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.
Interview by Rachel Davis, April 2022
This year, we welcomed our new music teacher, Catherine Flynn into the RWS community. Filling the big shoes of our former music teacher, Loretta Walker, Catherine has jumped right in, and has already made a lasting impression on our students. As she wraps up her first year here at RWS, it was fun to sit down and hear a little bit more about our newest teacher!
Tell us about your relationship with music, and your career so far: I grew up really immersed in the Richmond music scene. I grew up in the Richmond Youth Symphony and was homeschooled for 7 years so I could focus on music. In high school I played in their top 3 youth ensembles. That was such a great experience, because the Richmond Symphony musicians mentor the youth musicians. In the advanced orchestra we played a side-by-side concert with the Richmond Symphony, where I got to sit next to a professional musician. It was such a cool experience, and I feel lucky that I was able to get that inside view into what it’s like to be a professional musician and work in the music field.
After graduation, I went to Georgia to Columbus State University and the Schwob School of Music. They’ve been around about 25 years, and it’s a great program. I was recruited my senior year of high school by their viola professor. They played with the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, a famous touring orchestra, and they held auditions in Richmond where I was offered a scholarship to attend.
I was considering VCU, but grew up on the VCU campus for the symphony, and I wanted something different and to see somewhere new. I was able to hear the Atlanta symphony when I was there, which is one of the top 5 orchestras. I graduated in 2019 from college, then taught homeschool during the pandemic.
While I was in college, I looked for any opportunity to get my feet wet with teaching. I was a counselor for the Youth Orchestra in Georgia, I interned for a year with a church teaching their choir, and I also began teaching an afterschool violin class in a public elementary school. I really wanted to get a lot of teaching experience before graduation to make sure this is what I wanted to do.
Once I graduated, I started substituting at the public school and at a private K-12 school in the Atlanta area. I started subbing for their music teachers and worked at Columbus Music Academy, where I helped them create their first summer camps and taught about 20 students each year, one on one. I also taught a violin class for the Columbus Symphony. They have a program where they go into Title I schools and provide violin lessons after school, which was a really rewarding experience.
When the pandemic came and schools shut down, I couldn’t sub or teach any of my after school classes anymore, and felt called to go back home to Richmond.
The pandemic was really the motivation I needed to trust that I could get a job in my field. When I moved back, I took a job teaching privately for a homeschool family and their 2 school aged children. It was a fun experience and I think it really did prepare me for Waldorf. I got to create the curriculum and pull resources from different places. We went through the life of a butterfly, watched them hatch, then released them. We grew tomatoes on the back porch, and it was very hands on, which is what I believe education should be.
Do you remember what your first impressions were when you first came here? I was so excited! As soon as I took the tour and saw the school and all the classrooms, the bike trail and gardening area, I knew this is exactly the kind of school that I wanted to work in. And so much of what I was drawn to teach as a homeschool teacher already existed in this school – from cooking, the specialty curriculum, emphasis on the outdoors, and having that immersive hands-on educational experience, instead of worksheets and computers – I knew this was a really good fit for me. It was like everything in my life prepared me for this moment. I want to work at a school where the kids are excited to be here every day, and that follows their natural development.
What have been your biggest successes and challenges so far this year? Orchestra has been one of the big successes this year. It was challenging to jump in as a new teacher and to fill the shoes of Loretta Walker, who built the program. We’d also been through 2 years of school in COVID, and because we don’t have a 7th grade this year, the levels that the students could play were so different. The 7th grade is usually the “glue” of the orchestra, so the 6th and 8th graders really had to meet in the middle. There’s been a lot of bending, patience on the 8th graders parts, and a lot of stepping up into leadership with the 8th grade. And the 6th graders are learning to follow. I’ve seen a lot of the 6th graders step up as well, and I think it’s forced them to take orchestra more seriously and mature a bit faster, learning to play with the 8th graders.
In the beginning of the year, it was interesting because even playing a scale together was difficult, because the technique levels were so different. But looking at them now, they’ve come so far and are not only playing scales and learning music pieces, but they are learning to express themselves through the music. It’s not just about how they play it or what the notes are, but getting to exercise their voices and be more creative. We are now able to talk about more advanced terms, like what is our sound here or there? Do we need to be quieter? Louder? Do we want a warm color? All those things are really exciting, and they sound good! It’s wonderful to be a part of a huge evolution of their musicianship.
One of this year’s challenges, which has also been one of my favorite parts, is learning to teach every grade from 1st through 8th. It’s been hard to navigate teaching a 6 year old versus a 13 year old, all within the a few hours of my day, as they need completely different things. I’ve done a lot of reflection and study to really understand how to teach every grade in a way that meets their needs. That’s one of the biggest parts of my job, outside of teaching, is getting to know the individual grades and the children. I need that personal relationship with them so I know how to best teach them. So this year has really been the children and I getting to know each other. That’s been my biggest priority over everything and I’m so excited to continue to get to work with these students over the course of their Waldorf teacher.
I’m curious what of Waldorf’s relationship to music has opened your mind in a new way and affected the way you teach and interact with your students? I feel like in some ways, Waldorf has really affirmed many of my personal beliefs. I am a strong believer that everyone is a musician, and we are born with the ability to be musical. Music is a part of the world and it’s a part of our life, and Waldorf has reiterated that for me.
Rudolph Steiner really believed that everyone is a musical being, and it’s just one more thing to unlock and for children to discover naturally. With Waldorf education, I think also one thing that I have learned a lot more as a teacher is to let the children lead the experience. They tell me what they need. I’m not telling them what they need to learn, they are actually telling me, and it can be a curiosity-based approach.
So if they are curious about a particular topic, we can stop and go into that. I don’t always have to guide the process, which is a very freeing experience for both me and the students. I love that music is woven throughout the whole education, from the youngest up, and in every class they sing, or they play their flutes. It’s completely unlike any other school I’ve seen. As for a music teacher, it’s a dream come true! The arts are valued here, and being an artistic being is such a big part of being at a Waldorf school.
For me, part of my dream as a teacher, and part of my passion, is to make music available to everybody. And I feel like classic music is such an elitist, white-washed world, that it can be very exclusive. I really love that with Waldorf, every child gets to play an instrument. Every child gets a high level of instruction, regardless of their socioeconomic status, their background, and even if they knew they wanted to or not. Accessibility has always been close to my heart, because my music teachers are really the ones who inspired me to go to music school and to be a teacher. My teachers were very supportive of me, and flexible when it came to costs, teaching me whether I could afford lessons or not. It made such an impact on me and I want to pay that forward. I love that Waldorf gives that opportunity to every student and I am passionate about finding ways to make strings even more accessible to our community.
Has there been anything about anthroposophy and Steiner philosophy that has already resonated with you? There’s still so much to learn! But for example, before coming to RWS, I’ve never really considered that before age 7, they are in a very dreamy world, and don’t see themselves as separate from the world. For the young child, the music should be very open ended, almost leaving a question unanswered for them. Waldorf philosophy knows that the child’s mind is very open, so all the music is pentatonic in 1st grade, which keeps them in that spiritual, dreamy world, so to speak. And then in 2nd grade, you can see them start to embody and become their own person. They are “waking up” consciously, and that’s when we present diatonic and major keys, with the full range of notes and scales. I’ve learned that the minor keys and more dissonance is not appropriate for the younger child, and we see that introduced as an older elementary and middle school child.
Has it been hard to take on such a big role? I was lucky enough to have many hours of mentoring and support from Loretta Walker, the RWS music teacher for 15 years. She gave me a lot of resources and articles about Waldorf educators and Music educators. I joined the Association for Waldorf Music Educators, and I have worked really hard to make sure my curriculum is in alignment with Waldorf education. It’s a really new language and world, but Loretta has passed down so many of her resources, books, and songs, and I’ve been so thankful to use them to help make the transition as seamless as possible. I really wanted the kids to feel that it was still familiar, and just because it’s a new teacher it’s not a new program or curriculum, and that we would continue everything Ms. Walker built, but with Ms. Flynn’s personal touch on it.
As a teacher, I feel like my learning is never done, and that’s what I need and want in a work environment. I’m a very curious person, so I’m always wondering “why”. And I love that about being a Waldorf teacher; the idea that us growing, learning, and progressing is part of the job. We’ve never arrived – we are always working. As a teacher, I’m learning just as much as the kids.
Wow, thank you, Catherine! We are so lucky to have you here at RWS, and I look forward to continuing to watch you make your mark on our music program for years to come.
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.
#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/
In a Waldorf school, students learn through a rich sensory experience that brings visual arts, music, performing arts and movement into everyday lessons including reading, math, and science. In Waldorf schools, great care is taken to integrate movement and the arts into the curriculum in a developmentally appropriate way. We believe that through these experiences, students develop the intellectual curiosity, social sensitivity, and physical stamina to meet their full potentials.
Matthew Thornton joined the RWS faculty in 2017 to build our Movement Arts program. His teaching pedagogy draws from his experience with dance, physical theatre, martial arts, and mind-body work. In his artistic work he desires to establish a base for original and organic expression.
The Movement Arts program consists of imaginative play, games, exercises, and performance training. We approach movement in a holistic manner while exploring dance, theatre, cooperation, sport, and somatic practice. Learning developmental movement patterns, coordination with the breath, and focus on posture and alignment allows all students to grow at their own pace. Students develop healthy social engagement through movement practice while learning from a diversity of cultural perspectives.
Students in grades 3-8 learn aspects of Capoeira, an acrobatic Afro-Brazilian dance form that incorporates partner and group dynamics with instruments and singing. In fifth grade, students are trained to run, wrestle, throw the discus and javelin, and perform the running long jump in preparation for the Greek Pentathlon, where they engage with students from regional Waldorf schools.
Upper grade students learn partnering fundamentals: exchanging roles between leading and following, negotiating non-competitive touch, supporting and being supported, trust and responsibility, body control, and emotional stability. Students across the grades engage in developmentally appropriate games and present and perform their work informally at Friday Gatherings and at assemblies.
Waldorf schools around the world are gearing up to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the movement’s founding in Stuttgart in 1919. Of the over 1,100 Waldorf schools and almost 2,000 Waldorf kindergartens in some 80 countries around the globe some are planning to celebrate with things like newly created pollinator gardens, community service projects, regional alumni gatherings, performances of original compositions created for the occasion and international postcard exchanges.
But (so far as we know) only one school is literally gearing up to celebrate – and that’s Richmond Waldorf School! Beginning at the top of the academic year on September 3rd, over a 4-day period the RWS 7th and 8th grade classes will bike 100 miles from Hancock, MD to Seneca, MD along the C&O Canal Trail Towpath. In keeping with the worldwide Waldorf 100 theme “Learn to Change the World” and an emphasis on service, the students will be collecting trash along the trail.
RWS bike program coordinator Glenn Amey and 7th grade class teacher Letitia Amey are leading the effort which will include 6-8 chaperones, 3 vans, and 2 cars with trailers for bikes and gear. Several of the chaperones will follow the group in support vehicles and will meet up with them each evening with gear and food for overnight camping.
In a journey this long, the kids are bound to learn new lessons in self-reliance and develop a strong sense of group camaraderie. The instructors want the riders to embrace the unexpected and open themselves to the novelty of life on the trail. It is hoped that each rider gains a greater appreciation of the unplanned discoveries and experiences – from bald eagles soaring overhead to flat tire fixes on the go – that make life an adventure.
The students will return home the evening of September 6th presumably pleased and exhausted and ready for some brain work after all that leg work. You can follow their progress via the RWS Facebook feed. We will be sure to share pictures, reflections, and more about their adventure!
We often hear from schools and educators that they use a “hands on” approach when teaching students, but what does that really mean? At Richmond Waldorf School, it means that students learn from creating, doing, and being instead of from rote memorization of facts.
Take our sixth graders’ study of Medieval history, for instance. First, the Class Teacher, Mrs. Amey, created beautiful imagery on her blackboard to introduce the topic. It is not just a pretty picture – there is content in the details. The font is a gothic script; the trees and ground give the impression of stained glass from a Medieval Cathedral; a knight stands in his armor and shield. We learn so much just from the drawing, and are drawn into the topic through art.
To begin their study, the students performed Hi Ho Robin Hood. The outlaw from Nottingham forest who steals from the rich to give to the poor is a classic tale and a perfect way for the students to get into the characters’ minds and experience what it might be like to live in the 12th or 13th century. The characters, plot, costumes, dialect, and scenery all help the students internalize what life was like in the Medieval era. By re-enacting and living the tale themselves, an innate curiosity grows in the students to learn more.
Next, Main Lesson time is used to dive into content and expand on what they have learned. The students write compositions, draw and paint, and read more stories. They study the Middle East and rise of Islam to understand what other cultures and countries were like during the time period. Representing minority and non-European viewpoints and experiences is an essential component to helping students think globally.
To wrap up the study, the Class Teacher with help from the parent community, coordinated a Medieval Games tournament with other Waldorf schools. Our visitors arrived and the games began. Students tried their hands at jousting, knife throwing, and archery — all sports that demonstrated a knight’s strength and skill. The students were entertained by a Jouster dressed in traditional garb, who gave an incredible and hilarious performance. The students shared a medieval feast of chicken, bread, and salad – without utensils, of course!
Through these experiences, the children internalize and master the themes, stories, and experiences of the topic. By using not only their heads, but also their hands and hearts to learn, a deep connection and natural curiosity is forged. And to us, that is experiential learning in the Middle School curriculum.
Waldorf educators foster a learning environment that is designed to meet the unique needs of each individual student in the class. In this environment, students cultivate a deep connection to learning and to their classmates. The Class Teacher takes an artistic and holistic approach to teaching. For instance, in the lower grades, subjects are blended so that it is hard to tell where math ends and music begins. We meet the needs of the whole child by building connections between subjects and by connecting academic learning to movement, social skills, and art.
In the image above, students are learning times tables. A student will touch her head and say “three”, cross her arms and say “times”, put her arms down and say “four”, then cross her legs and turn to meet her partner. The student will clap hands with her partner and say the answer. The class goes through the whole multiplication table in this way. They are working on movement and using their bodies to help memorize the table. The teacher will then present multiplication in several ways to reach the needs of each child. The class will sing them, move with them, clap to them, write them, jump to them, and make patterns with them. By presenting math in this way, the students form connections with music, movement, language, art, and each other.
As the founder of Waldorf Education, Rudolph Steiner said, “The heart of the Waldorf method is the conviction that education is an art – it must speak to the child’s experience. To educate the whole child, his heart and will must be reached as well as his mind.”
Learn more about the Waldorf approach by visiting our school. Our next interactive Open House, Windows Into Waldorf, is on Saturday, January 26, 2019 at 10:00 am. Join us to experience this unique approach to learning.