5 Waldorf-Inspired Tips to Learn Foreign Languages
Learning foreign languages is both a precious gift and an important responsibility. It is a gift because it expands our own thinking and speaking abilities, and it also helps us to further understand and appreciate our world. It is a responsibility because as we study a foreign language, especially through immersion, we become the ‘owners’ of the words that we say. As students, we need to look for connections, constant improvement, and seeking out speaking experiences.
Learning languages through the Waldorf method of education makes this push-and-pull of language learning smoother and more enjoyable, providing rich experiential opportunities to use the foreign language in art, songs, storytelling, and more. In Columbia’s City Garden School, our students receive weekly Spanish instruction, from grades K through 6, where we focus on building language fluency through reciting poems, practicing the art of conversation within a variety of topics, hearing stories in Spanish and then discussing them as a class, guided reading activities, and beautiful student art that makes its appearance in their Main Lesson book. To further promote cultural enrichment, we also bring Spanish-speaking countries to the class through traditional cooking activities, history and geography of Pre-Hispanic countries, and cultural activities like Día de Los Muertos.
Here are five Waldorf-inspired tips to learn a foreign language, which you can easily incorporate into your (and your child’s) daily routine:
- Create an immersive, season-based setting: The four seasons play an important role in Waldorf education, as so many of the things that happen both in the environment and our human lives is connected to the seasons. You can take advantage of this by reading stories and hearing/singing songs about each season. This helps you to take in the information you’re learning as true knowledge, as you’re able to see it, feel it, and verbalize it in your surroundings daily. You can also support immersive experiences through travel to Spanish-speaking countries, or you can bring the experiences into your home through different festivities and culinary experiences.
- Draw it out: Waldorf education promotes imaginative thinking through teaching art skills from a very young age. Whatever your artistic “ability” might be, just let go, have fun, and draw what you are studying in the foreign language! Is it fruits and vegetables? Draw them out! Focus on the limón (lime) wedges or the shade of orange in the mango you’re drawing, and just enjoy this learning experience. This is also a great activity to do with your children!
- Sing to your heart’s content: There’s a reason why Waldorf-inspired schools sing so much, and that is that singing nourishes our heart and soul while relaxing our minds. We all know that songs can get stuck in your head, and most of us can probably sing some childhood school songs still to this day! Utilize this brain trick to your advantage by learning and singing songs in the foreign language that you’re studying. These can also change according to the seasons. For example, “De colores,” is a great Spanish classic that you can sing as we transition into Spring.
- Listen to stories in Spanish: Much like songs, humans are wired to love and crave good stories. Our suggestion is to listen to these in Spanish. While you may not understand everything at first, stories that include visual elements, such as art, or even puppets, can help you understand the plot and who the characters are. Over time, you can listen to the same story and understand more elements and details. Can you get to the point where you tell the story yourself in Spanish? Let’s find out!
- Seize speaking opportunities: This is by far one of the most effective strategies to learning foreign languages in any method. I always tell my students that if they do not practice speaking the foreign language, it will be physically difficult to ever make the right sounds. We need to verbally practice the language so our cheek and jaw muscles can get used to the movements, just like when you exercise. In addition, our brain also needs the constant practice to be able to develop thinking patterns in that language. So, speak away!
Remember that creating daily rhythms is essential in Waldorf education, as this honors the way that we as humans are wired. We are rhythmic creatures, and we seek rhythm out in our daily routines and activities. Don’t be hard on yourself if learning a foreign language isn’t happening as fast as you would like – continue practicing through daily rhythms and over time, you will build a natural understanding of the language.
If you are a City Garden School parent, you can also create speaking opportunities with your own children! Our students are at different levels of Spanish, but they love to practice and say what they know, within a “bubble of protection,” that usually covers our language classroom. This mental image helps students feel confident in their abilities when trying to speak or answer in Spanish. This encourages them to try, unafraid of making mistakes. Give the language “bubble of protection” a try at home and let us know how your conversación went!
Stay tuned for more blog posts on tips and strategies to learn Spanish and other foreign languages in a Waldorf-inspired way!
Enjoy some Main Lesson Spanish art, from grades 1 through 6!
Third-Grade Measurement Unit
The overarching math topic for third graders in Waldorf education is “The Maths of Practical Life.” Because of the developmental changes around this age, math subjects are chosen with just as much care as the stories for Language Arts! We’ve talked a lot already about how the third grader may begin to feel uncertain about the world around them, even disconnected or “cast-out.” Learning the maths of practical life reassures them that they DO have some sort of control of the world and their experiences within it! Not only that, but they are deeply satisfied by the ability to answer some of life’s questions with definitive answers. They may not know why make-believe play is suddenly beginning to be harder to believe in, or why they sometimes feel sad and angry–but they can tell you without a doubt that their main lesson book is 18 inches long and it is 10:28 AM!
Topics we will cover this year (or have already covered!) include:
Time (Clocks & Calendars)
Weight and Volume
We will continue to practice the four operations daily as part of morning bell work and math skills classes, but Main Lesson for the next 4 weeks will be all about linear measurement as well as weight and volume. The class will learn all about the history of measurement, including how and why standardized units of measure came to be. They will have the opportunity to experience several different types of measurement tools and techniques and will learn simple conversions (such as inches to feet). This unit will be jam-packed with hands-on learning, and I fully expect our energetic and curious class to have a lot of fun in this unit!
We started today with a discussion of how people originally used their body parts to measure things. They already knew about the cubit from our Noah’s ark story, so we revisited that before hearing a short story about a king who sent a servant to purchase some cloth. The king asked for 10 feet of cloth, but the servant came back with only 8 feet, and insisted that it was indeed 10 feet, for he had watched the merchant measure it himself! As it turns out, the two men had different-sized feet, resulting in the discrepancy, and thus the king decreed that there be a standard unit of measure to avoid confusion.
Today, the class learned about several of the ways humans have used their bodies to measure the world around them. They also received new “on-the-go” lesson books that will travel with us whenever we go on a measurement mission. Today we learned about these body measurements:
- handspan (yes it is different!)
- fathom/arm span
Then they had fun measuring items in the classroom using these methods for quite a while! They were given the task of determining which method made the most sense for the job; for example, it would be pretty silly to measure the length of the classroom in digits or even hands. For this job, feet or paces are better options. They even got creative and mixed methods, such as “3 cubits and 2 handspans.” They recorded their results in their “on the go” books, and then we went outside to measure some distances in the field using paces. Tomorrow we will use rulers, yardsticks, and measuring tapes to compare the results and experiences.
Measure Me, Sky
Each morning’s circle includes daily verses to set our intentions for a full day of learning, and either a song or a poem–sometimes both! Here is one of the poems we are learning as part of morning dictations during this unit.
Fourth Grade Zoology Block
In our Zoology block, also sometimes called in Waldorf “The Human Being and the Animal World,” we have been carrying out our studies through the framework of the Medicine Wheel. With attention to the Native American traditions held within the Lakota Sacred Hoop, and with help from Native American stories and information from our source materials, we are exploring each directional animal (four North American animals important to the Lakota Sioux people) both symbolically and scientifically. We have also been connecting what we learn back to ourselves, and to other aspects of life as it may be understood within the Wheel.
We began with the wolf (spirit of the south, childhood, playful, loyal, fearless) and moved into the eagle (spirit of the east, adolescence, the rising sun, sharpening eyes). Fourth graders, still being children, practiced human-animal connections through compare/contrast exercises with the wolf. We were a bit more scholarly with the eagle. With stories, drawings, and group activities, we learned how to research, write, and diagram factual information about the golden eagle, focusing specifically on its gift of flight and special care for young. We then reviewed what we learned in Norse Mythology by using paragraphs to write about multiple points on the topic of eagles. The children are now doing the same thing independently in their animal reports.
Last week we heard stories about bears, which on the Wheel represent the spirit of the west, adulthood, strength, and sure-footedness. We paid particular attention to the bear’s limbs, which, when compared to the human being, opens a key Waldorf concept for fourth graders: Animals have highly specialized limbs and bodies for doing what they must. Humans do not have the same kinds of specializations that animals do, but we have incredible hands that make what we need to thrive!
5 Elements in the Waldorf Kindergarten: Part 5 – Consistent Rhythms
Here’s part 5 of our “5 Elements in the Waldorf Kindergarten” series at Columbia’s City Garden School. We are so thrilled to share more about the five elements that make the Waldorf Kindergarten so special, and we believe that they contain ideas that parents can easily incorporate at home!
Consistent rhythms promote health, security, and trust. Having a consistent rhythm where one activity follows another provides children with security and eases anxiety caused by unpredictability. It can go a long way toward a more peaceful and less stressful classroom. We make a routine that is the same every day and gives the children rhythm.
The children go through the day in alternate periods of concentration and expansion, as if in a breathing rhythm where there is inhaling and exhaling. Bringing rhythm into the day means that children have a regular alternation between free play and guided activities in activities. Breathing-in activities are calm, like listening to a story or working quietly on a guided art project. Breathing-out activities are more lively, such as free play, running, or climbing.
Life in kindergarten is strongly marked by rhythm. Activities such as baking and crafts are repeated rhythmically as are the activities in weekly and annual rhythms. The course of the day is very important, with its alternation of free play and guidance as well as playing inside and outside.
The Rhythm of the Day
The predictability of knowing what comes next allows children to relax and be fully present in the moment. Rhythm is more than a schedule. It is both the order of events of the day as well as the feeling of transition and shifting followed by settling into an activity and then shifting again. There is a flexibility that is not governed solely by the clock.
Typically, the day begins with a greeting and free play as the children arrive. This is followed by meaningful artistic and purposeful work. The classroom is filled with activity, structured free play or preparation for the daily work. The children are participate in the artistic activity. Followed by another period of free play. Then, all assist in caring for the classroom, picking up or preparing the table for morning snack. The children gather on the round carpet for morning verse, movement-circle time and quiet candle time. The children transition to enjoying a shared healthy snack and then continue their learning through play time once more. All gather together again for a gratitude song and lunch. The children return to the carpet to quietly listen to a fairy tale or nature story, followed by rest time. Rest is followed by another verse and snack which the children help to prepare. Then, they clean up and move to free play and dismissal to parents or extended care.
The Rhythm of the Week
The characteristics of each day can be honored and demonstrated through group activities with the children and through meaningful food choices. Weekly rhythm creates predictability: The child anticipates “painting day,” “bread-making day” or “oatmeal day.” These activities change with the seasons, reflecting the rhythm inherent in the natural world.
(Moon) is the soft day of water. Clean the classroom using water, do watercolor painting and water activities outside. Rice is the grain of the day and different types of rice can be prepared in a variety of ways.
(Mars) is the very energetic day of strength, courage and physical activity. Tuesday is a day for modeling with beeswax and clay, folding clothes, dusting the classroom, and working in the garden. Barley is a good grain for the day. Theater or performing arts activities are full of strength and courage-building.
(Mercury) is the day of movement, transformation and flexibility. Working with textiles in various ways demonstrates the themes: modeling felt, sewing, dyeing wool and fabrics, and repairing toys. Millet can be served on this day. Eurythmy, the movement and flexibility practice, or yoga are a good practice on Wednesdays.
(Jupiter) is the day of wisdom and generosity. That makes it the perfect cooking and baking day. When the children bake their own bread with adults assisting and cook marmalades, jams, and spreads, they can share with eachother and the broader school. Rye is can be grain of the day. Songs in a foreign language enhance the experience of the day.
(Venus) is the day of life’s beauty. Fridays are good days to be outdoors for the majority of the day. Children have ample time to be in the woods and enjoy playtime as well as guided walks to a specific area to hear a nature story or folktale. Oat is an optimal grain of the day.
The Rhythm of the Year
Rhythm and repetition are essential foundations of the educational approach in our school. The children are actively engaged in preparing for a festival which highlights each season.
Thanks to a broad cultural population among the families at our school we can incorporate many different traditions into our festivals. There are many festivals that we celebrate every year and some that the school incorporates in some years and not others.
- Spring and Summer Festivals
Easter and Passover
May Day and Maypole Festival
Fire Festival/ Summer Solstice
- Fall Festivals and Celebrations
Dia de Los Muertos
- Winter Festivals
- Other Events
Every child’s birthday is a festive day. This day is prepared by the parents, the children and the teachers. Often a very magical expectation is associated with it since with each birthday a new phase in life begins. On this special day, the child is honored and celebrated in our school with special customs such as a particular food the child enjoys, a crown, and a special birthday song.
Stay tuned for more Waldorf Kindergarten blog posts as the school year goes by and we move along with the seasons. If you missed the previous parts of this series, you can find them here!
Part 1 of “5 Elements in the Waldorf Kindergarten”
Part 2 of “5 Elements in the Waldorf Kindergarten”
Part 3 of “5 Elements in the Waldorf Kindergarten”
5 Elements in the Waldorf Kindergarten: Part 4 – The Seasons Table
In this continuation to City Garden School’s “5 Elements in the Waldorf Kindgertarten” series, we will talk about the importance of The Seasons Table in our Columbia school and in the Waldorf education method.
A seasonal table is a special place where children can experience the seasons and festivals in a visual way. It doesn’t always have to be a table, a small corner, a chest of drawers, or the window sill – a place that is decorated with different materials and brings a piece of nature from outside into the school.
The seasonal table reflects creativity, closeness to nature, and an understanding of the connections and processes of humans, the spiritual world, and the elements. The table is always beautiful. Every season is different.
Why do we set up a seasonal table? Of course, the ideal would be if we could always be outside with the children. Though we spend quite a bit of time outdoors, it is not always possible. The seasonal table offers the opportunity to create and appeals to the children in a variety of ways. It helps them to experience the change of seasons even indoors. The colors and shapes used in the structure bring beauty through colors and shapes. Children have the opportunity to interact with the elements that affect soul and spirit. The seasonal table can be so much more than just a decorative element. It can have a stimulating, harmonizing, and supportive effect.
Building a seasonal table
The seasonal table can be designed in a completely new way with every change of season and with every festival. But there is also the possibility to always place certain things, such as a root or a candle, in the same place throughout the year and to change the colors, stones, figures, etc… around them.
Basic elements of the seasonal table:
- The Base
The base is a made of cloth: cotton, wool, or silk, in colors corresponding to the seasons. In Winter, these are mainly blue and white tones. In Spring, brown and delicate greens are used. In Summer, a strong yellow, which is joined by red or orange in Autumn. The cloth can cover more than the table and can even be attached to the wall behind the seasonal table.
- Natural Materials
Many things for the seasonal table are found in nature, in parks, forests, and meadows: bark, roots, moss, fruits of the trees … there are countless treasures to be found outside. Those materials can be placed on the table to stand alone or with other items. For example, a nice little house can be built from bark or a root can offer a wonderful hiding place for gems and dwarves. A piece of willow or creeper can be bent into a circle to make a wreath for the table.
- Candles, pictures, and precious stones
A beeswax candle, a beautiful postcard, and precious stones can be the basis of a seasonal table. There are no limits on creativity. The colors of the year can also be reflected in the choice of gemstones. Seashells, feathers, stones… all can be placed on the table and available for little hands to explore.
Little figurines or dolls made of wood and felt are a popular addition. They can be people or animals. Mythical or realistic. Simplicity is advisable. Elemental beings representing the seasons in the form of flower children, dwarfs, or similar can be used very consciously and with understanding of the “truths” that apply in their world. So polar bears in a snowy scene or flower fairies on a spring table make sense. There is also something nice when a family, people and/or animals live on the seasonal table all year round and lead through the seasons and festivals as a constant element.
- Plants and Flowers
Depending on the season, the seasonal table can also be decorated with plants and flowers. Here, too, nature offers a wide range of beauty and there is no need to go to a flower shop to buy flowers.
Seasonal table ideas for festivals:
Elements can come in and out of the seasonal table and some can be constant for an entire season while others may only be present for a week or two, depending on a festival or holiday. Many of the symbols and items used to decorate for various seasons are the same elements used to decorate for holidays.
- Michaelmas–The symbols of Michael are possible as elements: a scale, a postcard with St. George and the dragon, a sword, a figurine of the dragon.
- Thanksgiving–A cornucopia with fall fruits or root vegetables can be added. Children can be encouraged to bring vegetables and add a new one each day. Grains are also good during the harvest season.
- Hanukkah–A dreidel or small menorah can be on the table during this time.
- Advent and Christmas–A christmas tree or peg dolls dressed for the holiday or a small nativity.
- Easter–Eggs are common during the easter season. An additional egg can be added each day.
- May Day–Rainbow puzzle and colored ribbons symbolize this spring holiday.
Stay tuned for Part 5 of our Waldorf Kindergarten series. You can find parts 2 and 3 here.
About City Garden School
City Garden School educates children’s hands, hearts, and minds with an intellectually rich curriculum that inspires wonder, reverence, and creativity. We honor and nurture the development of each child, infuse art and storytelling into every subject, and use the natural world as our classroom so children may grow with a capacity for empathy and a will to improve the world.