Q. What kind of homework do Berkshire Waldorf students have?
A. Berkshire Waldorf students do not receive homework until 4th grade, unless it is “read for 15 minutes” or “practice your instrument for 15 minutes.” We can get more done in class because the children are “held” in the form and rhythm of the day. There are rarely discipline issues, one benefit of being in a consistent group with a consistent teacher. A second or third grade child may occasionally take their main lesson book home to finish a drawing or complete a task. They often want to continue working on projects at home which are inspired by their school work, but not required – lots of enthusiastic knitting, crocheting, singing, rope jumping, music making, reading, acting, story telling, tree climbing and adventurous play. Children are also expected to help with chores at home, and our students begin learning to play violin in first grade, so may bring their instrument home to practice. All of this continues their brain and physical development in a fun and creative way.
Homework starts in third or fourth fourth grade with spelling words, math facts and other practice work that is reinforced by consistency. A new and consistent homework schedule begins to build stamina for independent work to come in later grades. Fourth grade is also the occasion of an independent study project that culminates in a presentation to the class.
In middle school – sixth, seventh and eighth grades – there is consistent homework, but it is never busy work or drills, rather something to carefully observe (how a tree changes day to day in fifth grade botany, the cycle of the stars in sixth grade astronomy), invent, create or complete.
By eighth grade, students have research papers, reports, final drafts and illustrations of their main lesson work, and projects. For example, seventh and eighth grade participate in a science fair every other year, which is an independent study of their own chosen topic in physics, chemistry, biology, botany or psychology with a mentor who is a professional in the field, and results in a presentation and oral report. Eighth grade students frequently bring in a current event to report on and discuss with their class every week.
Q. How is student progress reported?
A. Student progress is communicated in personal narratives twice a year from the teachers, both class teachers and subject teachers. You will also have access to discuss your child’s progress with your teachers twice a year during dedicated conference days and on a weekly, drop-in basis for class teachers, by appointment with subject teachers.
Q. When will my child enter first grade at Berkshire Waldorf School?
A. Students who will be age six by September 1 are eligible to start first grade the same year. This is typical of Waldorf education, not to push children so that they are “over placed” and stressed, but to wait for their own developmental readiness before moving into academic work. Based on children’s love of being outside and learning by doing and moving, our outdoor kindergarten, where all the senses and the imagination are continually engaged, is an incredibly rich and nourishing preparation for the abstract academic work of first grade. As Shakespeare wrote, “Ripeness is all.”
Q. Is religion taught in Waldorf schools?
A. In Waldorf schools, teachers are working with children to develop all levels of human capacity, one of which is “spiritual” — the intangible part of who we are. In early childhood, this includes a cultivating feelings of gratitude, reverence and wonder. This may manifest in a word like “God” in a verse, but it could also be Mother Nature, Old King Winter or gnomes that visit the classroom. In “building a house for the soul,” teachers offer an appreciation of forces that might work beyond our immediate senses, and that align with children’s imaginative capacities.
As students move through the grades, they delve into the thought, culture, religion and philosophy of ancient cultures starting with Mesopotamia, India, China, and Egypt. They study the ancient Greeks when they are finding their own “golden mean,” balanced on the edge of adolescence in fifth grade, then move into ancient Rome and the Dark Ages in sixth grade. Their career through grade school and middle school is a survey of worldwide thought and culture that mirrors the development of humankind. In short, religion is taught through the lens of history, not in a sectarian or dogmatic way. By studying what many people have thought, believed and practiced through the ages, students learn the essential lesson, to know themselves.
Q. What is Anthroposophy, and how does it inspire Waldorf education?
A. Anthroposophy is a formal educational, therapeutic, and creative system established by Rudolf Steiner, seeking to use mainly natural means to optimize physical and mental health and well-being.
Here is a talk on Anthroposophy and Waldorf education. At 8:25, Brian Gray talks about the relationship between the two.
Q. What if my child doesn’t speak English?
A. At a young age, English is easily picked up in our school because so much of early childhood is working and playing; outside, in the woods and gardens, preparing and eating snack, and building fires, working in the garden together, with lots of stories, singing, puppet plays and finger games to help children understand the words. At BWS, your child will learn by doing rather than sitting at a desk being drilled or tested, so they will learn joyfully, without stress.
In the grades, we have had a number of students come to us with limited or no English. They have always been warmly welcomed by their classmates. In about six months, it’s hard to tell that English isn’t their native language!
Q. What do children do at Berkshire Waldorf Summer?
A. Our summer day program for children 4-6 mirrors the rhythm of our Waldorf school day. Groups range from 9-15 children, which meet in the early childhood play yards located around the Betty Szold Krainis early childhood building. Each group has a lead counselor and an assistant. The lead counselors are usually teachers at the school; assistants are often BWS alumni, high school-aged or older. Many counselors have worked here for summer after summer, and are very experienced. The program runs from the last week in June through the first week in August; you may choose to register by the week or for the full six weeks. The summer day is 9:00am to 3:00pm, and includes a group snack, songs and stories, rest time, and lots and lots of outdoor play. Other adventures include running through sprinklers in the play yard and excursions to the Green River, Pumpkin Hollow Farm and woods on the school grounds. Registration generally opens for the upcoming summer in late February.