Why We All Play

 

How do we develop confident, creative, and joyful student-athletes who champion teamwork, participation, and growth? That is the question that drives our athletics program at The Denver Waldorf School.

This ethos begins with a simple no-cut commitment: any DWS student who wishes to play a sport will have that chance. Whether it’s cross country, volleyball, basketball, or ultimate frisbee, our coaches embrace the opportunity to help each and every student grow and develop their talents and work ethic.

Too often, however, youth athletics are plagued by a very different ethos—one that values that domination, recognition, and exclusivity above all else. In Beyond Winning, Waldorf educator and author, Kim John Payne, laid bare the pitfalls of this mindset:

“[T]he obsession with early success in a win-at-all costs culture has created a pressure chamber in which top prospects, even at the age of five or six, are funneled into elite programs while the majority of kids . . . are robbed of the opportunity to discover and develop their talents . . . The result is a youth sports landscape pockmarked with children who end up—at age eleven or twelve—with fractured egos, low self-esteem, and, in some cases, severe physical injuries. It’s why millions of American kids quit organized sports just as they become teenagers.”– Kim John Payne, Luis Fernando Llosa & Scott Lancaster, Beyond Winning: Smart Parenting in a Toxic Sports Environment (2013).

As a school committed to developing the whole child (head, heart, and hands), we believe athletics should boost our students’ understanding of self-worth, increase their self-esteem, and promote health and wellbeing. In short, we believe physical activity through sports is an opportunity for healthful growth.

It’s also the smart tactic to nurture joyful love of sport. As Payne points out, almost three-quarters of America’s youth quit organized sports by age thirteen — precisely at the age when sports can be taken more seriously and occupy a more central role in healthy development.

Imagine a sports culture where our teenage athletes experience joy instead of burnout, embrace team success over individual glory, and value participation over exclusion. By creating a healthy sports culture within DWS, we make these goals into our reality.

We create a culture that nourishes the hearts, souls, bodies, and minds of every student-athlete. It begins with a commitment to let everyone participate, and this is why we all play.

 

 


Star Wand Tutorial

As part of our Winter Fair at Home this past holiday season, many of our families were able to experience the joy of the children’s activities together at home with our assembled craft kits. One of our much loved craft activities was a star wand, and today we are sharing a variation that you can make with materials you likely already have at home. We used some scrap fabric, felt, and used holiday ribbons making it a perfect upcycled project too.

The satisfaction of making and crafting by hand has always played an important role in our Waldorf curriculum. Stitch by stitch, we learn to appreciate the materials, the process, and the capabilities of our own creativity. We develop patience, fine motor skills, and confidence. And with this star wand, we bring a touch of magic to our days! Enjoy.

Materials

– wooden stick or dowel
– scrap fabric for one side of star
– felt for other side of star
– ribbons
– embroidery thread or thin yarn
– wool roving or scrap fabric for stuffing (optional)
– hot glue

Instructions

Step 1. Trace the 3″ star pattern (or make your own!) onto the scrap fabric and felt.
Step 2. Cut stars out and stack together.
Step 3. Knot one end of thread and begin stitching the stars together at the bottom (we used blanket stitch).

Step 4. When stitched 3/4 of the way…pause. Add wool roving as stuffing (optional), and place end of ribbons into star. Continue stitching so that ribbons are sewn into star.

Step 5. Stop stitching just before you meet where you began, leaving a small hole for the wooden stick or dowel. Tie thread off securely and sew end of thread inside of star.

Step 6. Add a small amount of glue inside of star and place the end of the wooden stick into star. Press star around wooden stick to secure.

Step 7. Make all the magic!


Developing the Vestibular Sense

Children love to play. They swing, spin, somersault, and move every way they can. This isn’t just coincidence that when we allow the space and freedom to play, children will gravitate towards these experiences. These movements and activities all work to strengthen their vestibular sense- the balance sense.

This vestibular sense tells us where we are in relation to the earth and its gravity. The vestibular sensory organs – the semicircular canals – are located in the inner ear. Movement of the head in any and all directions stimulates the fluid in these chambers, informing our brains of our body position in relation to all that is around us. As children are able to move about, engaging their vestibular sense, they are developing and strengthening this ever important sense of balance.

However, it has to do with even more though than just balance. As our own Nancy Blanning and Laurie Clark have noted in their article Strengthening the Foundational Senses of the Young Child, “The importance of this sense of balance cannot be overemphasized. It is a unifying element in the whole system and seems to prime the entire nervous system to function properly.” The healthy development of the foundational senses in the young child serves as the strong roots for all higher level learning- both in childhood and throughout life. As Nancy and Laurie have noted, “When the foundational senses are functioning well, the child has pleasure and joy in being within his/her body. He moves in a balanced, coordinated, integrated way. He is eager to explore the world and new sensory experiences, and is not timid. The child is well-balanced, both literally and metaphorically.”

Our daily activities during our time together at The Denver Waldorf School aim to strengthen the vestibular sense, and all of our primary senses. The emphasis on the importance of free play, the movement and rhythmic games incorporated into our learning, and the exploration of nature and the outdoors, no matter the weather, are all intentional building blocks to giving our children a strong foundation for their healthy development.

 


Range

Artwork by Class of 2020 graduate Bryn Creager

How do we ensure that our children, our students, are prepared to succeed in a rapidly evolving world? That question inspires Waldorf educators across the world.

In response to this question, parents are often fed a persistent message: If you want your child to succeed in an endeavor later in life, then you must specialize early in life. Be it sports, music, art or literature, the ticket to adulthood success is childhood grit and singular focus—or so we are told.

In the book Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World, David Epstein explores whether intense early specialization benefits children and adults alike. He finds that early specialization is the outlier, not the norm, when it comes to producing elite talents into adulthood.

After a deep-dive into a growing body of research, Range reveals that the most successful musicians, athletes, scholars and entrepreneurs have embraced and benefited from a range of interests and activities during their youth. When it comes to athletics, for example, Epstein finds:

“Eventual elites typically devote less time early on to deliberate practice in the activity in which they will eventually become experts. Instead, they undergo what researchers call a ‘sampling period.’ They play a variety of sports, usually in an unstructured or lightly structured environment; they gain a range of physical proficiencies from which they can draw; they learn about their abilities and proclivities; and only later do they focus in and ramp up technical practice in one area.”

These findings are also reflected in Kim John Payne’s book Beyond Winning: Parenting in a Toxic Sports Environment. As in Range, he finds that the most successful adult athletes benefited immeasurably from childhood free-play and thus avoided the onset of teenage sports burnout brought on by too much intense work too soon.

And it’s not just sports. Range chronicles business leaders who succeeded because of their diverse experiences and interests, not in spite of them; musicians like Yo-Yo Ma who played several instruments before settling upon his famed cello; and artists like Van Gogh who found a true calling later in life. What we need in this ever-changing world, Range asserts, is “people who start broad and embrace diverse experiences and perspectives while they progress.”

Waldorf education has always understood this critical truth. Offering a liberal arts K-12 curriculum, Waldorf education challenges its students to embrace, learn and grow from multiple disciplines—from literature to math and science to arts to theater to athletics to music and beyond. Art is integrated into our main lessons, each student is encouraged to participate in our sports teams—there are no cuts or tryouts, each grade works together to produce a play, we join our musical natures in orchestra. Our students are pushed to explore this “sampling period” in the development of their whole selves.

As students progress at The Denver Waldorf School, they may gravitate toward a more singular focus. For example, for their senior projects, students may intensely focus on a single endeavor—such as pursuing a pilot’s license, researching homelessness in Denver and producing a podcast, or training to become an Emergency Medical Technician. Whatever they choose to focus on, they never shy away from embracing a broad range of talents, skills and interests.

Through this liberal arts education, our students are not just prepared for college; they are prepared to make meaningful and deep contributions to the world — well beyond their first job.

A Waldorf education is the first step in this journey. In a world that will change many times over after they graduate, our students build a solid foundation to meet the challenges and opportunities for all of their days ahead.

In a word, they have range.


Bringing Waldorf into the Home

There’s no time like the present to revisit the wisdom shared by two DWS moms, Clair Boswell and Bridget Hand, on how to bring Waldorf into home life. During our September parent council meeting, they presented many ideas for establishing an in and out breathing rhythm throughout the day and through the seasons. Establishing a rhythm in our homes gives a sense of security and provides for healthy activity for our children. With suggestions for practical activities and resources to connect as a family and with nature, their presentation is worth revisiting below.

Waldorf in the Home Handout
Audio Recording of Presentation of Waldorf in the Home


Waldorf Window Stars

Truth, beauty and goodness are core tenets of Waldorf education. We surround ourselves with wonder and beauty to awaken our spirits and inspire our learning. During this time of social distancing in the world all around us, now more than ever, we need to lean into the beauty of our everyday life to connect us as human beings. There is a movement to display rainbows- which symbolize peace and serenity, hope and promise- in our windows at home to bring light and connection to all who walk by. Waldorf window stars have long been a favorite way to brighten our classrooms and homes, and in rainbow colors, we love how they contribute to the optimism of this movement. This is an activity that can be shared easily with little hands to bring happiness to our homes and community! Below we share this simple Waldorf window star tutorial with your families.

Materials

– kite paper
– glue stick or glue
– scissors or paper cutter (if you need to resize your kite paper)

Instructions

– Step 1. Resize your kite paper if needed. The paper we used was 6.3″ x 6.3″, and we cut into quarters so that we could make smaller stars to fit our window space.
– Step 2. Arrange your prepared pieces of paper into the order that you want your star points to be- you will have eight points, so you need eight pieces of paper!

– Step 3. Fold your first square in half

– Step 4. With your paper still folded in half, fold in half again

– Step 5. Open up your paper completely, and then fold one corner into the middle

– Step 6. Repeat step 5 with each remaining corner

– Step 7. Fold in two sides so they meet in a straight line at the center

– Step 8. Repeat steps 3 through 7 for remaining papers

– Step 9. Begin gluing your star points together

– Step 10. Continue working around your star, gluing each at the center

– Step 11. Make sure your star is dry, and then hang in your window to spread beauty, light and love!


Success in Sports

“Success is the peace of mind which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you did your best to become the best you are capable of becoming.” – John Wooden, Hall of Fame basketball coach and sports philosopher.

Coach John Wooden won ten NCAA basketball championships and yet, he famously never urged his players to win. Instead, he focused on improving skills, cultivating teamwork and instilling a championship spirit in every practice and every game. He helped his players become the best they were capable of becoming.

In a way, Waldorf athletics follows the John Wooden philosophy of sports. In a youth sports culture dominated by a win-at-all-costs mantra, Waldorf recognizes that its student-athletes have embarked upon a journey of growth and development that supersedes wins and losses. Waldorf’s coaches seek to develop the whole athlete by valuing growth in individual skills, championing teamwork and emphasizing the joy of sport.

Winning is a byproduct of doing things the right way. A loss is, not a failure, but an opportunity to learn. Waldorf’s student-athletes meet victory and defeat with equanimity and grace—traits that will serve them well in the broader world, on and off the athletic field.

In fact, Waldorf’s approach to athletics fits within a broader movement to reclaim youth sports for what they once were and always should have been: fun, communal and participatory. There are no tryouts or cuts, even through high school. Instead, each athlete is inspired to reach their highest potential, contributing to the team through enthusiasm, hard work, grace, and resilience. Every athlete has their place on our teams.

An example of this broader movement is Norway- it has adopted the Children’s Rights in Sport charter which focuses on the “joy of sport for all” while forbidding excessive training and even scorekeeping before age 11. Norway’s charter simply states, “Children are engaged in sports because they enjoy it. Together with their friends they have experiences and learn lessons that will last them a lifetime. This is the foundation that all coaches, managers and parents must safeguard and develop further.”

Norway’s focus on fun, teamwork, and age-appropriate training has not held back its athletes. To the contrary, Norwegian athletes won a record 39 medals in the 2016 Olympic games. A youthful foundation focused on the “joy of sport” prepared many athletes to flourish later as adults.

Youth sports should not be adult-centered endeavors with an intense focus on winning at all costs. An emerging body of research suggests that, not only is the adultification of youth sports detrimental to young athletes’ happiness and well-being, but also may derail their long-term success—that is, their ability to become the best they are capable of becoming. Let them play, and enjoy the success along the way!

We are all enjoying the success of our undefeated high school boy’s varsity basketball team this season – let’s cheer them on as they continue in our 5280 League playoffs, then regionals and state! Congrats to the whole team and to the All-League Award Winners:
1st Team – Aly Sakho
2nd Team – Dylan Quinn
Honorable Mention – Wil McHenry
Coach of the Year – Michael Quinn


Wisdom of Waldorf - Benefit of Books

This week’s article is about a business that started in response to research demonstrating the connection between reading and being read to or told stories and brain development and the detrimental effects of screen time on the brain. From the article –

“The science we are seeing with screens and kids brains is quite frightening. The exact same organized white matter we see in brains of kids who are frequently read to turns into chaos with screens and devices. It’s almost the exact opposite effect. These language centers are crucial to support success in school, and replacing books with screens may put your child at a massive educational disadvantage. At this point, screens are a huge risk we’re taking with new generations.”

Research on brain development continues to show the value of storytelling especially in those early years. When the child hears a story, their brain is engaged in imagining the characters and landscapes. This activity of imagining supports brain development that is necessary for the ability to do math, compose essays, critical thinking and many of the things we hope our children’s education will provide. The simple act of storytelling, which is so much a part of Waldorf education, is vital to healthy development.

https://news.paperlanternpublishinggroup.com/brain-on-books

– Sandra Easter, PhD

Wisdom of Waldorf is shared weekly via our Facebook page, connect here to follow with more wisdom!


Wisdom of Waldorf - The Value of Play

In the last few decades there’s been a greater emphasis on academics starting in preschool. This has resulted in more and more testing and teaching geared toward those tests. The intentions of this approach were good ones. However, in Western Australia teachers recognized that this way of teaching was leading to increased anxiety and behavior problems in their students. The teacher’s union has made a bold move to eliminate testing before the age of 8 and to create a play-based curriculum. They’re basing this change on research that demonstrates that play-based learning was better for children in terms of wellbeing, academic outcomes, problem-solving and social skills.

Rather than following the latest trends in education, Waldorf schools have stayed true to the pedagogical principles that are its foundation. One of those is the value of play. Another is to introduce homework and testing gradually and with intention and purpose. Sandra Easter, PhD

Read this week’s Wisdom of Waldorf article here!

– Sandra Easter, PhD

Wisdom of Waldorf is shared weekly via our Facebook page, connect here to follow with more wisdom!


Relaxing Time

A recent visit to the Waldorf forest kindergarten in Saratoga Springs, NY resonates in memory in a special way.  The children whose parents have chosen this program have a consciously simplified environment freed of the temptations and distractions of the busier city life not far down the road. The group spends nearly the whole morning out in nature—no matter the weather–except perhaps for the first hour of morning in deepest winter when the air needs an hour to warm above super-frigid temperatures. Children are called upon to develop heartiness and resiliency in meeting the weather, terrain, practical tasks, and social experiences from which our society too often excessively shelters children. These are all important things for us to appreciate in how these experiences benefit the children’s development physically, emotionally, and socially. But we can take these points up at another time because it is something else that stands out so prominently in memory from this visit.

A young three-year old little girl new to the program latched on to my hand as the group of children began the walk along a trail into the woods. The pathway was made of rounded stepping stones; narrow, slightly-elevated boards to give us walking space above the soggy ground below; similar little “bridges” of two parallel boards that would bounce and spring slightly as we walked their length, challenging our balance; uneven ground that could not be avoided; and puddles that just had to be stepped in. We walked along slowly, three-year old legs having a short stride and some insecurity on the tippy rocks. She held my hand for balance until the path became too narrow and we had to walk single-file. Then she went on independently. We set no speed records. And no one minded. The thirty-two children and five adults walked along in little clusters, some faster, some slower.  No one hurried the children along. Getting to our destination took as long as it needed. The littlest children were in no way made to feel inadequate or deficient because they could not walk fast or if a foot slipped on a wet rock and muddy, water-proof overalls resulted. Each child was respected for the capacities she had developed so far, knowing that new skills, competence, and confidence grow upon consolidation of what comes before.

But this still is not really the point. What speaks so strongly in memory is that the teachers allowed the children as much time as was needed to walk our little journey. Each child was allowed to do as much independently as she could, no matter how long it took.  Expectations were released of how much or how fast things should happen. The day expected less accomplishment because it was so satisfying to complete a few things well.

The little girl moved on to join other children and did not seek my companionship again. She did not need it. She had literally found her feet and her standing with the other children. She had been granted the time to experience what she could accomplish on her own.

We want our children to become confident, independent doers and directors of their own lives. They can, but we adults have to give them the time to find their own strength. We do not need to speed them up but to slow ourselves down and let the children lead us. We will all benefit.

By Nancy Blanning (our learning specialist) as originally published in Lilipoh Magazine