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Every year the entire third grade at the Waldorf School of Saratoga Springs performs a play entirely in French. It is the hardest challenge for the students who have been studying the language in class since grade 1. “In third grade the child is eager for harder work,” says Patricia Hrebenach, the French teacher for grades 1-8, “for this play, we work from a written script but I don’t give it to the students to read. Instead, we work on the play through gesture and repetition. They come to understand the meaning of the play by assigning French words to the actions more organically.” Ms. Therrien’s third graders waved their French flags proudly as they sung “Le Marseilles” at the start of their French Market play. Soon the audience was introduced to the characters who frequented “Le Marché Parisien.” Over the next thirty minutes, they performed the trials and tribulations at the market until finally a student stepped forward and said “Le fin”!
Meanwhile, Ms. Ravenstar’s seventh grade was preparing to spend a week in Quebec. The trip includes a stay in Quebec City and dog sledding further up north. “This trip gives the students incentive to do the difficult task of orally communicating in French, which also gives the student a sense of independence that empowers them to risk speaking to native Quebecois” says Hrebenach. While in Quebec, the students learn about the culture as well as the language. Eating escargot and going on a scavenger hunt through old Quebec gives them a real sense of place. The trip will culminate with a written report (in French) about their experiences.
These two events are the highlights of the lower and middle school curriculum of the Waldorf school. Madame Hrebenach explains that “our classes are designed to give students a sense of the language, and through that sense, a better understanding of the different cultures that bring a language to life.”
Research has shown that younger students learn languages much more easily than older ones. Students who learn a second language have improved cognitive abilities, better problem-solving skills, a stronger memory, and many other advantages (https://www.actfl.org/advocacy/what-the-research-shows). In fact, a recent article put it simply that learning a second language “makes you smarter” (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/educationopinion/10126883/Why-learn-a-foreign-language-Benefits-of-bilingualism.html)
None of this mattered to the Waldorf third graders at the moment. Ms. Therrien’s class was beaming at the end of the play, and happily went about cleaning up while munching on the baguette and cake that made up some of the props today. Ms. Ravenstar’s class watched the performance today, knowing they themselves are a weekend away from being completely immersed in French language and culture.
One of the most important decisions a parent can make for their child is education. While we’re fortunate to have a diverse number of education options in Saratoga Springs for early childhood as well as elementary and high school, it’s important to understand what sets the Waldorf Education apart from everything else that’s out there.
A Brief Overview of the Waldorf Approach
At the Waldorf School of Saratoga Springs, we have a strong desire to cultivate academic knowledge, artistic work and practical skills in our students to be a part of the community and make a difference.
A Waldorf education is distinct from traditional teaching methods. Our students first become familiar with the material they are learning in a way that fosters a deep understanding of curriculum, transforming facts into knowledge. Instead of memorizing material, students find context and meaning in their studies.
So… Why Waldorf?
The Waldorf education system offers a learning experience like no other. Founded on the belief that all humans have the ability for self-improvement, spiritual growth, and the potential to change the world around them, our goal is to enrich each student’s capacity for imagination and aim to inspire a life-long love for learning and reverence for life. At Waldorf, children are taught in such a way that they face the world reflectively with kindness and the conviction to confront and transform the world around them.
At our school, we want and encourage our students to be confident and eager to enter a life of individual initiative and social responsibility, giving them the opportunity to set themselves apart rather than focus on fitting in.
With an emphasis on the arts, plenty of outdoor education and a hands-on learning approach, the teachers at Waldorf educate the students with capacities of thinking, feeling and doing that allows students to learn by encountering the world.
The benefits of a Waldorf education will transcend far beyond traditional education. As Waldorf students move out into the world, they do so with a great amount of social, emotional, and environmental intelligence. Even more, these individuals find great happiness in their career paths and remain life-long students with a close relationship to education.
Derek Wacks, a student visiting The Waldorf School of Saratoga Springs last month, wrote down his experience from his day spent at the school:
Classes may begin with a greeting from the teacher and a warm good-morning smile. Everyone settles in as a question is raised and the teacher responds with a follow-up question. Fellow classmates chime in as the conversation flows between topics, floating over anecdotes relevant to the course material. I forget we are in a classroom, as the lesson progresses as a conversation.
While the teacher may guide the discussion in a particular direction, it is up to the students to choose the path they take. The students meander along at a steady rate as they discover breakthroughs in their understandings of the topic at hand. Discussions intensify into heated debates, then digress into jokes one might make at the family dinner table. A mere hour into the day and I feel as if I am joining a tightly knit group of peers, faculty and student alike.
Architecture with the senior class, taught by Mr. Fron and Mr. Whitney, comes to a close and the worn wooden floors of the small homely building creak as students bustle to their next destination within the hallowed walls. I migrate with the small senior class of eight kids through the school. We pass students and teachers, everyone catching up, talking of school work and weekend plans, all absorbed in conversation.
We arrive in Ms. Lovenduski’s calculus class and a test is handed out. It reads like a story, requiring the use of calculus along the way. After giving an answer, an explanation is required. Woven into Waldorf’s teaching style is the idea that students should have a genuine understanding of the topic at hand. There is familiarization with learned material so that it may find a niche in the student’s mind and evolve into knowledge. Rather than memorize a list of important facts, dates, or equations, students have a sincere intimacy with the information. This enables them to give the information context and meaning.
Later in the day I arrive at Eurythmy. An enjoyable experience in and of itself, it is the integration of self-expression and inner peacefulness that explores the magnetism of the being. I left Mrs. Brashares’ class feeling oddly relaxed and fulfilled.
The nature of learning at Waldorf is built upon deep rooted understanding. Children adventuring from a thick, sturdy trunk of confidence and curiosity reach the tips of branches where flowers are budding. These flowers blossom into beautiful epiphanies and Ahhh’s, as class material clicks into place.
A visit to Waldorf feels more meaningful than simply attending classes. The visit entails being a part of a bigger family. Each member of this family cares immensely for one another. That is the most significant aspect of the school I found myself moved by.
*Blog Written By Amelia Vinsel – Class of 2014
As someone who attended a Waldorf school since preschool, my education was pretty much completely free of computers, the internet, and the media industry. In the lower grades, we worked in a way that was completely independent of the use of most modern technology of any kind. In high school, while we did use computer programs to type papers, we were always encouraged to use sources other than those found on the internet for our research, and we had absolutely no computer science classes at all.
Now, as a college student, I’m majoring in Communications with a concentration in Creative Media Production, a field that relies heavily on the use of computers and the various advancements in media technology. In my courses, I work with sound, video, and even web-based interactive media, both creating new material and examining media texts that have already been made. When I tell my fellow students and friends about my pre-college education, they’re often very surprised that I would choose to go into a field so focused on media and technology. One might think that my Waldorf education would put me at a disadvantage in college-level production classes, especially since most of the technology and programs I’m now using were completely new to me. However, I actually find myself just as prepared (if not even more so) to work with creative media as many of my fellow students.
I feel as though my independence from computers and the media industry in my childhood now helps me be able to view the media from a very objective angle. For those who grow up completely and constantly engulfed by the internet and all the media targeted towards children and young people, the media landscape can sometimes become a sort of second reality, and it’s hard to separate oneself from it. What one sees on television and in advertisements, hears in popular music, and/or views in video games might sometimes seem like a direct reflection of the truth, when it is in fact just as much of a human construction as a painting or a book is.
Since I grew up somewhat separate from this massive and constantly expanding phenomenon that is the media landscape around us, I was able to easily develop a sort of “media literacy”- that is, I’m able to examine and understand the meanings and implications of different media texts in a way that I feel I might not have been able to had my pre-college education not been what it was. I can then take these observations and apply them to the texts I myself am making, and can give my work so much more intention and awareness. In short, I feel that I have an edge that I think many others may not have, or may have more trouble developing in themselves.
Although I’m studying in a field that I had no concrete experience in before college, I wouldn’t change a thing about my childhood education and I feel endlessly thankful for the skills I’ve learned through Waldorf education and the way they now serve me. Yes, there were times when learning how to use certain computer programs was somewhat difficult. But when it comes right down to it, the basic usage of a computer program is really much less than half the battle when it comes to the production of any sort of creative media, from music and sound production to web design. Once you know how to use the program, you have only the barest of the tools necessary to be able to produce something creative and impactful.
In my opinion, the most important skill someone in the media industry can possess is simply the ability to think creatively, to be able to come up with a way to use the combination of material (images, video footage, sound recordings, etc.) and computer programming to create and produce something new and original. Throughout lower and high school, I was working creatively in so many different ways and with so many different media, from music to painting to handwork to theater. To take the artistic skill I had learned through this and translate it to media production felt natural. Mastering the technical skill takes some work, but I have all the building blocks available to me.
The hardest part about writing the college essay is picking one moment in your life that you feel captures your existence so completely that it should determine your future. The Common Application asks seventeen year olds to choose that moment, then write about it, using only 650 words. Not many high school seniors have lived through such a pivotal experience yet; I certainly haven’t. But it’s part of the Common App and necessary to apply to college, so most people have had or will have to do it.
My class and I were fortunate enough to have the opportunity to workshop our essays as part of our English class. This relieved some stress for us not only because we felt supported in the process, but also because we were allotted some time to really focus on them, amidst all of our other classes and things going on. This also meant that we needed to put ourselves out there. Each one of us read our essays aloud, and the floor was open to constructive criticism. We all did multiple drafts, and continued to accept feedback until there was no more!
There was no one poignant moment in my life that I knew I needed to write about, so I chose my topic based on one of the given essay questions. The prompt “Discuss an accomplishment or event, formal or informal, that marked your transition from childhood to adulthood within your culture, community, or family,“ reminded me of the unique feeling of taking care of children while on the Ethiopia trip last year. Although this was an important experience for me to have, it was definitely not the moment when I saw the light and my life changed forever. However, I was able to give some colleges a small glimpse into an impactful experience of mine, and that’s the most one can really hope for.
My biggest struggle while writing this essay was attempting to accurately portray myself. I needed to sound impressive- but I also needed to sound like me. Something tricky about constructing this essay is finding the balance between being the “perfect” college-bound student and being authentic. Presenting yourself well is important, but in my opinion presenting yourself honestly is critical. Students should go to a college that truly fits who they are, and this essay could be the only piece of their application that really shows a school that. It’s better not to lie in your college essay only to end up at a school where you can’t succeed.
So the pressure’s on. Or is it? You can choose to mold yourself into the young genius and wholesome Samaritan you think they want to read about, or you can give colleges an opportunity to read about who you actually are. We should all keep in mind that anything you write that is truthful and authentic will get you where you need to go… even though it may take time to realize it!
To read my college essay, Click Here.
The excitement surrounding random acts of kindness is something that should never come to an end. As we’ve seen more and more random acts of kindness go unnoticed in the news and on Social Media channels, it’s important to remember that doing something nice for someone else, regardless of the time of year, shouldn’t be done for attention. Rather, a random act of kindness should be done simply because you feel like doing something nice for someone else and spreading kindness to others.
So why is it important to spread kindness, especially during the holidays? Well, during a time when people have become overwhelmed by to-do lists, anxious about buying the right gifts for friends and family, or even the stress of having a holiday party, it’s important to remember that aside from the presents and the extravagant meals, a big smile or a hug can be much more meaningful and can even make a person’s day!
As we get right into the heart of the holiday season, it’s the perfect time to start (if you haven’t already) teaching your children about kindness and how to spread it on an on-going basis! Here are some ideas for random acts of kindness that you can easily do with your kids:
- Donate old toys before getting new gifts
- Take cookies to the police or fire station
- Hold the door open for someone
- Shop for a toy to donate to Toys for Tots
- Leave a bucket of Milk Bones at the local dog park with a note saying “Happy Holidays!”
- Sing Christmas Carols to the residents at a retirement home
Seems pretty easy, right? Remember this holiday season to take a step back from the hustle and bustle and to think about what really makes a difference. The earlier your children learn to take this approach as well, the better their perception of the holiday season and why this is the best time of the year to spread kindness and cheer!
The Simpsons gave a well-crafted, comic shout out to Waldorf Education during their Season 26 finale for 2015 — “Mathlete’s Feat”, which aired May 17, 2015.
Waldorf-centric Plot Summary:
After a scathing math competition defeat, tech bigwigs take pity on Springfield Elementary and outfit the school with all the latest technology. But Principal Skinner’s ineptitude leads to a server farm crash and the school loses all tech, which the students only used to watch Game of Thrones. This is when Lisa comes up with an idea that will save the school — “Learning while Doing.” Springfield Elementary becomes a Waldorf School!
From there the students learn by doing in tongue-in-cheek fashion — calculating the cubic feet of styrofoam to add to the sloppy joe mix, pouring pints of beer in fractions, wearing required sun hats, and singing songs of acceptance, love and diversity. In the end, their new Waldorf Education helps them win the mathlete rematch by transforming an M into nine non-overlapping triangles.
Here’s a clip in case you missed it!
The Simpsons Writer Insight:
Math – Mathematics education is very advanced in Waldorf schools. Math is revealed to students as a useful and real part of everyday life. Numbers, processes and then mathematical concepts are introduced through doing — counting and holding, paper folding, musical interval training, and calculations to create rope and pulley systems are just a few examples of how math is taught in Waldorf schools. We are not surprised that the Springfield Waldorf School could answer such a difficult final math equation to win the math competition. The challenge of drawing the nine non-overlapping triangles mimics the lessons in form drawings taught in our curriculum — another intersection of math, art, and doing experienced in Waldorf Education.
Sun Hats – Why of course! Waldorf students are prepared for all weather, at all times. Why? Because, unlike many of their non-Waldorf peers, they still play outdoors for recess 3-4 times a day and also have classes outdooring such as science, physical education and gardening. Of course, hats for our adults are optional and they’re not required indoors. Nor is tie dye a requirement.
Technology – In the episode, Marge reads a pamphlet which says, “Waldorf Education: When you have Given up on the Modern World.” Considering the popularity of Waldorf Education among the children of Silicon Valley tech executives, this is clearly not quite the case, but it had been a stereotype of the past. Waldorf Educators simply feel there are better ways, more hands on and complex ways to teach young children how to learn. Technology is introduced to secondary education children, which as Skinner notes in the episode is “Not our Problem.”
Textbooks – There are no textbooks in Waldorf Education, it’s true. But there are many, many books. They are just not the ones provided to the state by textbook companies. Instead our students are presented material by teachers from classics and mainstream books on relevant topics, where they then take notes and reflect on lessons while creating their own “Main Lesson” books. These books become both catalogs and resources for learning.
We are honored to have been featured in such a positive light on The Simpsons Season Finale and are anxiously awaiting further information about which writers, perhaps Waldorf parents or alumni themselves, were involved in the episode’s creation. As a thank you, and a responding shout out of sorts, our schools have been paying tribute to The Simpsons. A collective of handmade hats is being created to send to The Simpsons writers. The Waldorf School of Philadelphia is having students create beeswax figures of The Simpsons characters to share online and with The Simpsons execs. And the São Paulo, Brazil Waldorf school has done an amazing rendition of The Simpsons Theme Song, as a tribute to this mainstream recognition.
Want to learn more about Waldorf education (that the Simpsons MAY not have covered) or to take a tour of our school? Contact Rich Youmans, our admissions director, at 518-587-2224 or firstname.lastname@example.org today!
Now that spring is, well, “springing” I spoke to Carly Lynn, one of the lead teachers of the Forest Kindergarten about what it’s like to teach students outside everyday in the winter in upstate New York.
It’s been really cold this winter. Do you all still go outside?
There has never been a day we have not gone outside. Of course, if it was dangerous to the children we would not go out, but part of what we value in the kindergarten is readying ourselves for outdoor play, and braving the elements, no matter what they are, and even if for just a short amount of time. So, yes, we go outside every day, and we are grateful now for the more spring like weather when we can be out longer!
What kind of weather keeps you from going outside or makes you bring the kids in?
Thunder/lightening storm would send us in, and when it is bitterly cold we abbreviate our time outside. Hurricanes, tornadoes…
How do the children stay warm? How do the teachers stay warm?
The teachers dress in many layers, and so do the children. The parents are great in being sure that the children always have an underlay (wool is best) and usually a couple of layers over that, with a nice heavy sweater is wonderful. We can always take off layers if we get too hot. Our first parent evening this year, we shrunk cashmere and wool sweaters and made little vests for the children. The ones whose parents finished them keep them at school and put them on when they come inside. It is a nice warm, and cute extra layer to keep their core warm.
Why do we make the kids stay outside when it’s cold?
We don’t “make” them stay out, if they were very miserable we would make accommodations, but we highly encourage it because we feel that in order to nurture the child’s connection with our world, with nature, they must have an experience of it daily, so to see, feel, smell, touch, the changes that occur every day, even within hours of a morning it can change dramatically – like today – rain this a.m., then sun, then lots of wind and even some snowflakes. Each element and change brings a new experience and different opportunity for play.
What do the kids do outside during the winter? What do they learn?
The children do many things at the Forest Kindergarten in the winter – they help build fires, we are now boiling sap, we feed and care for our chickens, and see that they lay far fewer eggs in the darker months, and now they are laying so much again, we sled and pull each other in the sleds, we eat snow, we find animal tracks, we build tee-pees, climb trees, make snowmen, dig in the snow, make all kinds of soups, cakes, in our buckets with snow and ice, we skate on the ice at “Icy Bear”, we build forts, we snowshoe, we tire ourselves out and have a lot of fun!!
What’s the best thing about being at a forest kindergarten in the winter?
The best thing is witnessing all the changes. It is invigorating to be out in the cold, it is empowering to trudge through the deep snow and get to our place of play, and it is beautiful to see the light change, and now it is magical to see the return of all the animals, to taste the sweet water from our maple tree, and play in the mud!! It was a long and wonderful winter!
The Waldorf curriculum leads the students on a journey through the feeling life of color. Winter is a wonderful time to explore the color blue. We paint the frosty ice blue of snowy fields and icicles, the cold aquamarine of the sea, the quiet indigo expanse of the nighttime sky , and the moonlight on a frozen pond. Each color journey cultivates the child’s connection with their natural world.
[Ed. Note – the links are provided by me to help those who haven’t taken Mrs. Lovenduski’s class!]
In Calculus, we start by hearing out and thinking upon Zeno’s Paradoxes. Inherent within his paradoxes is the questions ” Is motion possible? and, if so, how?” In working with these questions we also wrestle with; how does one gauge or calculate out motion and what is instantaneous velocity?
We begin our journey to reconcile the Dichotomy paradox with an introduction to sequences, summations and series. We develop the Power Series Formula and then expand that concept to arrive at the Infinite Power Series Formula. The fundamental concept of limits is discovered and wrestled with. We use the Infinite Power Series Formula to disprove Zeno’s Dichotomy Paradox and reconcile that motion is not an illusion and that instantaneous velocity must be possible. Following in the footsteps of Newton, we commence our journey to calculate instantaneous velocity.
We work through average velocity and develop a way to calculate instantaneous velocity, which leads us to the difference quotient. Through many lengthy calculations, the students begin to yearn for a short-cut and they soon discover a pattern that follows their work. We now have the tool of being able to apply the derivative using the power rule, the addition rule and the constant rule.
Next, we follow in the footsteps of Leibniz and look at how one could calculate the area under any given curve. Starting with the Left-hand Sum and Right-hand Sum calculations, the students quickly see the need for limits and again search for a short-cut through their lengthy calculations. Quickly, they find the pattern and we now have the ability to apply the anti-derivative and to integrate, landing on the Fundamental Theorem of Calculus.
This block pushes the students to explore questions through different vantage points and to find the connections that will lead them to the universal concepts underlying the answers.