12 January 2010

A Waldorf morning


A typical morning in Waldorf begins with the children lining up at the door of the classroom and the teacher shaking each child’s hand. Some teachers choose to do this in the classroom with the children standing behind their desks. I’ve done both. This is the perfect time to acknowledge each child, to connect, to see how they are doing. It’s not only respectful but a good way to begin the day.

Teachers generally structure their mornings around the same guiding principles with a few variations. That principle being to plan the morning lesson in a rhythmic way so that is there are interchanging “outward” and “inward” activities.

Outward (exhale) activities would be like exercising or doing housework or playing games with your friends. Inward (inhale) activities involve concentrating, reading, or reflecting. Most of us have a hard time finding this kind of balance and rhythm to their daily lives. Ideally we should be carving out time for reflection, quiet, meditation as well as exercise, play and creative work every day. Most of us unconsciously realize we need a break from the computer and get up from behind our desks, stretch, go get some water, or do some mindless filing.

Children are no different, but in a classroom they are usually not allowed to stop participating or walk away and take a mental break. If they do, then we are like, “Hey! What are you doing?” Most classrooms are not structured to keep the children engaged both mentally and physically. There is no breathing, no exhaling, until recess.

But in a Waldorf classroom, this same kind of “breathing” that a healthy day should have is applied to the curriculum. Most will notice that children can’t sit behind their desks for long periods of time. For adults after 20 to 30 minutes of listening/inactivity the brain starts to shut down parts it’s not using - hence the yawning we all do, during long lectures. Yawning is the body’s way of getting oxygen to the brain. For children (especially the little ones), the mind starts to “turn off” after an even shorter amount of inactivity of about 10 to 15 minutes. Teachers and parents need to keep their children engaged by bursts of “doing” activity.

Not only does this keep your class from falling asleep and daydreaming, this kind of rhythm is healthy for the developing child. Like the tide of the ocean advancing and receding or yoga’s deep breathing, the Waldorf class ideally breathes and moves together. Ideally.

Once the children enter the classroom, they put away their belongings and class begins. Each child stands behind their desk. We sing roll call.

[teacher] There's someone living on a big high hill, I wonder who it could be...There’s someone living on a big high hill who always answers me...{child’s name}

[student] I am here.

[teacher] {sing next child's name}

[student] I am here.

And so on. Then one day a clever child sang back, “Miss Cox.” And I replied, “I am here.” Sometimes I would simply sing the child’s full name and they would answer back “I am here” the same way I sang. It’s a good exercise in listening. Children have the uncanny ability to mimic what they hear perfectly and that is the reason why young children who learn other languages can do so without a “foreign accent” at least until the age of 9 or 10.

After singing roll, I choose a child, perhaps this would be the child of the day (or my little helper) to come up and light the candle on the nature table. The candle is lit out of reverence, to set a mood, much like you would at church or at the dinner table. Then the child returns to his place and we say our morning verse which was written by Rudolf Steiner. This verse is recited by the 1st through 4th graders (there’s a different one for the upper grades):

The sun with loving light makes bright for me each day. The soul with spirit power gives strength unto my limbs. In sunlight shining clear I do revere O God, the strength of humankind. Which thou so graciously has planted in my soul. That I will all might, may love to work and learn. From Thee come light and strength. To Thee rise love and thanks.

After we recite this together, (they will memorize this very quickly), the candle is blown out and the class sits down. Depending on the time of the year or what the children have learned, we sang or played our flutes together. Other verses or poems were also recited in class. There is an endless store of poetry and songs to share with the children depending on the seasons or main subject matter but the important thing was to give the children opportunities to speak and sing, not just listen and sit still.

Teaching involves guesswork or at least flexibility; it is not an exact science because you’re dealing with the moods of children and your own mood so some days were more active than others. But the one thing I could always count on was Circle Time.

Circle is when your class forms, you guessed it, a circle and plays (cleverly disguised learning) games. When my class and I were just beginning we did circle in the Eurythmy room because it was empty but eventually we got to the point where everyone worked together to pick up the chairs and tables and put them along the wall so we could join hands and form a circle in our classroom.

Now I know you are thinking, how are the children allowed to move all the furniture out of the way without Mount Vesuvius anarchy erupting? We sang songs or practiced the alphabet or counted while we moved our desks and chairs. Of course, sometimes I would play the silent game in which the class had to move everything as quietly as they could. If they made too much noise, or got out of hand they had to go back and do it all over again. It just takes practice like anything else.

If a child gets out of hand she sits out and watches miserably. And if the whole class gets too rowdy, I simply ended circle time. Silence and disappointment would descend upon the classroom. Second chances did occur successfully because the children loved circle time. Generally you create your circle time with the same games, verses and songs to last about three weeks. Trust me the children will let you know when they have become tired of the material.

My children enjoyed jump roping and bean bag games the best but we also used rhythm sticks and tennis balls. Teaching children to count and memorize their multiplication tables using these types of materials becomes almost effortless. When the children were able to control themselves better and were up for the challenge each child bounced their own tennis ball as we counted by 7s, 8s or 9s.

[in unison] 7 [bounce ball], 14 [bounce], 27 [bounce]. . .

The kind of creative work you can come up with is infinite and I’ve seen some pretty sophisticated learning activities. And I never knew that the 9 times table had such an amazing pattern until Waldorf.

This particular activity was presented to the school during an assembly. When this was presented to the school, each child held a number and as they recited the verse, the children moved as their number was called. For instance the children holding the number 1 and 8 moved to the front and came together when the class said “Eighteen is two times nine”.

We have learned the 9 times tables
And the secret of the number nine
You will find when you are able
To see how we combine: 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9

0 9 is one times nine
1 8 is two times nine
2 7 is three times nine
3 6 is four times nine
4 5 is five times nine
5 4 is six times nine
6 3 is seven times nine
7 2 is eight times nine
8 1 is nine times nine
9 0 is ten times nine

This is not the only secret we have found
For each pair of numbers to the 9 is bound

9+0=9
8+1=9
7+2=9
6+3=9
5+4=9
4+5=9
3+6=9
2+7=9
1+8=9
0+9=9

0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9, 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 0

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