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!

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.

Winter Traditions Shine at Orchard Valley

December brings a lively time of celebration throughout the school! The Winter Spiral was held the first week of the month, culminating in a Grades 1-3 Spiral Walk that was also open to the wider community.

Then St. Nicholas Day was celebrated in the Early Education classes as well as the younger Grades classes, with St. Nicholas leaving a beautiful painted walnut and orange in each child's slipper or cubby.

The first evening of Hanukkah was celebrated in classes today, with special stories, fresh latkes, and the lighting of the menorah.

St. Lucia Day is celebrated throughout the school tomorrow, December 13, led by class 2/3. The children visit each classroom, bringing songs, their shining lights, and Santa Lucia bread to all. This festival is celebrated each year on December 13,  the shortest day (longest night) of the year, according to the ancient (Julian) calendar in force when Lucia was martyred for her faith in 304 A.D.

Then our Winter Concert celebrating the season and the Winter Solstice is held on Thursday, December 21. All are welcome! 5:30pm a the Presbyterian Church of Barre. 

Glad tidings to all! 

 

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