Early Childhood classrooms in Waldorf schools look different. Some parents are initially surprised by the lack of primary colours and maps and charts that normally festoon the walls of “traditional” preschool rooms. Won’t the kids find this … boring?
According to recent research on the topic of classroom design, they won’t consider it at all, which is exactly the point. The teacher and the lessons – or, in Early Childhood, the play and cognitive, creative, and motor development – is what deserves the children’s focus, not the posters, mobiles, or charts.
And it turns out children do give busy decor a fair amount of their focus. A New York Times article, Rethinking the Colorful Kindergarten Classroom, reports on a recent early childhood study which found that “children spent far more time off-task in the decorated classroom than in the plain one,” as measured by time spent gazing at the walls and scores on a picture test about stories the teacher had been telling.
There is also concern that the material on the walls is simply part of a larger commercial agenda to sell teachers and schools pre-made banners, mobiles, and posters when walls might be better served as display space of student work or functional space for teachers and students.
A comprehensive 2012 research study published in The International Journal of Building Science and its Applications conducted an extensive analysis and assessment of 751 students across 34 classrooms in seven different schools in order to isolate the characteristics of classrooms that “maximize pupils’ achievement.”
According to this study, a well-designed classroom:
- Receives natural light
- Is designed with a quiet visual environment
- Uses warm colours on the walls and floor
- Has a large area of free space for building and diverse learning/play
- Has high-quality and purpose-designed furniture, fixtures and equipment
- Allows ease of movement
- Allows flexibility in learning varied activities
- Contains ergonomic tables and chairs
- Is modular, meaning the teacher can easily change the space configuration
While stepping into a Waldorf Early Childhood classroom evokes feelings of warmth, simplicity and comfort, careful analysis reveals that almost all of the above features have been accomplished in its design. Open areas are filled with natural light and materials that emphasize function over primary-coloured form. This helps young children feel comfortable and focus on what matters — their creative play with peers, and time listening to and working with their teacher.
This entry was originally posted by Spring Garden Waldorf School
The Science Behind Waldorf Kindergarten Classroom Design
Dear students, family, and friends
My name is Mrs Kitching, and I am the Class 10 guardian. It was my privilege to organize a factory experience for the students.
Three weeks ago, on an early morning, the class 10 students were waiting for a supervisor to show them the place where they would work, like any new employee with little skill or experience on their first day. I had asked them what their expectations were, and indeed, they were most apprehensive about their first day in a real workplace.
They were gently thrown into the working world of a factory, where they could experience long working hours, rules and regulations, and how it is all managed. To this effect they made daily commentary of their experience in the form of a journal: they inquired about the chain of command, the handling of machines or chain work, the floor plan of the factory, and got to meet the people alongside whom they worked.
We do not want them to just superficially touch on what the working world could be and come back elated and with many grand naive ideas; but rather to immerse themselves in what the working world of a factory today actually is, in its most challenging form, in all its one-sidedness, so they know it for what it actually is: straining and trying – with some fun and a sense of achievement along the way. We hope that in gaining an understanding of the world of production as it is today, they can be motivated to shape it further in something new.
The factory environment is preferable because the working conditions are physically harder than in a designer’s office, where the psychological pressure of deadlines over one employee would be invisible to a trainee. Indeed the effect of repetitive work on one’s body is keenly felt, whereas the impact of stress takes a little longer to become apparent.
Of course, in two weeks there is little sense of what it would be for years, yet the students met people who have done it for years.
They gain an understanding of how many people it takes – all collaborating – to achieve a large-scale goal.
Apart from the fact that the students worked hard, they were in contact with the newest technologies which make the world we live in possible. Many processes have evolved throughout the ages, and where at first, an employee was at considerable risk for their lives using machines, improvements have been made. I am thinking of my own experience in a paper factory in France, where it would not be rare to see someone with missing fingers because of the guillotines. Nowadays, the blade cannot be lowered without pressing two buttons at once. And many machines could still be improved.
Increasingly « clever » machines can replace most jobs that were done by hand, and these are mesmerizing to watch. The students learn much about « how » things are made.
Social questions arise in the young person: which jobs should be automated, and at what price? Who dreams of repeating the same gesture over and over for a career? Efficient production is key to the modern world, yet when the sewing machine was eventually widely manufactured at the end of the 19th century, riots broke out in the cities of the world. And there is a difference between a factory made garment and a tailored suit.
There is also a social problem that arises with regard to one’s self-realisation and the social situation of lesser skilled workers. The students see it answered by the diverse solutions that are implemented to give better working experience to the employees on the floor: a better design of the floor plan, better working conditions, and safer environment, or a better chance for promotion within the factory. Who knows, maybe our students could make a big difference to the people working for them, or to the people for whom they work.
Tonight is the result of much work and the conclusion of this factory experience in the form of individual speeches that allow the students to express their journey and insights.
Before I leave the floor to my students, I would like to congratulate them on the solid work ethic they have demonstrated as a group. Whenever I have visited a factory, the supervisors only had positive comments on the students, sometimes even comparing them with other trainees, and telling me how they were not afraid of hard work. I would like also to thank the parents, who have driven around a lot, the supervisors who have kindly given their time to the students and my colleagues who have helped shape their speech.
– Clémence Kitching
Every year the class 9 pupils of Roseway Waldorf school perform one of Shakespeare’s plays. Roseway in particular has a proud tradition of never repeating a play allowing each year’s Shakespeare production to become part of the community’s memory of those particular pupils. I for one will always think of King Lear as Vincent, of MacBeth as Mathew, Rosalind as Sarah and Malvolio’s yellow stockings will always conjure up memories of Dugan!
We have to date staged seventeen different Shakespeare plays including A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Othello,The Tempest, Hamlet, and this year’s A winter’s Tale.
The play forms part of our holistic education that supports emotional, social and artistic development of our pupils with the same value and rigour given to supporting their academic and intellectual development.
All pupils participate not only those who will ultimately choose Drama as a matric examination subject. The play is a class activity.
Plays builds class unity. Students learn to rely on one another and learn that they themselves need to be reliable. No part is dispensable and even the most talented pupil needs their peers to share the stage with them and deliver lines and create the synergy needed for them to shine!
Acting also takes students out of their cliques and demands they connect with and cooperate with all members of their class. Through this experience very often new friendships are formed.
Shakespeare’s language is difficult to read aloud and understand, and it is even more challenging to perform in front of a hall full of teachers, family and friends. In facing such a challenge and completing it in the short time frame of a Main Lesson pupils develop resilience. When they do so successfully they grow in self-esteem and fortitude.
The characters offered by Shakespeare too are complex and compelling and acting them out gives the pupils a chance to meet themselves or recognise others in the characters’ strengths, weaknesses and contradictions. This is an important experience for the adolescent whose powers of perception are growing daily and whose individuality and character are becoming more prominent as they strive towards independence. Wrestling with the fate of the tragic hero speaks powerfully to their own inner wrestling with self, destiny and purpose.
The plot lines are intricate, the settings foreign and both call for the pupils to add historical and contextual knowledge to their interpretations. The opportunities to deepen their understanding of the plays in English lessons abound. The performance is driven by dialogue rather than stage action and the cast must learn to speak their lines with the full beauty and potential of every phrase. The skills developed here for performance are essential. The plays are stripped of the trappings of theatre and performed traditionally with a limited set and simple costumes so that the young actors remain the focus.
It is indeed a remarkable opportunity that Waldorf schools offer their pupils, that they can be so practically and actively involved in producing a Shakespeare play. Our pupils look back on their Shakespeare studies with fondness and relish in the memories of performing a play rather than labouring over a dull text. Their memories are of action and embodied characters played by friends. The vitality of their experience ensures that it is never forgotten.
COMMON MYTHS ABOUT WALDORF EDUCATION: READING
Is it true that Waldorf students are not taught to read until second grade?
No! Learning to read is an entire process with many contributory facets. Waldorf education undertakes reading instruction in almost the opposite way that it is introduced in most schools across the nation Indeed, the foundation for reading instruction is laid already in the kindergarten.
In the United States, the mainstream approach to reading has been to introduce decoding skills as the first step in the reading process. This entails memorizing the alphabet and its corresponding sounds through repetitive drills and then linking these sounds together to read simple words and sentences. This is the approach that is built into early readers. You probably remember: “See Dick run. Run, Dick, run. Run, run, run.” or some similar type of reading material when you were in school. Because the content of these early readers must be very simple to restrict words to those that can be easily sounded out, teachers are forced to wait until the middle and upper elementary years to work on more sophisticated texts. Then teachers must work hard to improve comprehension since the pupils at this age have already moved beyond the phase of where imaginative thinking is at its peak.
There is a second concern about teaching reading skills in this sequence. This approach is difficult for many young children because, in many cases, their eye muscles have not matured to the point where they can track properly on a page. Thus, a number of children will be labeled as slow or remedial readers simply because their eyes may not have matured as early as other children.
Waldorf Education approaches reading instruction from an almost opposite direction specifically so that instruction is synchronous with the development of children. Reading is much more than recognizing sound/symbol relationships. For true reading to occur, there must be a corresponding inner activity that takes place as the child decodes words: that is, the child must form an inner picture of what he or she is reading so that comprehension develops. The rich life of the imagination is most potent in a child during kindergarten and early elementary years and is present at the same time that the child’s sense for the sound and rhythm of language is at its peak.
To capture these capacities at the time that they are most present in the child is the rationale for a foundation of reading that begins first with spoken language. The rich language of fairy tales, the pictorial imagery of songs and poems and the desire of the young child to listen to stories and repeat rhymes and sing songs all become the basis for a language arts curriculum through which a child may come to love “the word”. Imagine how much more complex and imaginative are the stories to which a child may be introduced if they are orally presented rather than through the simplistic language of a reader. Imagine how much a child’s vocabulary can develop from listening to the content that the teacher brings. Imagine also how much more sophisticated a child’s understanding (comprehension) of the world can become through hearing the rich and complex language in the teacher’s presentations and stories.
For all of these reasons, Waldorf students will be given a strong foundation in comprehension, vocabulary and in the sounds and meanings of their native tongue. Then students will be introduced to writing and spelling the letters and words that are part of their stories. And, as a final step, the students will read from their own texts describing the stories that they have heard. In this way, students have the proper time to develop all of the skills that are part of the complex skill of reading at the time when it is most appropriate for them to do so. When reading is approached in this way, children become voracious readers who love and understand what they choose to read.
Original Source : https://www.michaelmount.co.za/common-myths-about-waldorf-education-reading/
The Class 8 Gardening & Landscape Project
From time to time Waldorf Schools will break from their usual weekly rhythm to include unique experiences that further support the pupils holistic development. The high school experience fortnight is one such time.
For the next two weeks the class 8 pupils will work in the garden creating beautifully landscaped and functional areas. They will also engage in a period of forestry work. They will cut, log and dry wood that will be used by them in their class 12 year to fashion into a functional item of furniture.
These two projects meet the teenager who at the start of adolescence may typically feel disorientated and uncertain about their place in the world. Inwardly they are experiencing significant hormonal and neurological shifts. Their bodies feel unfamiliar and they are faced with existential questions that earlier childhood years protected them from. Working with the earth gets the increasingly lethargic teenager moving and boost endorphins and mood. Shifting the earth to creating landmarks that are functional and help orient the children in their geography of the school also fosters a deeper sense of community and belonging. The full cycle of planting trees, felling, logging and drying the planks assures the adolescent that with planning and hard work they are able to work with the earth in a productive and sustainable way and have a calculated and positive impact on their future.
Once this experience period has concluded the class will give a simple reflection of their work to their parents in the form of a choral verse.
Class 8 Guardian