MATHEMATICAL THINKING IN WSA HANDWORK PROGRAM

A flourishing handwork program is one of the unique hallmarks of Waldorf education. Dr. Rudolf Steiner, the creator of this educational system, identified handwork as an important component, famously remarking that “knitting is cosmic thinking.” But how are we to interpret this concept, and what relevance does handwork have today? Remarkably, recent research, such as Frank R. Wilson’s The Hand: How Its Use Shapes the Brain, Language, and Human Culture, elucidates Dr. Steiner’s observation, and begins to show why working with the hands supports the development of logical and mathematical thinking.

At WSA, our handwork program covers a variety of crafting knowledge including knitting, crochet, cross stitch, hand sewing, wet felting and machine sewing. Each of these areas facilitates the development of coordination and fine motor skills through the wide variety of techniques presented and mastered as the children move through the grades. In addition, these activities support the acquisition of new math skills as they are presented by the class teachers and stimulate thinking through awakening the hands.

grade 1 knitted chickGrade 2 knitted gnome

At WSA, we begin our handwork journey in first and second grades with knitting. In The Recovery of Man in Childhood, Steiner remarks “…both boys and girls should learn to knit. This is good training for the fingers in skillfulness, but it is far more than that. The rhythmical thinking with the fingers which knitting demands grows with the child, and when he grows up the man will think more cogently and more harmoniously because the child practiced this skill just at a time when his first independent thinking was born.”

During these first two years in handwork class, we are overtly working with basic math facts and number sense. We are continually counting our stitches, and discovering what happens when we lose one or gain two. Later we learn that “ridges” are made by knitting two rows, and the children delightfully calculate that two ridges are equal to four rows. Ambitious second grade mathematicians might discover that their rainbow ball, which is made of four ridges each of six colors, has a total of 48 rows or 24 ridges. They will continue to progress through several patterns which provide questions in applied mathematics. For instance, our washcloth begins with three stitches and adds one lace stitch per row. It continues to grow until 30 stitches are reached. But how to maintain the lace pattern and make the washcloth shrink back to 3 stitches again, thus creating a serviceable square? The answer is to take away one stitch, (-1) add the lace stitch (+1) and finally take away one stitch more (-1).

As the second graders knit their way through this question, their nimble fingers are, as Steiner indicates, absorbing much more than how to make a washcloth. They are developing number sense in a practical, meaningful way, and they are learning how to think.

Conversely, sensory integration researchers have shown that children with certain arithmetic challenges show a high incidence of finger agnosia – they are unable to identify the position of their fingers in space. Knitting in Waldorf schools provides regular “rhythmical thinking with the fingers” that awakens motor control and brings the children’s awareness to their hands.

 grade 3 mug mat, pencil case and hat

After two years of knitting, the children are generally quite dexterous with their needles, and are ready to move on to another challenge. In third grade we bring crochet. Third graders are increasingly aware of themselves as individuals, and as they are stepping into the world we present a form of handwork that relies on the dominant hand. However you knit, both hands will have to work the needles to some degree. But crochet works with one hook. With that hook our third graders work to create a variety of useful everyday objects which all have a practical purpose in the real world.

In this pragmatic tone, we do not forget our math skills. Third graders have to learn to “read” their crochet. First they identify their own stitches, and then they move on to working with patterns of stitches. For instance, circular items begin with a 10 stitch round. If they are to stay circular, we must add stitches as the project grows, or it will begin to curve up and make a bowl shape quite quickly. The practical exploration of this concept resulted first in a flute case, which started with 10 stitches, grew to 20 and stayed there. As a result, the base curved up into a pouch shape, which was elongated to a tube.

Next we are ready to try a more complex sequence. Our rainbow circle mats deepen the concept of the circumference – we are trying to make a large flat piece, and so we must go from 10 stitches to 20. Soon this will not be enough, and we again work to increase the circumference by doubling our stitches. This is accomplished by identifying each stitch in the circle and placing two stitches into it on the next round. And so we have 40. From here third graders begin to work with the individual nature of their own creation, using their observation to determine when and how to add stitches in order to expand the circumference of their work evenly. This provides an opportunity for working in patterns: 2 stitches in each stitch doubles, but a pattern of increasing every other stitch will work differently, as will increasing in every third stitch. And so our third grade handwork classes continue to strengthen fine motor skills and reinforce basic math skills such as counting, addition and subtraction, but they also add number patterns and a smattering of practical geometry and fractions.

 grade 4 pincushion

Fourth grade brings greater intensity to our work with dexterity and fine motor skills. Now we take up small needles and cross stitch. Waldorf cross stitch is unique in that there are no patterns to follow except those which the children create themselves. In main lesson, the class teacher is bringing the leap of faith that is fractions. In handwork we support this work by making bookmarks and pin cushions. The bookmark consists of a canvas that is divided into two equal halves. The children are set the task of filling every hole in their canvas with a color of their choosing – but they must mirror the design exactly on both halves of the canvas. This is a real world image of the concept of “one half ”. The children rise to the challenge of creating one thing which is exactly like another. Next, they move on to pincushions, which have a midline and four quarters. Here there is nothing for it but to plot a point in space – I have put one yellow stitch four steps over from the center and two steps in – and to plot its coordinating point in three other areas. The result is a design which is mirrored horizontally, vertically and diagonally, all four sections exactly alike; the representation of one quarter.

 Grade 5 socks

Fifth grade sock knitting is perhaps the culmination of our mathematical handwork experience. The children work on three needles at once, wielding a fourth to knit in a circle. By now most Waldorf children are so dexterous that they have very little difficulty adapting to this challenge. However, it is still a magical moment when, having worked a few rows back and forth in order to begin, they divide their work onto three different needles, bend it into a triangular shape and join it together so that they are suddenly working in the round. Even more interesting is the fact that once they are knitting in the round, they no longer have to alternate knitted and purled rows in order to create a smooth surface – now knitting alone will suffice because they are only working on one side of the surface. There are so many instances of flexible thinking and fascinating cases of applied mathematics in sock making that it would be impractical to address them all here, but suffice it to say that we work with percentages of our stitches and decrease using ratios (sets of 10, 20, 10 stitches become sets of 9, 18, 9).

All of the work mentioned above is encased in a form that is enticing to the children. Items the children have created with their own hands become so precious that they inspire a sense of reverence, and rightly so. In the creation of each of these projects we find experiences in applied mathematics and flexible thinking, in addition to a world of information about color and texture to stimulate other types of thinking and knowing. In this context, knitting is truly an experience in cosmic thinking.

In the larger world, researchers are continuing to discover connections between how we use our hands and how we learn to think. Meanwhile, young knitters in Waldorf schools develop number sense and work their way through problems in applied mathematics while they labor to create toys and practical items to enjoy.

~Lisa Roggow

Handwork Teacher

This article was originally printed in the March 2012 issue of the Garden Breeze of the Waldorf School of Atlanta.

MATH at the Waldorf School of Atlanta

Waldorf schools are often fond of speaking about how we are different, and math is no exception. We do approach math differently than traditional schools, but we do many things the same. As Yogi Berra might have said, ”Math is, after all, math.” In grades one through eight at the Waldorf School of Atlanta, a child will learn the same math skills that s/he would learn at other area schools. The primary difference is in how it will be learned.

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Movement and Rhythm

At some time in our lives, we have all wrestled with the multiplication tables. How were we to learn such a long list of dry facts? At our school, we first teach math facts by “getting them into children’s bodies.” In the younger grades, the children will spend some time each day clapping and stamping different number patterns. First graders may walk in a circle like an old man and count extra loud when his cane lands: 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-10-11-12. This lays the foundation for learning the multiples of three for multiplication and division. Better still, it gives a child a feeling for three, a relationship that exists in her body and not just as a symbol on a page.

Another exercise that comes later is to have four children walk geometrical figures that are all joined at a central point.  A child walks each figure repeatedly counting each time she comes to a corner. The children take note of the “friendly numbers” where they meet in the middle. For example, 15 is a friendly number for the triangle and the pentagon because both of the children walking those figures will meet in the middle when they say “15”. There is quite a bit of excitement when the children reach 60, the first number friendly to all of the figures. This exercise lays the foundation for a meaningful relationship to the concept of a common factor that is needed for working with fractions.

Story and Image

During the elementary school years, we strive to educate children through images. There is a twofold purpose to this. First, children love to live into stories and pictures. They develop an active relationship with material when it is presented in this way. Second graders often hear a story of gnomes who are digging gems from a mountain. When the gnomes get ten gems, they put them in a bag. Ten bags are too hard to carry, so they put those in a cart (100 gems). Ten cart loads go into a wagon (1,000 gems). Thus the children are introduced to the concept of place value.

The process of creating exact mental images is a thinking skill in and of itself. The stronger and sharper images a child can create, the sharper is his thinking. In eighth grade, we study the Platonic solids – a series of “perfect” solids described by Plato in his dialogue “Timaeus.” When we introduce each figure, it is described by a story (e.g. an ant walking around a cube or a series of ropes in a zero gravity room) to lead them through creating a picture of a three dimensional geometrical solid in their minds. Ideally, the first time a child “looks at” these figures, she sees a picture she created internally.

mr evans math

Meeting the Developing Child

The benefits of math as a learning tool are well known. Since the time of the Ancient Greeks, math has been the accepted method for developing logical and abstract thinking. In Waldorf schools, we pick the topics for our curriculum not only because children are intellectually ready for them but also because it meets a developmental need. In fourth grade, for example, a child separates from the unity of the world and often feels the loneliness of emerging individuality. We see this reflected in the introduction of fractions, where a whole number falls into many pieces. The work with fractions helps to support the child through this life transition.

Seventh grade can often be a tumultuous time for children due to physical changes in their bodies combined with drastic emotional swings. For this reason, we take up the study of algebra

in seventh grade. The process of unraveling difficulties using a clear, steady process of maintaining balance (i.e. balancing equations) is a balm to the young adolescent soul. These are some of the ways that our curriculum works with math and strives to make it more than a collection of skills. Perhaps you will have a chance to observe some of these activities in our classrooms this Grandparent’s Day.

~Randy Evans

Faculty Chair & Math Instructor

Originally printed in March 2012 Garden Breeze of the Waldorf School of Atlanta

 

Parent Perspective from the Waldorf School of Atlanta

My husband Steve and I have two daughters. Our youngest, Isabel, age 14, is about to graduate from the Waldorf School of Atlanta. She has attended this school since age four, and will continue her Waldorf education at Academe of the Oaks high school next year. Our oldest daughter, Jessie, is 19. She also attended WSA from pre-K through eighth grade. She graduated from Academe last year, and just finished her freshman year at the GSU School of Music. We are grateful for the high quality K-12 Waldorf curriculum in Atlanta.

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How can I put into a few hundred words my journey as a parent at one great school for fifteen consecutive school years? All I can offer are a few tastes.

Our first Lantern Walk was in 1996. I was asked to bring up the rear, relighting blown-out candles. Jessie and her tiny classmate Meagan walked with me, singing the Lantern Walk songs. Their candles blew out. They dropped their lanterns. As a self-conscious new parent at the school I scrambled with the awkward lighter I had been entrusted with. None of this clunkiness touched the two little girls. They were content and steady as they sang and walked behind their teacher in the chilly night. I’ll never forget Meagan’s tiny voice sounding like a happy little bird as she sang “pee-wit, pee-wit, rick-a-tick-a-tick.”

One of my favorite aspects of Waldorf education is the way it spirals back to subjects studied in younger years, but in a different, age-appropriate way. I enjoyed the synchronicity of Isabel and Jessie studying Ancient Civilizations at the same time, one as a fifth grader and the other as a high school sophomore.

I was recently in a conversation with some kindergarten parents about the Waldorf kindergarten birthday celebrations. We got goosebumps remembering how difficult it could be to get through the reading of the birthday story without weeping. A beautiful story it is, about the baby sliding down the “Rainbow Bridge” at the urging of an angel, and into the waiting arms of her or his loving parents. How significant is each child! I got to have my five minutes of fame (or so it felt to me) as the “big kid” — a parent of an eighth grader. I shared, “Well, listen to this!” The eighth graders had just finished their Physiology block, which included lessons on human reproduction. My daughter’s assignment was to interview us about her own birth. Steve and I had so much fun telling her all about it. Isabel did a great job taking notes, and I was amazed at the concise essay she wrote for Main Lesson.

Part of the delight in sharing the (physiological) birth story with our eighth grader was that, just as adolescence is gearing up, with its requisite pushing away, we got to relive, with her, how absolutely amazing her arrival in our world had been. This very different telling of the story of her beginnings had the same essence as the kindergarten story: You are a miracle. We cherish you.

There are many factors that contribute to a young person’s development, to be sure, but it is clear to me that my children’s Waldorf education is key to their growth as “whole” people. Jessie is a vocal performance major in college. While this is a more specialized trajectory than that of many early undergraduates, she is a well-rounded person with a wide range of interests and skills, including interpersonal skills. I was grateful to see that it didn’t take her long to find her own community in the music school.

I treasure the memory of another Lantern Walk, this time at our current location. Isabel was in first grade. After the walk through the woods, singing the same beloved songs and carrying our lights, families and teachers gathered around the bonfire. The firelight glowed on all the contented faces, and I reveled in the community embrace of safety and love. There is nothing quite like knowing that my children are being held in a circle of warmth. Thank you, Waldorf School of Atlanta.

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I’m especially thankful to our children’s class teachers, Gavin Connor, Jim McClurkin, David Florence, and Jenny Dilworth. Also, each specialty teacher has been an indispensable part of our children’s education, and I thank you all, especially those who have accompanied our family the entire 15 years: Eleanor Winship, Francisco Moreno, and Laira Covert.

You are a miracle. We cherish you.

 ~Carol Lane
WSA Parent

lane family

This article originally appeared in the June 2011 edition of the Garden Breeze newsletter of the Waldorf School of Atlanta.

Social Inclusion at the Waldorf School of Atlanta

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At the Waldorf School of Atlanta, we believe that a healthy social life is vital to the development of the child and to the functioning of a community. In 2007, our school began a coordinated endeavor to bring deeper consciousness to social issues and to strengthen healthy social practices for all members of the community. Under the guidance of Kim John Payne, M.Ed, Founding Director of The Center for Social Sustainability, we began a three-year journey of implementing his Social Inclusion approach in our school. Parents, teachers, staff, and students are all involved in this important and inspiring work.

Students from our middle school and from our sister high school, Academe of the Oaks, serve on the Social Action Committee (SAC). These students work closely with younger students in our school, forming close relationships with them and helping to guide them through the inevitable social ups and downs that arise in childhood. In the process, the older students gain invaluable skills in leadership, communication, and conflict resolution—strengths that are sure to serve them well for life. Noreen Crowley and Joshua Gartland guide our middle school students, with Sharon Annan and MJ Randleman Smith serving as coordinators for the high school students. Now in our fourth year of this work, we have seen student interest in Social Inclusion surpass our expectations!

Adults from our community serve on the Social Inclusion Coordinating Group (SICG), whose work includes nurturing a school environment of mutual respect, safety, and inclusion; integrating Social Inclusion practices into school life; supporting teachers with students experiencing social difficulty; and monitoring student social health and making recommendations to faculty.

As adults in a Waldorf school community, we strive to act as role models worthy of the students’ emulation. In doing so, we hope to create the kind of environment where Rudolf Steiner’s Motto for a Social Ethic finds life:

The healthy social life is found

When, in the mirror of each human soul,

The whole community finds its reflection,

And when, in the community,

The virtue of each one is living.

 

~Elizabeth Roosevelt, SICG Chair

This article was originally published in the Spring 2011 Garden Breeze newsletter of the Waldorf School of Atlanta.  

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Music and the Brain

 

violin player - Lindsey Lingenfelter 125

Recently, I came across an inspiring article about music in the October 2010 scientific journal Neuroscientist, “Music Making as a Tool for Promoting Brain Plasticity across the Life Span” by Catherine Y. Wan and Gottfried Schlaug, both from Harvard Medical School.

The article has two parts. The first is a review of various recent studies about the side effects that regular music practice has. This is an impressive list. Children who practice music consistently show greater skills in auditory, motor, and vocabulary tasks, as well as abstract reasoning and mathematical functioning, than those with similar backgrounds who do not.

The article also reviews recent studies about music and aging. As is relatively well-known, active engagement with cognitive activities of all sorts is good for slowing mental decline. Music making seems to be especially effective.  A 5-year study, following people over 75 for the onset of dementia, indicated that regular playing of a musical instrument seemed to be the best way to provide protective benefit against dementia, more so than reading, writing, or doing crossword puzzles.

The second part of the article is an investigation of the effects that music has on the brain. And to make a long story short, the article shows that at all stages of life, the tangible benefits of regular practice on instruments are accompanied by impressive effects on brain structure and function.

Needless to say, playing music and entering into the feelings, ideas, and aspirations of great artists are, of themselves, inspiring and uplifting experiences. But practicing can sometimes feel tedious, and when our children complain, it is good to know that playing an instrument has important indirect educational and developmental benefits for them. So when we all as parents hit those inevitable moments of discouragement when we wonder, “Why are we insisting that our children practice their instrument every day?” we can remind ourselves that this musical practice is having profound effects on our children’s future capacities for life, potentially up through their old age.

~Eleanor Winship – Music Director

This article was originally published in the 2011 Spring Edition of the Garden Breeze Newsletter of the

Waldorf School of Atlanta 

wide short violin playing

Thoughts for Summer from the Waldorf School of Atlanta

butterfly painting

Kindergarten:

As the school year ends the children are delighted with their new freedom. Life is filled with the warm sun shining down on us all. It is as if a burden of dark and cold has been lifted. It is time to be out, to shed clothes and shoes…to really feel the earth and grass on bare feet and connect with the light of the sun and stars. It is summer. Children have all the time in the world!

We parents are delighted when our children are happy and resilient. Children are more patient, tolerant, flexible, and happy when their life flows rhythmically. Rhythm isn’t a schedule. Schedules are goal oriented. Rhythm is life oriented. It is ebb and flow, again and again and again… with little variations on the way.

Follow this recipe to create your summer rhythm: repeating days, weeks, and traditions to make the summer season full, rich, and memorable. Even those of us who work can create days and weeks that have that summer feel.

*Take a few activities you love and that make it feel like summer such as:

Rolling in the grass, riding bikes, jump rope, swinging…

Swimming, grilling, working in the garden, blowing bubbles…

Walking to the park/lake/pool/creek, natural places to wade/play/build a dam

Concert in the park, camping in the back yard, hiking, making/eating popsicles…

Camping trip, hiking, visiting Grandma and Grandpa for a week, some summer camp days

 

Decide if these are daily, weekly, or seasonal activities…

*Add in daily/weekly activities such as chores that need to be done, grocery shopping, laundry, food prep, cleaning house, … Your children are such capable human beings. It is healthy for them to participate in the life of the family. It can even be a disservice to a child to always have things done for them.

* Downtime to do nothing! …Find beautiful stones and four-leaf clovers, Give your children time to breathe (and yourself too)! Give them the gift of time to get “bored”. It is actually healthy for your child to not know what to do. It takes an inner strength of will to pull one’s self out of that seemingly empty place. What a gift when the creative juices start flowing! How empowering!

*Combine and Alternate

Inside time/ outside time

Loud times /quiet times

Silly times/focused times = breathing in and out…breathing is healthy!

Regular meal times!

Sleep time: Kinder children still need to get those same 10-12 hours sleep each night and a nap/quiet time in the afternoon. Even on vacations children (young and old) need rhythm and sleep… and the adults too!

So, give your children time to feel the warmth of the sun on their skin, see the dust sparkle in the sunlight, smell new mown grass, hear the insects hum as they work…and breathe your days in and out… enjoy your summertime.

 

~Annamay Keeney

Kindergarten Teacher

bicycle

Grades 1-5:

As the summer months approach, the long days of summer seem like a dream come true. But after the first few weeks, many families struggle to find rewarding things to do with their children.  Of course there are wide range of camps available both at WSA and throughout the community but what else is there to do? Here are some fun, easy, and inexpensive ways to keep busy.

1. Become an investigative reporter – with a camera, students can take pictures of the world around them and make up stories to go with their pictures.

2. Gather up old greeting cards and create puzzles or collages.

3. Have your child make an obstacle course in the backyard and have the family take turns going through it. Who can complete the course in the fastest time?

4. Make a terrarium.

5. Find a place to volunteer with your child.

6. Invent board games

7. Explore making paper airplanes.

8. Create a sculpture with recyclable materials

9. Stargazing & story telling

10. Skip stones at the river

11. See a Shakespeare Play

12. Learn how to paddle a canoe

13. Hang and monitor a bird feeder

14. Celebrate a summer holiday (even if you make up your own)

15. Make Homemade Ice Cream!

Grades 6-8:

1. Encourage children to take on responsibility in areas of interest to them. (Volunteer at a veterinarian’s office, senior center or theatre.)

2. Physically challenge your children with activities like Outward Bound, hiking, white water rafting, rock climbing, water skiing or horseback riding.

3. Take them on an adventure with a purpose, i.e., not just a hike, but a hike to find the perfect camp site; not just a bike ride, but a bike ride to a lake for a swim.

4. Give them a job that will teach them to master a new skill (knot tying, bike repair, planning, shopping and preparing for a weekly dinner, building a camp fire, laying a stone path, tending a garden). Practical work will help them feel more competent.

5. Build a fort, shelter or tree house with your child.

6. Visit or volunteer on a farm (interactions with large animals help children learn how to adapt to another being’s needs).

7. Allow time for boredom. Let your child arrive at their own ideas for an activity, using imagination and initiative.

Often children have issues with focus and persistence in the face of obstacles. Encourage your child with activities such as these to help build their will, patience, motor skills, and sense of discipline.

 

This article originally appeared in the June 2011 issue of the Garden Breeze Newsletter of the Waldorf School of Atlanta.

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Advent at the Waldorf School of Atlanta

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Thoughts for Advent

 Asleep is the soul of the Earth

In Summer’s heat,

While the Sun’s outward glory

Rays through the realms of space.

Awake is the Soul of Earth

In Winter’s cold,

While the Sun’s inmost Being

Lightens in Spirit.

Summer’s day of joy

For Earth is sleep.

Winter’s holy night

For Earth is day.

~ Rudolf Steiner

 

Rudolf Steiner relays a beautiful image of Advent.  At this time of darkening days, there is an inner light in the depths of each Human Being’s and the Earth’s soul.  The rising cold which marks the winter season is our invitation to look deeply within our own being and freely radiate warmth and light to all around us.  With our dear partner Earth, we live through the season’s changes to bring renewal of life and beauty to all the magnificent kingdoms on Earth.

The gift of light we shall thankfully take

But it shall not be alone for our sake

The more we give light the one to the other

It grows and gives light and shines even farther

~Ashley du Pont

Community Chair

This article originally appeared in the December 2011 edition of the Garden Breeze Newsletter of the Waldorf School of Atlanta.  

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Anthroposophy at the Waldorf School of Atlanta

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In the 1500, Rene Descartes challenged our understanding of self with ‘I doubt therefore I think, I think, therefore I am’ and opened up the world of scientific inquiry. Science today investigates phenomena at the molecular level and finds all suddenly changed: what we thought previously about the activity of a given factor at this level in a cellular process has been found to play an opposite roll in other circumstances. Does this mean there is flow and thought, freedom and movement at this level? Does “systems biology” open up almost unimaginable levels of complexity, or does it bring us back to more basic truth? At this time of year as we gaze into the starry heavens populated with uncountable numbers of stars, we remind ourselves that while man is the thinking animal, he is also a being capable of love, and love is found most poignantly when we give it to another. As we move into the holiday season of many religions we are reminded by the candle light of those celebrations that it is our love that lights these long dark days of winter, illuminating complex systems of giving and receiving, of freedom to be new and different in every moment, which, as we are learning from molecular biology, is our heritage and our destiny.

~Sara Walsh
Administrator

This article appeared originally in the December 2011 edition of the Garden Breeze newsletter.  Visit us online at www.waldorfatlanta.org . 

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The Advent Garden at the Waldorf School of Atlanta

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As with so many festivals of early Winter, bringing light into the darkness is the essence of the Advent Garden. The form of the involuting and outgoing spiral was one that Dr. Rudolf Steiner gave as a form recommended to walk involving the whole child and their sensory systems. Form drawing is part of the curriculum in Waldorf schools, and children experience these forms in many ways, drawing them and walking them for instance. Around 1923 children in the first Waldorf Schools walked this form, but it was not until around 1926 when Bavarian farmers and a German nurse came together to create the custom of the garden. They laid out the spiral with moss and evergreens with a central candle, which was raised on a mount. The candles were brought in, carried by each child as they walked the spiral holding their apple with the candle in it. As they came to the center and lit their candle they placed it along the path on their way out, and the garden glowed with light.

This experience of beauty, music and solitude resonate with this time of outer darkness, and renewing our inner light. Diwali, Winter Solstice, Chanukah, Kwanzaa and Christmas are some of the festivals that include this element of light, along with the qualities of mystery, gratitude, generosity, and the upholding of high ideals kindled within us.

The children experience coming into a darkened room, hearing lyre, violin, guitar or flute music playing softly, and waiting their turn to receive the apple with an unlit candle and being led to the beginning of the path. They walk the path showing us all so much by how they navigate their way, and their own special walk. It is beautiful to watch, and hold with reverence. The children experience this wonder without explanation. The event has of course brought some parents to quiet tears, or a very quiet chuckle – or both, as they watch their child and dear classmates.

At the Waldorf School of Atlanta this festival is for kindergarten through second grade. Some classes have extended it in different forms further into the grades with a labyrinth or walking outside at night. Some classes let it “rest” after second and then bring the essence of this festival in a different way. The high school students at Academe of the Oaks look forward to walking the spiral again, understanding in a whole new way what they experienced when they were little.

“What a different time it is today, how much greater is the need, the need to go into the darkness, spreading the light as we go out.” ~ Christof-Andreas Lindenberg

~Annie Sommerville-Hall

Preschool/Kindergarten Teacher

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This article originally appeared in the December 2011 edition of the Garden Breeze newsletter of the Waldorf School of Atlanta. 

 

Waldorf School of Atlanta Reaches Worldwide

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I have just returned from an inspiring trip teaching toning and singing, music pedagogy, pentatonic lyre, and anthroposophical music background to Waldorf teachers in Thailand and New Zealand.  WSA is part of a worldwide movement with over 900 Waldorf schools. To actually meet and get to know some of my overseas colleagues and be able to picture them in their own environment with all their challenges brings this picture of Waldorf as a global, mutually supportive movement into much more concrete perspective. It was invigorating to experience these wonderful colleagues on the other side of the world. They met our work with great enthusiasm!

My first impression of Bangkok was of an overcrowded, unplanned, sprawling, hectic megapolisa city badly in need of a human vision such as Waldorf education inculcates. In the last fifteen years, Bangkok initiatives have created two Waldorf schools, one independent kindergarten, and a kindergarten training. It was inspiring to see how the pioneers of the Thai Waldorf movement combine the spiritual traditions of their own country with Anthroposophy to bring Waldorf to Thailand. In the course I taught there were around sixty teachers and student-teachers, some from China, Taiwan, Malaysia, and India, as well as Thailand itself. I worked with a translator, but the students were enthusiastic, and especially satisfying were the moments when we were all communicating through the music we were creating (also satisfying were the delicious homecooked dishes with which the students treated me!). Flood waters were steadily rising as I was teaching in Bangkok. The river overflowed after I had left, causing many thousands to flee the city. I was glad to hear that my wonderful hostess was safely at her mother’s home.

New Zealand, whose population is less than half the size of metro Atlanta’s, has a flourishing Waldorf movement with nine established schools and new initiatives springing up. Most of their schools are integrated into the state educational system, which is a mixed blessing, since they are also required to follow state regulations and organizational requirements. I heard my colleagues’ concern as the state continues to assert more control along with its financial support.

The theme of the New Zealand conference was “joy.” I was the main speaker and artist, and any worries I might have had about delivering on that theme were quickly lifted by the joyous musicality of the hundred or so teachers in attendance. We were soon launched into lively musical and movement exercises, ringing six part rounds, and beautiful group lyre playing and improvisation.

New Zealand seemed like a green, uncrowded paradise, although the problems of the world were literally lapping against its shores as I arrived. The conference was in the oceanside city of Tauranga, and from the house where I was staying I could see the tanker which had run against a reef the previous week and created the largest oil spill in New Zealand’s history. You could smell the oil from the conference, the beach was closed, and the local economy was reeling.

It was amazing to fly back from the New Zealand springtime to our colorful autumn here, and it is good to be back again. I’d like to thank the Core for giving me the professional release time and everyone for supporting the music program and teachers in my absence. As a world wide movement, we have a lot to give to and learn from each other, and it was important and generous of WSA to show this support.

~Eleanor Winship

Music Director

 

This article originally appeared in the December 2011 edition of the Garden Breeze newsletter of the Waldorf School of Atlanta. 

Linden Tree Photography 2011 Lantern Walk 025