What this book is about...
There is growing recognition in wide educational circles that helping children to build the skills they need to thrive in adult life, including communication, persistence in the face of challenge, adaptability, teamwork, good manners, self-control, responsibility, and punctuality, is as important as delivering content linked to achievements on benchmark tests. Healthy classroom environments and schools forge these lifetime habits of resilience—“grit”—by consistently working to foster caring relationships, maintain high expectations for all students, and provide meaningful opportunities for students to participate and contribute.
For Waldorf educators, this is not just a thought. A unifying goal for every Waldorf School — big or small, anywhere in the world — is to provide a progression of challenging academic content for which the students in a given class are (or are just about to be) emotionally and physiologically ready. Waldorf teachers know that all true learning requires inner composure and mobility, and that what can be seen and developed through outer movement is vital for mental health and acuity throughout life. Physical activity not only fuels the brain with oxygen and decreases stress; but also, every movement creates and strengthens connections within the brain and in the nerve pathways throughout the body.
The importance of developmental movement is clearly validated by modern science as a pathway to physiologic and emotional development, and may be as important as academic presentation, especially in the early grades. Activities that build up such basics as postural control, spatial orientation, movement coordination, and body geography are not just classroom extras. All children (probably now more than ever before) need a rich diet of the kind of developmental movement, drawing and painting exercises that have been indicated by Rudolf Steiner, Audrey McAllen, Karl König, Olive Whicher, and others.
I hope that both the theory and practice in this book will help educators to understand how to apply these methods for strengthening academic capacities of students through a whole-school approach to developmental movement, drawing and painting activities, as well as enrich their capacity for student observation. Although almost all of these tools have for decades been within the domains of Extra Lesson practitioners and Waldorf movement teachers, I believe they are meant to be staples for all students, in all classes, every day.
Some key topics in Sections 1 and 2 are:
• What is developmental movement?
• Brain pathways — math, reading, executive function, resilience.
• Learning challenges and mainstream labels.
• Hope, Love and Faith: how can we better understand and more consistently harness the power of those three words?
• Comparative movement needs and learning styles of boys and girls.
Sections 3 and 4: Modern research demonstrates that the activities and exercises presented are vital ingredients in learning readiness:
• Activities and exercises for developmental movement.
• Foundations for reading, writing, and numeracy.
• Values of organized play.
A maxim of Extra Lesson teaching is: “the assessment is the therapy.” A steady, whole-class inclusion of the activities and exercises in these sections will strengthen every student in the class (not just those in the bottom third or so) and at the same time will provide the teacher with a new vista of student observation modalities and experiences.
Section 5 provides pointers to the step-by-step building of a class-wide and school-wide culture of all-student support.
Thus, in total, I hope to offer a road map of the transforming principles and practices that have strengthened those few Waldorf students who have received individual help into a program benefiting all students. This can encompass:
• Developmental additions to Main Lesson times
• Activities at the beginning of Extra Main classes
• Guides for creating entire Extra Main class periods filled with capacity building
• Games and exercises that will make your “physical education” program a true partner in academic progress
• Ways for teachers to share the work of taking up these new possibilities
A central goal of the book is the building of four kinds of bridges:
1. A bridge from the past to the present and future. At the beginning of the Waldorf School movement in the early part of the twentieth century, the first Waldorf teachers were already immersed in the spiritual approach to humanity that founder Rudolf Steiner had named anthroposophy. This group shared a practical understanding of the meaning of many anthroposophic terms and concepts that might now seem, at first impression, to be antiquated, eccentric or unfamiliar. Thus, words and phrasing that were commonly familiar and understood back then — even to most of the general audiences for his hundreds of public lectures—can today be roadblocks when discussing the Waldorf approach to education in the culture of our modern world. So, I hope to help build a bridge between “Steiner Words” you will encounter in this book — words like “astral” and “etheric” and phrases like “twelve senses” — and parallel mainstream words and scientific/educational insights. I’ll offer some current synonyms or terminology whenever possible, while steadfastly reflecting the utmost respect for the roots of the Waldorf approach to education and its anthroposophic source material.
To truly be an educator means maintaining a career-long study of the developing human being. In a Waldorf setting, teachers must also carefully consider Rudolf Steiner’s ideas about educating in his many lectures and books, and then use this groundwork as a starting point whenever (and wherever) it makes sense in today’s context. I have found that striving to build myself bridges to today’s mainstream educational terminology and concepts about education can be the source of fresh insights that are helpful every day — for planning, lesson approaches, student observation, and self-reflection.
Doctor Steiner time and again repeated two cautions. First, he had no quarrel with science. He gave the analogy that science is like a floodlight in a cave, whereas his spiritual-scientific insights could provide a flashlight to look additionally into the more hidden corners. And second, he would not want anyone to use his indications dogmatically. He wanted his listeners and readers to continue to research for themselves and come to their own conclusions. There is much in this book that attempts to do just that; I will offer many ideas and graphic illustrations based on my attempts to study, find connections, and put the vast heritage of pedagogical insights into practice. In the pages that follow I have tried to make both a comprehensive compilation of material, clearly cited, from Steiner and others, and a synthesis from my own research and daily striving to do right by the children in front of me and the designation “Waldorf Teacher.”
2. A bridge from the present to the past. A generation or two ago, the Waldorf movement, at least in North America, was still small enough that those beginning their paths as Waldorf educators usually had the benefit of learning, in person, from experienced teachers who themselves were only one or two generations distant from Rudolf Steiner and his immediate colleagues or their mentees. They were able to immerse themselves in learning for an extended period of time, and the teacher trainings were able to delve deeply into topics like the Curative Education Course, constitutional types, and the pedagogical law. But those master teachers who were close to the beginnings have passed from the scene, and today’s economic factors have meant that fewer beginning teachers can have the luxury of being able to devote time and resources to an extended training. Of necessity, many now take a more learning-while-doing path, supported by mentors and briefer program intensives. There are many pluses to this process of becoming a Waldorf teacher, and the bridge-building goal of Section 1 is to offer an accessible, thought-provoking overview of background concepts, and a guide to books that can help with filling in some vital foundations.
3. A bridge between teaching realms. Experienced Waldorf Class teachers, even those who have studied the deeper aspects of Waldorf pedagogy, may have the impression that the activities presented in this book belong exclusively to the domains of Movement and Extra Lesson teachers. But, in fact, a lot of these activities used to be part of general school programs, even before there were Waldorf schools. In any event, all children need the kind of developmental activities offered here. In many schools I’ve visited, the Extra Lesson teacher’s role is primarily or entirely that of a specialist working with students who need support. But I think the training and experience that Extra Lesson teachers have is often “a lamp hidden under a bushel,” and I hope here to offer inspiration and support for expanded appreciation and collaboration between Movement and Extra Lesson teachers and their Class teacher colleagues; that this book may help them blaze a path to helping their schools develop and run a whole-class developmental approach, adding this wider role to their vital work with the individual students with challenges. I’m also hoping my fellow Movement teachers will find that this book enhances their understanding of the physiological/developmental “whys” of their work; that it will give them deeper insight into what they are already doing and a stronger, more accessible vocabulary for expressing to their school colleagues and their parent communities the implications of the right kinds of movement at each developmental stage.
4. A bridge between teachers and parents. Gaining new lenses on the connections between foundational Waldorf concepts/terminology and mainstream ways at looking at the same educational considerations will strengthen the ability to relate to and work with parents of your students. Section 6 provides thoughts on how to draw on the Pedagogical Law to meet parents where they are and transform difficulties into fruitful dialog. And a comprehensive paper trail system for observation and support plans, like the one offered in the Appendix, can be the key to shared understandings and teamwork.
In short, my aim is for this book to serve as a ready source for developmental additions to the daily classroom repertoire and as a work/study guide to core concepts and background readings for teachers in all realms.