Nestled atop a ridge along Wildcat Canyon Regional Park in Contra Costa County, East Bay Waldorf School nurtures its children in the spirit of anthroposophy, educating them through the gifts of art, music, and nature. The rolling chaparral with coast live oak, eucalyptus, and maple provides the setting for this 11-acre K-8 school founded in 1980. Lavender and wild grasses grow along the perimeter, maples dot the school grounds, and a lone pepper tree stands guard next to a stuccoed bell tower in the central courtyard. A straw-bale structure houses wood-working tables, and an earthen chicken coup shelters hens and a couple of roosters. Wooden decks and large overhangs extend out from the classrooms to give students the continued feeling of protection in their daily lessons. Wood pegs lined one railing with colorful rubber boots made for small feet, apparently to let children play in puddles on rainy days - wonderful!
I was a guest teacher on Thursday, having done a main lesson for the third grade class, and an art lesson for their fourth grade class. Culturally diverse, and altogether endearing, the chidlren shared with me their joyful energy and youthful spirits.
For the third grade child, who is transitioning away from the security of oneness, and into the adventure of separateness, I had each one introduce him or herself while striking a pose, and repeating what each of their classmates also had done. As you might imagine, some had quite lively and exuberant poses, while others simple and quiet. It was my barometer to see what the students were like, and a way for me to remember their names.
Paying attention to the rhythms of our activities, I had them do a controlled exercise of passing a wood squirrel I had made, with words:
This is Sally Squirrel
There she goes
She will stop
Where the acorns grow!
Then they all placed acorn caps on their heads, and while balancing, sung to the tune of Little Tea Pot:
I'm a giant acorn
Here's my crown
When the wind blows
I fall down!
I then played my harp for them. After the end of each song, they asked for another one, and another. I was so glad they enjoyed the harp music.
The students were learning about time, so I brought as our new content and practice, wood blocks I fashioned from branches, along with sticks, and a circular mat (from our Syrendell Etsy shop). It was a partner activity where I instructed the children to count by ones using the short stick, and by fives using the long stick. Then, the sticks became the hands of the clock, and I gave them a time to match with their clock faces.
For storytime, I recounted from my own childhood the story of The Sleeping Giant, about my grandfather's adventures with me and my brothers through the countryside of the Philippines - the Sleeping Giant was a mountainside whose silhouette was that of a reclining man. The students are also learning about Cain and Abel, so I wanted to bring up in my story about my loving relationship with my younger brothers.
I closed with a simple verse, and their teacher then lead their rituals of getting ready for snack time. I felt blessed to have had the chance to be with the children and offer them some jewels of my life and work.
For the fourth grade class, I taught an art lesson on basic shading techniques using colored pencils. Their curriculum is all about the adventurous spirit of humankind - Norse mythology, Native American studies, California history. This is tied to their studies of zoology, geometry, and map making. The fourth grade child is expanding his or her boundaries, meeting the world with a mix of trepidation, wonder, and courage. Heroism is called for, strength and boldness is essential. Guidance is absolutely necessary.
I offered them the Warrior Code:
Fight for love
Aim for victory
With reverence for the art instrument, I also asked them to recite with art pencil raised high above their heads:
In my hand I hold
The power to express
The beauty of my world
I use it with respect.
A classroom of 19 students, I prepared a drawing for each child from which they practiced shading corners and circles, creating three-dimensional spaces. In the end, using an extended version of the Warrior Code, with each word of the code I printed on the backs of their art papers, they reassembled their individual works to reveal the Midgard sea serpent! I had first prepped 20 sheets of paper by drawing a sea serpent (with artistic elements that allowed for the lesson on shading), then distributing them randomly in the classroom. It was like putting a puzzle together. The reveal was the coolest part of the lesson!
I was very thankful for East Bay Waldorf for welcoming me that day. It was clear to me that the teachers of the school cared deeply for the welfare of the children. I sensed in those I met, genuine and gentle souls.
In the peaceful setting of the school, through the spirits of the teachers, I
know that the children were loved and supported through their individual strivings.