It seems like setting up the school calendar should be a fairly straightforward endeavor, right? After 15 years, we ought to be able to navigate around some dates and schedule events without incident. Furthermore, our ongoing diversity studies should have made us more aware and a little more culturally nimble. Yet, we are–still, and always– learning, and earlier this year we made a scheduling error. We tried to remedy the mistake and didn’t quite succeed. Fortunately, we worked through it and had a fruitful meeting parents who took the time to come speak with us. As a result, we have built in a few more institutional fail-safes for scheduling our school year.
Diversity studies probably won’t prevent us from making mistakes, but they will help us move to resolution and remedy much more quickly. Undertaking cultural competencies work has opened us up to question and discuss things we haven’t seen as an issue before, such as dress ‘norms’ for students. We do what we can to educate ourselves and yet, we are each most familiar with our own experience. We rely on others to tell us where we’ve gone wrong, and in taking up the topic of diversity, our school has made the pledge to listen and improve.
A picture of a giant slab of butter can induce me to read just about anything. This morning when this New York Times article came through my twitter feed, I moved on over to the big screen desktop to examine that butter hunk in earnest. My hope was that the answer to the article’s title question, Can Exercise Protect the Brain From Fatty Foods?, would be an unequivocal ‘yes’. I was rewarded for the effort of my click, for ‘yes’ was indeed the answer.
Some of us might read the article from the point of view of a person who enjoys fats and hopes to escape the negative consequences of a bacon-laden morning by grabbing the running shoes and heading out to beat the Alzheimer’s back. When I read that article, rather than think of my own less-than-ideal eating habits, I immediately thought of how much movement there is in one of our school days. Morning circle, jumping rope, eurythmy, javelin practice, two recess periods in the grade school, regular walks, twice-weekly movement class, hours of active play in early childhood classes–it goes on. We’ve heard much about how movement helps students learn, and we know it’s important for learning, brain development, and health. This was the first time I had seen something about how movement can counteract the negative impact of fatty foods on the brain. That made me feel good about our emphasis on healthy movement all over again.
Throughout the day, our students take part in movement activities that are designed to help them learn and grow. Jumping rope while reciting the times tables, learning parts of speech through specific movements in eurythmy, or working with body geography while counting by fours, sixes, or eights, work directly on academic retention. Movement classes focus on gross motor coordination and build a stronger body. Circle story activities in the early childhood are comprised of movements that help children develop motor coordination and neural pathways via developmental moves that target balance, crossing the midline, and fine motor skills for writing. We know that our extensive movement curriculum has many intentional benefits. Yet this morning, here was a benefit I hadn’t known about: movement can counteract some poor eating habits. Now if I could just get my teenage son to go for a run after that cheeseburger.
When building the bin, Mrs. Jordan explored different locations for the finished product. She opted not to put it on the BWS portion of the St. Mark’s campus because of possible odor and potential rodent problems. Instead, Mrs. Jordan contacted St. Marks’ Clerke of the Works, Alan du Puy and offered to place the bin near the St. Mark’s kitchen behind Bloedel Hall. St. Mark’s was very grateful to have the bin, and has needed one for over a year. The new compost bin was made from reclaimed wood that was procured by parent Bob Moss.
Two students (pictured at right) from Grade Five visited my office today to request permission to put up a poster. On seeing the theme of their broadside, I asked if I could interview them about it for the blog.
Ten fifth graders have formed a group called The Environment and Animals Group, or, as they like to call it, the EA. The focus of the EA is to help the environment and animals “However we can. Some animals are in a bad situation with where they are living. We are trying to help.”, said member Cedar Lily. One of the things the group has talked about is the impact the 520 bridge construction will have on wildlife. Initially concerned about how the new bridge might displace the beaver population, the EA discovered that the fish would be the most likely to be affected.
The EA believes that they can have the most positive impact by identifying ways in which citizens can take simple steps to change how they do things. They are making posters to inform the school about proper recycling because, “Putting the wrong thing in the recycling means it can ruin all the recycling.”, says EA member Luna. When asked about what students and parents could do to help, they offered the following suggestions:
To help animals:
- Walk your pet and feed it healthy food.
- Check the brands you use to see if it is tested on animals
- Turn off the light when you leave the room.
- Turn off the water as you wash your hands and brush your teeth.
The group meets weekly during their lunch recess. They are well-organized and have a facilitator, a note-taker, and a time-keeper. At present, the group is only open to fifth graders. They tell me this is because they are trying to develop their focus and message, and get a couple of projects under their belt before they think about a wider membership.
Every Wednesday morning, I have drop-in office hours. I begin my day greeting parents and children as they arrive in the front lobby. The Minnows preschool room is just off the lobby, and those of us in the office usually see and hear some Minnows children each day.
This morning as I was just about to leave the lobby, Minnows Assistant Teacher Andi Galliher stepped out of her classroom to put her ‘outdoor’ shoes in her cubby and put on her ‘indoor’ shoes. I remarked on what a jolly time the Minnows seemed to be having on Tuesday morning, given the amount of laughter coming from the room. Mrs. Galliher said the children were sharing ‘pocket-size’ stories at snack time. Her use of the term ‘pocket-size’ made me smile.
Using imagery creates a pictorial metaphor that can facilitate conceptual understanding.
If you are lucky enough to spend any time with a Waldorf early childhood teacher, you will find yourself entranced by their imaginative use of language. When Andi dropped ‘pocket-size stories’ into the conversation, I could see the length of the story and the rules that went with it. If it’s time for a pocket-size story, you know big it should be even if you are small. It’s much more understandable (to all ages!) than ‘make it short so that others can have a turn’. If one of the children’s stories becomes a bit too lengthy, the teacher will ask, “Does that story fit in your pocket or should we save it for outdoors?”.
Using imagery creates a pictorial metaphor that can facilitate conceptual understanding by sparking inspiration in the student. Learning happens best when we’re interested and inspired, and when a subject or concept is brought in a way that can touch our personal experience, we can absorb it more easily. This may seem obvious in regards to older learners, and one might excuse the imagery employed by early childhood teachers as merely something that is fun for the little ones. However, those little ones are learning too, even though it looks like playtime all morning long. Much of what they need to learn is social. Successful interactions at an early age mean a youngster has a greater likelihood to productively and positively engage in learning, work, and their community when they are older. How well we relate to one another impacts to our sense of well-being.
A pocket-size story doesn’t seem like much. But it quietly expands into a longer narrative that essentially means, “Yes, I will save some time to hear from you. I’ll be considerate about my sharing time so you can have yours”. When Ms. Galliher says it’s time for a pocket-size story, she’s saying, “Don’t talk too long, so that everyone can have a turn”. A young child doesn’t have a concept of time. They do know what their pocket is and what fits into it: a chestnut, a rock, maybe a couple of acorns. That’s it. They can grasp the concept of a pocket-size story. Within it is a message that will unfold with time as they are continually guided, via their teachers’ use of imagery, to be considerate of those around them, to care for others, and to be a helper. Those are things they can put in their pocket and carry for life.
Submitted by Megan T:
The start of the new school year brought with it a fun, interactive new block: Organic Chemistry. Our year kick-started with a rainbow array of color, delicious foods, and shocking surprises. Within this block, we went in-depth with many of our ideas, learned about complex reactions, and discovered what really takes place under the surface of common, everyday experiments. The best of our experiences included soap and cheese-making workshops within our classroom as well as burning, stirring, mixing and melting various sugars, starches, salts, dairy, and proteins.
The day our class shared the most laughs in Organic Chemistry will never be forgotten. Mrs. Climenhage had us chew up unsalted saltine crackers. We grimaced as we all chewed up the bland crackers and struggled against swallowing. All of us then proceeded to spit the crackers into a clear jar, gagging on the cracker remains and choked laughter. Of course, such actions provided the necessary starch sample for the experiment that was to follow. To say the least, this block will remain in my memory forever as a fun, challenging, and exciting experience.
A description of the experiment pictured above is provided by Duncan K:
This is one of my favorite experiments from our chemistry block. We did this experiment outside, as the combination of steam and sulfur dioxide in the fumes is caustic.
We began the experiment by pouring some sucrose, or table sugar, in a large clear beaker. Our teacher, Mrs. Climenhage, then poured enough sulfuric acid to cover the sucrose. The sulfuric acid began to bubble, and steam rose from the beaker. This is because sulfuric acid is hydrophilic, and was removing all water from the sucrose. When all the water was removed from the sugar, only carbon remained. The steam and bubbles then pushed this carbon up, leaving it to cool and harden in a spike-like form. Mrs. Climenhage then carefully disposed of the remaining acid, and mashed the carbon back in the classroom.
Some of you may have caught this video when it first came around months ago. It’s a video of a baby trying ‘use’ a magazine as an ipad. The baby’s experience has been, simply put, ‘I do this, and this happens’. She expects the same experience with a magazine that she gets with the ipad: I swipe, it moves. If you were to search around the internet using the phrase ‘baby uses magazine as an ipad’, you would find quite a few blog entries discussing this video. They range from judgemental, to excitement about a young child using technology, to the opinion that this is a normal response for a young child, and not ‘ipad enduced’. So what thoughts do you have when you watch the video? You may find it hard to watch without judgement. Or not. You may start having a little internal argument with yourself, or with this child’s parents. Or, you may have negative thoughts about this youngster thumbing through Marie Claire magazine at her age.
Whatever your reaction, it is very likely a conversation starter of some sort. What’s great about that is it opens the door for some exploration of technology/media and age-appropriateness. If you have a student in a Waldorf school, you’ve heard about technology and media use guidelines for students, and maybe you’re about to click out of this post. Over the past five years, the technology scene has changed rapidly as smart phones proliferate and ipads abound. It’s not just a game of minesweeper on your flip phone, it’s Angry Birds, complete with a marketing plan that includes stuffed characters available in stores. Is it ‘bad’? No. But in a Waldorf school, we can sometimes give and get the message that all technology is evil to be avoided. It used to be referred to primarily as ‘media’, and that meant movies, tv, and computer use. We can’t really call it ‘media’ these days, and I question whether we need to define ‘it’. I think a more complete approach is to focus on how children and their brains and bodies grow and develop and why certain activities are good for them at different stages. To do that, we as parents have to commit to informing ourselves about child development.
By now, the child that appeared in that video is about two years old. She probably enjoys running, walking, and playing in the dirt. Those are great things for a two year old to do. Young children want and need to be active: it’s how their brains and bodies develop in a healthy way. That’s the simple answer to why, in our school, we think young kids have a fuller, richer, experience without technology in their lives.
Much about the American human experience has changed in the last one hundred years. Most of us no longer make music in our homes or dance regularly. Folk dancing alone puts a child through many important, brain and body building developmental movements such as crossing the midline, balancing, and spatial awareness. Yet these activities are, for the most part, lost to us now. We have to build those movement opportunities back into our children’s lives.
What can we do as parents? We can do our best to educate ourselves about our child’s developmental stage and needs. Then we can seek out experiences that will provide our children with opportunities for healthy growth. Teachers can often provide good information about developmental stages and can give parents age-appropriate technology guidelines for their students. There are many good books available and our area has relevant, useful parent education presentations throughout the year.
The technological landscape is ever-changing, and always growing. What doesn’t change all that much is how humans grow best. If we look at child development, rather than technology, it becomes easier to discern what seems best for a two year old or a teen. It’s not about ‘good’ or ‘bad’, it’s about what our kids can engage in that will give them a rich, full, experience. Informing ourselves about what our child needs helps us increase supportive activities and form our own family plan for technology.
This year, BWS will not hold an auction. Since the School’s first beginnings, an auction has been a part of our fundraising. It has brought in up to 70% of our annual fundraising target. The funded item portion over the years has helped pay for portions of the upper and lower playground renovations, and the new science and music lab.
Each year, the auction brought fun and activity into our school as parents, teachers, and students prepared for auction night. It was a community-building event, and the evening itself was an much-valued chance for parents and faculty to enjoy a night out together and celebrate our school. We all loved seeing the class projects the students had made. Parent projects were clever, useful, and even tasty! I want to acknowledge that, overall, our auctions have been a great success. They’ve helped cover operating costs, provided creative volunteer opportunities, and generally helped our school thrive. I owe all of you thanks and gratitude for your intense, joyful work over the years.
I also see that it is time for a change. In the last few years, interest in attending and working on the auction has waned. We’ve seen fewer ‘big ticket’ procurements, lower attendance, and fewer people involved in the work of putting on the event. This left a larger burden on those volunteers who chose to work on the auction, and it also meant lower revenue. Last year when auction time came, I needed to put out a last minute plea for additional attendance. In the past two years, the auction has not met its goal, despite the work of dedicated volunteers and the enthusiasm of attendees.
Therefore, Bright Water School will form a fundraising ‘think tank’ to explore new ideas about fundraising that will support not only our school’s operating budget, but also our future. It’s time to build reserves, to seek legacy donations, and make a long-term plan for continued funding. We’re relying on our Annual Fund to cover operating costs this year. Please donate generously to that fund. If you would like to join me in forming a fundraising plan for our future, please contact me at lcrandall at brightwaterschool dot org. I would like to begin meeting and hearing ideas in October. Thank you for your continued support of our school!
We’ve been at work all month preparing the school for students. Today, Parent and Child Teacher Flora McEachern and Lead Extended Day Teacher Aureole Lopez Shulman painted a ‘fire’ for the Fireplace Room. The Parent and Child Program and the Extended Day Program share the Fireplace Room and Flora and Aureole have worked on beautifying and organizing the space. Our entire Early Childhood Department is excited about the year ahead and they plan to collaborate in many ways. They have new ideas for their own classes and for the whole department. We are all looking forward to seeing students and parents again!