Winter is upon us. As the weather changes, the days darken, the last of the leaves fall, and chilly winds abound. To cope, we warm ourselves with cozy sweaters, hot chocolate, or an extra blanket at night. While most people retreat to the indoors for the next few months, Waldorf communities find warmth in the cold.
Waldorf education believes in the importance in being outdoors and learning from nature. To continue exploring the outdoors in Winter, we must create and preserve warmth. Warmth in our clothing means dressing in extra layers of cotton, wool, and silks. We believe that there is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing!
Waldorf holds onto warmth through festivals and celebrations that honor the season. For instance, on one of the darkest days in December we create a Spiral of Light. In this ceremony, each child will lay a candle on a spiral of pine boughs. As the candles are added, the spiral grows in brightness to symbolize the light and warmth of the coming spring.
Waldorf also develops warmth in our students by providing an education that fosters love and compassion towards the world. The students at a Waldorf school are socially responsible, kind, and intellectually bright. There is a natural curiosity and love of learning that exists in all of us, and children thrive from the hands-on approach of a Waldorf school.
The faculty and staff at Richmond Waldorf School recently spread a biodynamic preparation on our school’s grounds and fields. Biodynamic Farming was inspired by Rudolf Steiner, the founder of Waldorf education. It seeks to “awaken and enliven co-creative relationships between humans and the earth, transforming the practice and culture of agriculture to renew the vitality of the earth, the integrity of our food, and the health and wholeness of our communities” (https://www.biodynamics.com/about-the-bda).
We were delighted to have Jenny Dilworth, Visual Arts Teacher at RWS, give us some background and lead our staff in spreading a field preparation that will awaken our grounds and lay the framework for our future gardens.
This is the first step in a longer process to prepare the ground for gardening. Through this preparation, the ground begins to awaken. The preparation should improve the soil by bringing livestock material and crops together in the ecosystem, thereby balancing each other and increasing the biodiversity of the ground. It also brings awareness and intention to the ground which brings a cosmic force to the land.
In a lecture from Soul Economy and Waldorf Education, Rudolf Steiner spoke about how a teacher’s creativity feeds the students’ souls.
“If you tell students what you found in books—no matter how lively you may be—if you tell them what you have read and perhaps even memorized, you will talk to them like a dry and desiccated person, as though you did not have a living skin but were covered with parchment, for there are always death-like traces in one’s own being of what was thus learned from the past.
If, on the other hand, you are creative in your work as a teacher, your material will radiate with growing forces, it will be fresh and alive, and this is what feeds the souls of children.”
Throughout my career, I have found this to be true. Whenever I create something original—stories, plays, birthday verses, blackboard drawings—the students respond differently than when I re-create something from another source. Not only that, creative work feeds my soul as well.
In fourth grade, students develop their writing skills by copying the teachers’ compositions from the board; by creating their own compositions, play scenes, or poems; and by taking dictation.
When I create a composition for the students to copy, I try to render the topic in clear, succinct, expressive prose, so that the children will absorb those important stylistic aspects and become better writers.
When the students create own original work, they prepare by talking about the subject, so that when they write, they are just ‘talking on paper.’
When I create a dictation, I write passages that benefit from repetition, since each part of the dictation needs to be repeated until the children can write it from memory.
In our current language arts block, the students have been hearing some of the Norse myths. During this block I decided to challenge myself to compose dictations in the form of poems that reflected the Norse poetic style that features half lines with two stressed syllables and alliteration that is sometimes reflected in succeeding lines. The strong rhythms of Norse epic poetry reflect the Norse peoples’ search for power; the alliteration their search for resonance between people, objects, and events.
Here are poems I wrote for the children during the past two weeks:
Gullveig the Golden
Haughty and gleaming, the beautiful maiden
Entered the hall where all the gods sat.
Grief had she brought to the dwellers of Midgard;
Gold lust and greed, unhappiness great.
Spears threw the gods, but they could not pierce her,
Three times they tried to burn her alive;
But Gullveig the golden could not be vanquished;
Curses and war she brought to the gods.
Swift through the sky rode Thor the Thunderer,
Ready to battle Hrungnir, the huge.
Fast flew the hammer, Mjollnir, the mighty,
Seeking the giant’s enormous hard head.
Straight flew the hone hurled by the giant,
Hit by the hammer, it broke into bits.
Down fell the giant his head burst asunder,
Pinning the god beneath his huge leg.
Furious Thor lay there held fast by his foe,
Until his son Magni released him at last.
Miraculously, each of these poems was ‘composed’ quickly in the morning at school before the children arrived. I say ‘composed, ‘ but I take little credit for their composition. Like in many other instances, I simply served as a voice for the muse that whispers her wisdom in the ear of all teachers who are privileged to drink from the living spring of the creative word.
And here are some more examples of creativity in action: blackboard drawings from this block.
4th Grade Class Teacher
The founder of Waldorf Education, Rudolf Steiner, said: “Color is the soul of nature…and when we experience color we participate in this soul.” The use of color in Waldorf Schools is something that cannot be missed, and is one of the many defining features of Waldorf. Color is a way of expression and connecting our emotions with the world in which we live. Color is the emotional life of nature, and seeing color in school engages our souls and feeds our creative spirit.
Colors play an important role throughout the child’s phases of development, and it is common to see lazure coloring in a Waldorf School. The treatment of lazure is a beautiful, translucent water coloring which allows those who experience it to see beyond the walls and to “breathe” beyond the surface of the wall. Some have said that lazuring allows for “soul space” in the school and fosters the creative and imaginative spirit that we nurture in Waldorf Education.
We are amazed by the beautiful hallway and classrooms at Richmond Waldorf School that feature the unique lazure technique. Many thanks to master lazure artist Charles Andrade who spent several days creating a beautiful work of art in our main entrance and hallway. The flowing progression of color leaves a lasting impression on all who experience it. Thank you, Charles, for your beautiful work. We will treasure the feelings your art evokes for many years to come.
Learning a world language is not just an academic exercise at Richmond Waldorf School; it’s a gateway to understanding cultural traditions and experiences in the daily lives of people. It increases the flexibility of a child’s thinking and also encourages a heightened awareness of our native language, highlighting its particular capacities of expression, its own beauty and musicality.
The 6th Graders have been studying Spain this year, including performing a play of the famous legend of El Cid. In the second semester, the class has been reading “La gitanilla”, a short story about a young Gypsy girl by the eminent Spanish writer Miguel de Cervantes. The story features much music and dance with castañuelas (a handheld instrument made typically of shells that dancers rhythmically clack together while dancing) and tamboriles (a type of percussion instrument).
For a fun Friday class, the students made castañuelas from cardboard, stones, and glue while listening to traditional Spanish music that would have been played around the time of “La gitanilla”. We were all fascinated by the differences in the sounds that our castañuelas made. The students also had great fun trying to play them as quickly as we heard the professionals playing them. Two of our boys created a rhythm and short dance to teach the other students, which we enjoy doing each day to lift our spirits and get in character.
~ Mrs. Stephanie Freeman, Middle School Spanish Teacher
Waldorf teachers know that artistic experiences leave lasting impressions. Information can be gathered or retrieved, but the experience of subjects through the arts enriches all learning and the whole of a student’s life. Every day Waldorf teachers strive to cultivate a sense of wonder and to inspire children to view the world, even in its most basic form, as magnificent. They deliver an education that is rich with meaningful sense experiences, classical academics, and artistic beauty in all subject matters.
Below you will see some of our own teachers’ artwork, prominently displayed in the classroom on large chalkboards and ever-changing to reflect the current lesson. Enjoy!
The annual Spiral of Light ceremony is a favorite of many in our school community. It is a truly unique and meaningful celebration of this time of year, a time of anticipation and preparation, as we look toward the midnight of the year. In all of us there is expectation and hope. As winter approaches in the northern hemisphere, there is a growing mood of outer sleepiness in the world. The earth is growing more quiet with every passing day. The fallen leaves, the animals in hibernation, the shorter daylight hours which bring us inside much earlier, all contribute to this experience.
The Winter Solstice marks the turning point of the year, the shortest day, and with it, a celebration of the return of light. Throughout many cultures this midwinter holiday has had festival connotations of light and sun, of the time when winter’s increasing darkness begins to draw to a close with the renewed promise that spring’s light will soon increase. Among these festivals is Hanukkah (Hebrew), Diwali (Indian), Solstice (Druid), and Advent (Christian). The word advent means “coming” or “arrival.”
The Spiral Walk at Richmond Waldorf School is a way of acknowledging and honoring this time of year. We celebrate this time of year with the Spiral of Light, a ceremony of light, movement, and change. This ceremony heightens the awareness of moving from darkness to light in a simple way for the children. In a darkened room, students are invited to walk a path of evergreens, a natural symbol of life in the dead of winter, to the center of the spiral. The children carry a red apple with a candle in it and light their candle by the burning candle at the center of the spiral. As they walk back out, they find a place in the path to set down their candle. As each child kindles their light, the darkness grows slowly into a beautiful golden glow. The ceremony begins in darkness and ends brightly lit by many individual lights, each contributing to the bright warmth that envelopes us all.
Two years ago, when my students were just starting first grade, I asked RWS parent Glenn Amey, who I knew had a lot of experience with family biking, if he thought that all first graders should be taught to ride bikes. And did he think that they could get to the point where we could go out riding through Richmond, explore its trails, and take trips to interesting places. Perhaps by sixth, seventh, or eighth grade, might we even go on extended bike tours and camp along the way? “Sure,” said Glenn, without hesitation. “They can do that. Let’s make it happen!”
Thus began Richmond Waldorf School’s bike program. We quickly raised the funds to purchase three bikes, and the following summer we received donations to buy four more. Clint at Coqui Bicycles sold us the first batch of bikes at cost and donated helmets, and this year, a generous donor made it possible for us to complete our fleets: 10 bikes for beginners and 10 trail bikes with gears for intermediate cyclists.
During the first year, Glenn worked with the students on the school grounds. By the second year, we were going to Westover Hills playground to do laps around the field and work on skills on the pavement. Our second year culminated with a ride from the Carillon through Westover Hills back to school.
This year Glenn has been working with early childhood students, introducing them to strider bikes, and he has had weekly classes with the first graders and with the third graders. He and his wife Letitia, our fourth grade class teacher, took her class on an overnight ride through Williamsburg to Jamestown. He also helped John Humphries design a bike shed to house our fleet and has been assisting the third grade in its construction.
As he developed our program, Glenn recognized that there might be a way to combine his family’s love of biking, his work with our students, and his desire to expand his work to serve Richmond’s biking community. Thus was born Shift Bicycles, 113 N. 18th St., which specializes in family biking and provides proper bicycles for everyone in the family—ages two through one hundred and two.
The biking program would not have been possible without Glenn’s vision and commitment. Until now, he has volunteered his services, but I hope that that the day is fast approaching when biking will officially become one of RWS’s program offerings, with a budget for staff and equipment.At this time of Thanksgiving, on behalf of all of us who have benefited from Glenn’s initiative and generosity, I would like to express our deep gratitude for all he has done for us.
Thank you Glenn Amey!
~ Roberto Trostli, Third Grade Class Teacher and Community Relations Coordinator
For the last few weeks the 7th grade Spanish class has been discussing the beliefs of the Aztecs. The Aztecs felt closest to the divine when communing with nature and listening to poetry. The students practiced a beautiful verse of Nahuatl (language of the Aztecs) that had been translated to Spanish while sitting among the beautiful trees that line our school. We used this nature vocabulary and reflection time to transition to an important cultural element of modern-day Mexico: Dia de los Muertos.
Dia de los Muertos is a time in which Mexicans celebrate the memories of loved ones who have passed. They bring offerings and celebrate alongside the graves of family members. This tradition was said to begin with the Aztecs. Indeed the word for the marigolds left on the altars to honor the dead (flor de muerto in Spanish) is cempasuchil– a Nahuatl word. Each year the RWS community brings flowers, fruits, photographs, and relics to add to the altar set up by our Diversity and Inclusion committee Mosaics. As Dia de los Muertos approached, our class focused on creating flores de muerto. On the flowers, the students wrote the names of loved ones they had lost, including a dearly beloved former teacher.
Today our class listened to a wonderful story about a family preparing for this special time and ate the traditional pan de muerto in front of Richmond Waldorf’s altar for Dia de los Muertos. We identified the different items that were put on the altar to honor those lost and then placed our flowers on the altar as well. It was a wonderful way to bring our history lesson on the Aztecs into a relevant and meaningful setting.
~ Stephanie McCully, Middle School Spanish Teacher
Every year our Grades and Early Childhood classes celebrate Halloween with a parade and a special performance of poems and songs for friends and family. Upon first glance, these festivities may seem no different than Halloween at any local school. However, if you look more closely, you’ll notice something about the costumes Waldorf children, parents and teachers are wearing.
For our elementary and middle school students, costumes worn at school come from the curriculum. Our first graders are kings, queens, knights, princesses, gnomes, and fairies. In seventh grade you may see Leonardo or the Mona Lisa herself. It’s wide open with one caveat: students don’t wear anything that comes straight from TV, movies, or video games. You also will not see students in masks covering their faces. We these suggestions in mind, children and their families put together costumes that represent something meaningful to them. They enjoy a rare chance to transform themselves into a character or myth that pertains to their lives.
These practices relate directly to our goal as a school: to foster a learning environment that promotes independent thinking, cultivates creativity, and builds confidence. Every day is a chance to develop curious, confident, and capable individuals!