Please join us in extending a warm welcome to Ami C Evergreen, our new Pedagogical Administrator for Early Childhood – Grade 8.
Born in Castro Valley and raised in Los Angeles, Ami was always on stilts, a pogo stick, or skateboard when she was young. In addition to her Waldorf Teaching Certification, she holds a Bachelor’s degree in English with a concentration in Literature, and a Master’s of Philosophy with a concentration in the analytical study of ethical, theological, and metaphysical traditions.
Ami has been involved with Waldorf education since 1988, when she first encountered the movement in an article speaking out against Sesame Street. She has taught movement, integrating neurodiverse students into grades classes; as well as upper grades, fifth – eighth, then the early grades. Responding to changing needs of students and families, she also founded Evergreen Expeditions, a Waldorf Outdoor Education School in Oregon which strived for children to “build a strong and resilient body, develop a deep ‘sense of place,’ and be elementally nourished in the cradle of our beloved valley.”
In her spare time, Ami enjoys tree climbing, yoga, mantra, and hikaru dorodango.
Ami welcomes the opportunity to continue to get to know more members of our community. Reach out to her to sit together to chat about parenting and family-making, learn how to bridge home and school together, explore the “dance of mutual development” between you and your child, and remember that life was made for JOY!
Ami has daily open office hours between 12:00 and 1:00 pm, and is available to meet with you outdoors, or via zoom or phone.
(Photo courtesy of Ami: My son Isaac and I, with a basket-backpack made of willow. Ubuntu: “I am because we are.”)
by Ashley Brickeen | Admissions Director, Nursery – Grade 8
On Tuesday, October 12th, along with many parents in Silicon Valley, I joined the Common Ground Event ‘The Essentials of Executive Functioning – Building the Skills to Flourish’ with Dr. Adele Diamond. Dr. Diamond is a leading expert in the field of executive functioning, a host of cognitive skills children need to develop not only so they can thrive at school, but also later in life.
Studies consistently show that strong executive functioning skills are a better predictor of successful careers and happy relationships than IQ scores. In part, this is because IQ tests measure something called “crystallized intelligence”- which is mostly how well you recall what you have already learned. Executive functioning, on the other hand, is related to your ability to use that information – to be creative and problem-solve with it. In other words, executive functioning relates directly to fluid intelligence
As Dr. Diamond says, “If you look at what predicts how well children will do later in school, more and more evidence is showing that executive functions—working memory and inhibition —actually predict success better than IQ tests.”
Executive functions begin to emerge in early childhood, and, like the developing brain, do not fully mature until early adulthood. In order to develop, they need constant work and reinforcement.
Given how important these skills are, you may wonder how WSP and Waldorf Education support the development of the four categories of executive function skills. The four categories are:
Focus – In order to learn or carry out a task, we need to be able to control our attention – ignoring some things while zeroing in on the activity, skill, or lesson we wish to fulfill. This is true whether we are a young child struggling to tie a shoelace or a manager crunching numbers for a mid-year report. Nothing gets done without focus and attention.
Working Memory – Working memory is the ability to hold pieces of information in our minds while adding to it, updating it, or working with it to create something new. Dr. Diamond highlighted oral storytelling as a way of challenging working memory. When a student is listening to a story, they have to keep track of the actions, words, and interactions of the various characters in order to understand the whole story.
Cognitive Flexibility – This is the ability to think creatively and problem solve. Without cognitive flexibility, it is easy to get stuck. Cognitive flexibility is also the ability to see someone else’s perspective; the ability to take advantage of an unexpected opportunity or admit to a mistake.
Inhibitory Control – We do not often think of the ability NOT to do something as an important skill, but anyone who has taken a few deep breaths to control an impulse has practiced such control.
So, how does the teaching of executive functioning show up in Waldorf education, particularly here at Waldorf School of the Peninsula in Silicon Valley? I see it throughout the curriculum. In fact, every recommended activity that Dr. Diamond identified as supporting the robust development of executive functioning takes place at a Waldorf School. From Early Childhood through high school, our core curriculum attends to each of the four categories of executive functioning skills. Executive management skills are also directly addressed through the high school years, often as a focused topic of study for incoming high school students. Here are a few of many examples across the curriculum:
Oral storytelling Dr. Diamond talked about a study of First Graders that found that the children who heard a story, rather than having it read to them with pictures, had improved vocabulary and an ability to recall (working memory) the details of the story. Every day in Early Childhood, teachers tell stories to their children. These stories feature advanced vocabulary (with words such as “precipice” and “horrendous”) and challenge children to remember the actions and interactions of various characters. Verbal storytelling features in the early grades as well, but the teacher now adds a review, challenging students to recall details of the story the following day.
Roleplaying Starting at around four years old, children transition from something called parallel play into the richer world of role play. Here they work with friends to create worlds together and populate them with characters and actions. When a child is role-playing, they need to inhibit the desire to go “out of character”; they need to keep their character and other character’s words and actions in working memory; they need to respond flexibly when their friend does something unexpected, and they need to remain focused on the story and all its moving parts. Dr. Diamond described role-playing as hugely important for developing executive functioning skills. Fortunately, the Waldorf school day provides lots of time and space for children to pursue such play and not only in the Early Childhood. In the first and second grades, formal instruction ends at 2:05 pm so students can have an open class period, which allows for role-playing and social interaction.
Traditional games and toys WSP’s Early Childhood program abounds in open-ended toys such as blocks and play cloths. A block is simply a piece of wood – a child needs to think flexibly in order to make it into a chair, table, part of a slide, or a cave. In the grades, teachers frequently play games with children that require them to keep a sequence of movements in working memory. Properly executing the sequence of movements requires focus as well as inhibiting the impulse to move when they are not supposed to move.
Eurythmy also involves keeping a sequence of movements in working memory while focusing and inhibiting impulses. In fact, Dr. Diamond specifically cited storytelling, dance, art, music, and play as being healthy and powerful drives in developing executive functioning skills. She described the distinction between “academic” and “enrichment” activities as arbitrary and wrong. In addition to developing vital executive functions, these activities also address social, emotional, and physical needs.
Avoiding the negative impacts of stress and “teaching to the test” Dr. Diamond opened her talk on executive functions with a discussion about stress. She cited studies that show that, while some people perform well under mild stress, many people perform markedly worse. She was clear that even those who performed well under mild stress did not perform better – they were just less negatively impacted by the mild stress.
For this reason, Dr. Diamond dislikes the emphasis on tests and grades, and especially “teaching to the test.” Research shows that this emphasis leads to lower executive function, less critical thinking, and much higher rates of stress among students.
At WSP, we foster a healthy rhythm of learning that’s free of unproductive stress or competition. Faculty ensure that students are evaluated on articulated, visible and relevant learning goals, and encourage students to strive for excellence in order to reach their highest potential rather than do merely enough to arrive at an arbitrary end.
Student crafted lesson books Opportunities for developing and strengthening the capacities to organize and synthesize are inherent in Waldorf students’ lesson book work, which goes considerably deeper than simply recording data. Students capture not only information but also their impressions and feelings. From learning how to form letters to composing thoughts via well crafted sentences and paragraphs with neat handwriting along with artistic elements such as drawings, paintings, and well-balanced colored backgrounds deftly support executive functions. Even creating page borders helps with framing content, context, and contemplation.
Students take on more initiative and self-direction as they progress through the grades with the creation of their lesson books across a vast scope of studies. Many WSP alumni have reported that they use the “Waldorf lesson book method” to help with organizing and synthesizing their college studies.
All you need is love Dr. Diamond emphasized that the single most important thing parents can provide for their children is love – that our caring is more important than our knowledge, skills, or resources. In the journey through the grades at WSP, the teacher generally stays with the class for grades one through eight. This enables students, teachers, and their families to learn and grow together over time. The security from these long-term relationships supports learning, confidence, and healthy development of social and emotional skills. At the high school, our small, supportive and close-knit community helps ensure that each student is known, respected, valued, and challenged.
From early childhood all the way through their senior year, students build the capacities to organize, manage and synthesize, step by step, so that they may function productively and with purpose as individuals–and in the communities in which they choose to participate.
In their chemistry main lesson block this month, seventh grade students made a purple cabbage indicator which was used to test acids and bases. The purple pigment, anthocyanin, in purple cabbage acts as the indicator. The photo shows the tests we did from left to right on lye (sodium hydroxide), the most basic; washing soda (sodium carbonate), ammonia, baking soda, distilled water (a neutral substance, so the indicator color remained purple), boric acid, vinegar, lemon juice, and hydrochloric acid, the most acidic.
As part of our studies of the lime cycle, we built a lime kiln (in the picture with the smoke) and heated a piece of marble (a salt) all day to create quicklime (a base). We then slaked it by adding water (slaked lime is a base) to create a mortar. The mortar was made with the slaked lime by adding sand to make a putty-like substance. We stuck some bricks together with our mortar. As it dries, it becomes a salt again. This was done by the Ancients to use in construction. The Romans mixed it with volcanic sand so it would cure underwater. This is how they built their aqueducts across rivers.
This past Sunday, amid a torrential downpour and high winds, the 11th grade (along with some magical helpers) fed 50 people a seven-course dinner and raised some serious funds for the Food Justice Initiative. What started as a dream and seed project in their tenth grade Research Methods Class is slowly but surely becoming a reality. Food Truck here we come!
The 11th grade had been preparing for this event throughout their Cooking Arts class for six weeks. From ingredient sourcing and menu design to the art of serving and working under pressure, the process of designing and executing the event provided countless learning opportunities for all involved.
On Sunday morning, three students joined me at the Mountain View Farmers Market to pick up all the vegetables (they also enjoyed some warming beverages and pastries at Red Rock Café, a treat to make up for the early wake-up hour.)
The students were joined by the rest of the class at noon to prepare all the food for the meal. They worked hard to get everything prepped (in our VERY makeshift kitchen) and finished everything in under three hours. By 4:20, all the guests were seated and jamming along to the sounds of faculty member Rich Armstrong and his collaborator Kimberlye Gold with special guest (and faculty member) Christopher Otte. They were joined by members of WSP’s own Soul Providers, a parent/faculty/alumni band reunited for the first time since the pandemic.
Overall, the dinner was a success. Students cooked food, plated food, served food and explained the story behind each dish. Many of the ingredients were from Live Earth Farms (the very same farm at which this class worked and stayed in third Grade with Mrs. Budrys Senior!) The hard work, collaboration, and dedication that the students showed the community inspired many attendees to generously support the Food Justice Initiative. A soon-to-exist Chicken Coop and Coffee Trike were fully funded.