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!

Class 2/3 Builds Their Shelters

From Mary Fettig, Class 2/3 Support Teacher: In Waldorf Schools worldwide, Grade Three and the nine-year-old change that most students experience at this time is met by asking the children to begin to look out into the world beyond their own surroundings. We can meet this need by having students study different trades, explore how food is grown, and by looking at structures and shelters.

After learning about primitive shelters around the world and how they are related to the environments they are constructed in, each class 2/3 student chose a shelter to build as a model using natural materials. Students have been busy, first designing and then constructing and decorating their shelters.

Here at OVWS with our combined classes, it can be a dance to ensure that all students are receiving what they need at the time it is brought forth into the classroom. This Spring the 2/3 class is exploring shelters, and in the fall as a 3/4 class they will take on a building project and provide the school with a structure they will make by hand! Previous classes have built the playground shed, the bridge, the clay oven, and a sheep shed. As to what this intrepid group will undertake, stay tuned as more will surely be revealed!

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.

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

From Mary Fettig, long-time Waldorf class teacher and mentor to Orchard Valley 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.

Class 4/5 Works with Plant Dyes 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. This piece originally appeared in the January 2018 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!