waldorf michaelmas balance

A Festival of Courage and Hope

The Susquehanna Waldorf School gymnasium vibrates with the rumble of drumming and the stomps of a fierce dragon. He marches, each heavy foot falling with the beat, towards Saint Michael at the center of the floor, standing bravely with his sword. The dragon lunges as his shadow falls over the brave warrior, knocking him back. A hush falls across the surrounding villagers. In a moment, though, Saint Michael is on his feet again, and as the day settles into dusk, worries of the fearsome, destructive dragon are dissolved with the dragon’s defeat. Hope prevails.

The dragon, of course, isn’t a real dragon—it is Class 3, skillfully cloaked in layers of silky fabric—and Saint Michael isn’t the archangel himself but a brave student draped in a red cape and sparkling golden crown. The festival of Michaelmas honors Saint Michael, an archangel in Judaism, Christianity and Islam, and is observed by people of all faiths and spiritual paths. Waldorf schools around the world recognize this festival, which underscores the importance of overcoming fear and strengthening resolve, of finding the courage to face both internal and external dragons. That Michaelmas is celebrated near the autumn equinox is no coincidence: marking the diminishing daylight, close of the harvest, and shifting of seasons in the northern hemisphere, the festival comes at an appropriate time to remind students that they must endow themselves with courage and fortitude for the cold, dark days of winter ahead. Held near the beginning of the school year, the symbolic gesture towards the new journey of the year ahead is also significant, as each student takes on their own challenges.

After the Michaelmas play, students head outside for a series of field games and activities that focus on courage. The activities meet each student at a developmentally appropriate age:  the younger children, for instance, balance a small pebble on a wooden sword as they tightrope a circle of logs; older students wield a javelin to collect large wooden stars; and all ages sprint to leap as high as they can over the high jump (with the bar rising after each success). The closing event, however, remains the favorite: an energetic tug of war that tests the strength and striving of students as they work together.  It is through these efforts that students discover new inner resources to help them grow towards life and light, for now and into adulthood.

“Michaelmas is about rising, physically, to face your inner battles, your inner ‘dragons’,” says Class Five teacher Salvatore Martino. “This is a common theme in stories, from the fairy tales to the Norse mythologies.” In Waldorf education, it is these teachings of parallel stories to our own human challenges that speak to students in a symbolic way, identifying with a need shared by all for truth and for justice.

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Lancaster Farming School

The tradition of class trips

“We LOVE to weed!” exclaim several second graders in Susquehanna Waldorf School teacher Rochelle Dietz’s class as they pluck the unwanted weeds from the soil at Heritage Creek Farm & Educational Center. The students, visiting the Center for their year-end class trip, are getting a taste of next year’s third grade curriculum on farming and gardening.

Multi-day curricular class trips in Waldorf education serve to expand the students’ world through hands-on experiences and direct observation. It is an active form of learning that corresponds to the classwork and deepens the understanding and relationship with the material. Class 4’s study of local history and geography, for instance, culminated in a trip to Ricketts Glen to experience the spectacular waterfalls and scenery of the Red Rock and North Mountains, as well as exploration of the region’s rich history of the once-booming coal mining industry.

But it’s not just the educational content that makes these trips so invaluable to the student’s growth.

From first through eighth grade, the students engage in progressively more challenging adventures, allowing them to not only use their knowledge in a contextual manner, but also to overcome their limits and expand their perspective. Things can get a bit uncomfortable at times.  Class 4 learned this on their first night of camping at Ricketts Glen, when temperatures dipped and the skies unloaded heavy rains. Class 6 stepped out of their comfort zone and into the busy streets of New York City. And Class 7 uncovered new heights of self-discovery, overcoming fears and forming new pathways of trust with their classmates on a high ropes course.

While across the nation field trips are being eliminated from school district’s budgets, experiential learning through class trips remains steadfast at SWS, a tradition that will continue to instill a real confidence in its students, from the rich earth of a farm field to the skyscrapers of Manhattan.  “We don’t just want our children to acquire work skills from their education,” writes Julia Ryan of The Atlantic, “we also want them to develop into civilized people who appreciate the breadth of human accomplishments. The school field trip is an important tool for meeting this goal.”


School Puppet Play

of fiber & folktales

Waldorf Puppet

In Fiber Arts teacher Barbara Freiberg’s classroom, Susquehanna Waldorf School’s Class 7 students busily transform lengths of thread and swatches of fabric into playful marionettes for their May performance of “Folktales from Africa.” The work is fun—but it is also grounded in the classwork and the student’s developmental needs.

The marionette play is, as all class plays in Waldorf education are, connected to one of the curriculum blocks. For Class 7, the “Folktales” play reinforces and enriches their study of Africa. Touching on geography, culture and people of the different African regions, the marionettes, alongside other art-centered projects, carry the goal of a deeper experience with the subject matter.

In addition to bringing the curriculum to life, class plays at SWS meet students where they are developmentally and seek to address the struggles felt by the particular age group. Class 7 students entering adolescence, a stage of heightened self-awareness, find comfort in their role working with marionettes, as they can reveal their character behind the scenes instead of out in the spotlight. The teacher is able to stretch the skills and capacity in students this way, but from a place that is comfortable for their age. The play also strengthens the sense of interdependence among the whole class, and uncovers a new appreciation for each other.

As each puppet dances lightly from the marionette strings, Class 7 students smile and recite the lines they have worked diligently to memorize. How they enter their character and respond to each other through practice prepares them for their performance, as well as their final eighth grade production in the coming year, but it also prepares them for life—a gift that goes well beyond the stage.


2017-18 Annual Report

sws 2017-2018 annual report

2017-18 Annual Report

On behalf of the faculty and Board of Trustees at SWS, we are excited to present our 2017-2018 Annual Report. The magic of our school continues to work its wonders in educating and developing the children that have been entrusted to our care.  In light of the challenges of our modern world, Waldorf education continues to provide much needed focus on the developmental needs of the child.  The results are tangible — one walk through the hallways of our wonderful building makes that apparent.

As always, we welcome input from any member of the school community.  We look forward to continuing this journey with our parents, alumni, friends of the school and most important, our children.

Download 2017-18 Annual Report

Lancaster Eurythmy

Eurythmy Students Journey to Make Speech Sing

Waldorf Eurythmy Class

On Friday, March 2nd, the Susquehanna Waldorf School hosted their annual Spring Eurythmy assembly. With Eurythmy Teacher Katie O’Brien’s bright eyes and graceful, sweeping gestures, each grade took the center of the gym in turn, painting an artistic picture for the audience of how human beings can work and move together, and make their bodies sing.

To an onlooker who didn’t know, one might find it difficult to distinguish eurythmy from a form of dance. It was, in fact, a young dancer who came to Rudolf Steiner, the founder of Waldorf education, and said, “I want to bring something new to movement. Something is missing.” This sparked the inauguration of eurythmy, an entirely new form of expressive movement art unique to Waldorf education. By definition, eurythmy is “a system of harmonious body movement to the rhythm of spoken words.”  In dance, it is the physical form and exact body position that are paramount; eurythmy, in contrast, is about bringing words and sounds into formation, using the human body in motion as its instrument. Sound and gesture are united as the body becomes the vowels, consonants, and music being played. It is an art that makes a nod to the heart and the inner life, acknowledging that what we hear is not just audible, but also harnesses an emotional and physical hold.

Opening the March 2nd assembly, the younger students trickled down from the bleachers into a circular formation as O’Brien recited a poem, then knitted the circle into an increasingly intricate spiral as the pace of the verse increased. Movements flowed seamlessly with the consonants and vowels, keeping pace with the quick alliteration of lines like “bright are the sparks; sparks kindle light.” As the assembly continued, the classes expressed a progression towards more complex coordination and greater sensitivity to the space between their peers, forming shapes with their bodies that seemed invisibly tethered to the sounds and the surroundings.

Year by year, students of eurythmy at the Susquehanna Waldorf School are guided through exercises that are aligned developmentally to nurture intelligent hands and feet and, in turn, a thoughtful, thinking heart. It is a holistic approach to movement. Every consonant and vowel in eurythmy has its own sound and archetypal gesture; “b,” for instance, becomes alive in the verse as the “bear,” hands stretching the air apart like opening the bellows of an invisible accordion. “The gift of eurythmy,” says O’Brien, “is that the child can learn to experience themselves gracefully, maintain space thoughtfully, and move harmoniously with others.” When a student new to eurythmy, for instance, is instructed to walk backwards, they instinctively feel the need to look over their shoulder. “Gradually, they stop looking: they learn to trust themselves and the world they can’t see,” notes O’Brien.

This individual mastery that eurythmy cultivates also stimulates a deep sensitivity to others. In one Waldorf school, a basketball coach, impressed by the harmonious movement of the opposing team, asked the Waldorf coach how he was able to foster such orchestrated movement in his players. On overhearing this question, a teammate interjected that is was a result of their eurythmy training.

As the Spring Assembly came to a close, parents were encouraged to stay for a brief eurythmy lesson. O’Brien asked the small group to first form a circle; after forming something reminiscent of a squiggly star, then a lopsided oval, the parents were at last corralled into something more concentric. “Waldorf students are capable of making circles very quickly and accurately,” O’Brien commented with a smile. This spatial awareness is also seen in Waldorf geometry classes, where students are able to draw circles freehand that look like they were crafted with the precision of a compass tool.

“Eurythmy teaches you to find your center,” says O’Brien. Through the concentration, self-discipline, and sense of beauty that eurythmy instills, students at the Susquehanna Waldorf School are ultimately inspired by a shared intention to live harmoniously, within themselves and with others.


Lancaster Private School Geometry

from the early grades and beyond, students give shape to geometry

Lancaster Private School Geometry

For students studying geometry at the Susquehanna Waldorf School, precision is compatible with beauty. Each student’s lesson book not only illustrates their knowledge and understanding, but also showcases their individual creativity and personality as they add their own color and shading to their construction. The result is a classroom brimming with richly colored and rigorously made shapes, integrally tied to mathematical understanding.

“We want the students to understand visually how the formulas work, not just memorize the formulas,” explains Leilani Richardson, Grade 6 teacher. As early as Grade 2, students begin laying the groundwork for geometry by creating form drawings and exploring multiplication through a circular times table. This advances to connecting points on a page with a ruler, and goes on to yield an exponentially broader range of form and color as students learn to bisect lines and angles. The technical terminology advances with the drawings, introducing the names of angles, line segments, and concepts. By the time the students reach the higher grades, they are well prepared for the rigor of constructing complex shapes and grasping advanced theories.

Constructing the shapes in the higher classes takes an enormous amount of focus and self-discipline. Pedagogically, this touches on a key aspect of the students’ development. “At this age, their bodies and their inner world are askew. They are growing and changing so rapidly, and the work to create these geometric drawings brings order and focus to their thinking. It is very comforting to them,” says Richardson. Students are also given an opportunity for self-discovery and self-direction. In one exercise, students are asked to determine the area of a triangle with just a square of paper. Not only does this encourage the student to find the connection independently, but it also gives them an opportunity to clearly express their discovery in words and in a mathematical language.

Beginning in the early grades as simple form drawings and progressing into the higher classes as meticulously constructed shapes, geometry in the Waldorf curriculum goes beyond the calculations and formulations to get at the very essence of shapes. It is a development of mathematical thinking that creates an understanding of the whole to the parts, and connects its students to the source.


Waldorf Workbook Force Weight Motion

SWS Students Become Force, Weight and Motion in Middle School Physics

The methodology for science instruction in Waldorf Education is based on observation and Socratic Inquiry. Students of all ages are immersed in observation and manipulatives, experienced during regular nature walks, gardening, cooking, form drawing and experimentation, to name only a few. By the time they enter middle school, Waldorf students begin the study of Physics, Chemistry, Anatomy, Physiology, Geology, Astronomy, Meteorology, and Botany, which is first introduced in fifth grade.  At this level, Waldorf teachers begin not by lecturing on rules and formulas, but by showing those rules in action through experiments, the natural world, art and music. These real world examples and applications are used to then guide students to use Socratic inquiry and observation to connect logical parts to the whole, which helps them deeply understand the science within our world.

At Susquehanna Waldorf School, the seventh grade recently reinforced that science can come to life as they demonstrated their Physics and Simple Machine experiments to the student and parent body at a school assembly.  Using themselves as weight, force, and motion, they were able to affect balance through a fulcrum, lifting through pulleys, force from a small wedge, and motion with the help of wheels and axles.

Other experiments and demonstrations the seventh grade participated in during their Physics block were building a simple motor as part of their study of electricity, identifying reflections and images in mirror space observations, and conceptualizing the complex workings of the camera obscura.  As a final lesson review, and unique to Waldorf education, students then explained (composed) and illustrated what they learned in their self-made textbooks, also known as main lesson books.

A study of Waldorf alumni, conducted by AWSNA, the Association of Waldorf Schools of North America, found that Waldorf graduates are almost two times more likely than the usual U.S. graduate to declare majors in Math and Science.  This may be attributed to the creative and imaginative capacities developed and explored first in the lower grades and then into the middle school Waldorf science classes.

See How Students become Force, Weight and Motion


Waldorf Workbook Force Weight Motion

Postcard Exchange Helps Students Broaden Horizons

Waldorf Postcards

The Susquehanna Waldorf School (SWS) is participating in a worldwide postcard exchange initiative to both broaden the global perspective of students and kick-off the 100 year celebration of Waldorf® Education planned for 2019.

Throughout the current year, students in 1,100 Waldorf schools from greater than 80 countries will send a postcard to every other Waldorf school in the world. Each postcard is being individually designed by a young person, telling or showing something of his or her country, school, or self.

This innovative global project will connect hundreds of thousands of students to one another through individualized and artistically designed postcards, which will then be arranged, by each school, into a Global Map for public display.

SWS is proud to be a part of this million-fold Waldorf greeting from around the globe!  Class Five teacher, Elizabeth Curtis, shares that her students “eagerly anticipate arrivals of cards from far-away lands” and are finding connection with other Waldorf students through the process.

See how students are broadening their horizons!