Imagine waltzing, planting a cocoa tree, and even visiting Germany as well as a Spanish-speaking country, and even seeing the universe — all on stage, and as a young student no less.
Children in grades one through eight did all of this, and more, in the Housatonic Valley Waldorf School Language Assembly, at Newtown Middle School on March 23. The waltzing was real, as was the singing of songs … the tree growing and country tours/exploration of the universe, of course, were acted out. This was all done as part a the school’s approach to studies of German and Spanish, languages the students learn to not only speak, but express through various means, including art, history, dance, and music.
The students, the youngest of whom were accompanied by the seventh- and eighth-graders, sang songs relating to German and Spanish cultures. Fourth-graders waltzed to German music (“Schneewalzer, or “Snow Waltz”) on stage, then surprised the audience when they went into the aisles to dance with their parents — the boys with their moms and girls with their fathers. They sang part of “De Colores,” a folk song from Spain about the colors of nature — and did so while displaying colorful pieces of fabric.
Fifth graders acted out a poem by Argentinean Enrique Rivarola about planting and honoring a cocoa tree and producing chocolate. This was done to show the audience how the young learners conjugate, in the present tense, the irregular verbs “ser” and “estar,” which express two aspects of the verb “to be.”
The sixth graders used props and backlighting to view the planets through a makeshift microscope as part of their reading of “El Laboratorista,” a poem by Chilean poet Pablo Neruda.
Ever wonder what happens when Spanish-speaking tourists visit Germany and the travelers and store workers only speak their native languages? When all happen to be seventh- and eight-graders what happens is the audience laughs. The students showed, during an entertaining skit which included making animal noises to clarify what foods they wanted at the different stores, how tricky it can be, all the while sharing their newfound knowledge of different languages.
Each grade acted out stories or sang songs in both German and Spanish, and even conversed with some of the parents in German during a portion of the assembly.
Volunteer accordion player Fran Hendrickson performed German music during parts of the assembly. Language teacher Maestra Marcela handed props to the students as they sang about a variety of trades. Ms Marcela noted that the performances served as a way for the students to showcase what they have learned about a language from which English was derived.
“This is the culmination of everything they’ve worked for,” said James Stringer, parent of Emily Stringer.
Melissa Merkling, founder of the school, and a second grade teacher this year, noted that the Waldorf approach goes beyond the traditional ways of learning. “It’s not just memorization. It involves music, and story, and song,” Ms Merkling said.
“They learn the languages in such lively, colorful ways that it’s very easy to put on an assembly program like this,” said German teacher Connie Greguski, known by her students by her German birth name, Frau Garten. She added that the teachers speak to their students in German or Spanish, exclusively, during two language-learning classes per week.