At SCCS, environmental stewardship and healthy habits are a large part of our curriculum. Beginning in preschool, our children learn science, math, and literacy concepts through deep, multi sensory learning with their class garden and the school gardens. Research shows that children who grow their own food are more likely to eat vegetables, which is nice bonus. Among the many benefits gardening offers includes that it fosters strong interpersonal skills and oral language development. In addition to wonderful parent volunteers, we are fortunate to partner with Mr. Matt of Palmetto Organics, who works with the children and teachers to foster learning and an appreciation for organic farming.
I’m stating the obvious, but being a mom (or a dad) isn’t easy. All moms are “working” moms, but many have to work outside the home, often juggling home, school, children and significant others. I’m an aunt of three awesome kids and not a mom in the “true” sense of the word, but I see my sister and close friends struggling to keep the balance. I hear the guilt in their voices when they talk about other moms who bake, make pillow forts, and lead crafting sessions every day. And while moms who work outside the home may need to place their children in the full-time care of others, they still want the best possible. They want caring adults and teachers who will nurture their child’s development socially, emotionally, physically and cognitively and an environment where their children will thrive.
Sea Turtle Early Learning Center at Seaside Community Charter School (SCCS) provides a warm and nurturing environment for children between the ages of 3 and 6 years. Located in Atlantic Beach on more than 22-wooded acres, it’s a full-day program designed to imitate the rhythm of a child’s day at home. The classrooms are set up with soft lighting, fabric and rugs. Natural materials (i.e., wooden blocks and toys) are
infused throughout the curriculum. Designed to be an all-weather program, the class gardens, wooded walking paths, a large playground and an outdoor classroom are all spaces perfect for outdoor learning and play.
The credentialed and Waldorf-trained teachers and principal are well-versed in the National Association for the Education of Young Children’s (www.naeyc.org) recommended practices for teaching young children. They understand that a holistic approach, with a focus on a child’s head, heart, and hands, is best. They understand that a child’s work is play and that all children need time to play indoors and out, time to be with others, time to be alone, time to rest, and time to engage in meaningful activities. They understand the difference between “rote academic goals” and “intellectual goals” as defined in a recent article by Lillian Katz, one of the most influential early childhood researchers in the field.
A typical daily rhythm at Sea Turtle includes circle time, indoor and outdoor play, artistic activities, stories, songs, movement activities, recess, hands-on learning, rest times, and nutritious snacks and meals in a family-style setting. The VPK program includes state-approved curricula taught through best instructional practices. Each week, children bake bread, cook, paint, work in Palmetto Organics’ onsite teaching garden, dance, practice yoga, and learn music and handwork (i.e., finger knitting, sewing). Twice a week, the children have instruction in American Sign Language (ASL), a language that fosters literacy as well as fine motor skills. The children also have the opportunity to participate in SCCS’s seasonal festivals and special events. An added bonus is that children enrolled in the VPK program get preference for admission to the charter school.
When I visit a school, I look for teachers and a leader who see each child’s potential and the gifts they bring and who demonstrate the belief that learning should be a joyful, ongoing endeavor for everyone involved. If you are a parent looking for something similar, Sea Turtle Early Learning Center may be the answer.
To learn more,you can email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the website http://www.seasidecharter.org/sea-turtle-early-learning-center-at-sccs.html.
To learn more about the Waldorf-approach, visit the Alliance for Public Waldorf website
About the blogger:
Katrina W. Hall, Ph.D. is an associate professor of early childhood and literacy at the University of North Florida and previously taught kindergarten and in the primary grades for a decade, earning her National Board Certification as an Early Childhood Generalist during that time. She can be reached at email@example.com through her website www.katrinawhall.com
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Part of the vision of Seaside Community Charter School is to create an environment that "fosters a students' respect for themselves and others through collaborative learning and community service."
Here is a beautiful example of that, in the words our second grade teacher, Ms. Cairo:
This morning, Ms. Papke and I combined our classes for a buddy reading experience that I only wish words could explain :) Half of my students went to her room, and half of her students came to me. In both classrooms, kinders had the opportunities to read leveled books to the second graders, and the second graders had the opportunities to be a "teacher", supporting and guiding the little ones as they read.
Listening to my students share decoding strategies for tricky words, hearing words of encouragement when the kinders stumbled over a word, and seeing the confidence on their faces when they realized that they were helping another child was absolutely heartwarming.
Today I was reminded how special of a place Seaside is. We have the opportunity to become reading buddies with another class, lay on the floor and pillows while we work together, and experience the true joy of accomplishment (and reading!). I watched reading come alive and confidence overflow the classroom. I listened to laughter and kind words.
After our buddy reading session, we had a little meeting on the rug, complete with snack. Every single child expressed that they LOVED reading with the younger children, and can't wait to continue reading with them again soon. They complimented their buddies and also had ideas for next time, and how they could help the specific struggles of their buddy. They did this all on their own.
Moments like this are why I became a teacher in the first place. I am a happy teacher today; eyes filled with tears of joy and all!!
The story is key to a chalk drawing, because the story is what allows the children to create the images in their minds as they hear the rich language. Through the artistic activities that follow, the child revisits the story and makes connections that allow for enhanced comprehension and deeper learning.
Rawson and Masters (2000) wrote, "One of Steiner education’s main aims is to educate the whole human being in thinking, feeling and will i.e. head, heart and hand. Make everything into a picture - means that the material should not be defined in concepts but portrayed in vivid descriptions - a fountain, river, a cliff, a tree, a flower, the North Star, or even the physical law of gravity and the principles of chemistry. Ordinary everyday life can be portrayed in meaningful pictures and images. The teacher must fill with inner conviction and warmth the pictures he/she presents to the souls of the children. They can derive strength for the whole of their lives from lessons that stream from heart to heart rather than head to head. "(p. 12)
The teacher assists the students as they copy the piece, guiding them as they proceed to make the art their own in their main lesson books or sketchbooks. This is not a time for complete autonomy on the part of the student, as they are learning the techniques and learning to follow the teacher's modeling and authority. Steiner (2000, trans.) noted, "Children are more receptive to authority in teaching through art. Consequently, we can accomplish the most in this sense during this period of children’s lives using artistic methods. They will very effortlessly find their way into what we wish to communicate to them and take the greatest delight in rendering it by drawing or even painting. We should make sure, however, that they avoid merely imitative work." (p. 9)
However, within this framework of guided artisti activity, the children's individuality can be seen. The lessons, which first spark the imagination and later infused with factual information, are designed to foster empathy, compassion, as well as a sense of justice and fairness. Through the lessons, teachers help their students make connections to the world and realize they are part of a greater circle.
Rudolf Steiner ( 1997, trans,) started the Waldorf school in 1919 just before the rise of the Nazi regime and argued that artistic education would help students develop into moral human beings able to bring positive change to the world. Nearly 100 years later, that ideal still resonates.
Although Steiner rarely mentions a chalkboard, he spoke of the need for teachers to infuse each lesson with artistic elements and beauty for their students. In his book Understanding Walorf Education: Teaching from the inside out, Jack Petrash (2002) wrote, “The teaching of any subject, from science to history, can be enlivened and enhanced by incorporating art into the instruction.” (p. 60).
In providing the students with a beautiful environment conducive to learning, the public Waldorf teacher is fostering the child’s development and ability to see beauty in the world around him or her. Rudolf Steiner’s (1996, translated) noted that "Much can be done with the simplest resources, if only the teacher has the proper artistic power and energy for work - these are among the lifelong results of the proper cultivation of a feeling for beauty and art. The moral sense is also being formed in children during these years through the pictures of life placed before them, through the authorities whom they look up to - this moral sense becomes assured if children, from their own sense of beauty, feel that the good is beautiful, and also that the bad is ugly. "(p. 35)
Research on the arts in education suggests that integraing the arts into the curriclum plays an inportant part in brain development and in children's learning of content areas, (Koonlaba, 2015; Sylwester, 1998).
While there is much to support the arts in education, the true value comes when a child enters their classroom and sees the gift of art from their teacher. This gift is only enhanced, when the child begins to learn to draw this art, adding his or her own individuality in the strokes and shadings. And while the teacher's drawing will eventually be replaced with another, the children's work will live on in their main lesson books or sketchbooks.
Resources and references:
Koonlaba, A. (2015). 3 visual artists-and tricks- for the integrating the arts into core subjects. Retrieved from: http://www.edweek.org/tm/articles/2015/02/24/3-visual-artists-and-tricks-for-integrating-the-arts.html?cmp=soc-edit-fb
Petrash, J. (2002). Understanding Waldorf education: Teaching from the inside out. Beltsville, MD: Gryphon House.
Rawson, M. & Richter, T. (2000). The educational taks and content of the Steiner Waldorf curriclum. Forest Row, Sussex.
Steiner, R. (1996). The essentials of education. Hudson, NY: Anthroposophic Press
Steiner, R. (2000). Practical advice to teachers. Great Barrington, NY: Anthroposophic Press.
Sylwester, R. (1998). Art for the Brain's Sake. Educational Leadership 3(56) . Retrieved from: http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/nov98/vol56/num03/Art-for-the-Brain's-Sake.aspx
In public Waldorf schools (and many schools with a "whole child focus"), letters and sounds are learned in the same way they originated in the course of human history--through story, drama, movement, and visual art. People told stories, then recreated the stories through performance and visual art. Abstract signs and symbols developed from the art and pictures.
Our kindergarten, first and second graders hear stories for each letter, draw pictures, and discover the letter and sounds through movement and artistic expression. The children make the letters with their bodies, beeswax, yarn, found materials, and through form drawing or handwriting practice. As they form the letters with their bodies and in their artwork, the children work on crossing the midline, or the ability to work on both sides of the body. This midline work activates both sides of the brain and leads to deeper learning as well as improved fine motor skills. In kindergarten and first grade, SCCS teachers use Schrager's LMNOP and all the letters from A-Z as part of their weekly stories and songs. In 2nd grade, the children learn stories from Davidow's The Wise Enchanter: A journey through the alphabet.
These stories, along with learning through art and movement, allow for phonetic work through songs, poems, and games that keep a joyful and living experience of language and fosters a deep understanding of elements of reading, including phonemic and phonological awareness, phonics, comprehension and development of vocabulary. A large vocabulary is a key trait of good readers. As they retell the stories through their art, they develop oral fluency, another important element of reading.
When you are in a classroom at Seaside Community Charter School, you usually see a lot going on. Yes, the children look like they having fun... but are they learning?
The photos show the culmination of a typical second grade activity (you will see similar in any of the grades). So what's going on "behind the fun"?
The "marshmallow challenge" is a well-known experiment in collaboration--and often done as part of a team-building exercise. But in addition to collaborating, children are learning to engage in evidence-based practices similar to what scientists and engineers do on a daily basis. Petrick, Wilkinson, & Bevan (2013) note that activities that foster real learning include the following elements:
According to the National Research Council's (2011) Framework for K-12 Science Education: Practices, Cross-Cutting Concepts, and Core Ideas, when teachers create opportunities for students to solve problems such as those presented by the "marshmallow challenge", they foster the types of learning necessary for scientists and engineers to be successful--the ability to...
If learning is understood as more than the ability to reproduce skills and facts in decontextualized settings-- if it is understood to be learning to use facts and skills with intention and purpose, then yes, children are learning. They are learning to solve problems through their creativity. They are learning to "do" the evidence-based practices of science and engineering. Maybe most importantly---they are associating learning with JOY!
National Research Council (2011). A framework for k-12 science education: Practices, crosscutting concepts, and core ideas. Committee on Conceptual Framework for the New K-12 Science Education Standards, Board on Science Education. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.
Petrich, M., Wilkinson, K., & Bevan, B. (2013). "It looks like fun, but are they learning?" (pp.50-70). In M. Honey & D.E. Kanter (Eds.) Design, Make, Play: Growing the next generation of STEM innovators. New York, NY: Routledge Press.
Willis, J. (2007). "The neuroscience of joyful education." Educational Leadership, 64. Retrieved from