike would have, this opportunity enriched the students, filled the classes with deep learning, and brought the school together for a collective handwork project and assembly.

The children enjoyed stories of mothers, grandmothers, and important women in history during their main lesson period to start the day. They learned new songs, and learned about the Women’s Suffrage Movement in the United States and about Women’s Day in Russia—the birthplace of International Women’s Day.

The handwork project-a weaving on a hula hoop loom-was set up in the orchard and classes worked on it throughout the day. Teachers, staff and community members were all invited to weave finger-knitted strands into the loom, infusing it with the intentions they set for the project. The eighth grade class composed a heartfelt message to convey on the weaving—STEP FORWARD. These words will be woven into the piece.

The completed piece was presented to the school during the assembly. Handwork teacher Ms. Camilletti said to the students: "You made this, all of you. When we all work together we can create true beauty. [This weaving is in shades of red] because it is the color of the heart, which is really love—and that's what we do here."

A Heart-y Winter Fair Thank You!

 From Winter Fair coordinators Angie Barger and Karen Liebermann:

A warm hooray and humble "thank you" to the entire parent and faculty community at our three campuses for your efforts, kindness, and creativity at Winter Fair! It was a glorious day, bells jingling on white Percheron draft horses as they trotted through the campus pulling a sleigh filled with enchanted children and adults alike. The food was delicious, the musicians incredibly talented, and the halls were bedecked with pink sparkles and hearts!

A HUGE thank you to the sponsors of Winter Fair:
National Life Group
Hunger Mountain Coop
Vermont College of Fine Arts

An extra special thank you to the businesses who contributed to this event:
Birchgrove Bakery
Champlain Orchards
The Drawing Board
Hannaford
Muddy Creek Pottery
Patchwork Farm
Price Chopper
Red Hen Bakery
Shaw’s, and
Central Vermont High School Initiative

And a heartfelt thank you to the individual area coordinators for the events, decorations and food:
Christopher Steller - Pre-Fair Grocery Shopping
Matthew Sellers - Parking
Nancy Bruce - Laundering of Sheets & Tablecloths
Aja Jennings - School Store and Pocket Lady
Debbie Goodwin - Cake Game
Joe Astick - Musicians
Jenny Johnson - Paper Crafts
Heather Stearns - Clay Hearts
Mary Perchlik and Zoe - Button Making
Kate Camilletti - Donation of Buttons and Felting Area
Erin Malloy - Seed Ornaments
Tara Carpenter - Candle Dipping
Julie Brown - Book Sale
Peg Roche, Lindsay Miles, Stephanie Hoelscher, Liz Emmett - Puppet Show
Mark Gunkel - Bonfire
Erica Zimmerman, Linda Weyerts, Andy Hatch - Sleigh Rides
Jesse Conn - Crystal Cave Snow Queen
Stella Stevens, Meg Scherbatskoy, Paule Bezaire- Food Preparation
Jim Veneziano, Anne Carroll and Julie Atwood: Food Booth Coordination and Execution
Eme Scherbatskoy - Face Painting
Madelief Becherer - Grades Decorations
Jon Scherbatskoy -Herald
Bill Marcinkowski - Jack Frost

This annual event raises both funds and spirits for our strong and vibrant school community. Every effort from each parent and teacher, each cake baked for the cake game, each high schooler and 8th grader who helped set up, is an integral part of the beauty and delight of the Winter Fair. Our school has such a generous and loving community and this event is so special because of you! 

Grade Five Explores the Metric System

From Class Teacher Cathie Ely: The fifth grade just concluded an introductory block exploring the metric system. From our work in third grade, students are comfortable measuring volume, mass and distance using the U.S. Standard system for measurement. After a review of this work, we sprung forward to the metric system.

For this new way to measure, students rolled up their sleeves and put scientific equipment to good use. Using graduated cylinders, centrifuge tubes, syringes and pipets, students measured water in milliliters and liters. At home, students designed and built cardboard houses. Using centimeters and millimeters, they followed strict building codes that determined the height and width of their houses and the sizes of window and door openings.

Finally, to bring all three units together, students created beautiful decimeter cubes out of stiff cardstock. Once lined with a plastic produce bag, we were amazed to discover that the decimeter cube could hold one liter of water and weighed one kilogram.

Students were left feeling that the metric system is a much easier system to utilize, especially with their new understanding of decimals. Questions were raised, "Why donʼt we switch?" Their thoughts and answers were very interesting. The first person to say "NO" to the metric system was Thomas Jefferson because he thought it was "too French." Do you know the three countries in the world that have NOT completely switched to the metric system?

[Answers: Myanmar - aka Burma (S.E. Asia), Liberia (W. Africa) and the United States.]

Handwork: Learning How To DO

Why do Waldorf schools include Handwork in the curriculum? According to Handwork Teacher Kate Camilletti, "It's not just so the students know how to knit, it's so they know how to DO." Handwork is about learning how to meet a challenge (moving needles, gaining rhythm, following and creating patterns) and to move through it. Beyond gaining specific skills, students learn to use their hands to create something beautiful and practical from start to finish, helping them acquire the ability to persevere.

The progression of handwork lessons begins with knitting and crocheting and progresses to hand sewing, felting, embroidery, and carving soapstone molds for pewter casting. The handwork class circles back to knitting and crocheting with variations and increasing skill development (for instance, kittens in first grade, socks on four needles in fifth grade), and specific projects vary by class. Handwork begins with knitting because it awakens, enlivens, and strengthens so many different parts of the human being, including building neural pathways from the brain to the tips of the fingers. Childhood is the time to build these pathways, which will serve them throughout their lives.

Grade Six Squire Duties Begin Soon!

From Movement Teacher Jacqueline Gabe:
In connection with the sixth grade curriculum study of the Middle Ages, every year the sixth grade students are each assigned to an adult "knight" who provides them with opportunities to be of service to others. Students are asked to visit their knight once a day for six to twelve weeks and offer their service. Students learn about the seven knightly virtues--courage, justice, mercy, generosity, nobility, hope and faith--and are asked to uphold these qualities while performing their acts of service. Some squires take up cleaning duties, others work with younger children, and still others take on the repair and upkeep of the grounds or tools. 

During Medieval times, squires served under an elder, proving their capacity and building skill through on-going, dedicated work before being knighted; so, too, the OVWS students take up squire duties in preparation for the Medieval Games and their Knighting Ceremony.

In early May, sixth grade students from Lake Champlain Waldorf School will join our sixth grade students for a full day of rigorous games, challenges, and events with a Medieval flair such as knife throwing, archery, and a quest. The day culminates in the Knighting Ceremony, a truly moving, right-of-passage ceremony for the squire who worked in earnestness and with perseverance.

Following some of the ancient ceremonial protocol, each student comes forward and kneels before an elder and is recognized by his or her knight for their service with their community as witness. The knight speaks on their behalf, stating what the squire has done to be ready for knighthood. Recognizing children for their striving at an age that can be confusing and tender for the child is of great benefit, and indeed, similar rituals are taken up by other cultures and religions.

This year's Knighting Ceremony will be held on Friday, May 5, in the afternoon. All are welcome to attend!  

A Warm Welcome to Little Lambs Early Care Center Families and Staff

A Warm Welcome to Little Lambs Early Care Center Families and Staff

Orchard Valley Waldorf School opened the doors to its new childcare center in Montpelier inSeptember 2016, and the wonderful staff have made this a warm and charming place for the littlest members of our school family.

Located at 203 Country Club Road in a private spot of f Rt. 2, Little Lambs was designed to help meet the growing childcare needs in central Vermont. The location was custom-designed to our specifications and is filled with sweet toddler-size furniture and Waldorf-inspired quality wooden and cloth toys.

This is a new adventure for Orchard Valley, bridging a Waldorf gap between our parent-child program and our Apple Blossom program at the Child's Garden for 2 1/2-year-olds, as it meets the childcare needs of working parents. Currently, 24 children ages three months to three years spend between two and five days a week with us, for the morning or a full day.

There are three groups of children, divided by age and development; the Rosebud room is for the youngest children, the Sweet Pea room is for ages one to two, and the Dandelion Room is for ages two and up. As you might imagine, the Dandelion Room is very active, with much climbing, running, imaginative play and talking going on! The toddlers in Sweet Pea and Dandelion go outside nearly every day; the children in Rosebud are brought outside as napping and bottling schedules allow. 

With our experienced and loving caregivers, the children can begin to test their new sense of self in an environment designed to nurture and support their continued unfolding. Our daily rhythm provides a balance between active times and rest times, nourishing each child's sense of health and well-being. The daily rhythm includes creative free play inside and out, practical work (such as baking, cleaning and folding laundry for older children), wholesome organic snacks, storytelling and singing! The activities in our early childhood classrooms flow with a sense of "breathing in" to "breathing out," from the quiet moments of a story to the active moments of outside play, nature walks, and sledding and snowman-building in the snow. 

The infants in Rosebud experience the rhythms during awake times with free play and true respect for their own development with plenty of floor time on tummyand back. The littlest watch the more mobile crawlers and cruisers, reaching out for toys and companionship while strengthening little bodies-rolling over and learning to creep and crawl. The warmth and caring arms of our teachers and assistants work steadily to dry tears when they come and bring smiles and laughter.

The Central Vermont Chamber of Commerce will hold a formal Ribbon Cutting at Little Lambs Early Care Center later this winter. We'll keep you posted! 

Conflict Resolution: An Opportunity for Growth

Conflict Resolution: An Opportunity for Growth


At Orchard Valley, we view conflict as an opportunity for healing and growth. When supporting the resolution of conflicts, we seek to address the root cause of misbehavior and heal it at the source, rather than using force to suppress it. Through facilitated conversations, students find the impetus for change within themselves instead of through punitive measures.

An important part of the Social Harmony curriculum, based on the work of Kim John Payne and Non Violent Communication (NVC), involves training 8th graders in conflict resolution and social harmony stewardship. This offers an opportunity for teens to be a positive source for change and to make an important, positive impact on the lives of younger children.

In an attempt to introduce this training, the 8th graders are engaging in important conversations. The concepts of bullying are discussed in detail: in the field, the definition refers to as repetitive (some disagree) behavior, with the intent to harm, and where there is a power imbalance. Students are reviewing the four forms of bullying (physical, verbal, relational, and cyber) and bring insightful realizations on how insidious bullying can be.

Following these discussions, the 8th graders reviewed the Social Harmony conflict resolution model. Titled "How to Feel Nice with All Folks," this model offers an opportunity for participants to hear each other out, through listening and mirroring perceptions, feelings, and needs, as well as to join efforts in coming up with strategies, make amends when necessary, and making a plan for the future.

Teachers and staff are trained at various levels to support healthy conflict resolutionsthrough conversation, finding out what students need and assisting them in finding working solutions. To more fully benefit from this program, parents are encouraged to attend workshops and learn more about how to utilize its methods at home. A healthy community is created through communal efforts, and everyone's support is greatly appreciated.


We'll announce an upcoming workshop after the holiday break. Please contact Paule for more information and with any questions you may have. 
 

Class 2/3 to Carry the Peace and Goodwill of Santa Lucia Throughout the School

Class 2/3 to Carry the Peace and Goodwill of Santa Lucia Throughout the School

From Class Teacher Claudia Reinhardt: Santa Lucia Day is on December 13th and celebrates the life of Saint Lucy and light for the longest night of the year (under the old Gregorian calendar this was the Winter Solstice). Lucia thus shines as a symbol of hope and light during the dark time of the year as we turn our focus inward.
   
This day usually begins before dawn, with the oldest girl in the family preparing delicious saffron buns for the family. She often wears a white dress with a red sash and wears a wreath of candles on her head. Boys often accompany the procession as "star boys."

While this festival is nowadays predominantly celebrated in Sweden, the origin is Sicilian. Saint Lucy is said to have brought food to Christians hiding in the catacombs. Wearing a candle lit wreath to light the way left her hands free to carry a tray filled with food.

The 2nd and 3rd graders are hearing the story "A Santa Lucia Legend" by Swedish Nobel-prize winning author Selma Lagerlöf. Kindness, peace, and good will toward our fellow human beings are reflected most beautifully in this story.

On December 13th, our class will work together and bake Lucia wreaths that we will deliver to the kindergarten and grades classes on December 14th, in the morning, while singing...

Santa Lucia
Thy light is glowing
Through darkest winter night,
Comfort bestowing.
Dreams float on wings bedight
Then comes the morning light.
Santa Lucia! Santa Lucia!   
Through silent winter gloom
Thy song comes winging.
To waken earth anew
Glad carols bringing.
Come thou, oh Queen of Light
Wearing the crown so bright.
Santa Lucia! Santa Lucia!

Santa Lucia
Christmas foretelling,
Fill hearts with hope and cheer,
Dark fears dispelling.
Bring to the world again,
Peace and good will to men.
Santa Lucia! Santa Lucia!

 

Natural Science Studies in Fourth Grade Main Lesson Blocks

Natural Science Studies in Fourth Grade Main Lesson Blocks

From Linda Weyerts, Class Teacher: The writing samples and drawings you see here are from our four-week block on map making and our four-week block on local mammals. Expository writing skills develop from the rich vocabulary of natural science  and a  multi-sensory approach to narrative.

We began our geography and natural science studies with the First People and their sense of the Sacred in nature. The students listened to Abenaki and Algonquin creation stories and legends told orally, followed by field studies and observations of weather, trees, animals and landscapes.

Children today need more time outdoors to develop their understanding of the natural world. This process of students learning the curriculum of “ Natural World Literacy” at Orchard Valley begins in third grade with the farming and gardening  work in fall and spring. Our nature studies in fourth grade include the world of animals in their natural habitat.

This fall we have been exploring the local landscape and learning about how maps are made, starting from our own classroom out in ever widening circles. As the first snow fell, we began to notice what mammals live in our meadows, orchards, and riparian margins as we learn about the science of winter tracking.

This hands-on experience is one way our students enter into a fresh understanding of the living systems of the natural world. In  the context of forest ecology reflects a new capacity in the child to care for the environment of self, home, family, and community in ever widening circles. 

Living Like Abenaki People by Caleb
I am SharpEagle. I am a boy who lives in a village by the water. I just got a new canoe so I decided to go hunting. I pushed my boat from the shore on Hunt day. The water was calm and I could just make out a loon in the distance. I drew an arrow and shot. I hit it and paddled over and brought it home. I had a good meal that night. My day ended around a nice fire.


Life Along the Winoski River by Miloe
Today is hunting day. I woke up and had fish for breakfast. I went outside to get ready to go hunting. I got my bow and went into the woods. I saw a deer and pulled the bowstring back. I shot the arrow. It hit the deer. I skinned the deer and pulled it to my village. We had a great feast to celebrate.

Today is Tuesday. I woke up to see fog on the lake. Later on I saw a great blue heron. Then I went hunting and got a deer. I brought it home and ate it for dinner and went to bed.

Life Along the Winoski River by Wyatt
Today I am going on an adventure. Two days ago I helped build a canoe with my family. I think I am going to ride Step High, my horse, to the boat. I rode along side my brother, Brown Deer. When we got to the river my father said, "Kaya, go fetch the food from our basket," and I did. When we were in the lake I asked if I could go swimming. Father said, "yes!"

I dove in. The water felt cool. I swam lower and saw a lot of fish; cat fish, king fish, and trout. I came up with a cat fish. Father was surprised!

Mindfulness Practice at Orchard Valley

Mindfulness Practice at Orchard Valley

From Jacqueline Gabe, Movement Teacher:  Mindfulness practice is meditative work designed to build deeper awareness, bringing you into the present moment. Awareness seems limitless whether it be awareness of self--emotional or corporeal, awareness of other including your neighbor or the environment you are in, as well as awareness of the greater world.

Mindfulness practice involves meditative exercises around food, sound, thinking, emotions or movement--to name a few areas. It teaches us that our breath is our best friend, and by simply bringing our attention back to our breath in multiple situations we can find inner calm. The benefits of mindfulness practice are long, including helping one lower stress, think more clearly and/or with focus, and develop patience and compassion. Schools that bring mindfulness to their student body have seen lower drop-out rates, less incidence of bullying, and a rise in the students' grades. In our day and age, the young are needing instruction on how to navigate within and be present for learning. Mindfulness is a skill one can carry and utilize throughout one's life in most any situation.

I am a long-time meditator and have found remarkable self-growth and development through exploring a variety of methods. As such, I am thrilled to bring this invaluable work to the students at Orchard Valley! Both the fifth and sixth/seventh grades have had a series of lessons in mindfulness so far. The students have been receptive to the work, reporting finding it calming and interesting. The young are naturally mindful as they live in the present moment. A simple one- to two-minute centering exercise can readily work wonders. As part of its work to further instill kindness and cooperation among the student body, Care Committee is planning an upcoming workshop for the Grades faculty.

Last week, when reflecting on the use of the breath, one student shared that "the breath is like the beat of the drum in music, then the instruments come in, in time with the beat and in harmony with one another. The mind, he continued, when practicing mindfulness, is like those instruments in harmony."  Breathing in, breathing out -- Jacqueline Gabe
 

Fairytales: At the Heart of First Grade and For Adults to Explore, too

Fairytales: At the Heart of First Grade and For Adults to Explore, too


From Stasha Ginsburg, First Grade Teacher:
Between "Once upon a time" and "happily ever after" lives a timeless realm of possibility. Fools are seasoned into kings, children are led to the cruel hands of fate where they accidentally discover destiny, and the underdog often overcomes the greatest of odds.

At the heart of first grade is the land of Imagination in which students can try on each and every character from the inside out. They live vicariously through the soul of each character who journeys from the familiar to the unfamiliar and back to the familiar, changed. The children in first grade enter into these tales with wonder and bated breath. They cheer when Little Red Cap emerges from the belly of the wolf whole. They leap out of their seats shouting, "Yes!," when young men slay dragons and become heroes or kings.


Fairytales are wise teachers offering the depth and breadth of the human condition. They offer a map for becoming human. They are embedded with hidden secrets and meanings living inside of every color, object, character, and place. In first grade, we feel our way through the tale. It speaks to something in us that doesn't yet have words. There is evil and there is good and truth; beauty and goodness always prevails.

As adults, we can approach these stories with both our imagination and our critical mind.  We need to use the tailor's scissors carefully as we cut into the meaning beneath the surface. We are the archeologists blowing the dust off of archaic treasures. We stalk the wild creatures of fairytales to receive the medicine they offer. Fairytales offer nourishing soul medicine to all ages. There are as many different ways to read the inner meaning of a tale as there are philosophies, religions, cultural beliefs, and psycho-spiritual perspectives to transpose upon them. We bring ourselves and our story baggage into the stories with us. We can befriend the tales and listen to what they have to say to us, the way we do with dreams.

What happens when you enter Little Red Riding Hood's story forest? What happens when you quest for the water of life? What are the tailor's scissors really offering you? What part of you is locked in a tower? What story or part of you is sleeping with beauty and the entire kingdom? What secrets shall be awakened? What secrets shall be discovered?

I will be facilitating a bi-weekly Wisdom of Fairytales story circle after the Christmas break. Baba Yaga wants to know, "What'll you turn up with...bones or butter?" Come and join us and find out. "Nothing ventured, nothing gained." If interested, or for more information, please contact Stasha.