[Note: This is a sponsored guest post contributed by Alia Goodyear of the Washington Waldorf School]
At this time of year, when the daylight hours are diminishing, there are many ways to celebrate light shining out in the darkness. This year in particular, our need to connect to our own inner light and that of our fellow creatures is palpable. As the days get shorter, we might also feel more restless as we hunker down at home. Participating in some type of festival can bring some balance, calm, and hope. Perhaps you have a traditional way of celebrating — maybe your family observed Diwali recently, you are steeped in Advent, or your family is preparing for Hanukkah, Winter Solstice, Christmas, or Kwanzaa. Perhaps you don’t have a tradition to guide your celebrations, but the idea of taking time to contemplate light shining out in dark times appeals to you.
At Waldorf schools, we do not teach any specific religion, but we honor the spiritual life and make space for our community to explore the grand themes of the human search for connection and purpose as well as the work of making our world a better place for all. In particular, we have a few ways that we celebrate light in dark times. Here, we share them with you in the hope that you may find something useful to help your family create new traditions, or enhance existing customs, as you find sparks of joy in these times and feel the glow of a hopeful heart.
This festival is held after dusk, when our lantern light breaks through the outer darkness of approaching winter. It marks the end of harvest and the beginning of winter. Carrying a light into the darkness in the company of others – as we do during the Lantern Walk – can be reassuring. This can be a good socially distanced activity to do with a friend or neighbor with whom you want to maintain or build a connection.
Making a lantern can be a fun activity at home, and it will foster anticipation for the walk. If you aren’t able to make your own, don’t let that stop you! You can use whatever portable light source you have available to take a walk in the darkness and see what you find!
Decorating a candle and holder is a great project, and the result is a unique light that can be lit with intention and feel very special. Your family may choose to light it at meal times or a young child’s bed time.
Look for a 1-2” slice of a thick tree branch or a thin trunk (a Christmas tree lot near you might have extras from the ends of trees they’ve sold). Drill a hole in the center to hold a tall candle, or a wide candle can sit on the wood or even just a little plate. To find decorations, you can pick up a few pine cones, acorns, berries, greens, etc. as you walk around your neighborhood or a park. Perhaps you already have some small treasures at home — seashells, stones, ribbons, etc. You can also order thin decorating beeswax to make shapes that will stick to the sides of your candle when warmed a bit.
Winter Spiral Walk
A beloved tradition in Waldorf schools is the winter spiral. Usually, it is a spiral walkway created from evergreen branches laid out on the floor and decorated with shells, crystals, and small figurines. At home, a simple pine garland or even a plain rope can be used to create a spiral. Lights in the room are kept low and at the heart of the spiral is a lit candle (the spiral can also be set up outside). Participants sit around the outside of the spiral and wait for their turn. In silence, or with soft musical accompaniment, each participant sits holding an unlit candle. Often the candles are set into apples as holders. On your turn, carry your candle to the center of the spiral, light the candle and then carry your light back out of the spiral into the world. We usually find a place along the spiral to set our lights so that, at the end of the walk, we can tangibly see how our lights combine to bring warmth and illumination to the space. See examples on Instagram.
With our hope for your family’s well being and that you find moments of light in difficult days…
The Washington Waldorf School
Founded in 1969, The Washington Waldorf School is a coed, PreK – 12 independent school in Bethesda, MD. Our teachers incorporate academic, artistic, and practical elements into every subject, creating memorable lessons, successful scholars, and strong individuals.
“Start by closing your eyes…the intensity, power of laughter, the pleasure and the joy are incomparable and unforgettable. Open your eyes, cut the sound: the joy on their faces, the enthusiasm, friendships, exploration, total and absolute engagement: pure enjoyment,” advises Fréderic Tavernier, the Director of the Maternelle Preschool at Rochambeau The French International School.
For a teacher, this small experiment is a way of reminding us that preschool and kindergarten are all about fun. “For the child, play is a source and a vehicle for learning,” he insists. This principle is at the heart of France’s official Maternelle program and at the core of the curriculum taught at Rochambeau The French International School Maternelle for children ages 2 through kindergarten.
While Rochambeau offers a comprehensive education all the way to 12th grade, “Maternelle is an essential step in the journey of students to ensure their academic success,” emphasizes Frédéric Tavernier. It is a school where children will learn together and live together. Here they develop their oral language and begin to discover writing, numbers, art, sciences… in both French and English. They learn through play, reflection, problem-solving, practice, recall, and memorization.
This attention for the well-being of the child, with a curriculum adapted to their rhythm, ensuring a balance between academics and recreation, meets the recommendations of American specialists. In August, the American Academy of Pediatrics sounded the alarm in a report expressing concern about the decline in the amount of time devoted to play in the lives of toddlers. “From 1981 to 1997, children’s playtime decreased by 25%. Children three to 11 years of age have lost 12 hours per week of free time. Because of increased academic pressure, 30% of US kindergarten children no longer have recess.”
The Maternelle teachers have one central goal: to ensure that the children are excited to go to school to learn, gain confidence, and develop their personality.
“Mission accomplished,” say parents like Erika Aparakakankanange. “When my children are at Rochambeau, they have so much fun that they don’t always realize that they are learning things, and for children like mine, who are not native French speakers, it makes the immersion process much easier…I can honestly say that my boys like to go to school every day and that is one of the many things we love about Rochambeau.”
“What I like,” says another parent, Sabine Durier, “is that the school combines classroom work, where all activities are intentional, with moments purely reserved for free time, where they can be children before they are students.”
Quoting Montaigne, the French philosopher, Maternelle teacher Bénédicte Le Nouën Maurice notes that “a child is not a vase that you fill, but a fire that you light”, which you let grow. “It’s important to give children free time to play, to make choices. This free time is not a waste of time, quite the contrary! During these moments of freedom, the child thinks about what he could play; he can make choices, invent, create, reach out to others. Many skills are built during this time. The child must not always be waiting for instructions, he must be able to learn to think for himself, to make his own choices, to invent, to create… and for this he needs free time.”
Preparing Global Citizens
Beginning at the preschool level and continuing through 12th grade, all students at Rochambeau, the French International School receive regular, guided instruction in both English and French, and can start a third language as early as elementary school (Arabic, Spanish).
Students represent more than 80 nationalities and communicate in over 25 different languages. As the only accredited French school in the Washington, DC, area, Rochambeau proudly enrolls children without any knowledge of French until the 4th grade. Our adapted immersion program gives students the opportunity to be part of and benefit from this extraordinary community.
Graduates of Rochambeau go on to study at top universities in the US, Canada, UK, France, and all around the world. Students receive their US high school diploma at the end of 11th grade and the French Baccalaureate at the end of 12th grade. Starting in 2021, Rochambeau will also offer the IB dual language diploma.