Grade Three has just returned from our week-long adventure to the farm program at Kroka (www.kroka.org), but we hadn’t even pulled out of the farm driveway before they were already asking for more. Kids who are tired, dirty, wet/cold, and missing the comforts of home…asking for more! In my estimation, that makes the experience a pretty big success.
To back up a bit, why do we put such an emphasis on farming and practical arts in third grade? Clearly not all children are going to live a lifestyle of farming and growing their own food, especially in our world of disposable and on-demand goods. Before you think I am condemning our modernity, know that the staff and students had a great conversation on the farm about how almost everything we did or used that week was actually technology in its time (rubber boots, axes, refrigeration, etc.); however, we also know as parents and educators that this world of ours can leave children feeling a bit lost and unfulfilled when they no longer have a necessary role to play. They don’t have to chop wood to stay warm, or collect the eggs for sustenance, or even conserve water so they don’t run the family well dry – these responsibilities used to carry them through this transitional age in their lives. During approximately the ninth year, children begin to see themselves differently in the world – to ask questions about what they observe and their role within it. They often feel alone and unsure, and experience emotions without a clear reason as to why. One of the ways the Waldorf curriculum meets this is to teach them how to be at home in the body they are awakening to. They learn to use it to do all of the work that used to be required to exist on this earth – farming, building, baking, etc. and to understand the origins from which they come. They also learn that “no man is an island”, as the saying goes. At the time when they most feel alone, we bring them together to work as a group, to find their tribe and to support each other, and to look outward to help the greater world around them. We do this through stories of the Hebrew myths – a people who came together time and time again to overcome obstacles, and we teach it in many other ways as well. Singing in rounds encourages them to both listen to each other and also carry their part within the group. In math we look at practical applications – time, measurement, money, etc. to give them even more tools to become confident citizens of this adult world that they are entering. We encourage teamwork, responsibility for self and others, and observing the world around them.
So back to the farm. Yes, of course we are going to have an experience of what farming looks and feels like, because most of us are extremely disconnected from that reality and it’s fun to try something new, but it doesn’t stop there. The students take on individual chores, with the knowledge of how those chores are all necessary for the success of the whole. They experience simplicity and rhythm, and joy in small things – like swimming in the pond after a long day of work, or how a fire comes to be. They meet challenges and face some of those emotions that they are still trying to understand, and are encouraged by their guides and peers to push their personal boundaries in a safe way. Above all, they take the time to reflect and speak honestly with each other about their days and experiences – to own weakness, to honor triumph, and to live in the present with those around them. The Kroka motto, “Where Consciousness Meets Wilderness” couldn’t be more accurate in describing this experience for my class. We met consciousness in our every decision, from not wasting food to understanding the needs of the animals and plants. We met it in the interconnectedness of our food systems, the ecosystems around us, and the living relationship between farm and farmer. We met wilderness in the extremes of weather, and in ourselves in the quiet of the nights when there were no more chores to be done. And yet, as I consider how to conclude this story, I am struck by how little I have actually said and my inability to do justice to the experience we had this year. It is not just the songs that have lingered long after the trip was over, but a more confident and closely-knit group of children ready to take on the world in so many ways – to support each other, to value the things we take for granted in our modern world, and to know that challenges can be overcome. Kroka also has a variety of summer experiences for students, as well as other types of school programs, and if you ask my third grade students who came together that week if they would do it again, they would say, “of course, we’re definitely going back!…right, Ms. Taylor?!” And I might just smile to myself for the time-being and consider what the future holds as they confidently march ahead to meet this big world.
written by Erica Taylor – 3rd grade teacher