Nature Stories in the Waldorf Elementary Classroom by Carrie Reuther, Waldorf MEd Year-Round Program

April 13, 2008

In the Waldorf elementary classroom we use imagination to reach the students we teach. Instead of teaching new ideas to children about the natural world around them as a series of facts, we tell them stories. Rudolf Steiner, the founder of Waldorf education, believed that children learn best through pictorial representation; as Waldorf teachers we present much of the curriculum through story with many valuable facts imbedded in the narrative and description. The following is a sampling of a nature story I composed in my Waldorf curriculum class for kindergarten or first grade to explain the change of seasons from fall to winter.

The sun faded and the days had started to get shorter. The trees all around began to sing sweet melodies to Grandmother Wind. When the trees sang, beautiful colors appeared on them: crimson, rust, orange, gold and lemon yellow. These colors then awakened the leaf children who loved to frolic and play with Grandmother Wind. One of their favorite games was to see how long they could float in the sky with Grandmother Wind, before they would eventually tumble to the earth below. However, as the days became shorter the leaf children could not play as long during the day and began to argue about who would play when and where. When Grandmother Wind heard them bickering she was sad at the sight of their arguing.

“Have patience dear children. It is important your playing days are shorter now and you will soon know why.”

“When will we know why Grandmother Wind?” they uttered back.

“You will know soon enough,” she answered reassuringly.

And so it was that the leaf children kept playing and trusted that Grandmother Wind knew why their playing days were getting shorter and shorter. As the days continued many of the leaf children noticed they were tired more easily and did not want to play as long. The leaf children felt content to lie on the earth’s floor, because it felt soft and warm to them. They watched Silvia the Squirrel gather nuts and hide them in strange spots all over the meadow. The leaf children’s game now was to count all of the places Silvia hid her nuts. So, their play changed from that of the sky to that of the earth. When Grandmother Wind saw they were all comfortable lying on the earth she knew it was time to talk to them.

“Your blanket over the earth is very important,” she whispered to them. “Now Father Winter will know it is time for him to come. And soon enough he will tell the snow fairies it is their time to come. Without your help he would not know. Thank you leaf children, you are so dear to me.”

Just then Grandmother Wind moved more strongly about as she felt Father Winter approaching.


Out of the Mouths of Students (and Teachers):

February 27, 2008

“I’m not sure why we’re doing this, but I have faith in our teachers that this will all come together.”
– Entering student in her 4th week

“The day Joseph Chilton Pearce picked me up hitchhiking changed my life.”
– David Sobel

“When can we see Ron’s Hello Kitty collection?”

“That Buddha guy—he’s pretty cool, but he just kind of sits there.”
– 8th Grader exploring religions.

“I know how to knit, but I don’t do it recreationally.”
– Not a Waldorf student

The Impulsive Cinderella by Christine Destrempes

February 27, 2008

Ella, our three year old granddaughter would randomly chose a book and say, “Wead me a book, Yia Yia.” She patiently tolerated Pinocchio and flipped the pages of 101 Dalmatians before I could finish reading them, but her world shook when she heard the story of Cinderella. This was serious. I kept waiting for her to say that this was the story that she had been waiting for all her life to hear.

After the 20th or so time I started to suspect her level of comprehension because although she was infatuated, a little obsessed even, her eyes would glaze over which was an unfamiliar expression for such an animated child. I asked her if she understood what was going on in the story and she shook her head no. When I launched into my analysis of the actions of the wicked stepsisters I was met with another vacant stare. Finally it dawned on me that perhaps this fortunate child had no clue what meanness is. So, I said to Ella, “I think I can explain what meanness is.”

I attempted to explain to this innocent about how some people behave in ways that are not nice to other people. She got it. The next day she told her mother, Regina, to be a mean mommy and that she would be Cinderella. Throughout the day whenever Regina lapsed into her normal, well-adjusted kind self, Ella would remind her to be mean. Soon after the day of role-playing, Ella declared that she was getting married. Regina suggested that she find someone who is like her daddy.

Ella replied, “I’ll marry myself.” Progress. It happens sometimes. And it’s a good thing when a little girl has to ask her mommy to be mean and realizes that her best life partner can be herself.

Submitted by Christine Destrempes

Last Laughs….

February 27, 2008

After being interviewed by the school administrator, the eager Antioch alumnus said:

“Let me see if I’ve got this right. You want me to go into that room with all those kids, and fill their every waking moment with love for learning, and I’m suppose to instill a sense of pride in their ethnicity, modify their disruptive behavior, observe them for signs of abuse and even censor their t-shirt messages and dress habits.

You want me to wage war on drugs and sexually transmitted diseases, check their backpacks for weapons of mass destruction, and raise their self esteem. You want me to teach them patriotism, good citizenship, sportsmanship, fair play, how to register to vote, how to balance a checkbook and how to apply for a job.

I am to check their heads for lice, maintain a safe environment, recognize signs of anti-social behavior, make sure all students pass the state exams, even those who didn’t come to school regularly or complete any of their assignments. Plus, I am to make sure that all of the students with handicaps get an equal education regardless of the extent of their mental or physical handicap.

I am to communicate regularly with the parents by letter, telephone, newsletter and report card. All of this I am to do with just a piece of chalk, a computer, a few books, a bulletin board, a big smile AND on a starting salary that qualifies my family for food stamps. You want me to do all of this and then you tell me….


1st Grade Pretzels by Hannah Putnam

February 27, 2008

Making pretzels with the first graders in my classroom was the perfect culminating event for their science unit on matter. As we mixed the ingredients together, we discussed which ones were solids, liquids or gasses. We made predictions about what changes might take place and were able to watch some states of matter change before our eyes as we cooked. Watching the yeast was the most exciting! For some students, making food themselves from scratch was a new experience, and one that everyone enjoyed. Because they were involved in the entire process of making the pretzels, they enthusiastically ate their creations. I sent the quick and easy recipe home with the students, and many of them reported making pretzels at home with their parents. This activity also bridges across disciplines. I was able to weave in language arts by teaching a lesson on how to write their own simple recipes, which suddenly had more meaning for the students since they had learned to read a recipe while making their pretzels.

In a big bowl mix together:
1 1/2 cups warm water
1 tablespoon sugar
1 package yeast
1 teaspoon salt

Stir in 3 1/2 cups flour.
Knead on table until dough is smooth using another 1/2 cup of flour.
Shape dough and place on cookie sheet.
Brush with beaten egg. Lightly sprinkle with salt.
Bake in oven set at 425 for 15 minutes or until browned.

4th Grade Graphing, Geography and the Grocery Store by Holly Aloi

February 27, 2008

After a few weeks of my internship at the Academy School in Brattleboro, my cooperating teacher and I brainstormed possible lessons I could do with the class. I was itching for more responsibility but was not quite sure where I would fit in among the flurry of projects, activities and lessons already taking place. Lauren wanted to make sure that my first teaching experience in her Fourth Grade class would be a positive one, so she asked me what I would feel comfortable taking over. The students were on the verge of starting a new unit on graphing, so it seemed like an appropriate jumping off point. One idea led to another, and amid all the proposals the hint of a field trip snuck out. I had to bite. What better way to dive in head first than to plan and orchestrate a field trip with parents that would integrate the students’ math and thematic units? After winter break the class started a new theme of studying the cultures and countries of the world. I came up with the idea of seeing where our fruits and vegetables come from at this time of year and then graphing the results.

 “Why not collect data from two different sources so the class can compare?” Lauren suggested on a whim. So we ended up with two field trips to two different places on the same day. Before I headed home that night the date was set, and my planning began with a letter to the parents asking for volunteer drivers.

The first thing to pop into most peoples’ heads when they hear of a class field trip is going to a museum or nature preserve. Not our class. We had a blast investigating produce at two local grocery stores.

One group of students went to Hannaford’s in the morning, and the other half of the class went to Price Chopper in the afternoon. Both groups had the task of seeking out produce that came from a country other than the United States. Why not include the country in which we live? This was the democratic decision of the class. A group discussion ended with this general consensus: if they were studying the countries and cultures of the world then why would they need to look at the one in which they live?

The students also concurred that it would be more difficult to include the U.S. data in this investigation because it would provide them with too much information to graph and analyze. Another interesting issue that came up in discussion was that many of the potatoes and squash could have been grown during the summer months and then kept in cold storage. As we later discovered at the store, most of this produce actually came from Vermont farms. I happily agreed with all of these suggestions because I had been secretly planning for them.

The field trip was not the disaster I had been expecting. All the parent drivers met their agreements to show up and shuttle children to and from the grocery stores. While at the stores the students were excited and engaged with the activity. Because of the snow day and the vacation, we have not had a chance to graph our results as of yet; however, we were very surprised to find out where some of our produce comes from.

Among the interesting finds were clementines from Morocco, garlic from China and tomatoes from Israel. As part of the geography component, we will be labeling a large map of the world with the fruits and vegetables we found. This will hopefully lead us into a discussion on climate and weather patterns and maybe even global economics. After all, does it make sense that Nicaraguans would be growing watermelons to eat for themselves, or could it be because there is such a demand for this tasty melon from our country?

The best part of the whole experience was when one of my students excitedly raced up to me in the grocery store to ask if he could graph the results as soon as we get back. I’m excited to continue with our discussions back in the classroom. 

6th Grade Sugaring

February 27, 2008

Tapping Sugar Maple trees, collecting the sap and boiling it down to make maple syrup is part of the culture of northern New Hampshire. Sugaring can enliven and enrich the entire curriculum and can also be used to teach children a sense of place and pride in their culture. Every March, the 5/6th grade students attending Josiah Bartlett Elementary School in Bartlett, NH go out on snowshoes, tap trees, collect sap and boil it down in time for a community pancake breakfast.

Integrated into the sugaring process is biology, physical science, mathematics, poetry, journal writing, social studies, mapmaking, bookbinding and art, not to mention the workout of carrying buckets full of sap while snowshoeing through the woods.

The children get to see first hand the works of photosynthesis, use the sap to do experiments with solids, solutions and saturation levels, collect data and make graphs, figure out cost analysis of producing maple syrup, study Robert Frost and write narrative poems on their time spent in the sugar bush, study how modern technology affects the process and the environment, make nature journals, design and teach a lesson plan for the 2nd graders and learn mapping techniques as they actually make a usable map of the sugar bush.

Successful? One has only to come to the community pancake breakfast and look at the pride in the faces of those 6th graders.