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Waldorf News

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What Would Steiner Say… About Painting with Children?

If Rudolf Steiner walked into a Waldorf school painting class today, what might he notice, and what might he say? (I don’t wish to offend anyone who believes I’m being impertinent by putting words in Steiner’s mouth, but my intention, through reference to what Steiner is recorded to have said, and also to what there’s no record of him ever saying, is to make more immediate what would otherwise be dry.) Q. What about all that wet-on-wet watercolor painting? A. Believe it or not, I never said anything about that! I only said that the paint should be liquid. Yes, it’s a way to keep the paper flat and to have the colors bump up against one another in a beautiful way, but it’s not necessary, and it’s certainly not something to carry on year after year through elementary school. Q. What about paintings of one color only? A. Again, I never said anything about that! Why limit the children’s experience? Is this a meeting of German rectitude and American Puritanism? That’s not what I intended! I spoke about individual colors, of course, but every reference that I made to a painting exercise for children concerns at least two colors; a comparison, a contrast that can give rise to a feeling in a child’s soul. Don’t confuse the theoretical with the practical! And don’t confuse my esoteric lectures for adults with my recommendations for teaching children. More »

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The shorter your sleep, the shorter your life: the new sleep science: Leading neuroscientist Matthew Walker on why sleep deprivation is increasing our risk of cancer, heart attack and Alzheimer’s – and what you can do about it

Matthew Walker has learned to dread the question “What do you do?” At parties, it signals the end of his evening; thereafter, his new acquaintance will inevitably cling to him like ivy. On an aeroplane, it usually means that while everyone else watches movies or reads a thriller, he will find himself running an hours-long salon for the benefit of passengers and crew alike. “I’ve begun to lie,” he says. “Seriously. I just tell people I’m a dolphin trainer. It’s better for everyone.” Walker is a sleep scientist. To be specific, he is the director of the Center for Human Sleep Science at the University of California, Berkeley, a research institute whose goal – possibly unachievable – is to understand everything about sleep’s impact on us, from birth to death, in sickness and health. No wonder, then, that people long for his counsel. As the line between work and leisure grows ever more blurred, rare is the person who doesn’t worry about their sleep. But even as we contemplate the shadows beneath our eyes, most of us don’t know the half of it – and perhaps this is the real reason he has stopped telling strangers how he makes his living. When Walker talks about sleep he can’t, in all conscience, limit himself to whispering comforting nothings about camomile tea and warm baths. It’s his conviction that we are in the midst of a “catastrophic sleep-loss epidemic”, the consequences of which are far graver than any of us could imagine. More »

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Playing “Steiner Says”: Twenty-two Myths about Waldorf Education

To begin, two stories. During my first year or two of teaching, our faculty meeting enjoyed the presence of two eminent European Waldorf teachers. My recollection is that one came from the U.K. and one from Germany, but that doesn’t matter. One appeared in the fall and one in the spring. The first, answering a colleague’s question, said, “You should never use tongue-twisters; they trivialize language.” Heads nodded. The second, also in response to a colleague’s question, replied, “Of course, the best possible thing for that is to recite tongue twisters with your class.” Heads nodded again. And there we were, back where we belonged, on our own recognizance. Two experts, two apparently contradictory points of view. Presumably, both were based on considered interpretations of Steiner’s work. Years later, just when I thought I would be moving on to university teaching, I found myself happily teaching a seventh grade. An otherwise bright girl, who later graduated high in her prep school class, could not multiply or divide fractions. I asked her why not. Her reply: “Because, whenever I try, I just see gnomes dancing and spinning on the page.” What? Somehow I had managed to teach in Waldorf schools for nearly twenty years without encountering “math gnomes,” and their relatives, including “King Plus” and “Queen Minus.” I had read Rudolf Steiner and Hermann von Baravalle on teaching math, and had no recollection of these gnomes or anything like them. It occurred to me that a lot of what we do in Waldorf schools each day—and sometimes have to explain or defend to colleagues or parents—has little or no basis in Steiner’s work. I’ve since said, seriously, that gnomes have better work to do than to teach little boys and girls about arithmetic operations. More »

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David & Goliath & 6th Grade

This August marks my 38th “back to school,” and it feels just as exciting, just as scary, and just as compelling as always. I am a sixth grade teacher; that is a new grade for me, but not a new class. In my Waldorf school, teachers traditionally travel with a class for eight years. I have been the teacher of this group of children since kindergarten, allowing me to see them blossom and develop over the past six years. I was not always a Waldorf teacher, I happily taught in public and private schools for many years tweaking and stretching the limits of those settings. Coming to the Waldorf philosophy has allowed me the freedom to teach in a far more holistic and integrated way. Since I know what the students are capable of and the material we’ve covered, I have a strong sense of what they need and also how far I can push them. More »

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Goodbye to cooped-up creches: Making classrooms free-range: At the Steiner Brigit’s Hearth in Co Clare preschoolers learn from nature

A pre-school in an eco-building on the edge of a native woodland in Co Clare sounds a little like a fairytale. Yet, that is precisely what Brigit’s Hearth in Tuamgraney, near Scarriff, is: a clay-walled early learning centre within the root-range of the ancient Brian Boru oak. As a Government-funded community project, this Waldorf (Steiner) school is a model of what could be replicated throughout Ireland – where the arrivals hall for new babies is within an acorn’s drop of the departure lounge of a neighbouring nursing home, in an area of profound ecological richness. That such a place exists is down to a vibrant Spaniard named Lina Pelaez who was involved with the Steiner primary school in Tuamgraney where she realised that the children arriving at its kindergarten at age four were already set in their ways. “We know that the first three years of life are the most important,” says Pelaez, “and the children coming to me were already confused and distressed. We were getting them too late.” More »