New Structure for Middle School Students on Grace Farm Campus

"The Tetra is up and they love it," says Libby Case, class 4/5 teacher. This new middle school play structure was a gift to the school in honor of Libby from her 2018 graduating class. The structure was designed by Yestermorrow Design/Build instructor Giocondo Susini; the 10 students in Gio's two-week class then worked with his plans to build it. (Yestermorrow is a Design/Build school in Waitsfield, VT.) Then a team of OVWS parents (Debbie Goodwin, Erica Zimmerman, Casey Gullage, Shaun Stephens, and Madelief Becherer), along with Libby and Gio, spent hours preparing the site and erecting the structure.

The idea for the structure "came out of the need for middle school students to have their own space," Libby says, and "it worked!"

Parents from Libby's graduating class approached the faculty to define a need they could support with a class giving effort. The parents raised about $4,500 for the project with 100% class participation, along with parents from Libby's long-ago kindergarten classes! While a sizable figure, it was not enough to fund a structure without the partnership with Yestermorrow, said Erica Zimmerman. "This project set an example of what graduating classes can do," Erica said. "Giving in celebration of your class's graduation is a great way to support the future of the school."

The structure includes a climbing wall, chin-up bar, and several small decks. It was designed to make it easy to add other elements onto it. Thank you to all!

Building the Kingdom of Childhood Together

Building the Kingdom of Childhood Together: A Vignette from Yulin, Guangxi, People's Republic of China

From Stephanie Hoelscher, Child's Garden Director and Lead Teacher

A single dusty fan pushed heavy, humid air around a classroom crowded with tired and sweating bodies. After a morning of physical labor during a community workday at the Little Forest home kindergarten, this Waldorf classroom in southern China had new wood flooring inside and a brick pathway outside.

The group of forty or so people perched on benches and straight-backed chairs marked with names like "Little Fish" and "Flying Cloud." Most were young and parents of the young children who played noisily outside in the dirt, water, and scrubby grass of a large, fenced lot. Outside the fence was a half-acre of land farmed primarily by elderly women who lived nearby. The open door of the classroom led to a covered porch overlooking the garden's mounded rows of ripening corn, beans, and tomatoes. It was mid-summer, sunny, and very hot.

It also was a special day for the school. Little Forest, one of the 300 private initiatives in China practicing Waldorf early childhood education, was celebrating its five-year anniversary and its new home on the first two floors of a three-story house on the outskirts of a large city, Yulin, in the province of Guangxi. The school's founder and director, Chen Qiaohong -- a grey-haired, motorcycle-riding visionary -- had procured funding from the International Association of Steiner/Waldorf Early Childhood Education (IASWECE) and China Waldorf Early Childhood Education Forum (CFCEF) to support my two-week mentoring visit to her school. As part of the anniversary festival, everyone gathered for the school's first outreach event, a public lecture on a topic known in all corners of the world: the work of parenting.

Over the course of the afternoon, individuals recalled memories of their own childhood to reflect upon the shared work of building a kingdom of childhood in the world today at school and home. What came forth in this honest and open collective self-reflection spoke not of cultural traditions that divide, but of a common human experience that unites. And what brings to children a world that is good, beautiful, and true, then and now, there and here. Family, home, human relationships: a father's voice announcing his arrival home after work, a cat curled on a pillow at bedtime, the aroma, anticipation, and taste of a grandmother's cooking, the cool touch of a mother's hand on a warm forehead, a waiting dog. Hearth, home, and family. Warmth, love, and security.

More than 2000 kindergartens in 80 countries around the world exist in this year of Waldorf 100 (the 100th anniversary of Waldorf education). After a summer spent with Waldorf teachers on the other side of the world, I return to my work here reassured by what I witnessed. Waldorf pedagogy is neither a theoretical system nor a collection of methods. It is a wellspring of living insight.

As Orchard Valley begins a new school year, it is my hope that we might forge new intentions informed by the worldwide movement and begin to think beyond the confines of our own place and purpose in rural central Vermont. In the preamble to the IASWECE statutes, Dr. Helmut von Kuegelgen writes: "Against a background of prevailing materialistic trends in education and modern culture, the protection, indeed the salvation, of childhood as the fundamental state of each individual's unfolding life has become a worldwide pioneering work."

National Life donates building, land to Child’s Garden preschool

From Vermont Business Magazine:

National Life donated a building and two acres surrounding it to Orchard Valley Waldorf School where the Child’s Garden preschool program is housed.

“The entire Orchard Valley community is extremely grateful for this generous donation from National Life,” said Cathie Ely, an Orchard Valley administrator. “This gift ensures that we will continue serving Central Vermont families, providing Waldorf early childhood education as an enriching opportunity for the young children in Montpelier and our surrounding communities.”

The Child’s Garden, located at 155 Northfield Street in Montpelier, is one of three Orchard Valley Waldorf School campuses.

Child’s Garden offers two mixed-age early childhood programs, Apple Blossom for ages 2 ½ to 3 ½, and the Sunflower classroom for children 3-6 years. Designed to embrace this special time in a child’s development, classrooms are full of joy, love and wholehearted nurturing.

“Affordable, high-quality child care is vitally important both to our employees and to our neighbors,” said Mehran Assadi, Chairman, CEO and President of National Life. “We are pleased that we are able to help ensure a strong future for the Child’s Garden.”

In addition to a former farmhouse, National Life transferred ownership of a garage, barn and a fenced-in children’s play area and maintained a right-of-way to its solar farm on a hill behind the property. The company also made a financial donation to Orchard Valley.

National Life is here to bring you peace of mind. We’ve been keeping our promises since 1848. Believe in tomorrow, do good today. Learn more at

Orchard Valley Waldorf School is an independent school with three campuses: pre-K through grade 8 on the Grace Farm campus; pre-K at the Child’s Garden in Montpelier; and care for children 6 weeks through 3 years at our Little Lambs Early Care Center in Montpelier.

Source: National Life Group. 5.14.2019

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

Handwork: Working with, and through, the nine-year change

Kate Camilletti teaches both handwork and woodwork to all of the grades classes at Orchard Valley. In this conversation, we focused on handwork in class 3/4, which naturally led to an exploration of the developmental stage inherent in this age group and how the handwork curriculum aligns with and supports the main lesson curriculum for this combined class.

Waldorf teachers speak of the nine-year change as the shift from the dreaminess of early childhood to a greater sense of the world around them. For some children, this shift in consciousness can bring up worries and anxieties, and behavior changes as a result. The Waldorf curriculum seeks to address this through stories and mythology, as well as the teaching of practical work that helps to instill confidence within the child through learning how to “do”—such as how to grow food, how to build, and how to make a hat.

“When students have regular access to working with their hands, the students are made ready for all that’s coming to them,” says Handwork Teacher Kate Camilletti. “It prepares the ground [for their education] and awakens the will.”

Handwork strengthens every part of the child—thinking, feeling, and willing, Kate says. We have to use our will to do the work, we have to think or we’ll make mistakes, and we feel the frustration as well as the enthusiasm that comes with working through the challenges and struggles inherent in learning something new.

The nine-year change marks the crossing of a developmental threshold, a moving out into the world, and it plays out in the student’s handwork, too.

For instance, the seven- or eight-year-old child is emerged in the rhythm of the movement of knitting. The experience could be akin to the dreamy, non-thinking way we swing on a swing, or jump rope, or bounce a ball, or walk, Kate says. But older children are more aware of what their hands are doing and have the capacity to ask more of themselves and their work.

In class 3/4 this year, the students began with crocheting. Crocheting uses one needle, held in the dominant hand, while the second hand has a specific job, too. After two years of knitting, it asks something new from the hands and the brain, and from the child’s will forces.

In keeping with the curriculum, the class worked with cotton to create items with “domestic practicality”—a potholder and a string bag for a water bottle. The potholder was their first project, something Kate says is a lot like building a house as it’s “built” stitch by stitch, which resemble bricks. Then their work turned back to wool and the creation of practical objects for the body—the hat project mentioned earlier, for example.

Kate shares that handwork offers the opportunity to really meet the child individually. Crocheting isn’t for every child, she said, so sometimes the project becomes something different for different children. There is that “magic moment,” Kate says, “when we find a way, when the child realizes they can succeed in their work. We always find a way.”

Knowing beauty and being able to produce something beautiful, the sense of accomplishment the children gain, and the knowledge that they can “do” are an inherent part of the Waldorf curriculum throughout the grades. The handwork curriculum reinforces and expands on this in a practical, tactile way, incorporating the brain-building value of working with the hands in pursuit of beauty.

7th Grade Physics Block: The physics of reflection

On The Land Teacher Kelly Davis taught the 7th Grade Physics block this month, and had this to share about the four-week class:

The block began with the study of reflection. Students had the chance to observe shadow and light and the way they can be directed and focused. We gazed in awe as shadows appeared to bridge the gap between the mirror world and our own world. Discussions were had on the ethics of color manufacturing and the fact that individuals have garnered the sole right to colors, making them inaccessible to all others.

The pinnacle of our week with reflection came as we transformed the classroom into a giant pinhole camera: The “Camera Obscura.” Students watched in wonder as the completely darkened room was illuminated by a beam of light cast from outside. As the hole grew, suddenly images filled the walls, floor, and ceiling: an upside-down version of the world outside. We laughed as students took turns acting out dramas outside the building, the images cast, upside-down, upon the classroom inside.

Week two brought a look into the complexities of electricity. Students witnessed static electricity being created and stored, feeling the all-too-familiar shock of a successful electrical spark! We then moved on to electrical currents and the role of chemical reactions, and then harnessed the currents to create electromagnets. Anything metal became part of their creations! Scissors, paperclips, and the like, all dangled from their experimental magnets. The week culminated in the building of a simple electric motor. By linking the insights they had gained throughout the week, students were able to construct, tweak, and explain the workings of their very own motors.

Week three was full of simple machines. The lever, pulley, wheel, screw, wedge, and ramp all serve as reminders to work smarter, not harder. Students loved to hear tales of great feats thought impossible that became reality through the use of these seemingly magical tools. They saw the power of the lever first-hand by feeling the ease at which a car can rise with a jack—and learned a bit about changing a tire, too! They collected data and watched patterns and relationships emerge out of their findings.

The practical application of this study was so readily absorbed by these eager seventh graders as they experienced the physical forces at play all around us. Through these personal experiences, seemingly complex phenomena become tangible and memorable, and open the door to all the wonder the sciences have to offer.

Class 3/4 Visits the Vermont State House to Watch Ceres Rise!

From Class 3/4 Teacher Libby Case: Some of the many topics covered in the grade 3/4 curriculum are house building, local geography, and Vermont History. These three topics came together in late November when the 3/4 class took a trip to the Vermont State House to see the culminating moment of the yearlong restoration project of the State House--the statue of Ceres being placed back on top of the golden dome!

While the State House is not an actual family home, it is a house of great importance to our state. In addition, it was quite local to us--just twenty minutes down the road, and it was certainly history in the making!

Students were mesmerized as the 14-foot statue was lifted by the massive crane, floated gracefully up through the air, and was placed safely atop the dome. Speeches by the local carvers of the statue, the head of the restoration team, and Governor Scott all helped the students to understand the work behind this huge project and the skills needed to craft the beautiful structure. For instance, the project involved craftspeople from near and far, and the local artists who designed and carved the statue of Ceres viewed this work as a pinnacle moment in their careers. The gold leaf atop the dome was installed by experts in the craft from Italy.

Grades 5/6 and 7 also attended this special event. Each of these grades have previously participated in these same studies, and this trip reinforced their past learning and deepened their sense of place right here in Central Vermont.

Traveling to The Land of Numbers in Grade One

From Grade One Teacher Dana Cudney: In October, the first graders embraced the study of numbers with open hearts. They traveled to The Land of Numbers and met Queen Equalaria who rules with a fair and even hand. There are many gnome citizens who spend their days mining gems and counting them, getting them ready to send to the children who live in our part of the earth. These gems are sent to the earth children to help them learn to add and subtract, multiply and divide. They heard how Queen Equalaria and King Equal brought all the numbers down from the stars to the people of the earth. The Queen and King danced with the digits 0 through 9 up in the heavens and created a line of numbers that goes on and on. They led all these numbers down to earth in a number line.

The first graders have also been discovering patterns in the world around them as well as in numbers. They discovered the pattern of the "teens" this week as they worked with "10+" facts. As we practiced our facts, "10+4=14, 10+5=15, 10+6=16", someone spoke up loud and clear, "and 10+waffle=waffle-teen"! Yes! There is a pattern! We also discovered "pancake-teen" and "pencil-teen" and many, many more!

This week the first graders are leaving The Land of Numbers and returning to the study of letters and sounds which began in September.

Toward Building Global Citizenship

From French Teacher Magali Harper: The French-speaking world is so much larger than France and Canada, and I strive to expose my students to the many countries and cultures around the world that use the French language. Skills in cultural competence are in high demand as we all become more interconnected around the globe. These skills, which are essentially behaviors and attitudes that enable us to work effectively cross-culturally, are a central part of my classroom teaching.

During the first semester, 7th graders explored the French speaking countries in Africa. The students chose their country, produced a poster and shared their work to the class--all in French! Class 5/6 students have been exploring Haiti this past month. This ongoing project will hopefully continue into pen pal correspondence with students from a school in Haiti. Finally, class 3/4 students started to travel (in the class!) the francophone world with their passport in hands! Starting with France, students learned about the Euro and used the currency in mini-skits at the market.

When children learn a foreign language, they are developing their empathy and flexibility--two essentials skills for a global citizen.

Welcome New First Grade Class!

We welcomed the entire school community for the start of the school year on Tuesday, September 5. On our East Montpelier Grace Farm Main Campus, the special day was marked by the Rose Ceremony, during which the rising First Grade students are welcomed in and meet their Grade Seven buddies for the year. What a sweet way to begin the new year for all!

We also welcomed many new families in the school circle that morning, as well as our new dedicated Grade One Class Teacher Dana Cudney. Welcome all!