My guest post tonight comes from long-time reader Bonnie. Bonnie recently had the good fortune to go and observe a first grade main lesson period, a second grade German class and a second grade Handwork class at a Waldorf school. I asked if she could write a guest post and explain what she learned as a homeschooling parent from observing these classes at a Waldorf School. Here is what Bonnie had to say:
My visit to a Waldorf school as a homeschooling mom….
Last week, I had an opportunity to visit an open house at a prominent Midwestern Waldorf School. As a homeschooling mom to a 6.5 year old daughter and a 4 year old son, it took a lot of planning to make this happen, since the school is quite a distance from our house. But, I knew I had to go – I had to EXPERIENCE the Waldorf classroom for the grades.
Just to back up a moment, I should share with you that I have been a loyal fan of Waldorf and its lifestyle since before I even had kids. So much so in fact, that I visited an open house for a Parent-Child class when I was still pregnant with my first child. The teachers were shocked and all commented on how I was “starting early”. But, for me and I’m sure many of you, reading the blogs, books, and curriculums is not enough. I need to EXPERIENCE it – FEEL it – LIVE it. I want to have a deep sense internally of the beauty and feeling world of the classroom mirrored with the ideas and knowledge a Waldorf-trained teacher exhibits and exudes while working with the students – no matter what the age.
Currently, my daughter is finishing up her second year of kindergarten and will start first grade in the fall. I have been collecting information, curriculums, and ideas for first grade over the years and have a general sense of what is taught at this level. I’ve seen beautiful pictures of alphabet letters and chalkboard drawings on the internet and in curriculums, but I struggle with not only how do I bring this to my child, but what does it really look like, and more importantly, feel like? The ages of 7-14 are the feeling years – so this must be considered at some level. Hence, why I signed up to attend an open house.
So, without further ado, the morning of the open house…. I got there bright and early and was greeted by so many friendly parents and staff. Naturally, they shake your hand, make eye contact, and make you feel right at home. They walked me to a classroom where I met Mr. K., the first grade teacher, and whose class I would be experiencing for the next two hours as he taught the main lesson. He was happy and full of energy. We chatted a bit and then he excused himself so he could meet and greet each child at the door. What I found amazing was that he greeted twenty plus children and every single handshake was not rushed, was authentic, and the child was met with sincerity and reverence. The children put their coats away, took their chairs down from on top of their desk, and then were eager to see the three new numbers he placed on the chalkboard for a “number puzzle”. Once everyone was sitting at their desk, they reviewed the numbers and looked for patterns. After this, attendance was taken. And, I don’t mean the teacher just checked off a name on his attendance sheet or monotonously said one name after the other waiting for a “Here”. Oh no, no, no……after all, this is a Waldorf school. The teacher sang, in a pentatonic scale, “Child’s name, are you here?” And, then the child sang back, “Yes, Mr. K, I am here.” And if a child wasn’t there, the whole classroom sang, “No, Mr. K, she’s not here.” I had goose bumps. Who knew taking attendance could sound so beautiful and magical?!
After attendance, the children stood up and did some stomping, clapping, and jumping jacks focusing on different numbers. Then, it was time for an in-breath. The children stood with their arms crossed over their chest and Mr. K turned off the lights. It was candle time – and a child lit the candle and they said their first grade verse. The candle was then blown out and he played the pentatonic flute, while the children hummed and sang, “Good morning sun. You’re looking through my window….” Once again, I was blown away, not just by their angelic voices but by also hearing singing coming from another classroom. I had read that in a Waldorf school, one could hear singing all day long. That’s great – but, I had no idea what that would feel like at a soul level, especially in a pentatonic scale.
After singing, the children pushed their desks/chairs out of the way and sat on the top of their desk, so there was room in the middle of the classroom for circle time. The teacher turned the lights on, signaling an out- breath. He started to sing, “Come, follow, follow, me” and took a child by the hand, who took another child by the hand, until the entire class was standing up and in a circle. There was more stomping – focusing on being in time with the rhythm of the verse – and circle games. There was so much movement!! Skipping, jumping, walking, hopping, hopping with eyes closed, running in place….you name it – they did it. Since they were in a math block, many of the verses and circle games focused on numbers. The kids were having so much fun and weren’t even aware they were learning!
After this, they moved their desks back together, sang “Spring is coming, spring is coming,” and then did some rhythm verses using their fingers. Next, it was flute time – and I must admit, it was a pure delight to listen to! Mr. K reminded the children that their right hand (on the flute) were the leaves and the left hand were the roots. Standing, they said another wonderful verse before they played. The verse was, “Our roots reach deep, our trunks stand tall, our wind breathes life into our song.”
What I find so enriching attending an open house whilst being a homeschooler, is the amount of inspiration and ideas that funnel their way through to your “classroom” at home. It is unbelievable! And, what’s even better is the intangible feeling that resides in your soul – fueling you in the beauty and wonderment of Waldorf.
As the flutes were put away, the focus turned to Math. Mr. K asked them to take out their math lesson books and went over the day’s lesson. He showed them how to set up their book and to let him know when they were done so they could tell him the answers. I have read that a two-hour main lesson block could be done in an hour or forty-five minutes with your homeschooling child. But, why? Yes, I know it’s because you have one child versus twenty-four children, but what does the school teacher really do??? Well, the answer is he manages the classroom. Every child is at a different level and he has to manage the children who get done fairly fast with the children who are defiant and keep putting their books away. Each child must do the work and making that happen for everyone at the same time is challenging, to say the least. I really enjoyed witnessing how Mr. K dealt with the children who were struggling or refusing to do their work. As a homeschooling parent, who hasn’t had to deal with this scenario? It’s a great learning experience to see how a teacher handles the situation in a healthy and positive way. What a take away!!
After everyone was done, he went through the answers on the chalkboard and then sang, “Things away”, so the children would clear their desks. It was quiet time for a minute and then Mr. K asked the kids to remember the story from yesterday. After the recap, hands were crossed and placed on the desk. Lights go off and another in-breath is about to happen. (Side note, I had no idea the influence the lights going on and off has with the children. Using it to signal the in-breath and out-breath is just brilliant!) He announced he had a new story for the day. The kids were excited and I have to say, I was pretty excited, too. What story was he going to tell? Was it one I’ve heard before? The line of us adults sitting in our seats looked just like the children – very focused and interested in what he was going to say. It had to be good, right, for the lights were off and the recap was of a great story. Do you see how the teacher pulls everyone in by using the gentle, but powerful, flow of rhythm? He told a pedagogical story about numbers, fairies, gnomes, and not being lazy. He had the adults cracking up a few times, myself included. How truly entertaining and wonderful to get pulled into a story told from the heart. As homeschoolers, we often are the story tellers and don’t get a chance to experience what that’s like….I highly recommend it!
Once the story was told, the children stood up, arms crossed over heart, and they recited a snack blessing and were off to wash their hands. My time ended here with the first graders, but my journey continued on with the second graders.
I was fortunate to sit in on their German class with Frau G. She was delightful – bouncy and full of energy. Her passion for German came radiating through. She greeted each child by the door – in German. They did a wonderful attendance game, but I can’t tell you the details of it because it was all in German and I can’t speak a lick of it. I don’t know about you, but I have often wondered how they teach foreign language in the Waldorf tradition. There’s barely any information out there, let alone curriculums. Again, by sitting in and observing at a Waldorf school– I am fueled with ideas that I can further brainstorm on and make fit for my homeschooling lifestyle. For instance, I can’t speak German, but I can find a German tutor/teacher and guide the way they teach my child using this insight and methodology.
After attendance, she did a bean bag game asking about days of the week and months. Then, she played a game where she listed 3 things in the room and the children had to find them in the order given. This provided great fun and laughs for the children. She proceeded with telling a very animated story about a mama bear and a coyote. Next, she told them to take out their German main lesson book and drew a picture on the chalkboard in which the children copy. Frau G held the colored chalk in her hand and said the name of the color in German and then the word for what she was about to draw- i.e., tree, house, sun. Lastly, she sang a song and the kids put their main lesson books away. She said “Auf wiedersehen” to all the children and left the classroom. It was now time to split the class in half – half focused on music and the other half on handwork.
The last class I was able to observe for the day was the handwork class with the peaceful and calm, Ms. H. The children washed their hands before entering the classroom and once again were greeted at the door by their teacher. The children went to their seats, said a handwork verse, and then Ms. H handed out all of their handwork bags. The children got to work right away. Second grade, I found out, is the year of making gnomes. The students had knitted their gnomes and were in the midst of making their gnomes a mattress, blanket, and pillow. They used a shoe box for the actual bed. I walked around the room to view what they had made and it blew my mind away. One little girl was making mittens for her gnome and a little boy was making a shoulder bag for his gnome so he could hold his treasures. As I saw earlier in the day, the teacher had to manage the varying levels of the children and any child with a question had to wait in line. What I realized in that classroom was that there were no clocks in any of the classrooms that I had been in – the teachers all wore watches. Interesting, no? At the end of class, the children stood up, arms crossed over heart and ended with a verse about letting their hands rest.
As my day ended at the school, I left and heard the excitement of children getting ready for lunch and recess. I was deeply grateful for having this experience. Waldorf education is such a gift that we can bring to our children – whether we homeschool or attend a Waldorf school. There is nothing like it in the world and it reaches the child (and adult) at a head, heart, and hands level. When you are feeling burnt out homeschooling, attending a school’s open house or festival will ignite your waning passion. I can not stress enough how important it is to check out and experience a Waldorf school, in addition to the curriculums, blogs, yahoo groups, etc. If you don’t live near a school, check one out the next time you are on vacation. Even if it’s during the summer, you can still see how the rooms are set up and a get a feel for the school. Always take a camera and a notebook…..there are so many things you will want to capture and remember!
One last thing to leave you with, after the main lesson was over, the teachers had a bit of a break, while the subject (handwork, eurythmy, foreign language, etc.) teacher came in and taught the kids. Can you imagine how refreshed you would feel to have breaks throughout the homeschooling day? This was a gentle reminder to me to cut myself some slack and to try and make that happen, albeit at a different level that is conducive to homeschooling. As homeschooling parents, we need to remember that we are not machines, but vibrant and passionate people who flourish when their wells are filled up.
I so appreciate Bonnie taking the time to write this for all of us. I think it contains a lot of food for thought in how we can take things from the school environment and adapt them to our own homeschooling experiences.
Many blessings to you all,