Dear Timbers Parents,
What a beginning to the year! In just a short month I have been so inspired and have already learned so much from the Greenwood Tree Community. Thank you so much for your positivity, support and generosity inside and outside of the classroom. I so enjoyed the Autumn Festival-this community’s connection to nature, the physical beauty of the Skagit Valley and the spirit of abundance alive in everyone’s contributions continues to amaze me. Your children come to Greenwood Tree so open and eager to engage in our work, with one another and myself, it is a true pleasure to be their teacher. At this point I feel that the students and I are beginning to know one another and to have some solid ground under our feet in terms of where they are and what will best meet them, individually and a group. I appreciate your patience in waiting for this syllabus. If you have Saplings, or Trees, thank you for bearing with some repetition. Here is a review of what we have been doing and what the rest of the fall will look like:
Introduction of materials
A big part of our first six weeks has been introducing various elements of the curriculum: main lesson books, colored pencil, oil crayons, clay, watercolor, beeswax, handwork (finger knitting and knitting), form drawing, movement and singing. Now that most of these mediums have been experienced, we will begin to differentiate our schedule a bit more. Note: In subsequent communications I will go into detail about our work in the various media. We also hope to begin working with simple interval flutes soon. Please note that in order to allow the students to more deeply take in each story, I try to allow the students time before I ask them to write or draw from it, therefore we are always staggering stories, the one from the previous week that is retold and the new story for the week to come. The students seem eager for the form of our work in all areas: the layout of their writing, drawing techniques, courtesy, problem-solving. Students are also gaining confidence in participating in the retelling of the main lesson story, sharing their work with one another and engaging in class discussions.
After speaking with the parents of the Timbers and assessing the student’s needs, I feel it is most appropriate to settle on the content of the Waldorf Grade Five Curriculum:
Ancient Mythology and Ancient History, North American Geography and Botany Sense of place education is an on-going study from year to year, so we will be weaving, regional geography and local history with emphasis upon the study of the local Native American traditional and contemporary life and culture.
A week is quite a span between classes, so when we see each other, there is a need for warmth and to reconnect. Typically we do this by working in our Art Journals using the prompts from “Chill and Spill” a series of user friendly ideas based upon exercises used in art therapy that support artistic reflection in youth, whether or not they are inclined to the visual arts. This approach is not therapy, but it acknowledges the therapeutic impact of artistic expression and self-reflection upon the mental health, resilience and general well-being of youth. These journals are private, but often students choose to share about their work and ideas even if they do not show their work. This is not a “Waldorf” method, it is a tool that intersects and supports Waldorf methodology. I encourage you to find out more about the Seattle organization that developed this work: Art with Heart. Once the students have had their creative juices flowing for 15-20 minutes they are primed for our main lesson work.
We typically begin our lesson by taking turns orally presenting different parts of the story from the prior week, standing in front of the class. Based on this retelling of the story we compose a short summary of the story, working together to identify powerful and rich language. The have also begun adding individual writing to these compositions and also make choices regarding the vocabulary that they feel best expresses the story. The story for the week to come is introduced at the close of main lesson. Letting students “sleep” on material before expecting them to express it orally, pictorially, written or by demonstration of skill.
Following putting their compositions in their books we work on different aspects of drawing to illustrate the story: background shading, planning the use of space, looking at general shape, proportion and spatial relationships in drawing human beings and animals. We also strategize to correct “errors” or whatever the students find problematic in their drawings. We are bringing simple form drawings into the borders, which will be a regular activity and introducing formal penmanship practice. This attention to care and neatness, if not overemphasized to the point of perfectionism, greatly increases their satisfaction in their efforts, as well as, building their motivation to do their best work.
Creative writing is another important element of each week. I have been reading to students from a book called “Writing Magic,” by the author of Ella Enchanted. This book is written to young authors and contains several writing prompts at the end of each chapter. The goal is to get students some volume and momentum in their writing. When they have 8 weeks of creative writing, everyone will choose a piece to begin editing and looking at in terms of 6 trait writing: ideas, organization, voice, word choice, sentence fluency, and conventions. We will also look at writing samples to build skills for recognizing the elements and qualities that characterize strong and poor writing. They do not have to share their writing, but usually several will read their work aloud. Again, this is not a traditional Waldorf method, but an approach which is consonant with Waldorf education in terms of the use of autobiography on the author’s part and the flexibility to meet the students where they are.
“Nothing without Theseus”-Traditional Athenian toast
They seem well-satisfied by the archetypes living in the God’s and Goddesses and drawn in by the adventures and misadventures of the mortals who cross their paths. Not everyone was ready to risk eternity in Hades, by eating pomegranate seeds but many were game. They also were intensely occupied by the challenge of drawing labyrinths after the story of Theseus and the Minotaur. Summarizing the Greek Myths has been an opportunity for working with writing, composition and word choice. We have touched upon parts of speech and will be moving to a compare and contrast essay next. The elevated language present in the Greek myths supports the expansion of their working vocabulary in both their writing and speaking. Students have become increasingly comfortable retelling parts of the story in front of the class. They have also grown in their courtesy and respect as a peer audience. Moving forward we will be incorporating small group cooperative learning activities that serve not only to enhance their learning, but their level of active involvement in the learning process and their accountability to fellow students.
Local History and Geography Math
Our “Sense of Place” block in November will be an opportunity to touch on concepts related to the measurement of distance. I am still researching and seeking input as to some of the stories, content and field trip in this block. The study of traditional Native American place name will be a thread connecting our local, regional and national studies. Chief Seattle, Sacagawea, George W. Bush (the pioneer) will be featured biographies. This approach is somewhat of a compression of what is usually touched upon over many years, particularly 3rd, 4th and 5th. I felt to jump right into North American Geography, specifically Canada and Mexico would be a bit abrupt based on the range of familiarity with this subject among the students. I am hoping that for the students who have already covered this content, that what I bring will deepen and enhance their previous knowledge.
In December we will introduce the history of Geometry. Math is a subject to check in with me individually if you would like support for your child based on their specific needs and level. Let me say here, that if your student has yet to master the times tables, then this is an important goal for the year-and if they have challenge them to learn up to the 13’s, 14’s and 15’s. Please don’t let your child down by saying, “that’s what calculators are for”-this is a skill that we rely upon every day that needs to live in the unconscious and automatic realm. The primary aim of Waldorf Education is to address our breadth of capacity as a human being; there is plenty of time for specialization later. If your student is at an impasse or needs direction, please check in personally. Amazingly, even the most dismal and misogynist of math teachers couldn’t ruin math for me. There is an objectivity and beauty in math that meets students on a deeply moral and spiritual level that some may not be able to experience in any other subject. I am no mathlete, I still have to work at math, but this is something I can help with.
I can’t help but wish we had more time, but I am grateful for our time together. If you think about it, we have only had 6 class days (5 if you include my absence in September)! I am proud of how they have formed as a group and of what they have accomplished in this short time.
Halloween/Day of the Dead /Greek Potluck
We will celebrate Halloween by dressing up as Greek God’s and Goddesses and having a Greek potluck feast. Please watch for sign-ups via e-mail. Please help your student assemble or create some accessories for their chosen God or Goddess or other Greek Mythological Creature. I am hoping to see an impressive Zeus, Cyclops, Medusa and Hades based upon what the students have said so far.
Students are also invited to bring a photo of family members or pets who have passed on for our Day of the Dead altar. I would welcome the assistance who has more experience with this celebration who would like to organize a craft, set up the altar, bring marigolds, etc.
A note on Birthdays: I am going to suggest that students celebrate their birthday by bringing a simple snack to share with friends and a book to gift the class library, relevant to our curriculum studies (I will create a wish list, if you have a book that you or your child would like to suggest, please just check first). Please keep snacks nut-free and low-sugar, (or at least lower!) with something such as banana bread, or muffins. During lunch we will sing a birthday song, share snack, read the book your child brought and I will give your child a small gift. While it would be lovely if we were able to always include all children at birthday celebrations, I understand that this is not always practical or desirable. If your child is having a birthday party that does not include some classmates, please mail invitations, rather than distributing them at school. Thank you in advance for your sensitivity to the children’s feelings.
I hope that you will find this information helpful to your planning and that you will not hesitate to contact me with any questions, concerns or feedback. Also, let me know if you would like to see or hear any of the verses mentioned here. Moving forward, I will try to provide suggestions for extending the work of our class time, for those who are interested in this support. Meanwhile please be thinking of a couple of dates and times that will work for your family for a home visit. I am also available, at Greenwood Tree, by appointment on Mondays. Finally, a thank you for all of the hard work and warm support, every day I feel that we are able to accomplish much more than I could have imagined based on the enrichment of parent contributions at every level. I feel very lucky to have a vocation, where I can look forward to each day with anticipation for the novel contributions of the students. Seeing how they meet the material is where my true learning begins and where my greatest enthusiasm lives.
In Gratitude, Victoria Baker