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.

Simple Thrills

Simple Thrills

by Jennifer Britton | Business Office Assistant & Alumni Parent

Adults working around a wooden piece of Faire equipment with tools scattered about.As a twenty-something-year alumni parent, volunteer, and current staff member, there are still moments when being in this community fascinates me or brings me unexpected joy. Two most recent ones come to mind. The first was on a recent Saturday when 1st, 4th, and 6th grade parent Leyla initiated a parent work day to do, what for me has been a long-term dream, a rehabilitation of our well-loved Winter Faire games infrastructure. There were coffee, baked goods, paints, buckets, rags, bins, prizes, drills, sand paper, batting, moss, tiny trees, strings, and more! The parking lot was transformed into an elves workshop (which used to be the name for our crafting workshop back in the earlier Faire days!!). Moms, dads, dogs, and kids all chipping in to make each game look brighter and more appealing to future games players. You’ll have to wait until Faire day to see the results but anyone who has been to the faire in the last four years or more will notice the upgrades. This makes me want to sing the folk song “Simple Gifts.”

A homemade castle wall and color wall of squares behind a group of adults with tools and painting equipment. There are some tools and paints scattered about the parking lot ground.The second experience involved goose bumps, the arrival of which one cannot control. I was in a junior/sophomore math class and the seniors were gone so the class was gifted with a special lesson on a fun applied math activity with Ms. O. She had mentioned that this had been shared with the faculty once and that added to my intrigue, plus she alerted me that it was about gerrymandering. It was fantastic, not only the actual manner in which she explained the history and set up a very relevant, hands-on application for it (we got to play with “stacking” the districts for a fictitious state legislative race) but also how the students engaged in it. I’m a huge verb fan and one of my favorites that I wish for us all is engagement. The students picked up on the assignment right away (asking fewer questions than I, by the way) and began feverishly to draw their district salamanders. The level of chatting was delicious as they went through three rounds of drawing their sacred lines of demarcation. But the debrief, the “why” and “what could happen if…” and “what else could be done instead?” series of questions and answers was gobsmacking to listen to. Students really grasped the shortcomings of this system and one student who was familiar with elections, current elections, in Israel chimed in with insights about an alternative used there that has parties so disparate that it has its own level of mayhem, confusion and ineffectiveness. Just another day in a Waldorf math class. Commence goosebumps (another fun verb, commence).

Thanksgiving through the Advent Season

Thanksgiving through the Advent Season

by Ami Evergreen | Pedagogical Administrator, Nursery-Grade 8

A spiral of greens large enough for people to walk in-between them, lit by apples holding candles.

For the bountiful gifts the earth bestows upon us, for the gold hues that adorn the land, for the richness of each sunrise and each day’s glory in our valley–our attention to these details can be the heartseed of a family Thanksgiving festival, and sustained through the four weeks of Advent. The growing year has come full circle as the harvest comes in. Grains, fruits, vegetables, and nuts fill the larders, imbuing us with a sense of completion and gratitude for the miracle of nature–if we take the time to turn our inner gaze towards these gifts.

The harvest season is universal; the harvest festivals are among the most ancient known to mankind. The Egyptians and Chinese gave thanks for well-filled storehouses. The Hindus held a festival for Gauri, the goddess of the harvest, where girls wore flowers in their hair. The ancient Greeks honored Demeter, the goddess of agriculture, while the Romans celebrated the festival of Ceralia, dedicated to Ceres, goddess of vegetation. The Hebrews celebrate the Feast of the Tabernacles, or Sukkoth. Native Americans celebrate the harvest by giving thanks to the spirits of the woods for wild game, of the lakes for fish, and of the fields for berries and nuts. At the traditional Green Corn ceremony, the fires of the old year were put out and new ones kindled. Everywhere on Earth the harvest kindles gratitude. During the Middle Ages, England and Europe kept the tradition of the harvest festival known as “Harvest Home.” The villagers went out to the field and decorated the last load of grain with ribbon and flowers. The people danced around it singing songs of thanks.

In that same spirit, a sixth grade student composed this poem:

In between Fall’s final harvest, and Winter’s first bite
comes a golden hour,
a time to mull things over
and feel thankful for all the good fortune that drifted our way
while we were too busy to notice.
My family, home, warmth, food, my friends, teacher, school, church,
animals, transportation, kindness–
my whole life!

To honor the kingdoms that give of their substance to support us humans in our endeavors, we offer one week to each in December. Minerals, plants, and animals fortify our lives with the yield of their lives. Each Monday in December on the Los Altos campus, the children will assemble to hear a story and sing, sharing in giving extra attention to each kingdom. On the fourth week–the week of humankind–we must ask: what is our yield, or the gift we as humans bring forth from our lives?

Below are the classic verses sung in Waldorf schools around the world:

The first light of Advent is the light of stones,
stones that live in crystals, seashells, and bones.

The second light of Advent is the light of plants,
roots, stem, leaf, flower, and fruit by whom we live and grow.

The third light of Advent is the light of beasts,
animals of farm, field, forest, air, and sea.

The fourth light of Advent is the light of humankind,
the light of love, the light of thought, to give and understand.

The Garden Gate: Acorns, Frosts, and Composts

The Garden Gate: Acorns, Frosts, and Composts

by by Phil Dwyer | Earth Arts Teacher

Many crows gather early every morning under a large oak where I live. They take advantage of the cars squishing the acorns that fall in the residential parking lot and driveway. A number of gray and black squirrels busily scurry around the trees’ bounty, too. Similar acorn enthused activity is taking place on our Mountain View campus among its oak trees in the middle school courtyard. Deciduous trees are shedding their leaves. Plants are generally withdrawing from their outward spring and summer growth, as if retreating back into the Earth. We’ve had our first frosts in the garden, which seem to herald that the formative, crystalline forces will rule for the months to come, rather than the curvy biomorphic forms of the dynamic growth forces of the warmer months.

Many biodynamic (BD) farmers capitalize on the shift of energies into the earth during this time of year. Compost yards fill up with new piles of biomass to ferment and transform over the winter. The digesting activity of blooms of countless microorganisms (trillions per “handful” of now steaming biomass) heat up the compost heaps.

Pictured above is a recently created “fresh” compost pile of several cubic yards of biomass (approximately 10’x5’x5’), which will probably yield a couple of yards of finished compost.

As if to confirm the legitimacy of the compost thermometer, many students often thrust their hands into the compost heap to feel it for themselves. (We always wash our hands after every gardening class.) They can attest that things are heating up even though the days are getting cooler. In the Spring, wheelbarrows of transformed compost humus will return to the school’s garden beds to enliven our clay soils and join with the plants in their dance of photosynthesizing the sun.

Many BD farms craft a specialized compost made from cow manure. Students are pictured here taking turns “stirring” fresh manure and mixing it with pulverized egg shells, rock mineral dusts, and diatomaceous earth. It all got buried in a brick-lined pit where the five BD compost preparations—made from chamomile, yarrow, dandelion, nettle, oak bark, and valerian—were added. When this all eventually turns to humus it will become a unique compost concentrate, which will be an incredible catalytic aid for the formative and growth forces of the living realm of our campus. We eagerly look forward to putting it to good use!