Throughout parts of the day, the First Graders are asked to sit still, pay attention, and remember abstract shapes, like letters and numbers. In order for them to successfully accomplish this, they first must be able to feel and locate themselves in space. The ability to feel yourself in space is called proprioception. Many learning disabilities may be diagnosed when a child doesn’t develop healthy proprioception. When children engage in physical activities like sweeping with a broom, carrying groceries, hauling objects, hanging from monkey bars, skipping, tumbling, jumping and pushing wheel barrows, then the proprioceptive system is strengthened. When children do these types of activities they stimulate pressure receptors within their muscles, tendons and joints, thereby allowing their minds to make a map of the location of these various pressure receptors within the body. In this way the children develop a sense of their body and where it is in space. One of the many benefits to being oriented in space is the ability to track with their eyes from left to right – which is an essential component in the task of learning to read. It is no wonder that in First Grade, we engage in many activities that facilitate the strengthening of their proprioceptive systems.
Recently, the First Grade had a soap felting class with SWS parent Olga Lambert that turned out to be an hour and a half long proprioceptive system workout. From start to finish, the process was a breathing of beauty, art, and proprioceptive building activities. Imagine, once the colorful wool was divided and individual pieces were designed, the wool was whetted down with warm, wet, soapy water and placed between two sheets of bubble wrap. The children then stood up and used the weight of their whole body to press, push, and slide with their hands along the sudsy bubble wrap, imprinting their designs. Following this, the wool pieces, along with the bubble wrap, were rolled up in a kitchen towel and the children, now standing up and rocking forward and backward, used the weight of their whole bodies to roll these towels back and forth until soapy water was frothing forth from inside the towel folds. This rolling motion took about ten minutes of their time, but they were rewarded for their endurance when it was time to unfurl their pieces from the towel, lay their bubble wrap square flat on the ground, and slip and slide barefoot across it. When they had tired themselves out, they again rolled their rinsed piece in a towel. Activities like this show that strengthening the proprioceptive system can truly be a rich and rewarding experience. As is attested to by one very sincere First Grader when he exclaimed, “I think this is the best thing I have ever done in my whole life!”
If you would like to see the beautiful tapestry the First Grade created, be sure to attend Sandpoint Waldorf School’s Annual Dinner and Auction on April 13, 2013. It will be one of the many exciting items going to the highest bidder.
With special thanks to Olga Lambert and the entire SWS parent body for your inspiration, support and dedication to artistic, holistic education. ~Submitted by Sarah Shaffer