A Story of Tales and Whales

Written by Beechtree Steiner Kindergarten teacher, Ziggy Jones.

Friday in Kindergarten comes in many guises; “Pizza Day”, “Walk Day” or “Bud Day” being a few well loved names in use. Our weekly trip to the local park has been established since before I began teaching 5 years ago, instigated by former Beechtree teacher Leah Findlay who was inspired by a visit to an outdoor kindergarten led by Helle Heckmann in Nokken , Denmark, and our very own Cath Thurlow who introduced the outdoor Parent and Child group sessions.

For several years the walk served as little more than an after lunch stroll until the wheel turned full circle and Helle Heckmann visited us while touring the country. She was very complimentary about the work we were doing, but insisted that children today were not walking enough generally. We agreed an undertaking to make the walk more central to our Fridays, and with the extension of kindergarten hours in 2016 my dream of reaching the Hollies, a very special part of Meanwood park, became reality.

By setting off after Tidy Away time at around 11am we could negotiate the few roadside parts of the walk safely before enjoying Ring Time in the park itself, often watched by squirrels, birds and the odd jogger.

One of the other beauties of Meanwood park is the myriad paths to take and yet still reach your destination, which we did while telling story after story (“Tell one about a princess!”; “Tell the one about the mole!”) and working up a hunger.

Once in the Hollies there is one spot which demands to be picnicked on: the little clearing just next to the Whale (of “The Whale In The Woods” fame) which serenely keeps guard over the little brook by it’s side. So it was with delight that at our opening ceremony we received a print from that very book by author and kindergarten parent Julian Oxley.

With all the excitement and pride in all that had been achieved in finally establishing a Steiner school here in Leeds, as well as moving the thriving and growing kindergarten, it was lovely to take a moment or two to look back and remember


Books by Julian Oxley

– The Whale in the Woods
– The Wooden Dragon

 

Class One’s second half term at Beechtree Steiner

Written by Beechtree Steiner’s Class One teacher, Anthea Stock.

With the help of fairy tales such as The Three Sons of Fortune, The Bremen Town Musicians and The Six Swans, class 1 discovered the magical world of numbers which they recorded with Roman Numerals.

They discovered that we have four limbs, five fingers, seven days of the week and colours in the rainbow and seven windows in our heads allowing us to explore the outside world and allow that world to enter us.

In Steiner education, numbers are traditionally learned in a way that is meaningful to the children, such as:

1- The whole, the individual.
2- Duality of Sun and Moon, day and night, mother and father, two eyes, ears, hands, feet
3- The mother, father and child; the triangle
4- The square, four directions, elements, seasons,
5- The five pointed star, the human form, fingers of the hand.
6- The hexagon, beehive, snowflake
7- The rainbow, seven days of the week

We drew around ourselves and found that we made 5 pointed stars.

We marvelled at the hexagonal honeycomb made by the bee and the honey tasted all the sweeter for it. We clapped, stamped and jumped lots of numbers rhythmically and we managed to skip all the way up to 100.

With the help of our little gnome Burdock and his friends Celandine, Rosehip and Sam squirrel we had all sorts of counting adventures using addition, subtraction, multiplication and division and we used shells and conkers to help us find the answers.

Nimble fingers and toes make for nimble minds so we practiced lots of finger rhymes and played a game called Storks where we picked up little marble fish with our toes and did lots of counting work with them. After a very fun packed exciting 4 weeks we are now ready to let numbers rest and go back to learning some more letters.

Beechtree Lantern Walk 2017

“Through our collective action we can light up the darkness in the world”

Tonight we celebrated Martinmas by holding our annual Lantern Walk at our former stomping grounds of Meanwood Park. The children all made lanterns with Autumn leaf designs, Class One creating beautiful leaf silhouettes and Kindergarten children using a leaf rubbing technique.

The way to the meeting point in the park was lit with little glass lanterns. Once the children had collected their lanterns, we began the walk through the woods.

As we walked, we sang:

“I go with my little lantern, my lantern is going with me,
In heaven the stars are shining, on earth shines my lantern with me,
My little light, it shines so bright, please help me to find my way in the night,
My little light, it shines so bright, please help me to find my way”

Then walked in reverent silence, enjoying the Autumn evening and watching the lantern lights dance through the trees.

After the walk, the children offered round some simple biscuits they had all made to share  and enjoyed some hot fruit tea before we said our goodbyes.

Steiner festivals are a continuation of a tradition of communal celebration which people all over the world have engaged with throughout history; a chance to share genuine human experiences, such as hopes for a new year, joy at springtime or thanks for the life-giving power of the sun, for example.

One may use the analogy that if the year were a necklace then the festivals are like the jewels which adorn it; little highlights which have their own characteristic beauty which allow us to look forward to something and work towards it together.

One of the fundamental aspects of Steiner Waldorf education is that physical growth and development is the main focus for children under seven. Hence we allow them to learn “bodily” through play, imitation, movement games and undertaking craft and domestic activities. We consciously avoid awakening the intellect through factual or scientific explanations, but try to use stories and pictorial imagery which is more appropriate for the children at this stage. As such a festival can allow children to experience the community coming together to celebrate, acting socially, and often with reverence.

Class One’s first half term at Beechtree Steiner

Written by Beechtree Steiner’s Class One teacher, Anthea Stock. 

The time with the lovely class 1 children at Beechtree Steiner in Chapeltown is flying by. I can’t believe it is October already and that half term is nearly here. The classroom looks beautiful with lazured walls, a fantastic new blackboard and some traditional wooden desks and chairs; a perfect place for serious fun whilst learning.

Here are a few snapshots to share with you all.

In Waldorf education, the letters of the alphabet are presented in a lively pictorial way, which appeal to the child’s imagination. “D” is a magical door in a tree through which two children crawl to find an old lady called Dorothea who tells fairy stories to them. From these stories letters are discovered. “B” is a big bellied brown bear from Snow White and Rose Red. The children draw the letter in the air with their hands and on the floor with their feet; their whole being participates in the writing experience. Then the children make their own pictures of the images with wax blocks and then write the actual letter. As you can see in the picture, “ G” is a golden goose. We also modeled the very funny procession from the story out of Alkena beeswax.

At this time of the year we think about being brave and courageous so we have been reciting poems, singing songs about St Michael and knights and fighting dragons. The children made thin swords out of branches, a fiery red dragon out of leaves and baked delicious dragon shaped bread. It is very important to educate using hands as well as hearts and heads.

Building a new Steiner school in Leeds

Written​ ​from​ ​the​ ​point​ ​of​ ​view​ ​of​ ​Kindergarten​ ​parent​ ​and​ ​Trustee​ ​Lianne​ ​Marie.

I am parent to a four year old boy who has attended Beechtree Steiner’s Outdoor
Parent & Child from the age of eighteen months and Snowdrops Kindergarten from
the age of three years. He has very severe dermal allergies and goes into
anaphylaxis when exposed to non-natural cleaning products, meaning that he could
not attend mainstream education or enter childcare anywhere except for a very
strictly controlled and safe environment. Discovering Beechtree Steiner has been so
important to our family. The love and support that we have experienced from the
other parents and the incredibly dedicated teaching staff have meant so much to us.
Beechtree Steiner is such a special place and we are very proud to be part of such a
warm, loving and inclusive community.
The first experience of the Beechtree Steiner community that my husband and I had
was stumbling across a sea of brightly coloured picnic blankets in Meanwood Park.
There were families of every conceivable ethnicity all talking and sharing food whilst
their gloriously muddy children played together. It was a beautiful sight to behold and
we could tell that there was something really significant about this group of people.
Our son got to playing with a little girl and a week later we found ourselves sat with
her parents under the shade of a giant Beech tree eating campfire flatbread made by
the children. Fast forward two years of attending Parent and Child group every week
and our children are now enrolled together in Kindergarten and we and our
wonderful friends are discussing what we are going to do now that our building is
due to be demolished and we have to try to recreate the same Beechtree magic in a
new location.
We all come together with ideas and spend the year raising funds by having coffee
mornings, nearly new sales, fayres, pay as you feel haircuts, a duck race, raffles,
applying to local businesses for funding and by completing Total Warrior; an obstacle
course race over a 12k track comprising of 100 tonnes of mud and thirty obstacles.

I’m quite sure that every parent is alike in being willing to do anything for their
children’s well-being, but this is a community of people willing to literally jump over
fire for them!
As the term ends, my husband leads the “dismantling team” who are responsible for
packing up the old premises in Headingley and moving it to the new location in
Chapeltown whilst I busy myself with the working group responsible for creating our
new home.
We have teams of parents responsible for prepping and painting the walls, teams of
parents responsible for sourcing new furniture, floor coverings and materials to
create the outdoor space and teams of skilled people to create new internal walls,
hang doors, do plumbing, electrics and build kitchens.

It is an absolutely mammoth task but it is encouraging to see everybody come
together to make it work – the people who are there on the ground painting or
building stud walls have incredible support from other parents who offer them
childcare or drop off supplies or fill the boot of their car with rubbish for the tip. Every
contribution, whether encouraging words on our Facebook group as the progress
pictures come in or somebody dropping off a pint of milk and a tin of home-made
biscuits for the tired and hungry workers is so appreciated. A person there at the
right time to just sweep and mop the floor makes just as much difference as
somebody who has been trained to lazure the walls in beautiful swirls of pale pink.
There is no better way to get to know a group of people than when you are building
something together. Skilled tradespeople rub up against enthusiastic helpers who
are eager to learn and organised people direct the right person to complete a
suitable task for their skills or find resources to solve problems. We all chat about our
children, sing along to eclectic playlists and make sure that we are all drinking
enough water and going home at some point to sleep and eat and see our families.
In the weeks before term starts, the staff return from their Summer break to unpack
the classrooms and figure out where the new and old furniture needs to go and the
reality of everything we have achieved together in such a short space of time is very
humbling. Seeing familiar things like the art supplies, natural wooden toys and
outdoor clothes all ready for the children to discover provokes a surprisingly
emotional response. As the lights are softened to a pink glow, fabrics are fireproofed
and safeguarding procedures are put in place, we head for the rapidly evolving
outdoor space to fill planters with topsoil and compost, plant bulbs and herbs and lay
bark chipping paths and fill the sand pit.
There’s an old adage that it takes a village to raise a child, it is certainly also true that
it takes a whole community to build a Steiner school.

The Flight of the Robins

There was a commotion in the ivy. It was subtle and required that I listen over the sound of the children’s voices- joyous due to two days of brilliant sunshine at the start of a new term, but it was there, soft yet penetrating.

Two red-breasted robins were chirping and flying, darting about in the air in a manner that suggested anxiety. It reminded me of the way in which bats fly at dusk, swooping repetitiously in search of insects, and at first I thought I had unexpectedly disturbed their nest while I was weeding the potatoes. But no, the robins’ circuitous flight disregarded me and instead focused and returned to the tree beside the garden, a spot which was close to me, but not close enough to warrant the alarm I heard and saw in their flight.

Nonetheless, I left the potato bed and observed from afar.

With some perspective on the scene I saw something in the green leaves of the potatoes. Fleeting. Perhaps a frog since the movement had a hop to it. I went over to investigate and found a brown ball of a bird fluttering and jumping in the large leaves. With a combined jump-flutter the brown bird managed to get up into the ivy where it perched in indecision. The larger birds darted and chirped, flying close enough and around me that I decided to take a moment in order to process this new development.

Back beside the toy washing basin, hands full of suds, I was of two opinions. The first, and the more unlikely of the two, was that the brown bird, as small and benign as it appeared, could be a threat to the robin’s nest- an egg snatcher or an egg eater. I admitted it was unlikely, but the darting of the robins made me think of panic and panic made me think of attack. The other option I weighed began with a question to Ziggy.

“Ziggy, do you have any idea what a baby robin looks like? Well, what I mean is, do they look entirely different from their parents?” He couldn’t answer me with complete certainty but he did offer, “I do know that robins can be very territorial should they feel threatened.”

So I watched.

The little brown bird sat on a gnarled branch of ivy just behind the sand pit, heaving noticeably. In a blink, a red-breasted robin was beside it. It had something pinched in its beak. A worm perhaps? It was too quick to tell, but with a flit of its wings, the red-breasted robin ducked its head into the wide-open mouth of the little brown bird. I had it! They had to be a parent and child! As the baby robin chirped in appreciation, and upon closer and now unhurried inspection, I saw tufts of white down underneath the brown feathers. And there was not one ball of brown robin but three, all of them hopping and fluttering and crashing through the potato plants with excited abandon. The baby robins were learning to fly!

As the children and I watched the baby robins become more and more adept at flying, I thought of how quickly this year had gone by, of how dramatically our children learn, and of how very soon we will be celebrating the flight of our own kindergarten children.

It is my hope that all of our children soar into summer’s new adventures full of excitement, confident that their Kindy-strong bodies will take them places they haven’t yet imagined.

Galanthus Nivalis

Three weeks ago we turned over the garden. At the time, and not being completely familiar with the growing season in West Yorkshire, I thought it a little optimistic, but then two weeks ago I saw flowers budding on a row of fruit trees, and just this past week outside Beechtree, I saw my first snowdrop flower of the season.

Spring is upon us.

We have retired the winter-warming Ringtime “Penguin” song in favour of the carefree and humorous songs of “The Flippy Floppy Pancake” and “The Farmer in the Den”. The new songs are suggestive of the abundance soon to come, of the return of daylight and fair weather, and most importantly, of the return of hope.

Tomorrow the Bluebells and the Snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis, the botanical name for Snowdrops, are also known as “Candlemas Bells” because they are quite often in full bloom on Candlemas Day) will celebrate Candlemas Day together outdoors under a gorgeous blue sky…. (wishful thinking, right?). Now I must admit that I wasn’t too familiar with Candlemas Day, but I am familiar with Groundhog Day, and with the case of the latter, I would have been hoping for clouds instead of sunshine. In fact I vividly remember being in a classroom as a fourth grader, fluorescent lights buzzing above our heads, watching the news on a cranky old television, hoping, hoping, hoping that the groundhog over in Pennsylvania would poke his head out of the ground, fail to see its shadow, and announce the speedy arrival of Spring.

Tomorrow, I do so hope for at least a dry day since the festivities demand it. According to my sources we will set our freshly made beeswax candles into the ground around the base of one of our grandfatherly trees, light them, and with every ounce of our being, hope that the seeds planted in the earth will begin to sprout, grow, and bend toward the light.

Cultivating a Learner’s Mindset

This is not a scientific study by any means but I’ve been watching, my son especially, and I’ve noticed that he and the other students with whom I work at Beechtree, generally speaking,  do not differentiate among toys nor do they compartmentalize their play.

Blocks, blankets, dolls, pencils, and anything else within easy grab gets thrown into the mix of the children’s play. A gender neutral doll can easily become a girl, boy, or even an aardvark according to a student’s needs. The most innocent of looking of dolls have even been known to become a monster or acrobat. And accordingly, in this case, whole worlds grow up around a doll’s personality or characteristics.

At first I thought it was a Beechtree thing and part of the reason why I teach and why my son attends class. Then I noticed it at home. I had always noticed it, even encouraged it, but then one day it really snapped into me. My child will incorporate any toy, any kitchen tool, blanket, or piece of furniture into his play. I haven’t asked my mother to confirm, but I do not ever recall mixing toys with such ease. Little yellow-headed figures and their accompanying pirate ships would only play with other pirates. Yellow-headed pirates would not mix with yellow-headed city folk and they definitely wouldn’t mix with intergalactic star figures. I had justifications. Different worlds and unrelated time periods did not mix.

It seems that this Steiner education model, with its emphasis on cooperative, imaginative, and creative play encourages a learner’s mindset. Our Head Teacher Ziggy is great at role modeling lateral thinking and flipped expectations: quite literally flipping a table upside down to become a rocket ship, rearranging chairs to become a bus, or reshaping a broom to become a robot arm. Ideas are embraced and incorporated rather than discarded or negated. Time and again I have witnessed this lateral thinking expressed in the children and their play. This play is in fact pretty awesome stuff if you think on how it might mature in the coming years. The children themselves are breaking down barriers both physically and psychologically, creating peace within themselves and in the world around them.

A Break in the Clouds

It had been raining off and on all morning. We were all well layered: hats, gloves, scarves, and maybe an extra jumper on top of the usual waterproof gear.

We managed to find a break in the rain and set off hand in hand, bound for Meanwood Park.

Daisy the horse was in her field, maybe, just maybe anticipating a visit from us. We sang our song, “Daisy, Daisy, Give me your answer do. I’m half crazy all for the love of you!” (Cute bit of trivia: Daisy Bell also known as Bicycle Built for Two, was the first song sung by a computer.) Without any hurry she cruised over to us and with measured bites chomped up the carrots and apples we offered her. The children’s hands reached through the fence to stroke her curled and wet coat.

A few minutes later as we were under the protection of our adopted wet weather yew tree, the sun came out. It was low on the horizon and reaching through the leaves and pine needles, it lit up the face of one of the children. He closed his eyes and with a smile on his face and addressing no one in particular, I overheard him say, “When I close my  eyes I can see heaven.”

Singing Lanterns

Preparations for Friday’s Diwali and Martinmas Walk have occupied our activities for the past month.

We’ve paced it out so it hasn’t been exhausting, grueling, or even a slight hardship. Way back in early October we collected leaves from the trees around the yard and made rubbings with them on large thick sheets of paper. We made lovely impressions using all the materials available to us: crayons of yellow, orange, red, brown, and gold- the colors of Autumn.

The illustrations were then hand oiled by each artist before being folded, cut, glued, and pinned together to create the lanterns you all will see on Friday.

We began singing the two songs associated with Diwali and Martimas at mid term, and for the past week each Kindergarten class has been practicing the art of walking with a delicate, yet surprisingly hardy lantern. There have been a couple tears shed after lantern breakdowns (yes, we can repair those), but on the whole the processions have been reverent, fun, and I for one can’t wait to see the lanterns all lit up at dusk accompanied by the voices of the Beechtree community.