An Interview with Eurythmy Teacher, Chloe McKenna

“Through Eurythmy, we can reach beyond ourselves to where we've come from to the spiritual world, and we can reach beyond ourselves to the heart of another and the world. There is a possibility to find real healing through Eurythmy.” (Chloe McKenna)

Q. How would you describe Eurythmy to a parent who has perhaps heard of it, but is not exactly sure what it is?

Eurythmy is a movement art brought in Waldorf Schools for children to enter—through movement—into what they're learning in their other classes.

Eurythmy movements themselves come out of the movements of the formative forces of speech, and that is the beginning—the word.

In turn, Eurythmy helps to balance the formative process of the child by bringing the right gestures at the right times, and the right soul experiences at the right stages of development. This supports the specific pedagogy in Waldorf Education that is matched to the archetype of each age of development.

It takes the active teacher and Eurythmist to try to perceive where the children are and how the world is impacting them. Out of this, we strive to bring the right Eurythmy gestures to help support what they're going through in their development and what the world is bringing them.

Q. Why do we bring Eurythmy to children?

Eurythmy brings into movement what children are learning; it is not conscious, it is through a story, fairy tales, poetry, music.

To give a concrete example of what this looks like, if a class is studying Greek history in the 5th grade, one would bring the peace and energy dances, given by Rudolf Steiner, based on the Greek Temple dances.

Students enter these movements of the Greek people and have an experience of what they were striving for at that time. The mystery behind it, in this example in particular, is that this history has a great relationship to our lives at this point in time, namely, the coming together in a circle as a group of people and the social element that one is not on their own.

The energy dance works with the anapest (short-short-long) rhythm, a calling up of energy or fire right in the center of each person, a calling to rise in a way. The peace dance brings in an element of love, also through this anapest rhythm. The Greeks used this in the Temple dances before going out to battle. It was a different battle at that time, but today in educating the child, the task is to provide the child a basis for which to stand in the world.

Q. What drew you to Eurythmy?

I felt as though Eurythmy was the call for me to stand in the world out of truth and out of goodness, out of something higher than what I'd known. To move with other people where the beginning place is always out of one's heart gives me hope that one can rise out of the darkness, that we can really lift our souls through art.

Q. What training does a Eurythmist complete?

Eurythmy Training was first brought as a seven-year study program by Rudolf Steiner. Now most schools are four years. We meet four days a week, 8-10 hours a day. Classes include speech eurythmy, tone eurythmy, speech formation, studies of anthroposophy, painting, singing, music theory, and even some anatomy. A teaching practicum in the 4th year and Eurythmy performances are also part of the training.

Eurythmy training is a constant exploration of the questions, “What is the human being?” and “How can we create a truly human community and live freely out of ourselves?”

Eurythmy in Action: Parents Experience this Expressive Art

From OVWS parent Lydia Russell: On a chilly and gray November day, a group of parents gathered in the yurt at Orchard Valley to experience the expressive art of Eurythmy. Eurythmy is often presented as a performance art, but also has educational and therapeutic applications. Chloe McKenna, a student of Eurythmy who is currently doing her practicum at Orchard Valley, guided us in a series of warming and enlivening movements and gestures that gave us a small taste of this elegant and intricate form. In her long flowing gown, Chloe led us in simple, yet powerful, movements which invited us to inhabit the space around, between, and within us in an intentional and conscious way. As we moved in harmony as a group, a calming and contemplative energy permeated the room and I could sense the healing and connective potential of such a practice.

Chloe explained that Eurythmy offers a gesture for each vowel and consonant in human language, and led us through several examples. She then asked for the names of some of our children and together we made the gestures that correspond with the sounds of their names. This was a particularly powerful moment as we experienced the felt sense of each child through the full-body movements of their names. I was moved almost to tears as I felt the energy of my daughter's presence so fully expressed in a few short movements.

We also had the opportunity to work with copper rods, an exercise which took great concentration and awareness of self and other. I could see how empowering and strengthening this work would be for children!

For me, the whole experience of moving together as a group in such a mindful and embodied way was a joyful and nourishing one. I felt grateful to get a flavor of the beautiful work Chloe is bringing into our children's classrooms. It is a wonderful gift to have her visit our school and share these teachings. Thank you, Chloe!

Class 4/5 Takes Part in a Japanese Tea Ceremony 

From Class 4/5 Teacher Claudia Reinhardt: During the last two weeks of school, 4th and 5th graders learned about pre-modern Japan in order to have a solid background for the summer reader they were assigned, The Heart of a Samurai by Margi Preuss. Students learned about Bushido, the virtues required of a Samurai, the history of pre-modern Japan, and whaling. 

To enliven their studies, students visited Setting Sun Teahut in Plainfield, VT, an authentic Japanese tea hut, for a Japanese Tea Ceremony. Students followed a certain hand-washing and mouth-rinsing ritual before walking the stone path to the entrance of the hut. There they removed their shoes. The entrance is a small, low door that requires one to crouch down on knees and scoot through. There were many feuds in Japan when the tea ceremony came into being. Weapons needed to be left outside the tea hut and everyone, whether peasant or emperor, had to humbly crawl through the same tiny space to enter, creating a sense of equality—at least for the time of the tea ceremony in the hut. As you first look up after crawling in, there is usually a beautiful scroll and a simple flower. 

We enjoyed thick tea from a bowl that was being passed from person to person (with a certain ritual to clean the rim before passing it on), as well as a cup of Matcha. What a Zen way to end a beautiful year with this vibrant group of students!

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Grade 8 Sets Sail On Their Final Class Adventure

From Mary Fettig, Class 2/3 support teacher and chaperone on the 8th grade trip: On Monday, June 4th, 13 intrepid Grade Eight students along with four chaperones traveled to Camden, Maine and boarded the schooner "The Mary Day" for a four-day sailing adventure in the Penobscott Bay.   

After a brief orientation on what to expect and how to assist, there was a tour of the ship, bunks were assigned, dinner was served, and the adventure began!

The Mary Day, named after the wife of the man who designed, built, and owned the schooner, is a windjammer. It was designed to be a passenger ship that would be sailed along the Maine Coast much like the ships that once carried lumber, granite, and fish long before roads and rails were laid down.

The class immediately took to life on a boat. Students were divided into three groups that rotated through and learned about navigation, compass and chart reading, knots and lines, setting and striking the sails, and more. The class took responsibility for steering the vessel, assisting in the galley, keeping the ship tidy, and being full members of the crew.

The Mary Day is owned by Barry King and his wife Jenn, former students of Libby Case and Ben Williams when they were teaching environmental science while touring the US in an old school bus! The crew of six was a wonderful collection of interesting and knowledgeable people who were incredibly open and willing to share their love of sailing and life on a schooner.

The OVWS class is ending their school journey with open eyes and hearts to yet another way of life and what it takes to have the courage, discipline, and spirit of adventure needed to partake of a life at sea. Thanks to all who made this possible; it was a trip to remember!

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Footwear: The Foundation of Our Children's Future

Class 2/3 Support Teacher Mary Fettig says: "Spring is in the air and it is finally time to toss aside those heavy winter boots and put on some sneakers! Please take a moment and read the following article by David Maynard, former OVWS Movement Teacher, on why it is so important that children wear shoes that they can tie."

When buying footwear, the things usually considered are appearance, easy to get on and off, foot protection under the conditions I will use them, and maybe the cost. But the decision-making process for the kind of footwear chosen for a child can be much more complex.

Young children's brains are developing and most of the important foundation work for the brain occurs when we are young. During the myelination process, which takes place between utero and adolescence, a protective sheath is formed around neural pathways in the brain. These pathways are like highways in the brain where messages can travel quickly. If this process is diminished, the speed slows down which reduces the brain's capacities.  

Both the development of the brain and the myelination process is stimulated by movement, and children increase their ability to move through their play. When children play, they develop a sense of movement and a sense of balance and develop their fine and gross motor movement skills, all of which stimulate brain development for later academic work. 

When children are first discovering their new relationship to movement, the choice of footwear is important. For running and jumping, sneakers with a flat bottom are the best. Running sneakers tend to rise up at the toe; this decreases the surface area of the foot on the ground, reducing the base needed to develop new skills such as balance.

The sneakers should also tie. There are at least three good reasons why young children should have tie shoes. 

The first is that in the early years, the child's will forces are developing. In later years when the child is in high school, he or she needs to have the will to finish the math problems or go the extra mile and produce an excellent paper. Our schools have too many students with low will forces which becomes evident while meeting or not meeting the requirements of completing a project. When tying shoes, the child has to do the task over and over, and if they are not tied correctly the laces will come undone and must be tied again. Not only does this reinforce the will, but it also encourages the child to tie (to do the job or work) correctly. 

The second reason is that a high degree of finger dexterity (fine motor skill) is needed to operate technology today, such as computers. Finger dexterity is exercised every time children tie their shoes.  

The third benefit of tying shoes is that it helps  children overcome the midline and horizontal barrier. The cerebrum is separated into two halves (hemispheres) that are connected by a bridge called the corpus callosum. When the child is young, the corpus callosum is not well developed and communication between the two hemispheres is limited. This is seen as creating a sort of void in the center of the brain which is reflected in the body. This void is referred to as the midline barrier. For example, a young child will find it hard to cross her arms over her chest out of imitation, and will usually keep the arms on either side of the midline. As the child goes to kindergarten and first grade (accompanied by the change of teeth), this barrier disappears and crossing becomes easier and easier with practice and time. 

The disappearance of the midline barrier is very important later on when reading because children must cross the midline (with their eyes) when reading each line, and at the end of the line must cross the midline going in the other direction. When working out a division problem, one must carry the remainder and once again cross the midline. 

Children who have difficulty crossing this barrier often get lost in reading and/or math because there is a split second of a void which the child must be able to pick up on the other side. With every knot that is tied, the child practices crossing the midline when the laces cross. As with the vertical midline barrier, there is a horizontal midline barrier that the child overcomes again with practice and repetition. When a child ties her shoes she has to bend over, crossing this barrier twice or more each time the shoes are put on.                 

The child's movements such as crawling, standing, and running, as well as fine motor skills such as tying shoes, are the foundations that future academic work depends on. It is up to teachers and parents to provide the opportunity for healthy movement, while at the same time preventing barriers such as improper footwear or clothing. This intention may be met with resistance because of cultural pressures or because tie shoes are harder to put on. As the child grows older, resistance may increase; however, since the foundation has been laid, compromise is then possible.

Grade 8 Presents Their Projects!

The 8th graders presented their individual student projects to the school the Friday before April break, and the depth and breadth of their work was just stunning to see.

As the parent of a 2nd grade student, I only know some of these "big kids" a little bit. But anyone visiting with them as they unveiled the culmination of months of work gained a glimpse into their individual personalities, their passions, and their talents, and saw the beautiful results of  their determination. Oh, and that sparkle in their eye when asked to share a bit about how their project came about--that was pretty lovely, too! And the younger children, well, they were just so taken by the work of these big kids, their role models. Congratulations to all! Please click through the gallery to see them all.

~ Cathy Donohue, OVWS communications coordinator

Grade 8 Performs Final Class Play: Romeo & Juliet

Grade 8 performed their final class play in April 2018—Romeo & Juliet—at the Plainfield Opera House. 

From Class Teacher Libby Case:  One of the culminating events of eight years as a OVWS student is the 8th grade play. Each year, this class has performed a play that is in some way relevant to the particular curriculum of the year. And each year I am so proud of their production. They are a very cooperative group who have learned over the years to manage themselves both backstage and on stage, and this year was no different.   

In 8th grade language arts, students are introduced to the poetry and plays of William Shakespeare and the students were interested in performing "Romeo and Juliet" for their class play. Finding a version that was true to the original but manageable for middle school fell to the teacher. Understanding Shakespeare’s beautiful, yet challenging, language was accomplished with the help of parent Erica Zimmerman. A grant secured by our great administrator, Karen Vatz, allowed us to enlist the help of experienced actor and director Morgan Irons as an acting coach, and Shannon Hepburn coached the students on sword fighting.

With all that help plus long hours of studying the play, understanding the language, memorizing extensive lines, and perfecting their characters, the students put on a fantastic production that exceeded all expectations! I could not be more proud of their work! 

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Raising Our Voices in Song: The role of music in Waldorf Schools

From Mary Fettig, long-time Waldorf class teacher and mentor to Grade 2/3 Class Teacher Laurie Kozar:

Every day, in every class, voices are raised in song. From our Little Lambs program serving the youngest children through the Grade Eight class, music is an integral part of the OVWS experience. 

Through seasonal songs welcoming in the Spring, songs to bless and give thanks for snacks and meals, and songs to lead the youngest children through transitions, music is shared by the Early Education teachers, bringing the joy of personal expression, harmony and rhythm. In the Early Grades, the children join in with their teachers as they are directly taught the songs, often with movements that accentuate the tempo. First Graders are given wooden pentatonic flutes and now begin to play themselves. Next comes the soprano recorder andthe opportunity to learn to read musical notation. 

Strings are introduced in Grade Four and we are blessed to have Katie Trautz, a local fiddler, bringing her expertise and teaching students on the violin, the cello, and the guitar. Katie is also the Middle Grades Chorus teacher and now the students are literally "finding their voices" and uniting in song. Middle Grades students are also instructed in alto and base recorders and now the classes discover the beauty of playing in parts and reading and playing more complex pieces.

But, why do we teach music? I recently came across an article that spelled out five main reasons for teaching music. First of all, music is a science: an exact and specific discipline calling upon the performers' knowledge and control. Secondly, as many of us know, music is directly related to Mathematics, being rhythmically based on the subdivision of time into fractions. Not only that, it must be delivered instantaneously--you will not have time to work out a problem on paper!

Music is a foreign language that uses highly developed symbols to express ideas. Music is a universal language where anyone from any culture can communicate with others, and our students learn songs from other lands which helps to encourage global awareness.

Furthermore, music is a physical activity requiring immense coordination of fingers, hands, arms, cheeks, lips, and facial muscles. Singing and playing the recorder both ask us to breathe deeply and in control. In playing the violin or cello, the musician has to cross their midline and coordinate the two sides of the body.

Lastly, music is an art, one that allows for individual expression and one that touches on human emotions.

I would add a final reason: music is a social activity. When a class or group is singing or playing together, there is often a beautiful moment where everyone is in sync and on key and the music lifts us all up, highlighting human connection. Participants need to listen to others, to wait their turn, and to sometimes carry others along.

Each Waldorf school, as an independent entity, has their own music curriculum, but they all follow the basic child development principles as outlined by Rudolf Steiner--who recognized that the human being is a musical being. Throughout the primary and elementary grades, songs and musical pieces support the child's growth and development by following indications that are the basis of the Waldorf curriculum.

Not all of us will grow up to be world-class musicians. But through singing and playing instruments in school, we can all learn to find our voices and to find enjoyment through music.

Getting to Know You: An interview with Kelly Davis, On The Land Teacher

We are offering short pieces about faculty and staff in the Apple Core to introduce staff and to bridge our three campuses. This interview was conducted by Mary Fettig.

Kelly Davis took a circuitous route on her way to us here at Orchard Valley, and we are so pleased she made that journey!

Kelly spent her childhood in Pomfret, VT and then attended the University of Vermont, graduating in 2014 with a B.S. degree in Environmental Science with a focus on Conservation and Biodiversity. From Burlington she travelled out to Washington state, then to Saint John in the Virgin Islands, and finally back to VT, moving to East Charleston up in the Northeast Kingdom. All along the way she immersed herself in work that prepared her for designing and writing the curriculum for the On The Land program which she teaches here at Orchard Valley's East Montpelier Main Campus.

Kelly's love of the outdoors and the natural world began as a child. Her parents had a landscaping business that has grown into a farm, and they were always bringing home orphaned or hurt animals to add to their family. Kelly fondly remembers having a "pet"pigeon that lived on their screened porch. As a young woman she worked at the Farm & Wilderness Camps in Plymouth, VT, first in their day camp and then becoming the Program Director of the Salt Ash Mountain Camp, a wilderness skills camp for teens. Through high school friends that had attended Upper Valley Waldorf School, along with Waldorf-schooled campers at Farm & Wilderness, Kelly began to notice the "inexplicable" sturdiness which is a result of Waldorf education. She became attracted to the "mysterious and enchanting" aspects of Waldorf and she allowed that seed to be planted within.

After initially declaring Engineering as her major, Kelly soon switched over to Environmental Science and it was at UVM where she was able to tailor her studies towards what she loved; the fusion between agriculture, wilderness, and children. Her coursework now included Tracking, Permaculture Design and Hands-On Learning. Her farming experiences include working with dwarf goats at a dairy farm and farming at the North Country School of Lake Placid, where she also taught students how to farm.

It was when Kelly and her partner decided to move to Central VT that the long-ago planted seed of Waldorf teaching began to grow and she made a connection with Orchard Valley. Kelly was hired last year as the assistant in the Farm and Forest Kindergarten. During that year, Kelly was a member of a working group which included parents, faculty and community members that set in motion the development of the On The Land program of which she now is the lead teacher.

"On The Land is a wonderful program, and each day is unique. With a season-based curriculum, things are ever evolving--which I love," Kelly says. The Main Lesson teachers have shared their block rotations and Kelly uses those to help plan the themes. In addition, she has developed a school-wide gardening curriculum where each grade will take one component--herbs, flowers, grains, the "Three sisters" (corn, squash and beans), and even a market garden. The children will have the opportunity to get their hands dirty and to delve into real experiential learning.

OVWS is also home to four sheep, two goats, and a dozen or so chickens. Kelly has plans to get more students involved with the daily care and husbandry of the animals as part of the On The Land curriculum as well. She also has plans for a student-built chicken tractor.

We are so pleased to have Kelly and the On The Land program and wish her a fruitful experience here at OVWS!

Getting to Know You: An interview with Little Lambs Director Jada Berg

We hope to offer short conversations between faculty and staff in the Apple Core to introduce new staff and to bridge our three campuses. Here is our first; the interview was conducted by Mary Fettig.

MF: Jada, it's great to have some time to sit down and get to know you. Can you share a bit about yourself and the path that led you to this position?

JB: I hold a degree in Education from Goddard College in Plainfield, VT. I was in a self-directed program and focused on both Progressive Education and Waldorf Philosophy. I have been teaching since 2000, mostly in Early Childhood Education. Before coming to Orchard Valley, I worked at the Green Valley Waldorf School in Putney. I began as the school cook and Kindergarten Assistant, and ended as the Lead Teacher of the infant-toddler class. When that school closed, I moved back to Montpelier and worked for two years as the Lead Teacher in the Apple Blossom class at the Child’s Garden. When Little Lambs was scheduled to open, I transitioned here. I was inspired by the idea of working in a developing program designed for working parents that focused on the very young.

As a child I attended Mountain Laurel Waldorf School in New Paltz, New York. I went on to study Progressive Education, but I have always been drawn to the Waldorf Philosophy. Currently, I am completing my Waldorf Early Childhood Teacher Certification from Sophia’s Hearth in Keene, NH. I chose that program because it is one of the leading programs in this country focusing on the very young child; those from birth to age 3.

MF: Please say a bit about this Pikler Method and how it informs the child care at Little Lambs.

JB: The Pikler philosophy is focused on building the relationship between the child and their caregiver. One of the main foundations of the philosophy is having reverence and respect for the child, and listening and being aware of their needs. The child is seen as an active participant in their own care. Using the Pikler approach, children are involved in all aspects of their care. By this I mean they are engaged in everyday self care skills such as dressing, eating, cleaning, and even toileting tasks. These all help to build resilience and confidence in the young child starting in infancy. Young children are able to do so many things and they have so many capacities--if we can get out of their way and allow them to explore and learn about themselves and the world around them. 

The founder of this philosophy, Emmi Pikler, said: “As a matter of principle, we refrain from teaching skills and activities which, under suitable conditions, will evolve through the child’s own initiative and independent activity.” 

Emmi Pikler was a Hungarian pediatrician and pediatric surgeon whose specialty was pregnant women and newborns. After World War II, she ran an orphanage for many years and implemented the ideas that she had developed about infant care-giving and child development there. This form of child care is very innovative, and the Pikler Approach is being adopted by most Waldorf Schools that serve the very young child. Magda Gerber, who trained under Pikler and brought this philosophy to the U.S.,  said, “When you approach your baby with an attitude of respect, you let him know what you intend to do and give him a chance to respond. You assume he is competent and involve him with his care and let him, as much as possible, solve his own problems. You give him plenty of physical freedom and you don’t push development.” That is what we are doing here at Little Lambs.

MF: Tell us a bit about the Center.

JB: Little Lambs is located on Country Club Road in Montpelier. This is right across from Agway, off Route 2. The center opened in September 2016. I took over as Interim Director in April and assumed the full position in July 2017. The center currently serves 30 children and we are licensed to accept children from 6 weeks to 3 ½ years of age. We are open from 7:30am to 5:30pm and run year-round. We have three classrooms; one is for infants and the other two are mixed-age toddler classes with children from approximately 1 ½ to 3 ½ years old. Each room holds eight children with a Lead teacher and an Assistant teacher. We also have a few "floater" teachers on staff to help during the busy times of day.

We place a lot of focus on outside playtime, and really see the outdoors as another classroom for the children. In addition to our play yard outside the center, we are located near a beautiful natural golf course which is closed from November through April and we have free access to the land, which is quite lovely. There is also a wonderful wooded area nearby where the children often go to play and spend time in nature. We recently received a $5,000 grant from Seventh Generation to improve our play yard and used the grant to purchase several climbing structures, a playhouse/shed, and a special Pikler climber that even infants are drawn to explore. During the warmer months the children are outside most of the day, and even the infants are outdoors crawling and exploring. We have plans to double the size of our playground this spring.

MF: Jada, one toddler can be a handful, how do you get eight of them fed, diapered, and down for a nap?

JB: Having the children in a cohesive group is helpful, as they support and entertain each other. Our day is very calm and rhythmical, with ample opportunity to go outside. The center is very peaceful and decorated in a simple way with beautiful natural materials. Part of the Pikler approach is to slow down and be truly present with the children. This helps the children feel noticed and respected, which creates a lovely harmonious environment for everyone. The children are also given a lot of time for free movement and this helps them develop their lower senses, bringing both inner and outer strengths. 

MF: How do you see Little Lambs integrating into the larger Orchard Valley Community?

JB: Little Lambs can be a bridge where young families can learn about Waldorf Education and the Orchard Valley Waldorf School. The new parents that I meet are hungry for high-quality child care. They are seeking support, community, and parent education opportunities. They are inspired by the care their children receive at Little Lambs, and this gently welcomes them into the larger Waldorf community. In the last year, seven students outgrew our center and moved on to the Montpelier Child’s Garden and East Montpelier Main Campus. 

My goal is to build a strong foundation here at Little Lambs that would support the other programs Orchard Valley offers. I am honored to serve in this way. We plan to begin offering workshops, parent education, and other events for young families. There are several workshops that are currently in the planning stages, so please look for information soon.

MF: Jada, thank you for sharing this information. It is a pleasure to know you and to see what you are bringing to the very young here in Central Vermont.

Class 4/5 Gets Busy Dyeing in Handwork!

From Mary Fettig, Class 2/3 Mentor. Mary is a long-time Waldorf teacher working with new grades teacher Laurie Kozar this year, and shares wonderful pieces about the Waldorf curriculum in practice at OVWS in the Apple Core.

In a traditional Waldorf school education, students in Grade Five learn to knit a pair of socks on four double-pointed needles. This is a continuation of their Handwork curriculum where they had originally learned how to knit in Grade One. As we have combined classes at OVWS, the curriculum now spirals through the grades, allowing students in any one class to first learn a skill and then have the opportunity to perfect it.

In preparation for knitting socks, class 4/5 spent time dyeing skeins of yarn with plant dyes. Here in Vermont, we are blessed to have many local plants that graciously give up their colors for us to use, and the class took advantage of these! Dye pots contained tansy, goldenrod, yellow cosmos, and onion skins for yellow; black-eyed Susan for green; shallot skins for orange; and indigo for blue and teal. This week's pots will yield madder for orange, calendula for a different yellow, more indigo, and some red onion skins. Each pot not only offers up a different color, but much like how each student is unique, so too are the different skeins that visit the same pot. As Ms. Camilletti says, "Each one is different and each one is beautiful."

First, the plants are shredded and then simmered to extract the pigment. The yarn to be dyed needs to be prepared with a mordant of alum or sumac which allows the dye to penetrate the fibers, giving a rich color that will not "bleed" out. It is said that anyone who can make a cup of tea can dye a skein of wool or a yard of plain linen, but it can be more complex than that! Students immersed their white skeins into the dye pots and, after a few moments, such a variety of shades and hues came out. After the skeins are dried, the yarn will be rolled into balls and the knitting will begin. Keep your eyes open when near the Handwork display case in the Grades building this spring to see the results of our students' hard work!

Three Cheers for King Winter from the Farm & Forest Kindergarten!

From Farm & Forest Kindergarten Teacher Michelle Gullage:  With the onset of winter and the blessing of having an inside classroom space this year, Farm & Forest children have shifted the beginning of their mornings inside. This has been a welcome relief on some of the bitterly cold mornings that have been on our doorstep! Coming inside has allowed us to fall into a fairly traditional Waldorf Kindergarten rhythm of activity and inside play. 

Even though we have been inside more than usual, King Winter & Jackie Frost have still found a way to breathe their icy breath into all that we are doing! We've seen icy paintings on our windows, icicles as big as children, and the snowflakes have begun to fall from the wreaths and branches all around our room. Children have been cold, hungry kitties, puppy dog pirates on an icy sea and, of course, the snow plows are out in full force!

There has even been time and space for a small group of children to step outside during inside play and do a bit of tracking with Mr. Sean before coming back in for circle. And, as quickly as snow fairies fly, we eat snack and spend almost two full hours playing in the farmyard and going adventuring out in the snow!  

Wintertime is always a delight for the young child. When properly dressed, good friends and a blanket of snow is all that we require! Three cheers for King Winter--Hip Hip Hooray, Hip Hip Hooray, Hip Hip Hooray!


Martin Luther King Jr. Day at Orchard Valley: A day of challenge, celebration, and inspiration

"Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that."  ~ Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

From Grade One Teacher Svenja Donlon: In celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day this year, the students of Orchard Valley Waldorf School embarked on a day of learning, celebration, and spreading of the light and love embodied by this great man and the countless people who have fought, and continue to fight, for racial and social justice and equality in America. 

Main Lesson:  The day began with main lessons tailored to each grade. In the first grade, we discussed the unkindness and unfairness people of color experienced and still do experience in America. We talked about what we can do to ensure we treat everyone around us with kindness and respect, and to judge them by the content of their character and not by the color of their skin. We learned that this was what Martin Luther King Jr. dreamed of for his own children and for all the people in America. We drew a picture of his dream. 

During morning lesson in classes 2/3 and 4/5, students heard about the life of civil rights leader John Lewis. He is the last person who spoke at the March on Washington and is still alive today, serving in the U.S. House of Representatives. It was important for the students to hear that this work isn't behind us. There is still a lot of work to do before we can achieve a true sense of equality in this nation.

In grades 6 and 8, students heard an in-depth biography of Martin Luther King Jr. and learned about the work for the poor and oppressed that he began during his lifetime. 

1st and 2nd Period: After recess, we gathered as a school for a time of celebration in the Yurt. The 8th grade students recited some of Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have A Dream" speech, and class 4/5 sung 'This Land is Your Land, This Land is My Land." 

We were then fortunate to have Judy from the Good Samaritan Homeless Shelter in Barre speak to us about the work of the shelter and about Martin Luther King's work in the "Poor People's Campaign." She shared how she  remembered being moved to tears when she saw Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech live on television. 

OVWS Chorus and Violin Teacher Katie Trautz, along with Heidi Wilson, then led us in songs of protest and freedom from Martin Luther King Jr.'s time and some written since, such as "We Shall Overcome" and "I Woke Up this Morning with My Mind Stayed on Freedom." We learned how many of these songs started as gospel songs sung in churches and how the words were changed to become songs of protest. We learned about the solidarity singers in Montpelier and their work supporting social justice protests. Heidi explained to us that these are not "Mary Had a Little Lamb" songs to put people to sleep! Rather, they are powerful songs, sung to bolster the spirits of those who sing them and hear them, and they are sung to make people sit up and listen. It was an inspiring experience to sing as a school and to hear the power and courage of these songs. 

3rd and 4th Period:  In the afternoon, we worked in multi-age groups to make beef stew, apple crisp,  oatmeal-raisin cookies, and notes of welcome and kindness for the Good Samaritan Homeless Shelter. We learned that this is a way to honor Martin Luther King Jr. and the light and love he radiated and inspired in our country. 

It was a day of challenge, celebration, and inspiration. It was a day to remember that learning about racial and social injustice and the work needed to create a more just society must continue through this year, in this place, in this country and in all our days and places yet to come.

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//

Hanbury King, Diana. Why Bother with Cursive? (IDA Examiner April-May 2015)

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.

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.