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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Let Me Move You

movement 13Out of mothering instinct – I did a few things right. Two out of three of my children probably would have been on Ritalin if they’d been in the public school. They just couldn’t seem to sit still to learn. So, instinctively, I used their wiggles for them instead of against them. We ran and played, or swam every day. We skipped rope or hopped up and down stairs to memorize spelling words. We wrote math problems with sidewalk chalk in the driveway. Before I had even heard of Waldorf Education – I was doing instinctually what Waldorf does intentionally, and what modern science has deemed beneficial to education.

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Waldorf emphasizes movement. In early education (before age 7) kids move through free play and games, whereas elementary teachers organize it and make it an integral part of the educational process. During circle time, children move to music and beat – reciting literature, math facts and foreign language. In the Waldorf classroom, students may march around the room spelling words, or toss bean bags to recite times tables. To learn to “write” student’s learn hand-eye coordination and finger dexterity by learning to knit and modeling with bee’s wax, as well as reciting finger plays in circle time. Even high schoolers are encouraged to move and exercise in a Waldorf setting. If a child has special needs – he gets “extra lessons” – which are taught almost completely through movement.

movement 10What Waldorf teachers have been practicing for a century, scientific studies (mainly conducted in the 1990s) have proven to be beneficial to the educational process. Scientists have connected the dots between movement and education – physical activity and the ability to learn. Studies have proven the link between physical movement and vision, physical movement and the development of language, physical movement and memory, physical movement and the ability to pay attention.  Researchers have also found that as well as improving academic performance, exercise improves behavior and social skills. And movement dramatically improves dexterity, reading, speaking, and comprehension in children with learning differences and special needs. In a study done in 2003, children who spent a larger portion of their day in physical activity scored higher on standardized tests than those who learned traditionally by sitting at a desk.  One of the coolest things I’ve learned is that physical movement can regenerate the brain – for one’s entire life! As an adult, the more I exercise the more learning my brain will be able to accomplish.

 

movementI recently sat on an airplane next to a woman who had taught kindergarten for 30 years. When she started, the kids went for half a day, in which they played, read a couple of books, learned to cut, tie their shoes, sing the alphabet, and count to 20. She said, kids used to have fun – they wanted to come to school. Then she told me about the changes – how now the kids come to school all day and have a 20 minute recess. If they are “bad in class” – although they need the recess more than other kids – recess is what is taken away as punishment. The kids are expected to come into kindergarten knowing their letters and numbers and to leave reading and doing simple arithmetic. Kids no longer enjoy coming to school. She was planning to retire – because she didn’t enjoy coming anymore either.

 

movement 11Maybe I’ve been doing a few too many jumping jacks, because I’m putting all the facts together. I’m excited that my instincts and natural inclination are backed up by science – and that there is a proven educational philosophy, which at its very core, implements these practices.

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Sources used in article (and for your own personal research)

“High physical activity levels in a Waldorf school reflect alternative developmental understandings” by Elisa J. Sobo

http://sheu.org.uk/x/eh311ejs.pdf

“Teaching with the Brain in Mind, 2nd Edition” Chapter 4, by Eric Jensen

http://www.ascd.org/publications/books/104013/chapters/Movement-and-Learning.aspx

“Practical and Ethical Considerations: The basis for a school-wide, all-students approach to learning foundations” by Jeff Tunkey and Amanda Boyler

http://www.movementforchildhood.com/uploads/2/1/6/7/21671438/remedial.pdf

“Remedial Education” by Mary Jo Oresti

http://www.waldorflibrary.org/images/stories/articles/remedialeducation.pdf

“Games, Gymnastics, Sport in Child Development” Rudolf Kischnick, translated by Edeline Le Fevre

http://www.movementforchildhood.com/uploads/2/1/6/7/21671438/kischnick_pt1.pdf