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?

“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 string 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.”

Class 4/5 Receives Letters About Life in the 1960s

From 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. Our language arts periods have been dedicated to discussing the book, which 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. So the students wrote letters to grandparents, as well as colleagues and friends of their teacher. The class has begun to receive letters back from near and far from people who lived during the 1960s. The students always listen attentively and with much interest when I read these letters to them. We are so very grateful to everyone who wrote to us.

Here are some excerpts:
"I was born in 1955 in Caracas, Venezuela. [...] After third grade we moved to New York and stayed there. [...] My parents raised us to be responsible for our thoughts, words, and actions. They expected us to be tolerant and humanistic as they were, to find peaceful, problem-solving ways to deal with obstacles that came before us on our life journey. They set an example for us to follow. And our home was always open to multicultures, religions, and beliefs. Our only requirement was to do no harm and always try our best." (CPM)

"The Poor People's March came through Richmond that summer on the way to Washington. A large group camped on the lawn of the seminary, about 2 blocks from our house. My parents volunteered to help the marchers with getting settled in and basic comforts. They were back home when a friend of mine came over via a ride with his mom. My dad came out to greet my friend's mom, and she told with some anxiety how she'd rerouted her drive to avoid being near "all those marchers." And of course my dad came back with the story of how he'd been there helping out." (AW)

A letter from Louisville, KY was sent to us along with a copy of Muhammad Ali's autobiography "The Soul of a Butterfly." There's a chapter titled "Confronting Fear." It's beautifully written and the students were easily able to relate to it. It was a great message for them to hear around Michaelmas - after all , overcoming fear is what Michaelmas is all about.

There were reflections on the times in the letters we received, but also a clear reminder that there's work yet to be done:

"What you are studying about the Civil Rights Movement is very important. That work is still needed; it isn't finished. We've come a long ways, but we still have far to go. The world needs your strong minds and bodies. Develop your ideas and talents. And most importantly, believe in yourselves." (JH)

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
bite
(tr)

the reading type
look here
read there
never-ending pages
flipping
reading
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.
(cr)

the calm type
rest here
sleep there
i
move again
to sleep some more
(wm)

the rooted type
i'm strong
move when i want
bend when
i please
i'm like
the
old oak
tree
rooted
planted
no one can
move
my base
in a
storm
i stay
rooted
(ia)

the math type
long division
multiplication
subtraction
addition
i'm the math type
i don't do poetry
(cg)

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.