We’ve moved indoors for a few months!

We would love to have shelter set up at Camp Takimina to continue doing the majority of our learning outdoors, but the reality is that we are still fundraising to purchase yurts for all year learning! So we have moved back to our downtown location for indoor learning for January and February.

Here is an update from our second grade teacher about indoor learning:

“We had a great first week of transitioning inside. I was happily surprised at how well everyone handled the shift. These children are so resilient and adaptable! A silver lining of this whole situation is that they are growing these skills. While we miss our forest classroom, we are certainly appreciating the coziness of handwork inside, tea time, slippers, a big chalkboard, and shelves to store all our things! 

This week we added watercolor painting and sit spots to our regular weekly rhythm. In sit spots the 2nd graders made many observations about our natural urban setting at peace park–water flowing, squirrels nest-building, sun shining, feeling the hard coolness of rocks and the texture of bark. We are exploring color and contrast in our painting sessions, linking it to the season with discussions about light and dark.

The students were very excited about our weekly “Nature Studies” time on Monday afternoon, while we use our indoor time to learn about weather, the seasons, local birds and trees, and more. In Main Lesson we have one more week of form drawing to help us settle into this transition.

We are writing summaries of stories from around the world everyday, and I am so impressed with their ability to write more and more sentences, remembering capital letters and periods, and they all retained their knowledge of verbs and nouns. We are continuing our silent and group reading times throughout the week, and I’m happy to see how all the students have grown in their reading capability so far this year. They are so ready to learn; it is lovely to be in class with them! “

Here are some pictures from our first week of indoor learning this semester.

Outdoor Learning 2020-2021

We have had such an exciting, big, intense, beautiful, full year thus far! In March 2020, City Garden began full virtual learning and while we made do, we knew that there had to be a better way to learn as a community and still stay safe during the pandemic. About a month before school started, after dreaming and discussing for months, we committed to making a completely outdoor school happen! 

We began the search for outdoor space and connected with beautiful Camp Takimina, 20 minutes north of our indoor location. Thankfully, City Garden has always been a community that is ready to put in the work…so in just a few weeks, the magical woods at Camp Takimina were ready to welcome 40 children and a new middle school enrichment program! 

Our families and the larger Columbia community were excited about this new development, so much so that our enrollment doubled in just 2 months! We were on the radio and in two news articles. We presented at an environmental education conference. And a professor is going to do a long term study on our school. Outdoor learning has been a gift to the children, to our teachers, and to our families. Not only are our students safely learning their elementary curriculum, but they are also connecting deeply to the land. 

Read below for some quotes from our parents about outdoor learning!

“My eight year old has been thriving in her outdoor school. She can’t wait to go to school each morning. She is also learning so much — in addition to the usual reading, writing and arithmetic, she is learning about edible plants, how to care for the earth, how to build a safe fire pit. Her confidence, perseverance and problem solving skills are growing each day too!”

“My husband and I have felt deep gratitude sending our son to an outdoor school. Knowing that he’s immersed in a beautiful natural environment and learning in a way that feels intune with the seasons has been a blessing and a relief in these times.”

“Outdoor school for my second-grader has meant rosy cheeks and muddy pants when he returns home, with glowing tales of fascinating mushroom and bone-finds on nature hikes. He talks about “the best recesses ever, and takes pride in his diverse and growing collection of “the coolest sticks.” He revels in Camp fires, balancing logs, and the reading he’s developing with his teacher and classmates. Overall, he’s tremendously engaged, invested, and attuned to the whole environment of the outdoor school.”

“For my son, being outdoors has been a gift. With nature as the classroom, he has been able to explore science on a deeper  level than he could inside of a traditional school building.”

“My daughter has grown so much in her time at outdoor school. Her experiences here have taught her deep attention and respect for the natural world.  I love going on hikes with her and listening to her identify birds, lizards, amphibians, and plants: she finds wild plantain and knows that it can be used to soothe stings, and she knows that wild chamomile can be made into tea that tastes like pineapple.  The wild and open spaces that she explores with her class have given her the freedom to stretch her imagination, make connections, and develop her practical skills in ways that she could only discover in an outdoor setting. Working and playing outside in all kinds of weather have taught her strength, adaptability, and resilience, and the experiences and challenges she shares with her teachers and friends have helped her cultivate sweet and sustaining friendships.”

Beauty and magic lie at the heart of Waldorf curriculum.

Each day, the children are greeted by beautiful chalkboard drawings that deepen their connection to the curriculum. Gasps are often heard as the children walk into the classroom and see a new drawing!

“One of the tasks of the Waldorf elementary teacher is to present the curriculum in such a way that it stirs the imagination and feelings of the students, creating a context in which they can experience sympathy and antipathy, joy and sorrow, anger and tranquility, and much more.” Further on she states: “Through mythologies, great stories, and stirring biographies, the children’s own moral impulses are awakened, and an idealism begins to grow in them that will flower in adolescence.” -Joan Almon in “Educating for Creative Thinking: The Waldorf Approach”

Here are some drawings from the 1-5 grade classrooms at City Garden.

A Week in the Local Geography Block

The third and fourth grade class began the year studying local geography.  At City Garden, we start the study of geography right where we are, in our classroom and at our school, places that the children know very well.

To begin our study, we took a walk around our building and made some detailed observations.  I prompted the children with some questions like, “What is our church made of?” “Does it look like it was all built at the same time?” “What is the building used for?” “Why do you think they decided to build a church here?” These questions help the children learn observation skills. They noticed lots of details about the building and made many guesses about why things were done the way they were!

Then we came back and drew a beautiful picture of the front of the church. As we drew, we talked about the different building materials and uses of the space.

The next day, we completed a piece of writing that we created together as a class about our building and our observations.  We wrote 5 sentences!  We write together in third grade and at the beginning of fourth grade for many reasons. This writing process allows me to work on and talk about spelling and grammar with the whole class.  It also illustrates the writing process and how we can make creative, refined sentences!

Another important aspect of our local geography study is to introduce the “eagle eye perspective” … the perspective that maps are drawn from and one that children are not able to really grasp until third or fourth grade. To further their understanding, they all stood up and made a “map” of their desk from the eagle eye view.

As the block goes on, we continue to move outward and upward. The children worked on a beeswax model of our classroom.  Then we drew a map of our model and made a composition about our experience.  Many of the children mentioned how difficult it was to draw from above instead of from straight ahead!

It was a wonderful week of observing, exploring, and creating!

February and March Math Block in First and Second 2018

As this is our last large math block of the year, we have many goals to accomplish in these 4 weeks.

In first grade, I want them to be very familiar and comfortable in counting and working with higher numbers. I want them to recognize these numbers and be able to write them. I want them to be able to do addition and subtraction up to sums of 24 on their own, which means they need to be able to hold a number within and count up from that number. I want them to be familiar with multiplication and division and to be able to complete some of these problems with help. I want their rhythmic math work to be refined, so that hand clapping and counting by 2’s, 5’s, 10’s and even 3’s are coming along. And lastly, I want them to begin to memorize their math facts under 10.

In second grade we are bringing many things together. We will be solidifying our understanding of place value, we will be working heavily in the times tables, writing all of them up to our 12’s and seeing the geometric shape they create on a circle of 0 to 9. We will be reviewing rounding numbers to different place values and we will be adding and subtracting higher numbers horizontally and working with different strategies we use in order to so do, trying to create fluidity, ease, and flexibility with these numbers.

In week one, first graders began on the ground with our mining gnomes, putting 10 gems into a bag and counting by 10’s. For example, each of them “mined” 16 gems, then we put all of our gems together, counting by 10’s up to 50 and then adding our 6 extra gems together with everyone else’s. As soon as we get to 10, we put them into another bag and add them to our 10’s. We did multiple problems like this and then had to do some on our own for book work. If you have 3 bags of 10 and 7 extra, how many gems do you have? We wrote our 10’s up to 100 and then wrote a few of these problems. The next day we did the same thing but counted by 5’s forward and backwards and we wrote our 5’s up to 80.  Following this, the next day we had a new story of a shepherd and his sheep and we counted by 2’s over and over again to try to get these memorized. We wrote our 2’s in our books this day. On Thursday we remembered Happy Addy and May and we did some addition work with sums above 10. Now we can’t use our fingers in the same way, so we learned how to hold one number in our hearts and count up from there. We did some problems on our own in our main lesson books.

In week one in second grade, we went straight to the times tables, practicing them by counting aloud and hand clapping, and then by getting on the ground in a circle and throwing a ball of yarn to the numbers as we count them. We worked on our 10’s, 9’s, 4’s & 6’s this week, drawing a beautiful drawing and then writing the times and division tables – so that we start to learn that they have a clear relationship to one another. I usually write half of them, and the students have to copy this and write the rest up to 12.

In this photo you can see that if you count by 6’s, a pattern emerges – 6, 2, 8, 4, 0. If you place this pattern on a circle of 0 to 9, the pattern creates a pentagram. Inside the pentagram, there is a pentagon. We look at all of these things! It is so exciting to see what beautiful geometric shape will arise from each times table. There are many guesses each day as to what shape it will make and then surprise when it might be the same shape of another times table. For example, the opposite pattern emerges with the 4 times table – 4, 8, 2, 6, 0, and so the same shape appears!

In week two, we all worked on addition and subtraction together through the stories of Mrs. Bluebird and Mrs. Fox. These are simple spring stories I created in order to have something we are adding and subtracting, so that the work is more meaningful. First graders worked on adding such problems as 8 + 9, 7 + ____ = 15, ____ + 5 = 14, 16 – 8, 16 – _____ = 7. I used the same story to add higher numbers in second grade such as 25 + 3, 42 + ___ = 49, 85 – 4, 97 – ____ = 92, 23 + 10, 38 + 40, 52 + ___ = 92, 23 + 13, 25 + 16, 21 + ___ = 35 and their subtraction counterparts of the same. In second grade we talked a lot about the different strategies we used to find these answers – knowing that most strategies are not “better” than others. Though we did talk about how counting up on our fingers from numbers such as 52 to 66 we can do, it will not be plausible once we get to math such as 52 + 45, so we need to find other ways! We are adding the tens together and then the ones. We are changing numbers slightly, adding them together, and then changing the answer slightly to coincide with the change we made before we added. It’s always so fun to see all the ways the children can manipulate the numbers! It’s some great math.

In this week we also learned about greater than and less than through the story of an alligator wanting to eat cookies. His mouth opens to the greater number! They loved this and it was also a great way to review and recognize our higher numbers. Then on Thursday we finished up some of our math practice worksheets we’d been doing all week and we played BINGO with our times tables. It was great review for everyone on how to get the answers to our times tables. First graders did their 2’s and 5’s and second graders did their 3’s and 4’s.

Week three of this block brought the first graders to more addition and subtraction, but using a number line. This is another great way to show how numbers can be written. Eyes widened when I told everyone in the room that our number line could keep going and going and going and going – all the way around the room over and over again! We used Peter Rabbit to hop around our number line both forward and backwards.

Second graders did more times tables – we practiced our 6’s again – because we’d all forgotten we’d done them already! It was as if we were seeing it for the first time! Then we did our 7’s and 8’s.

Here is what your children have been seeing each day on the board, and stories continued in first grade for Peter Rabbit, Mrs. Bluebird and Mrs. Fox.

At the end of this week we painted some geometric shapes and then reviewed by doing Dictations, where I say something aloud and they have to write it down. It can be as simple as me saying a number and they have to write it or I say a math problem and they have to find the answer. I am seeing what they can hold in their minds and then write down and I’m also seeing what they know and can do. For some reason, they all love dictations! It’s a favorite! First graders wrote higher numbers, did simple addition and subtraction, and simple multiplication. Second graders wrote higher numbers that involved place value, did some rounding to the nearest tens place or hundreds place, and did some times table work and higher addition.

I am still reading, The King of Ireland’s Son to everyone at the end of our math lesson. This gives us a breather from all the work. During Reading time, we continue to work in reading groups and to partner read. We are all coming along in our reading skills!

This coming week we’ll continue solidifying these math concepts and will move forward with more complicated work!

Cooperative Games

Read below for a few updates from our Cooperative Games teacher, Mr. Wiles.

December 2017

Greetings City Garden Families!  I hope that everyone is excited for the Holiday Season, which is always a special time for our beautiful children and becomes even more meaningful to us adults as we age and experience further soul growth.  

Cooperative Games class has been such a blessing in so many ways at City Garden.  Playing games for their own sake and for enjoyment is much more fulfilling than playing competitive games that require a winner.  The children truly enjoy the opportunity to exercise their bodies and minds after lunchtime in this capacity and I am honored to be able to guide them through the curriculum as we familiarize ourselves with one another.

The goals of this class are to develop spatial orientation, awareness of our body geography, and equitable play while allowing the children time to process what transpires at the end. These objectives are met through varying left-right, above-below and forward-backward exercises; chanting rhythms or singing songs while skipping rope; circle or line games with an end goal to achieve and a debriefing conversation.  First and second graders are introduced to more basic exercises and games as they are still coordinating their eyes, limbs and sense of balance in addition to processing rules and outcomes.  I might ask them to mirror my movements in rhythm and we will repeat these steps several times as I observe their progress without correcting mistakes.  Third, fourth and fifth graders delve into more challenging movements and games that require greater attention to detail and deeper thinking upon strategy and emotions.  And believe me, emotions can run high during cooperative games!  We conclude games with a light discussion of what worked or didn’t work and how this affects our feelings.  On Wednesdays, first through fifth grades combine for exercises and games appropriate for all ages, often utilizing the school’s beautiful parachute!  It is such a joy to see their interactions in this culmination of the week’s progress.                    

All grades have memorized our opening verse and now enjoy varying the tempo and volume.  After a quick warm up activity to gather our attention, we are ready to begin games. These games generally consist of a vivid opening story that lays the groundwork for rules, rhythm, and piques their interest.  I’ve found that the children are often as interested in these stories as the games themselves and it certainly increases their attentiveness and desire to participate more fully.  Games that we have been enjoying in particular are:

Sharks & Octopuses – One person is the shark. The other children start at the opposite side of the play area as fishes.  When the shark gives the command ‘Come little fishes swim in my ocean’, the fishes try to reach the other side without getting touched by the shark.  If they are touched by the shark, the fishes sit cross-legged where they were caught, and become octopuses.  From a seated position, an octopus can try to touch the fishes that are swimming past every time the shark gives the command.  The fishes who are touched by an octopus also turn into octopuses.  The shark tries to turn all the fishes into octopuses.      

Crows & Cranes – Class is divided into two tribes and given names that begin with the same letter: e.g. Crows and Cranes.  Each tribe has its own territory at each end of the play area.  A drummer beats the drum and the first sounds of the names, (e.g. ‘Crrrr…’) is called out.  The tribes advance towards one another with the rhythm of the drum beat until the drummer calls out the full name of a tribe, e.g. ‘Cranes!’.  The Crows quickly turn round and run back to their territory trying to avoid being caught by the pursuing Cranes.  The captives are led back and ordained as members of the victorious tribe.  The process is repeated until all of one tribe has been caught.  

Wind, Moon, & Rainbows – One child is the north wind, one child is the moon, another the morning star.  The other children are shining rainbows who are scattered across the universe.  (The rainbows make an arc with their bodies on all fours.)  The north wind frees them by crawling through their arc.  With the help of the morning star, the moon finds each rainbow and touches it gently; then the rainbow sits down.  When all the rainbows are seated, the moon catches the north wind.                               

I am unable to express with words how blessed I feel to learn from the amazing teachers and students of City Garden.  I think we can all agree how special it is for our beloveds to be able to experience the fullness of childhood in this most nurturing environment.  Oceans of gratitude to you, City Garden parents, for your ardent interest in our children’s futures!      

February 2018

Hello City Garden families!  Cooperative Games class has been moving and shaking as we have gotten in a good groove together.  I’m impressed how the children have continued to improve with their body orientation and awareness, especially their ability to take on challenging movements that are new to them.  We are trying out a few new opening verses to keep things fresh and interesting, and everyone has adapted well as I expected they would.  We really enjoy the ‘Flee Fly’ verse; many of you may be familiar with, using a hand/thigh clapping rhythm to lyrics with increasing speed.  It imparts some fun word play that the children are naturally drawn to.  I have also introduced some new warm-up exercises such as leg crossovers, heel kicks, lunges, power skips and high knees.  They initially got a hearty chuckle out of watching me demonstrate these exercises, but then quickly realized the difficulty of moving all our limbs in such a coordinated fashion.  They still laugh hysterically when I do high knees with them!  As I mentioned, they have really begun to improve their ability to discern left from right and upper from lower in these movements and it’s great to see their confidence in these abilities bolstered as a result.  

Games have begun to take on more meaning and merriment now that everyone is more familiar with guidelines and expectations, and our closing discussions continue to give us greater insight and help us learn from our missteps.  An exciting new parachute game, Hair Dryer, is providing lots of laughs as it’s a real hair-raising experience!  I am so proud of your children for their continued progress and overwhelmingly positive participation in this class.  Please let me know if any of you would like to discuss games in further detail, come observe, or better yet, take part in a day of games with us.  The more the merrier in Games Class!  We’re looking forward to warmer days when we can take our adventures outside for more fresh air and larger boundaries!    

Winter Spiral Festival

One of the first Winter Spirals I remember was at Garden Gate Preschool. It was a very cold evening. Snow was on the ground. We quietly gathered, hands on our little ones’ shoulders, their hands clutching bright red apples with candles in them, their eyes bright and expectant. The evergreen spiral with snow beneath it was a beautiful sight. Each child slowly stumbled along through the spiral to light their candle and then slowly stumbled outward, placing their candles all very near to each other. Light attracts light! However by the end, the spiral was ablaze with these sweet candles, all symbolizing the sweet souls of the children, their light in our lives.

As we gather together this Friday for our Winter Spiral, we do this as the light begins to return to our dark winter days. We will add to this light, spur it along, and mark this time of year in our children’s memories. Spirals are ancient symbols and natural phenomenons, found in cave paintings, archeological sites, snail shells, and sea shells. Labyrinths have been walked for centuries as part of rituals or simply as a way to calm the mind, reflect, and focus. I can feel how walking toward the center of a spiral brings my thoughts inward and how walking out of a spiral, I see the world around me.

As our children walk into the spiral and light their candle, we surround them on this journey. It is symbolic of our love and guidance. We are here to help them light their own inward path. After they place their candle and walk out, they see their community around them, quietly holding our own lights. They feel safe to be who they are. They know we are ready to step in if needed – in case a candle falls over or blows out.

At the end of our festival, parents will blow out their candles and the only light will be that from our children’s candles, within the spiral. We ask that you preserve this festival in your child’s mind, by leaving with your family at this time. Loud and rambunctious play at the park will erase much of the feeling that the festival created. Our children get many opportunities for this kind of play, but do they get many opportunities for quiet reflection?

Let us create a beautiful space for our children at the Winter Spiral. Let them have this beautiful moment, free from distractions or anything that trivializes the experience. Take some time on Friday reflecting with your family. What did you feel at the Winter Spiral? How does it feel to be quiet and calm? Can we find this place easily or is it difficult sometimes? How do we kindle our inner light? What things make it glow brighter? What things make it dim? Do you know what light you bring to my life?

Human and Animal block 3rd and 4th grade

In the fourth grade curriculum, “Nature Studies” from the earlier grades, transitions into the “Natural Sciences”. With our first Human and Animal block, our class explored what it means to be human and looked at our relationships with the living beings and environments that surround us. Our study really began and ended with the human form. We started by discussing the shape and functions of the three main sections of our bodies: head, trunk, and limbs. Once we discovered that function follows form, we began to move outward and compare these aspects of our bodies to those of various animals. Through this comparison, we found that we share much with many different animals, and that these similarities provide us with a wide diversity of physical abilities.

The Three Parts of the Human Being
The Three Parts of the Human Being
The Human Body as the Sun, Moon and Stars

While maintaining this sense of connection to animals, we also discussed what sets humans apart from other animals. Our unique ability to walk upright gives us the use of our hands to do many incredible things. The students were asked to reflect on what we use our hands for, and the power that this gives us. As third and fourth graders, the students are becoming very curious about their role in the world. We discussed the responsibility we all have to use our hands to do good work, and how exciting the possibilities are. With the creative power of their minds and the dexterity and skill of their hands, they can do anything! This wondrous realization will continue to help assuage the hints of jealousy they feel as we discuss some of the impressive abilities of other animals.

A Reflection on the Senses
The Five Senses

During these discussions of other species, and the artistic process that followed as we drew each unique animal form into our main lesson book, the value of incorporating the arts really struck me. We all carry around images of animals in our heads, as well as impressions of who they are and how they behave. For the fourth graders, many of whom have had the Waldorf experience since kindergarten, these images were developed out of fairytales and fables. Those rich stories fed their imaginations and helped them form an initial emotional connection to animal characters. Paired with outdoor play, nature studies on school hikes, and general outdoor exploration, they began to form their own understandings of animals while maintaining awe towards the power of nature’s mystery and wonder. As a teacher, I wanted to maintain this deep, imaginative relationship each child has to the animal kingdom while moving towards a more analytical understanding of biology. Fortunately, this question is answered by the rich artistic component of our curriculum.

Wet on Dry Watercolor- Eagle
Wet on Dry Watercolor- Eagle

Just as in a science lesson, drawing an animal form must be anchored in close observation of your object of study. What I found while leading my class from a vivid mental picture of an animal in its natural habitat to a real-life drawing on paper, is that the drawing process pulled out more nuanced questions and details about the animal’s nature than I ever could have included in a lecture. Best of all, they were generated by the students’ own imaginations! As one carefully shapes a muscular leg of a lion with crayon, one cannot help but wonder at its power and strength. The shape immediately pulls your imagination out of the classroom and into the savannah. Similarly, you cannot draw a dreamy cow’s beautiful eye without pondering what that cow must think about as it chews its cud all day. To draw an animal or human form accurately is to study their whole being with your whole being: hands, head, and heart.

The Cow
The Lion
The Lion

In three short weeks, we dove into animal behavior and physiology on a deeper level than I could have imagined. Along with drawing, we used song and verse to develop our understanding of the behavior of contrasting animals even further. When used together, music, drawing and poetry serve to breathe warmth into the sciences and ensure the students carry an imaginative, artistic, and emotional understanding of animals with them as they continue biology in later grades.

Gifts from Animals
Gifts from Animals