Waldorf teachers believe that the human being is not just a brain but a being with heart and limbs, a being of will and feeling as well as of intellect. To ensure that education does not produce one-sided individuals, deficient in emotional health and volition, these less conscious aspects of our human nature must constantly be exercised, nourished, and guided. Here the arts and practical skills make their essential contribution, educating not only heart and hand but, in very real ways, the brain as well.
Our specialty classes include: Spanish • Movement • Handwork • Strings •
Music & Chorus • Farm School
At IWS, students learn Spanish in grades 1-8. Learning a foreign language is an important part of the Waldorf approach to education--important not just as an academic exercise but as a gateway to understanding and communicating with human beings who are different from us, with their own individuality and experiences of daily life. Through learning a foreign language, the child’s thinking becomes more flexible, and her whole horizon is widened. In addition, when we learn a foreign language, we become more subtly aware of our mother tongue, discovering its own particular capacities of expression, its own beauty and musicality.
Movement education and games in the Waldorf curriculum spring from the same understanding of a child’s development that underlies the academic curriculum in a Waldorf school. This deeper understanding of a child’s development is taken into account in a movement education and games class in the activities that are chosen, the shapes that are used in the group games, and the emphasis of the class (for instance whether games are played with an emphasis on fun or with an emphasis on playing by the rules). Each lesson contains a rhythm of joining together and moving apart, highly active games balanced with quieter games, working together as a group and taking a few moments to reflect on one’s own body and movement.
The handwork curriculum is taught to all students, but each grade has a specific set of skills taught for a reason. Students learn knitting, crocheting, hand sewing, embroidery, felting, pattern design, and machine sewing. Many of the benefits of this program are obvious: hand-eye coordination, basic math skills, geometry, the ability to understand a plan for a project and to follow the steps to completion, and the ability to focus on one project for an extended period of time.
There are also more subtle rewards that complement these obvious benefits. Students must prepare and care for materials, such as dyeing yarn using natural dyes for their grade 3 crocheted hats. They also make their own handwork bags in grade 4, which they then use for the rest of their school years. In grade 8, long awaited sewing machine lessons help teach them about the industrial age while they study it in their main lesson. Many of the items they create have a practical use: a case for a flute, a needle book, a pair of socks. Students design and make these items, learning to impart beauty to useful objects. One of the most far-reaching benefits of handwork class is the social aspect. Although there are times when quiet is needed, like when learning a new stitch, most of the time the atmosphere in the classroom is social and conversational, not unlike a quilting bee. Students learn to speak politely to one another. Throughout the process, we foster respect for the materials and each other.
Here at The Ithaca Waldorf School all first graders learn how to knit. This basic skill uses both right and left hands and brings a steady, calming rhythm to the younger child. Crocheting, which emphasizes the right or left hand as dominant, almost always follows in the second and third grade. Cross-stitch is paramount to fourth grade as the children begin crossing over from childhood to adolescence. In fifth grade, knitting in the round, used to make socks, is a three dimensional, mathematical activity leading up to critical thinking in the middle school. Long-term hand-sewing projects involving concepts, patterns, and mathematical computations are usually found in sixth grade. Grade seven works in the pounding and physical working of wet felting along with the detail work of small hand stitches. The eighth grade handwork curriculum often involves machine sewing, which perfectly integrates the student’s study of U.S. history and the industrial revolution.
All IWS students learn a string instrument and take part in a string ensemble before they graduate. We currently have both a beginning and an intermediate string group. In addition, many of our students choose to take piano, guitar, flute, tin whistle, or folk instrument lessons concurrently. We have two music instructors, Christine Lowe-Diemecke and Alejandra Diemecke (see FACULTY AND STAFF) who come to the school to teach.
Music & Chorus
Music is an essential part of the curriculum and permeates the school day in every class. Music not only enlivens the spirit but also increases a child's capacity for learning. Through the study of music, we learn to sensitize our hearing, allowing us to listen better to the sounds of the world and each other.
In addition to singing through the day with their class teachers, children in the grades also have a weekly music class that incorporates choral singing, folk dance, singing games, listening exercises, and improvisation activities. The first and second graders learn to play the pentatonic recorder. When children begin third grade, they switch to diatonic soprano recorder. Alto and tenor recorders are added to the ensemble beginning in the sixth grade. The older grades have additional instruction in music theory and recorder during their weekly music classes.
As with everything in the Waldorf school, much attention is given to bringing the right experience to the children at the right stage of development. In music, as in their main lesson work, children are guided through the grade school experience with attention to their growth as a whole human being: head, heart and hands.
There is no other "farm school" in the Ithaca area where the school is in such close proximity to a working farm. Our farm colleagues are primarily youth from the community guided by a talented team of adults who apply biodynamic and anthroposophical principles to their work. IWS is very grateful for the relationship to Three Swallows Farm and the Ithaca Youth Farm Project. Moreover, there is no other school campus in Ithaca surrounded by forest owned by the school. These two features open up tremendous possibilities for a living classroom which the teachers have been actively building into their curricula since the kindergartens began on the land several years ago.