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In a truly balanced educational program, each student will find many ways for his or her gifts and talents to shine. And even a very bright child who can whiz through "reading, writing, and arithmetic" needs real challenges for growth in other dimensions.
While students enjoy the rigor of academic subjects, they are offered many additional opportunities to strive and grow through gymnastics, sports, drama, speech, German, painting, clay modeling, instrumental music, singing, creative writing, knitting, crocheting, woodworking, and so much more.
The harmonious development of our students depends on integrating the arts and practical activities into every aspect of the curriculum. With their class teachers and with specialists, all students learn to paint, draw, and sculpt. They all sing, play musical instruments, learn eurythmy (an art of movement to music and the spoken word), and perform in their class plays.
Eurythmy is an artistic movement discipline developed by Rudolf Steiner, the founder of Waldorf education. It is related to modern dance, is expressive like mime, and flows in ways similar to Tai Chi. It is a stage art but also has pedagogic and therapeutic applications. The alphabet appears in specific sound gestures, as do the tones and intervals of music. Forms found in nature, such as spirals, stars, and figure-eights, inspire group choreography. Older grades pursue complicated geometric patterns in work with larger groups.
The eurythmy curriculum parallels that of the age and grade of the children. Kindergarteners work with nursery rhymes, small practical stories of daily life with simple work movements and interactions. Fairy Tales are added in 1st Grade. 4th Graders work with Norse or other folk myths. 6th Graders progress with large, exact geometric form in beautiful motion. Eurythmy strengthens the students’ vitality through this artistic deepening of the curriculum, providing a strong foundation for lifelong physical, emotional, and social health.
World Language (German)
World language instruction opens students to the larger world outside of their home culture and challenges them to consider their native language through a different lens.
German is taught beginning with the natural process of imitation in Kindergarten, and continues in the early grades with poems, songs, and games. There is more formal work with reading, writing, vocabulary, and grammar in the later grades, along with geography and culture. German festivals and food engage AWS students at all ages.
In the Handwork classes, the students are taught many hand skills, including knitting, crochet, sewing, and embroidery. Learning to knit and crochet develops the powers of discipline and concentration. The density of nerve endings in our fingertips is so enormous that it is of great value to create this “sense;” brain research now confirms the connection between small-motor activity and increased neurological development. Natural fibers and tools are essential to our work of creating practical and beautiful items.
The class teacher starts the children on the pentatonic flute in Grade One, with simple pentatonic songs. Recorder study continues through the grades with diatonic music and ensemble playing. An instrumental specialist introduces stringed instruments to all fourth graders; in Fifth Grade, students can elect to continue with violin, viola, cello, or bass, or to begin a wind, brass, or percussion instrument. Every 5th - 8th Grader participates in our school Orchestra, Band, or Ensemble.
All of the arts, including the performing arts, are central to the Waldorf curriculum. Singing, speech and recitation, drama, recorder playing, and movement are interwoven with the subject matter in virtually every class.
In addition to classroom work, every grade student:
- Performs annually in a class play, on our auditorium stage, for the entire school community;
- Receives weekly violin, viola, or cello lessons in 4th Grade;
- Joins the school Orchestra, Band, or Ensemble in 5th Grade, and plays in that ensemble through Grade 8, including concerts;
- Sings in one of the two school choruses (5th-6th Grade, and 7th-8th Grade), including concerts; and
- Performs with the class at all-school assemblies during the year.
In all grades, gymnastics, tumbling, acrobatics, games, and many other athletic activities complement the curriculum and meet and assist the child's development, alongside the movement provided in our Eurythmy classes and many other indoor and outdoor activities. Because we believe that all aspects of academic readiness are achieved or strengthened through movement, this program incorporates much more than “the usual” gym class. For instance, when the students are studying ancient Greek history in Fifth Grade, they will participate in sports that were part of the original Olympics. Emphasis is placed on helping children acquire and improve their movement and sports skills.
In 7th and 8th grade, the athletics/movement program accelerates and expands to include dance (African dance, hip hop, and ballroom), orienteering, swimming, cross-country skiing, advanced gymnastics, volleyball, tennis, and wrestling. Our primary goals are to enhance current fitness, prepare graduates for a high school team sport, and introduce a wide range of activities for healthy, joyful movement throughout life.
Our program is a varied and full complement of activities. Some reflect and support the Main Lesson curriculum, and some are experiential, artistic, or therapeutic. Still, others promote ownership and care of our school. Practical Arts is a fluid program determined by opportunity, needs, weather, and the occasion of altruism.
The Woodwork program begins in Grade 5. Using hand tools like the rasp and gouge, students create functional, beautiful objects, including bulb planters, spoons, and bowls. The culmination of the four years of Woodwork study is creating a wooden stool by each Grade 8 student. The students start by splitting a green ash log, use mortise and tenon joints to connect the parts, and finish with a dried red oak seat. The result of their hard work is a cherished item of furniture: lovely, practical, and durable.
Singing together is an integral part of every school day; students sing with their class teacher and a music specialist. Music reading, theory, and part-singing are all part of the progressing curriculum, supporting and coordinating with the academic curriculum. All children from 5th through 8th Grade sing in a school chorus.