Waldorf education is designed to meet the needs of the developing child, intellectually, socially, emotionally, and physically. Each class teacher has freedom to adapt the curriculum to the needs of their class, and this year our 8th grade teacher brought a new, and intentionally anti-racist lens, to the study of history of our country and our city.
We sat down with our 8th grade Class Teacher, Ms. Amey to learn how she has created an 8th grade history block that reframes the story of America to confront the hard realities of the founding of our country, and to highlight courageous individuals in the Richmond area (and beyond) who worked tirelessly for racial and social justice. In a Waldorf school, the class teacher begins with their class in Grade 1, and continues with them for several years, often all the way through their 8th grade year.
We’ve adapted and edited the conversation between Letitia Amey, Class Teacher, and Valerie Hogan, Enrollment & Marketing Coordinator, from November 2020.
LA: This is the first time that I’ve really been able to do this work so directly with the students in our school. The Waldorf history curriculum doesn’t focus on current events until 8th grade, so I’ve been really looking forward to finally bringing these subjects to my class, as I knew they were ready to explore them.
When the Black Lives Matter protests started happening in our city back in the Spring of 2020, I felt like it was my job to start to bring these current events to the students in a way that felt appropriate for them. We began the dialogue with questions like, “why are we protesting?” “What is the history of our city?” “How do you all feel about what is happening in our city right now?”.
My hope is that by introducing these topics and stories to the class, they will feel inspired in some way to do something with them later on and that it will empower them to make a change. So much of this history is really hard, so I want to make sure they also walk away from the lessons with a feeling of hope.
We started this block by talking about our government system. We studied the Constitution and how it was formed. The students immediately started noticing the flaws in our system and the inequities at work everyday in our country.
To reframe our understanding of this nation’s history, I’m giving them our history, from the perspectives of people we don’t usually hear about. People like Gabriel Prosser, an enslaved man outside of Richmond in the 18th century, and the incredible rebellion he planned. We have also been critically considering the biographies of the white male heroes that we see throughout the history books, and asking ourselves, “What were they doing this for? Was it for the common good?”
My hope is that my students will take hold of something that was meaningful through our lessons and carry it forward into their lives. I hope that this way of learning about history makes a difference in the way they think about the world around them. It is so important for them to understand the past in order to make sense of the present and make a difference in the future.
VH: We say that Waldorf is an education for the future, and to see that teachers can bring their personal passion is really powerful. How did you do the research for this?
LA: I read a lot of books this summer, and used many resources from [my Waldorf Teacher Training]. The topic of diversity was an integral part of my intensive through Antioch University [Waldorf teacher summer intensive training], and I gained a lot of resources from other teachers, and from the women who lead the course. I used Howard Zinn’s book, and a selection of books that told the African-American, Indigenous Peoples and Latinx versions of the history of the United States. I also used a wonderful book titled, Unhealed History of Richmond, which has been a great resource as well. My students just read a chapter on the slave trade here in Richmond. They learned about Lumpkin’s Jail and its horrible operation. There are so many details and perspectives that are left out of traditional history books.
VH: One of the things I have gained from my own unlearning is that ordinary people can go through great adversity and struggle for what is right, and maybe they won’t see that ripple in their lifetime, but it will live on and that ripple effect can do something powerful. I think you are starting that ripple in your students, too.
LA: Yes, that is my hope, for the students to see that individuals who face insurmountable challenges can still make an impact for positive change in the world. That’s much of what they’ve been hearing throughout this history block. We had a parent who offered to share an amazing autobiography of a Native American, Samson Occum. This parent luckily for us, did a lot of work on her dissertation around Native American untold stories. Samson was a Native American who was educated by one of the New England ministers and ended up opening a boarding school for Native American children. In his autobiography, he points out that he felt used for much of his life. When he started his own school, he decided to teach his students in a different way. Ultimately, the importance of preserving his culture throughout his lessons was a significant takeaway for my students. We were so fortunate to have a parent with so much knowledge of this topic share her passion and research.
VH: What type of work are students producing in the classroom around this intense history block?
LA: For main lesson work, they’ve been working on individual compositions. It can be difficult for an 8th grader to articulate these enormously complex thoughts. Timelines have been a really helpful learning tool, especially as we move into studying the civil war and the events leading up to it. Some students are very comfortable sharing their opinions while others are processing the material more inwardly and through their writing.
VH: What’s next in this study for your students?
LA: Well, we will have one more History block that will carry us through to modern times. We’ll take a tour of different parts of Richmond in the spring, walking along the slave trail, visiting the African burial grounds, going to the home of Maggie Walker and learning about our city’s history in a more experiential way.
VH: This work is so critical for our school and our students, especially with this pandemic and seeing the inequity in education. I feel that we have a responsibility to do better, and unlearn some of what has been ingrained.
LA: I completely agree. I’m glad that we’re doing this work in earnest, and I’m so grateful to have the RWS Diversity Equity and Inclusion Committee supporting us and doing their work as well. My hope, as we move forward, is to have someone who is trained come and talk to our students. I’m opening the conversation, but to have someone with the tools to continue that conversation will be crucial..
VH: Thank you, Letitia. You are an amazing teacher and your dedication to your students does not go unnoticed!
LA: Thank you, Val. It’s been an honor to walk through this study with my students.
One year ago this week, we lost our dear friend and school founder, John Moses. We look back on his full and purposeful life on this anniversary of his death with such admiration for all he accomplished, and wanted to share with our community a bit more about his life’s journey.
John was born in New York City in 1939, and became interested in the teachings of Rudolf Steiner while in high school. He spent the early years of his adulthood working at Waldorf schools around the world, including schools in Tubingen, Germany, New York and Washington DC. Once he became a father, he was determined to provide a Waldorf education for his two children.
With their pioneering spirits, John and Sara Moses began the first iteration of Richmond Waldorf School in their home in 1985 when Sara began teaching the Moses children and other early students around the family’s kitchen table. John filed the articles of incorporation for what was initially called Trinity Waldorf School in 1988, and the school eventually moved from the family home into rented church space on Richmond’s Northside. That first rented space was not far from where our current school building stands today. Although the school went through ups and downs over the next several years, the Moses family successfully brought the Waldorf impulse to Richmond, Virginia. Richmond Waldorf School was on its way to becoming the established and respected independent school it is today.
Over the next three decades, John remained intimately involved in the happenings of RWS. For many years, he led a weekly Anthroposophical study group for the greater Richmond community, introducing countless Richmond families to the teachings of Rudolph Steiner, and inspiring many to become involved in RWS. He also faithfully attended festivals, assemblies and community socials over the years, and even worked as an after-care and substitute teacher when needed.
John served as a dedicated member of the Board of Trustees, actively contributing to the long term health and well-being of the school. He dreamed of continuing to build and grow Richmond Waldorf School’s academic programs and one day expand to serve high school students.
With his guiding wisdom and big heart, John was highly respected by the entire RWS community. John will forever be a part of our school and is deeply missed. We look forward to continuing his legacy through the growth and success of his beloved Richmond Waldorf School.
In Waldorf schools, music is at the forefront of the education and brought to students in a variety of ways, from preschool years through middle school graduation. Kindergarten teachers and Class Teachers sing with their students and bring music to their classes daily. Additionally, formalized music classes begin with the Music Teacher twice a week from first through eighth grade. Richmond Waldorf School is fortunate to have Loretta Walker leading our music program since 2003. We asked Mrs. Walker to share her philosophy and to deepen our understanding of her work with elementary and middle school students.
LW: The Waldorf music program provides music experiences which foster a deep awareness of oneself, both individually and in relationship to others. Children steadily learn who they are through the music experiences they have with their peers. They move from doing everything in unison to having their own part, which contributes to a beautiful whole.
Though it may seem on the surface that we simply sing or learn to play beautiful instruments, underlying all of it is the inner world of the child growing and finding its way to expression in the world. To wrestle with a string instrument, to have to listen deeply to others, and to breathe with others to create something beautiful are the experiences that allow the children to know who they are and come to awareness of who they want to be in the world.
To begin, in grades one and two students sing, move to music, and play pentatonic flutes. These flutes are instruments that foster the natural breath, providing the children with an opportunity to breath themselves more fully into their own being.
As the 9 year change emerges, the music shifts to meet the children, songs becoming fully grounded in Major keys. The strings program is generally introduced to our students around this time. They also turn in their Pentatonic flutes and receive a Diatonic flute which represents the full musical scale. This is also when the children study farming, another “grounding” experience.
String instruments (violin and cello, mostly) enter the picture as they become more aware of themselves and are able to relate to and engage with an instrument independently. The instrument both resonates with their inner being while simultaneously requiring great effort for the child to bring their inner voice into the world. They must play well for their own satisfaction, as well as find a way to blend their “voice” with the whole of the Ensemble. As 5th graders, learning to play as an ensemble means they must hold their own part while listening and blending into the whole. It’s a wonderful experience to prepare for Orchestra in the middle school years.
Through all of their music classes, music is brought to reflect where the child is in their development. This is the same philosophy as the academic material meeting the child where they are developmentally. We weave the stories and themes of the academics into music. For instance, counting and animal songs for first and second; farming songs for third grade; strong rhythmic beats in grades four and up; folk songs that celebrate the hero in all of us in fifth. We study the history of music notation and Gregorian chant in sixth; 7th grade brings the study of intervals and music of the Renaissance, and in 8th, both more modern music and music reflective of the more recent history they are studying.
In summary, music in Waldorf education provides the child a pathway to knowing who they are, both individually and in relationship to the world around them.
In mid-November Waldorf schools across the world celebrate the Lantern Season and Martinmas. The lantern is a symbolic representation of the seasonal change towards darker days and a metaphor to remind us to shine our inner light through dark days. While the times have led RWS to cancel our school lantern walk this year, we want to bring this festival to you in another way! To celebrate the Waldorf lantern festival at home, you need a few things…
- A lantern
- Songs and verses
- An activity
- Food to share
Traditionally, Waldorf schools celebrate Martinmas and the Lantern Walk between November 11 and 14, but any time in November is perfect. There is really something magical about walking through the dark singing and holding a candle lit lantern. We hope you’ll give this a try this year!
Making a lantern is fun and there are so many to choose from! Below is a sampling of lanterns made at RWS with students and adults. YouTube is a great place to look for tutorials. Our Parents Association will hold a virtual lantern making event on Zoom on Wed, Nov 11 at 4pm and Thu, Nov 12 at 9am. Join us!
Songs & Verses
Below are some of the traditional songs that we sing at Richmond Waldorf School. We’ve also got a special recording from Ms. Megan, so you can sing along with her!
Your lantern walk can be a quiet stroll in reverent silence or a joyful procession of song and verse. It can be as short or long as you like, and the dark evening hours add an element of excitement and beauty. Walk through your backyard, your neighborhood or a nearby park; hear the crunch of leaves beneath your feet and watch the glow of your lantern pierce through the darkness.
Food to share
Following the walk, a cup of warm cider and some gingerbread are a delicious and comforting way to bring warmth and community.
Song: Glimmer Lantern Glimmer
Glimmer lantern glimmer
Little stars a shimmer
Over meadow, more and dale
Flitter, flutter, elfin vale
Pewit, pewit, Tick-a-tick-a-tick, Rou-co, rou-co.
Glimmer lantern glimmer
Little stars a shimmer
Over rock, and stock and stone
Wandering tripping little gnome
Pewit, pewit, Tick-a-tick-a-tick, Rou-co, rou-co.
Song: I Go Outside With My Lantern
I go outside with my lantern,
My lantern goes with me.
Above me shine the stars so bright,
Down here on earth shine we.
So shine my light in the still dark night,
La bimme, la bamme, la boom, boom-boom.
Neath heavens dome till we go home,
La bimme, la bamme, la boom, boom-boom.
Song: The Sunlight Fast is Dwindling
The sunlight fast is dwindling
My little lamp needs kindling
Its beam shines far in darkest night
Dear lantern, guard me with your light.
Song: Mi Farolito (My Lantern song in Spanish)
Yo voy con mi farolito,
Y mi farolito conmigo.
Arriba brillan estrellas,
Abajo brillamos nosotros.
Y si hace frio, nos vamos a casa
Con nuestro pequeno farol, bum bum.
Y si hace frio nos vamos a casa
Con nuestro pequeno farol, bum, bum.
Song: Sube La Llama (Raise the Flame in Spanish)
Sube la llama
Sube la llama
Song: This Little Light of Mine
This little light of mine,
I’m gonna let it shine. (3x)
Let it shine,
Let it shine,
Let it shine.
Everywhere I go,
I’m gonna let it shine. (3x)
Let it shine,
Let it shine,
Let it shine.
Hide it under a bushel? No!
I’m gonna let it shine. (3x)
Let it shine,
Let it shine,
Let it shine.
Richmond Waldorf School celebrates many festivals throughout the year that demonstrate and deepen our values to make a positive impact on the world.
Late September brings us Michaelmas season! Michaelmas falls during the harvest season, midway between the northern hemisphere’s summer and winter solstices. Although Michaelmas is not commonly celebrated in North America, it is an important festival in Waldorf schools throughout the world. As J Fleming from Shining Mountain Waldorf School explains, “Saint Michael is an archangel mentioned in the Bible, Apocrypha and Koran. He appears as a spiritual figure and protector of humankind, inspiring strength, courage and will throughout history. The motif of a conqueror of the dragon can be seen in much Chinese art, in Apollo and the serpent, in Krishna slaying demons, and in the story of Saint George and the dragon.” Michael gives human beings the courage to meet the trials of the present and the confidence to look to the challenges of the future without fear.
Our own Ms. Deboarah Boes reflects that in school, the children hear stories about brave knights who overpower the dragon with swords of light, or children who gather their courage to encounter what is difficult and overcome fear to help others or the earth. In terms that the children can understand, these stories and verses give the message that they have the ability to stand in equanimity in the face of life’s challenges. That every moment is one of decision in how they act and they can choose to act with courage, imbue all they do with care, and call on their own inner power or will to persevere.
As we reflect on the meaning of Michaelmas this year, we see an ever-pressing need to face today’s challenges with strong hearts and minds. Each of us has a gift to bring to the world. We seek to recognize and appreciate each other’s gifts, and encourage one other toward our full potential. Michaelmas reminds us that as the sunlight decreases, we can shine our inner light and courageously do what is right, even if it is hard.
This year, since we are unable to gather and share in the spirit together, we hope to inspire you to shine your inner light and to share your gifts with others in your own way.
Dragon Bread is a traditional activity at RWS for both grades and Early Childhood students. We’d love you to give it a try this weekend with your child and see how much fun it can be to bake something together. Maybe make two and share with a neighbor!
1-1/2 cups warm water
2-3 cups unbleached or whole wheat flour
1 tbsp. dry active yeast (I use one packet)
2 tbsp. Oil
¼ cup honey or raw (turbinado) sugar
¼ cup soy flour (or more Whole Wheat)
2 tsp. grated orange rind (optional)
2 cups WW pastry flour (or unbleached white/ww flour)
1-1/2 tsp. salt
¼ tsp. anise seed (optional)
A few almonds, raisins, and red licorice (optional for decorating)
Place warm water in a bowl and add the yeast. Sprinkle the sugar over it. (If the water is warm and not hot or cold, the yeast will bubble up.) Let stand 5-10 minutes.
Slowly add the flours, salt and oil, mixing as you go. When the mixture pulls away from the side of the bowl, you can place it on a floured surface and knead it.
Place in an oiled bowl and cover to let it rise to double its size. Punch it down and put on a floured surface again, knead it and shape it (braids, loaf ). Oil the pan it will go in and place it in to rise one more time.
If making a particular shape such as a braid, a dragon, tree, etc., you can place it on a piece of parchment paper on a cookie sheet instead. If you’d like, you could add almonds for the scales and raisins for the eyes. Placing aluminum foil, rolled up, around it, will help keep the shape you desire while it rises one more time.
Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes. (If making a smaller form, check it at 30 minutes.) It is done if it sounds hollow when you tap the bottom of the loaf.) The final optional decorative touch is red licorice for the dragon’s tongue.
Songs of Michaelmas
In autumn Saint Michael with sword and with shield,
Passes over meadow and orchard and field
He’s on the path to battle ‘gast darkness and strife
He is the heavenly warrior, protector of life
The harvest let us gather with Micahel’s aid;
The light he sheddeth fails not, nor does it fade
And when the corn is cut and the meadows are bare
We’ll don Saint Michael’s armour and onward will fare.
We are Saint Michael’s warriors with strong heart and mind;
We forge our way through darkness Stain Michael to find
And there he stands in glory; Saint Michael to find.
And there he stands in glory; Saint Micahel we pray,
Lead us on to battle and show us thy way
Brave and True
Brave and true I will be
Each good deed sets me free.
Each kind word makes me strong.
I will fight for the right,
I will conquer the wrong.
Earth grows dark and fear is lurking,
O St. Michael, Heaven’s knight,
Go before us know and lead us,
Out of darkness, into light
Make a Difference in our City
Richmond Waldorf School believe that schools should awaken social responsibility, service to community, and stewardship of the earth. In the spirit of the Michaelmas season, now is the perfect time to step up into action. Especially in these times, we are called to not only reflect, but also to act. We each have our own gifts, abilities, and interests, and we hope you will take it upon yourself to find a way to help others this time of year.
Need some help with where to start? Check out HandsOn, a Richmond-based nonprofit that connects volunteers to projects that need help! https://www.handsonrva.org/
We specifically loved the DIY Volunteer opportunities for local schools and nonprofits that need our help. Things like snack bags, cold weather supplies, and cards are great for students! Or get some fresh air and make a difference by participating in a James River clean up or picking up litter in your neighborhood.
A Shakespeare performance, a weeklong class trip, and graduation performances are just a few of the capstone experiences 8th Grade Richmond Waldorf students look forward to as they end their time with us on campus. This year, Mrs. Pollard revived an old RWS tradition — the 8th grade project, to add to the mix. With our school year taking an unexpected turn due to COVID-19, many of these long anticipated experiences were forced to be left behind. The 8th grade projects began to take on new importance during this virtual learning time, as students worked creatively and independently towards their individual projects.
These projects were planned and executed solely by each student (with a little help from teachers and parents, of course), and each is a unique reflection of that persons’ interests and talents. Projects included a yearbook, a documentary-style video of the 2019 100-Mile Bike Trip, and an original composition, recording, and production of a violin piece, are just a few of the amazing ideas that were brought forth into reality.
We are excited to highlight just a few of the outstanding projects our students completed. Class of 2020, you are destined for great things. Congratulations, we are all so proud of you!
Logan's Little Free Library
Name: Logan A.
Project: Little Free Library
Tell us your project:I decided to build a Little Free Library for the school. I found some old cabinets and took them apart to reuse the wood for the project. My dad helped me design the structure and taught me how to use the power tools. The project was a challenging but rewarding experience.
Why did you choose this project?: Throughout the years, I enjoyed hearing stories and reading books that my teachers chose for me. Now when I find a book that I really like it’s hard to put it down. I wanted to share my love of reading with others.
What is one thing you’ll take away from your time at RWS?: I will take with me a love of learning.
Daphne's Pollinator Garden
Name: Daphne R.
Project: Pollinator Garden outside of RWS’s front lawn
Tell us your project:I made a pollinator garden in front of the school.I wanted to create a source of nectar and nutrients for pollinators in the city where it would be hard for them to find it otherwise.
Why did you choose this project?: One of my favorite parts about Waldorf is the access to the outdoors through learning, and I got to learn about a lot of different kinds of native plants, and how they support wildlife. I think that is an important thing that everyone should have the opportunity to learn.
What is one thing you’ll take away from your time at RWS?: The fact that learning shouldn’t always come from a book, and the freedom to learn things that are not just for a test grade, but things that will make me a more resilient person.
“A home provides shelter and protection, but it is also a place where we nurture ourselves, creating a safe place apart from the world. As the third grader continues to move through the nine-year change and the experience of separation from the world, an inner need arises in them to build their own sanctuary. Creating a shelter allows this impulse to find an outer expression.” –Waldorf Teacher Resources, Micheal Seafort, 2020.
In Waldorf schools across the world, 3rd graders all work on a shelter-focused project. Students spend time discussing and studying all sorts of different primitive homes created by early human civilizations, as well as thinking more about their own shelters. Through this study, students are led through the exercise of choosing a shelter, and creating their own model version of it using any imaginative combination of natural materials.
The results each year here at Richmond Waldorf School are spectacular. Our 3rd graders take such pride in their work on this special project, and it shows. This year, our shelter project took on new meaning as 3rd graders worked through this assignment while ‘sheltering in place’ during the COVID-19 crisis.
Below, we’re sharing what this assignment looked like in the Google Classroom, and some fantastic final projects! Well done, 3rd Grade. We are proud of your dedication and attention to your studies and love your models!
Want to try it yourself?
Choose a type of shelter. Begin by sketching out your ideas in your journal. Make a list of materials you might need. Work with your parents to acquire the material you will need to build your shelter scene.
Begin constructing your shelter. Your family may give you ideas and suggestions and hold things for you as you put your shelter together, but remember it should be built by you. Once your shelter is constructed, begin to put in the landscaping and “scene” items that make it a complete example of life in the culture where such shelter would be found.
Try to use only natural materials as much as possible, hopefully with most of it coming from around the house. Once the structures are complete and structurally stable, the children can decorate their home, as well as create a garden around it.
Happy May Faire season to you and yours! While we are apart, we want to be sure our community is able to enjoy and celebrate May Faire at home. Below, you will find several resources for celebration ideas including songs, crafts and videos. As we do every year, we celebrate the beauty of spring and its promise of new beginnings. Let’s celebrate all that we are becoming in this time and all that we will be together when we are reunited.
We hope to create a slideshow of our community’s remote celebrations this year, too! If you want to join us, please send pictures of your celebrations to us at firstname.lastname@example.org, and tag us on Facebook and Instagram.
#RWSMayFaire #WaldorfCommunityStrong #MayFair
May Faire Collage & Sing-a-Long
I’ve been a wandering all this night,
And the best part of the day,
And when I come back home again
I will bring you a branch of May.
A branch of May I bring you here,
And at your door I stand.
It’s nothing but a sprout,
But it’s well budded out,
By the work of God’s own hand.
The moon shines bright,
The stars give a light,
A little before ‘tis day.
I call once more unto your house,
All in this month of May.
My song is done,
I must be gone,
No longer can I stay.
God bless you all,
Both great and small,
And send you a joyful May.
When the green buds show,
And May breezes blow
And the birds all call across the meadow,
Gay as bird on wing,
We’ll go wandering,
Sing a song of spring
The wide world over.
The wide world over.
Warm will shine the sun,
Far from home we’ll run
Greeting everyone so kind and friendly,
As we go we’ll sing
Tell the world it’s spring
Make sweet echoes ring the wide world over.
The wide world over.
May Day Flower Circle
Share with Us!
We’d love to have you share a short video clip or a few photos of how your family celebrates the season! Families are welcome to tag our Facebook or Instagram account, or email us! Please be aware that any photos/videos become the property of RWS and may be published on our website or in other marketing materials.
Thanks for celebrating with us!
The sixth grade recently spent three days at Spikenard Farm Honey Bee Sanctuary in Floyd, VA. Here is a description of their trip from Class Teacher, Roberto Trostli:
The ride down to Floyd County went better than expected, and the children enjoyed the chance to be together on a journey. When we arrived, we ate lunch, unpacked the cars, and set up the tents, only to find that the original plan for which group would get which tent was not going to work. In the end, every group but one had to switch tents, which caused some grumbling, but I told everyone that the whole trip was going to demand plenty of flexibility and accommodation, and that this was a good first challenge.
We had our first lesson with Alex in the classroom building where every beautiful detail shows the kind of care with which the sanctuary fulfills its mission. Alex is a very gentle, warm, and earnest man, and he spoke with the children in a natural, engaging manner. He began by asking the children what they thought a sanctuary was, and then elaborated on Spikenard’s mission to provide an optimum home for the honeybees. He then presented the life cycle of the bee, gave us a picture of how the hive is an organism, and told us about their approach to working in partnership with the bees.
After a snack, the students got a tour of the farm. Alex pointed out some of the different plants (there are over 75 species) that provide the bees with a healthy, varied diet that lasts throughout the spring, summer, and autumn. We also were shown the different kinds of hives and some of their distinctive features. This was followed by the first activity: working in the garden, digging beds, turning compost, weeding, and gathering seeds, and then we had some free time before dinner.
After dinner there was some free time, and then we took a silent walk as an opportunity to listen to the sounds of the countryside and to appreciate the beautiful sunset. They then played a game of flashlight tag, got ready for bed (which took a while!) and gathered again for singing and a story. Bedtime went smoothly and most were asleep by the time the adults turned in.
Some of the children woke up early enough the next morning to see the incredible clear, star-studded sky. In Richmond we don’t get to see such a sight, because there is so much ambient light, and I imagine that some children had never experienced the true grandeur of the heavens.
Hot chocolate helped drive off the chills of the early morning, and everyone ate a hearty breakfast. We gathered in the classroom for our next lesson, and Alex continued to entrance us with his description of the many jobs that bees perform during their lives and how the queen works constantly to lay eggs to preserve the hive’s population (1,500 per day for 4 or 5 years!)
The students then got to experience Alex’s work with a hive, and they were impressed by his gentle, unhurried manner and his close relationship with the bees. Alex told us that he talks to the bees and prepares them for what’s going to be happening so that they are not caught by surprise. Seeing the thousands of bees working so harmoniously on the honeycomb and flying in and out of the hive made everything that he had told us earlier come alive through direct experience.
Then followed an artistic activity—drawing bees with chalk pastels—which allowed the students to review what they had learned about bee anatomy and to render their observations artistically.
For our afternoon activity, we went to the cow pasture to gather fresh manure, which was going to be mixed with straw, ashes, earth, and bound together with eggs to make the plaster for the cob oven, which needed repairing. The students went from initially expressing disgust at the manure to enjoying finding especially fresh cow patties. Hauling the containers back to the farm proved arduous, but everyone helped. The students sifted through the manure to get out leaves, branches, and clumps, and then began to knead it and mix it with the other ingredients. Their arms were covered with the plaster, and no one seemed to mind. Then came the invitation to trample the cement with their feet, and almost all the students dared, and they enjoyed the squishy feeling on their feet and delighted in getting their legs covered with cow dung plaster.
The class worked on the cob oven, deciding that simply re-plastering it was not enough: they wanted to transform it into a bear, with the opening of the oven being the bear’s mouth. They did a terrific job and were very proud of their creation.
At the end of the trip, I asked Alex to tell the students how he became a bee-keeper, and he told us that when he was 17, he had his first experience of a bee hive and completely fell in love with the bees. He spoke so sincerely and earnestly about what the bees have meant to him throughout his adult life, and we were all touched. He finished by giving us each a day’s dose of honey (about 1/4 tsp.), which he said should be taken as if it is medicine, not as a food, and he presented us with three jars of honey to take back with us. I told the students that we can have a daily dose as a reminder of our time at Spikenard.
Going to Spikenard was an incredibly positive experience for us all, and the lessons that we learned about how a society can work together for the good of all will resonate for a long time to come. During one of Alex’s presentations, when he was describing the intelligence in the hive where every bee knows what is needed and what to do, I asked if I could say something to the class. He agreed, and I told the students that my goal for them before they graduate, is that they become like the bees in a hive, where everyone knows what is needed, what he or she can do to support the group, and that we would have a chance to experience the mystery and the magic of truly learning and working together.
Before we left, Alex told the children that of all the classes he has worked with, this was the most engaged, responsive, and respectful group he had worked with, and that he expressed gratitude for our visit. After singing a final Michaelmas song, the students said goodbye to Alex and thanked him for all that he had offered. As a final activity, we toured the farm again, saying goodbye to all the places that we had seen and worked in, and the students stood for a long, reverent moment before the hive that they had seen opened.
I am curious to see how what we learned and the work we did resonates in the coming weeks, months, and years, and how the bees will inspire us in our work together. I am grateful that we had this opportunity, and I think that our trip to Spikenard will live as a precious memory of one of the most meaningful steps in the journey that we are taking together as a class.
To read along with Mr. Trosli’s class’ journey, follow along on his blog: https://rwsclassof2022.wordpress.com/