Madison kindergartners are at home in the garden

MADISON — If you want to know how to grow a garden, just ask the kindergarten students at Madison Elementary School. These youngsters have quite the green thumbs.

Since early spring the students in Buffie Violette's kindergarten classroom have been busy learning and planning their "outdoor classroom."

"One focus of our garden is to help students learn about food and nutrition by planting edible crops," reports Violette.

In late April, the Madison students prepped the raised beds, planned the veggie garden and eventually were able to plant snow peas, lettuce, radishes and carrots. Inside, tomato seedling were started and will be transplanted into the garden soon.

Madison Elementary School is the gold standard for schools participating in the "Let's Go! 5210 program brought to us by Memorial Hospital. Let's Go!, according to The Maine Health website, "is a nationally recognized childhood obesity prevention program of The Barbara Bush Children's Hospital at Maine Medical Center. The goal of Let's Go! is simple: Increase healthy eating and physical activity for kids at every stage of development, from birth through age 18."

According to Violette, Let's Go is "an evidence based program that works to reduce childhood obesity through better nutrition, more exercise and less screen time. We understand the importance of 5 servings of fruit and vegetables every day. The idea that students will eat what they grow (or at least try it!) is very real."

Over several weeks the students made and recorded their observations. On several sunny days they would be outside measuring and "journaling" about the ever changing plants in the garden. The weather provided the young Mustangs with plenty of rain, so students took turns watering their inside seedling.

On a recent Friday, which is "Cooking with Kinders" day — a new program designed and implemented this school year by Violette, kindergarten teacher Gretchen Arnold, paraprofessional, and students had a salad party. The students were proud to announce "we are cooking salad today," said Violette.

With scissors in hand the students harvested the "sassy salad" and "salad bowl" lettuce. They were also able to pull a few radishes. Students were divided into groups and while some were outside cutting their 10 leaves of lettuce others were washing and "spinning" the lettuce, while others were making several different dressings. They rotated among the stations so everyone was able to participate in all party preparations.

"What a great party," said Violette. "Everyone had fun trying the different dressing and while not everyone was crazy about some of the tastes they were all willing to try it. Studies have shown that it may take several tries before we like a certain taste but the key is to keep trying it. The studies have also shown that students exposed to fruits and vegetables through school gardens are more likely to make them part of their eating habits later in life."

The school was able to purchase special shirts for each kindergarten student with the help of the Garden Committee. The shirts say, "We Dig Our Garden" and display the name Madison Elementary School.

The students would like to offer special thanks to Mrs. Arnold, the Integrated Arts & the Garden Committee, Nan Bartlett and Mike Lane of the Wellness Committee and Madison Rec.


Experiential Education — Why students should learn by doing


“Where is the book in which the teacher can read about what teaching is? The children themselves are this book. We should not learn to teach out of any book other than the one lying open before us and consisting of the children themselves. — Rudolf Steiner.

The best approach to learning cannot be considered before asking these essential questions: “What is learning? How do we learn? Why do we learn?”

Experiential learning, in a general sense, is the process of learning through experience. But more specifically, experiential learning looks at optimizing the learning process itself by focusing on the individual’s involvement (experience) with the learning material. This is an important distinction between other types of experience learning — such as action learning, free choice learning, cooperative or service learning — which focus on the experience around learning vs. the experience with learning.

Experiential learning is an active approach to a subject’s lesson; “active” meaning an approach to material which uses different senses, tactics, and manipulates to stimulate multiple forms of intelligence, as defined by Harvard researcher and professor Howard Gardner. At its heart, experiential learning is a very natural and intuitive way to learn vs. the passive, lecture-and-note style of learning most children experience. Simply look at how lifelong learning happens every day for those not in a classroom. They learn in workplaces and at home by doing; and the learning is always directed toward something.

In this way, experiential learning in the classroom means students learn through doing, such as gardening to learn botany. It is about cultivating a keen awareness of the lesson’s meaning and relevance to the individual… it is about bringing lessons from the abstract to the concrete.

When a child asks, “Why do I have to learn math?”, they are not requesting examples of how math may be relevant to a particular future job. They are asking, “Why does this matter right now?” This is why a major component of bringing successful experiential learning into a classroom involves making lessons immediately relevant to the student, so that they can respect the process of learning.

Let us take, for example, the simple lesson of subtraction in a Waldorf first grade classroom.

The young students are told an engaging story, say, about a squirrel collecting acorns for her nest. In this example, there is already relevancy and truth embedded within the story itself. It is fall outside the window where the children direct their gaze, they have collected acorns for the nature table and have recently seen a squirrel’s nest in the tree line by the playground. As the squirrel in our story collects her 20 acorns, the children draw each of 20 acorns into their main lesson book. It takes time and concentration. Then they hear in the story that the squirrel is dropping the acorns as she climbs the tree. They cross out each acorn that she drops from their drawing of the 20 acorns. Then they must count the ones crossed off, 10 in total, and draw them at the bottom of their sketch of a tree.

It is only after this process that the teacher presents the formula that is subtraction. Instead of all this literal representation of “taking away,” the teacher explains, there is a formula in math — a way to use symbols and numbers — to represent the acorn story. We need not draw 20, cross out 10, and count the remaining. We can write 20-10. We can determine the acorns dropped with this process called subtraction.

Now, the children will not ask, “Why do I have to learn this?” They already have their answer: because it is more efficient than drawing, crossing out and counting, and because it relates to the squirrel outside and to my own immediate experience.

In this example, the students are transformed by their interaction with the learning material, and the subtraction lesson will remain with them during the next week when they are told a story of multiplication and must layer this established knowledge with a new learning experience. The layers and depth of experiential learning not only make learning stick, but also cultivates what Waldorf educators often call, “a love for lifelong learning.” The word “love” could easily be replaced by the word “purpose.” Students learn that learning is a necessary, value-laden process that has direct relevance and benefit in their lives.

This is why those looking to bring experiential learning into the classroom, must not simply focus on an active methodology but must also strive to bring that transformative, immediate relevancy to the lessons of students.

Experiential learning is children learning times tables by jumping rope or using rhythm sticks. It is learning physics (friction, mass, gravity, Newton’s second law) by crafting an in-class pulley system. But it is more than the interconnection of senses and subjects. Essentially, experiential learning is a call to engage in a process of transformation for both the self and the greater world.

Article taken from April 2017 issue of Waldorf Today.  For more information on The White Mountain Waldorf School, or to schedule a tour, or call (603) 447-3168.


Allassandra Garafano: Pequawket Valley Alternative School students lend a hand at Mount Vernon


Every year, for over 25 years, students at the Pequawket Valley Alternative School at Fryeburg Academy take a community service trip to an area in need of volunteers for ecological/environmental causes or to help communities rebuild after natural disasters.

The PVAS is a program for students throughout the district that offers a smaller classroom setting and hands-on learning.

In May, the class took a trip to George Washington’s Mount Vernon Estate in Virginia where one of the  students’ many tasks was to plant historically accurate varieties of plants, flowers and trees.

Nine students (together with two faculty members) participated in the service trip to Mount Vernon: Hope Stevens, Chris Bergquist, Mason Singer,
Cameron Elmore, Kenny Eastman, Alicia Gerrish, Meadow Keisman, Sahila Jaber, and Allassandra Garofano.

Some of us met for the first time this semester. Our personalities are not all the same, and we do not always think alike. However, we faced our task with everything we had inside us and completed projects in great time.

Our group worked in several locations throughout the estate, including the scholar’s library, the ladies quarters and the historic entrance. Students also removed deer fencing from nearby acreage on the estate and planted the annual garden in front of the sign welcoming visitors to Mount Vernon.

It was a week-long school trip, 12 hours away. Everyone had to work together as a team, not only in the gardens and fields, but as peers trying to accomplish tasks together.

George Washington’s estate is extremely well kept and maintained.

Our host, Horticulture Director Dean Norton, has been employed at the estate since he was 16 years old and has continued to show his loyalty to Mount Vernon for 46 years. The time that we spent getting to know Dean and his staff was truly inspirational.

A great deal of time, effort and resources go into making the historical buildings of Washington’s estate so beautiful and memorable; there is nothing quite like it.

My peers and I had the opportunity to take a private tour given by Dean and to see behind the scenes of Mount Vernon. We also had the privilege of working with a few of the other employees at the estate whose jobs are to educate visitors about the unique artifacts, extensive gardens, animals and overall estate that once was occupied by the family of George Washington.

In the mansion, our tour guide showed off a key on the wall inside the entrance. This key was given to George Washington to commemorate the closing of the Bastille Prison in France. The key symbolizes freedom as it was the key to the main entrance of the prison.

While on our community service venture, we traveled to Washington, D.C., to see our nation’s capitol and visit the monuments and museums.

When we finished all of the work that was asked of us, Dean spoiled us with a cookout and boat ride complete with fishing on the Potomac River, affording spectacular views of the historic homestead.  One of our classmates caught a catfish about 16 inches long.

The Pequawket Valley Alternative School is a unique program that offers life skills as well as a high school education; helping us manage between work, school and life. Experiential learning and community service are also main components of the program, and we are very involved in lending a helping hand in our own community as well as surrounding communities and beyond.

Allassandra Garafano is a student at Pequawket Valley Alternative School