Third Grade Farm Trip

Contributor: Diana Carlson, Class Teacher of Grade 3 of 2015-16

I have just returned from spending a week with my third graders at Hawthorne Valley Farm in Ghent, New York.  We had a great time!  The students baked bread, made butter, and cooked supper for their classmates and teachers.  They planted seeds as the spring leaves popped around them in the April sunshine.  They woke in the chill dawn to feed and water the cows, chickens, pigs, and horses.  They also rode those horses, and cleaned those cows’ barn, and looked for eggs in the hen-house.  They skipped stones and waded in the river and ran and climbed trees, with old friends and new.  In the evenings they sang together, and practiced being quiet together so that everyone could settle down to sleep.Farm Trip 2016

Farm Trip 2016

The farm trip meets the developing nine-year old in many important ways.  For most of my students, this was their first extended time away from their family.  The nine-year old is developing an individual interior world; for the first time they realize that they can have thoughts and experiences that are theirs alone.  The experience of the farm trip, although shared with familiar classmates and teachers, is an individual, personal life experience outside of the family round.  Many of the students expressed surprise at how little they missed their families; they almost felt a little guilty at first, as if their self-sufficiency denied their affection for their families.  When the families arrived to pick up their dirty, happy children on Friday morning, the students were thrilled to reconnect and share their experiences with their parents and siblings.  They experienced that a separation is not a severing, and that they are able to have individual experiences and still remain connected, even over distance and time, to their loved ones.  This foundational experience gives the child the confidence to move out into the world in ever widening arcs as they mature.

We had the opportunity to share our farm experience with students from the Primrose Hill School in Reinbeck, New York.  The children enjoyed getting to know one another and see how another Waldorf third grade can be similar and yet different.  We knew many of the same songs and poems, we were following the same curriculum as outlined by Rudolf Steiner, we were the same ages.  And yet we had different class cultures, different personalities.  By the end of the week however, the farm teachers commented that the groups had integrated so harmoniously that they couldn’t tell which students were from Meadowbrook and which were from Primrose Hill.

The farm experience deeply connects the child to the third grade science and geography curriculum.  Now these students really “know” cows – their size, their smell, their slick noses and rough tongues, their beautiful eyes and placid natures.  To know a cow in this way is to have a deeper connection to all that comes from the cow – butter, cheese, yogurt, ice cream, leather, hamburgers.  The students also gain an understanding of the amount of work that creates their daily meals.  One student commented on how difficult it was to clean out the barn – how strenuous, how smelly, how relieved he was to never have to do that again.  And one of the farm teachers remarked, “Yes, and think – somebody has to do that every day or you would never be able to have ice cream!”  The realization that all we enjoy is derived from the work of others cultivates gratitude and a true understanding of the interconnectedness of our world.

Farm Trip 2016 IIThe experience of being at the farm planted seeds of understanding in the hearts and minds of my students.  I look forward to watching these seeds sprout and blossom in the years ahead.  I am grateful to Meadowbrook and to the parents of the third grade class for making this trip possible.

Parenting in the Digital Age

MWS and the Human Development and Family Studies program at URI are co-sponsoring a showing of Screenagers: Growing Up in the Digital Age on Sunday, April 10. Tickets are $10 and must be purchased in advance. Click here for tickets

Physician and filmmaker Delany Ruston decided to make the documentary Screenagers: Growing Up in the Digital Age when she found herself constantly struggling with her two children about screen time. She felt guilty and confused, not sure what limits were best, especially around the use of mobile phones, social media, gaming, and how to monitor online homework.

Click to watch trailer

Click to watch trailer

The recommendations of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) regarding children’s use of media have remained largely unchanged for 15 years. With children now spending more time on entertainment media than they do at school, the AAP is proposing new guidelines that stress the need for parents to be active in managing this aspect of their children’s lives. “Parenting has not changed”, proposes the AAP, “The same parenting rules apply to your children’s real and virtual environments. Play with them. Set limits; kids need and expect them. Teach kindness. Be involved. Know their friends and where they are going with them”.
However, screens have become so ubiquitous in our culture that many parents feel overwhelmed and unable to determine what is best for their children. In an interview with the New York Times Dr Rushton says, “The worst thing a parent can do is hand over a smart phone and hope for the best. But parents often feel like trying to set limits is pointless, that the cat is out of the bag, tech is everywhere. I hear all kinds of excuses. But kids’ brains aren’t wired to self-regulate. They can’t do it without you, and they shouldn’t have to.”
The film weaves real life stories with scientific evidence and insights from experts in child development, brain science, and psychology. Boys and girls use media differently, leading to different issues. Stories include that of a 14-year old girl who fell victim to social media bullying, and of a boy whose love of video gaming took him from straight A student to internet rehab. Because young brains are not yet fully developed, children and teens are particularly vulnerable to the effects of screen use. The film includes findings from recent studies about the impact of media on for children’s ability to learn and to reach their full academic potential.
Screenagers gives parents practical ideas for creating a healthy digital environment for their families. It suggests ways to work with teens to help them build good habits and to balance their on-screen lives with the real life experiences. The film is intended to spark discussion between educators and parents as well as with teens. We all live in the digital age and only by working together will we be able to ensure that this technology changes our lives for the better.

Play is Serious Business

Imaginative play is essential for the healthy physical, emotional, social, and academic development of the child. Waldorf Education recognizes that when children are given a safe and beautiful environment they use the power of their own imaginations to create learning experiences. Hasbro invited Meadowbrook kindergarten teacher, Su Rubinoff, to share her expertise with its innovation design team.

Su at Hasbro (1280x1022)

Hasbro is a leading global play products company based in Pawtucket, R.I. with many well known brands including Play–Doh, Transformers, Scrabble, and My Little Pony. Most of us will remember games such as Monopoly and Candy Land from our own childhoods but Hasbro has since added a new generation of electronic toys and digital gaming, and continues to look for new ways to play. MWS alumna, Ceileidh Siegel, is currently the company’s Director of Imbedded Innovation and leads a team working on design ideas intended for production 3-5 years from now.  Ceileidh says her job is a mix of the Tom Hanks role in the movie Big, where a 12 year old wishes himself into an adult body then lands his dream job of professional toy tester, mixed with Shark Tank, the television show that ruthlessly investigates the viability of new product ideas.

Playstand PoniesIn 2015, Ceileidh’s team hosted a Hasbro “Summer Camp” focusing on the reinvention of two core brands.  Her group worked with members of the company’s Marketing, Design, and Engineering, teams with the intention of providing timeless favorites, Baby Alive™ and FurReal Friends™, with a timely new twist. These lines feature play characters for young children that encourage patterns of role play and imagination. As a foundation for their work, Ceileidh felt that an in depth perspective on children’s innate need for play was essential for the group. She particularly wanted them to understand the importance of nurturing role play and what it brings to the developing child.

Cassandra with her doll

Cassandra with her doll

Having experienced play–based Waldorf education at Meadowbrook from early childhood until graduating from grade 8 in 1997, she decided to invite MWS kindergarten teacher Su Rubinoff (known hereabouts as Miss Su) to share her expertise with the Hasbro group. Su has worked with children for more than 40 years and holds a Master of Science degree in remedial education. She has devoted many years to the study of child development, investigating the connection between sensory and academic learning. Su, who has known Ceileidh since birth, was honored by the invitation but also a little nervous so she enlisted the help of another MWS alum, Cassandra Duda, for technical assistance. Cassandra graduated from Meadowbrook in 2013 and is currently a junior at the Lincoln School. After researching the school archives, she created a PowerPoint presentation with photographs of young children at play to accompany Su’s talk. She also brought along her favorite childhood toy, a doll named Ellie. Ceileidh says that Cassandra’s input was tremendous, “She brought the team on a lovely digital journey from the forest kindergarten, through Su’s trips around the world, to show the global drumbeat of play.  She was poised and articulate speaking about her connection to the doll, the weight of its bean bag body and the rituals associated with it including purchasing clothes and accessories on family visits to Germany each summer”. In reflection, Ceileidh shared how her Meadowbrook education prepared her for the presentations she gives today. “Making my own textbooks reinforced that I really needed to know the subject from the inside out and from every angle.  It gives me a great sense of calm because, if you know the material the way we are required to at Meadowbrook, there are no “gotchas”… you literally wrote the book (well, now it’s a PowerPoint) .”

Hasbro CS (1280x799)

Su received an enthusiastic welcome from the Hasbro team. She explained that play is not just something children do for fun or to pass the time. Play enables children to make sense of the world and it establishes the foundation of future learning. Unstructured, imaginative play activates the entire brain resulting in the building of new neural pathways. Activities practiced in play that are associated with communication, memory, self regulation, and problem solving, help to develop the part of the brain responsible for executive functioning and critical thinking. Play is also essential in learning how to interact with others, promoting social as well as self development. Children learn by exploring their environment through their senses, translating what they see and feel into a picture of the world and their place within it. For healthy development, it is important to surround the young child with beautiful and meaningful experiences that encourage trust and confidence in the goodness of the world.

Su told the group that children learn predominantly from imitation in their early years. They are not ‘little adults’, although they are driven by a strong desire to behave like the adults around them. Children imitate daily living when playing with dolls or stuffed animals, thoughtfully recapitulating the tending and caring they themselves have experienced. Children as young as one year old can be seen bending over a little crib to kiss a doll. New skills are also learned in this way. When feeding, brushing hair, or dressing their ‘babies’, children are learning how to care for themselves.

Dolls appear throughout history and in every culture, made from a wide variety of materials including cloth, grass, corn husks, plastic and clay. Children’s touch is sensitive so the intrinsically warm qualities of natural materials, such as wood or silk, make for a deeper connection than might be formed with toys made of synthetic materials. Children also see themselves in the doll, bringing it to life through their own imagination. Waldorf dolls have tiny eyes and, perhaps, a simple stitch for a mouth. Su described how these small, neutral features allow the child to explore a wider range of emotions and experiences through creative play.

Six months later, the Hasbro group is still talking about the insights Su provided. Building on the knowledge that play where the child takes the role of nurturing a toy is instinctual, they are considering ways to augment imaginary play instead of replacing it with lights, sounds, and motion.  Ceileidh surmises, “Su really made it abundantly clear that the power of play and imagination is the strongest force in childhood, and the foundation for growth and success later in life.”

Ceileidh calls Meadowbrook the place where she learned how to learn. She credits Meadowbrook with helping to develop her innate internal motivation and is convinced that Waldorf Education’s consistent focus on what you do with knowledge, rather than on reciting the facts you know, resulted in her being very well prepared for work in the innovation era. “At Hasbro”, she says, “We have the privilege and responsibility for making some of the world’s best play experiences”. When it comes to the essential business of children’s play, that sense of ethical responsibility carries great importance. No word yet on what changes will be made to Baby Alive and FurReal Friends but, as a Waldorf alum leading the way, Ceileidh will likely succeed with her persistent request that a toy be just as much fun when the batteries are dead.

Click here to see some of the photos Su showed at Hasbro

 

 

The Freedom of a Waldorf Education

Renee Kent wrote this post as archivist for the Meadowbrook Parents Association.  The MPA meets monthly to discuss various aspects of school life with members of the teaching and administrative staff.  Each meeting begins with the presentation of an educational topic from a faculty representative.  In this post, MWS class teacher Andrew Gilligan brought his incredible energy to discuss with us what it means to enroll in a Waldorf School.  Renee writes, “He presented with such passion and reverence and I am sharing here what I took away from the discussion, not the least of which is an incredible gratitude that people such as Andrew Gilligan exist and take deeply into their own souls the responsibility for educating children in a way that goes much deeper than the practical curriculum of reading, writing, and math.”

Educational Freedom

education

Andrew Gilligan began his discussion about the importance of Waldorf Education in the world and what it means by asking us to think about the word freedom.  As parents, we exercise our freedom to choose the type of education that best fits the needs of our child.  Waldorf Education exercises its freedom as an independent school system, free from the full weight of government regulation.  Waldorf philosophy (or pedagogy) views children as free beings who come with unique gifts to bestow upon the world.  The children are granted the freedom to enjoy childhood.  The education itself is intended for children to grow into adults who are confident in exercising their own freedom to be who they are meant to be.

Educating for an Unknown Future

Children are the lifeblood of human society.  Children are, quite literally, our future.  While this is a popular media catchphrase, the gravity of this is taken quite seriously by teachers.  Our children will become the adults that make the decisions in our world.  The root of the word education means to draw out.  Waldorf educators abide by the philosophy that their primary role is to remove hindrances so that children are able to bring their own ideas out into the world.  This stands as a stark counterpoint to the general idea that a proper education ‘fills up’ the child with information, information that may or may not be relevant when the child is grown.  As a teacher Mr. Gilligan asks: “How is the gesture of education able to draw out the capacities that lie within the child?”  “How can we educate this child for freedom?”

We prepare a child of today for an unknown world of tomorrow by allowing them to know their own self, to rely on their inner strength, and by allowing them their own freedom within the moral compass of knowing that they must take responsibility for that freedom.  We do this by holding a quiet knowing of what childhood ought to be, by allowing them the freedom to fully experience childhood.

Education Begins with Healthy Relationships

Waldorf educator and author, Gary Lamb describes a Holy Trinity of Education made up of parents, teachers, and children.  The basic foundation of a healthy school is healthy relationships, where no one is given authority to make a decision about a child unless that individual knows the child in question and bears some responsibility for the education of that child.  No outside agency, (government, academic or industrial) should be involved in making policy decisions about education unless directly involved in providing that education to the children concerned.  If children are to be free to develop to meet the future they must be free of the demands of present economic and political considerations.  Waldorf Education is child-centered meaning all decisions regarding that education are driven by the needs of the individual child and the class in question.  Using the Holy Trinity of Education those decisions are made by the child’s parents and teachers.

NIK_3088Individuality in Education

In a Waldorf School, the teacher is a pedagogical artist with the freedom to bring his or her own particular interests, experiences, and skills to the students, enriching the curriculum with deeper meaning.  Public school colleagues are limited in this capacity. This is not because they lack the understanding or do not feel the gravity of their responsibility. It is because their freedom is restricted by school systems. They are regulated by the need to provide quantifiable results. They are required to evaluate success according to metrics. Metrics that are based on standards unconnected to the individual child’s capacities.  Within the Waldorf curriculum, teachers are free to make choices that meet the needs of the class, assessing progress and evaluating the process as it relates to the children concerned.

Freedom to Invest in an Education

As parents we know our children, their needs and gifts, better than anyone.  As parents we have the freedom to choose the educational system we feel is the best fit for our children.  However, the cost of attending an independent school may mean some parents are unable to act on their choices.  Parents in Waldorf Schools are partners in their children’s education not only by working with the teacher in support of the work done in the classroom, but by sustaining community life and helping alleviate financial pressures through volunteerism.

Mr. Gilligan offered that it is a brave choice to become a part of a  Waldorf School. It is a free choice, not something foisted upon you and it requires a personal investment.  What it calls on us to do is to rise up and hold ourselves accountable, to sharpen our responsibility of soul.

Freedom to Pursue Their Life’s Work.

As a parent listening to this talk, I was repeatedly moved by the depth of commitment expressed by Mr. Gilligan.  Most parents if asked, I imagine would say that what they want is for their children grow into happy, well adjusted adults.  To me this means that they will pursue what they are passionate about, something that is soul satisfying and that they can fully immerse themselves in.   What became clear to me while listening to Mr. Gilligan is that in choosing a Waldorf School, I have surrounded my children with adults doing exactly that.  Adults who felt a calling and pursued it, a calling they are free to fully inhabit to the benefit of the children.  With adults they respect, doing their life’s work with integrity and passion, the children are being shown daily that they are free to do the same.  I can’t think of a better place for my children.