October 2014

Local Geography Block- Fourth Grade

The fourth grade class started our year with a Local Geography Block. It was an exciting first few weeks, and as a relatively new Columbia resident, I got to learn right along with them!

Our day begins by shaking their hands and checking in on each one of the students to gauge how their morning has gone so far. Then after a moment of unpacking, I sing:
The autumn winds blow open the gate, St. Michael for you we wait! We follow you, show us the way. With joy we greet the autumn day. Good Morning, Good Morning!
This is our call to circle, so we may begin with lighting our candle and saying our verse. For the first block, I had them raise up on their toes and balance for a few counts while I waited for everyone to be ready for the verse. It was a good way to focus our often-wiggly bodies and ‘glue’ our feet to the ground as we recite. The verse remains the same in fourth grade as the earlier grades, so they know it very well:
The sun with loving light makes bright for us each day.
The soul and spirit power gives strength unto my limbs.
In sunlight shining clear, I reverence O God,
The strength of humankind, which thou hast so graciously planted within my soul,
That I with all my might, may love to work and learn.
From thee comes light and strength. To thee rise love and thanks.

Our Circle continues with song, dance and poetry on Mondays and Wednesdays. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, we have recorder and Chinese jump rope. The content for circle is often related to our block or the season, and is attached for you to see. I had fun choosing songs after learning that Missouri is perfectly positioned at the center of many rich musical traditions.
Though we usually only have 10-15 minutes of recorder practice, we are learning a lot with these new instruments. We have now learned a full scale from ‘low C’ to ‘high C,’ which will allow us to play a wider variety of songs. The Chinese jump rope is a game I brought from my own grade school experience, and is helping us in rhythmic jumping, practicing patterns, and really focusing on getting our feet far off the ground while remaining nimble and quick. In the new math block, we will be adding times tables to our jumping patterns.

After Circle, we move into Main Lesson. We began the school year with two days of Form Drawing to bring us together as a class. The girls were thrilled to be challenged by the complexity of fourth grade forms. We began by wrapping a ‘snake’ of beeswax around our pencil to really observe it closely. This allowed us to then draw it in chalk while checking back with our pencil to ensure the proportions and ‘under-over’ pattern turned out right.
The students wowed themselves with great improvement between versions of this drawing, and were then ready to try a real Celtic knot. These take inner focus, and they work best when the students get into a rhythm with the weaving pattern, and do not over-think it. It can feel like a kind of therapy as you get deeper into the knot and tune out the world around you. These qualities make the knots ideal for the fourth grader as they discover where they are in space and how the world fits together around them. (Form drawing will be woven into all of our blocks throughout the year.)

This transitioned perfectly into Local Geography and an introduction to map making. I began by asking them to stand on top of their desks, and see how everything looks to a bird flying high in the sky. We noted that you cannot see a whole object, but just the outline of its top. This prepared us to make miniature beeswax models of first our own desk and chairs, and eventually the whole classroom.
I introduced the history of the Compass Rose and cardinal directions, so that we may orient ourselves. We labeled the directions in our classroom, with each student ‘claiming’ a direction. They each got to choose the paint colors for their direction, and they remain very connected to and proud of them. We might as well all start referring to them as Robin (N), Elina (S), Opal (E) and Pearl (W) instead!

Our block continued with mapping our classroom, rooms in their houses, our walk to Peace Park and the park itself, and culminated in a map of Columbia. While practicing mapping, we also heard stories of people throughout time who have lived around Columbia. We began with each student sharing their own personal history, while discussing how people’s surroundings shape who they are.

We then continued with learning about the earliest Native Americans that inhabited this area, then the Missouria tribe, and finally the early settlers from Kentucky who established Smithton and eventually Columbia. We learned that regardless of the century, the common link between these people was their dependance on the mighty rivers and fresh water of Missouri.

We finished with a quick morning tour of historic Columbia (in surprisingly chilly weather) and a field trip to the Boone County History Museum at Nifong Park. Both experiences helped transport us into a different time, and imagine the lives of the people we had learned about. We discovered how perfectly City Garden and Peace Park are nestled into the Avenue of the Columns, and thought about how special it is to live in a town that was truly centered around education. Though we all enjoyed thinking about life in the past, the girls agreed that they appreciate that Columbia now has running water, and that girls and boys can attend the same universities.

This week was the start of a Math block, and we will not have Missouri Geography until next semester. To keep this excitement about their surroundings alive, please take the opportunity for family excursions to places around Columbia and the state! While on any family travels, feel free to ask them to help you navigate. The more variety of maps they see and use, the better!

Literacy in 1st and 2nd grade

After form drawing, we moved into Language Arts. For the first graders, this would be their first introduction to the letters of the alphabet. Waldorf classrooms introduce letters in a different way than I’ve seen in  any other classroom. The letters are brought to the students first through story. For example, I told the Grimm’s story, Strong Hans. In the story, robbers live in a cave in which Strong Hans escapes.  After telling the story, I showed them my drawing of a simplified cave. I pulled this image from the story specifically to introduce the letter C. My drawing of the cave highlighted the letter C as well, so the children could clearly see it. Then the children are immersed in the sounds of the letter C as I read a poem and then give them a tongue twister to try with “C” sounds. This process takes the abstraction out of learning letters and gives students a clear link between letters and their stories or pictures – which is just how human beings began to write; first in pictures and then in symbols.

The next day, we recall the story together. With my prompting, the children retell the story. Here, I’m listening to how well they remember the plot and its details. I also listen for chronological order and comprehension. The fairy tales I tell are complex and rich in language. It is not easy to remember all of the details in the right order, and I can see on the children’s faces the work they are doing to pull the stories from within. After we recall the story, we draw the picture together. Both first and second grade participate as I lead them through each stroke of the crayon. This is a drawing lesson where we learn how to use our block crayons to create our picture. We blend colors, hold our crayons the correct way, draw from the center out rather than outline and color in, and although we all draw the same image with the same colors we get a variety of beautiful pictures. Here are some examples.

IMG_2614 IMG_2615 IMG_2616 IMG_2617 IMG_2618 IMG_2619

After we draw the picture, I teach the 1st grade how to write the letter and then I move onto more challenging work for the 2nd graders while the 1st graders listen.  Often in this block I used the letter we learned in 1st grade as a beginning point to talk about consonant blends or word groups. Especially when I introduced a vowel to the 1st graders, I used the opportunity to work in word groups for the 2nd grade in both the long and short vowel sounds. Word groups help students who have not begun to read to find patterns in words and then easily sound them out. For readers, word groups are great spelling practice. Second grade also practiced writing beautiful sentences about the fairy tales we heard in this block. We always reviewed and read what we wrote the day before, and we always read what we write each day. In Waldorf education, writing comes before reading and then we learn to read what we write. My second graders only came for 3 days a week in 1st grade, so in this block I was really covering all the phonics basics to make sure everyone had them.  From our rhyming word groups such as sit, bit, mit, lit, fit, wit, hit, and bite kite, mite, right, sight, fright, and knight – we would then make silly sentences. The fit knight had a bit of a fright when he saw a mite riding on a kite.

After this part of main lesson, the 1st graders write the letter and the word of the image they have drawn into their main lesson books and the 2nd graders write their word groups into their books as well. I walk around the room to help with crayon grips, flipping of letters, organization of books, and so on. Students must read what they have written to me before they put their work away.

In the four weeks we had for this block, we almost filled one of our main lesson books. We did a lot of work! We heard fairy tales from Europe, Russia, China, and around the world. We learned our letters and how to write them and we learned the basics of reading and spelling.

In our circle, we moved into singing songs about fall and the turning of the season. We prepared for our Michaelmas Festival and put on a play for our families. Acting out the story of St. Michael and the Dragon was great fun for everyone. Our class is coming together socially, learning to cooperate and speak kindly to one another and value everyone’s opinion. Play at Peace Park during recess is much easier now that the school year is well underway. Currently we are in a Math Main Lesson Block and there will be information coming soon about all we do for Math in our classroom!



Form Drawing Block – First, Second, and Third Grades

Three weeks of school have flown by. Here’s what we’ve been doing so far…

Each day begins with song as we come to our morning circle. I sing, “Good morning everyone, we’re glad you all have come, to school today to work and play to learn and have some fun.” The children now know that their backpacks should be stored in their cubbies, their shoes should be off, and they should come and take a seat when they hear this song.
Then I sing a roll call. I call each child by their full name and they have to sing back to me, “I am here.” I am calling them to the classroom, to awareness, to be ready to learn. At first the children were all scared to sing this on their own, but now they are full of confidence and smiles when their turn comes. It’s always fun to watch this transition. We then recite our morning verse – which stays the same all year…
The sun with loving light makes bright for us each day.
The soul and spirit power gives strength unto my limbs.
In sunlight shining clear, I reverence O God,
The strength of humankind, which thou hast so graciously planted within my soul,
That I with all my might, may love to work and learn.
From thee comes light and strength. To thee rise love and thanks.

From here we move onto Circle on Mondays and Wednesdays and Beanbag games on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Our circle involves singing, recitation, and movement. Beanbag games also involve singing and recitation, but all while moving our beanbags around. We also do some counting with the beanbags. Each child has their own beanbag that they are passing, catching, balancing, tossing – it’s quite a sight to see!
After we’re warmed up, we move onto Flute practice. We are practicing our flutes everyday and I’ve already seen great progress from the beginning of the year. Our flutes are tree branches and the holes are nests, and our fingers are birds! The first graders have learned to nest their left thumb (Eagle), left pointer finger (CooCoo), left middle finger (Dove), and have been introduced to their left ring finger (Lark). The rest of the class can do this as well as their right pointer finger (Cardinal). There is still confusion with which hand to use where and which finger goes where – but I’m beginning to see finger muscle memory help us!

After flute practice we move onto Main Lesson – which is the meat of our learning everyday. We’ve been in a Form Drawing block, which prepares the first graders for writing. With first grade, I’ve worked on our writing grip, working from left to right, and awareness of what we are drawing. I make the child look at his/her work to see if it was done correctly rather than tell them what I see. I’m observing to see which hand they use to write, how tight they grip the crayon, which direction they start drawing from, do they see the form and can they reproduce it. It gives me a very clear picture of what practice they all need.
Form drawing works in all the grades to teach focus, symmetry, balance, and is a grounding activity. Children must see the form clearly and practice it in order to get it on their paper correctly – and put it in the center of their page vertically and horizontally. This is no easy task. If the form has multiple parts, those must be considered when starting the form so that we have enough room to finish it. First grade has drawn straight lines and curved lines and then has put those together into running forms, which are multiple copies of the same form connected. Second and third grade reviewed straight and curved lines and then brought them into mirror image forms, where we draw a line down the center of our paper, draw a form on one side, and then draw its mirror image on the other side of the line. These are more challenging and also reflect the duality of the 8 year old.

A straight and curved line

A straight and curved line

Running Form - the same form repeating itself

Running Form – the same form repeating itself

Mirror form (Mirror image)

Mirror form (Mirror image)

Curved lines to make arches

Curved lines to make arches

We have also spent some time discovering our Materials. We’ve used our new crayons and talked about where they’ve come from and how wonderful it is the bees made wax that we can use! I have let the children free draw with them (free draw means to draw whatever they wish) and then asked each child to draw a house, person, and tree. I will save those and repeat the activity at the end of the year to see the difference! I also led all of the children in drawing a picture reflecting our outdoor day at the Columbia Center for Urban Agriculture’s Farm. The second and third grade then wrote a couple of sentences about the day into their main lesson books.

Snack and Recess come next and we’ve settled into a nice routine at Peace Park. With recess and play time on outdoor days, the children in 1st to 4th are beginning to bond as a group. It takes time, but Maeve and I are beginning to see it. There is much social learning happening at these times as well as throughout the day. The children are learning how to speak up for themselves, to let other children take care of themselves, to be patient with each other, to honor the traits and personalities of their classmates and much more. These are the daily, hourly lessons throughout school. Our stories help so much!

After snack and recess, we finish up our form drawing. Sometimes we share our forms with the class to get positive feedback, and then we hear a story. Each form drawing has come out of a fairy tale we’ve heard, so they are connected to the stories each day. We have been reviewing these stories as well, recalling details in chronological order with my prompting. We are learning not to call out, but to raise our hands and do so quietly, to refrain from speaking when others are talking, and to listen to our fellow classmates so we don’t repeat what they’ve just said.

On Monday and Wednesdays we have Handwork where the 4th graders join us. All of the children are working on knitting right now. The first graders began with finger knitting or rolling a ball of yarn. Once they can complete these tasks with ease, we will move them onto knitting needles. Many thanks to Julie Ferdman who has come in 3 times to help with handwork! It’s such a blessing to have extra hands as many children begin projects! Beginners are knitting a potholder. More advanced knitters will learn to change colors in knitting a flute case. The 4th graders are knitting in the round – pearling and knitting – a hat. Handwork begins with the verse, “May our fingers be nimble and our hearts be glad in every task we do!”

Lunch comes next in the big conference room. We’ve had many conversations about our summers, meals in our homes, and stories from the weekends. We also like to play games during lunch such as “Telephone” or “20 questions” – which turns into unlimited questions.

After lunch we have Reading Time where many things happen. Sometimes children just pick out a book to peruse. On many days I am assigning older children books to read to younger children. I’m working individually with children on letters, phonics, and reading. Readers are reading to me as well. Sometimes we haven’t had time to hear our story for the day, and so I tell the class our story. It’s a lovely calm time of the day.

We end our day with this verse:

Our work is done, our day is past, we’ll go our separate ways,

And I will hold so tight and fast to what I’ve learned today.

I’ve given with my heart and mind the effort that it needs,

And I will strive in me to find good thoughts, good words, good deeds.