Apple Core

Music “Fills You Up” at Orchard Valley - Every Day

It’s 8:25 am. The grades students have shaken their class teacher's hand, shared a word, and entered the classrooms. Then the class doors are closed. If you are lucky enough to be in the hallway at this time, you will be treated to the beautiful verses, songs, and recorder pieces that drift out from behind the doors like blossoms on a spring morning. It’s that lovely, that moving, the kind of moment that fills you up, as a parent and as faculty and staff.

And that “filling you up” feeling is one of the reasons we sing, says Libby Case, class 3/4 teacher. “You feel it in your body and in your brain and you connect with other people through the music,” she said. “It builds community.”

It’s true, too, for the early childhood classes, in which “singing is a group activity that’s joyful and makes you feel like part of the group,” says Apple Tree Kindergarten teacher Peggy Roche. “It’s a way to breathe together.”

The Waldorf curriculum places a great deal of importance on musical experiences for every child, from early childhood on up. Each class’s musical activities are appropriate to the children’s stage of development, and both support and are supported by the other elements of the curriculum.

In early childhood classes, the singing style might sound “sing-song,” but the energy of it creates a healing sound, a sound of beauty for the children, Peggy says. This sound stands in contrast to the world outside of school, which can be loud and over-stimulating to some children, she says.

In the grades, every class sings nearly every day. In grades one and two, students sing with the class teacher and in grade three they also begin to experience harmony through singing in rounds. The middle school grades (5-8) are also part of the Middle School Chorus with music teacher Katie Trautz, adding choral singing instruction several times a week.

The introduction to instruments, too, follows a rhythm that meets the child’s development. The pentatonic flute, a simple 7-hole flute, is introduced to first graders during the second half of the year. The soprano recorder is introduced in second grade, in which the children learn through mirror imitation of their teacher. The alto recorder is introduced in grades five and six, and the tenor and bass recorders are brought to students who are interested in grades six and seven. In addition, students add strings class twice each week with teacher Katie Trautz in grade three, during which students also begin to learn to read music and understand the language of music in written form. Strings instruction continues through grade eight.

Through all, keen listening skills are honed and fine motor skills are patiently fostered. Musical opportunities not only give the children a sense of joy and well being, but also help to build a solid social fabric within the class, bringing practice in working with others to achieve a beautiful common goal.

Sharing their creative musical endeavors is also an important part of the children's experiences. Please join us on Thursday afternoons at 1:30 in the cloth yurt for the Grades Sharing, which includes songs and poems the students have been working on during Main Lesson that week.

Mayfest, too, offers a wonderful opportunity to see the joy of music in our school played out against the beautiful backdrop of greening fields and budding tress. Join us Saturday, May 11, 10am to 1pm, for maypole dancing, strings performances, and so much singing! Each class will perform at least one piece of music, and the maypole celebration will include jigs, reels, and sweet harmony singing. Students will also informally present the “Crankie” they’ve been working on (a piece of artwork joined by music that tells a story) during Mayfest for all to enjoy. Join us!

A springtime song from an early childhood class:
One day when I went visiting
A little lamb was there
I picked her up and held her tight
She didn't seem to care
Her wool was soft, it felt so warm like sunshine on the sand
And when I gently put her down
She licked me on the hand

Grade 5/6 Class Performs Class Play: "Paikea-A Modern Tale"

From Class Teacher Claudia Reinhardt: On March 14th and 15th, the nineteen students of Class 5/6 performed their class play, "Paikea - A Modern Tale," for families, friends, and fellow students at the Plainfield Opera House. Ten years ago, I had the opportunity to travel to Christchurch, New Zealand where I observed a class at the Christchurch Steiner School that was listening to Maori stories told by their teacher. I was fascinated by the stories, purchased a book at a local bookstore that afternoon, and have since incorporated these wonderful stories into the curriculum I bring to students. The Bay School Model, which we have adopted as a school, especially makes this creativity possible.

The class play was inspired both by the story of Paikea as well as Witi Ihimaera's book The Whale Rider, which I read to the students back in the fall. The play told the story of a girl, Pai, whose grandfather does not want a girl to become the chief of his tribe. It also tells, in monologue form, the story of a young whale who loses its mother to whaling. Grief-struck, it journeys to Antarctica and eventually beaches itself in order to seek death. A meeting of the whale and Pai takes place, revealing to all that she is an honored descendant of Paikea, the ancient whale rider himself, and a worthy leader of her tribe.

The play opened with a scientific look at whales. Did you know that whales used to be dog-sized, land-roaming creatures? Did you know that two spacecraft launched in the 1970s contain a copper record with recordings of whalesong? 5th and 6th graders performed an energetic "Ka Mate" Haka as part of the play, and students on violins, cello, and guitar played beautiful interludes of a whalesong piece. It was a meaningful experience for the students and they received many compliments for their outstanding performance.

Click on the photo to advance to the next.

Cher frère blanc (Dear White Brother) ~ a poem by Leopold Senghor

From French Teacher Madame Harper: At assembly last week, the 7th graders shared a French poem written by Leopold Senghor, a Sénégalese poet and the 1st African president of the Republic of Sénégal (1960-1980). Earlier this fall, the class studied French-speaking countries in Africa and, along with their projects, we learned this poem titled Cher frère blanc (Dear White Brother).

Leopold Senghor asks a very important question in his poem: who is really the man of color? He muses about why white people call black people "colored," when there is a huge range of observable colors on white people's skin. With a touch of humor, the author successfully delivers his message and still touches the hearts of people many years later. His goal was to undermine prejudice and draw attention to our common humanity.

Dear White Brother (English translation)
When I was born, I was black,
When I grew up, I was black,
When I am in the sun, I am black,
When I am sick, I am black,
When I die, I will be black.

While you, white man,
When you were born, you were pink,
When you grew up, you were white,
When you go in the sun, you are red,
When you are cold, you are blue,
When you are scared, you are green,
When you are sick, you are yellow,
When you die, you will be grey.

So, between you and me,
Who is the colored man?

Cher frère blanc
Quand je suis né, j’étais noir,
Quand j’ai grandi, j’étais noir,
Quand je suis au soleil, je suis noir,
Quand je suis malade, je suis noir,
Quand je mourrai, je serai noir.

Tandis que toi, homme blanc,
Quand tu es né, tu étais rose,
Quand tu as grandi, tu étais blanc,
Quand tu vas au soleil, tu es rouge,
Quand tu as froid, tu es bleu,
Quand tu as peur, tu es vert,
Quand tu es malade, tu es jaune,
Quand tu mourras, tu seras gris.

Alors, de nous deux,
Qui est l’homme de couleur ?

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! 

grade 8 Romeo & Juliet.jpg

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.

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.

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.