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) .”

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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

 

 

Finding Balance: Honoring Childhood While Educating for the Future

Christine Martuscello, Admissions Coordinator of Meadowbrook Waldorf School

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A Waldorf School Offers A Child-Centered Education

A healthy education is one that balances the current needs of the child with future educational goals. The child, not the goal, should always be at the center of the process.

Waldorf Education, founded in 1919 and based on the philosophy of Rudolf Steiner, achieves a balanced education by offering a developmentally appropriate curriculum that both supports children where they are in the moment, and prepares them for their next phase of development.   This curriculum unites academics with the arts, movement, practical work, and a deep respect for the natural world.

The Waldorf Preschool Program

For children in a Waldorf preschool program, this means their days are spent engaged in purposeful play, social activity and exploration, both indoors and out. Rich stories are experienced through puppetry, songs are combined with movement, and curiosity, observation, and collaboration are encouraged during forest adventures. Although these important activities are considered “pre-academic”, they all build skills critical for the academic journey that begins in first grade.

A Classical Elementary School Curriculum

Once students enter elementary school they are formally introduced to a classic, liberal arts curriculum that includes music, fine arts, foreign language, and practical arts to create deeper, more meaningful learning. Desk time is balanced with movement, academics are balanced with the arts, and time indoors is balanced with time spent in nature. Since children at this age learn best through strong, memorable experiences, the curriculum is often offered in an experiential manner. In the early elementary grades, this means math facts are paired with clapping games and rhythmical movement, language arts studied through dramatic presentation, and history is experienced firsthand with field trips and biography. These activities meet many styles of learning and reflect the complex world the children will inherit. The skills learned in these early years provide a strong foundation for the challenging learning and growth that is still to come.

Waldorf Curriculum Meets the Child’s Developmental Stage
Elementary (Grades 1-5)

The later elementary curriculum broadens the experience of the child. In the early elementary years, children are still in a dreamy world of imitation, content and secure in their family. Adults are seen as all knowing, and children do not yet question the world around them. This begins to change during the mid-elementary years as the children become more aware of themselves as individuals, and more awake to the world around them. This “nine year change” challenges their sense of confidence in the world, and their place in it.  To reassure children that they will have what they need to meet the world as adults, the Waldorf curriculum turns to the practical. Units of measure and fractions are studied in math, with shelter building and farming as cornerstones of the curriculum at this age. The curriculum at this time is a conscious exploration of what directly surrounds the child: local ecology, government, animals, and plants.

It is this experience of the local and practical that helps children cross a threshold and see themselves as individuals capable of inhabiting a rich and complex world, and successfully meeting the future with knowledge, connection, and collaboration.

After this immersion in the local, the curriculum expands to include ancient cultures and creation stories including Judeo-Christian, Native American, Norse, Indian, Egyptian, Greek, and Roman mythology. Presented during the later elementary grades, these stories describe how humans have been long striving to understand and explain the world around them.

As the curriculum broadens to include that which is outside of the child’s view, the fine and practical art curriculum also broadens. Fourth grade students add a string instrument to their recorder studies, and woodworking is added to the handwork curriculum begun in first grade. Both of these additions serve to not only improve fine motor skills, but to strengthen the will and demonstrate to the child that with practice and perseverance difficult tasks can be mastered to a beautiful end.

Middle School (Grades 6-8)

Middle school is a time of great change: physical, emotional, and intellectual. The children begin to question what they previously accepted without issue when they were younger. This adolescent urge to question and test is the perfect time to introduce the rigorous science curriculum. Through deep observation, which has been encouraged since the early childhood years, the students explore the world sometimes hidden from view through chemistry, optics, physics, anatomy, physiology, and astronomy. Moving from the concrete calculations of decimals, geometry, and business math, to the more the abstract math of exponents, number bases, platonic solids, and algebra, challenges the middle schooler’s burgeoning ability to think in the abstract.

Mirroring their sometimes tumultuous internal changes, the students study tumultuous times of history. Roman law, the Dark Ages, the beauty of the Renaissance, and periods of revolution are explored through first hand experiences, drama, fine art, and biography.   The students are now introduced to individuals, rather than the myths and legends of elementary school, who worked to make positive change in the world, sometimes at great personal cost. By the study and example of these pivotal individuals, the seed is planted that they too can be instruments of change in the world.

Waldorf Education Offers A Balanced, Thoughtful Approach 

A Waldorf Education provides a balanced curriculum that honors childhood by meeting the child where they are developmentally. The nurturance of foundational skills and play in early childhood provides a strong basis for the academics of the elementary years.

The elementary grades offer a rich curriculum of language, math, foreign language, history, geography, music, fine, and practical arts. Time for outdoor play and projects allows the child to experience the natural world, encourages collaboration, and provides an opportunity to recharge.  Once in middle school, the rigorous curriculum expands further to include more sciences and complex math to challenge the children’s new abilities.

It is the thoughtfulness of this intricate curriculum that encourages student’s growing capacities while maintaining the reverence of childhood.

Related Links:
About Waldorf Education 
Meadowbrook Waldorf School Curriculum
Admissions Application

 

The Art of Story Telling to the Preschool Child

Contributed by Sarah Wiberg (Parent-Child Class Teacher)

& Nancy St. Vincent (Early Childhood Class Teacher)

Waldorf story telling captivates preschool children

Preschool Puppets

One special part of a Waldorf Early Childhood experience is the use of puppetry to tell a story. The teacher is able to express a variety of deep story themes and soul moods with the simplest of gestures.  The magic for the viewer, whether they are young or old, is that the atmosphere surrounding the story is held with complete reverence and respect.  Lighting a candle and singing a simple song marks the beginning of this special time.

Engaging imagination in a preschool child

Stories rich in language and archetypical characters lay the foundation for creativity and imaginative thinking in the child. Colored silks and wools are used to reflect the seasons and the gestures of these archetypal figures.  Puppets that are lovingly handmade bring the story to life. The puppets are often without faces so the child is free to have their individual experience of the story.  The puppets and the props for the story are made from natural materials such as wool, silk, and wood.  This connects the child to the natural world. Stories follow the characters as they experience joy as well as struggles.  The characters are always able to find their way to the safety of home.  This is a very comforting message. The life of a young child can have many challenges and they need to know that they have a safe and secure place to return to.

Experience the Waldorf way of story telling with your child

Every year, the early childhood faculty at Meadowbrook Waldorf School present a marionette or puppet show for Holiday Faire visitors. This event allows parents a peek into the special world that their children get to experience, and for children and adults who have never seen it before, an opportunity to connect with something truly magical.  We invite you and your child to experience the wonder of story telling and puppetry at the upcoming Holiday Faire.  Please come to witness this simple, beautiful gift.

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Come join in the 2014 festivities at the Meadowbrook Waldorf School Holiday Faire.

Friday, November 21rd from 6-9 PM (Adults’ Night)

Saturday, November 22th from 10-4 (Family Day) 

What Makes Our School Unique

Jennifer Farrelly, the Meadowbrook Waldorf School Administrator has been a part of this community for many years in various capacities.  She has two children currently enrolled and is the mother of three alumni. 

cover (476x640) We are proud of our school and the quality of the education we offer here and it’s a pleasure to be able to share it with those who visit us to attend an Open House, Visitor Day and other community events.  Meadowbrook was recently granted accreditation by both AWSNA (Association of Waldorf Schools in North America) and NEASC (New England Association of Schools and Colleges).  AWSNA is the national affiliate of the worldwide Waldorf Education movement and NEASC is the oldest accrediting institution in this country.  We’ve always known by the quality and character of our graduates that we are doing a worthy job of educating children however it is very satisfying to have an independent group of educators and administrators validate our work.  In celebration of our school’s 35th birthday  I would like to share with you four things that I believe make us unique.

First of all, from the time I was a new parent in the school with a 3 year old in tow the school has been an incredible resource for me as a parent.   The teachers here consciously take up helping parents navigate the trials and tribulations of raising children.  Because the class teacher journeys with the children from grade to grade they get to know the child and the family quite well!  In a sense each one of my children gained a 3rd parent, luckily for them a parent who has been formally educated in child development.  This partnership between the families and the school creates a stable environment in which children can learn and make mistakes.  This partnership has meant that my children have

  • another adult in their lives who knows their strengths and weaknesses intimately,
  • another adult dedicated to helping them to overcome their daily challenges so they can reach their full potential as individuals,
  • someone actively setting an example that learning is a lifelong process,
  • someone who understands how important it is to be worthy of imitation because children need adults they can look up to and emulate.

Imagine the impact on society if all children had adults consciously holding them in this way.

SSim (640x506)The second thing I would like you to know is that the children are held in the center of every decision we make at Meadowbrook.  We work with a different management model from the typical top-down institutional hierarchy.  All work begins by considering “How will this benefit the children?”  “Is this what is best for the children?”  This practice encourages us to think creatively rather than defensively while identifying priorities.  Parents participate in shaping the life of the school through our active parents association that works with faculty and staff .  Our shared child-centered approach in all areas allows us to make extraordinary educational experiences available to the students.

The third thing you should be aware of is that Waldorf education is not meant to be a private education only available to the well to do.  Our mission statement says that we strive to offer this education to those who seek it here and invite a community which reflects the breadth and diversity of humanity.  We honor that portion of our mission statement by keeping our tuition as affordable as possible, currently at 50% of other RI independent schools.  We also have a tuition adjustment program that honors each family’s individual circumstances and ability to pay.  This can make annual budgeting challenging but we manage every year through the generous support of our community.

The last thing I would like you to know about us is that we are a learning community preparing to meet the future.  All of the adults that serve the mission of the Meadowbrook Waldorf School are committed to a path of self development and thoughtful engagement with the world.  With life becoming ever more complex we recognize that today’s children require more than intellectual training if they are to be successful.  We are a community that consciously strives to live the values that prepare children to meet the future as hopeful resilient individuals.

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