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.

Advent Spiral – A Community Gathering

What is Advent? What is an Advent Spiral?

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We have just entered into the season of Advent.  Traditionally celebrated the four Sundays before the winter solstice, it marks a time of introspection as we all await the return of the sun and lengthening days.  This seasonal remembrance of light takes place in many cultures across the globe.  At our Waldorf school, we mark this season with weekly Advent spiral walks.

Our local community is invited to participate in this weekly moment of reflection. Please park in the visitor lot and follow the candle-lit path into the forest where you can walk the Advent spiral and place your offering along the path. You may bring something from home or pick a natural trinket from the start of the path to add to the spiral. In this way our community comes together co-creating the garden spiral.

Examples of items are:
The first light of Advent honors the mineral world.  Small shells, gems or rocks are appropriate for this week.

The second light of Advent honors the plant world. Acorns, pine cones, a dried flower or holly sprig would be wonderful additions to the path this week.

The third light of Advent honors the animal world. Perhaps you might add a small feather you have found or a piece of beeswax in the shape of a favorite animal this week.

The fourth light of Advent honors the light of man. During this final week we are in the darkest days of our year and we bring the light within ourselves to the spiral. You are invited to carry a candle through the spiral and then leave your candle along the path. In this way, we are leaving our light to illuminate the path for all of us. Candles are provided at the start of the path on this evening.

advent_spiral_dusk_mwsAfter walking the path, families often take a short time to sit together quietly. Participating in our Advent spiral is a lovely way to model a quiet reverence of nature to our little ones. Often the youngest of our visitors take many turns walking the spiral, first holding a parent’s hand and then becoming brave enough to test their independence and walk the path alone.

By marking our seasonal journey out of darkness with the quiet contemplation of Advent, we make space in this hectic time of celebration and busyness to remember our connection to the earth and each other.

Advent Spiral Dates for 2015

The local community is invited to join us in this small act of contemplation that we hold each Sunday of Advent from 4-5 pm.

November 29th (Minerals)
December 6th (Plants)
December 13th (Animals)
December 20th   (Humans)

Advent Spiral Verse

The first light of Advent is the light of the stones that sparkle through seashells, crystals and bones.
The second light of Advent is the light of the plants that reach to the sun and in the breeze dance.
The third light of Advent is the light of the beasts that swim, crawl or fly, be they great, be they least.
The fourth light of Advent is the light of man, in love and in thought, to give and understand.

Martinmas – A Path to our Inner Light

Sarah Wiberg (Meadowbrook Parent Child Teacher) and Nancy St. Vincent (Early Childhood Class Teacher) describe Martinmas and the introspection encouraged through the fall festivals of a Waldorf School. 

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Photo Credit: Seth Jacobson Photography

Autumn is a time to reflect on our inner selves

As the leaves change and the world puts on a beautiful autumnal cloak of orange, red, and yellow, we are reminded that winter is coming.  There is much we do to prepare for winter. We may gather firewood, put our gardens to rest or finish canning the bounty of the harvest.  But this time of year, with its shorter days and longer nights, not only prompts us to complete the familiar external preparations, but can also be a time of inner preparation.

Autumn is a time to reflect on our inner selves, to find the inner light that will carry us through this time of darkness. It can be a time to look forward to, with its opportunity to know ourselves in a deeper way.  Waldorf schools mark this season of inner searching with three fall festivals to help guide us on this path of introspection.  In September, we celebrate Michaelmas and St. Michael urges us to battle with courage to face and vanquish our “dragons”.  In early November, we celebrate Martinmas and observe St. Martin’s compassion for others.  In December, St. Nicholas brings the gifts of wisdom, reflection, and review upon the events of the year.  These three figures model strength in the qualities of willing, feeling and thinking.

The festival of Martinmas asks us as striving adults to bring forth our inner light and share it with those around us.

At the festival of Martinmas we hear the story of St. Martin, a Roman soldier who lived in the fourth century.  As St. Martin approached the city gates at Amiens, he came upon a poor beggar who was shivering with cold.  St. Martin, who lived in the utmost of simplicity himself and had nothing to give the beggar, drew his sword and cut his own cloak in two and offered half to the beggar.  The following night, Christ appeared to St. Martin in a dream wearing the half-cloak he had given and said, “Martin has covered me with this garment.”

With St. Martin’s example, Martinmas encourages us to meet each other with a compassionate, giving heart.  It asks us as striving adults to bring forth our inner light and share it with those around us.

The Martinmas lantern walk lights this path. 

At Meadowbrook Waldorf School, we celebrate this festival with the Martinmas Lantern Walk.  We begin the week before with the children in Kindergarten, First, and Second Grades making lanterns in school.  On the night of the Martinmas celebration, the children and parents arrive at school to see a marionette performance of Spindlewood, the story of a girl who has an encounter with Mother Earth as she is preparing for winter.  This story depicts the outer world of earth going to sleep while the inner world is coming alive.  Following the performance, the children and families walk with their class through the forest surrounding the school singing songs of light.  Carrying the lanterns they have made, it is like witnessing many beautiful stars joyfully winding a the path through the woods.  Afterward, the children and families leave in a mood of quiet reverence, carrying their light out into the world.

“I walk with my little lantern, my lantern, myself and I.

Up yonder bright little stars shine, down here were stars to the sky.

The new moon shines, the cat meows…

La bimmel, la bummel, la boom…”

 

 

 

A Different Approach to Financial Aid

This post is written by Tabitha Jorgensen, a current member of our Board of Trustees.  Tabitha previously served as our  Admissions Coordinator, welcoming new families to Meadowbrook for more than 14 years.

Part of the Mission Statement of the Meadowbrook Waldorf School reads, “We strive to offer this education to those who seek it here…” One of the ways MWS supports this part of the mission is through financial aid, and like many things at a Waldorf School, we do it a little differently. For one thing, we call it “adjustment” not “aid,” and this is quite purposeful.

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A more traditional financial aid system works something like this: The school has a line item in their budget designated for financial aid. This is a specific amount of money set aside and given out to families who qualify. Once the limit is met, the school generally won’t give out any more. The allocated amount can be adjusted during budget planning, but generally not during the school year.

At Meadowbrook we don’t have a budgeted line item for financial aid. So how do we responsibly budget this way? How do we meet the needs of our community members for whom full tuition is not possible? How do we work with a family facing a financial crisis?

First, we rely on our experience and make some educated estimates. Based on past experience, we are able to determine the percentage of students that will need adjustment with reliable accuracy. An “average” tuition amount is calculated per student and a budget is built around that number. In this way, any new family who applies to MWS late in the season adds to the bottom line of our budget, even if they are not able to pay full tuition.

Second, we have cash reserves for a rainy day. If a particular year turns out to be financially challenging for our families and more requests for adjustment are made than anticipated, or emergency situations arise during the school year (job loss, unexpected medical conditions etc.), we are generally able to meet those needs. If a trend begins, as it did when the recession hit, future budgets are adjusted accordingly.

Third, we are committed to working this way. It is a time consuming process to manage every case through our tuition-adjustment committee, but every family and every circumstance is unique. This work provides an opportunity for MWS to show that we honor and value all our families, and it is also a time when our families can see Meadowbrook principles in action.

It is through working with families, and not merely formulaic calculations, that we strive to reach a tuition level that is acceptable to both the family and the school. As with any agreement between two parties, there are expectations. Families can expect a confidential, fair, thorough process from MWS, a process in which they are active participants. In turn, MWS expects that our families will make choices to demonstrate they consider this education is a priority.

Part of managing a thorough process means a family must provide financial documents, honor deadlines, and present a complete picture of their circumstances.  Part of creating a fair process means MWS cannot support certain “lifestyle” choices through the tuition adjustment program. For example, our policy statement indicates both parents should be employed once all children are of school age. MWS cannot subsidize a choice to be unemployed at the expense of our other families or our faculty. Of course there are exceptional circumstances and times where employment is not about choice – illnesses, job changes, divorce, etc. Exceptional circumstances will always be considered.

The tuition adjustment program is designed to meet as many families as possible, sustainably and fairly. The tuition adjustment committee works to balance the needs of our families with the needs of faculty, staff, programming, and facilities. The tuition adjustment program is an area where we express our belief that those in a Waldorf community carry one another’s destiny. Meadowbrook is entrusted with supporting the destiny of a child and that child’s family. The family, in turn, supports MWS through tuition, and by participating in the vibrant community life of the school.

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