Tag Archives: Learning Through Play

Winter is Here

Winter is here and just like the building where Beechtree lives , we are having to hibernate. We are staying at home and once more connecting and communicating in different ways to normal. Songs are sung, lessons are learned, news is shared and stories are told via Zoom.
Even though we are missing each other, it cheers us immensely to be able to see the children and sometimes even the animals we live with. For those who don’t want to Zoom and who watch later, it’s lovely to be able to send and receive catch up emails and phone calls and to hear how you are doing.

Our overarching aim with the remote learning we are offering is to stay in contact and to give the Beechtree children familiarity and security, and the families support. Relationships and connections always have been fundamental to our work and always will be the foundation stone for everything we do. With our remote learning, we don’t want anyone to feel under pressure though. There is no rush and no one is going to be left behind. Please do continue to keep in touch and remember that what we are all being asked to do is almost impossible and to navigate this time, we need to keep hibernating, to slow down, to breathe, to be gentle with ourselves and to keep checking in and looking after each other.

Our Beechtree winter feels deep, heavy and dark some days. Not only are we in lockdown but we are currently without a usable building. Not being able to open for the children of critical workers yet feels hard. Exploring options and processes for sorting our current premises and looking for other options is stymied and slow, there are lots of phone calls, emails and meetings, it’s out of our control and it’s just taking time. Today I found myself thinking of the seeds and the root children who are unseen but busy deep down in the earth preparing for the abundant growth of spring, and in remembering this, I could start to trust that all the work we are doing is like the seeds buried deep but still growing, developing and reaching out; we can’t see the progress but it is will be there, unfolding, just like the tiny snowdrops slowly awakening in our gardens under the blanket of snow, something will emerge when it’s ready.

As I try and do what feels impossible – work from home, managing a school and support my child with his school work and through exam disruption, I find myself looking for the joy in tiny moments, in the snowy trees, the blue skies, the warm fire, a lit candle, fairy lights, a message from a colleague. These moments are sustaining me, along with the knowledge that Beechtree has always been more than a building, it is a community with a shared vision for a gentle, unhurried, much needed, alternative education; we will keep each other going and spring will come.

Why should you choose Beechtree Steiner Initiative?

Beechtree is a small alternative independent school currently based in Chapeltown Leeds offering Steiner education for children aged 3-9. We plan to extend this to age 11 to cover the primary years and also plan to move to larger premises.

The Essence of Beechtree:
We make time at Beechtree….
For the children to play
To connect with the seasons
And to be in nature
To sing and tell stories
To understand
And to care deeply for each child here

This was written by our Beechtree Staff Team over the years and is at the centre of everything we do.

Beechtree started just over twenty years ago, as a tiny parent and child group in someone’s front room, became a well-established kindergarten for children aged 3-6 years old, and in September 2017 expanded to become a school. In November 2019, we were delighted to receive a Good rating from Ofsted, the first Steiner school to be assessed under the new educational framework. We consider ourselves to be part of a growing generation of new Steiner schools providing a robust child-centred gentle education that is perfect for the challenges of the 21st Century.

Steiner Education was initially based on the ideas of Rudolf Steiner, an Austrian Philosopher in relation to child development. These ideas have been developed through practice internationally over the last hundred years and we continue to develop them in our own way at Beechtree, making sure that the curriculum we have meets the needs of the children of Beechtree. Our overarching aim is to cultivate motivated, responsible, competent young people who have a life-long love of learning and a strong sense of the contribution that they can make to society.

Expanding into a school has been an interesting and challenging process at times and we have learned that strong foundations are essential to sustain any growth and that there is no rush to do too much too quickly – which is of course mirrors our practice with the children.

What has been fundamental to our growth is having a strong staff team that works well together. We have a committed team of teaching professionals, some of whom have come from a mainstream background seeking out an alternative way of working, united by a love of the approach that we offer at Beechtree. The staff share the school space in creative and innovative ways, which ensures there is an atmosphere of co-operation blanketing the children and mirrors the creative and innovative curriculum and methods.

The teachers themselves are important tools, in the caring relationship they have with the children in their care, in how they demonstrate what to do and how to be, and in the reflective work and planning they do both with colleagues and alone.
We have small class sizes, with our early years groups consisting of children aged 3-6 years old and our class years currently in a group aged 7-9 which alongside our emphasis on learning and playing outside works well in a global pandemic.

Embedding a secure daily, weekly, seasonal and yearly rhythm is a bedrock of our work, as is the direct and experiential learning that takes place in all years; the security of a regular familiar rhythm of the day and week supports our behaviour management as well as strengthening the children’s internal security. Formal learning doesn’t take place in the early years but the open-ended play materials, time and space to play, stories, crafts and songs that fill the day are carefully designed to imbue the children with pre-literacy skills so that they have a strong foundation to take forwards to the woven class years curriculum.

Each Steiner school is unique, growing and adapting to reflect the individual needs of its own community. Our Leeds setting is well established and growing. Will you join us?

September term 2020

Just like the beech tree that we planted when we moved into these premises three years ago, the children have grown so much during lockdown and over the summer. It has been absolutely joyful to have the children back at Beechtree, to welcome all our new starters and to be operating more fully again. The building and garden are once more resounding with the sounds of laughter, chat, singing and general busyness, the children are loving playing with their friends and their increased resilience is clear to see.

Class Years

For Class 1/2/3 the first week back to Beechtree felt as though we’d never been away. The children moved into their sunny new classroom eagerly and almost effortlessly and began the journey of gelling together as a new class, with the class staff team for this term, Nicola, Ziggy, Gabriella, and Victoria. Already the class has ridden the waves of some of the inevitable changes that will characterise this period. Nicola is especially proud of how the children have adapted to a different rhythm in their own unique ways and also of how their increased resilience shines through everything.

We are all so excited for the term ahead, for the golden autumn sunshine, the falling leaves and the start of a whole new year together.

Learning through lockdown at Beechtree

This week we marked the end of what we think has been the strangest year in Beechtree’s 20 year history.

Keeping our staff and families safe from Covid-19, both in terms of their physical and mental health, has of course been our first priority, but rising to the challenge of providing continuity for the children in our care and support for the parents as they switch to home-learning instead of attending our setting has meant some big adjustments for our whole community. Particularly going from a screen-free world to having to make use of technology!

We are so proud of our staff’s incredible resilience and leadership. The way they have managed to deliver their Beechtree magic via live Zoom sessions or by sending stories and songs via audio recordings and videos has been so inspiring. For teaching the Waldorf Steiner curriculum remotely via the parents, by preparing lesson plans that work from home and creating support groups to monitor progress and keep that sense of community going, all whilst creating new policies for these changed circumstances… what amazing staff we have! Thank you for all you do.

We’d like to especially thank our parent community for their continued support and trust during these strange times. We are planning to be open this September, with some adjustments, of course, to ensure we follow the government guidelines to keep our staff, children and their families safe for the duration of this pandemic.

For now, though, we hope you all have a magical and relaxing summer.

With love

Lianne Marie Mease
Trustee at Beechtree Steiner Initiative

The role of calm and slowly evolving stories in Eurythmy

by Gabriella Vasas-Turnbull our Eurythmy Teacher

Children learn by imitation, repetition and movement. Eurythmy stories are mirroring the world around them and how to live in it, like putting on their shoes, jumping into puddles, digging in the garden, baking bread, going to a farm and milking cows, or being a princess and a king in the castle. The images of the fairy tales and the connected sounds and movements awaken and develop in the children creativity, imagination and reverence.

Old English folk tales and folk tales from other nations, like the Grimm fairy tales, with rhymes and singing games, are invaluable for eurythmy lessons. Finger games and dances can be easily embedded in these stories and will support the children’s development, strengthen their etheric forces and achieve the harmonising effects of eurythmy.

I would like to share with you a story which you can read in parts to your children who can create some drawings, movements and activities to it.

The Little White House at the Edge of the Forest
Once upon a time Ivan Ivanovitch and his wife, Katushka, lived in a little white house at the edge of the forest. One day as Ivan sat mending his axe by the fire, Katushka came to him and said, “Ivan Ivanovitch, we are going to have a son, but our house is too small to hold the three of us. We will have to find more room. Go to Little Father Tsar and ask his advice.”
So Ivan went to Little Father Tsar and asked him how he and Katushka could find enough room for the three of them in the little white house, now that they were going to have a son. Little Father Tsar replied, “I hear your old grandmother is not well. Take her into your house at once.” So Ivan brought his grandmother to live with them.
“Heavens,” said Katushka to Ivan, “what will we do for room when the baby comes? The house is too crowded even now. Ivan, go to Little Father Tsar and ask his advice.” So Ivan went again to Little Father Tsar and Little Father Tsar told him, “I hear your Uncle Fedor, who lives by the river, has had rheumatism. Take him into your house at once.”
So Ivan fetched his Uncle Fedor from his cottage by the river and took him to live in the little white house at the edge of the forest and, oh, the house was very crowded now, with Ivan and Katushka, grandmother and Uncle Fedor. “Heavens,” said Katushka “the baby will soon be here, whatever will we do? Ivan Ivanovitch, go to Little Father Tsar and ask his advice.” So Ivan went again to Little Father Tsar and Little Father Tsar told him, “I hear there is a newborn calf in your barn which is very weak. Take it into your house at once.”
So Ivan went to his barn and brought the calf into his little white house on the edge of the forest and oh, the house was so crowded now that it was hard for all of them to find a place to sit down. Soon after the baby came and the house was even more crowded than before. Katushka said to Ivan, “Heavens, Ivan Ivanovitch, we must try to do something. Run quickly to Little Father Tsar and ask his advice.”
So Ivan went once more to Little Father Tsar and told him that there was no room in the little white house on the edge of the forest. Little Father Tsar nodded and said, “I hear you have an old goose who is nearly blind and can never find her way to her hut behind the barn. Take her into your house at once.”
So Ivan went into the yard and found the old goose and led into the house, where he made a bed of straw for it by the fire, but when Katushka came into the room, she threw up her hands and cried, “Something must now be done! No man or animal can live this way, we must have more room. Ivan Ivanovitch, run to Little Father Tsar and tell him I have reached the end of my patience.” So Ivan ran straight to Little Father Tsar.
When he heard Ivan’s story, he laughed and his grey beard bounced up and down, “Go home,” he said, “and take the old goose out and build her a hut in the yard so that she can easily find shelter at night.” So Ivan went home and did as Little Father Tsar had told him. When the goose was gone, Katushka said, “Ivan Ivanovitch, run to Little Father Tsar and thank him, there is so much more room, now that the old goose has gone.”
So Ivan went to Little Father Tsar and he said, “The new calf is now strong, take it out and lead it into the barn to live with the other cows.” So Ivan went home and did as Little Father Tsar had told him. When the calf was gone, Katushka said, “Ivan Ivanovitch, run to Little Father Tsar and thank him, there is so much more room, now that the calf has gone.” So Ivan went to Little Father Tsar and he said, “Uncle Fedor’s rheumatism is much better and he wants to start to work on his summer garden. Take him home again.” So Ivan went home and did as Little Father Tsar had told him.
When Uncle Fedor had left, Katushka said, “Ivan Ivanovitch, run to Little Father Tsar and thank him, there is so much more room, now that Uncle Fedor has gone.” So Ivan went once more to Little Father Tsar and he said, “Your grandmother has recovered and would like to go home again, so that you and your wife can visit her at her house with the new baby after the christening. Come back if there is still not enough room.”
So Ivan went home and did as Little Father Tsar had told him. After his grandmother had gone home, there was just Ivan, Katushka and the baby and how much room they all seemed to have! They never realised what a big house it was. So Ivan didn’t have to go to Little Father Tsar ever again about this matter and the three of them lived very happily in the little white house on the edge of the forest.

Celebrating Candlemas at Beechtree Steiner

Candlemas marks half-way between the shortest day and the Spring equinox. We have been in a period of hopeful waiting and the forces of nature begin to stir new growth all around us.

The children have noticed the bulb children poking their heads above ground on their walks to our local park. Light and warmth move more freely again and there’s hopefulness in the air.

Here’s how the three elements of our setting come together to celebrate Candlemas in age-appropriate ways.

In Parent & Child (from birth to age 3 years) we were greeted today by a beautiful new nature table featuring Spring elements. Our songs and stories today changed with the new season and for a Candlemas activity, little hands got to work warming and moulding sweet-smelling sheets of beeswax into candles to take home and light.

In Kindergarten (age 3 to 6 years) the children from both classes had a joint outdoor day where, after making chapattis on the fire for snack, we walked to the local park together and had our ring time around candles in jars (to protect them from Brother Wind!) and played a lovely game of Lady Spring. (Lady Spring wears a beautiful pink flower crown and chooses who will partner for dancing)

In the School (age 6 years+) the Class 1 and 2 children celebrated Candlemas by writing out the Candlemas verse and hand-dipping candles in layers of red and green that looked like beautiful spring bulbs. As the children are passionate about our planet, this was a lovely zero-waste activity – the wax was melted down from the leftovers of December’s Advent festival candles.

Teacher Nicola presented each child with an early daffodil, ready to bloom and an Imbolc candle she had made from very special wax which was leftover from candles lit by the peace flame a few years ago.

Our stories in Kindergarten and School have recently centred around the beautiful story The Root Children by Sibylle Von Olfers which ties in so beautifully with Candlemas, where we set candles in the ground to warm the earth and help the bulb children come to the surface and bloom. The Kindergarten children planted their candles in the park today and the School children planted theirs in the class garden.

When the Kindergarten children returned at lunchtime, the School children joined them for a special feast in honour of St Brigid followed by a beautiful puppet show and some time to sing together.

The puppet show followed the theme of The Root Children using beautiful puppets made by Teacher Maisy.

Snowdrops in the Beechtree Garden

by Kindergarten teacher Maisy Carlucci

“Snowdrops Snowdrops, little drops of snow
What do we do when the cold winds blow?
We shake our little head and sing:
Ding a ling, ding a ling,
Here Comes Spring”

This time of year the nights are long and the days are cold but everywhere we look the children find little promises of spring: in the mornings that grow brighter, the robins that appear in the garden and the tiny snowdrops reaching up from the cold earth.

Next week, we will celebrate the end of the winter and the gentle coming of spring by creating candles from sheets of beeswax, symbolising the new light of spring, and planting the candles in the ground to wake the bulbs up.

As this is a good time to start preparing for the spring flowers, the daffodils and the bluebells, the children have been weeding the flowerbeds and tidying up the garden.

Laying the Foundations

It’s been just over two years since August 2017 when Beechtree took the big step of expanding to become an Independent School and this has been a time of laying the foundations to ensure that the school is as solid as possible. From our tiny beginnings as a parent and child group in a front room in Woodhouse and as a well established Early Years Setting our aim has always been to provide high-quality Steiner Education and an alternative method of teaching and learning for families in Leeds.

Becoming a school was the natural next stage of the journey albeit a daunting one especially as it was also accompanied by a move to new premises in Chapeltown,

As we grew, we kept much of what has always made us unique; the children at Beechtree are at the centre of all we do and they are surrounded by a community made up of staff, trustees and parents working together to make the setting robust. Staff use an in-depth curriculum rooted in child development that is also reflective of the needs of the specific children in the school and designed to cultivate motivated, responsible and competent young people with a life-long love of learning. Parents work hard to provide much-needed resources and funds to Beechtree and were instrumental in our move from packing to painting to bringing to life our outdoor space, and trustees provide the support and legal governance necessary. Staff have a genuine love of teaching and many have moved from mainstream settings, drawn to the child-centred education we offer, with a methodology backed up by current research and to the skilled and professional staff team we have.

The community at Beechtree has sustained us all as we have tirelessly laid the foundations for the future, working with Ofsted to ensure we have everything needed in place, making sure that our curriculum is reflective of and right for the children at Beechtree, and that we have enough of the recourses needed and our latest Ofsted Inspection that took place in November 2019 in which we achieved a Good judgement across the board is a testament to the solidity that we now have in place and a tribute to the school we have established. We are clear that we couldn’t have achieved this without everyone in our community working together and we are grateful for all the support and trust we have received from our parents and trustees, for the hard work of the staff team and for the children who teach us so much every day and who arrive at school ” with happy and beaming faces ” (Ofsted report November 2019)

by Cath Thurlow, General Manager, Beechtree Steiner Initiative

The power of chalk board drawings in the Waldorf Steiner classroom

If you were to walk into any of the 1,200+ Steiner classrooms around the world, your eyes will likely be drawn first to a beautiful chalkboard drawing.

These wonderful, whimsical images are created by the class teacher to illustrate the main lesson each day. They might take the form of a letter or number worked into a fable or fairytale design or they might represent a festival that we are preparing for.

In the early years, we introduce a subject that we wish the children to learn in the same way people have learned throughout human history.
First, we tell a story, then we create an image of it and then we write it and read it. Writing may start bodily with tracing the letters in the air, walking them on the ground and then writing them on the page.
We revisit the subject over the coming weeks until the message is gradually learned through the children’s heads, hearts and hands in a way that appeals to their imaginations.

The aesthetic of the Steiner environment is to inspire creativity and instil reverence in the children. Their play materials in Kindergarten are natural, hand-made, beautiful and tactile. Our classrooms are warm, nurturing and aid concentration by not being over-stimulating.

We hope you enjoy this small selection of chalkboard images. Can you spot the shapes of the letters or numbers in the pictures?

Diwali celebrations at Beechtree

Today our two Kindergarten classes came together to learn about Diwali, the festival of lights – an ancient Hindu festival which we celebrate every Autumn.

For Kindergarten children (aged 3-6) understanding an abstract concept such as Diwali is possible when we make it more tangible for them, and so we introduce elements which the children can see, hear, touch and taste as part of our learning.

Teacher Ziggy told the children the story of Sita and Rama, a Princess and Prince who are banished from their home in India, and Sita kidnapped by the King of the Demons. Sita then dropped a trail of jewels behind her and so the children are given beautiful bindis to wear which helps to illustrate the story. Over time all the animals in the world work together to build a bridge to rescue them and then Sita and Rama begin their journey home. It is traditional for people to light candles in the window of their houses to light their way and so the Kindergarten children made clay pots to hold tealights.

We were welcomed by our neighbours the Sikh Temple to visit and have a snack of jelappia. The children wore head coverings and watched the preparations for the festival with interest. We especially liked the decorations – strings of lights against the Autumn trees look pretty as the evenings draw in.

The Kindergarten children made chapatis to have with their lunch of dhal and rice. They were joined for this meal by the Class One and Two children and afterwards we painted mehndi, which is applied to bring good luck, health and prosperity. The little hands showed great patience whilst their henna dried. It was lovely to celebrate Diwali as a school community.

The festival of Diwali spiritually signifies the victory of light over darkness, knowledge over ignorance, good over evil, and hope over despair.

Class One and Two have been working with these themes both consciously and unconsciously over the last few weeks as we strive to conquer fears, be brave and embrace learning with our heads, hearts and hands.

Our usual Wednesday walk was to Laurel Park today where we created the image of a diva lamp with Autumn leaves. We looked at the beautiful colours which nature gives at this time of year and used them to reflect the earthy tones of the diva lamp and the fiery flame.

We had a tour around the outside of the Temple, looking at the colours, patterns and shapes we could see. We then created rangoli patterns inspired by what we had seen on the pavement using chalks.

Like the Kindergarten children, the School children made clay lamps, decorated with tiny beads and fashioned a wick from wool, which would traditionally sit in oil.

We wish a happy festival of light to you and yours and look forward to our next community event, the Lantern Walk. Here’s a memory of our walk from two years ago.