The performing arts help children develop a range of beneficial life skills, such as quick thinking, problem solving, and building self confidence. Theater strengthens empathy by asking a child to embody what their character is feeling and experiencing, and putting on a play also requires students to work as a team. In Waldorf education, students are involved in class plays and musical performances every year. We see the wide-ranging positive impact on our students and the powerful boost to their self confidence that the performing arts provide.
This article was originally written by Julia Savacool and published by Scolastic.com
It’s no big secret that getting kids involved in the performing arts can have major payoffs in school. After all, research shows that children who sing/dance/act/play their little hearts out are four times more likely to be recognized for academic achievement compared with their non-performing friends — and they tend to have enhanced cognitive, motor, and social development to boot. But the benefits don’t end there. Getting up on stage can enrich your child’s life in all sorts of surprising ways.
Kids Who Perform Are Quick Thinkers
Whether you’re a kid or an adult, the ability to stay calm and carry on is what keeps a small blooper from mushrooming into a major one. “When something goes wrong during a show, kids learn to improvise,” says Brian Olkowski, a 4th- and 5th- grade teacher in San Ramon, CA, and director of the school’s drama club. “One of the best things kids discover is how to think on their feet.” No performance is ever perfect, says Olkowski, so the real skill is learning to minimize errors and get back on track. “When someone flubs a line, the other kids learn how to cover for him,” he says. “I tell them it’s not about never making a mistake; it’s about never letting the audience see your mistake. Those are great skills that transfer to the classroom setting as well, whether it’s giving a presentation in front of peers or being called on to answer questions.”
Still, it helps to prepare your child for the possibility of problems cropping up, says Lisa Lollar, Psy.D., a psychologist in Denver, CO, who works with performing artists. “Talk about what she might do if she drops her music or forgets a line,” says Lollar. “Working through the scenarios in advance and coming up with a solution will help her feel prepared if something surprising happens.” The ability to expect the unexpected — and then roll with it — will give your child confidence any time she tests new waters. Lollar adds: “If you help your child define success as being willing to try something new, the idea of messing up isn’t so scary.”
They Master Their Anxiety
Let’s face it: Even grown-ups get nervous when we have to speak in front of our colleagues or give a presentation to the boss. Learning from an early age how to cope with performance jitters gives kids a leg up in those big life moments. “The first step for a parent is to normalize a child’s feelings of anxiety,” says Lollar. “Tell them, ‘You know, a lot of kids — and even adults — feel nervous before a performance. It’s completely natural.’” It won’t take away the nerves, but it will let your child know there’s nothing wrong with feeling this way.
Then before the big show, talk your child through his worries by reminding him of other moments when he’s felt anxious, even when things turned out well. “Remind him of the baseball game when he felt really nervous at the plate, but managed to get a great hit,” suggests Lollar. “Recalling past experiences with positive outcomes gives a child confidence.” Other tricks: Help your child calm his body in the minutes before the performance begins by taking four or five long, deep breaths or counting backward from seven. Both force his mind to focus on something other than his nerves.
Once the show is over, let your child bask in his accomplishment, then casually comment on how well everything went. He will carry this experience with him for the next time, as more evidence that he can successfully perform under pressure.
Performers Express Brand-New Emotions
One of the wonderful things about being in a play is that for a short period of time, you get to become someone else. For a child who struggles to talk about her feelings, there is a tremendous relief in disappearing behind a character and using it as an intermediary through which to open up. “It is a very safe way for kids to try out certain feelings — and take ownership of them — while playing the role of someone else,” says Olkowski, who also runs a summer theater program for children. “I’ve worked with shy kids who are able to blossom on stage and express themselves in a way they aren’t comfortable doing around their peers.”
Playing the role of someone else also teaches kids about empathy. “They learn to put themselves in someone else’s shoes,” says Jessica Hoffman Davis, author of Why Our Schools Need the Arts. “In performing the part of someone else, they learn what it’s like to think like that other person.”
Parents can also use a child’s theater performance to open a dialogue about sensitive issues. “Take the experience of a character in the play and tie it to your child’s situation,” says Lollar. “If your child is nervous about her first day of school, it helps to say, ‘Remember when you were in that play, and the character Lucy was scared? How did she handle it? What was she feeling? Did it work out OK for her?’ Drawing parallels to the character’s situation and her own will make your child more comfortable talking about her feelings.”
For kids who aren’t into acting, dance can offer another way to explore their interior world, says Annie Spell, Ph.D., a child psychologist in Lafayette, LA, and co-creator of Leap ’N Learn for the Classroom, a movement program for kids. “Dance teaches kids to think in a totally different way. You take the physiological experience of an emotion and assign it a corresponding movement instead of a word. It can be a powerful tool for kids who have trouble expressing themselves.”
Their Self-Esteem Can Soar
There’s nothing quite like hearing a crowd of total strangers laugh at your joke or applaud your double pirouette to make you feel like a star. “Hearing the audience clap at the end of the show is an incredible feeling,” says Olkowski. “The kids are like, ‘Hey, this is for me!’ That instant positive feedback is really rewarding.”
But it’s more than just the ego boost from the fans — any type of performance requires teamwork to succeed. “Kids are introduced to the notion of an ensemble,” says Davis. “It’s not just you up on stage. You are responsible for a larger group that is counting on you to do your part so they can do theirs.” That weight of personal responsibility is rare in a child’s world, and successfully delivering his lines or hitting the right guitar chords means more because of what’s at stake.
“During a performance, kids become part of a larger system, working toward a common goal,” adds Spell. “It is the culmination of weeks of practice, so the performance itself becomes the reward for all that work.” Although a positive performance will give your child a self-esteem injection, it’s important to put the emphasis on effort, rather than results. “Every child will fail at some point,” notes Spell. “But if they judge themselves on putting their best effort forward and not on being perfect, the experience can still feel rewarding.”
Performers See the World in a Whole New Way
At the end of the day, the transferable skills a child learns from performing may not be nearly as important as the experience of performing itself. “We’re always looking for ways the arts can benefit kids in other areas of life,” says Davis. “It’s as if art for art’s sake isn’t worth our time, when in fact, it gives kids an awareness about themselves and creative skills they’d never learn otherwise.” She may never apply the improvisation skills she learned during the school play to a math equation or turn her teamwork with other dancers into leadership on the school playground. But simply by having been part of the performance process, your child has been exposed to a new way of thinking and doing. And that alone is a success to be proud of.
Raising children who will become happy, healthy, thriving adults is one of the most challenging and important roles anyone can have. At Rudolf Steiner School of Ann Arbor, we engage not only the student but their families as well. We believe in meaningful relationships, where our trained teachers work with families over multiple years to understand how to best support each child. Our in-depth narrative grading system, our ongoing adult education and volunteer opportunities, and our rich cultural and festival life all serve to create a welcoming community where families feel supported and engaged.
Parenting, for many, is the most important and challenging job to ever have and a role that gets little recognition. Parents and other primary caregivers of all types (foster parents, grandparents, adoptive parents, etc.) can all use an opportunity to learn tips and new strategies to relate with our children and enjoy being with them. It also allows an opportunity to engage with other parents that may be having similar issues and struggles.
Today, there are new parenting challenges to overcome. Skills, routines and values were passed from generation to generation and parents could rely on networks of support to help them parent. Compared to past generations, many parents and families have become isolated and are raising children in silos. These parents are trying to figure it out alone. The skills a child needs to be successful have changed as well.
Over the years, each generation sees a change in what society considers parenting issues. Currently, families struggle with behavior management issues including lack of expectations, child supervision and excessively severe and inconsistent punishment on behalf of the parent. According to John Geldhoff, an Oregon University assistant professor of behavioral and health science, all parents—high income, low income, mandated and non–mandated—can benefit from evidence-based parenting education. Parents who have attended classes and learned effective discipline and parenting techniques report having children with higher grades, fewer behavior problems, less substance abuse issues, better mental health and greater social competence.
Parenting education programs offer support and education that can address issues and make parenting easier, more enjoyable and can strengthen a child’s ability to thrive. Building Early Emotional Skills in Young Children is one of many parenting programs offered by Michigan State University Extension. Many other reliable sources of information for parents are available to meet their needs. Resources are readily available online through YouTube videos, research-based websites, in person, podcasts, blogs and books that are readily accessible. Before you engage with a parenting resource, check the source of the information to be certain it is research based and reputable.
Your child’s childcare center or school, community center, or local library may offer in-person trainings. In-person parent education allows parents the options to ask pertinent questions to their situation and potentially meet other parents to share stories with. A frequent issue that is brought up is relatable to everyone in the class, quality discussions begins, and ideas are shared. Online classes may also offer valuable opportunities to explore materials at your own pace and connect virtually with other parents.
Parenting education can be seen as something negative, like it is a reflection on your ability to parent. Parenting education is not just for parents who are struggling or having severe problems with their children’s behavior—it can be an opportunity for parents to feel more confident as a parent, prevent future problems, enjoy being with their children and help their family get along.
We may invest time and money to take our new puppy to obedience class, take golf lessons or practice our swing, or take our family out to eat or on vacation as a way to invest in ourselves and our families. Similarly, parenting classes are an investment in our personal growth and our children’s future ability to build healthy relationships, make and retain friends, get a job and keep it, and become great parents themselves.
To find more valuable, research-based information about parenting, check out the following resources:
Our 8th grade class recently returned from its annual class trip, a 10-day wilderness adventure in New England. This 8th grade trip is a rite of passage for students, the culmination of progressively longer and more adventurous excursions undertaken by the class teachers and students over the years.
At Rudolf Steiner School of Ann Arbor, we strongly believe these class trips are a vital part of the student experience. They foster a connection with the outdoors, offer opportunities for teamwork and class camaraderie, give some students an experience they might otherwise never have, and teach responsibility and self-knowledge. They also provide moments of joy, life-long memories, and shared experiences that further cement the bonds among the students.
Typically, a class’s first overnight trip takes place in 3rd grade, where the class spends a night at a farm. This supplements the in-class work of 3rd grade, where students learn about farming, shelters, and ways people have lived and survived throughout history. By the time they reach middle school, the students have been on several overnight trips. In the middle grades, they spend a few nights in a dark-sky area as part of their astronomy studies and travel to Hocking Hills, Ohio, to further their lessons in mineralogy and geology.
The 8th grade trip is a wilderness adventure experience. RSSAA has generally used two organizations to help us with this experience: the Northwaters & Langskib camp based out of Temagami, Ontario or Kroka Expeditions, based out of Marlow, N.H. Each offers a program of canoeing and camping that challenges the students physically; requires them to work together to set up camp, cook food, clean dishes, take care of the canoes, etc.; and provides an opportunity for self-reflection, community sharing, and social and emotional growth. These trips are usually undertaken at the start of the school year, or even before the school year officially begins, as they are an excellent way to launch the class into their last year together before high school.
As an 8th grader teacher, I have experienced both the Northwaters and Kroka experiences — both were incredible and so important for my students. Last year, my class went to Kroka and paddled down the Battenkill River from Vermont to New York — the same path taken by this year’s group of 8th graders. My class enjoyed the challenges posed by canoeing along a swift-moving river — we had to navigate rapids, hairpin turns, fallen trees, lots of rocks, and ever-changing water depths. Despite the challenges, there is little to compare to the feeling of navigating your way down an isolated, scenic river, seeing birds and other wildlife on the shores, discovering the best place to pitch a tent, staring a fire and making food for your class, and chatting with friends by the fire as the stars emerge.
As is the intent of a rite of passage, when a class returns to school following these trips it is evident how much the students have grown, both as individuals who confronted and overcame their own personal challenges on the trip, and as a group who discovered strengths and vulnerabilities in their classmates they never knew before and who return with a shared experience that belongs only to them. Each year there is inevitably a student or two who do not want to take on the expected rigors of the trip, but upon return they are always glad they did and many say they now feel like they could accomplish anything!
While the 8th grade trip is in many ways the culmination of these experiences in the grades and middle school, these types of trips continue for students at our high school. Ninth graders end their freshman year with a week at the Community Farm of Ann Arbor, while 10th graders take the knowledge they learned during their sophomore year for a week-long land surveying expedition at Camp Lookout on the northern shores of Lake Michigan. Seniors wrap up their RSSAA journey with two amazing adventures: a Zoology trip to Hermit Island, Maine, where they explore the flora and fauna of the ocean and tidal pools; and an adventure in Venice, Florence, and Rome, where they explore the artists, writers, and thinkers they learned about in the classroom for so many years.
These trips are a cherished and important part of our curriculum. I believe they play a central role in helping our graduates to be well-rounded citizens of the world, with the self-confidence to take off on their own life adventures.
When we think of progress, many people refer to the “giants” who propel an organization forward. In reality, it’s all the “gnomes” who do the hard work that makes a community successful. This is certainly the case for Rudolf Steiner School of Ann Arbor. With humble beginnings in a three-room building near Cobblestone Farm in 1980, and eventually a home for our K-8 program on Newport Road, our growing community of inspired parents and teachers had a vision for a full PreK-12 program.
A high school study group was active for many years and eventually, the College of Teachers hired Agaf Dancy in 1996 to spend a year preparing to welcome 22 ninth and tenth graders in the fall. A valiant effort was made by Robert Black, Margot Amrine, Becky Schmitt and Judie Erb to build the high school on the Lower School's Newport Road campus, but there was resistance in the surrounding neighborhood. Judie proposed the Genesis building on Packard Road and Agaf found the ideal faculty team of Mary Emery (Humanities) and Geoff Robb (Science), who were trained Waldorf high school teachers. Navigating precarious waters, Judie, Margot and Fred Amrine won over a reluctant Board and in the fall of 1997, 22 high school students attended classes in the basement of the Genesis building.
Ashlea Walton (HS’ 01) recalls, “It didn’t matter that our classes were small or that we were learning in a basement. Ms. Emery and Mr. Robb, along with the other faculty, made us feel part of a family and the subject areas were enlivened by their enthusiastic approach to teaching.”
Caroline Freitag (HS '02) has known since 7th grade that she would be a Waldorf teacher and is now in her seventeenth-year class teaching, working right here at RSSAA! As one of the pioneering high school students, Caroline didn’t realize initially, “… but I was seeking a high school experience where I was seen by my teachers and peers. These strong personal relationships, along with a wide array of educational opportunities and trips, led me to pursue a college experience that offered the same things.”
Mary and Geoff led an amazing team of supporting faculty including Elena Efimova (Art), Robert Santacroce (Eurythmy), Erica Choberka (Biology), Janice Sanders (Instrumental), Barbara Brown (Bookbinding & Basket-weaving), David Van Eck (Technology) and Margot Amrine (History).
Erica Choberka was a teaching assistant at University of Tennessee, Knoxville and started her high school teaching career at RSSAA. Along with teaching most of the science classes, she briefly taught gym and writing as well - it was all hands-on deck. As a twenty-something herself, she would sometimes hear students listening to “Sublime” on their boombox and resisted the temptation to join them (she was a fan).
Elena Efimova held classes in her home art studio, where students were bussed daily. Her whole house was open to the students - snacks and drinks in the fridge, bathroom in the master bedroom, and a “hotel lobby” in the living room. Some students even stayed for dinner if their parents showed up late. The first senior mosaics (the Five Elements) were created by the first graduating class of five students and now hang in the hallway at the Lower School.
Eventually, we needed more space and in October 2001, a six-acre homestead and factory, located on Pontiac Trail, was purchased to be the permanent home for our growing high school. A staunch group of eager, professional volunteers, who dubbed themselves "The Four Musketeers" (Tim Vachon, Victor Leabu, Robin Grosshuesch and Robert Black) donated both skilled labor and materials to improve the Frame House and the Stone House buildings on the property into administrative spaces. The generous support of key donors, like the Fox family and Erb Downward family and Seyhan Eğe, empowered a whole host of volunteers from families, students, staff and faculty to put the final touches on the former factory building, built by Christman Company and sub-contractor Brivar. The new campus opened in the fall of 2002.
When Evan Schmitt (HS ’01) reflects on his time at RSSAA, “I don’t think a day goes by where I don’t apply the lessons I learned during my time at the Steiner School. So much of my job is talking with organizations about their role in creating a fairer, more secure, and more equitable global economy where individual rights are respected and protected. The seeds of that ethos were planted in me every day I walked into that school…by the teachers, the community, and my fellow students”. As a junior, Evan was key in organizing the first basketball team, coached by Bob Cosey. The sports teams gained momentum, sometimes “borrowing” 8th graders to complete the teams.
In 2008, RSSAA received our largest gift, a bequest of $834,000 from Seyhan Eğe’s estate. This gift paid for a dedicated middle school building in 2016 and launched the Inspire. Create. Lead. Capital Campaign for a high school campus expansion of a gym, lab, classrooms, and performance spaces in 2018, solidifying the commitment to a full PreK-12 Waldorf education.
Although our spaces are beautiful and inspiring, it’s our faculty that make our school an exceptional experience for students and families. A high school parent recognized that during the pandemic, everyone was managing stressful situations and our faculty and staff were doing the same. However, they were also striving to provide the best experience they could for our students along with taking pay cuts to balance the budget. That is devotion.
These stories have reminded us of where we’ve been and how many involved families helped us get there. We are entering the next phase of our development, with seeds being planted to eliminate debt and build an endowment, to create an outstanding Waldorf educational experience that supports our students with outstanding educators, passionate administration, facility maintenance, and financial stability.
Is it safe? Will they make good choices? What if something happens? Will they meet nice people?
These are just a few of the questions that might pop up when considering allowing your teen to travel - and they're all valid and worthy of discussion. But a question that might be even more important is, what will they learn? For parents, the educational aspect of travel is most likely the biggest reason why they send their kids on an overseas educational program with their school, like our senior trip to Italy. But what about travel with non-school groups - or even solo travel - for teens?
Traveling is the moment when the textbook comes alive, when everyday objects look completely different and when common greetings sound exotic. For teens, traveling abroad is exhilarating, stimulating, frustrating and—whether they're looking for it or not—extremely educational. Experts say that the educational benefit for teens goes far beyond learning historical facts, architectural styles, conversational phrases and even a working knowledge of a foreign subway system. Travel is an excellent way for students to develop the vital skills like critical thinking and problem solving that will enable them to compete in an increasingly globally interdependent economy.
“I think the biggest thing travel does for teens is to help them to see beyond their own somewhat limited world and to see how other people live,” says Christine Schelhas-Miller, who taught adolescent development at Cornell University for many years and is the co-author of Don’t Tell Me What to Do, Just Send Money: The Essential Parenting Guide to the College Years.
Travel is particularly good for developing critical thinking as it forces teens to examine their own values and beliefs from the perspective of a different culture. They become aware of aspects of their lives that they have taken for granted and never examined. - Christine Schelhas-Miller
Improvement in critical-thinking skills can translate into big gains in the classroom. Travel can help students develop all of what educators call the 4 Cs (critical thinking and problem solving, communication, collaboration, and creativity and innovation), says Dr. Jessie Voigts, who has a PhD in international education and runs wanderingeducators.com, a global community of educators sharing travel experiences.
“Travel encourages critical thinking (especially when comparing intercultural differences), problem solving (in so many ways—money, transportation, food, events, cultures, languages, etc.) and communication (both verbal and non-verbal, which is key to any communication event, globally),” says Voigts, author of Bringing the World Home: A Resource Guide to Raising Intercultural Kids. "It also encourages collaboration (working together with your travel partners or locals to fulfill your basic needs), creativity (finding a creative solution to a travel problem) and innovation (whether it’s a way to hold your luggage together with whatever is on hand or finding a new route in an unfamiliar town past a parade to get where you need to go).” And, through these experiences, teens are becoming more flexible and adaptable along the way, two more skills that are essential in the 21st Century’s virtual workplace.
Our kids face an entirely different world than that of their parents and grandparents. They need more than school and college to get a job. They need to learn flexibility, adaptability, and other skills to succeed in today’s global economy. Our coworkers and neighbors are no longer just next door, but all around the world.
Traveling—not just being a tourist, but smart travel—helps teens learn flexibility and adaptability, and creates an open-minded worldview that allows teens to work well with others anywhere in the world.” - Dr. Jessie Voigts
It may take teens—and their parents—some time to realize that they have gained all of these skills from their travels abroad. But it probably won’t take anyone long to figure out that these teens have learned a lot about something very close to home: themselves. Unexpected events always happen to travelers and, when faced with these events without an adult to guide them, teens develop problem-solving skills and confidence in their abilities to manage their lives. When teens travel, they expect to learn so much about the other country, but may also make some important self-discoveries along the way.
Some Life Benefits of Traveling as a Teenager:
- Learn How to Save and Budget Money - Sure, learning about money starts at a young age, but there is real-life experience and deferred gratification in saving up all school year for an extended trip that a teen can proudly say that they paid for. Plus there's the skill of budgeting throughout the trip.
- Ability to Make an Itinerary - Itineraries are just as dynamic as the places visited and this will reflect upon your teens travels no matter where they venture. They'll build flexibility when they need to make and change their itinerary so they can have the best experience possible.
- Build Problem-solving Skills - World travel wouldn’t be complete without the occasional bump in the road. Dealing with problems like pouring rain when the forecast predicted sun or a broken suitcase zipper will make them a savvy problem-solver as they work through predicaments proactively and positively rather than allowing them to spoil the trip.
- Become an Independent and Responsible Young Person - When traveling around with family and friends, it’s super easy to follow their lead and let others take care of things like tickets, transportation, meals, itineraries, etc. – The list goes on and on. Traveling without the familiarity of people from home means your teen will need to take more responsibility for their own actions, as well as look out for those they are with. This means showing up prepared, making the effort to participate, and being accountable throughout the trip.
- Break Stereotypes and Experience New Cultures - Unfortunately, people are often quick to believe stereotypes about other countries and their cultures, especially the negative ones. This is true of Americans' views of overseas destinations, as well as other countries negative perceptions of Americans. When traveling, your teen will have the opportunity to break this cycle by keeping an open mind and an open heart and sharing everything that it means to be a global citizen.
While every family and every teen is unique, when it comes to travel it's possible the pros outweigh any cons. Traveling teaches meaningful life skills, provides an opportunity to meet new people, facilitates cultural appreciation, and teaches the ability to adapt to new environments. Travel is a fantastic way of gaining these unique experiences which develop youth into more well-rounded citizens, all while having fun along the way!
Motivated students and families from around the world look for immersive experiences at American high schools where they can learn English, absorb American culture, and prepare for post-secondary education at English-speaking institutions. As the Waldorf movement continues to grow around the world, some international parents are looking for a Waldorf high school experience when their own country doesn’t have a program established. At the same time, there are international families who have never known about Waldorf education, but appreciate the liberal arts curriculum, community feeling, and host-family experience the Rudolf Steiner High School offers. Over the past 18 years, 75 international students have found their way to Steiner High school and have emerged with skills and relationships that have prepared them for their next steps in life.
Mary Zeng (’21) deeply appreciates her experience here. What was important to her, and her family, was to find a school that assisted her learning English along with broad academic coursework. Thanks to our smaller classes, she was able to form supportive relationships with her teachers that continue today. Her immersion in American culture with a Rudolf Steiner School of Ann Arbor high school family both dramatically increased her acquisition of English and gave her a caring environment to navigate her high school years. She sees the relationships she built with classmates, her host family, and the wider Ann Arbor community, as her home-base in America as she attends University of Massachusetts - Amherst.
When Vivian Wang’s (’17) parents were trying to find an American high school for her to attend, they were looking for a good experience both with an English-speaking family - so she could learn the language and culture - and an academic setting that appreciated both the sciences and the arts. Vivian’s host family had a 1-year-old child and they loved getting to know Vivian and helping her study for classes and learn English. She continues to stay in touch with them and they even helped her move to Atlanta to attend Georgia Tech. Vivian also appreciated the strong relationships she had with her teachers, where she was encouraged to ask questions and be proactive in her learning.
For Irene Zhang (’21), two of the reasons she came to RSSAA were to continue studying at a place that was more artistically oriented, and finding a home-life experience in a city that was safe. In Ann Arbor, she lived with a Chinese-American family who had small children and she had a marvelous experience. She became a part of their family, and they treasured the opportunity to learn from her. She looks forward to visiting them during breaks from her studies at Tufts University.
The host-family experience is just as rewarding as the educational. For many, the international student becomes a part of the family, participating in their customs, meals, and celebrations. Irene’s host mother, Bing Li, found the hosting experience wonderful for her family with two young children. During the pandemic, they got to spend even more time with Irene and she truly became part of their family. High school families enjoy a peer-to-peer experience that can enhance the high school years for their own student as well as their guest student. Some past host families are looking forward to hosting another international student when the opportunity arises.
The city of Ann Arbor is attractive to many international students because of its safety, a large international community (especially for Asian students) and being within the vicinity of the University of Michigan. For a teenager, Ann Arbor provided outlets beyond school to connect with others. Mary took tennis lessons at a local club and explored the various teen locales in the region. Irene attended UM football games with friends and immersed herself in artistic experiences. Learning soccer was exciting for Vivian, and she found the coach very helpful and her teammates welcoming. Students also can participate in a variety of after-school clubs, like Model United Nations, that connect them in new ways to their American classmates.
International students at RSSAA also form bonds with each other as they take English as a Second Language (ESL) classes, led by skilled ESL teachers who become a reliable support-system to complete their academic coursework. For some students, these teachers become a sounding-board for other questions or concerns they have during the school year.
Our international students have found a well-balanced program at RSSAA that brings the warmth of a family experience while undertaking an American high school education. For international students and host families alike, an impactful, life-changing experience can happen, and relationships are created that can continue years after graduation!
If you're interested in learning more about how you can help create an amazing experience for an international student, please reach out to Sian Owen-Cruise at email@example.com.
The 12th grade Italy trip has been a fixture at our high school since 2001. That's 20 years of incoming students looking forward to it before they ever set foot on our campus! Our high school Humanities and Art departments are in charge of this experience, which focuses on Art and Art History.
Despite the trepidation we all felt in planning for this trip during the ongoing pandemic, after two years without it we felt more sure than ever about the value of this capstone experience to our senior students, and we charged ahead. It took many months to plan and we had multiple scares with the vagaries of the flight and tour schedules, the worry over possible loss of accommodations due to COVID, and the additional work of verifying and collecting vaccination information and ongoing COVID testing for all students and chaperones, but everything fell into place. Before departing, students had a week and a half of intense preparation where they learned in-depth history and the curriculum context of the places they would visit, as well as some Italian phrases. They also had some time to practice live sketching. The careful planning of the trip - both curricularly and logistically - paved the way for a smooth and enriching experience for all the students.
The trip was seven nights: three in Venice, two in Florence, and two in Rome. Students visited important art and historical sites and were required to capture their trip via drawings and written reflections in their sketchbooks.
Upon their return, each student highlighted a meaningful Italy moment during an all-school assembly, including:
- Being outside of the USA for the first time and experiencing all the differences and surprises
- Going on group night walks in Venice and seeing the difference between the busy day time and serene night time
- Experiencing St. Peters Basilica at the Vatican
- Seeing everything we learned in Art History class up close
- The many androgynous-looking statues beautifully displayed in The Uffizi
- Climbing up the Campanile (belltower) in Florence and seeing how beautiful the city looks
- Walking in the footsteps of the many great artists we learned about in school
- Seeing Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus in real life
- Touring the Roman Forum with our guide, Francesca, and reliving ancient Rome
- The restaurants, convents, and hotels where our school has long standing relationships
We are thrilled that the students were able to have these experiences after the disappointment of the canceled trips in 2020 and 2021. The Italy trip, like all of our school trips, is an opportunity for growth unlike what most students have in their day-to-day classes and extracurricular activities. Our class of 2022 students jumped at the chance to experience another culture, to see different ways of conducting daily life, and to consider a different, and much longer, sense of time through the history around them. Our wish is that they continue to lean in to the curiosity they have developed in high school so that they can keep learning and growing.
Join us for an in-depth look at the trip itself in our next Look A Little Deeper blog post!
When Elizaveta McFall (HS Art faculty, parent & HS Alum ‘04) began teaching the HS figure-drawing class over four years ago, she began to re-think how to approach this classic method of representational art. Her past experiences in college-level figure drawing classes were steeped in a tradition that is hundreds, or perhaps thousands, of years old. The idea is that the human body, in nude form, is timeless - whether those figures are drawn today or were drawn during the Renaissance. Instructional approaches vary widely, but the goal for students is to acquire the skill of drawing the human body and mastering its line, shape, and depth.
Elizaveta saw an opportunity to re-imagine the approach to this tradition by establishing a dialogue and relationship with the models themselves. She wanted her students to fall in love with people and to see them as art. From her perspective, it is easy to learn the proportions of the human body, but the real work is to capture the model as they are.
She wanted her students to fall in love with people and to see them as art.
In the past, only one model would visit the classroom over a period of several weeks. Now there was an opportunity to open that experience up by inviting multiple models to pose on different days, giving the students a chance to see a variety of human bodies. Her models have evolved from “accepted” male and female body-types to now include a variety of bodies, sizes, gender, and age. This year, she invited a professional wheelchair basketball player who entered the class on his prosthetic legs, talked with the class, then removed his legs and posed for the students in his athletic wheelchair.
Elizaveta wanted to integrate social-emotional learning into the students experience by establishing a relationship with the models during their session. She creates an environment for the models and students to have a conversation. Before the model visits, the students talk about how the model might feel when they arrive - vulnerable, uncomfortable, or nervous. She asks students how do we make them comfortable? Should we giggle (even if it’s not about the model)? Should we ask questions and what kinds of questions? She prepares them to think about “nude” as a genre in art and to look at the model as nude - not naked. Students work through how those terms make them feel.
Before the model visits, the students talk about how the model might feel when they arrive - vulnerable, uncomfortable, or nervous.
Through earlier conversations with the models, Elizaveta learns about their lives, hobbies, jobs or interests. She asks them to think about the shape of their bodies and learns what they are comfortable talking about. This information is then integrated into her class, so she can model the conversation for students, who then begin to pick-up on her approach.
The class begins with a “get to know you” conversation with the model fully clothed. Elizaveta then asks, “Dear Nikki, do we have permission to view your body? Do we have your consent to discuss your figure?” The model then leaves to change into tight-fitting undergarments, revealing their shape. She compares this dialogue to visiting the doctor and focuses on learning about “consent” in other areas of life.
Once the model is back in the room, a comfortable rapport builds as Elizaveta demonstrates for students the questions to ask the models. Nikki, a plus-sized model, is asked about her journey of loving her curvy body. Elizaveta asks the students, “Does Nikki want large paper or small? Do we use straight lines or curved? Where is she most narrow or where is she most broad? What ways can we capture Nikki’s curves?”. It becomes clear that their bodies are aspects of who they are. A trans male model is not introduced by this title but through Elizaveta’s questions, they reveal a favorite part of their transformed body. The conversation with Zeus, a professional wheelchair athlete, reveals how he functions in the sport and how he uses his prosthetics to walk. A pregnant model talks about the temporary body she wears, where she gained weight and the purpose of those changes for the baby.
At the end of class, all the students thank the model and give a round of applause. They clean up their materials and talk to the model and take pictures of their art. Many students decide to gift their art to the models.
For students, seeing a body like their own or talking with a trans person or someone with a disability who have fully fallen in love with themselves can be a very powerful experience. Student interests are diverse - from the hard sciences, computers, history, or fine arts - but every high school senior participates in the figure drawing class and is given the opportunity to appreciate the beauty in the diversity of human bodies and interact with the amazing people who inhabit them. Elizaveta knew this new approach would be a unique experience, and the greater impact it would have on our students social-emotional skills and opportunities for growth beyond artistic abilities.
For students, seeing a body like their own or talking with a trans person or someone with a disability who have fully fallen in love with themselves can be a very powerful experience.
Adapted from Acorn Hill Waldorf Kindergarten
Children are constantly picking up on what is OK to talk about, what is off limits, and how adults react to the topic. Here's how to begin or continue a discussion about race with your child.
Like many other topics, race can be challenging for adults to discuss among themselves, let alone with their children. But while open dialogue about race is limited in our society, that doesn't mean you can't make decisions and set the tone for discussions about race in your home. Talking with young children about race is an opportunity - one you may or may not have experienced when you were growing up.
Some well-meaning parents feel if they do not address the topic of race, their children will be "color-blind." But the reality is that race does have meaning in our society. Your conversations with your child will depend on your own racial identity, the racial make-up of your family (immediate and extended), and your values regarding race—both those you express and those you imply.
Like other crucial conversations you might be beginning to have with your child right now, race discussions should start early and evolve as your child grows.
What They Understand
Kids under 24 months do not understand the adult meaning of race: the historical implications of it or how the history and current meaning of race affects our society, but babies and toddlers are beginning to notice differences in appearance. It might be that the child simply looks longer at or perhaps points to a person who looks different from the people she's most used to seeing in her everyday routines. During these moments, the child looks primarily to the adult to gauge their own interest and reaction—toddlers this young are still reliant on their parents' opinions and actions to shape their own. This goes without saying, but how you act around and discuss people from your own culture and other cultures is what your child will first consider appropriate. Toddlers internalize the beliefs of their family and immediate society, a process that will continue throughout their development.
As the children grow, so does their awareness and their misconceptions about race. Studies have shown that by three years old, children are choosing playmates by race and by ages 4-6 their racial prejudices peak. By ages 5 and 6, children are already holding many of the viewpoints that the adults around them have on race. Not speaking to them about the topic means that they are making their own assumptions, and forming their own biases
What to Say
Say something! Your child's understanding of race begins both with what you will talk about and what you do not discuss. Children learn that when they ask a question about someone's race and they are shushed, it's not something they can discuss and is therefore taboo. Talking about race normalizes the topic and makes it less scary for kids.
As any parent who's caught their toddler staring at someone in the checkout aisle or pointing to a passerby in the mall will tell you, racial observations may be embarrassing. It really is important, though, for you to address your child's observations and take that moment to acknowledge the differences they are taking note of.
When your child points out (or later asks questions about) people with different skin color than his, address it. For example, if your child is white and asks why an African-American child's skin is brown, explain, "Grownups and kids have all different skin colors. Some have tan and some have brown." When possible, use accurate ethnicity language with your child: "She is white (or Caucasian)/African American (or black)/Latinx (or Hispanic)/Asian-American," etc.
Though toddlers likely won't ask questions about race, children in preschool or grade school will have the vocabulary to articulate observations. Your child might ask why a person has skin a different color or hair a different texture than his. When he does make an observation or inquire about a race, answer the question and give correct information, which may mean doing some homework yourself. Think about and take responsibility for the stereotypes and assumptions we all have about race.
These are some basic ways you can prepare for a lifetime of conversations with your child about ethnicity and diversity
Self-reflect. Take some time and think about your own racial identity, the assumptions you hold, and what lessons you would like to teach your children about race. Talking with friends, family, and other parents can be really helpful. Look for other parents who are interested in open dialogue about race in their families. Talking with other adults will also give you clarity and increase your comfort level when answering questions if this is a challenge for you. Remember, this is often a scary process for adults. Understanding and challenging that fear will be helpful in conversations in your family.
Don't avoid the topic. Particularly in white families, some parents decide to not discuss racial differences. This reinforces that it is a taboo subject for your children. When you have had early conversations about appearances, for example, as your child gets older, you can also begin discussions about racism.
Work on Empathy. Developing empathy comes from knowing your own feelings and beginning to understand feelings in others. How you interact with other people and respond to situations works on shaping that within your child. It may seem small and simple, but it is laying the foundation for how they treat, advocate for and think of others. Here are some Teaching Empathy Tips.
Look at your environment. Self-reflecting also means taking inventory of the images, stories and people that your child sees on a daily basis. Looking at your child’s toys, books, media influences, family, friends and neighborhood/community allows you to see areas for growth or conversation.
Read Books. Books are wonderful because they serve as windows into another’s world, reflections into your own, and give children the ability to connect with others. They also serve as good talking points for bringing up discussions about differences, injustice, and provide ways to celebrate and normalize diversity. Our Early Childhood Library offers a great selection of titles.
Social and emotional skills are vital for a child’s future, and in young children those skills are undergoing great expansion. The child lives in the present moment and in a world of wonder which can make social and behavioral obstacles challenging. Wonderful opportunities present themselves during the child’s time in the classroom and at home, and adults can help support learning while meeting the child at the developmental stage that he or she is in. This topic is at the heart of Waldorf education.
Parents often ask us about strategies and helpful approaches to navigating discipline and conflict. One of the most important aspects that we consider is how the child views him or herself and others.
It is easy to categorize things into good and bad, right and wrong; but human interactions and social relationships are much more complex than that.
Every human being has experienced times in which they have been unkind, insensitive or hurtful. It is in remembering these times and seeing the other person as a striving human being, that we can work through conflict and develop empathy for others. The last thing that we want is a child to begin to feel as though they are a bad person and unworthy of our love and care. One of the things we aim to foster is an environment of inclusivity and seeing others as equally important and valuable.
Each child enters a class with his or her own wonderful gifts and challenges and grows tremendously from what each classmate brings to the group. The world of play offers a child a stage to try on many hats which may manifest in various emotions, behaviors and roles. Children will often work out some social questions and conflicts that they are trying to comprehend through their play. Through observing children's play, adults are given a window into things the child is trying to figure out, which are often questions of morality.
At RSSAA, children are encouraged to work challenges out first on their own to help them develop the foundation of lifelong communication and social skills. This is all done in the safety of a well-prepared and cared for classroom environment. The teacher works hard to maintain this environment while supporting the children in the class and the joys and struggles that they will experience together. At home, it is the same. The environment of family and the values that are set for how to treat one another allow the child a safe place to grow. Sibling interactions can sometimes be extremely difficult, but also tremendously rewarding. The same holds true for the interactions in the classroom.
The adult’s tone is important and should be relaxed and practical, stating observations or asking a needed question.
Approaching conflict without judgement can be one of the most difficult things for adults to do, especially when they clearly see a child do something unkind or hurtful. However, we have found that this is key to creating a space for growth to happen. By observing or sportscasting what you saw, without tones of judgement, a child can feel less defensive and better able to reveal the reasons behind their struggle. This can help take them out of the feelings of fight or flight and into a realm of learning and reflection. By speaking without judgement and describing another’s perspective of what happened, the children start to be able to see another person’s perspective, which in turn develops empathy.
Possible active observer statements:
I saw that Sally had it and Jim grabbed it
I have not heard you ask him for it
I see that Julie has many rocks and Jerry does not have any
You may ask him for a turn when he is done
You may talk to her first about that
When we have our coats on, we can go outside to play
When we are sitting and everyone is ready, we will pass the snack
Redirecting and engagement are great tools.
When situations are emotional, sometimes some breathing space and a shift of focus can make a world of difference. Redirecting the focus to a different activity with a child can shift the focus to practical work and engagement. Once the child is ready, the adult can invite other children to join. Often good work can bring two children together with a purposeful task and hard feelings start to dissolve. This could be all that was needed at the time to move past what happened, while other times the child may need this time to come to peace before bringing the conflict up in a way that they can talk about it. As the evening winds down it is easy to recap the day, acknowledging the areas you connected and the struggle that was had.
Acknowledging someone’s feelings can be powerful.
Whether a child is sad, angry or upset, stating that out loud gives the message to the child that you see that something is bothering them and can help them learn about identifying and coping with their emotions. Sometimes it is helpful to recognize the child’s feelings simply before moving into practical ways to resolve the situation. An adult saying an acknowledging phrase helps the child feel connected to the adult or group. Here are some example phrases:
It looks like you are upset.
I’m sorry that happened.
That must have felt....
Reconnecting is key.
Showing that you care about a child in the moment of struggle lets them know that you still have a positive view of them and they are valuable. Reconnecting could be as simple as saying: “I know that you are such a kind and loving person. I remember how you found that beautiful rock the other day and brought it home for your brother. It’s okay to get mad, but we need to make sure no one gets hurt.”
Adults make mistakes too: let them see how you handle it!
It is important that the children can see that adults can make mistakes too, and that we are always trying to do our best. We work to be a model worthy of imitation, and that extends to our social interactions with the children and other adults. It is powerful for a child to see an adult make a mistake and then work to fix it, whether it be apologizing or having honest communication with someone.
It is ideal for the child to initiate resolution.
When children have a social conflict, it is ideal for the child to initiate resolution first. Ideally, they will grow the capacities and skills to navigate all the social and emotional struggles that will happen throughout their childhood and adult life. However, sometimes an adult is needed to help facilitate. This is one of the hardest things to get right. Once a teacher starts to see a pattern emerging then he/she moves towards more direct forms of interventions. Otherwise, simple redirection or a listening ear can be just the right tool. Not every moment needs to be talked about with an adult, and sometimes the children can come up with a compromise that is unfair in adult eyes but perfectly fair in theirs. Give them a minute (or a few) to try to figure things out, if it feels safe to do so.
Being accountable is an important thing to learn.
Taking accountability when someone does something wrong can be hard: no one wants to do something mean or wrong to those they love. Accountability without blame can be accomplished if we can help children to feel comfortable in a somewhat uncomfortable situation. Reminding in a firm but loving way that unkind words and actions can and do hurt. This can be truly recognized when the children can be brought together in a safe and productive way through meaningful activities.
Sometimes children need a break from one another in play.
Sometimes children can just be in a bad mood and that is okay. We can help their friends find other play options while giving the upset child room to have the quiet space they need to work things through. There are times that children can be purposefully exclusionary and in those situations we can say “We play with everyone”. Sometimes there are children at the stage where they can only play with one or two children at a time, and it's important that we help protect that space for them.
Therapeutic stories work wonders while bringing imagery to situations.
If a problem seems to be reoccurring or to have an underlying impulse, the teacher may decide to bring a therapeutic story to help the child move through the problem in an imaginative way without the child feeling the weight of his/her actions attached. Sometimes a story is told in the moment, where other times it is told to the group many days in a row or sent home with a child to be read before bedtime. This can be easily done at home. They can be stories of animals, little boys and girls or even stories of you as a child. Author Susan Perrow has an amazing collection of already written tales for various behaviors such as: grief, hitting, grumpy moods, or being shy.
An apology should not be forced.
Instead of forcing an apology that is not heartfelt, modeling caring behavior and inviting a child to participate in it can help facilitate healing between children. A child can help fetch a bandage or ice pack, or possibly rub the other child’s back or offer a hug. Depending on the situation, a teacher might give verbal prompts such as “Sometimes if I hurt someone by accident, I say ‘I am sorry, I didn’t mean to do hurt you. It was an accident.’” A child may choose to try a verbal apology or not, but either way the hurt child is helped by this.
Nourishing the physical body.
If a child gets a bump or bruise, a deep breath, a drink of water or bite of food can do wonders. Also, braiding or combing hair, applying lotion or a little massage can bring a child back into their body and help them feel well cared for. Possible tools we can use for comfort are: ice pack, essential oils, rescue remedy, cream, and a bandage.
It is important for the adult to later process and reflect on challenging situations in order to get a bigger sense of what happened and what is happening. Tracing the steps backwards to what lead to the issue can help the adult find the catalyst and that can help them avoid the situations in the future.