Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Letter to Parent-Child Families from the teacher

December 6, 2009

Dear Parents,

Saturday evening, while most of my garden was at rest, I was gratefully harvesting some hardy kale and parsley, dusting off the snow, as the world around me turned white! We had a fire going outside and Soren was busy making paths in the snow with his shovel, moving in many directions across the yard, so filled with excitement. A moment of true harmony in family life I so relish when it happens! This morning he woke up ready to go outside and said he wanted the snow to stay forever. The making of all white definitely offered a moment of respite in this busy time of year!

Sorens’ response reminded me of the oneness our children feel with their environment. Through their senses children are learning about their world, and are also being shaped by the senses they take in, this is especially so for ages birth to seven. As Soren was making all these paths in the newly fallen snow, crossing one over another, it spoke to me of all the many paths we take in our lives and the weaving that happens with one another as our paths cross.

This gift of snow and sun today was refreshing in the midst of the increasing darkness of shorter and grayer days. With this darkness and the liveliness of the plant world at rest, we also begin our celebrations of light! Advent, Christmas, Hanukah, and Solstice all are holidays celebrating the darkness with light. We decorate our houses, make gifts and special foods, see our relatives and friends and celebrate. Perhaps we can each ask ourselves in our own way what this light means to us?

This being the second week of Advent, we celebrate the plants, as last week we celebrated the stones. In the weeks to come we will celebrate the animals and then human being. This is truly a time of expectancy and waiting! The solstice brings the beautiful birth of the sun. As we do our ‘outward’ preparations for the holidays, one can look to the more inward nature of Mary in her blue cloak, which surrounds and protects, while her red garment shines warmth from within. In cultivating a mood of inner quiet and contemplation we can become more conscious in our own individual ‘inner becoming’ and of the human soul’s willingness ‘to become’ and continue to renew our own light within, each on our own individual paths and as we crisscross and weave together! The gesture of Mary’s reverence and devotion of the child is also an inspiring mood to carry in our hearts for our children!

Lastly, a quote from Rudolf Steiner, “The festivals are the nodal points of the year which unite us with the spirit of the universe.”

Thank you for letting me share some thoughts with you as a hopeful support to our lives as loving parents. Many blessings and light filled moments to you all and your families this holiday season. I think I can speak for us all in wishing Jody, Matt, Isabella, and Paul a special place in our hearts and thoughts at this time. May the loving light of the sun, moon, and stars surround and guide you.

Michele Beckstrom

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

St. Nicholas Day

Dear Parents,

In case you were wondering, the clementines and chocolate gold coins found in slippers this morning were gifts from St. Nicholas. This is a remnant of a tradition dating back before the time when St. Nicholas began to visit the Kinder Faire. An older boy asked "Where are the nuts?" remembering that in past years St. Nick also brought golden walnuts. He was assured by another older boy that at Ashwood St. N leaves only clementines. These traditions have lives of their own....

But our morning in the kindergarten was a golden day, perhaps with a bit of afterglow from the Advent Spiral, with some younger children playing "'Twas the Night Before Christmas" and others building a zoo for land and sea animals.

We also opened several windows of an Advent Calendar depicting a very Special Family - Polly, Prentice, Joseph, Ben and Abel - our friends at Village Farm.

May peace and joy reign,

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Advent Spiral for Families, December 6, Sunday 4:30 pm

From the forest bring the boughs
Of fir and spruce and pine.
Bring them home, bedeck the house
For now it’s Advent time.

December 1, 2009

Dear Spindlewood Parents,

It is always with joy that I write to you of the coming season that we will share with each other and the children. “Advent” means a solemn approaching. It is a season of preparation. Just as the November winds and rains have swept away all signs of early autumn, we are cleaning out and making ready for what is to come. The woods and frog ponds are growing still, and daylight is dwindling. It is as if the entire natural world is coming to a point of stillness – waiting. Throughout history, humankind has waited for the return of the sun and the rebirth of life. There are as many ways to celebrate this as there are individuals. Here is a description of some of the activities and events to come in the life of the kindergarten.

The Moss Garden – Each child will receive a ceramic bowl. During this first week of Advent, beginning with the sparseness of the empty bowl, we will experience the gifts from the mineral world – sand, shells and crystals. There follows the plant kingdom. Now that deer hunting season has ended, we will once again roam the woods and carefully gather greens and moss. Of course we must ask permission...and as the older children know, we must wait and listen for Mother Earth to say “yes”. Following this is the animal world. Finally, we come to the human realm, represented by a candle. Here we make way for the arrival of the human family. The father, the symbol of meeting this earthly world as it is; the mother, the symbol of nourishing what wants to grow and become; and the child, symbol of inexhaustible potential, of the human spirit. As in the wisdom literature of fairy tales Man can represent the Wise Self, the Woman can be seen as the Universal Soul, and the Child the Universal Spirit.

For our young children, the center of their lives is their family. Father and Mother to a little child are much more than individual personalities. They are the fullness, love, support and encouragement that surround them. And surely every family who receives a child has a moment of experiencing that they receive a gift from heaven. Somewhere in our consciousness we regard them as a little King or Queen, and of course during infancy they are treated as such.

So it is for this that we build our gardens during the season of Advent. We celebrate the family (not necessarily the historical Holy Family, but a Universal Family). This is what surrounds our children as they become a part of this world. We mark this coming into the world or “incarnating” with the family festival of the Advent Spiral. This will take place at 4:30 pm this Sunday, December 6 in the kindergarten. It is our wish that each family be seated in the kindergarten by 4:30 so that we may begin promptly. The rugs will be rolled up so we will not remove our shoes that evening (imagine us all trying to find them again in the dark!)

Inside the Kindergarten, a spiral of evergreens is built on the floor with a large pillar candle standing on a stump in the center. At the opening of the spiral are set shining red apples with small white candles placed in the center. Here we find the spiral form as symbolic of the universe. Everything – galaxies, growing vines, seashells, our bones, the inner part of our ear, move or are formed in the dynamic of the spiral. When we wipe a table, sweep the floor or rake leaves, the movements are in the spiral.

The evergreens placed in this form are “everlasting”, eternal. The child takes her apple that is symbolic of one’s own individual karma or life challenges, walks into the spiral, lights her candle from the central pillar, walks out of the spiral and places the apple and lighted candle on the spot that she chooses. The child finds her place in the world. As each child adds her lighted candle to the dark garden it gradually becomes illuminated. This beautiful ceremony is accompanied by singing and the gentle tones of the harp of our neighbor Cheryl Martine.

Of course, no discussion of how the symbolism is interpreted occurs before or after the event. We allow the child to take what he may from the ceremony. We allow him to enter fully, without discussion. For safety, long hair needs to be tied back away from the candle flame, please. Skirts must not be so long as to brush the lighted candles on the floor. (Needless to say, this is a ceremony that keeps us adults quite alert.) Afterward, the apples and candles will be brought outside and distributed. Sometimes, if it is not too windy, families like to relight the candles and carry them to the car as was done at our Lantern Walk. The entire family is warmly invited. Please let me know if there are siblings or guests four years of age or older who would like to light a candle so that we will have an apple and candle ready for them!

On our last day of school before vacation, Thursday, December 17, families are invited in from 8:30 – 9:30 for a Gingerbread Tea Party. The oldest girl will serve as Santa Lucia in the Swedish tradition, and...we may share our circle Shepherds’ Play!

Wishing you all joy and deep peace,
Miss Susan

PS – See you again on Tuesday, January 5.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Our Recipe for Beeswax Salve

Makes 24 (2 oz.) tins and 24 (1/2 oz. ) tins -

7 cups oil (organic olive oil or almond oil)
1-7 cups dried flowers – chamomile, calendula, clover, lavender
14 oz. pure beeswax

Steep oil and flowers in warm place for two weeks
or bring to almost simmer, cover and keep warm over night,
or warm in double boiler over simmering water 30 to 60 minutes

Strain through cheesecloth.

Add 2 oz. pure beeswax to each cup of oil. Melt.

Pour into tins and watch the magic as it cools.

Makes a soothing salve for chapped hands, cheeks and lips all winter.

Tins are available from Specialty Bottles – 2 oz. or ½ oz. (for lip balm)

Kinder Faire December 12

Just as a reminder, Spindlewood's Kinder Faire is December 12, Saturday, open to the public from 9-12noon. We will be following the rhythm of our kindergarten morning in this outreach event. Please invite your friends and family to have a taste of the magic of Waldorf early childhood!

Beginning at 9:00 am there will be several activities for young children, primarily gift-making and wrapping. These include beeswax candle rolling, bead stringing, sewing balsam sachets, paper angel folding, tiny book-binding and beeswax modeling. There is a sign-up board in the mudroom for workers needed. The shifts are 8:45 - 10:15 and also 10:30 - 12:00noon. Can you help? Perhaps one parent or a grandparent may accompany your child or children if you sign up for a shift of helping with an activity or assisting in the cafe/dining room.

The Kinder Faire has its own currency of golden chestnuts, that parents may purchase at 50cents each, and which the children may use to participate in all of the activities, as well as purchase apple cider, cookies, honey straws, modeling beeswax and marbles.

There will be a pause in activities at 10:15 when Mr. John and I will present the puppet play The Shoemaker and the Elves, followed be a special visitor and his elves.

Following the puppet play and visitors, the Mr. John's Downstairs Cafe will open, offering homemade soup, gingerbread, coffee and teas.

For adults, there will also be a table of "Elves Treasures", including handcrafted toys and decorations, some Waldorf song books/CDs by Mary Schunneman, children's kitchen utensils and aprons, biodynamic planting calendars and more. Sarah Baldwin will have a selection of Bella Luna Toys www.bellalunatoys.com, and Susan Junge will be offering a selection of fine children's books.

So that you may fully participate in the Kinder Faire morning with the children, we will be offering an Pre-Sale for all KinderFaire volunteers the night before the Faire, Friday evening from 6:30 - 9:00 pm. Teas and Coffee will be available.

Oh, yes! There will also be a display of rare and wonderful items on display that are being offered for Silent Auction....all bidding will be done by email, thanks to Amy Robbins-Wilson and Tim Wilson!

Take Joy!
The Spindlewood Kinder Faire Carrying Circle
Susan Junge, Pat Shannon, Sarah Baldwin, Heather Wyman and Susan Silverio


Dear Spindlewood Parents,

Throughout the autumn, the children have been harvesting and drying calendula flowers from the garden. Perhaps you noticed the basket on the picnic table of golden blossoms. When they were completely dried, we added them to organic olive oil and the large jar has been sitting on the window sill absorbing sunlight. When the last of the harvest was done, and the weeds pulled and the sheep manure spread (no. Mr. Jack did that part!) the children and I trooped around the garden thanking it for all that it gave us this year! I was surprised at how enthusiastic the children were in shouting "Thank You!" This week we will strain the flowers from the oil and add some pure beeswax. Then we heat the oil very gently to melt the wax and pour it into tins. Such magic to see the dark oil turn into a golden solid! Each child will be bringing home a tin of their own Calendula Beeswax Salve to share with their family. It's so soothing for chapped hands, cheeks and lips when King Winter makes his appearance.

The children will also be bringing home their watercolor paintings. We begin the school year painting with only one or two colors so that the children can truly experience the individual colors before they begin to mix them. Please bear in mind that like all things Waldorf it is the process that is as important as the product. The colors fade as they dry, and some paintings have been rubbed rather vigorously with the brush, but the children have experienced glowing color, and they are learning gradually to have a lighter touch with the brush!

There will be no school next week, Thanksgiving week, except for the Parent-Child class on Monday. (Jack and I will be taking Thanksgiving dinner out to prepare at my parents' house in Ohio.) I realize many families will be traveling and gathering. May all travels be safe and may all stay healthy! The children have been practicing coughing into their elbows, and washing their hands well. I am so thankful that if any of the Spindlewood children is feeling "under the weather" that they have families who can allow them to remain at home until they are well.

When school resumes it will be December! and we will be preparing for our Advent Spiral on Decmber 6th at 4:30pm. It is a simple
ceremony (you can read about it in the parent handbook on our website www.spindlewoodmaine.com) I will write again before then!

The December 12, Saturday morning Kinder Faire sign-up poster is in the mudroom. We still need someone to help Mr. John in the cafe/dining room, as well as some helping hands with the children's activities.

When snow begins to fly, our class parent Nicole and I will be keeping an eye on the school cancellations. If you hear that School Union 69 is cancelled you will know that Spindlewood is also. If Spindlewood is cancelled or delayed, Nicole and I will phone all kindergarten families, probably around 7:00 am, if that time works for all of you. If you do not wish to be phoned, and would prefer an email message, just let me know!

Happy Thanksgiving to all of you and yours!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Last Week

It is a golden autumn day in Maine. The honeybees are exulting in one of their last flights. Last week at Spindlewood we had our Michaelmas Hike through the woods and fields to a neighbor's ancient Chestnut Tree. The six-year olds led the way, eager for this annual pilgrimage, and pulled a cart a great deal of the way to carry several of the three-year olds who were delighted to accompany them. Their parents could scarcely believe that they had traveled two miles as they returned triumphantly at the end of the morning, laden with bags of shining horse chestnuts they had gathered. For those who stay for the afternoon, Mr. John quickly prepared a hot soup and lit a blazing fire in the woodstove. After lunch the children sank their feet into tubs of warm lavender water, and nestled into their beds with hot water bottles. When they arose he led the older ones out to work on their tree house construction.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Lantern Walk 4:30 Wednesday November 11

Each child in the kindergarten has begun to make his or her lantern. This year we are painting a glass jar with egg white and covering it with colored rice paper. They will be ready when you arrive for the Lantern Walk. Other candle lanterns carried by parents, grandparents and older siblings are also welcome.

The Lantern Walk, or 'Martinmas', is a festival with European roots. St. Martin was a Roman soldier of the fourth century who gave his cloak to a beggar and later in a dream saw Christ clothed in his cloak. He subsequently devoted the rest of his life to helping the poor. He was a man who carried an inner light in a time of darkness.This festival provides us with an opportunity to consciously mark the point in the cycle of the year when the light and warmth of the sun is retreating. The Lantern Walk allows us to experience the change of season in a sensory way.

A small bonfire and warm apple cider that we pressed at our Harvest Celebration will await families upon their arrival at the kindergarten. When all are gathered we will celebrate the circle time that the children are doing in the kindergarten. After the circle, parents or grandparents may light the children’s lanterns and we proceed along the path. The walk is not long but the experience is memorable. Stepping into the darkness we are guided only by the light of our lanterns and the luminaries placed along the pathway. We may hear an owl, a crackling stick, or the wind. If we are lucky, the stars will be shining overhead. We return to find the bonfire extinguished, but the sparks of light in our lanterns creating a large circle of warmth and community. We sing a final song, receive a ginger cookie and then proceed with the same quiet intention to our cars and then on to our homes.

To strengthen the mood of the Lantern Walk, some possibilities are:

* Please be here by 4:30 so that car headlights don’t interrupt our walk. Dress warmly and wear good walking shoes. Please, no flashlights on the walk.

* Although the event is short, you might expand it into an opportunity to have a more mindful day to in order to be more receptive to the mood of the evening. You might try to notice some of the signs that mark the retreat of autumn, or to work a little more slowly and deliberately than normal throughout the day, or to have a pot of warm soup ready upon return home to eat as a family by candlelight.

* End the evening by getting ready for bed early and then telling your young childrena story rather than reading them a book. (Children love any story you tell, no matter how simple you think it is. If you have never done this, here is a suggestion: Tell a story about a family - with the same makeup as your own - that walks by a lantern one night in order to help an elderly neighbor who is sick.)

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Hi Susan.

Trust you are well these fine, crisp days. Things here are good. Joseph is out mucking out the barn with Prentice and hannah, our intern, and Benny is playing "bunny hole" under a blanket with some puppet friend. Abel is asleep for his morning nap. Lunch is on and bread is rising, so I have a minute to sit at the desk. . . .

I wanted to pass on this link -- some familiar themes in here -- and a Alliance for Childhood mention. So good to have this subject hit the mainstream in the NYT.

I hope to make it to a Kinderfaire handwork session or two and will definitely be available for volunteering at the Faire. Will look forward to Susan Junge's email about volunteering.

Love from all of here at Village Farm.

News - Now They Don't have to Read at Four

From The Times
October 2, 2009
Two schools win right to ditch early years curriculum

Two schools have won the right to opt out of the controversial early years “nappy” curriculum after ministers dropped a commitment that no pre-school child would be exempt.

After their successful appeals, the two Steiner schools will no longer be required to meet the Government’s targets, including making children aged 3 and 4 write simple sentences using punctuation or start to use phonics.

The two schools, which are the first to be allowed to opt out, argued that the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) clashed with the Steiner philosophy, which does not believe that children benefit from the formal teaching of subjects such as English language until they are 7.
They also do not introduce “electronic gadgetry” until children reach that age.

When ministers first published the curriculum, which contains 69 different measures for the progress and development of under-5s, they made clear that childminders and all nurseries and schools, state and private, would have to implement it.

The assessment criteria includes being able to dress and undress, sounding out letters, children writing their own name, and using some electronic equipment.

Victory for the two schools, the Wynstones School in Gloucestershire and North London Rudolf Steiner School in Haringey, means that the 40 or so other Steiner schools seeking an opt-out are likely to be given the go-ahead.

Their success has also stiffened the resolve of the many preparatory schools who oppose the curriculum.

John Tranmer, chairman of the Independent Association of Prep Schools, said that it would back any of its 600 members who wanted to opt out.

“We are keen to support any member in asserting their independence, their right to determine what is best for children in their care. If that involves disapplication from EYFS they will have our backing,” he said.

Critics say such a prescriptive set of measurements is not suitable for young children because they develop at such different rates.

Most unpopular is the expectation that children should be able to write a sentence with punctuation by the time they reach 5.

Professor Richard House, spokesman for the Open EYE campaign against the curriculum, said that he hoped the victory would open the floodgates for others to opt out.

“When schools share the views of these Steiner schools about literacy and numeracy for such young children it will be hard for the Government to treat them differently,” he said.

“We hope it will also help form a more general legal challenge against the Government’s decision to set compulsory goals for children below the compulsory age of education.”

He admitted that the Government had made the appeal process so difficult that a school would have to be very determined to see it through.

Schools must win the backing of more than half their parents, warn them that funding might be cut and state why they are incapable of meeting each of the targets before they can even get leave to apply.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

thank you for sending this article.
I just forwarded it...
today I was thinking of you, and I spoke of you full of appreciation for your presence in my life ...
such as it is, so rich with the struggles of ...
I so appreciate your steadfast calm, even as it is so full of your passion for important and difficult and simple work
and the impact it has for me, for my son, and for Ken ...
and for oh so many families over the decades
and for these people in this forest school in these other nordic countries

Here in Maine, our children are not required to be in "formal education" until age 7, so the Forest Kindergartens of Denmark are kindred spirits...

From The Times
October 6, 2009
Lessons in life at the forest school
Thousands of pupils in Denmark learn tree climbing not times tables. But this carefree life for the under-7s is under threat

It’s a chilly, breezy afternoon in Klampenborg, an affluent suburb just north of Copenhagen. Two dozen children are playing in woodland that lies off the busy main road that leads into the city. Some are clustered around a teacher playing his guitar, others are running in and out of the oak trees in some made-up game. Empty lunch boxes are stacked by a tree and mats are strewn across the grass, evidence of a recent picnic, although it is not quite picnic weather. The children are well wrapped up in fleeces, jumpers and wellies.

It looks as if it is an afternoon outing for the local children, a break from the classroom and a chance for a little fresh air.

But something quite different is going on here. The wood is the classroom for these children who are pupils at the Klampenborg Skovbo, a forest school. From 8am to 4pm, five days a week, the 25 or so children come to school here, rain, hail or shine. They have their snacks here, eat their lunch here, build dens and play hide and seek. And there is no popping back home to use the loo. All that goes on outdoors too, with plenty of plastic bags on hand to remove the evidence.

The first thing to strike the British visitor is that most are school-age children, not toddlers. They are between 3 and 7 years old. Their peers in the UK would be sitting at desks learning to read, write and add up, with a half hour run around at lunch time if they are lucky.

Denmark prides itself on its late start to formal schooling at 7 years old. But forest schools are very different from the kindergartens that most Danish children attend. Kindergartens focus on similar things to English schools — developing cognitive and motor skills through drawing or solving puzzles, for example. At a forest school, there are no crayons, no drawing paper and no puzzles — just the great outdoors.

Another unusual element, from the British point of view, is that at this school the teachers, assistants and carers are all men, a rare sight in early years education in the UK. In Denmark, forest schools are not considered radical or some wacky alternative to “proper” education. One in ten schools for this age group are forest schools, making them part of the educational establishment.

Robert Grandahl is the 50-year-old head teacher, an evangelist for the forest school model. He is assisted by three other “social pedagogues”, experts educated to degree standard in child development, and a couple of carers. He joined the forest school only a few years ago having spent most of his career in care homes for teenagers. “This is much better. Less noise for a start,” he says.

There is a curriculum, largely based on the changing seasons, but not one that would pass muster at a British school. It involves learning to keep warm and dry in the snow, as well as building snowmen. In spring the children look for signs of new life in the forest and learn the names of the main plants and trees. In summer they study the wildlife — deer and birds at this particular school. They learn about changing foliage in the autumn and how animals prepare for hibernation.

“Lessons” are free-flowing exchanges between pedagogues and children, or children and children. They are encouraged to take the lead and point things out and ask questions. To an outsider, it all looks much like playing. Everything is heavily skewed towards the children’s social and emotional development.

Grandahl gives this example: “Every morning before we leave the hut all the children get into their outdoor clothes by themselves, even the youngest ones. I know it is difficult for them sometimes, especially in the winter when there are ski-suits and gloves and hats. But we do not rush them. We give them all the time they need. Sometimes it takes over an hour. But it gives the children confidence and independence,” he says.

He believes this environment offers young children everything they need to prepare them for formal school. “They play for much of the day. They get all the skills they need here. They hone their social skills, how to get along with other children, how to take care of other people. We help them to find the tools to solve conflict with one another. They learn to be independent, to take risks and find their own safe limits, and to cope for themselves outside,” he says.

“They also learn about nature, to respect it and be part of it.” As he is speaking the children run off to climb trees together, clearly a highlight for many of them. Their shrieks of laughter ring out as they urge one another to go higher and higher. Health and safety does not get much of a look in here. “We have about one trip to hospital a year. It’s not a big deal for the parents when there are accidents,” Grandahl says.

And what happens when these carefree kids who have never sat at a desk arrive at big school at the age of 7? Where do they find the discipline for comprehension, times tables and endless writing exercises? “We are one of three institutions that feed into the local school. The teachers there are all very happy with our children. They say all the pupils are socially more advanced and are the most ready to learn,” says Grandahl.

The contrast between Skovbo, which roughly translates as “home in the forest”, and a British primary school could not be more stark. Most children in the UK start formal learning at the age of 4, and are expected to be able to write a basic sentence by the time they are 5. The new Early Years Foundation Stage has 69 targets for literacy, numeracy and even emotional development.
British parents are slowly becoming aware of the lack of spontaneous fun in their young children’s lives. Unsupervised outdoor play has largely vanished, replaced by structured after-school classes and weekend visits to indoor soft-play centres or swimming pools. There is no statutory obligation to have outdoor space at the 15,000 registered nurseries, and numerous schools have sold off their playing fields in the past 30 years. Acres of green space is usually on offer only in the independent sector.

There is a forest school movement, but it’s not quite like Denmark’s. On offer are one or two forest nurseries for 2 to 4-year-olds, or days out in the woods for schoolchildren, maybe stretching to a week-long course for teenagers.

The Secret Garden Outdoor Nursery in Fife is the closest Britain comes to a proper forest school. Founded by Cathy Bache, a former childminder, there is no building and the children are out in the woods all day whatever the weather.

Even with the support of the local authority and the community, getting it established has not been plain sailing. It took about four years to open and get to the point of having 90 per cent of places filled. At the most recent inspection, officials were not happy with the “wild toileting” arrangements.

If a movement is building for forest nurseries, it will struggle to break into the highly regulated world of formal schooling in the UK. Sue Palmer, the literacy expert and author of Toxic Childhood, thinks this is a shame. Although many parents are starting to question the rigid approach to early years learning in the UK, she believes it would be difficult for parents to allow no formal learning until the age of 7, when everyone else is reading and writing.
She has just returned from a visit to Denmark where she is researching forest schools and found little research on what impact they have on the children’s academic performance later on. “As far as the Danes are concerned, the benefits of forest schools are immeasurable so they don’t try. In fact they have a pretty scathing attitude towards measuring outcomes in general. But there is concern there about the country’s relatively low performance on reading, and questions are being asked about why that is. Danish children don’t do as well as other Nordic countries with the same late start to formal education, such as Finland,” she says.

The latest international study ranks Denmark’s pupils 23rd in the world for reading at the age of 15, compared with Finland in second place. The science ranking is also low, at 28, below countries such as Poland and Slovenia.

“In the end, I think there are things that matter more to Danish society, that they value social and emotional development very highly, so I’m sure the future of forest schools is safe,” Palmer says.

Back in Denmark, it’s picking-up time at Klampenborg Skovbo. Children and teachers are back at base camp, a rudimentary wooden hut with a small kitchen and office. There are no piles of papers, no files and, most notably, no computer. It is most definitely an Ofsted-free zone.
“We don’t really have any paperwork. If we have a problem with a child we talk to the parents. Only if we had some really serious difficulty would we need to keep records or documents,” says Grandahl. “We do have an inspection about once a year. They just look at the photographs on the notice board and come outside and watch what we do all day. I think this is one of the big things about our system. We are all well qualified and trusted to do a good job. It’s only if people are not well qualified and low paid that you need lots of rules.”

Christel Becker is collecting Fiona, 4, one of the minority of girls who attend. Three quarter of the pupils are boys.
Her elder sister went to a normal classroom-based pre-school, and her mother regrets it now. “She was always sick and always complained when she had to go outside and play. Even though it was all based around play, I thought it was all very intense.

“Fiona was quite into girls things, dressing up as a princess and so on. But she gets on with the boys really well and likes all the physical play and is a lot more active than her sister now,” she says. “She can draw and paint at home if she wants to, so she isn’t missing out. If I could do it over again I would send both girls here.”

Sebastian, 4, has just joined the school and says he is loving it already. Word has spread that once or twice a year, there is a mass sleepover in the forest and he cannot wait. “The swings are the best part but I want to go to the shelter and stay the night,” he says.
Bernhardt, 5, has been at Skovbo for a year so has seen all the seasons. “Winter is the best time, building things in the snow. It’s not so good in the rain. Everything gets wet but we have a few places where we can go and take cover. This summer has been fantastic. We have seen a woodpecker this year and two baby eagles,” he says.

Grandahl is concerned that the freedoms of the forest schools are under threat, despite their popularity.

From next year, all schools will be obliged to provide a hot meal for pupils. Here, they all bring a packed lunch. He and his colleagues are trying to work out whether they can use the little kitchen to prepare food, or whether they will have to use outside caterers. Either way it will add to the DKK2,000 (£250) monthly fees. And there are voices in the educational establishment asking whether this slow start to formal education is risking Denmark’s economic position in an increasingly competitive global market.

Grandahl hopes parents will resist pressure to change the system. “Opposition, not to forest schools, but to our slow start to formal education, is growing. There are people who think we should not be starting at 7 and want to see what will happen if we bring down the age that reading and writing begins. I think that would be a great shame.”

Monday, September 21, 2009

This Thursday

Dear Parents,

This Thursday, I will be traveling to Rudolf Steiner College near Sacramento, California to participate in a task force on Waldorf Early Childhood Training. I will be one of twelve who will be working with WECAN (our Waldorf Early Childhood Association of North America) as we take up questions of providing education for the teachers and caregivers of young children.

Ordinarily, I would not miss a day of school this early in the year, but the children are settling in happily with the care and guidance of Mister John. Heather Wyman (mom of Lucas) will be here that morning through lunchtime. And Shelby Downing (mom of Evan) will be here to take the six older boys for a walk to the stream for the morning. (Not to worry, we will ALL hike to the stream soon!) So, the hikers may bring rubber boots and rain pants that morning.

Thanks for "letting me go" to carry on our work in the wider Waldorf and LifeWays community. And special thanks to Mister John, Miss Heather and Miss Shelby for their wonderful support. I will be back next Tuesday morning after recovering from the 'red-eye express' return trip!

(Many people "my age" move on to administration alone, but in my estimation, being with the children is the best part!")

Off and Running!

Dear Parents,

Thanks to your quiet and focused cooperation at drop-off time (helping your child find and put on inside shoes, greet the teachers and deliver food) we are off to gentle and harmonious start of the school year! Indeed, with your help in a cheerful and confidant "see you soon!", the "waving window" has quickly ceased to become a "wailing wall" and tears have quickly become smiles.

This second week, the children will recognize the "grain of the day" in our menu. It is a slight change from last year, with Tuesday being Rye Bread Day, Wednesday being Stone Soup with Barley, and Thursday being Rice Day. The complete menu is attached.

I forgot to mention previously (although perhaps this is part of the "lore" that is passed down from generation to generation of parents) that if someone other than the one doing drop-off will be doing pick-up, car seats may be stowed for the morning in the barn on the bench.

Also, we still have a few openings in the afternoon. So we are able to offer an afternoon "drop-in" option for $20/afternoon. We begin at 12:30 with lunch served by Mister John, then a quiet time on individual mats set up with pillows and blankets brought from home, a Thornton Burgess Old Mother West Wind story read by Mister John, foot rubs and quiet time for half an hour as one or two fall asleep. Then outdoor play and Mister John's woodworking shop until parents pick up at 3:00. It is a restorative afternoon of "neighborhood" activity, even if the children don't fall asleep.

Thanks again for the privilege of hosting your children at Spindlewood. Mister John and I regard it as a sacred duty to support the children and their families during these formative years.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Parent Response to Family Work Party

Hi Susan!

What a great group of families yesterday! The morning was a great example of how Spindlewood benefits our whole family - not just our daughter Zo (although clearly, she reaps the real rewards). We all had such a great time. I only wish I could have stayed longer...

See you Tuesday!

The Magic of Work and Play

Our Parent-Child Teacher Michele Beckstrom found this quote that summarizes nicely what our intent is:

"When an adult is working with their hands, he/she is engaging themselves with life, with creative activity. Young children imitate the gesture of the work, and through this they show a greater ability to engage in their movement and play activity. Parents can see how their own activity influences their child in positive ways. The adult is not centered on their child but in work, and the outcome is that children can also do so with their world, therefore getting a better balance in the relationship."

Lourdes Callen (from The Parent and Child Group Handbook by Dot Male)

Saturday, September 12, 2009

What a happy, cheery, playful Family Work Party we had this morning! Windows are washed, flower boxes planted, firewood split and stacked, and leaves raked in preparation for the first day of school. The kindergarten building and grounds are fairly glowing from all of the good work of parents and grandparents. It is so amazing to see how the children engage themselves with work and play alongside the adults! Such parental involvement is so supportive of the children's succesful participation.

This is the mood that Mr. John and I will focus on maintaining throughout the school year, of cheerful, purposeful activity that inspires the children's cooperation and involvement. We are grateful for all of the parents who helped to warm up the kindergarten this morning and set the tone for our year together.

Looking forward to welcoming the children on Tuesday!
Ms. Susan

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

LifeWays in the Great Sandy Desert?

Dear Friends,
Thought you might enjoy this letter from Rae-Lee, who interned this winter here at Spindlewood. She was completing her Waldorf teacher training when she discovered Lifeways and created a way to work alongside her life partner in his work with the indigenous people of Australia.

Sent: Wednesday, August 05, 2009 7:00 AM
Subject: Red Sandy Shoes
Greeting ladies With another week together fast approaching an update from my corner of the world seems due. I am living in the Western Desert of Western Australia. The Western Desert is actually made up of three deserts: The Great Sandy Desert, The Little Sandy Desert and the Gibson Desert. While the landscape is dry and certainly dusty, it is greener and more lush than you might imagine. Jason and I have driven many kilometers (about 5000) together in these past weeks, an excellent way to help me adjust to my new environment. I am delighted to report ther are enough bits and pieces to create my own little nature garden and I have been given permission to plant a small garden on the property where we are staying, so the sparse grass has been dug up and seeds purchased. I have visions of sunflowers sharing space with tomato plants and then some fast growing greens. One big experiment out here, will keep you posted. Jason's work as an environmental health officer is divided between two communities, three months at a time in each place: Jigalong and Punmu. Jigalong is the larger of the two but numbers are hard to count, there is constant movement among the 'mob,' as they are referred to. Numbers can be low or high at any given time and always subject to change, they are still a very transient culture. Theirs is a different way. Theirs is a different consciousness. Of that much I am sure. To view life out here with objectivity is my biggest task. The value of those words shared during the mindfulness sessions are particularly helpful, as there is much work to do here and the process crawls along at a snails pace.....maybe most all change does? But my LifeWays binder made the journey, I happy to report. So keep those pages coming, if you can! Of utmost importance is diet. Both communities have a small store which sells all the good stuff: pop, chips, cookies, candy, lollies, meat pies......and did I mention pop! Veggies are there but they take the back burner to be sure. The little ones suffer the most, very hard to watch a 4 year old walk around with a full can of coke, a bag of chips and a candied apple at 9am BUT I have seen it and all too much of it here. In an attempt to spread more awarness, Jason and I have set-up a Saturday morning market table in front of the shop. For one or two dolllars we prepare and sell different warm food stuffs. The first week was vegetable soup, and this past was pumpkin scones. It is a small way in which to establish a rhythm and routine to our actions that can resonate and by making healthy treats from ingredients in the shop then maybe some education can squeeze through....what is a pumpkin for example. Any and all ideas are welcome, think budget, think limited fresh produce and let those imaginations start rolling. I do have visions for a sort of after school care, lifeways inspired program for the young ones here (up to 7). I have a fenced in, very private back yard filled with about 7 big climbing trees and was thinking about a scaled down version of a morning program complete with a snack, a circle, a story. They are certainly not at a loss for outdoor time or free play. We will see, some planning and a few conversations throughout this week and I should have a better idea. I organize my week, just as though I would with a home program, another attempt to establish some routine for myself. Monday is bread day, Tuesday art day.....etc and so the days roll in and out. Here we are almost another session about to begin, almost three weeks into my first three months in the desert. Am sending thoughts of warmth, joy, happiness and love this day and everyday xoxoxo Rae and Jason

LifeWays Training this July

What a great class of LifeWays students gathered to complete their final session this summer. We met for two weeks in July in Freeport, and one day here at Spindlewood for a workshop in the arts. The students traveled from Atlanta, Baltimore, New York, Cape Cod and Vermont as well as Maine. They are parents, Waldorf early childhod teachers and home preschool teachers. This is the second cycle of training that I have been privileged to accompany. We are now planning for the next cycle of Lifeways Early Childhood and Human Development Training for the Northeast, beginning next July in our midcoast area!

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

A New York Times Article about reclaiming Kindergarten

Here's an article from Peggy Orenstein who has her finger on the pulse of current research and is resonating with the voice of our friends at Alliance for Childhood! http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/03/magazine/03wwln-lede-t.html

Friday, May 1, 2009

Spindlewood May Celebration

You are Invited!

May Celebration
for young children and families

This Thursday, May 7
8:30 - 10:30 a.m.
Spindlewood Waldorf Kindergarten

8:30 May Pole Raising
9:00 May Crown Weaving
9:30 Circle time
Skipping and Singing around the Maypole
10:00 Snack of Breads, Cheese & Fruit
10:15 Puppet Play - The Queen Bee
RSVP Susan @ silverio@tidewater.net

LifeWays training weekend "Nurturing and Nourishing - Child and Caregiver

Our third session of the 2008-2009 LifeWays Early Childhood and Human Develpoment Training took place last weekend in Freeport, Maine. With Elizabeth Sustick, anthrposophical nurse we focused on the Nurturing Arts, one of the cornerstones of this relationship-based way of caring for children.

At each of the four session, students create a festival for families. This time we anticipated Whitsund. You can see our photos at http://www.flickr.com:80/photos/37656109@N06/?saved=1

Here are some letters from some of the 22 students:

"...i am so grateful for this training. i love the mother it is helping me to become.
warmest blessings"
"change the world ~ nurture a child"

"What I love most about Waldorf and Lifeways teachings is the great level of respect, love and care it has for our special little children. It's an INCREDIBLY tender approach to being in relationship with children as well as with one another. It simply amazes me!!

"Susan, your spirit speaks great truth. You ARE, clearly, what you teach. The way you were in relationship with all of us over the weekend is a wonderful model of the way we can be in relationship with our little ones. You are a very special person...so kind, so true and so accepting.

"I say this with great humor...it was somewhat intimidating to bring my mainstream, non-waldorf, children to a group of, seemingly, Waldorf experienced folks. Gina and I joke....here come our kids with their "plastic" clothes and tv filled brains and sugar filled bellies.........here we come to make some noise!! But you know, I didn't feel judged a bit. We are all on a journey and need to start somewhere. I was so happy we could bring our little ones and so happy that everyone could meet them. The celebration was beautiful...."

"It really was a special wonderful weekend and i am so grateful I can be part of this training, and to be in a circle of nurturing caring women."

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Open House on April 11, Saturday 9 - 11:00 a.m.

Open House
at Spindlewood
Waldorf Multi-age Kindergarten
Saturday, April 11
9 - 11:00 a.m.

An introduction
to some of the activitites of the kindergarten,
and a story ~
Afterwards children will be guided in outdoor play by Mr. John, the assistant teacher
while parents have an opportunity to meet with Ms. Susan, the lead teacher.

Tell your friends!

March is Maple Sugaring season at Spindlewood

Ms. Shelby (Evan's Mom) and Mr. Jonathon (Evan's Dad) are leading an Outdoor Hour first thing in the morning doing Maple Sugaring. They already have a rhythmic work routine established of taking the red wagon and pails up to the barn and collecting sap from the dozen buckets of the maple trees along the stone wall on the other side of the road. They bring it back to the shed where the kettle boils on the gas burner, and strain the sap into the kettle to boil into syrup. There are small cups in the shed and everyone is welcome to a taste!

They also draw water from the well for the sheep and chickens and gather the eggs. Next week is Spring! They will be removing the greens and mulch from the window boxes and the tulip garden around the school and sawing a branch of the pussy willow tree!

Sunday, March 8, 2009

a good article about recess and time in nature.

Here's a great clipping from Polly Shyka. More evidence to support what we know and love!


Josey and Ben and Prentice are out on the pond fishing with the Luft boys. Heaven on earth.
have a great weekend.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Elves and Angels at work this weekend

Dear Spindlewood Community,

In addition to bringing a story and puppet play to the kindergarten while she is here, Rae-Lee, our Waldorf Teacher-in-training from Toronto, has prompted a much needed weekend of TLC to our classroom. She moved and removed all furnishings so that Jack and I and Mister John could paint all of the interior walls this Saturday. Then, on Sunday, Michele Beckstrom and Susan Junge joined us to "Lazure" the walls. This technique of applying thin veils of watercolor are used throughout Steiner/Waldorf communities to create a living, breathing transparent quality to surfaces. Then we painted the interior trim and cupboards. Today, Rae-Lee has cleaned and restored all of furniture, toys and seasonal table. And we washed and ironed the curtains.

So, I am so grateful to all of these elves and angels, and look forward to welcoming the children and you in to our freshly "ensouled" space.

Sweet dreams,

Monday, January 19, 2009

Continuing Education for Caregivers and Preschool Teachers

Hi Jolie,

Thanks for your question. LifeWays is creating an understanding of and support for relationship-based care for the first seven years of human life. The LifeWays Center in Milwaukee welcomes children from a few weeks to 5 or 6 years in family-style "home rooms". In the course of the week there are Parent-Child gatherings with toddlers as well as Kindergarten gatherings for the older children.

Here at Spindlewood, we now include several 3-year-olds in the kindergarten morning. One of our 6-year-olds call it her "mixed-up-age kindergarten" :). One of the things I love about it is how the older children learn to respect and care for the younger ones. Yes, it can be challenging, but the blended ages bring such richness and humor to our days. The parents are grateful that siblings can share the same experiences, and be together in the same small school setting. One of the things that has surprised me is how the older children, perhaps especially the 6 year olds, have appreciated a more nurturing and nourishing approach. You can read more about it in Re-inventing Spindlewood http://waldorf2.intercast-media.com/2006/07/reinventing_spindlewood.html.

Because LifeWays training involves monthly contact with a mentor especially chosen for each student, there is built-in support for each individual student's life and work.

The April LifeWays weekend in Maine is a stand-alone session focusing on all of early childhood, as well as care of the caregiver. Another aspect of LifeWays training is that we focus not only on creating Home for body, soul and spirit of the young child, but also for our own home life.
Be well!
Susan SilverioNortheast LifeWays Early Childhood and Human Development Training105 Proctor RoadLincolnville, ME 04849207-763-4652