15 Tech Alternatives for Winter Break

by Melanie Ingler | Communications Coordinator

A new study published in the JAMA Pediatrics suggests yet one more reason to manage tech at home. “Tempting as it may be to hand them a smartphone or turn on the TV as a default response, soothing with digital devices may lead to more problems with emotional reactivity down the road, a new study has shown,” writes Madeline Holcombein in a recent CNN article [link].

“‘Even slightly increasing a child’s emotional reactivity, that just means it’s more likely when one of those daily frustrations comes up, you’re more likely to get a bigger reaction,’ said lead study author Dr. Jenny Radesky, a developmental behavioral pediatrician.” Read the rest here.

Who hasn’t been there? Especially while trying to work and school at home during COVID. And if you haven’t, a long break from school filled with extended family and friend visits and extra tasks to complete might send you there.

Sometimes these habits can be hard to break. I recall when my, now 21-year-old, son was in kindergarten, a teacher telling us “A lot of televisions seem to ‘break’ during kindergarten.” Our TV didn’t actually “break,” but throwing a cloth over it did wonders. However, as we all know, it just isn’t the TV in the corner seeming to allure us for some temporary peace and quiet anymore; everywhere you turn there is a tempting device, especially if you turned to them during the last few years.

I always found rather than taking something away from my children, it was easier to instead give something new or different. Even waaay back when I was a child, my mother had a plastic tub of rice with cups, measuring spoons, and sieves in it; kept away only for rainy days. I may not have enjoyed that if it had always been available, but it certainly made the rare indoor rainy day very exciting!

So, after you read “Giving your child a screen may hinder emotional regulation, study says. Here’s what to do instead”, here are some more media-free ideas for people of all ages to indulge in over break, and beyond:

  1. Make a big indoor tent/fort and read in it
  2. Visit the library
  3. Make a family tree
  4. Learn to play guitar or another new instrument
  5. Have a tea party
  6. Write a letter to a friend or relative
  7. Learn to play checkers or chess
  8. Write Thank You notes
  9. Go ice skating
  10. Plan a picnic
  11. Choose a new recipe to cook together
  12. Sing
  13. Make up a story together, two words at a time
  14. Take a walk or go on a nature scavenger hunt
  15. Visit the mountains


Knitting is Coding and More

Knitting is Coding and More

by Ashley Brickeen | Admissions Director, Nursery-Grade 8

Imagine your child learning a coding language that could be read, used and accurately executed hundreds of years into the future. That is knitting. Hundreds of years before computer coding, fiber artists had created a symbolic language that could be used by knitters, crocheters and weavers anywhere in the world to reliably create clothing, blankets and toys. With knitting, the code is based on K (knit) or P (purl) stitches rather than zeros and ones.

At its most basic, knitting is executing an algorithm. An algorithm is a set of steps used to complete a specific task. Students are given a code (knitting pattern) and they carefully translate the code, executing the functions in the code line by line, row by row. Knitting patterns often include looping instructions, similar to a while loop in coding.

At Waldorf Schools, we introduce students to knitting in first grade. Knitting strengthens the muscles of the hand, requires focused attention, and reinforces the mathematics students learn in their main lesson. In the early grades, students add and reduce rows and stitches, follow ratios and use mathematics to calculate gauge (variables that must be adjusted to ensure that their sock fits). Whether knitting, crocheting, or weaving, all of these patterns (codes) are executed line by line, row by row, as with computer coding.

In fifth grade, we introduce variables into the knitting pattern/code, much like a variable in a coding language. Pattern authors will create one pattern which will make an object of a certain size – for example, a pair of socks that will fit a medium-sized foot. Students, working with their teacher, learn how to replace certain variables within the pattern/code to make the final product the proper size. After weeks of careful, attentive work, they have the final creation – a beautiful sock, sized to fit their foot.

This relationship between fiber arts and coding is not accidental. The work of fiber artists and the patterns they created led directly to computer code. In the early 1800s, the Jacquard loom used a punch card system (hole/no hole) to create elaborate textile patterns. Mathematician Ada Lovelace was inspired by this process when she created what is considered the first example of computer programming, famously stating that “The Analytical Engine [the theoretical calculating machine] weaves algebraic patterns, just as the Jacquard-loom weaves flowers and leaves.” She pointed out that this binary process could be used for all sorts of complex calculations and in numerous fields of human endeavor.

While teachers do not make the linkage between fiber arts and computer coding languages explicit to our students, the knitters are still absorbing the lesson through the physical experience of knitting and crocheting, laying the groundwork for their future understanding when they do encounter their first computer language. Nowadays, this sort of learning is often called embodied cognition, a field of research which recognizes that the sensory and motor [movement] systems of the body are fundamentally integrated into cognition. While the field of embodied cognition is relatively new, Waldorf Education has worked out of the framework of embodied learning since its inception in 1919.

These embodied experiences can lead to major discoveries. In 1997, mathematician Dr. Daina Taimina attended a geometry workshop on the hyperbolic plane. Stated simply, hyperbolic geometry is used by statisticians when they work with multidimensional data and acoustic engineers when they design concert halls, among other things. At this time, mathematicians were unable to represent hyperbolic space physically. In the field of mathematics, hyperbolic space existed only in principle. What allowed Dr. Taimina to solve this problem while she sat in that lecture hall? She is an avid crocheter. While she had always seen algorithms and patterns in her crocheting, she now saw how she could easily create a physical model of hyperbolic space with yarn and a crochet hook.

Of course, as with so much in Waldorf Education, the handwork curriculum works within a student physically, emotionally, and intellectually. It develops aspects of character – patience, emotional resilience, and tenacity. It also lays the foundations for future learning and growth.


For more reading, see 

  • Crocheting Adventures with Hyperbolic Planes: Tactile Mathematics, Art and Craft for all to Explore, Second Edition by Dr. Daina Taimina
  • Making Mathematics with Needlework: Ten Papers and Ten Projects  by Dr. Sarah-Marie Belcastro
  • Siobhan Roberts, SR. (2019) ‘Knitting Is Coding’ and Yarn Is Programmable in This Physics Lab For Elisabetta Matsumoto, knot theory is knit theory, New York Times, May 17, 2019. Available here.

Feature Image credit: Daina Taimina, ‘Hyperbolic Crochet’. 10 Questions from Isolation. Fad Magazine.