Sharing the Solar Eclipse with Young Children

Sharing the solar eclipse with young children offers a rare opportunity to help your child learn that they can stay safe and grounded, even when something extraordinary happens.

Learning Through the Senses

For the young child, every day is a celebration.

Young children experience the world through their senses. They feel the light and warmth of the sun through their bodies. They marvel at the sun’s power to wake up plants and birds, chase the clouds away and peel off our winter coats.

Celebrate the Good

In Early Childhood classes at Berkshire Waldorf School, we celebrate all that’s good in the world: the beautiful light of the sunrise, food prepared with so much care, the children’s community of loving family, the safe embrace of Mother Nature, and so much more.

Instead of Explaining…

In our modern world, we focus on the scientific, material aspect of things. We tend to understand phenomena like a solar eclipse through intellectualized explanations. However, giving children rational explanations prematurely can contribute to confusion, anxiety and hypervigilance. It pulls little ones out of the developmental space where the world makes sense to them because they can experience it with their senses. The sages of old knew to meet events like this with the same wonder and reverence as other cosmic events.

Waldorf Education founder Rudolf Steiner writes about how children’s feelings during such moments are the same as what we could call “religious feelings” in an adult.

Focus on Experience

So instead of looking up during the time of the eclipse, how about we look down?

I invite you to tap into your inner quiet during the time of the eclipse, and observe your children and nature. How does the light and the mood change? Look for shadows and light. How are your pets behaving? And what about the other animals that might live in your backyard? The crows, the geese? Are the birds singing? Are the bees buzzing? How do the flowers and trees change? Is your child getting a bit clingy, or are they oblivious to what is happening in nature? Let the experience resonate without a verbal explanation.

Highlight with Gratitude

We can take this opportunity to give gratitude to the Sun and the Moon for sharing their light with us. How about planting some flowers for the bees, who are sometimes called “light workers”? Sunshine soup for dinner? Moon cakes (aka pizza or tortillas)? How about a candle for the moon and a candle for the sun, to give thanks for their life-giving light? These are just a few thoughts to fuel your imagination.

A solar eclipse is so much more than one celestial body passing in front of the other and blocking the light, it’s an opportunity to share the wonder of the world with our children.

by Star Room Toddler Nursery Teacher Rebecca Ruof

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Happy Summer! Our Admissions deadline for Fall is July 15th. Our office hours are 9am-3pm Monday-Friday.

Great Barrington Proclaims Hilda Banks Shapiro Community Day

The legendary Hilda Banks Shapiro, Berkshire treasure and one of Berkshire Waldorf School’s founding parents, has been honored posthumously with her own Community Day.

Read in the Berkshire Eagle.

The Season of Light

As we approach the Winter Solstice on December 21, Berkshire Waldorf School, with Waldorf schools all over the world, enters the Season of Light.

During this time of the longest night and shortest day of the year, we celebrate the spirit of peace and joyful anticipation by bringing light and warmth into the darkness with candles, holiday lights and observance of the moon and stars. For inner warmth and light, we take comfort in family, friends, food and traditions of giving. 

Berkshire Waldorf School celebrates these qualities through a number of rich, reverent celebrations and festivals.

The Spiral of Light

Lighting the Darkness

BWS Kindergartners participate in the Spiral of Light, which brings a mood of quiet reverence to the season. Each child walks a spiral path made of evergreen boughs strewn with minerals and crystals. As they reach the center, children light their “apple candle” at the central candle, and place it along the path home, to light the way for friends.

Elementary and Middle School students mark the Season of Light with age-appropriate festivals and rituals that come out of the learning content from each grade. These speak to children with soul-satisfying comfort and peace. Practicing warmth and joy at a dark time centers us all in strength and hope.

Advent in Four Weeks

In Waldorf schools, students from all backgrounds participate in the month-long observance of “Waldorf Advent,” anticipating the rebirth of the light.

Grades and Middle School students gather on Monday mornings in December for special songs, stories and verses. Each Week, students light one more candle in the Advent wreath, to balance the increasing darkness outside. The menorah stands next to the wreath, and students light it, along with the wreath candles, during Hanukkah.

The weeks of “Waldorf Advent” honor the kingdoms of nature—minerals, plants, animals and human beings—and this theme is brought into classroom activities and decorations as well.

As the weeks progress, the Waldorf Advent wreath is decorated with crystals and shells, flowers, small animals and people (some hand sculpted by students out of beeswax). Early childhood students celebrate these festivals in their classrooms. 

Waldorf Verse for Advent

The first light of Advent is the light of stones.

The light that shines in crystals, seashells and bones.

The second light of Advent is the light of plants.

Plants that reach up to the sun, and in the breezes dance.

The third light of Advent is the light of beasts.

It shines in the greatest, it shines in the least.

The fourth light of Advent is the light of humankind.

The light of love, the light of thought, to give and understand.

Celebrating Together

BWS families are invited to gather in the auditorium on Winter Solstice, Thursday, December 21 at 11:00 am, where our month of festivities culminates in a holiday assembly to celebrate the Season of Light as a community.

Berkshire Waldorf School faculty and staff wish your family a beautiful holiday season, and memories that bring renewed warmth and light throughout the years. 

Happy Holidays!

Ceremony focuses attention so that attention becomes intention….Ceremonies transcend the boundaries of the individual and resonate beyond the human realm. These acts of reverence are powerfully pragmatic. These are ceremonies that magnify life.

Robin Wall Kimmerer, from Braiding Sweetgrass

Snow and stars from Ms. Alessandra’s First Grade chalkboard.

In-School Festivities for the Season of Light

Wednesday, December 6, Saint Nicholas Day The story of a wise and generous person, Nicholas captivates the imagination of our youngest students, and brings the warmth of caring and giving to this season of celebration.

Early Childhood classes receive the surprise of a basket of treats that Nicholas brings (golden walnuts and clementines are favorites). They sometimes catch a glimpse of him passing across the landscape on his journey of good will.

Nicholas will visit children in the Grade School this year. Many of the children have heard the story of this wise person, also know as St. Nicholas, in their classrooms, but his visit is a special surprise for them. Nicholas represents one’s “higher self” to the children, embodying goodness, understanding and wisdom. Nicholas carries a golden book, and he reads a personal message to each Grade School student.

Wednesday, December 13, Santa Lucia Day In our school, Santa Lucia Day and the visit from Nicholas come out of the Second Grade curriculum of “Golden Hearts,” people who devote their lives to their values. We follow in the tradition of a day widely celebrated in Sweden on the feast day of the “Queen of Light,” an historical figure who brought food to the hungry during a time of famine. Second Graders perform this seasonal role, dressing in white with candlelight “crowns,” and visiting throughout school, including Early Childhood, to bring each class freshly baked saffron buns and a song to light the darkness.

December 20, 3:00 and 7:00 pm, Shepherd’s Play The Christmas image is one of a humble birth surrounded by love. In the Christian tradition, Christ’s birth is celebrated just after Winter Solstice, as the light of earth is returning. This humorous and joyful “Oberufer” Christmas story has been played for decades at Waldorf schools throughout the world, based on indications by Waldorf Education founder Rudolf Steiner, and is performed at  BWS by faculty as a gift to students, families and the community.

The Joy of Giving

In the Berkshires, when the earth falls quiet under winter snows, we look inward to reflect on the passing year, and look forward to the sun’s return and lengthening days.

As a community, we take comfort in the light of family, food and traditions of giving. We hope this helps you understand all we do to celebrate the Season of Light at Berkshire Waldorf School. What a joy to celebrate together!

One joy of the season – Middle School students cross country skiing during recess.

BWS Holiday Handcraft Fair Auction Is NOW LIVE!

Holiday Handcraft Fair magic continues in our online showcase of gifts, experiences, memberships and services. Open through SUN Nov 19, 9:00pm. Click the button below to view and bid, and have fun planning all your next adventures!

For more information, call 413-528-4015 or email info@berkshirewaldorfschool.org

Sharing ​the Delights of a Creative Family Holiday

​Our gift to the community, Berkshire Waldorf School families, teachers and students come together to create a festive Holiday atmosphere, making tiny gifts for the Little Peoples’ Shop and the Pocket Fairy, transforming every room in the Grades School building into magical realms to explore, ​ and knitting squares to form the unique 2023 Community Afghan.

Berkshire Waldorf teachers share the magic of storytelling with puppetry.

For the Child in Us All

Early Childhood teachers perform a puppet play featuring handcrafted puppets, with two performances during the day. Other Fair highlights include the Children’s Craft Room where youngsters can make their own presents, “Sweet Spot,” an interactive game with live musicians (and desserts for prizes!) and the Pocket Fairy, whose many pockets are filled with small surprises.

Play to live music at the “Sweet Spot,” where winners choose their favorite dessert.

Treats for All Ages

Revel in the premium local goods and services at the Fair’s Silent ​and Online ​Auction​s. Shop for warm handmade items in the Handcraft Room, and join the grownup fun at the Silent Auction, centerpiece of the Fair, with one-of-a-kind toys and gifts. The Berkshire Country Store stocks artisanal and gourmet treats, and our lunchroom, Rudy’s Diner, serves lunch, warm drinks and homemade desserts.

Lemon Sippers at the Country Store

Berkshire Waldorf School’s curriculum of academic excellence activated with movement, music, outdoor learning and the arts has been preparing students to achieve their full potential for 52 years. The school welcomes Fall 2024 applications for students 18 months through Eighth Grade starting November 1, and offers generous tuition support  for qualified students.

Thanks for joining us! All Handcraft Fair Auction proceeds benefit the programs and students of the Berkshire Waldorf  School.

Celebrating First Nations Day

As you walk onto the Berkshire Waldorf School campus this week, you’ll see turkey feather flags that students of all ages have hung on branches for First Nations Day, to remember the connection between the people, the land and a spirit of gratitude. 

We were honored to welcome members of the Stockbridge-Munsee Band of the Muh-he-con-ne-ok (Mohican Nation) Shawn Stevens and Shannon Chada back to their Homelands from their current-day reservation in Wisconsin, for our school celebration on Tuesday. 

Mr. Stevens, also known as Standing Eagle, visited the school for the first time last year. He and Ms. Chada were visibly touched by the turkey feathers—hung knee-high by our youngest students—welcoming them along the path beside the native “sumac forest,” near the Nursery play yard. (Sumac is a treasured Mohican medicine plant.)

Fire Circles – The Original Classroom

This year, Mr. Stevens brought traditional flute and drum songs to Early Childhood students, plus a humorous story. (Kindergartners can tell you the story of “How the Bear Lost Its Tail”—that tricky fox!) 

Around the fire with First through Eighth Graders, Mr. Stevens spoke about many aspects of Mohican culture that resonated with topics our students are already learning about, such as how Mohican family groups lived in longhouses, all along the Mahicannituck (Hudson River), and east to the Housatonic. Mr. Stevens described how warriors (“those with big hearts”) went out in their canoes to meet Henry Hudson when he came up the river; at that time, the Muh-he-con-ne-ok had already lived along its banks for thousands of years.

Mr. Stevens discussed how many Nations in our Eastern Woodlands region are relatives, springing from the original Algonquian language group, and had disbursed as far as the Great Lakes and the Carolinas, in order to share available resources. For this reason, he noted, the name Muh-he-con-ne-ok designates “where we’re from” more than “who we are.” It translates approximately to “People of the Great Tidal River.”

What We Learned

Eighth Graders reflected on the ways of thinking that Mr. Stevens discussed in the circle. Here are a few of their takeaways:

“We are all family. We are all the same species, and all come from the same place (Earth). If we could really realize this, we could end war forever.”

“My shirt is made of thread, woven into cloth to keep warm, but it doesn’t mean anything; it’s a thing. Mr. Shawn was saying every thread and bead and stitch of his sash was woven with good intentions and prayers. Imagine how that feels.”

“The tribes of North America, just like the tribes of Africa, aren’t generic, but distinct Nations, with their own languages and cultures and ways of life.”

Onewe! Thank you for teaching us!

Click the button below to see more pictures of the Great Barrington town ceremony and walk on Monday. We are so grateful to see our students carrying the banner for Indigenous Peoples’ Day.

We remember that we are gathering and learning on the sacred, unceded Homeland of the Muh-he-con-ne-ok, the People of the Waters That are Never Still, who are now living and thriving in Wisconsin and the Berkshires.

First Days of School

Beginning our 52nd school year with the traditional Rose Ceremony marks the first key transition our First Graders make, as Eighth and Twelfth Graders welcome them into the Grade School.

Eighth and Twelfth Graders welcome First Graders in the Opening Day Rose Ceremony. On the last day of school, rising Second Graders will give roses to the Twelfth and Eighth Graders, to wish them well on their next journey.

First Days of First Grade

First Graders begin the school year with a Main Lesson block in Form Drawing. This three-week block introduces straight and curved lines, which are the basis for all the letters and numbers students will learn over the course of the year. It’s how drawing organically becomes writing and all four mathematical operations. BWS and BWHS students build on this strong foundation over their twelve years of Elementary and High School starting right here, in the first week of Grades School!

The Class Teacher presents fairy tales and stories from all over the world, teaching in a form that children already know, love and understand, through stories. She creates living pictures using both movement and imagination, without notes or screens. The children listen transfixed, then each child carefully draws a form from the story into their very own main lesson book.

First Graders practice making straight and then curved lines. Next, they incorporate the straight and curved lines together, creating a new form. At last, the focus turns to learning to draw a spiral, as the children first practice walking a spiral, forming it on the ground with rope, as well as drawing on each other’s backs!

Fifth Grade at Recess. Kickball is big here!

Becoming a Class

So much of First Grade is about learning to become a community. At Berkshire Waldorf School, the class will move together through the Grades, and frequently on through High School, so relationships, belonging and etiquette are an important part of education. Notably, in Waldorf Education, this social learning is part of the curriculum in both academic and subject classes.

As an example of social learning in First Grade, Class Teacher Victoria Cartier discussed the importance of building up the basics (already well-established in BWS Early Childhood classes). This is what Waldorf teachers call “form”: learning to walk in a line, work together in a circle, attend to the teacher–all the ways their experiences teach the children how to work and play together, help one another and take care of the space they share. 

Ms. Cartier spoke about the development of the children from Kindergarten to First Grade.

The transition from Kindergarten to First Grade is crossing a bridge, a critical passage as students’ energy slows down and they are able to learn internally, become aware of their feelings and access a deeper ability to produce, express and generate their internal thoughts and memories, without relying on sensory reminders.

-First Grade Teacher Victoria Cartier

Ms. Cartier also emphasized not taking for granted just how new everything is for students brand new to the Grades School, and how much growth and change is occurring within them.  In First Grade, Games period and recesses are organized by Ms. Cartier, while the afternoons are reserved for free play. During free play, the teacher has time to observe social dynamics, and discover students’ different affinities, strengths and joys, when they are free to explore, climb and play whatever calls to them. The strength of the class as a whole shines through during this time. 

First day of school outside in the Star Room play yard. Yay!

The Very First Days of School

Our youngest Early Childhood students in the Star Room (Toddler), Rose Room and Robin’s Nest (2-4 years), and Sun Room, Rainbow Room and Pumpkin Patch Kindergartens (5-6 years) started school with surprisingly few tears. Some children had their very first experience of being away from parents and regular caregivers. We were delighted to see and hear them playing, running, visiting the sheep, climbing trees, singing and laughing. It’s wonderful to have our youngest students back on campus!

Welcome dear families, to this learning and growing community.

Join us! May Day @ BWS

Berkshire Waldorf School May Day Celebration MONDAY May 1at 11:00 a.m.

Wear your May crown! Berkshire Waldorf School invites our community to enjoy this joyous Waldorf Spring festival, celebrated every May 1 on the school Green. Free; rain or shine.

May crowns ready to go in the Pumpkin Patch Farm & Forest Kindergarten.

To welcome in the summer

Wear your May crown! Festivities begin at 11:00 a.m., featuring our May Pole and all the trimmings — live music, local Morris dancing teams and country dancing by Grades School students. Bring your family and friends, blankets, weather appropriate hats and a picnic, and help us welcome in summer in the Berkshires! Rain or shine.

Come early to see the school in action

The school will host an informal open house and tour at 9:00 a.m. the same morning, prior to the celebration. To register, please contact Admissions Director Robyn Coe at  413-528-4015 x. 106 or admissions@berkshirewaldorfschool.org

Happy Spring!

Looking forward to the Grades!

Learning in first grade with color, action, imagination.

Come learn more about the next eight years of your child’s education at this special event, where we’ll discuss:

Your participation at this in-person event includes visit to classes in progress and a saved seat at the BWS Thanksgiving Assembly (11am-12pm), for an inspiring survey of what Grades 1-8 have been learning during Fall term.

We look forward to celebrating this special moment with you!

Meet Our First Grade Teacher

Welcome Class of 2030

Berkshire Waldorf School is pleased to announce Andrew Gilligan as First Grade Class teacher for the 2022-23 school year.

Andrew Gilligan

About Mr. Gilligan

An experienced Waldorf educator, Mr. Gilligan has taught students across Elementary and Middle School grades as well as Early Childhood for the past fifteen years. He is currently the second grade class teacher at the Seattle Waldorf School. Mr. Gilligan previously worked at Meadowbrook Waldorf School in Richmond, RI, where he taught students from First Grade to Middle School. At Meadowbrook, he was a member of the Board of Trustees and the Core Teachers, acting as a leader of fiscal and pedagogical decision-making for the school.

Mr. Gilligan completed his Bachelor of Arts from the University of Vermont. He earned his Elementary Education Certificate, Waldorf Education Certificate, and Masters of Education from Antioch University New England. 

Meet Mr. Gilligan

Families whose children will be six by September 1, 2022 and interested community members are invited to meet Mr. Gilligan, with First Grade subject teachers, at our Meet the First Grade Teachers event. The meeting will be held over Zoom Saturday, January 29 at 10:30 a.m. To join this live, free, virtual event, create your account in our family portal, and select this event. To learn more, contact Admissions Director Robyn Coe at admissions@berkshirewaldorfschool.org.

Join us!

At Berkshire Waldorf School, students start with their Class Teacher in First Grade and move through the Elementary and Middle School curriculum with their class, to build strong, long-term relationships.

Berkshire Waldorf School is now accepting applications for the Class of 2030. The new family application deadline for Fall 2022 is February 1. Visit our How to Apply page to register in the parent portal, create an inquiry, register for events and access the First Grade application. (Current BWS students who will be 6 by September 1 are automatically pre-enrolled for First Grade in the Fall.)

Berkshire Waldorf School is one of over 1,000 international Waldorf schools, part of the fastest-growing independent school movement in the world. The school welcomes students from all backgrounds, and offers generous financial aid for students based on need. Happy 50th anniversary, BWS!