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Class 3-4 Trip to Beech Hill. By Class Teacher Robert Kaczor


It was a damp, foggy, almost springlike day on Friday, January 17, when the Grade 3-4 class left campus to hike Beech Hill in Rockport.  We had been studying local geography and it was my hope that we would be able to see and sketch some of the islands and mountains the students had been learning about.  It was obvious even before we left campus that the low clouds and thick fog were going to be a hindrance on this endeavor but I decided we would go for it anyway.

Though my plan would certainly need to be modified, the students seemed unperturbed by the conditions.  As we hiked/ran/splashed/trudged up the dirt path to the top of the hill, the students sang, talked, and joked with one another in high spirits.  As we looked out the blueberry fields faded away into the fog and, before us, the path itself seemed to disappear into nothing.

“It looks like we’re walking off the end of the world” one student observed.  I was feeling the same way.  I was determined to find some worthwhile experience from this trip since my original plan for the day was being swallowed by the ubiquitous fog so we took a moment to imagine that we were at the edge of the world.  Then I let the student run to explore the stone Beech Nut “hut.”

In the first local geography block, I start in concentric circles from our immediate surroundings, the classroom, school building, campus, and gradually work to the range of the furthest students’ homes.  Though not very tall or difficult to hike, Beech Hill offers a view of just about that distance and certainly manifest the character of the Camden Hills and Penobscot Bay.  The fog however, was forcing us to focus back in on our immediate surroundings so we explored the grounds of Beech Nut and identified some of the plants and trees that we found; black spruce, blueberries, bayberries, wild rose, etc.

“An owl!” called one student excitedly.  More enthusiastic echoes came from his classmates.  I hurried over to see.  About 50 yards from us, almost our total visibility, perched a large bird with a bright white head.

“A bald eagle perhaps?” I suggested.

“No, it’s turning its head like an owl.” Indeed, it was, and, it had the unmistakable face of an owl.  But what kind of owl?  White face; grey plumage; LARGE body.  We observed it as carefully as we could but it had already assessed us far better.

It decided that our romping around was either going to scare up some critters or convince them to stay in their homes.  With a few wide flaps it took off into the air and circled right over our heads to see if any of us were small enough to carry off; we stayed bunched together.  As it flew directly over us, it was clear to me what we were seeing.  From below the owl was as white as the fog it was carving through.  Had it not already been reported in the area I might not have known that it was – a snowy owl.

It circled above us for a few more silent moments before disappearing into the fog.  I felt my eyes well slightly at such a rare and beautiful sight.  The students also seemed to sense the significance of what we had just seen and began to dance and play and recount the experience to one another.

The rest of our visit to Beech Hill was as stimulating as I had hoped it would be.  We walked the forest paths and identified any and all of the local flora and fauna that we could.  By the time we made it back to the hut for a snack, the sky had finally cleared enough for us to look out and take in Penobscot Bay and the Camden Hills.

Our trip to Beech Hill was not as I imagined it would be.  The paper I brought to make sketches was damp and we didn’t have a lot of time to identify all the geographical features around us, though we named many.  However, the real lesson that I took away from that day, and hope the students did too, was perseverance; we could easily have rescheduled our trip for a nicer day but we stayed committed and were rewarded for it.

“Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would have come his way. Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now.”

-William Hutchinson Murray, The Scottish Himalayan Expedition

Lecture on Modern Brain Research and Education

This Friday, September 13, at 7:00 p.m. Douglas Gerwin, PhD, will offer a lecture on “Turning Education on Its Head: What modern brain research says about how children and young adults learn.” The lecture takes place at Merriconeag Waldorf School in Freeport.

Recent neuro-scientific research shows that the brain behaves less like a “hard-wired” computer, more like a dense forest in which pathways appear through repeated use and disappear through neglect. The implications of this paradigm shift for education are huge, especially since the cortical functions of children and young adults do not fully develop until they reach their early 20s.

In this ground-breaking talk, Dr. Gerwin explores how Waldorf education helps children and adolescents unfold their powers of intelligence through a curriculum designed to nourish their developmental needs from pre-school through the high school years.

Douglas Gerwin is the director of the Center for Anthroposophy in Wilton, New Hampshire and has taught history, literature, German, music and life science in college and at Waldorf high school levels for the past 35 years.

Questions? Please contact Barbara Richardson at

Click here for a flyer about the event.

Animal Studies in the Fourth Grade

From Nature Stories to Natural ScienceP1040198

by Lesley Finlayson, Fourth Grade Teacher

The Fourth Grade spent the month of February immersed in its second “Human Being and Animal World” block. These two blocks are truly marvelous, for many reasons. The classroom is abuzz with enthusiasm, because the children are enormously interested in animals, and throw themselves into the subject with great curiosity and interest. But this interest has a new quality now, because the children are becoming more and more aware of the distance that separates them from the world of nature. As they lose their sense of oneness with nature, they become more interested in looking at the world in a new way. A division between their rational thought and their imaginative thought begins to occur, and the children want animals that are not part of fairy tales or fables but part of the world in which they find themselves. So the teacher brings descriptions and stories of real animals, which serves as an introduction to the world of science.

The Animal Project was the culmination of the “Human Being and Animal World” blocks. Each child chose an animal that makes its home here in the landscape in which we live—an animal of Maine. I was fascinated to see how each child chose an animal that seemed, in some way, like a reflection of that child. The children got books and magazines from the library, and learned how to write a research paper, taking notes, organizing ideas and facts, then writing an essay based on the material they had collected. This was a huge step in their academic learning, and they seemed to relish it. At the same time, they were modeling their animal in clay and beeswax and— for the first time in school—making numerous, very accurate drawings from photographs.

After the reports were written and the children had an understanding of the world of their animal, they each wrote a story, told from their animal’s point of view. Several children in the class told of brushes with death: the bear cub witnesses the death of a male bear, the fisher kills his first porcupine, the turtle is almost crushed by a wagon, the fox is killed by a farmer. Several told of an important moment on the journey from childhood to the independence of adulthood: the owlet learns to fly, the otter gets lost and then finds his way home, the beaver builds her own lodge, the moose grows his first antlers. And one story details a quest for a magical healing flower, which may well be a part of a baby hummingbird’s day!

The final step for the children was the construction of dioramas, showing their animal in its habitat, going about some aspect of its day. These were beautifully done, with careful attention to detail and novel solutions to showing the landscape of Maine (including eight different ways of showing water.) They were presented to the whole school, with the children standing by their dioramas and answering questions about their animal.

During this project, I saw the children make great strides in their ability to do academic work independently, and also form a deeper conscious connection to the natural world and its inhabitants. I was also delighted by the generosity of the adults and of all the other children in our school, who were so supportive of the class during their visits to see the children’s animal presentations.

See pictures of all of the Animal Dioramas at: Fourth Grade Animal Dioramas. When you get there, click on one of the photos for a very colorful slide show!

A New Approach to Teaching Science

Eighth Grade chemistry demonstration at Ashwood Waldorf School with class teacher Jacob Eichenlaub

Eighth Grade chemistry demonstration at Ashwood Waldorf School with class teacher Jacob Eichenlaub. Photo: Doug Mott © 2013



Twenty-first century children are entering a world filled with complex technological wonders that allow them to communicate with people across the globe in seconds, have vast storehouses of information, literally, at their finger tips, and look forward to a future where machines will be able to perform highly sophisticated functions previously delegated to human efforts. At the same time, understanding how things actually work, both simple and complex, falls outside the grasp of most human beings inhabiting our planet today.

Children now require a new approach to teaching science that is at one and the same time both innovative and classical. As study after study has shown, children are less and less able to sit for long periods of time being passive listeners. These future citizens of the world need and demand activity from their teachers. To meet the complexity of the world and to succeed in a society whose constant will be rapid change, they need to be taught different ways of thinking and they need opportunities to exercise these capacities.

The word science comes from the Latin scientia, which means knowledge derived from observation. In Waldorf schools, students learn science through a phenomenological approach that demands that students fine-tune their observational skills while actively discovering the patterns and laws that govern different phenomena. They participate first hand in the process of discovery through experience and are only then led beyond their observational experience to discover the concepts and laws that stand behind phenomena and connect them.

This approach to innovation and discovery models the process that has been used by great scientists throughout history such a Newton, Galileo, Goethe, Einstein, and more recently Jane Goodall and Stephen Hawking. By participating in science through observational discovery students are able to make active connections that mean stepping outside of their personal likes and dislikes to begin to penetrate the truth of the phenomena itself. It provides them with the opportunity to increase their capacity, the confidence to understand the world they live in, and the ability to exercise synthetic and analytic thinking and know which is which. In short, they learn to become conscious of the world in new and increasingly penetrating ways and, at the same time, become conscious of their own thinking about that world. Such individuals have the potential to make the discoveries yet to come and to be the human beings we will need as stewards of our global future.