The school year began on one of the warmest days of the year. Ms. Mallard played the harp in the breezeway as our preschool and kindergarten families arrived, while grades students waved goodbye to their parents and crossed campus to class.
Once everyone was settled in their new classrooms, we gathered in the oak grove for the rose ceremony, in which first graders were paired with their eighth grade buddies and officially welcomed to the grades with a beautiful rose and a walk under a rainbow silk (pictured below).
After that, campus was alive with activity. Fourth graders helped move picnic tables and haul hay bales from the truck to their new outdoor classroom.
First graders got some healthy exercise in the first games class of the year.
Fifth graders worked with logs and axes in their first woodwork class.
And this was just day one! Please check back for more photos and stories from the 2021-2022 school year.
Before our 8th grade students departed, they worked together to create three large abstract sculptures to be displayed in our school’s Peace Garden, a central courtyard filled with native plants and flowers—and a hub for migrating monarch butterflies. Below, the director of the Bay Area Center for Waldorf Teacher Training, Ken Smith, who oversaw the project, describes the creation of this unique gift to our school.
There has been some unusual activity in the corner of the Peace Garden as the 8th Grade students are busy creating 3 concrete sculptures as a leaving gift for the school. I worked with the whole class to create a sequence of shapes that capture something of the experience of the last 8 years (less for some students and more for others if they began in Kindergarten) of learning and growing at MWS.
We began with trying to bring back memories of the 4th grade to recall key moments and strong memories and then to put these into sculptural shapes. The next class we moved back in time to find a shape for the earlier years. Then we worked to discover how to make one shape after the other in a sequence – something unfolding and developing in time. One of the challenges for the students was to work with nonfigurative shapes – pure form and gesture – which leaves the viewer free and will allow the sculptures to have many meanings and interpretations in the years to come.
Lastly the class was asked explore the present – coming to the end of their time at MWS.
Then a smaller group of students worked to bring the many ideas together into a sequence that could represent the experiences of the whole class.
These 3 shapes were then enlarged into wire armatures, set into position on concrete foundations and finished in cement.
It was a pleasure to work with the 8th Grade on this project and to be able to harvest their many years of artistic and sculpture work with Ms Deason.
Ken Smith Director Bay Area Center for Waldorf Teacher Training
At Marin Waldorf School, 8th grade students spend a full year planning, researching, and working to complete an individual project, which, at year’s end, they present to their classmates and the school community. Below, our 8th grade class teacher, Kristine Deason, shares more about the process.
Eighth grade projects allow students to reveal their capacities as inquirers, investigators, researchers, explorers, inventors, artists, and communicators. Throughout the course of their projects as well as in the culminating presentations, students reveal themselves. No other pursuit more clearly demonstrates how important it is to be “original”—that is, to be the originator of the interest, the question, and the direction that leads to creating something new.
The long process of shaping these projects began in June 2020. Students were asked to read The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind as inspiration for finding something they wanted to learn how to do or make. Over the summer, they were also asked to create a “Rube Goldberg” machine, again with the objective to work at making and creating something, not just researching. At the start of the school year, they submitted a well-crafted proposal to our middle school committee for approval. For many, just choosing a project drove home the reality that discovery always begins with the question, not the information!
Over the course of the year, students worked with outside mentors, conducted background research, wrote annotated bibliographies, and shaped a long research paper as they simultaneously worked on their physical project. They were asked to maintain a project journal to track their progress and submitted this journal often. On a regular basis, they also reported to the class and supported each other in shaping their final projects. Everyone made changes on a regular basis as they all encountered unforeseen challenges. In fact, no one carried out their project exactly as first proposed, and this provided an honest picture of the very real and uncertain world of original research and exploration!
In the end, over the course of two evenings, we were graced by a wide variety of in-person presentations, delivered with articulate confidence. The subjects were wide-ranging, revealing the broad interests of the students:
No question that May Faire was different this year. Our dear parents weren’t able to join us. The children wore masks below their May Faire crowns. And there wasn’t any strawberry shortcake or a popsicle run to enjoy with friends after the festival ended.
… But there were many things to celebrate: abundant smiles and laughter, joyous dancing, and a strong bond between our student community that made this May Faire special.
You could feel the strength of our school community as the students clapped along to the music played by our 7th and 8th grade orchestra. You could feel it as they cheered raucously for the 8th graders as they performed the final dance around the may pole! You could see it in their smiling eyes as they went back to their classes.
Our last history block of 8th grade was called “The Struggle for Rights.” Using this theme as a lens into the past, students honed their understanding for the multiplicity, diversity and interrelationship of life, and connected with increasing responsibility to the necessary challenges posed by the need to live with each other in genuine freedom. Questions, more than facts, guided our discussions. As a culminating artistic experience, students learned the long poem, “Freedom’s Plow” by Langston Hughes. They quickly noticed that the poem did not mention many groups who have struggled and continue to struggle for their rights: indigenous people and women, among others. In response, they composed stanzas of their own in the style of the original which they later transformed into the following group stanzas.
We are happy to share this work with you!
Group Stanzas, Inspired by “Freedom’s Plow” by Langston Hughes
I. A long time ago, but not too long ago Someone said: “He has withheld her from her rights which are given to the most ignorant and degraded men – Both natives and foreigners. Having deprived her of this first right of a citizen he has oppressed her on all sides.” And what Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony said was true. It wasn’t only women who suffered. When the whites came to America They stole the land from the indigenous tribes, Forcing them west, taking their lives. Ancient ways of living were destroyed. Indigenous people were marched To unfamiliar lands, Holding in their hearts the hopes and dreams Of FREEDOM!
(by Kenzie, Caroline, Cammie, Leo)
II. Settlers came, wanting to be master of all, Without respect for the land and the people already there, And drove them out from their peaceful homes. Tribes eradicated, Battles fought, Blood drawn. Few remained, none thrived.
(by Luka, Tessa, Lucien, Avi)
III. A long time ago, but not too long ago, The nation expanded westward, seeking a greater freedom. The price for freedom was paid by people, People who had nourished this land long before it became America. With the help of native hands, they began to grow this land. As towns and cities grew, native people were pushed From their homes. From their sacrifice and the help of their hands, We built America. All men are created equal, That is a great American ideal, But the day will come when the ideal must triumph And the American goal of centuries will be fulfilled.
(by Gus, Bodhi, Lili, Sydney, Luca)
IV. A long time ago, But not too long ago, America was expanding, growing, But at a cost. Spreading through the land, The colonists came, Building houses and barns, Communities and farms. Spreading sickness and disease Among the native people, Pushing them off the land, Slaughtering many. The cost for America was the death of millions. America as a whole was bloody and suffering. People persevered, America toiled, Survived.
(by Feodor, Aurelius, Johannes, Grace, Oona)
Below, please watch the 8th grade perform the poem “Freedom’s Plow” in the amphitheater.
In Waldorf school, every day begins with the “main lesson”—a two-hour class taught by the class teacher, with subjects like math, reading, history, and other core topics taught in blocks for three to six weeks. Teaching subjects in blocks encourages students to engage more deeply with the material, building on the material with each passing day.
In fourth grade, a beloved block is dedicated to humans and animals, culminating in an animal report, researched, authored, and presented to the class by each student. Here’s how fourth grade class teacher Ms. Ashley describes it:
The Human and Animal block is taught in two three-week blocks, once in the fall and once again in the spring. The students lessons are filled with lots of information on the Goethean phenomenological approach to zoology that is the basis for the animal studies.
During the last block the class learned note taking, writing short paragraphs, and drawing pictures of the animals they heard about in Morning Lesson. Together, the class created an octopus garden diorama in class prior to the presentation. It culminates with the student presenting an animal report, drawings, and diorama of the animal of their choice and presentation to the class.
Below, enjoy a few photos of the dioramas that students made of animals in their natural habitat.
Adam Neale, Marin Waldorf School’s woodwork and outdoor education teacher, has always had a fondness for making things. He brought that gift, along with his genuine kindness and affability, to Marin Waldorf School over a decade ago, and today is one of the most beloved teachers on campus. An outdoor enthusiast and sportsman, he is a veteran of many MWS class trips, as well as an alumni parent and father to twin girls.
In the interview below, Mr. Neale tells us about his childhood in Miami, first-day jitters as the new MWS woodwork teacher, and (as you hoped!) how he met his wife, MWS director Megan Neale.
What was your childhood like? I grew up in Miami, Florida. I loved it. I was really into the natural world, being outside all the time, being on the water, in the woods, in the mangrove swamps. That’s where I loved to spend my time.
My parents really enjoy being outside too. My mom studied marine biology. My dad was into fishing. They loved bird-watching. We spent our weekends out and about.
I’ve always liked making things. One of my first memories of woodworking was from summer camp in North Carolina. We dug up these little sassafras trees and I made a cane with the wood. I spent so much time working on that walking stick—and it’s funny to think it’s the same thing I do today, something that I was really drawn to as a child. Now I work surrounded by all these sticks! It’s endless what you can do with that stuff.
I went to a high school that had a week in the wintertime where you could take a class and make things, it was called Intersession. I made a fishing rod. There was a teacher and a fisherman, and he had kits for putting the guides on a rod. I never forgot that either.
You’re into fishing too, right? Yeah, I’m into fishing too. I just made another fishing rod during the pandemic. I tie my own flies.
How did you find your way from Florida to California? Were there stops in between? I met Megan at a wedding in LA. She had decided that she wanted to live in Miami before I met her. I was living in Phoenix, Arizona, at the time. I told her I needed a ride from Phoenix to Miami to visit my parents—because I liked her. She was living in Marin and had just graduated from UC Santa Barbara, and she came through Phoenix to pick me up on the way to Miami. Our first date was driving across the country.
Later, she got into graduate school in Colorado. I ended up going with her, and it changed my life in a big way. I thought I would live in Miami forever. And then I was the Florida guy who moved to the mountains! I’d seen snow one time before I moved to Colorado. It was freezing cold.
I got a construction job with a really good carpenter who took the time to show me how to use tools and really do things right. I was grateful for that. Megan was a junior high teacher. Later I taught snowboarding, I taught fly fishing, and I was a raft guide.
Were these your first teaching jobs? I actually started to teach at the camp where I got into woodworking. I was a camp counselor there, and I taught canoeing and whitewater rafting. So I had quite a bit of experience teaching kids at that point. I had really good mentors, people who taught me, so it was easy to teach what they had showed me.
We bought a house, and then we had twin daughters. That’s when we decided we needed to be around family, so we moved here.
How did you end up at Marin Waldorf School? I was looking to get back into surfing, and I went to see a surfboard for sale at someone’s house. His wife ran a Waldorf preschool from their home, and their daughter went to Marin Waldorf School—she was a few years older than our daughters. Our daughters were just about the right age to start preschool, so they started going there, and we became very interested in Waldorf education.
When our daughters started at Marin Waldorf School, I was doing construction, working with a friend. The woodworking teacher’s daughter was in the same class as my daughters, and we were good friends. I would help him out in class sometimes. A few years later, the next woodworking teacher left unexpectedly and the school asked if I wanted to take the class. I said sure! I jumped in midyear.
Was it challenging? Very! I’ll never forget the first day—I don’t think I’ve ever been so nervous in my life. I was nervous for so long—even on the outdoor ed hikes! I felt a lot of responsibility. What am I going to teach these kids? The people here are so bright, there’s such a high standard, so I felt I had to live up to that. [Current 8th grade teacher] Ms. Deason was our class teacher, so that was the standard that had been set.
My daughters were in fifth grade when I took the woodworking position, and that’s the first year of woodworking in the curriculum, so I taught my own daughters. I think I overcompensated by ignoring them. And they felt weird calling me “Dad,” so they called me “Mr. Neale.” Hearing “Mr. Neale” in their voices was always funny. But it was great. They’re very easy-going.
It’s surprising that you were nervous because you have a good, natural connection with the kids. It’s an interesting position I’m in because the students have something in front of them that they’re working on. I give them the space to create stuff, and I get out of the way. They are very open. A lot of conversation comes naturally in that space.
And what about outdoor education, which you also teach? That’s another place where I’m creating space, trying to help the kids feel comfortable outside. That’s my main goal: to connect them.
I got a degree in environmental studies. It was a bachelor of arts degree, so I studied a lot of philosophy behind the environmental movement. I always wanted to affect change for the environment, but I always wanted to do it on an individual level. I felt that was more my style, because I have a peacemaker side to my personality, where I connect with people and I want to understand them. So my idea was to be an outdoor educator to connect kids to the environment so they, in turn, would want to do the right thing for the planet.
That’s what I feel the Marin Waldorf School outdoor education program is about. Number one, making kids feel comfortable outside, so they want to go outside, so they see the value of it, without telling them that directly. There’s another word for it: coyote mentoring. In this philosophy, you’re bringing kids along but not telling them exactly what you’re doing—by playing games, having moments where you go outside and try to be as quiet as you can to listen to the birds—but what you’re teaching them is how to be self-reflective. Once they get quiet, they start to notice things about themselves while they’re trying to notice things outside. Trying to do that with young teenagers is really a challenge.
We’re so blessed to be surrounded by open space here. Trying to imagine what ancestors, what native people, the people who were here a long time ago were doing and connecting with that as well.
What about class trips? Again, it’s that experiential education. It was a big part of my education growing up—I learned most by doing—and I traveled a bunch when I got out of school. I always pushed myself on those trips. Academics are important, but putting that to practical use, seeing the skills they developed in the classroom and the social fabric that they have, then they get to go out into the world. I’ve heard a lot of different compliments from hosts for our groups who say, these kids are just amazing.
The first five or six years, I never went on any trips. I went as a parent. But slowly, once my girls graduated, I start going on class trips. Iv’e been to Hawaii with Kathy Darcy’s class—that was an incredible trip. I went to Colorado, Arizona, the Four Corners area twice. I did the Eel River with Gail. They all were special. I went to Boston with Ms. Jackson.
There are so many moments I remember, like traveling across the country on a train with Rising’s class and watching the kids interact with the conductor. It was so neat to see kids who were so polite and who weren’t afraid to put themselves out there and talk to people.
Any trips in particular that stand out? It’s hard to say. Every one! I’ve been so lucky.
A spirit of inquiry, experiential learning, and an integration of academic disciplines are cornerstones of our school’s approach to education.
In our middle school classrooms, where 6th, 7th, and 8th graders explore complex topics in chemistry, physics, physiology, biology, and geology, science isn’t presented in concepts and lectures. It begins with observation. Through observation, our students learn to think like scientists, asking questions and posing theories before being given all the answers.
Even art, which is integrated throughout our curriculum, is used as a tool for understanding STEM topics. For example, in their studies of combustion as part of the 7th grade chemistry block, students were asked to observe and then draw a bonfire and a candle. You can see a few examples of our students’ work below.
As a capstone to the study of combustion, teacher Ms. Terziev performed a demonstration for the class, asking them to watch silently and then offer their theories on what they’d observed.
After watching the experiment, students brought their questions and theories to the group, inspiring both curiosity and critical thinking in the classroom. This approach helps students build a meaningful understanding of complex scientific concepts. In Waldorf education, this is called a phenomenological approach to science. In this way, 7th graders at Marin Waldorf School connect and internalize complex topics in chemistry, like combustion, as well as crystallization, acids/bases, and the lime cycle.
The study of science at Marin Waldorf School begins in early childhood, with the simple observation of the seasons and the natural world, and through nature stories. In elementary school, students learn to ask questions and to learn through doing, laying the groundwork for more complex critical thinking that they will need to tackle their studies of chemistry, biology, physiology, geology, and physics in middle school.
In the sculptural, pictorial realm we look at beauty, we live it, whereas in the musical realm we ourselves become beauty. In music man himself is creator. he creates something that does not come from what is already there, but lays a foundation and a firm ground for what is to arise in the future. —Rudolf Steiner, Practical Advice to Teachers
Music is an essential part of the curriculum at Marin Waldorf School. Throughout the day, children in the preschool and kindergarten sing with teachers and classmates, learning not only the songs but how to listen and to work together as a group.
In the grades, students begin to study instruments, starting with flutes in first and second grade. In fourth, all students begin studying violin, with some choosing to take lessons on other strings or orchestral instruments. By seventh and eighth grade, the class has become an orchestral ensemble, with opportunities to perform for their parents and the greater community at various concerts throughout the year.
Like everything else, our music programs have been adapted this year. Students and teachers are getting used to singing (and performing!) with masks on, while our orchestra teachers test out the acoustics in the breezeways and amphitheaters (our strings program will be entirely outdoors this year!). Still, there are some upsides to the new arrangements. For one thing, we’ve been hearing our students perform a lot more frequently as we listen to classes practicing outdoors, throughout our campus grounds. Take a look …
Here is the second grade practicing flute in their outdoor classrooms.
Under the protection of the outdoor breezeway, new fourth grade violinist practice strings basics with their teachers Ms. Stewart and Ms. Eldridge.
By 8th grade, students have progressed immensely, with many taking up other orchestral instruments, like cello and flute, to complete their ensemble. Here’s the class of 2021 playing for the class of 2022 in the amphitheater.
In closing, we are delighted to share this video of our students in grades 4-8 performing at the end of the fall semester. Here, you’ll see how the class ensembles progress over their years of study… and enjoy a glimpse of what we’ve been practicing on campus.
You can read more about music in the Waldorf curriculum in volume 18 of Renewal, the magazine published by the Association of Waldorf Schools of North America, as well as at the informative website Waldorf Music.
Every December, all the children in our school gather to walk the advent spiral. In the past, this beautiful tradition took place in a hushed and darkened room, accompanied by harp music and candle light.
This year, we went out with our hats and gloves on. The breeze and the blue jays joined us. Rather than candles, children carried apples, bulbs, oranges, and pine cones. And though it looked and felt very different, it was still a gorgeous way to acknowledge the season.
The Class of 2020 walked the Advent Spiral as a class for the last time on Thursday. Some of them had been walking a similar spiral since they were in preschool. Others walked it for the first time. After the ceremony, class teacher Kristine Deason shared her thoughts with 8th grade parents, who, unlike in years past, weren’t able to witness the tradition as usual. We want to share what she wrote, below, as well as some of the beautiful photos our staff took of the day.
Earlier today, the 8th grade class walked our outdoor Advent Spiral, beautifully built by the Parent Association over the weekend. Out of respect for fire danger, we carried bright oranges instead of candles — each student carrying the “fruits of their labors” into the center of the spiral.
We have walked the spiral together every year since First Grade, and this was our last time as a class. Beforehand, I recapitulated the experience, mindful of those students who would be experiencing it for the first time. I described how, at this time of year, walking the spiral invites us to bring our own light into the darkness and thereby illuminate it. It is harder to experience this in the light of day, but I described to the class that this year our walk would be a journey inward. The students took it up with thoughtfulness and reverence. It was a gift to take part in this with them.
Please enjoy the photos. We hope they convey some small measure of the mood we experienced.
We walked the spiral today mindful of those friends who could not join us. You were in our hearts and we miss you very much.