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.