The Feeling Stage: Part 1 (Class 1 and 2)

So folks, you’ve had a lot to think about over these last 2 weeks. I hope some of you were able to apply some of the things we have been talking about. If it still seems a bit overwhelming, don’t worry. This is a lot of information I am giving to you at one time. Once you understand all these basics, it will come easier. And we will be able to have a lot of fun!

So, The Feeling Stage relates mostly to the plant kingdom. What does this mean? Glad you asked. Think about plants. They are one step above the mineral kingdom. They have the ability to assimilate water, air, and sunlight into food! Plants that are cultivated, rely on the gardener to provide the right environment to grow healthy. So do children in this stage. They rely on us to create a thriving environment. They then assimilate their surrounding world and transform it into something they can use. The plant kingdom consists of grades one through seven. “The inner world of the child between seven and fourteen is full of living, mobile pictures, and, like the plants, the innocence of their inner life is what is most characteristic.” –Reg Down

So let’s take a look at the first group of this plantlike kingdom in the Feeling Stage. The second half of grade 1 (those that have gone through the 6 year old change) and second grade. Like I said before, these children are just discovering that they can affect the world around them; that they are separate from nature. They start to have all sorts of new feelings and emotions stirred up inside them. Not only can they affect the world around them, but that the world can have an imprint on them as well. This can be scary! So how do we, as their “gardeners” create a healthy, happy environment for them? Let’s talk about some fun things we can do with them!

First Grade (after 6 year old change): You can continue to do stories like in Kindy and the first half of Grade One, but it’s probably best to tell a shorter story so you can have the remainder of the lesson to do other things. Here is an example of some of the other things you can do: The Kingdom of Straight and Curves (from Leaving Room for the Angels by Reg Down) is a fun one. You can lay copper rods in a spiral fashion and have the children walk the stairs up the spiral staircase to the Kingdom of Straight and Curves where they learn to walk different forms like circle, square, triangle, gliding figure eight, etc. Another thing you can do is mirror image forms. Partner the children up and have them walk forms, following their partner as if in a mirror. This gives them some perception of spacial awareness. And then there are always copper rod exercises and games that you can do with them.

Second Grade: You can follow the same pattern and outline as First Grade with additional exercises for these guys! Second Graders are still in that dreamy imaginative state. The curriculum for this grade focuses on animal stories, fables, and saints. So the stories used for this grade really have a wide variety. Again, keep the stories short. You can also use the curriculum for exercises in Eurythmy. For example, one of my favorite Nanabush and Dancing Ducksexercises is based on the story of “Nanabush and the Close Your Eyes Dance.” (Idea from Eurythmy for the Elementary Grades by Francine Adams.) This game can be used to teach beat or rhythm. Nanabush, as the legend goes, was the creator of the earth, sent to the earth to live. But in his mortal state, Nanabush becomes greedy and selfish and learns a lot of hard lessons. The “Close Your Eyes Dance” is an Ojibwe Legend of learning to not be greedy. So Nanabush gets tricked by ducks a lot since that seems to be one of his favorite foods. He is always trying to trick them, but they somehow always foil his plans! In this story, Nanabush was just defeated by the ducks. He is very sad and hungry. He sits all alone by the river, watching the ducks swim around, thinking about how hungry he is and how yummy these ducks would taste. He starts beating his drum to take his mind off things. Then he starts dancing. A nearby duck notices him and asks what he is doing. Annoyed, Nanabush tells the duck to go away and leave him alone! The duck insists on knowing what he is doing and wants to participate. Nanabush gets an idea! He plans on tricking this duck right into the fire! So he tells the duck that if he wants to participate, the duck MUST do it the exact way he tells him. The duck thinks it looks like so much fun that he agrees. Nanabush tells him, he must dance around the fire in a circle, but he must keep his eyes closed. So the duck does it. Other ducks see and join in. Soon, Nanabush has dozens of ducks, all with their eyes closed, dancing around his fire. Nanabush starts picking them off one by one and throwing them in the fire to cook. One duck gets curious and opens his eyes to see what is happening. He quacks a loud warning and it sends all the ducks flying away. Nanabush laughs and is not worried because he was able to get most of the ducks. He has so many ducks that it will take a very long time to cook. So he decides to take a nap, but he sleeps so long that the ducks burn to a char. Nanabush has no ducks to eat. He shouldn’t have been so greedy. He should have only taken what he needed to feed his hunger. So the game goes like this. You choose one child to be Nanabush. He stands in the middle while the rest of the children step to the beat that you are thumping. To keep a beat for stepping, you could use a drum or sticks, or even clap a beat or rhythm. The children step to the beat around Nanabush. Without the “Nanabush” seeing, you wink at a child that is designated the alarm duck. One by one, the “Nanabush” pulls children into the middle of the circle. If “Nanabush” reaches for the alarm duck child, that child quacks loudly and “flies” away, flapping his wings. The rest of the children still walking the circle follow suit, quacking loudly and flying away.

So as you can see, the children in the Feeling Stage are very much like the plant kingdom. They live in their imaginations and thrive or fail in the environment we provide for them. I hope these examples I have given you will help jump start your own creativity with ways to teach your children and bring Eurythmy into your home

 

Nanabush and the dancing ducks art by Daphne Odjig. You read more about her at http://cubegallery.ca/events/2015_02_08_vernissage_for_daphne_odjig

My Experience with the 6 year old Change

I want to state again that I am not a professional Eurythmist yet.  But I feel this is a valuable experience as a good example of watching for signs of maturity in the 6 year olds in First Grade.  Whether you are attempting Eurythmy at home, or are doing Waldorf homeschooling, there is a lesson to be learned here.  This age is probably the hardest for me.  It is when the children move from the Willing Stage to the Feeling Stage.  They learn that they are separate from nature.  They are their own human entity!  Children who experience this change start to experience feelings and emotions that they never had before. During this year, the 6 year olds will be experiencing an adjustment in their temperaments.  That sanguine little child is no longer as light-stepping and always jolly.  All children under 7 have very sanguine-like qualities.  But once they reach that 6 year change, their temperaments really start coming forth.

So last year, I was working with a First Grade class at our co-op.  We started Eurythmy very late in the year (during the winter) so I started the year by telling a winter story.  I made up gestures to a story called Frosty the Snowflake (from the book One, Two, Three! by David Adams).  The children gave themselves over completely to the story!  It was amazing!  Even their teacher thought it was so wonderful and had never seen the kids so attentive!  I thought, “Man, I am the best first time, non-eurythmy teacher ever!”  Little did I know, I was in for a big surprise!

So we had Christmas break and 3 weeks later, I was refreshed and ready to bring a brand new story to the children.  I was very excited!  I had planned and prepared a story about a caterpillar who was eating and getting fat, spun a cocoon, and emerged a white butterfly! He then went on an adventure to become a colored butterfly.  It was a very cute story and I had some pretty awesome gestures to go with it!  So the first day back at co-op, we did our warm-ups and then I started the story.  The kids copied my gestures, but only half-heartedly.  I became very animated, hoping to reel them in!  It did not.  Over half the class lifelessly stared at me, only doing what they had to do.  There were only 3 or 4 kids who really interested in what I was doing.  I brushed this off as Christmas hangover and knew that the next time we met, they would know the story and really get into it.  No.  Still the same.  I was so frustrated.  I went home and started pouring through all my books trying to figure out what was going on.  I talked with the teacher and she too said it just didn’t feel right, but had no suggestions for me.  I pondered and meditated over what I should do for days!  I was so stumped!  In the meantime I had to continue with the story I had prepared because I had nothing else to present to them.  It was so frustrating!

Then one night, as I was just about to fall asleep, and it came to me, “Those children have reached the 6 year old change.  They are no longer interested in what you are trying to present them.” I immediately had to get up and find another type story to do with them.. a fairytale!  I rewrote the rest of the year!  I was up until 3 AM!  My mind was on fire!  So the next morning, my son, who was in that class, got to be the guinea pig.  He is the hardest kid in the world to please, so I knew if I could get him interested then others would be too.  I checked for signs of maturity.  Had he lost a tooth?  Check.  Can he do a sun gesture without his arms touching his head?  Check.  Can he reach across his head, and touch his ear without bending his neck?  YEP!  So I did the story with him.  He told me he really liked stories like we just did (he didn’t know he was the guinea pig.  He thought we were doing school stories and just offered up that info).  So next time we met at co-op, I went through the maturity checklist with all the children and sure enough, most of them were able to do all those things!  Some of them had their first loose tooth.  They were all changing on me!  I went through our brand new lesson and it was awesome!  Even the 6 year olds who hadn’t experienced the change were able to keep up fine.  All their eyes lit up and they had fun! I felt so relieved after that!

This was a hard lesson for me.  For awhile I thought I had failed and should give up!  But this is why it is so important to watch for that change.  It makes a world of difference to them.  There is a huge jump in a 6 year old before the change and a 6 year old after.  It is the hardest to figure out because they don’t really know how to express what they are going through.  They have never in their lives experienced anything like this!  So, if you have a child that just does not seem to be responding to anything you are doing, try to find out why.  If it isn’t the 6 year old change, then are there big changes in their lives like a new baby or moving to a new city?  Or is it smaller like birthday placement?  Are you trying to push the next grade on them too soon?  Once you can figure out why they don’t seem to be responding then you can really work with it.  All children should love Eurythmy!  They should look forward to it every week and be sad when its over.  Watch for that 6 year old change!  It will sneak up on you in a second!

 

 

 

art by Marie Hall

The Willing Stage

Welcome to the Willing Stage! This is a fun time! It is all about the imagination. Children in this stage live very much in their imaginations. Their imaginations ARE their reality so we must be very careful what we chose to present to them. The stories and activities that you chose for your lessons are going to change about every 3 months. These lessons are going to be seasonal. It helps the children to really connect with nature. So now let’s take a closer look at this Willing stage. It consists of 3 groups, Ages 0-3, Ages 3-5, Ages 6-7ish.

Let’s take a closer look at the Age 0-3 group.  . This age is fully immersed in the Willing Stage. Like we have mentioned before, they are trying to will their bodies to move! They are working mostly on gross motor skills. This age group doesn’t need any formal Eurythmy instruction unless therapy is needed because of prematurity or disabilities. But there are things you can do that will prepare them for formal Eurythmy later. And these things are activities we probably already do with our little ones. You’ll want to spend at least 15-20 minutes with them. Movement games and finger plays are what we want to focus on for this age group. For example, movement games like “London Bridges,” “Ring Around the Rosies,” and “The Wheels on the Bus” are great for this group. Some examples of finger plays that you can do are “Where is Thumbkin,” “This Little Piggy,” and “The Itsy, Bitsy Spider.” As you can see, these are probably things you are doing with your children that are this age anyway. But now you can do it with the knowledge that it will prepare them for Eurythmy ahead!

Now let’s break down the Age 3-5 group.  This group is still very simple, but we can add a little Eurythmy twist now! This group is working very hard to build fine motor skills. They long to jump, skip, and clap. These children live in their imagination. Their imaginations ARE their reality, so we must take care in choosing stories that will help build them up. Their lessons will be about 20 minutes. Children vary differently at this age, so you must learn to “read” them to know how long to make your lesson. At this age, we are telling stories and doing eurythmy gestures and motions. And while the children don’t know they are doing actual Eurythmy gestures, it is of no consequence. What is important is that they are moving and getting full range of motion with their movements! We can tell stories that help them live in their imaginations and help them “put on” these parts. I encourage you to use seasonal stories. The children thrive on these!
EXAMPLE: I tell a story I call, “Little Brown Brother” (from a book called Eurythmy for the Elementary Grades by Francine Adams.) The story starts with the children standing in a circle. I am the farmer. I come around and “plant” each child into the ground (they kneel on the floor, their heads down). I start reciting the poem and while doing so, touch the children on by one on the head (when I do, they sit up and start to “grow”). Then as the poem/story goes on, they come to a standing position. We come to a point in the story where everyone gets to describe what kind of flower they have turned in to. They say what kind of flower they are and act like that flower the best they can.  Sometimes they stand tall with arms out like a bright sunflower.  Sometimes they squat close to the ground like a small purple pansies.  Its wherever their imaginations take them! Then at the end of the story, we sing a song about flowers or spring while clapping to beat and bring the lesson to an end. Fun and simple!

So let’s look at this last group, Age 6-7ish.  This group is probably the most difficult of all the groups.  At least in my experience.  This is the first grade year.  So sometime during this year, these children are going to go through a 6-year old change. Which is why the age is 6 to 7ish.  Some children experience the change right after turning 6.  Some children don’t experience the change until very close to 7!  We must be watching for signs of maturity.  Have they lost teeth? Can they reach their arm over the top of their head and touch their ear without bending their necks to reach? Can they make a sun gesture (arms over the head in an “O”) without their arms touching any part of their heads?   If you answered yes to these questions, then they are ready for a more complicated Eurythmy Lesson and move into the Feeling Stage.  But if you answered no to the questions above, then they fit in this group.  The lessons are going to be roughly 30-40 minutes in length.  Again, we must “read” the children to know how long these lessons should be.  For the lessons, we can tell stories like the one from the previous age group, or we can start telling what is called, continual stories.  Reg Down has written books that are perfect for this!  Have you heard of Tip Toes Lightly?  Not just a cute little story!  It was written perfectly for Eurythmy!  So what we will do is one chapter per lesson.  Every lesson will start off the same and end the same.  For example, Tip Toes is awakened every morning by the sun and goes to wake up Jeremy Mouse who has a morning routine he must go through before starting the day.  He must comb his fur and brush his teeth, etc.  And then they come home in the evening in the same manner every lesson.  But the story in between will be different and offer some wonder and excitement for the children. Do big motions, jump over rivers, climb hills, weave through the trees of the forest (you can even designate some children as the trees)!

So as you can see, the Willing Stage is simple.  I recommend the book Eurythmy for the Elementary Grades by Francine Adams. You can get it at waldorflibrary.org for free! It will help you understand these age groups (and up to Grade 8) much better. She even gives some examples of stories or activities you can use with your children as it relates to the curriculum. As you move forward, remember to relax and have fun! Eurythmy is not meant to be so serious. It is meant to be light and fun and even humorous at times! Good luck and HAVE FUN!

 

 

 

 

image from simplydaycare.com

Word of Warning

I just want to reiterate that I AM NOT a professional Eurythmist yet.  I will be trained in the ways of the masters one day.  But for now, I am just a lowly homeschool mom who is trying her darndest to bring Eurythmy to her children as a part of their Waldorf education.  I have created this blog to uplift and encourage others to go ahead and give it a try!

Now, that being said, let me issue my word of warning.  Be sure to never share something with the children you do not understand. If you ask them to participate in an Eurythmy exercise and they start to question what you are doing and why, and you cannot answer them, then these exercises mean nothing as far as Eurythmy goes. However, there are times when a question will come up and you don’t know the answer, even if you do understand why you are doing the exercise you are doing. It is ok to not know the answer. Many questions are left unanswered by Eurythmy teachers in Waldorf schools on purpose to give the children something to ponder over. If this does happen to you, explore the answers together. Ask “why” and “how” for everything. You will be amazed at the realizations you can come up with for yourself.

Eurythmy connects to astral, etheric, and physical bodies.  It is called the three-fold body of Eurythmy. This is way more than just doing the motions.  Rudolph Steiner sent out this warning himself to the teachers!  He said, if this is not done properly, then it just becomes a sort of gymnastics or dance, and while good for the body, is not Eurythmy.  Gymnastics and dance “lives in the physical body and when it is pushed into the etheric body, that is eurythmy.”

Ok, now that that is off my chest, let me encourage you!  Do not let this dishearten or discourage you.  There is absolutely no harm in trying.  If for some reason, you thought you were prepared and knew why you were doing what you were doing, but it all went awry; it is going to be ok.  Worse case, you gave it your best shot and Eurythmy actually ends up being a glorified circle time!!  All I am asking of you, is that when you discover a new Eurythmy exercise, or lets say you want to present the letters (which have many, many layers), make sure you completely understand what it is all about before trying to tell your kids about it.  This way, they can get THE MOST out of it!  And if all goes well, that 3-fold body, can become united as one!  SUCCESS!!

 

 

 

 

image from openclipart.com

Letter Gestures as Natural Movement

I hear you, I hear you.  You are saying, “If letter gestures are natural movements, then why don’t I get it?!”  Let me explain…

As I was talking with some of the older kids at our co-op, a lot of them were able to guess what some of the letter gestures were.  I was amazed by this. When I asked how they were able to guess that, they answered that when they said [this] sound it made them think of [this] motion.  The gestures really are natural movements and once you understand them, you are really able to see that.  Rudolph Steiner explained it like this:  When we talk, we move our hands.  When we are trying to explain or describe something, we use motions with our hands and bodies.  This is eurythmy babble.  When a baby is learning to speak, it babbles on and on.  Sometimes we are able to understand what the baby needs because either the babble is becoming slightly clearer or because of body language and other motions.  But as they learn the language, their speech becomes clearer and the sounds from their mouth start to be orderly and make sense.  That is the same with Eurythmy gestures.  We babble with our movements when we talk or explain something.  But as you come to learn more and understand the gestures better, those motions become more orderly and you begin to speak with movements in a clearer manner.  This is why Steiner called it “visible speech.”

gesture sampleThe gestures are the phonetic sounds of a letter.  And while this statement is true, it is not 100% accurate.  The letter gestures were created based on the phonetic sounds, but are actually fashioned after the movement our air makes when leaving our mouth, while saying the phonetic sound of the letter.  Phew!!  That was a mouthful!  So for example, say the sound for the letter F.  “f-f-f-f-f”  The air moves forcefully, straight out the front of your mouth.  The gesture for letter is made by bringing your hands back at shoulder level, elbows back, and forcefully, but controlled, pushing your hands straight out in front of you.  This is the same way the air moved out of your mouth.  And as we do the motion, we might say the sound of the letter, not the name of the letter, hence the reason we say it is based on the phonetic sound.

After learning all this you might still be saying “But some of these gestures still seem a little awkward and not so natural.”  This is because of our limited movements.  As the times go by, we have more and more machines doing work for us.  Our muscles, once upon a time, used to get a good, full workout when we had to work for everything we had, literally.  We now have machines that till the land, harvest crops, chop trees, rotate mulch, sew, stir and whisk… all of these things that we once had to rely on our own bodies to do!  And although these machines are time savers and allow us to mass-produce, our muscles are becoming atrophied.  Some muscles are not in use so they sleep.  So the motions that we do make with our hands and bodies are very limited.  Now if we were still doing all these jobs,  we would find that we had awake and alert muscles, ready to move!  And then these gestures would indeed come naturally.  They would not be so awkward to move.

So now that you know all this about the air in relation to the gestures, don’t they make a lot more sense?  Aren’t they perfectly natural?!  Now we just need to wake up those sleeping muscles, and we can do so through Eurythmy.  As we practice the gestures, movements, forms, and copper rod exercises, we will find that those sleepy muscles are becoming alive again.  Our overall health will improve (because there is also a spiritual and mental awakening side which we will discuss as another time).  Eurythmy is VERY therapeutic!  And the letter gestures ARE natural movements.

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