The Waldorf Way: Waldorf insights: Understanding the teenage brain

By Amy Williams

The idea that parenting teenagers is difficult is well-known, but less discussed is how their growth and development of a teenager's brain results in causing them to exercise different judgment than they later will as an adult. Knowing about the overall development of the brain as a teen grows and develops can inform parents about providing what their children need while traveling toward adulthood.

The structure of the brain

A human brain is made of several important sections that perform specific functions. The brain stem — located at the base of the skull and connecting directly to the spine — controls involuntary and basic functions like breathing, regulating body temperature and blood pressure. Above that is the temporal lobe, which controls hormones and memory. At the very front of the skull is the frontal lobe, controlling rational thought, self-control and the ability to consider the consequences of actions, whether good or bad.

The most significant fact about the teen-age brain is that it develops not evenly but from the back to the front. This can account for the overwhelming hormonal changes and emotional outbursts that teens are known for, along with the inability to really think through the consequences of their actions. This makes teens more susceptible to risky behavior and peer pressure.

Comparing a teen and adult brain

Compared to an adult, a teenager's brain is only 80 percent developed, which goes against the theory that teenagers are basically adults with less life experience. Teens have more disconnected synapses that impairs their judgment.

Teens also use less of the prefrontal cortex, the part of the frontal lobe that allows humans to read other people's emotions. They are also unable to balance their own emotions due to this underdeveloped part of the frontal lobe. This combination leads to a variety of conflicts between parents and teens due to simple miscommunication.

Even mature teens aren't really mature

Regardless of how responsible and well-behaved a teen may appear, the biological fact is that his or her brain is simply not ready for judgment calls that adults often face. They do not have the same understanding of how their behavior can affect their own lives or those of other people. Even though teens seem really ready for more independence, they still need parents to be available, listen and intervene when necessary in life's challenges.

What teens need

A teenager's brain is more sensitive to overload, especially when it comes to sensory stimuli. While teens typically learn faster than adults, they can become overwhelmed, especially when feeling stress or deprived of sleep. This can also lead teenagers feeling more susceptible to peer pressure and the inability to make sound decisions.

As a result, teenagers need more restful sleep and down time than adults might. Because they are busy and quite easily distracted, they need plenty of healthy, whole food to feed their bodies and minds. They also need parents who are willing to be there, listen, talk and provide the structure for teens to stretch against as they continue to grow and develop. Clear expectations and healthy boundaries help teenagers feel secure and provide a firm foundation for their brain development.

 

The White Mountain Waldorf School offers nursery through grade 8. The school is located 2 miles south of Conway Village. It is offering tiered tuition for the 2016-2017 school year. Call (603) 447-3168 if you would like more information or to schedule a tour. You can learn more about the school by visiting www.WhiteMountainWaldorf.org

 

Amy Williams is a journalist based in Southern California. As a mother of two, she has learned a lot of things the hard way, and hopes to use her experience as a parent to help other parents raise their children to be the best that they can be.

 

The Waldorf Way: White Mountain Waldorf Forest Kindergarten

By Heidi Miller

Take a moment and think back to your favorite childhood memory. Most often when adults are asked to recall a cherished memory, those memories take place in nature and involve outdoor play. Every Friday, at the White Mountain Waldorf School, the kindergarten class journeys up into the school's 75-acre forest where they have created their own outdoor classroom. The children in this class are making those joyful memories we are all so fond of, and establishing a strong foundation from which they will continue to grow and learn.

Nature and outdoor play are fundamental in childhood and promote every aspect of the developing child. We understand the physical abilities that are supported while playing outside and how important vigorous activity is to the development of a child's heart, lungs and muscles, but it is also vital for healthy brain development as well.

Within situations that only nature can produce, our children are able to sharpen their problem-solving, reasoning and awareness skills. Their senses are heightened while outdoors allowing them to acquire competent abilities to observe and concentrate. Natural elements also give our children the chance to be creative and use their imaginations, which is ultimately what makes the greatest thinkers.

I spent a morning observing this incredible forest kindergarten, and I was pleased to see the learning opportunities offered in this environment. After hiking up a slight slope, a magical misty mountain in the eyes of a child, the forest levels off and opens up to reveal a cleverly put together classroom that the children and teachers have been building since the start of school in September. The lovely sound of a stream trickles nearby, while birds sing their beautiful songs overhead. There is a circle of stumps all thoughtfully placed where the children gather for snack and listen to their teacher telling descriptive seasonal stories.

When I arrived the children were working hard to complete their fire pit in time for winter. They sang and worked together, digging up rocks near the stream and carrying them one by one to create a circle for the fire to stay in. Tasks were easily delegated and accepted, for each child knew they must all do their part to get the job done. Our natural environment is a wonderful social atmosphere that encourages children to work together collaboratively in the real world. This environment also fosters relationships between children, as well as increasing an understanding of their relationship to other living things.

Nature and outdoor play also assist in the development of life skills as well. Children are able to develop their passions, character and integrity when interacting with the natural world, as well as given the opportunity to practice taking risks. Great confidence and self-awareness are instilled as these students build their classroom out of the natural elements around them. In this situation, the children are taught the importance of living a healthy lifestyle, which includes taking care of the earth.

I watched as a group of children carefully constructed "fairy and gnome houses" at the edge of the woods. Each child told adventurous tales of the tiny creatures who would soon come to reside in their thoughtfully decorated homes, complete with bits of homemade muffins left over from snack! There is a harmonious sense of wonder in the forest and a breath of fresh air that give these children the freedom to just be kids.

Our children's lives can become overwhelmed with hectic schedules and media everywhere we look. Being outside in nature can actually help in alleviating stress, depression and overall health issues that are prevalent in children today. The rise of obesity and other non-communicable diseases are causing serious health concerns for future generations, which is why providing children opportunities to learn how to live a healthy, active lifestyle with reverence for the earth is so important.

The White Mountain Waldorf School takes great pride in encouraging students to connect with nature as they develop a love for learning. The teachers know how important it is to provide opportunities for children to create those same meaningful childhood memories that we all hold so dear in our hearts. It is this combination of a connection with nature and those fond memories that will help children to develop a sense of identity and the skills necessary to grow into healthy, contributing members of our community.

Call Enrollment Director Denice Tepe for more information or to join for a tour at(603) 447-3168 or go to www.WhiteMountainWaldorf.org

Heidi Miller, who has a M.S. Ed in Early Childhood, is currently working at the White Mountain Waldorf School.

 

Raider Profiles: Brandon Ludwig, a senior at Fryeburg Academy

By Rachel Damon

5-23-raider-profile-brandon-ludwigSenior Brandon Ludwig has enjoyed his three years at Fryebug Academy. (RACHEL ANDREWS DAMON PHOTO)So what's up with your name? Are you Brandon or Aaron? "My name is Aaron Brandon Michael Ludwig. My father's name is Aaron so everyone calls me Brandon. Yes confusing!"

Tell me about your family? "My mother is Tasha Klug and my father is Aaron Ludwig. I have a 6-year-old sister, a 10-year-old brother, a 13-year-old brother and two step brothers, 7 and 9. I'm the oldest. My mother is a waitress and my dad is a security guard. All live in St. Louis."

Where are you from? "I'm from St. Louis, Missouri. I live with my grandparents, John and Cindy Ludwig, in Denmark. They moved here 14 years ago."

Did you move here to go to FA? "Yes. St. Louis is a big city. I would have attended an inner city public school. That would not be bad but there are better opportunities up here. I've been at FA for three years."

Do you love St. Louis? "Yes. There's so much to do in St. Louis. So many pro sports. We have our baseball team, the St. Louis Cardinals, football team, the St. Louis Rams and ice hockey is the St. Louis Blues. It's all right there."

How about basketball? "I love the Celtics! And even before I moved here I was a huge Red Sox and Pats fan."

Are you a good student academically? "I would say so. I get all A's & B's. My favorite classes are anatomy with Mr. (Scott) Cote-Crosskill and ethics with Mr. (David) Jones."

What about athletics at FA? "I am a football, basketball and baseball player. It's a tie between baseball and football as my favorite. I was one of the captains of the football team this year and captain of baseball this year and my junior year. I never played football until ninth grade. I've always leaned towards baseball as my No. 1 sport. I play shortstop and will pitch on occasion."

How about clubs and other extra-curriculars? "No I am not involved in any clubs."

Who are your favorite teachers at FA? "Mr. (Stew) Frost, Mr. (Scott) Cote-Crosskill, Mr. (David) Jones and Ms. (Fran) Pouzol. I think they are really great teachers with great teaching ethics. They explain things very well and in detail."

Looking back at your three years at FA what is your assessment? "I love it up here. I love Fryeburg Academy and the more open policies with more independence. Here you don't have someone reminding you constantly about getting your work done or telling you what to do every step of the way. Once you get on the right track of self-discipline it works. I love the atmosphere and love being in a small town. If there's any flaw here it's that having it so open might give younger kids opportunities where they don't' make the right choices and then they don't get their work done."

What is your advice for younger students? "Make sure you focus during your freshman year. You might not think colleges look at that but they do. Get your homework done. You'll be happier in the end!"

What is your political bent? "I don't have one."

How about hobbies? "I play sports and love watching sports. I like hanging out with friends and fishing in Moose Pond."

What's your favorite book? "'The Hunger Games.' I like the story. It's very different. And action-packed."

What music do you like? "I like all kinds of music and don't prefer one over the other. I love the Zac Brown Band."

What's your favorite movie? "'Stepbrothers.' I love comedies and really like anything with Kevin Hart or Jonah Hill."

What is your plan after graduation? "I'm going to UNE (University of New England in Biddeford) and will be studying to become a physician's assistant. I plan to do four years of undergrad and then a master's. I love New England and want to stay here. I've grown fond of it. The people are friendly and open. You can spend a day by yourself on the lake and not find tons of people."

Do you have a message for your parents as you approach graduation? "Yes. I really appreciate how much you all have done for me. You've gotten me through a lot and put me on the right track. You've raised me to be a good person and I thank you for that."

 

The Waldorf Way — Kindergarten Soup

By Holly Fortin

"Is it soup day today?"

Eager, shining faces appear at the door of the playroom. A change to indoor shoes, a hasty kiss for mom or dad, then a few skips bring the children to the round table where they are greeted with scrubbers, vegetable peelers, cutting boards, knives and an empty soup pot.

Many enter with a vegetable or a handful of herbs, carefully chosen at home as an offering for the communal pot. A few have forgotten, but they learn they can depend on others — there is always enough to share.

The teacher, already sitting and chopping, welcomes them to the table. Does the carrot need to be washed? Can I peel the potato? Who will pick the seeds off the head of dill? Someone can harvest a few leaves from the rosemary plant in the window. Contented activity permeates the room — a song is in order:

"Chop, chop, choppity chop
We cut off the bottom and cut off the top
What we have left goes into the pot."

Parents who try unsuccessfully to duplicate Kindergarten Soup at home often forget to sing. Remember: you cannot have Kindergarten Soup without poetry. It simply will not taste the same.

The children work hard to make their soup — chopping, laughing, talking and singing. They learn to value and enjoy their work. They learn to be a part of a group working creatively together. Some children chop for as long as the vegetables hold out. Others run off to play after a few minutes. Some do not even come to the table today, but all enjoy the warm fragrance of soup as it drifts through free play, rest, and circle. Stomachs growl in anticipation! Then, at last, it is snack time.

The table is carefully set with rainbow-colored place mats, cloth napkins in personal napkin rings, handmade ceramic cups. Children take turns passing out spoons, plates, juice and bowls of warm, tantalizing soup. Bread, made by the children the day before, rests already buttered on serving plates. Apples, vigorously polished and cut, stand ready. A hush settles on the group.

"Now we thank thee for this food,
For rest and home and all things good.
For wind and rain and sun above,
But most of all, for those we love."

A few words of thanks sung together and then a circle of hands around the table: "Blessings on the meal!"

With the noise of eating comes shared observations: There's my sweet potato. Who brought peas? Look at those funny noodles! One week everyone brings carrots. One week beets color the soup an unusual pink. Red cabbage turns blue and has a strong taste — chemistry in action! Because of the rhythm and sameness of making soup every week, the children are able to truly see and taste the particularities of each week's creation. This kind of attentiveness is, of course, a foundation for both art and science.

But children do not need to know that yet. What they do know is the wonderful sense of well-being and contentment that comes from good food, lovingly prepared and joyfully eaten together. Kindergarten Soup!

 

The Waldorf Way: 'Literacy for life'

By Holly Fortin

No books? Stunned faces stared at me, clouded with skepticism and disbelief. I was taking a class in early childhood education when I shared this startling bit of news: My kindergarten classroom had no library, no reading corner, quite literally — no books! How could this be?

As I have often shared with perspective parents, I recognize that the children who attend our school already have a multitude of opportunities to experience print. Parents have books in the home and read to their children. Print is everywhere and highly valued. If I thought otherwise, I would reassess this issue. But given that reality, what can I offer that children are not already getting in abundance?

I suggest that an exposure to a rich oral tradition of language, combined with imaginative imagery and adequate movement, is the best preparation for later literacy and is sorely lacking for many children today — even the most privileged.

Children need to hear language, use language, move to language. They need a constant supply of age-appropriate stories, rhymes and verses to fire their enthusiasm for language. Too often, in our zeal for helping children learn to read, we do not provide a firm enough foundation for wanting to read. Despite all the years schools have spent teaching reading at earlier and earlier ages, society is becoming increasingly aliterate. An aliterate is one who knows how to read but who doesn't choose to read. In our rush to present the mechanics, we have clouded the purpose.

So what do I provide in the Waldorf kindergarten that replaces books and direct reading instruction?

In a formal way, we have three points in the day where I present language "instruction." When the children arrive in the morning, we have a short sit-down circle to share songs and verses accompanied by gesture.

Mid-morning we have a longer circle time that involves larger movement. An opening song and verse and a closing verse give constancy throughout the year, but the rest of the content changes every two to three weeks. The circle content may be a fairy tale or seasonal theme put to song and verse. It often contains circle games once learned from companions in the neighborhood, but now sadly missing in children's highly scheduled lives.

Finally, at the end of the morning, I tell a story to the children. Room darkened, with one dim light as a point of focus, I paint a picture with words, allowing each child the freedom to image inwardly what I am describing. This experience of learning to "see with the mind's eye" is a far cry from children's daily exposure to pre-made images from the media and illustrated children's books. This form of seeing necessitates active participation. It promotes focused listening and develops reflective thought, memory and attention.

With an emphasis on listening and comprehension skills versus early reading, I can present a complexity of story line and vocabulary not found in early readers, one far more stimulating and interesting to a young child's inquisitive mind.

Sandwiched between these three more focused points in the morning are a multitude of opportunities for conversation and interactive modeling of language. Creative free play necessitates much conversation and negotiation.

Snack and artistic activities happen at our large oval table — not unlike a family meal. We work hard to listen to each other, to modulate our voices, to remember our manners. Language used in context provides meaning. Language used in early readers is pointless and pale in comparison.

Finally, movement is honored throughout the day as children's primary mode of learning at this age. Coordinated movement helps develop articulated speech — particularly movement that involves fingers and toes. Fine-motor activities, with an emphasis on meaningful activity — cutting vegetables for soup, kneading bread, finger crocheting ropes for playtime — coupled with gestures in circle and many finger plays, provide this opportunity in abundance. Large-motor activity, whether in archetypal circle gestures or in active free play, strengthens motor synapses in the brain that are next-door neighbors to the neurons that manage mental behaviors — including attention.

Does any of this imply I do not value reading? Of course not. Reading is my greatest joy and I hope every child in my classroom will eventually feel the same. But I recognize reading as only a tool — a means to share in the thoughts of others — and the Waldorf approach seeks to support a lifelong relationship to language or literacy in the broadest sense.

Join us any Tuesday at 8 a.m. for a tour of the school. Call Enrollment Director Denice Tepe (603) 447-3168 or go to www.WhiteMountainWaldorf.org

Holly Fortin is a teacher and a founder of the White Mountain Waldorf School in Albany.