How are Waldorf Methods Integrated at Mariposa School of Global Education?
Those who have studied Waldorf education or have had experience within a Waldorf school, understand that the methodologies and pedagogy are both deep in purpose and comprehensive in breadth. One will also find that every school that incorporates Waldorf into its program will have some variance from another. This is true amongst traditional Waldorf schools and Waldorf-inspired public schools. The founder of Waldorf Education, Rudolf Steiner, intended for his methods to be used in both public and private school settings. In one of his last lectures, Steiner said, ". . . the educational method represented here can be applied anywhere, wherever there is the good will to introduce it."
Amongst five other tenets which form the foundation of Mariposa's educational program, the integration of art and movement is one that guides the Mariposa curriculum and teaching methodology. For many reasons, we have chosen Waldorf as the guiding philosophical approach to this integration. In addition to the integration of arts and movement, Waldorf offers us educational perspectives that guide us as a faculty in working with children. These include, knowledge of individual child temperaments, understanding developmental phases of childhood and how they correspond to teaching and learning, the human connection with the natural world, the human relationship with media and technology in the 21st century, school-wide festivals and celebrations, multi-cultural awareness, and creating and maintaining a beautifully simple, child-centered classroom environment.
Teacher Training in Waldorf Education
All teachers at Mariposa hold California state teaching credentials. They are also trained in applying Waldorf methods in the public school setting. Every classroom teacher completes a 2-week course in the Summer at the Rudolf Steiner College Public School Institute in Fair Oaks, California. During the school year, our application of learned skills and pedagogy are refined. The staff studies chosen topics within Waldorf education during staff development meetings. Additionally, a Waldorf teaching consultant visits the school each year. Continued training in Waldorf education outside of the aforementioned Public School Institute and on-site staff development is done on a voluntary basis by the individual teacher.
Specific Waldorf-Inspired Elements in the Mariposa Program
The following are brief descriptions of Waldorf-inspired elements of the educational program at Mariposa. Each requires specific teacher training to implement.
a) Main Lesson books - With the exception of math, new concepts are not driven by textbooks. In fact, students create their own textbooks from blank pages in what are called the "Main Lesson Book". Subject matter is initially introduced through an oral story such as fairytale, an African fable, or biography of a historical figure. Students then absorb the essence of the story further by drawing a related picture, using beeswax to model a character or item from the story, or even dramatize the story with props. Here, art is used as a tool for deeper learning, rather than as a process to create a product. Each student's collection of drawings in the main lesson book becomes the illustrations in their self-created "textbook". A student may complete 2-4 main lesson books over the course of the year. The lesson sequence - which occurs over the course of a few days - moves in the flow from Heart to Hands to Head (or Feeling, Doing, Thinking). Consequently, each concept is learned in a deeper, more experiential manner that will derive deeper meaning, memorization, and emphasizes the learning process over the product.
b) Form Drawing - Form drawing, the freehand drawing of geometric shapes, is a subject taught that is not offered in most other schools. Students practice form drawing starting in first grade and continue with it through fifth grade. Form drawing aims to help children experience abstract concepts such as wholeness with their bodies, not just with the intellect. The children go from the simplest geometric shapes to mastering highly complex and sophisticated geometric forms. Form drawing also aims to develop other qualities that will help in school:
- Concentration. The children draw slowly and with care, trying to make each shape as perfect as possible. Even simple forms require focus. It's much harder than it looks to draw a circle by free-hand.
- Hand/eye coordination. Drawings are copied from an example the teacher draws on the board, which requires the child to repeatedly look up at the example and back down to his or her own work.
- Mastering shapes and forms that relate to letters and numbers. Many of the flowing shapes the children draw in first grade are reminiscent of the numbers and letters they will learn later in the year.
- Distinguishing between left and right, top and bottom, and developing a more integrated view of the world.
- Understanding how individual parts relate to the whole.
c) Weekly Art Lessons - In addition to using art as a tool for learning comprehension, art lessons are also taught on a weekly basis. Wet-on-wet water color painting is done weekly. Art includes multi-medium activities and clay modeling. Such art process and product are considered as a learning tool for teachers to discover more about each child as they progress throughout the school year.
d) Daily Movement, Songs, and Verse - Movement is another main aspect of the Mariposa curriculum inspired by Waldorf methodology. Research clearly tells us, "as the body moves, so the brain learns." Movement incorporates language such as songs and verses, including rhymes, games, and even tongue-twisters for speech development. Movement activities encourage body/brain lateralization (i.e., font/back, top/bottom, left/right) which is directly linked to academic development. Students in grades K-3 begin the day with movement activities. Movement activities are also used to learn concepts such as times tables or spelling words. Beginning in fourth grade, movement also incorporates such activities as juggling and "sword" dances with wooden dowels.
e) Whole-Language and Subject-Integrated Literacy - From kindergarten, Mariposa's approach to developing reading and writing skills is through oral language and relevant subject matter. Formal academic instruction in reading and writing does not occur until first grade; however, the phonological and linguistic elements are heavily apparent in kindergarten. During the language arts period in first through 3rd grade, students are learning to read through their own writing. Traditional textbooks or reading programs are not used during this part of the day. Instead, the teacher uses a whole-language approach in which students are presented literature which includes verse, poetry, and oral stories. Thematic units are used to guide the content of the literature and the content itself is guided by multiple subject areas including history, social studies, and science. During a separate part of the day, our whole language approach is complemented with more traditional, skills-based reading instruction and empirically-based reading programs. This period of the day is 30 minutes long and known on the Mariposa campus as Right-Fit Reading.
f) Storytelling - Storytelling is done in all classrooms as the primary method of introducing new content. Storytelling, itself is used to arouse and develop the children's visual imaginations. Stories are rich in new vocabulary, infused with morals, and relevant in subject matter. Kindergarten and first grade are filled with fairytales, second and third grade with fables and legends, and fourth and fifth grade with biographies of historical and noble figures - both fictional and non-fictional. Teachers are trained in telling stories as an art form and continue to develop their craft each year. Stories are also often used to teach abstract skills such as grammar.
g) Instrumental Music - Music is taught by a music specialist one time each week in all grades. In addition to music theory, singing, etc, all children learn to play the recorder beginning in first grade. In addition to the personal talents and affinities of the music teacher, Mariposa uses Waldorf methodologies as one guideline for teaching music. Like learning to speak a language, children learn to play by ear and modeling at first. In 3rd grade, learning to read music begins. An optional elementary orchestra is also taught in grades four and five. This is done outside of regular school hours and children rent their own brass or percussion instruments.
f) Play-Based Kindergarten - Kindergarten at Mariposa is inspired by the Waldorf curriculum and methodology. The children's primary work is done through their unstructured and skillfully observed play. The day also emphasizes art, movement, singing, and cooking. For more information about the kindergarten program at Mariposa, please review our website or attend an informational meeting.
Further clarifications and uniqueness regarding Waldorf and Mariposa
Mariposa School of Global Education is not considered a Waldorf School and is not affiliated with the American Waldorf Schools of North America (AWSNA). Rather Mariposa incorporates Waldorf-Inspired teaching methodology in conjunction with other program components. As such, there are several aspects of our program that are unique to our school. A few of these differences include the following:
- Unlike most schools that incorporate Waldorf methods, math is taught daily in all grades using the Singapore Math curriculum.
- In addition to an integrated, whole-language literacy period, a separate, skills-based reading time is also held 4 days per week for 30 minutes across grades, beginning in first grade. Specific, research-based reading programs are used during this time.
- Unlike traditional Waldorf education, our play-based kindergarten curriculum incorporates the introduction of capital letters and letter sounds as well as numbers 1-10. However, these academics are taught through art, movement, and experiential learning activities. There are no academic centers, "drill activities", or worksheets used in the kindergarten classroom.
- Though Waldorf grade-specific subject matter is considered, our curriculum subject matter is developed by teachers, student inquiry, parent involvement, and guided by state standards. Additionally, we emphasize and integrate a world studies focus throughout the grades.