Grade School

The Purpose of the First Grade Circle

Back in October, at our Experience Waldorf event for parents, our 1st grade teacher, Ms. Hartz, shared the why and what of circle time in first grade. There is a lot behind what looks like fun to these eager students at the very beginning of their grade school journeys!

A first grader’s day begins with a handshake and a greeting to and from the teacher. The mood in the classroom is one of calm and expectation, sometimes with some excitement about something from home, or in anticipation of the day. The class speaks their morning verse together, and then, before moving into work at their desks, they will clear a space in the classroom for some circle time. A circle in 1st grade incorporates movement, music and singing, spoken word, rhythm, breathing, and concentration. It’s purpose includes:

  • Joy and delight

  • Awakening a healthy imagination

  • Wake up! Get out of breath, prepare to sit

  • Immersion in the season or “mood” of a block

  • Incarnation into hands/feet and fingers/toes

  • Creation of artistic and beautiful movement

  • Strengthen uprightness, endurance, coordination

  • Connect hemispheres of the brain

  • Working on body geography and spatial relationships

  • Enhancing a sense of touch, balance, controlled movement

  • Supporting speech development an sound/letter connection

  • Working on rhythm: foundational for math as well as music

  • Flexibility: work between polarities.

Ms. Hartz writes: “A first grader continues to be a being in movement. A first grader imitates out of an attitude of devotion and trust in the goodness of the world. Out of this feeling of goodness (reverence) will come an internal sympathy for goodness, a moral compass that does not need its own direct instruction.”

She shared her autumn circle with parents, including some of the “whys” behind its design:

  • Morning Verse to imbue and experience reverence and silence.

  • Seasonal Songs: Yellow the Bracken; The Autumn Winds; Golden is the Garden (to learn the months, movement crossing midline); Ghost of John (for fun).

  • Form a Ring: Expansion Contraction (to learn to make a beautiful circle); One for the Golden Sun; A Sailor Went to Sea; Tony Chestnut (for slow, fast, quick, slow); Bean bags passed to Hickory Dickory Dock (coordination with your neighbor and the group).

  • Balance boards and beam.

  • Drink of water and move desks back in preparation for the day.

Morning verse, movement circles, music including singing and recorders, and recitation continue up through the grades and develop depending on the needs of the class and the teacher. Often, teachers include some math games and mental math too. Some teachers employ movement as a mid-morning break, while others prefer to begin the morning with circle time. Please ask your child’s teacher if you have questions about how she or he incorporates movement and music into a morning’s lesson!

Lowery Farm Campaign Update: Mark Your Calendars for November 28

Dear Madrona Families,

This is a very exciting time in Madrona School’s history. With our 20th anniversary just around the corner, Madrona School has a unique opportunity to create a legacy of Waldorf education on Bainbridge Island with the purchase of the Lowery Farm property. This very special piece of land has become an integral part of our school’s curriculum and culture, serving as our second kindergarten classroom, providing gardening and outdoor space for our 1st through 8th grade students, and hosting many of our lively school festivities.

Many people in our school community have been hard at work on a long-term plan to purchase the Lowery Farm property with the ultimate goal of building a new home for Madrona school on the site in the years to come. While that is still very much our goal, the reality is that without the farm we could not even continue to serve our current students and families—we quite literally do not have enough rooms in our current building for all of our students!

As we move closer to the 2019 deadline for purchasing the land, many of you have asked where we stand in the process. While the Board and Lowery Farm Acquisition Committee have been hard at work putting into place all the pieces that will go into making this dream a reality, nearly all that work has been “behind the scenes.” We’d like to take this opportunity to share with you our progress and alert you to some upcoming opportunities for greater involvement that we believe will be of interest to you.

To date, the Lowery Farm Acquisition Committee has been meeting weekly to accomplish the following items:

• Explore various financing options for the land purchase

• Develop a timeline for the land acquisition and corresponding capital campaign

• Lay the groundwork for an initial capital campaign focused on the land acquisition, including researching campaign consultants

• Work with the City of Bainbridge Island regarding the additional traffic study requested during the Conditional Use Permit proceedings

• Work with the architect on construction budgets and timelines for each of the three phases

While this is by no means an exhaustive list of all our activities, it does provide a snapshot into the work that has been going on behind the scenes to make Lowery Farm a permanent part of Madrona School’s future.

You can be involved as well! As we transition from planning to launching the campaign, we are looking for volunteers in the areas of construction, finance, fundraising and marketing to serve on active committees. The input from these committees will be crucial to the long-term success of the campaign.

To bring more transparency to the process and share additional details about the upcoming campaign, we hope you’ll join us for a Community Info Night on Wednesday, November 28 from 7-8pm in the EHCC Fellowship Hall. We’ll be presenting information on plans for purchasing the farm property, details on the capital campaign launch, and leave plenty of time for Q&A.

Rudolf Steiner said, “Man is not a being who stands still, he is a being in the process of becoming. The more he enables himself to become, the more he fulfills his true mission.” The success of the campaign and the acquisition of Lowery Farm will enable Madrona School to become more than we ever thought possible and fulfill our mission of bringing the joy of Waldorf education to generations of local families now, and in the future.

Cindy Smith
Chair of the Madrona School Board

Teaching Reading at Madrona School

Excitement over winning the Reading Champions trophy through the public library this summer!

Excitement over winning the Reading Champions trophy through the public library this summer!

Learning to read can be a real joy and is an important academic milestone in a young student's life. In Waldorf education, we help a child's capacity for reading develop naturally, and offer lots of opportunity to fall in love with words and story.

In an ideal world, young children enjoy exposure to the world of language and literature through their parents. Hopefully, books represent beauty, humor and love to a small child -- they soak in illustrations, they giggle at funny words or at the voices an adult uses to read, they cuddle with a loved one to hear a story -- or five. Reading becomes aspirational, as they see a parent enjoy reading, or that stack of books by an older sibling's bedside. Further, in a Waldorf kindergarten classroom, a reverence for language and for story is reinforced through a daily story told by the teacher, by a ready basket of beautiful books for quiet times, and through ample opportunity for imaginative play, play that lays the groundwork for eventual understanding of abstract concepts.

In grade school, reading instruction is a part of language arts as a whole. In 1st grade, Waldorf education introduces reading through stories. Children discover letter forms out of a story their teacher tells, listening and then drawing, molding and moving through letters and their sounds. In other words, we take a multi-sensory approach, engaging a child auditorially, visually, kinetically, and at heartfelt level.They revel in the unique sounds of a letter as they practice writing simple sentences from the stories they are hearing and the pictures they are drawing. They write letters, then sentences and eventually, longer stories, until one day, it may dawn on them that they are reading what they are writing. Do you remember this eureka moment in your own life?

This unfolding and discovery allows for the love of language and of story to grow. The children work at decoding through phonics and sight word recognition too, but the emphasis remains on comprehension. Stories are told throughout a Waldorf education, and the overall literacy of a student grows with each passing year -- including vocabulary, grammar skills, and cultural and historical knowledge. With such a robust and supple beginning to language arts, Waldorf education actively cultivates space for developing capacity, both in interest and skill. Reading comes from the inside out, and while the time to master the mechanics varies, the intrinsic motivation and engagement with language is indicative of the lifelong joy of choosing to read!

For more, ask your child's teacher, or:
Read this blog post by the Waldorf School of Philadelphia, full of links to recent research in reading instruction, originally posted September 21, 2016: Reading in Waldorf Schools

For a parent's perspective, read Myth Busting: How Reading is Taught in a Waldorf School by Sarah Baldwin, Moon Child blog, originally posted June 6, 2011.

And an excellent article describing more of the art and mystery inherent in the act of learning to read: There's More to Reading Than Meets the Eye by Barbara Sokolov, Renewal, A Journal for Waldorf Education, Vol. 9#1, Spring 2000

Sometimes, reading comes along unusually slowly for children because there are underlying issues such as dyslexia.  When it becomes clear that extra help in mastering the fundamentals of reading are needed, we work with the parents to arrange for supplemental help.  Sometimes this means that a child works with a tutor at school once, twice or more times per week.  This extra help in 2nd, 3rd or 4th grade can make a big difference in a child's confidence and image of themselves as a successful reader.

Teaching Science at Madrona School

We often talk about teaching academics as the "3Rs" -- reading, writing and arithmetic. But what about all of the other important academic subjects taught at Madrona School? The Waldorf methodology offers a classical education, a liberal arts approach that introduces students to a wide variety of subjects throughout their grade school years, in keeping with their developing capacities. How do we teach science, for example? 


We really begin in early childhood, laying a solid foundation for academic work. For scientific studies specifically, we simply provide opportunities for our young students to explore in the natural world, doing. They dig, they bake bread and make jam, they climb over logs, they collect pocketfuls of rocks, they soak up the sunshine etc., using all of their senses and fully living into the world. As anyone with a small child knows, they are natural scientists -- curious about their world and eager to explore.

In the early grade school years, we work consciously to instill a sense of wonder in the natural world, nurturing ever increasing capacities for observation. 1st and 2nd graders go on walks, collecting horse chestnuts or pine cones or leaves, depending on the season, incorporating natural materials into classroom projects or math lessons. Or, they may do simple experiments, such as planting seeds and recording what happens. Beginning in 3rd grade, with its practical life curriculum, students have the opportunity for gardening. Our current 3rd and 4th graders are working with the garden at Lowery Farm, and they spend many hours there, tackling jobs, observing changes and recording it all in their gardening journals. In 4th grade, the students have their first specific science block, studying the animal kingdom, and writing an independent report. In 5th grade, a botany block allows for further careful observation and demonstration of the artistic techniques that have been practiced throughout grade school.


In middle school, we continue to teach through a connection to our observable world, and to the universe at large, using students' observation and communication skills in combination with their awakening capacities for abstract thinking. In 6th grade, the students study more science than they have to date, and we offer geology, astronomy and physics -- a close look at our planet and what it is made up of, the study of what surrounds us, and a first taste of a lab science. The Waldorf methodology takes a phenomenological approach to teaching science, which means we offer opportunities for observation of the laws of nature without teaching the theory first. In chemistry and physics blocks, for example, students will watch an experiment performed, take careful notes on what they see (learning the scientific format of procedure, equipment, observation and conclusion), then discuss possible explanations and reach conclusions as a class. Sometimes, after this process, a teacher will elaborate on the relevant theories and scientific laws further, but the hope is that the students can approach the theory themselves. Even when we teach a physiology block, the approach is an experiential one, where they begin with what they can observe or feel about their bodies, before talking about what makes up a particular part of the body.

When a child graduates from 8th grade, they've had a broad introduction to various scientific disciplines, from the natural sciences, to chemistry, to physics and beyond. They can express themselves with clarity and with beauty. And they have honed their observation skills, and practiced finding ways to express observable phenomena, providing a basis for learning and thinking about new subjects as they go on into high school.