Copyright Alan Whitehead & Earthschooling: No Part of this book, post, URL, or book excerpt may be shared with anyone who has not paid for these materials.
Alan speaks in a very symbolic and esoteric manner in some parts of his books. Although they can be read anthroposophically, passages speaking of Atlantis, archangels, gods, etc. do not need to be taken literarily to be meaningful. The more you read, the more you will realize he uses many different religions to express ideas in a symbolic manner and not in a religious manner. His writings are not religious. In some places his writings are meant to refer to religious events in a historical way. In some places he is using religious figures (from Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Paganism, Ancient Roman and Greek Religions, etc.) in a symbolic manner. However, at no point is he promoting a specific religion or speaking from a religious point of view.
I have kept the writing as close to one-hundred percent original so you will also find that he speaks of Australia often and some spelling or manners of speaking may be cultural. Any words I have changed are presented like this: <word>.
Also keep in mind that these books are written by a Waldorf teacher with decades of experience who also studied with a Steiner student himself, so he speaks to an audience that is dedicating their lives to the Waldorf method without exception.
Because of this, all of his views are not reflected in the Earthschooling curriculum and not all of them may be ones you want to embrace or are able to use. In all of Alan Whitehead’s writings the opinions are his own and may not align with Earthschooling or Waldorf Books. In some cases, we will be updating some of these chapters in the future with additional and/or updated information.
Ultimately, however, as I read through these passages I find I can distill wisdom from even those paragraphs that do not resonate with me.
We invite you to read with an open mind and heart and with eagerness to learn and discuss…
CELEBRATIONS AND FESTIVALS
FOR SCHOOLS AND CHILDREN
A celebratory guide, based on curriculum, for teachers and parents for the enhancement of the equality and meaning of the annual cycle of life.
Celebrations have been enjoyed by humankind for eons. Stories of festivals of the past place many of our own in context. For example, how similar is the ancient Festival of Kindling Lights, held at the Winter Solstice in ancient Denmark, to a present-day Northern Hemisphere Christmas.
The needs of children in a multi-cultural society can be served by recognizing and describing, on the right day, the various ‘New Years’ – the Chinese, Buddhist, Islamic and Jewish to name a few. How about some good ol’ Yankee razzmatazz for the 4th of July for our American children? And what about having them wear something green to school for St Patrick’s Day. And while on saints, these provide excellent story material, from St. Patrick above, to St. Valentine, to St. Francis.
A healthy emphasis is to realize (as the Catholic saint makers did) that every day is festival day – just to be alive is worth celebrating. As well, teachers could do worse than take a little effort with Mothers and Fathers Days, even though these fall on Sundays; having the class make little cards for their Mums and Dads on the Friday can Provide a very pleasant surprise.
The Spring Equinox on Sept. 21 is when the sun stands directly over the equator, giving a day of equal light and dark all over the world. This is an important moment of the year, worthy of some celebratory recognition – as are other astronomical events, like solstices and eclipses.
We have Australia Day, how about Class Day? Like, say, the 23rd of May, the day the class was presented with a Good Citizens Award by the local council for its fine work cleaning up the creek bank – 23rd of May is Class 3 Day!
A good idea is the Monthly Festival, or Monatsjier as it’s called in German schools where it originated. This is a small intimal conceit where, say, three classes perform for each other something they’ve worked on for the last couple of weeks; very enjoyable they are, too.
There are many craft ideas which enrich the various celebrations, like candle making and nature craft – Celebrations and the Arts are partners, indeed. We have always needed Celebrations to divide the year in a meaningful way, modem children are no different. In the spirit of ‘ every day is festival day’, the following is a sampling of celebrations and festivals based on curriculum.
Language – a Celebration of Word
A celebrations program is really one of Event Recognition right throughout the year; as such, the timing of instruction and activities is important, requiring; not so much a curriculum approach, but a certain amount of integrated forward planning.
*Every day is a celebration, the celebration of life – that’s how the Church Fathers saw it when they designated a saint, as moral compasses to their flock, to every day of the year.
* A tale about Saint Francis, apocryphal or otherwise, can be the basis for a mini celebration on the 4th of October, St. Francis Day, where there is generally no other. Like ·the story of how a pair of birds began nesting in the good friar’s praying hands. His love of wild creatures prevented him from disturbing them, so he remained in the same kneeling position until the home-builders had raised their young and flown away!
* A good discussion topic is the ‘week’ – every week is Book Week, Pet Week, Dental Health Week, and so on.
* A wall chart can be drawn up for every week in the school year and filled in when the information comes to hand. Some ‘weeks’ are double or even triple events.
* Spelling lists can be taken from these ‘weeks’, giving normally unrelated words a sense of connection.
For Book Week, the ten spelling words today might be: printer; editor; binding; index; contents; fiction; fact; chapter; author. Again, short discussion can arise on some or all of these book, literacy, or publishing words.
* The ‘week’ theme can also be exploited for vocabulary extension, especially the more unusual areas like Cystic Fibrosis Week. In this case, after the nature of the disease is discussed, the children might hold a small fund-raising venture – the true spirit of celebration is after all giving.
* Ask the class to keep alert for celebration-type news; perhaps Ramadan or Passover might come to their notice via the news. This again can be the basis for useful class discussion.
* The first and last days of the school year are special, providing good excuses for small celebrations. This is helpful in integrating new children into the class/school. The first-day celebration might be called Welcome Day and be a simple introduction ceremony. The Last Day should be of more festive mood; like a modest break-up party with songs and a concert – the children can bring the goodies! This helps make the end of the school year an Event, rather than a fizzle.
* Create short, original celebrations-type stories for the class, using elements based on the children’s own time and place. Include fantasy in the form of say ‘season’ personification, like the pretty April Autumn and- bbbrrrr – Coldfinger Winter! These stories can be role-played by the children, enhancing speech skills through dialogue improvisation. Perhaps the story can be worked up into a performance play.
Math -A Celebration of Number
Through the ages, mankind has ordered the week, month, season, and year through celebrations of one kind or another – both small and grand. Man’s first concepts of number were born from this awakening to the rhythmic and hence numerical relationships in both nature and his needs.
For instance, the American Indians spoke of ‘many moons’, and the Egyptians could accurately count the weeks to the annual inundation of the Nile under the aegis of the fertility goddess, Hathor – Mother of the 16.
Sixteen cubits of river height meant a good year, with deep siltation. So, number has entered humankind’s Cycle of Celebrations from time immemorial to … well, to now. Even recognition of a child’s say, 8th birthday, is primarily number based. The party is of lesser import – unless counting the presents is seen as a maths exercise!
* Understanding the year as a numerical phenomenon is aided with a Celebrations Chart. This can be quite a large wall chart, drawn up with the help of the children, with the days, weeks and months of the year marked. Leave plenty of space to write, draw, stick in relevant information (like Ramadan and Passover above).
As well, it should contain every child’s birthday, and all the important celebration dates of the year, including lesser-known ones, like the date of the school fete, local show, excursion date, holidays, etc. The Celebrations Chart should be colorful and contain lots of child input – including drawings and decorations of one kind and another.
* An ambitious extension, but a popular one, is to ask every child in the class to bring in a photo of themselves. This can be mounted on the chart next to their birthday – the Celebrations Chart is now the Class Portrait as well!
* One important numerical inclusion is a horizontal panel on which to mark the passage of the year. This makes time visible; the red line might have reached August – at a glance it can be seen that two thirds of the year has passed.
* In simple terms, the mathematics of the seasons can be described, especially important times like solstices and equinoxes. The perfectly balanced seasons occur at 45° latitude north and south, halfway between the equator and the respective poles. 0°, the equator, has only one season – it is summer all year long! At 90°, the two poles, there is the greatest seasonal contrast, with two seasons only. There are six months each of light and dark – a summer/winter equivalent.
In Australia, as one travels north, winter diminishes, and summer extends. What proportion of summer and winter does your School have? What about Darwin? Hobart? Byron Bay?
* A large wall Timeline can be drawn up; that which extends from say the birth of Christ to ‘Beyond the Third Millennium’.
Mark some basic events on the Timeline, like the European ‘discovery’ of Australia; Federation; the birth of Grandma – or the first sprouting of the 600-year-old (approx.!) tree in the local nature reserve! Number principles are explored, when children make ‘frosticles’, 6-spoked ‘frost crystals’ either drawn white on a black hexagon card, or cut-outs in stiff, white paper. The construction of the hexagon is easy. Draw a circle with a compass, open the compass to the radius of the circle and mark 6 equal distances round the circumference. The designs must be symmetrical on all six arms – and on both sides of each arm.
* When decorating the · classroom for Autumn, why not include Times Tables Leaves? These can be a single large leaf (colored in warm tones) or a branchlet with number groupings of 3 – 4 – 5, and so on.
Social Studies – a Celebration of People
Here we look at celebrations round the world and through time.
* The oldest are those of the Australian Aborigines, and are mostly to do with rites of passage, like going out to hunt with dad when a boy turns seven. Many are feasts in the true sense. Tribes would gather in the Snowy Mountains in early summer when the Bogong Moths swarmed. Others journeyed to the Bunyah Mountains in southern Queensland when the large Bunyah Pine nuts ripened. National Aborigine Day is the second Friday in July.
* Of special importance is the ‘Year of’. This is designated by the United Nations. For instance, in 1991 it was the Year of Tibet, in 2012, the Year of Literacy. This is a low-key but year-long celebration which can · be historic in its implications. Like the leap of global understanding brought about by the International Geophysical Year in 1957 – still on-going at Australia’s Antarctic bases. In the ‘Year of, the children are part of living history.
* Then there’s the oriental Year of the Dog, Dragon, Snake, etc. This can excite your Asian class members and cast a light on our northern neighbors for the non-Asian children. What kind of class are we? If born in 1985, they will be Oxen; in 1984, Rats; and in ’83, Pigs!
Alas, this porcine year is hardly complimentary, but amusing and instructive (at least about how other people think).
* A project idea is to get the children to ask friends, relatives, neighbors of foreign background about their special days. Does New Zealand have a national day? Who is the patron saint of Russia? That kind of thing.
* And then there is death. A small memorial ceremony can ease the pain for a child who has lost a loved one. Tactfully done, this is better than ignoring this most bewildering of all events for a child. It also provides a vehicle where the teacher can deepen the other children’s understanding. Just a few words speaking of the departed’s qualities, with an inference that they have moved on to a better place, is perhaps all that’s required. Plus a beautiful rose in a vase on the window sill to represent the spirit of the child.
*Now to every teacher’s nightmare – the death of one of the pupils in the class. A thankfully uncommon but tragic event – and highly distressing for the child’s classmates.
One way to help them through is to convince them that their classmate is still actually there – in spirit (see’rose’ above). For instance, leave the child’s desk in its place – even open his/her book when the lesson begins, so that s/he might silently participate. Include him or her on the rollcall for a short time. The efficacy of this easing over the grief is confirmed by the willingness of the children to play along, making sure his pencils are sharp and so on. We grieve for a relatively short time, we mourn a child’s death forever, the above deals with this grief period only.
*Social studies awareness begins at home – involve the children in their local celebrations, like shows and fairs. The ‘discovery’ date of your town might warrant a class tree-planting ceremony.
*How about decking the room out with, say, lilac paper Jacaranda flowers to celebrate the (in Grafton’s case) popular Jacaranda Festival. What kind of annual festivities does your town enjoy?
*Children’s comings-and-goings deserves some ceremonial recognition. If a child is leaving for overseas, have the class make a card, signed by everyone. A little boy may be returning after a protracted illness.
Perhaps the class could sing him a welcome song before the lesson starts, this dissolves any anxiety he may have felt about coming back to school. Just like the saints’ days, if you really try, you can find something to celebrate every day of the year!
* Something should be made of a child’s birthday – perhaps have a large Birthday Candle which stays alight for the whole morning on that special day. A Birthday Hat is also popular with the younger child – and of course there’s the cake – but get a little maths mileage out of it with some simple division or fraction work – before it disappears!
* People still steal a kiss under the mistletoe, or ‘Golden Bough’, an ancient mid-summer ritual now common the world over. It is connected with the St John nature festivals so beautifully expressed in Shakespeare’s A Mid-summer Night’s Dream. Tell this lovely story in digest form as part of a summer festival.
Science – a Celebration of Nature
Celebrations begin in heaven, or the heavens at least. Describe in simple terms how the major events of sun and moon determine various festivals. Especially those of the seasons; draw up a simple temperature/rainfall chart of your area. Provide basic concepts of climate and its effect on the seasons, and the various seasonal celebrations.
* The first in the school year is Autumn, traditionally harvest time. Organize a mini–Harvest Festival or Agricultural Show, with products purloined from home and school gardens, or from neighbors – or even local primary producers. The produce can be returned, sold off for fund-raising – or eaten!
* Make a list (or drawings) of the various produce which ripens in the four seasons: Cherries in summer; pome fruits (apples – pears) in Autumn; citrus in winter; and, um, loquats and mulberries in Spring. Season awareness is enhanced by the various flowering of seasonal plants and trees. See how close the Jasmine flowers to the first day of Spring – keep a class flowering diary. Invite a beekeeper in to talk about seasonal flowering.
All these things increase awareness of the changes in the natural world through the seasons – and so do excursions.
* Nature might be seen to be asleep in Winter, when a trip to a snowy, frosty, or just cold (preferably high) area brings a healthy flush to the cheeks and a tingle to the fingertips.
* Spring is easy, with Mother Nature in her new, colorful clothes. Enjoyment and learning combine with a visit to a botanic garden, a flower show, or a local wildflower reserve.
* Summer holidays tend to be a celebration in their own right. We hope the children pick up some natural-science schooling as they spend their carefree holidays in bush and beach.
* In Autumn, visit a color forest of deciduous trees; the children love to roll around in the fallen leaves, rejoicing in one of nature’s most glorious moods. Give advanced notice of these excursions and any other important celebrations you plan during the year. This seeds the will of the children, who look forward to it with mounting enthusiasm and excitement.
* A visible expression of the seasons is a simple shadow clock, one which tells the time of the year rather than the day. This can measure the angle and length of shadow through the seasons.
* Seasons in Australia often lack the dramatic nature of those in Europe or North America; encourage the children to notice, on their nature walks, even subtle seasonal changes – like the shedding of the bark of most smooth eucalypts in Spring; prolific insect activity in Summer; spiders web-building in Autumn; and thick fur on dogs and horses in Winter.
* A Sun Window can be made to indicate the relative solar strength through the year. This can be cut out of cardboard or thin plywood as a circle. In simple runner slots a shutter is inserted; this is moved in line with the sun’s path through the year. In mid-summer the circle is wide open; by the Autumn equinox, the circle is half closed – and fully closed by June 21, the Winter Solstice; opening slowly again as the Spring Equinox approaches. At a glance the children can see (and move) a simple picture of a great and continuous cosmic event.
* Hanging mobiles, using festival-oriented themes, give the children a good deal of tactile knowledge of physics; in particular the mechanics of the Balance, or see-saw dynamics. The mobiles might herald the arrival of migratory birds (like swallows), so the mobiles are not only beautiful they’re instructional.
The Performing Arts – a Celebration of Dance, Music, and Drama
Many performing arts traditions have come from society’s need to celebrate. A monthly festival is a welcome break from routine. Have a group of Grades 1, 2, or 3 put on a concert for each other. They can include a few short items based on any current lesson. A set day each month makes it an event to look forward to. Many folk dances are celebration-oriented, and most students really enjoy the movement and excitement of these circle and line dances. Invent small ‘folk’ dances which may fit the particular event you wish to celebrate. Circle dances really contain only a few simple elements; these can be arranged and rearranged to suit. Use the pentatonic scale to pen a short song to celebrate a special event. A good song length is verse-chorus-verse-chorus-verse. Short and fun is usually best. The class can create its own make-do band ‘by using found material to create musical instruments: · coconut clappers; milk bottle xylophones; a cupboard bass (stret9h three strings across an open cupboard); and a saucepan drum kit. The essence of the make-do band is invention. Create a small performance to accompany a spoken story, during which the characters express themselves as musical instruments. Form a class choir or organize a class band using conventional instruments such as recorders, percussion pieces and instruments students learn privately. This is useful for adding music to any celebration.
The Visual Arts — A Celebration of Color and Form
The various festivals in general, and the four seasons in particular, lend themselves to a range of pictorial expression.
* Watercolor is a good medium to portray the softness and beauty of, say, Autumn; encourage the children to restrict the painting to warm tonings of gold, orange, and reds. Soak sheets of cheap watercolor paper (or good-quality cartridge paper) and smooth them on the desktop or small boards.
Squeeze from the tube into little paint bottles, watercolor paint (again not expensive, but not vinyl or poster) enough to make a fairly strong red, blue, and yellow as needed. These make virtually every other color in the spectrum. Paint straight onto the damp, sponge-smoothed paper; the colors, being transparent, actually mix on the painting. For example, if green is required, an already painted yellow tree is lightly overpainted with blue. This gives an on-going experience of color-mixing.
Make sure they wash their brushes between color changes in the large water jars provided. Oh, and each child needs to be supplied with a small sponge and a fairly large, soft brush.
* Drawing can bring to life the various celebratory cards the children can create throughout the year – here lettering and design skills are advanced also. Stress originality at every step, including shape, cut-outs, embellishments, like ribbon etc.
* Color stock drawings using colored pencils or crayons give a lovely seasonal effect. Choose cool-colored cardboard or paper, like blues and violets, for a Winter scene – warm tonings like fawn and orange for Autumn – pastel pinks and light green for Spring – and bright yellow and light reds for a Summer picture.
* Colored beeswax is a wonderful medium for modelling small celebration scenes or features. When pressed flat, simple but lovely multi-colored, translucent ‘pictures’ can be sandwiched between two layers of thin, clear Perspex to make window hangings for, say, Spring.
* A collective farmyard scene can be made for the class ‘harvest festival’ where the child contributes clay (or other) models of houses, livestock, and topographical features. This can be dolled up with stick fences; colored steel-wool trees, blue glass ponds and talcum powder snow on the hill tops.
* Make Nature Sculptures using natural materials, like banksia-cone mice and gumnut frogs – or the traditional Corn Dollies. These are made from different parts and varieties of cereal plants, tied in appropriate places to create head and arms. When topped with, say, barley hair, they can be hung as mobiles or just stand around among the harvest produce gossiping in charming little groups!
Craft – Lighting the Celebration Way
* Why not celebrate Mid-Winter with the class remaining back at school on the longest night of the year (June 21 or thereabouts), putting on a concert of Winter poems, songs and even a short play for their parents and friends, who come along later.
* The highlight can be a Lantern Walk; how like little gnomes the children look as they trudge around the local park, bush track, headland or even a suburban footpath with their glowing lanterns. These are simply made in class, but you might ask each child to bring in a hurricane lamp from home – take out the glass and have them paint designs on with transparent glass paint (available at craft stores). This creates beautiful colored light.
* Candles are a part of so many festivals, traditional and modern – and decorative candles are so easy to make. Again at the craft store, buy wicks, blocks of clear paraffin wax, and coloring; melt the wax and coloring in prune tins (one for each color) on the stove – dip the wick in the now-colored liquid wax – immediately dip in a tin of cold water standing close by – back in the wax (probably a. different color for a laminate effect) – back in the water and so on, till a quite large and lovely candle is made – usually carrot shaped. This can then be carved with a table knife to reveal the layers of color within.
* Stained glass windows are popular for transforming the everyday classroom to a celebratory atmosphere of one kind or another. Using black cardboard, have the class draw on simple geometric, large-figure designs. These can be pictorial, like a sun or flower shape. Using small cutting knives on pads of Lino or old cardboard, cut these out leaving linking strips (leads, as in leadlights) to separate the various colors. In this case created from cellophane or tissue paper, which is cut out with scissors and glued to the reverse side. The finished pictures are then attached to windows with bluetac, and presto – the classroom becomes a cathedral!
* Leaf rubbings are fun in Autumn (or any season). The children can collect the fallen leaves in the park, or from home – or on the way to school. The rubbings can be over-rubbed in different colors to create quite sophisticated designs – the beauty being in the form of the leaf itself. Press flowers in a thick book for a Spring equivalent. From both these can be made cards or book covers or be hung en masse on a line across the room. Toe rubbings can be done on both sides, depending on the display method.
Practical Celebrations in Garden and Kitchen
No year should go by without children planting trees; this has always been part of celebratory life. The Georgians (of southern Russia), noted for their longevity, plant an apricot tree at the birth of a child. The apricot has an approximate life span of a century – in so doing, they hope that the tree and babe would grow up, live their lives, and even die together – and in Georgia this was often enough the case!
* Have the class plant a Color Forest – ask them to bring in deciduous or Autumn-tone tree seedlings, like liquidambars and elms. Twist the local nurseryman’s atm to sponsor the event – or subsidize it at least. Mass-plant the trees in a bare comer of the school, or along a fence-line. In a few short years, the children will see the beauty of an Autumn display, the product of their collective effort. The same can be done with a Spring Color Forest, choosing appropriate trees like Ornamental Plum, Crepe Myrtle, and the like.
* While we have our hands in the soil, how about a Season Garden? This can be based on flowers, vegetables, or both; your local council Parks and Gardens people can help with info (and perhaps spare seedlings). Here we deliberately plant one bed for Spring, another for Autumn flowering or fruiting – the same for Winter. After all, the word season means ‘to sow’. There is no celebration to equal staggering in with a basket full of seasonal produce. But don’t .be too ambitious, small garden patches with lots of variety work best, and are easier to protect against after-school marauders, like rabbits and dogs.
* Cooking and eating at ‘feast-ivals’ (as the word festival means) has appealed to celebrating mankind through the ages. The children can prepare simple but fitting celebratory ‘feasts’ to mark the march of time. Of course, nutrition is a vital element in school cooking and presentation classes.
However, the spirit of carnival (A word meaning ‘Oh flesh, farewell’!) must be considered. So don’t be afraid of a little sugar and bright color in drinks, cakes, and confections – it is a party. The essence of these banquets the children help prepare is simplicity, with as little cooking at school as possible.
The central aim of a Celebrations Education is the enhancing of event in the child’s life. Special Days, in all their variety, lift peoples and persons above the hum-drum of everyday life – the icing on the birthday cake so to speak – especially where these events express aspects. of the social life. So in all respects, the celebratory Cycle of the Year is the Community Year, celebrating local, national, global; religious, and even political events. An equally important objective is to engage the children’s interest in the Natural Year as part of the annual cycle – a cycle without end, in which each child is a living element. This nature year brings rebirth to the earth through the yearly journey of the sun, moon, and stars through the heavens, and in the slow, rhythmic dance of the seasons.
The main aim, underlying all others, is enjoyment. Many down-trodden peoples, burdened by their daily toil, live for their one-day-of-the-year; however, they choose to celebrate it. We can have as many festive days as we like, as long as they don’t lose their ‘specialness’ – so have fun!
The following pages provide some practical activities for children to create their own festival fun.