The nights are drawing in, the days are getting shorter, winter is just round the corner and the year is starting to contract, and it is a dark time for our community. We are grappling with some difficult and frustrating changes and feeling the growing darkness all around us.Continue reading
More than 20 years ago a group of children and adults developed a very special place. 5 years ago a group of pioneers put their heart and soul to make it larger and make its journey longer. We believed in their project and followed them.
Let me tell you about this place.
This is a place where the smell of tea, coffee, freshly baked bread or chapatis, and popcorn over a fire will nourish the connection among human beings. Where time is not rushed and rhythms, celebrations, and rituals are important.
This is a place where toys have a texture because they are made of wood, wool or felt so they stimulate your senses and your curiosity.
This is a place where anything can happen because your imagination is set free and playing is the most important task of the day.
This is a place where we learn the importance of not hurting ourselves or others and taking care of the space around us.
This is a place where you develop a sense of belonging because you contribute with your helping hands: chopping, kneading, mending, hugging, drawing, building… Where our feet are ‘walking feet’ indoors but climbing, splashing muddy boots outdoors. Where through rhymes, clapping, dances, and finger knitting they will know if you are ready to discover the amazing world of the singing letters and the graffito pencils.
Where stories are told every day and without knowing, you become a storyteller.
This is a place where stories will touch your heart and create images in your mind so powerful, that you will never forget what Peter Plus, Molly Minus, Matilda Multiple, David Divide, and Queen Equal meant to do with your conkers, marbles and stones.
In this place your voice is heard and taken seriously so you soon feel confident to share your opinions and feelings and to listen to those raised by others.
This is a place where childhood is valued, protected, and respected, a safe place to be curious and inquisitive.
This is a place that has managed to explain itself to the rest of the world and translate what they do into Ofsted language: GOOD
This place is our school: Beechtree.
We need people to invest in this amazing project. We need a new space, new helping hands and new families.
What can you offer? Let us see you, hear you, contact us!!!
It’s been a difficult term so far but after a lovely few days with the children in the woods, it feels very apt that we have been gifted an orchard for Beechtree this week by The Tree Council.
Planting trees gives hope for the future of the planet and also hope for our community and reminds us that Beechtree is always more than a building.
Thank you to the parents and staff who are helping with the new trees this week.
Nearly a month ago we watched the New Year’s Day concert from Vienna which is a lifelong tradition of mine with my family. Every year of the last half-century I have listened and thoroughly enjoyed the various polkas, waltzes and other pieces of the concert and waited impatiently for the last piece, which is always the Radetzky March.
This year’s concert was different. We could enjoy the fabulous music played by committed musicians conducted by a world-famous conductor in a beautifully decorated concert hall, but the seats of the hall were empty, no audience could take part in the concert. It was most perceptible by the very last piece where the marching rhythm was always clapped by the audience and conducted by the conductor, leaving the orchestra to play the music alone. Missing this experience, we met with a new one; we were hearing the music without the “disturbance” of clapping, yet still creating a social feeling that we are all taking part in the creation of that music.
I have found in this experience a tight relationship to movement and other ‘School’ sessions in these last weeks. With movement we can touch somebody else’s heart; movement can inspire us to act together, leaving no time for fear and making us stronger. For all the children, going outside, experiencing the changes, the arrival of Springtime and interacting with the real world, running, skipping and playing will encourage them and continue the connection with Eurythmy until they return to school.
I would like to say a huge thank you for all your help and participation in our sessions where we will continue making visible seasonal poems with movement and singing beautiful songs.
Eurythmy and Music teacher
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.
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
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?
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.
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.
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.
Lianne Marie Mease
Trustee at Beechtree Steiner Initiative
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.
Some wise words to our community from Beechtree’s General Manager Cath Thurlow.
After these first weeks of acclimatising and trying to build a new routine, I’d like to share some things that have helped me to create a new sense of normality.
In a web conference with other Waldorf Steiner Kindergarten teachers, the lead host Janni Nichols shared something that really inspired me. She talked about finding our own rhythm and routine in whatever form that may take – be it starting with a morning verse or meditation or having meals at regular times and making time for movement, and remembering to find time for yourself, and taking care of yourself. This may not always be possible, but as little as five minutes can make a world of difference – a part of my new routine is to sit outside for at least five minutes with a cup of tea and enjoy the sounds of the birds and the stillness around us.
Janni also spoke about working with gratitude, and I think with all of the negative influences around us (from social media and the news) this is more important than ever. I have started to make a mental list of three things I am grateful for every morning, and this could be as simple as being thankful for the new day, for being well and being grateful for all that I have.
A friend recently shared an article which also moved me; here is a snippet from it:
“There are distances that bring us close and solitudes that unite. We are learning that our life and well-being depend on the life and well-being of the other; that the fate of the people we love and the whole community also depends on my fate and actions; that personal interest must be overshadowed by the collective need. It is an important evolutionary step. We had to stop in order to hear … And understand. When we stop to listen we hear everything that happens, inside and outside ourselves. Anger, helplessness, frustration, anxiety, despair, fear … but also empathy, compassion, love, gratitude, kindness, silence. Everything. There is the whole life inside ourselves that just waited to be listened to and welcomed, to allow us to return to the natural rhythms of life and to cultivate those values so important to the survival of this planet and in this planet.”
The article made me think about our own rhythm, and the balance that we need between in-breaths (periods of business!) and out breaths (moments of pause and rest), and the gift that we have been given, of time to be with our families, to stop and listen, and to come together as communities, even if we are a few metres apart!
In all of the negativity around us, it is more important than ever to focus on the light – the silver lining in the clouds above!