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


Class 4/5: What Type Are You?

From Claudia Reinhardt, Class Teacher:

In our class reader One Crazy Summer, Delphine's mother, who is a poet, shares a poem called "Movable Type." It is about movable type, but also about her being a movable, flexible person. In language arts class today I asked the students, "What type are you?" and challenged them to write a poem. Here's what some of them wrote!

the artistic sleepy type
paint on my walls
draw on my floor
i'm kind of sleepy
i'll try to do some more
i don't think i'll make it outdoors
good night, don't let
the bedbugs

the reading type
look here
read there
never-ending pages
two pages over
stare at those
find the words
look here
read there
i see
letters swiftly passing
end of book
find a new one
i'm that type. i read.

the calm type
rest here
sleep there
move again
to sleep some more

the rooted type
i'm strong
move when i want
bend when
i please
i'm like
old oak
no one can
my base
in a
i stay

the math type
long division
i'm the math type
i don't do poetry

Michaelmas: Transcending the "dragon" of our time

Last Friday, Orchard Valley celebrated Michaelmas, a festival dedicated to human striving and to transcending the "dragon" of our time. Rudolph Steiner saw this ancient festival as promoting inner strength and initiative. The image of Michael piercing the darkness with his sword of light and transforming the dragon's fire into inspired deeds is a very real picture of the soul's task at this time of year. It celebrates "the human struggle of good over evil, of enthusiasm and devotion over indolence and cynicism."

The grades classes spent the early afternoon pressing cider from the bursting orchard, making vegetable soup, and baking apple crisp—for 150 people! The grades pageant was followed by a warm community gathering—the kind that reminds you how important it is to come together on this beautiful campus and revel in the enthusiasm and devotion of the teachers and staff, in the hard work of the families who give so many volunteer hours, and in the joy of the children who call Orchard Valley “my school.”

Class 4/5 Language Arts Exploring Issues of Race, Prejudice, Identity and More

From Orchard Valley Class 4/5 Teacher Claudia Reinhardt: The fourth and fifth graders are reading the book One Crazy Summer as their first class reader for this school year. Not only is the book a great read written by award-winning author Rita Williams-Garcia, but it also features non-white main characters, which allows students of color to experience a reader as a mirror in a society that rarely provides one, while white students get to read a book that serves as a window into the experience of others.  

Eleven-year old Delphine and her two younger sisters travel to Oakland, California to spend the summer with a mother they barely know. Their mother, a poet and printer, gives them a cold welcome and wants them to attend a nearby Black Panther summer camp. The book explores some great themes, such as race, prejudice, friendship, abandonment, identity, and art and culture. It requires one to check one’s assumptions continuously along the way.

Our language arts periods have been dedicated to discussing the book, learning vocabulary (from civilized to wino), and working on reading fluency. The book has brought up a lot of great questions by the students. Fortunately, some of these questions can be answered by people who lived during these times including their grandparents.

The fourth and fifth graders have thus written letters to grandparents, as well as colleagues and friends of their teacher. They are eagerly awaiting responses via snail mail to hear firsthand accounts of how it was to live during the tumultuous 1960s.

We'll post some of what they learn in another blog post soon.


Why Do We Teach Cursive Writing?

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

Cursive writing is traditionally taught in Waldorf schools in grades two or three. After an imaginative introduction to the alphabet given in grade one, students are then ready for more writing challenges, and writing in script, known as cursive writing, allows them to work with greater speed and dexterity.

But cursive writing is so much more than that! It is a brain builder. Neurologically, learning to write in script, verses printing or keyboarding, strengthens eye-hand coordination, aids in visual and tactile coordination, and builds lifelong muscle memory. Since all lowercase letters begin at the same baseline, it is less difficult for students to reverse their letters. The spacing of words is controlled by the lifting of the pencil as each word is finished, thus helping students to see the form of words and the natural pauses in our language. 

Studies have found that writing in script, since it is faster, has a direct correlation to future essay writing, as the student is able to get ideas out and onto the paper more rapidly. Writing in script boosts cognitive development by supporting functional specialization--the capacity for optimal efficiency. Also, with all the looping and crossing over in cursive writing, pathways between the left and right sides of the brain are opened up and reinforced.

Let’s not leave out historians who cite the importance of cursive writing as it is needed to read historical documents. Lastly, it is truly an art form, one that we should not let fall to the wayside. A handwritten note is a treasure as any parent or grandparent can attest to. A will-building, brain-building activity that helps unite us is a win-win for all.

UVM Natural Resources Students Build Needed Infrastructure for Farm & Forest Program

Orchard Valley's Farm & Forest Kindergarten program has a great new shed, thanks to a wonderful connection with UVM's Natural Resources School!

Each year the Senior Capstone Class takes on a project that involves creative problem solving in the real world. The students form groups, and community partners pitch their projects to the students. Farm & Forest Assistant Teacher Kelly Davis, a graduate of the UVM program herself, contacted the school to pitch OVWS's need for infrastructure for the Farm & Forest program as a possible project. The school was chosen by a three-person student team who determined the program could benefit from a shed and set about to build it. The pole timbers came from one of the student's family's property, and the roofing and windows were recycled from an old sugarhouse. The siding came from trees harvested from the UVM/Jericho Research Forest.

The three students spent four days onsite at OVWS building the shed, as well as considerable time offsite pre-cutting all of the pieces for it. They also learned a lot about Waldorf education as part of their work.

“The new shed is such a welcome addition to our Farm & Forest classroom,” said Farm & Forest Teacher Lindsay Miles. “It not only provides space to store our farm supplies, but it also looks great and lets people know they are entering into a space where good work and play are happening."

Farm and Forest Kindergarten Spotlight: "Basking 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.   

f&f woodworking.jpg

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 the 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. 

farm and forest blog post 4_28_17.jpg

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.