Elements of Waldorf: Circle Time

Night DanceI look out our picture windows and see the neighbor, who is walking his dog, staring in and laughing. I don’t blame him. He’s probably never seen a mom dancing and skipping around the front room. I laugh too – not out of embarrassment, but out of delight – delight that is intensified as I look into the sparkling eyes of my daughter as she dances around with me. Circle Time may be our favorite part of the school day.

In a Waldorf education, Circle Time does not end in preschool or even kindergarten, but continues through elementary school. It holds an important place in the beginning of the school day, as a transition from free play or outdoor play into more focused school time. But it is more than  simply a method of transition – it is important to the Waldorf philosophy of learning. 

circle-1Why do Circle Time?

  1. Brain Development – Science has proven that the development of the body is in direct correlation with the development and ability to learn academically. Like any other body part, when the brain is exercised, it developes and can more easily be used to learn new information.
  2. God’s Word. What could be more important for raising children who are passionate pursuing God than a love for His Word. Circle Time is the ideal time to memorize verses and passages of scripture – that God will use to sustain and ground your children throughout their lives. Psalm 119: 11 “I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.”
  3. Language – both foreign and native. Through poems and songs children acquire enunciation, pronunciation, vocabulary, grammar, and language comprehension as well as a love for the flow and sound of language.
  4. Math Facts – Children move from counting to skip counting to multiplication tables in daily recitation, song and movement – making the facts hard to forget. Mental math and verbal story problems are also added into circle time as the grade progress.
  5. Memorization – Days, months, seasons, grammar facts, historical timelines, scientific information – anything that can and needs to be memorized can be done with a song and a dance.
  6. Music – Through singing, playing rhythm and wind instruments, and rhythmic movement children’s brains are being exercised. Numerous studies show there is a direct correlation between music and speech, language, reading, larger vocabularies, and the ability to memorize.

circle-2How to create a Circle Time?

  1. Establish a rhythm. Just like daily rhythm – circle time has a rhythm – breathing in and out moments. Breathing out includes big motor, movement, dance, rhythmic instruments, loud recitation. Breathing in may include the lighting of a candle with a verse, sitting on the floor doing finger plays, and quiet voice recitation. For best results – alternate breathing in and out.
  2. Establish goals and move towards specifics. Start by setting up what you want to memorize (Skip counting by 7s, Months of the Year, Greetings in Spanish.) Then find poems and verse to fit what you want to teach. Then add the detail of movement, rhythm and song that you will teach each with – keeping in mind the alternation of breathing in and breathing out. 
  3. Establish a base. Use two or three verses for the entire year. Change a couple seasonally. Switch 3 or 4 for each new block. The idea is to progress through the learning of new facts, but new facts are learned within a safe, established, comfortable rhythm and verse. – Keep in mind that the 2 or 3 verse you use as your base are more likely to be remember for life, so make them count.
  4. Establish a time frame. Think 20 – 40 minutes for circle time depending on the age of your child and the amount of material you want to recite.

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Let’s not over-intellectualize Circle Time. It is fun! It makes learning fun – and this is a good thing. A 2012 German Study  found that 85% of Waldorf students had a positive attitude towards school and and were enthusiastic about learning. The students in the study reported that school was “fun” and “not boring.” (Jiménez, Fanny “Wissenschaftler loben Waldorfschulen”, Die Welt, 27 September 2012). I know that on the top of my list of “Why I Homeschool” is “To create a love of learning” and “To create lifelong learners.” Circle Time helps do this.

 

 

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So, I may look silly twirling circles with my daughter in my living room – but I’m so glad we do it.

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Blogging through Tears

I’m typing this at a 16 font – because I can’t see anything smaller through my tears. I write from a broken heart. I write of broken dreams, unmet expectations, pure frustration, and uncertainty of the future. I’m actually a little surprise how genuinely downcast I feel.

I chose to drop Rose from ballet. Not life changing – but for me it is.

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She loves to dance. Since she was little she has put on a tutu and danced around the living room performing for anyone who was available. Heaven forbid you don’t clap after her 28th twirl – even if you clapped for the 27 prior ones. I knew she would love a dance class and performing on stage where hundreds of people were clapping for her.

Travis Academy of Fine Arts was the perfect fit for her. It’s focus is training artists to use their gifts and talents for the glory of God. The staff and the teacher were so accommodating, loving and supportive of her disabilities. It was perfect.

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After the first two classes, she happily put on her ballet uniform at home after class and demonstrated her “happy toes, sad toes” (flex, point) and her  popcorn – “pop, pop, pop, explode” (releve, releve, releve, jump). We clapped.

The third week she was comfortable with the class. She made “friends.” But everything changed. The teacher had to send her out in the hall with me because she was invading her “friends’ personal space, and the other students were upset (a social clue she missed).  She was supposed to sit with me for a couple of minutes then go back to class. Instead she had an all out melt down – fell on the floor, kicking, screaming, sobbing – and it didn’t end. I picked her up, and took her to the car and drove home.

ballet-1Since then, every time ballet is mentioned – she becomes anxious – her entire body becomes tense, she contorts her face, and she rubs her fingers together until almost raw in obsessive, repetitive manner. Last night, as I put her to bed – I tried to reason with her that ballet class would go better this week, and she’d like it again – you know, “if you fall off the horse – get back on” – right? She started crying uncontrollably and gouging her arms with her finger nails. I simply held her and prevented her from hurting herself farther. I realized – getting back on the horse was not possible at this point in time. It may only take one good class to make her enjoy it again – but that one good class was not going to happen. She is incapable of bouncing back and having the “one good class.”

I dropped her from the class – and I cried the whole time I did so. It is about so much more than a ballet class. Enrolling her in the class had made me feel like a “good parent” – I was giving her a social outlet, I was building upon her interest – her gifts and talents. Enrolling her in the class had made me feel like she was a “typical” “normal” little girl – instead it opened my eyes that she is not “typical” or “normal.” I knew that in my head – but dropping ballet touched my heart – and I can’t seem to stop crying over it.

Ballet was my wake up call. At this point in life – Kymee doesn’t need her gifts, talents and interests encouraged as much as she needs skills to pursue her gifts, talents and interests. She needs social skills so she doesn’t “pop other people’s bubbles” (invade private space). She needs skills in dealing with change and transition (being sent out of class was an abrupt transition). She needs skills to manage her anxieties – so she’ll stop harming herself and start enjoying life. She needs therapy not ballet.

That’s a hard pill for this mom to swallow and I can’t stop crying I will reset the type to 12 now.