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.   

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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. 

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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.

Richard Freed's Top 5 Strategies for Healthy Technology Use

More than 50 people from the Central Vermont community attended the talk with Dr. Richard Freed on April 24th in Montpelier. Freed, a psychologist and author of Wired Child: Reclaiming Childhood in a Digital Age, offered a well-researched and engaging presentation, which made the case for parents to set strong limits on children's use of technology. "The Waldorf media policy is consistent with what science says our kids need," said Freed.  

Freed acknowledged the pressure on both children and adults to be online and offered parenting strategies to encourage healthy and productive tech use. Here are Freed's top 5 strategies to help us as parents:

Waldorf100 "Learn to Change the World" Video

Just in time! A new video has launched celebrating 100 years of Waldorf Education around the world. Watch and share this inspiring video!

Because giving attention is really love.

Additionally, a new international website,, has been established. It highlights shared themes and activities that will take place around the globe in 2019-2020. Stay tuned for more videos and information over the next 2 years.

Foreign Language Instruction Begins in Grade One

Foreign language instruction in Waldorf schools strives to impart a deeper connection with others. Rudolf Steiner's view of education was not one of human beings who are restricted by their sense of nationality, but of human beings who think—and therefore feel—in an international, multilingual way. Learning another language can also give us a deeper understanding of, and sympathy with, another people or nation.

From 1st grade through 3rd grade, all foreign language instruction is based on the conversation between teacher and pupils. Grammar is not taught explicitly in these first three years. Learning to speak, to listen, and to understand is the only goal. The children learn to speak the foreign language in the same way they learned to speak their mother tongue, through listening and imitation. From 4th through 8th grade, French lessons increase in depth through the addition of grammar, writing, reading, conversation, history and geography, and even a class trip to Quebec City to experience a French culture first-hand.

Handwork: Learning How to Do

Why do Waldorf schools include Handwork in the curriculum? According to Handwork Teacher Kate Camilletti, "It's not just so the students know how to knit, it's so they know how to DO." Handwork is about learning how to meet a challenge (moving needles, gaining rhythm, following and creating patterns) and to move through it. Beyond gaining specific skills, students learn to use their hands to create something beautiful and practical from start to finish, helping them acquire the ability to persevere.

The progression of handwork lessons begins with knitting and crocheting and progresses to hand sewing, felting, embroidery, and carving soapstone molds for pewter casting. The handwork class circles back to knitting and crocheting with variations and increasing skill development (for instance, kittens in first grade, socks on four needles in fifth grade), and specific projects vary by class. Handwork begins with knitting because it awakens, enlivens, and strengthens so many different parts of the human being, including building neural pathways from the brain to the tips of the fingers. Childhood is the time to build these pathways, which will serve them throughout their lives.