Monday, June 15, 2015

The Gift of Nature: a Musical Moment


By Nancy Roderick: Music Teacher


 I am blessed to teach music to students at Merriconeag Waldorf School in grades two through twelve. What amazes me the most is that there really isn’t such a thing as a “typical day” for me. The incredible variety in my work, the love I have for the children and the passion for my subject keeps me inspired. This year has included teaching well over 100 string students each week, classroom music classes made up of singing, games, recorder playing and folk dancing, work with a cappella groups of all ages and genres, gumboot dancing, making percussion instruments, 4 part recorder ensemble, Viennese waltzing, teaching the South African National Anthem, conducting two choruses, three large string ensembles and helping prepare music for a fabulous 9th and 10th grade musical! (“Pippin!!)

I have experienced so many fabulous musical times with students here at Merriconeag, but I would like to share one musical moment in particular that stands out in my mind.  In mid January two students popped their heads into the music room during lunch recess. “We’re working on something we’d like to show you,” they said.

 In came Clara and Grace, two fifth grade girls, both music lovers and as sweet as they come. They opened a tiny little notebook in which they had composed the first few verses of a song. Handwritten in pencil were lyrics and a few drawings of a bird and some leaves. I read the words and thought to myself, wow, how lovely.



“We made up a melody for it, can we sing it for you?” The girls sang me the tune they had composed. I was floored. It was truly beautiful. A few days later they stopped back in with a final verse and a chorus. On their own, they had also created an incredibly beautiful harmony line.

Over the next few weeks, the girls continued to stop in at any available recess time. We worked to notate the melody and I helped by adding chords to accompany their song. I don’t remember who’s idea it was, but the girls knew this song was something special and they decided it should be a gift for their teacher, who is adored by this entire class of 24 students. I spoke with the girls about sharing their song with the class. They were a bit hesitant as neither of them are attention seekers, but within their class they felt safe enough to share.

Clara and Grace sang it to their classmates during music class. The fifth grade listened attentively. When they finished, the class burst into genuine applause, and this was before they had any idea that the song they just heard was written by Clara and Grace. When I told them who had composed the song, the class couldn’t believe it. I spoke of the work that the girls had put into the song and that they would like it to be a gift for Miss Peirson. I told them that I thought we could make this the most special surprise ever. What if the entire fifth grade learned the song and we presented it to Miss Peirson at the school’s spring concert?


The class was very excited by this idea. They worked on the song every week in their chorus class. Clara and Grace were amazed to hear their own creation come to life! At the spring concert the two girls beautifully wrapped a small box. Miss Peirson was asked to come forward and open it. She had no idea why she was being singled out at this large assembly. Inside the box was a small paper scroll with the lyrics to the song, “The Gift of Nature”.

“We wrote you a song, Miss Peirson.” She still didn’t quite understand, until her class started to sing. Their sweet voices filled our community hall with sound. Miss Peirson understood. This was one of the most beautiful musical presentations I have ever been a part of. The children sang their song, “The Gift of Nature” from their hearts as a gift for someone they love. The lyrics to the song were printed in the program for all to enjoy.


The Gift of Nature
by Clara & Grace

When the sun is tired of shining
Then the moon it knows to glow
When the snow is tired of falling
Then the flowers they’ll start to grow

When the tiny seeds are sleeping
In the ground so safe and warm,
They trust the earth to keep them happy
‘Till the winter days are done

And the world it turns and turns
While the fire it burns and burns
And the waves they churn and churn
With each other

When the animals are waking
In the dusky early morn
They have a sense that spring is coming
The winter chill will soon be gone

When the little children roam
Through the wild and unknown
They find a peace with mother nature
And they finally feel at home

And the world it turns and turns
While the fire it burns and burns
And the waves they churn and churn
With each other

There will always be a season
There will always be a change
But remember life and love
Will always remain



Friday, June 5, 2015

Agricultural Arts at Merriconeag

 By Kacie Breault: Agricultural Arts Teacher


Now that spring is finally here in full force, Merriconeag's new agricultural arts program is getting underway. We are planning and planting, readying ourselves to start full force in the new school year in September.  I have been working with various grades to plan and build the gardens that will become the foundation of this wonderful new program.

The first grade class will soon be seeding sunflowers, rudbeckia and marigolds in the raised garden bed behind the Handwork building. The marigolds will be used as a dye in a handwork project for the class next fall. The sunflowers and rudbeckia will attract pollinators and birds while adding to the beauty of our campus.

Our 3rd grade class is finishing the year with a shelter building and gardening block. They are constructing a chicken tractor, growing a three sisters garden (corn, beans and squash) and constructing a raised bed to be placed outside of the grades 1-4 building. This bed, the children's gift to future third grades, will be tended every year by the third grade class as a part of their practical studies. This year's 2nd grade will be planting in the raised bed this spring and will take on the responsibly of maintaining the garden bed in the fall.

The 7th grade, who have become the school's pioneer gardeners over the past seven years, built their garden plot from scratch with the help of local farmer Steve Sinisi. This year the garden has expanded to include 14 raised beds, two of which were donated to the 3rd grade to grow their garden. The class has also helped plan and design the planting of the twelve beds, which will include potatoes, kale, cabbage, onions, carrots, peas, beans, salad mix, and an assortment of herbs.

Future plans for gardening on our campus include permaculture design and practices, in collaboration with the Resilience Hub. We encourage you to take a look at their website to see all of the wonderful projects that they are helping to grow.

https://resiliencehub.wordpress.com/

If you are interested in helping out in our gardening program or working some of our garden space over the summer, please contact me at kbreault@merriconeag.org







Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Gleanings from the Waldorf Community

As the school year comes to an end, I would like to share a few articles from our colleagues around the country.  One of the things I appreciate most about being part of a Waldorf school community, is how far that community extends.  Waldorf schools all over the world are faced with many of the same questions and struggles and it is always inspiring to read how others are approaching these.  I hope you find these insightful articles as thought-provoking as I have.



Are Waldorf Schools Religious?    from Loving Learning, the blog of the Waldorf School of Philadelphia


Anti-Screen? No! Pro-Human Relationship? Yes!  written by Kim Payne and posted on the blog of the Eugene Waldorf School


Stumbling Together  from the blog of the Seattle Waldorf School



Happy Reading!
-Heidi Drexel

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Fifth Grade Pentathlon Celebration Festival



By John Saccone: Movement Education



This May we are celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Maine Pentathlon Festival. It is a truly great event and milestone. The organizers would like to thank Paula Runge and Cynthia Taliaferro for planting the seeds, Jaimen McMillan and Thom Schaefer for bringing this impulse into Waldorf Schools and the Spacial Dynamic Institute for their continued support.


The event is an athletic, artistic and poetic combination that brings us closer to the higher ideals of the Greek Olympics. This year's fifth grade participants will be coming from the Bay School in Blue Hill, Ashwood Waldorf School in Rockport, Les Enfants de la Terre in Quebec, and Merriconeag. Once our guests arrive, our students will lead them to their sleeping spaces and help set up. We then have a walk-through rehearsal of the opening ceremony and enjoy dinner together.   

In the evening, we sing, perform an artistic offering from each school, and hear a story about the first Olympics and how the City States came together in peace. The City States: Athens, Sparta, Olympia, Thebes, Corinth and Delphi, are made up of a mix of students from every school. Once students have gathered into their states, they learn about our scoring method, which focuses on Form, Dynamic and Measure. Each of these receives a score of 1 to 3, with 3 being the highest. Good posture is essential as we strive to carry ourselves in a noble fashion. Dynamic is the force, rhythm and power behind a movement. Measure is how far one throws or jumps. All of the students have a pre-score from their trainers. On the night before the event, the athletes are asked that each City State work to exceed their training score. Then we sing and say good night.


On Friday, the athletes rise early with anticipation of the day’s events. We meet together inside of the Temple (Community Hall) that is closed to all except the athletes and judges. We warm-up with Spacial Dynamic exercises and Bothmer gymnastics. We sing our Pentathlon song, Give Us Peace, and follow the judges and flag bearers silently in single file to a drumbeat into the stadium. We greet the assembled crowd, and each school shares a nature offering and ode to the gods. We then split up into the City States, oaths are recited by the athletes and judges, a torch is lit and everyone runs around the field behind the torchbearer. Let the Games Begin!

Each City State moves through the disciplines of javelin, discus, long jump, wrestling, sprint and painting of peace flags. There is a final sprint of the fastest athletes from each City State and we end with a relay race, where all the athletes run around the field and pass the baton to the next runner. At the end, everyone is honored with a medal and laurel wreath and we rejoice together in a Greek Feast.


Over the years I have observed that the practice towards this event and the actual Pentathlon brings out the highest sportsmanship of everyone involved. Students in the upper grades always want to help on this day. When I say I’m looking for a 3, their posture becomes upright and the space around them grows. The entire event is always extraordinary and positive.



Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Elevating the Word: The Power of Poetry in the High School

By David Sloan: High School Drama and Humanities Teacher

"Poems build our capacity for imaginative thinking, create a tolerance for ambiguity, and foster an appreciation for the role of the unknown in human life."
           Tony Hoagland, Author of Twenty Little Poems that Could Save America


Three years ago, then Merriconeag senior Tyler O'Brien earned the title of Maine state champion in the nationwide Poetry Out Loud contest, a competition requiring students to recite by heart three poems by famous poets.  While in one way it was a remarkable individual accomplishment for Tyler, in another sense it was not so surprising that a Waldorf student performed so well in such an event.  After all, Waldorf students are nourished on poetry from their earliest exposure in the Nursery-Kindergarten through the grades, reciting daily verses, strong, rhythmical classics like Longfellow's Hiawatha in fourth grade, writing their own creative pieces in main lessons such as the seventh grade Wish, Wonder and Surprise block, and acting in plays every single year.

In high school this working with the Word intensifies and deepens.  Freshmen often begin their high school careers encountering the polarities expressed in tragic and comic verse form, usually in Sophocles' Oedipus Rex and a Shakespeare play such as A Midsummer Night's Dream. Sophomores in need of an ancient primer on how to deal with various temptations read Homer's poetic epic The Odyssey.  Juniors, who often experience their own burgeoning inner shadows, delve into Dante's terza rima in his Inferno, but they also savor Chaucer's earthy rhyming couplets in his Middle English Canterbury Tales. Seniors striving to find their own individual voices explore the extremities of style and scope in the expansive work of Walt Whitman and the explosive economy of Emily Dickinson. 

Yet perhaps the course that most explicitly prepares students both to appreciate the craft of poetry, and to try their own hand at writing it, is aptly titled The Art of Poetry.  Students often come into such a course believing all manner of myths about poetry—that it must rhyme, that it must be "pretty" or "romantic," "Hallmark-card-cute" or impossibly obscure.  They don't think of the music lyrics they listen to on their iPods as being poetry; indeed, they generally don't think much of poetry at all. 

This tenth grade class has a threefold objective: 1) to guide students into an awareness of the root and flowering of the English language, from its Indo-European inception to the gradual cross-pollination of Anglo-Saxon and Latinate streams; 2) to introduce them to a way of appreciating poetry by understanding the poet's image-making and music-making tool kit: meter, metaphor, personification, alliteration, etc.   In this exploration, we are doing nothing less than schooling the students' powers of observation and "image"-ination, as well as attuning their ears, so that they may begin to hear the music of the Word and of the world.  3) To encourage them to write their own poetry, to begin to find ways of expressing their maturing feelings and deepening thinking. 

This last goal is no insignificant matter; adolescents are inherently seekers, striving to be recognized as an individual-in-the-process-of becoming.  They are searching for their own distinctive voices; in this quest, many feel pulled by ambivalent and paradoxical feelings.  On the one hand, they have the urge to protect their tender, fledgling egos; some become very adept at masking their true selves behind a variety of false fronts and evasive maneuvers.  On the other, they would like nothing more than to reveal themselves to the world, if only they could be assured that the world would be tender in its response. 

Hence, the great opportunity through poetry, both for young people to express their inner "soulscape," and for teachers and parents to listen attentively. The poet John Ciardi once wrote, "You don't have to suffer to be a poet; adolescence is enough suffering for anyone." Why do teenagers suffer so much?  Partly because one of the incipient inner forces that develops at this age is the capacity for real love. At the same time, they become painfully aware of their own incompleteness, and feel the first stirrings of love as a way of entering consciously into a communion with another human being. 

There is simply no way to avert this suffering.  Indeed, it can be one of the most valuable afflictions they experience in their young lives, since suffering can both deepen and enlarge their capacity for empathy for others.  However, as inescapable as such pain is, young people can write about it; they can use it as a vehicle for bridging the gulf between their inner world and the outer.  Perhaps the highest expression of this desire that I encountered poetically this year follows below. It was composed by sophomore Sabrina Small, and it was selected as one of the finalist poems in this year's Merriconeag Poetry Festival by judge and nationally-known poet Jeffrey Harrison.

All I Knew Then

Back when hope had yet to lose me,
when you would only talk smoothly,
I saw your ghost on the backs of my eyelids, always.
You held me to save me, and kept me from those
who wished to take my heart and
sell it for twenty pounds on the street.
And we were love in a pill.

Back when we promised to never ever care again,
I broke my knee for some twinkly words
out of your mouth, and you took me to Mars in a ship
made of fallen leaves, and I never hated autumn again.
Underneath that white pine
you had hair that rang like distant bells,
and the burn I got from making pasta didn’t hurt.

Back when we were a year older than old itself,
I had nothing else but you
and she had garden lips and blooming eyes
and your lungs swelled with flowers, mine
with thorns, and my ribs cracked.
My body was a graveyard,
and your eyes couldn’t touch me,
 and for three months summer was cold.

But you rushed in on fire with the taste of chocolate,
and I was mango, and we were fools!
And you said I was more blackberry,
and you were more clementine. 
We were fancy red hats on the heads of old ladies,
and dust on a bookshelf at home.

Back when our shadows strolled
and clocks killed us in my dreams
You saw faces in the fog
and forced me to be free.
And we were as long as the music lasted,
until our gazes could not meet.
My heart beat against my eyelids
a form between us shifted,
cracked its back and knuckles,
and they found you on the bathroom floor.

Here in one richly wrought poem we can see what Tony Hoagland meant when he cited the "imaginative thinking" and "tolerance for ambiguity" that poetry cultivates in poets and audience alike.  Sabrina's surprising and evocative use of figurative speech: "you had hair that rang like distant bells" and "We were fancy red hats on the heads of old ladies" exemplify the creative leaps of a future "wordsmith." Furthermore, her facility for paradox ("You saw faces in the fog/and forced me to be free") and implicit, rather than overt, meaning ("a form between us shifted/cracked its back and knuckles") shows uncommon restraint, even amid the poet's soul-wrenching pain.

So much of the poetry that high school students compose bears the recognizable stamp of their suffering, as well of this desire to enter into relationship.  But when teenagers can employ language as artfully as Sabrina does in this poem, poetry ultimately can become for teenagers not simply a response to an assignment, but a balm, a vital path of self-discovery, a probing inquiry into the two inextricably linked questions of identity:  Who are you? and Who am I?

Friday, April 17, 2015

Why So Much Time Outside?

This week, we would like to share a few links to articles that explore some of the reasons that we feel time in nature is so essential to children's healthy development.  We make sure all of our classes get plenty of outdoor time- including time in the woods- because we know that even though society has changed, children have not.  Time to play freely in nature builds capacities that other activities just cannot recreate.

Happy Reading!


http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2015/03/29/why-kids-are-getting-more-aggressive-on-the-playground/

http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2010/aug/16/childre-nature-outside-play-health

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/nate-hanson/the-last-generation-of-ki_b_6139504.html?utm_hp_ref=email_share



Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Geography: Earth's Stories

By Marta Rackmales: Fifth Grade Teacher

Yesterday, the fifth grade was discussing why a tale like Paul Bunyan came to be. A man taller than a house? A blue ox nearly as tall? There were several musings. "Well, maybe there was a big baby and over time, as the tale was told, people described him as bigger and bigger." Or, "Everything in North America was so big, people had to find a way to explain the hugeness of it all, like the Grand Canyon. They didn't really know back then just how the Grand Canyon had formed, or the Rocky Mountains, but they needed some explanation.” Or, "The story told about lumberjacks. And, it was entertaining!"

Geography is my favorite subject to teach. Delving into geography creates a continuous cycle of questions and answers and questions and answers. Why is the land bumpy? Why is the sea salty? Why are there sea-life fossils in the middle of the continent of North America? I have a particular interest in geography, I think, because my own family comes from nearly four different corners of the earth. I grew up on Cape Cod. My husband, although his home base was Virginia, began his life in what was once Yugoslavia; at two he was fluent in Serbo-Croatian. My son comes from northern Kazakhstan, and my daughter comes from Ethiopia. In my classroom, the students have stories of varied journeys, of different sources of geography in their ancestry.

The word 'geography' means 'the writing of the earth'. Some of these questions can actually be answered by looking at the earth, and finding letters, even sentences that tell a story that started millions of years ago. Other questions can be answered by considering the human being. Why do many Norwegians have blond hair and blue eyes? Why do Africans have brown skin and brown eyes? Why do cultures have common eye shapes? What the child begins to notice is that people look the way they do because of the sunlight and the elements. The sun and the wind literally shaped the people the same way the sun and the wind continue to shape the earth.

In the Waldorf Curriculum, formal geography begins in fourth grade, where the children begin to map out where they are. They draw maps of their homes, their schools, their towns, their states. They learn about the animals, plants and native people. In fifth grade, the children begin to broaden their horizons and the study reaches the entire continent of North America. In our classroom, we followed the flight of a migrating hummingbird from the Bay of Fundy to the Yucatan. We followed an American Bison across the Great Plains. These 'journeys' encompassed the geology and flora and fauna of the North American Biomes. We imagined the land how it was thousands of years ago. We imagined the journey of people to this continent, and how people began to use the land in order to make North America their home. We see how the people shaped, and still shape, the land.

To begin our month-long study of Geography, we drew a map of the continent. By drawing, we are imagining the landscape, but we are also copying an already developed map. We think about the cartographers, the explorers who used their eyes, the sun and the stars to draw maps of newly seen lands, and it is stunning to think how human beings began to organize their thoughts about the land and their journeys upon it. From North America we move outward to study each continent: in sixth grade we move south to Central and South America, in seventh grade we expand to Eurasia, and in eighth grade, we settle into Africa, where the human being and the land have the ultimate connection.

One reason I find geography so central in any curriculum is that children are on a journey. They are moving from one point to another. These points can be given many different names-- from childhood to adulthood, from grade school to high school, from infancy to old age. But, sometimes I wonder about GPS and how it changes our self-reliance and our ability to get from point A to point B. Do we still have to persevere in our thinking to, say, reverse directions upon returning home from a new destination? With such technologies available, there is all the more reason to teach geography in a manner of questions and answers, or cause and effect, or tall tale and seeds of truth. 

Children should be able to imagine how a drop of water gets from a Montana mountain peak to the Gulf of Mexico. They should wonder why people who ate caribou had different shelters than those who ate turtles and nuts. They should be able to follow how a decision of theirs or another's moved from idea to fruition. And when they see people who have different colored skin, or eyes, or hair, they should wonder why such details were ever seen as anything but differences in how the sun and wind touches the surface of the skin.