At the beginning of the school year, transitions are on everyone’s minds. We all have to work hard to get back into routines at home and at school. It can be an exhausting time! For children who are at a transition point in their schooling, this time of year is filled with excitement, anticipation and also trepidation. It is important to us to support our students well as they navigate these tender points of growth and expansion. Along with that, we want to support the entire family, and to allow time for the various emotions and concerns that can arise at these transition points.
Many of our early childhood students are entering school for the first time this year. It is a big deal for them and their parents! We have found that the best way to support our newest students during this time is to keep the daily schedule consistent and calm, and to allow plenty of time for each transition throughout the day. We ask parents to do the same at home, giving children plenty of unscheduled after school time to process and rest from the busy morning.
Sometimes some of our new students do cry at drop-off and our teachers provide extra love and warmth to help those who are having a hard time separating from their parents. We also have a tea for the parents on the first day of school, so that we can all support one another through this natural, but challenging transition. In subsequent days, administrative staff are available to check in with parents about drop-off time, offering support and answering questions as needed. It is comforting to the children to have each day at school follow a similar rhythm. By the end of the first week, most children are starting to settle in and it doesn’t take long for the rest to follow suit.
Our new first graders are also at an important transition point in their school lives. We honor this momentous step during our Wildflower Ceremony on the first day of school each year. This also marks the beginning of the partnership between the first graders and the eighth graders, that will continue throughout the year. The 8th graders are thrilled to be there for their 1st graders, to help teach them to knit, to carve pumpkins together and to play outside at recess time. The partnership is lovely for both of them and allows the 1st graders to feel immediately welcomed into the grade school community. First graders also enjoy a calm and rhythmic start to the year, with the general routine staying the same every day, providing stability and reassurance for the class.
The next big transition point is moving from 4th grade to 5th grade. In our school, classes enter a new building in 5th grade. While they are not quite yet in middle school, they are entering a new chapter filled with greater responsibility and depth. In fifth grade executive skills are taught and practiced, so that the students gradually develop good habits and become increasingly independent learners. Once the year gets more fully underway, fifth graders will have a regular homework routine. Teachers at this level place an emphasis on taking care of school materials, especially in the transitions between home and school, and developing strong and lasting study habits.
Later in the year, the 5th grade will join with other Waldorf schools for the Pentathlon. The expectations of this event and the reverence with which it is held, honors the children and the work they have put in toward developing their sense for uprightness and responsibility within their larger community. In 6th grade we have the Knighting Ceremony, which also is a touch point for the child entering adolescence. It is a time for self-reflection, for each child to begin to recognize her own strengths and stumbling points. It is also a time for the community of teachers to share their respect and appreciation with each student. This moment of awakening to the importance of each individual within the framework of a larger community, is a first step for students in developing a sense of responsibility for others.
Each teacher finds ways to honor the transition points at the beginning and end of the school year. Second grade is not the same as first, even though the teacher and classmates might be familiar. We recognize this and do our best to support our students through the challenges and the excitement that can arise with newness. It might be a certain story that is told. Or a small gift is given for students to carry with them over the summer. Some of the older classes begin the year with camping trips or other outings that help to bring everyone together. In any case, these transition moments are always on our minds, and in tending to them, we help our students to enter fully into the new adventures that the next year holds.