Saturday, 22 December 2007

Christmas plays

In the 'green room'. All ready to go.

Biscuits await the end of the play.

Candles and satsumas

Taking their bows.

The nativity scene, almost complete...

Little gnomies visit the manger...

tolstoy's Vanya and the Greenfinches grace the bookshelf with candles...

More candles - these were all used for the counting lessons which they had in the last month.

Captured in chalk - the warmth and comfort of the Holy Family

It was a Christmas play we were promised, and i arrived expecting some variation on the nativity. But it was really not that at all. In fact, there were no cows, donkeys or wise men. Tracy had selected something which appealed to the mythic, fairytale and child in all of us.

The story was about Mary weaving the coat of the Christchild. She receives gold thread from the stars, but this is not enough and the coat falls apart. However the angels of the children of earth bring to her the good deeds of the children which are transformed into gold thread which then hold the coat together. All the seasons, the children's weaving they have been doing, the passing of the seasons and time which the children had been learning were all reflected in the story.

The class was also decorated specially for the occassion. The manger was almost complete and Tracy had drawn a chalk picture of the holy family on the board. The candles which the children had used to do their counting over the last two weeks were transformed into glowing jewelled lanterns that were placed around the class. After the play we were all treated to cookies and satsumas - and juice - all organic, of course. School ended for the season on Friday and there was an assembly and a wonderful party after that. Unfortunately i was stuck in Comber and didn't manage to get there in time. But going by the high spirits that we encountered as we waved goodbye, i think a good time was had by all. And that's what's it's about isn't it?

Sunday, 16 December 2007

Post Advent Festival and Magical Counting Gnomes

The Advent stars help in the countdown to christmas. The class is decorated with a new piece every day and Tracy has siad that the magic elves come and decorate them every day. The straw stars are some things which the elves brought with them.

The seasons and year book, now opened to December.

Mid December. We had recovered from the Advent Festical, which despite the horrific weather had made almost £5,000, which was slightly up from last year. Hopefully when all the cards, calendars and craft sales are added up, we'll be nearer the £6,000 mark. Funds are of course always needed and the Advent Festival Fair is one of the most important ways of raising the funds. But it is more than just about money maing - if that was the case, everyone would just donate a few bob. It's also about the spirit of fesating and festival. I, of course, had stupidly forogtten to bring my camera, so i missed out on taking the most amazing pictures of the walnut boats, crystal forest, the bell ringers, the lighting of the Advent wreath, the singing of the Holly and the Ivy and the choir concert at the end of the day.

So we move straight into last week where the main lesson was Maths again - and it will be until the end of the semester which will be this week. It's all about stars and light of course now that we're approaching Chirstmas/the winter solstice. The children count the days to Christmas. Oisin told me that he was learning to count in German. And Tracy had been getting them to pretend they were gnomes and work with tealights that they had decorated - adding, subtracting, taking away. I have this image of our kids standing in circles like the little gnomes that light the way at this time of the year and learning how to add, multiply, divide and subtract.

And so we look forward to the break, but not before the Christmas play. As always, it's done slightly differently here. In Margaret's class, they'd do the song Mother Mary gently walking, through the stars she makes her way. As the mothers chatted with the kids today, on the Santa Train - that's a whole different story - it turns out that there is an Earth, a Sun and a Star. And Mother Mary, of course.

Thursday, 6 December 2007

St Nicholas Day

Star suncatchers...

Children wait in the woods for St Nicholas. The school buildings are not only beautiful, but also holds a small forest/wood. If a child went to kindergarten, s/he would have played in it and know every tree and shrub by the time s/he reaches class one. Here they wait beneath the bare trees, practising their song for St Nicholas.

Here he is! Receiving gifts from the classes of pictures and decorations.

They bring him into the warmth to sit down and...

...they sing to German!!!

Watercolour painting of apple candles.

As part of the run up to Christmas, the children go out to the woods to greet St Nicholas. His festival day is celebrated on the continent on 6 December and the stress on the non material gift is very important. Children give Nicholas things they have made and they also gift him with a poem or songs. Nicholas in return gives them each a satsuma. The fruit symbolises the colour and warmth of the sun which is now fast disappearing and will soon make its return, past the winter solstice. The children now look forward to the Advent festival this coming Saturday.

Sunday, 2 December 2007

Advent spiral and more...

Apples, like magical windfalls, are fixed with candles that light the mossy spiral, creating an otherworldly glow...

Children take turns to light their apples their contemplations accompanied by a lyre group and carol singing...

The spiral in its quiet splendour...

The boys decorate the Class One nature table transforming it into a nativity scene...

Another advent table in Class Seven.

The rest of the school is also decorated to reflect the season.

Stars made of kite paper also teach geometry and proportions.

It never fails to stir the heart witnessing the advent spiral. Hours of work go into the creation of the spiral itself which is an intricate weaving of moss, stars, grasses, fircones, gnomes, shells, crystals and love. Apples are then prepared with candles and placed at the start of the spiral. The children (from babes in arms to class four) are ushered into the silent and dark hall. They are accompanied by their parents. A single flame is lit in the middle of the spiral. Children then trace the walk down towards the flame and lit a candle. They place the candle on the mossy spiral and return to their seat in silent contemplation. Even the most boistrous student is made quiet by the reverence to this season of dark and our ability to bring light even in this coldest of times.

The school is also transformed overnight into a world of stars and evergreens. Teachers and parents spend the weekend decorating the school. In Class One Tracy had gotten her four boys to help with the transformation from autumn to Christmas and it was truly incredible how a single window change had altered the atmosphere and tone of the room. It was now more inward and contemplative, and for the first time, despite the best efforts of the supermarkets that began way back in September, i did finally feel that Christmas was coming. One of the boys made a beeswax figurine of Mary for the table. When the Star of Wonder was placed in the centre of the display, it was pronouced complete.

Saturday, 1 December 2007

Farewell to Autumn

Season of mists and mellow fruitfullness...the end of autumn was marked by an adieu to the nature table in class one. Take a picture of it, said Tracy, it'll be all gone on Monday when i change it to Winter. The nature table is an important part of the class as it is a manifestation of the all-important cycles and rhythms of the year which is so important for children as it grounds them, creating a safe and secure environment from which they are then able to explore the world. While the teacher creates the main nature table - and this always happens as a surprise - as if the table created itself by magic! - the children always take part in enhancing it. Bits of the forest on the school's grounds will find its way there - leaves, pinecones, bits of woods, even stone! - and the children will fashion objects which are part of the season's theme. Gnomes are a big feature of autumn!!!

And speaking of gnomes... the main lesson this week was numbers - as well as multiplication, addition, subtraction and division. Instead of having a few subjects a day, children learn by having one main lesson for a few weeks. Much of the work they do during this period then goes to emphasise the main lesson. This week it was maths with number bonds for 7, 8, 9, 10 and the functions of addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. An important part of the Waldorf method is learning not only mentally, but with the body as well and the children played circle games to strengthen the concept of number bonds. Also through the week, Tracy had drawn the four gnomes on the board - Timmy Times, Soli Share, Paddy Plus and Gilby Giver - all whose names Oisin was able to tell me about - and they all took turns being these gnomes with raisin muffins.

The main lesson book where the children wrote down in beeswax block crayons the number bonds they learnt.

The cover of the main lesson book - and the candle decoration that Tracy has in the class as part of the season of lights...

Roman numerals were learnt since the Halloween break and the children's drawings of them are posted up on the walls around the class.

Knitting was also started, to help with their motor skills and mental dexterity. Tracy also had them cast on 20 stitches as part of their working up to the number 20. Many bunny holes and big trees were worked around through the week...

...also the children made crackers to sell at the Advent fair. But they did it with tissue paper and string. Tearing and tying are also critical in helping develop their motor skills - and hopefully the school will be a few bob better off as well as a result of their efforts!!!

Since kindergarten, the children have drawn on watercolour paper, which enables them to explore the way in which colours interact. In this one, they did a drawing and played a game where the golden globes were not allowed through the blue curtains...or they would turn green!!!

The classroom has almot no plastic in it and only natural colours. Tracy has also been emphatic in getting them to use their imagination, as no toys are allowed. Instead the bucket of sticks - leftovers from their Martinmas lantern making craft class - was turned into a game of pick up sticks, demonstrating that the best toys are the ones which we create ourselves!!!

Spirals were also a big theme this week, with the Advent Garden coming up. The school celebrates the year with a gradual build up to the main festivals - Christmas, in this case. They have already observed Michaelmas with a series of challenges, Halloween, and Martinmas with a lantern walk and a play - put on by Class 2 because they do the saints. The Advent garden which will be a candlelit spiral walk, will be the next staging post in the run up to Christmas. These once again ground the children in the year, their enviornment and thereby connect them to the community. It also gives them a richer and more layered understanding of the year's celebrations and festivals.

In addition to the very busy week they had, the great weather on Thursday was made the most of by a picnic in Ballymenoch Park at the bottom of the lane. Tree cutting was in progress and the boys brought hame several large branches to decorate the nature table with. Tracy said it looked like a moving forest as they made their way back up to the school.