Marcela Perez, HVWS Spanish Teacher

When my daughter was three years old, I visited the kindergarten at HVWS. It soon became clear, after having visited other schools, that I wanted her to attend a school where developing children’s imagination was one of the most important goals. The few toys in the classroom were objects that could be used in multiple ways to invent many different worlds and tell a variety of stories created by children at play. The kindergarten teachers also emphasized the importance of spending time in nature and being prepared to play outdoors under sunny skies as well as under rain or snow during the cold winter days.This year, the opportunity to have the whole Grades playground as the Spanish classroom has opened a new range of possibilities for my students and me to further explore the above two principles of Waldorf education. We have, marvelously, also been granted permission to use a bit of the woods next to the playground.

I have been teaching Spanish at HVWS for about twelve years, and over time I have developed a curriculum and gathered all sort of materials to teach my classes, such as illustrated stories, puppet shows, skits, games, songs, verses, and poems. Throughout the years I have also been particularly interested in including indoor and outdoor movement for grades 1 through 8.

Having the outdoor space available for teaching Spanish throughout the entire year has inspired me to work on a new curriculum for each grade, taking advantage of the outdoor environment. I am most excited about being able to bring the essence of the Waldorf kindergarten approach to teaching and learning Spanish to the grade school students.

Why is imagination so important? Many thinkers from different fields have written about this extensively. To put it succinctly, imagination is the essential source of human creativity. Steiner explored the depths of this subject in his book, “The Philosophy of Freedom,” and as the title suggests, he writes about the intrinsic relationship between imagination and human freedom. My favorite philosopher, Eugenio Trias (Barcelona 1942-2013), wrote about creative imagination in several of his books. He defined it as the permanent laboratory for what is possible. He would add that we need the power afforded by our capacity to create mental images and visualize what is absent in the present, to investigate desired outcomes in many areas of our lives.

Imagination definitely helps one enjoy working as a teacher. It is most useful when figuring out how to deal with difficult emotions, necessary when working with other people to come up with solutions to challenging situations and problems, and last but not least, handy when desiring to create extra fun in life.

As my students and I find ourselves in the wide outdoors, we are asked to look at our surroundings with resourceful eyes. What new ways are now available to learn vocabulary, grammar rules, and verb conjugation? How do we take advantage of the environment at our disposal so the Fourth Graders can learn to write and read Spanish? Can we use the settings nature offers us to perform a skit, present a puppet show, or illustrate the words of a song about the rain while it’s pouring? How many more outdoor games and activities can we invent to learn the language? What can we create to welcome the winter weather?

Aside from making sure everyone has their rain and winter gear, we need to be resourceful when it comes to spending our 45-minute class under different weather conditions, and make rain, snow and chilling wind part of our class content. The deep connection we have with nature must now be explored through a more intense experience of the seasons, which requires constant attention and response to temperature, wind speed, chance of precipitation, and ground conditions. Lots of time checking the Weather Channel…

Creating a new curriculum for all the grades is necessarily a work in process, open to experimentation and co-creation with the students. The weather has been incredibly sunny so far this school year and has allowed us to do all sorts of outdoor activities. Below are some examples of what we did in the fall, and what we are doing this winter.

Grade 1
Since the school year started, the First Graders have been getting acquainted with the Spanish language through games, verses, and songs. Throughout the fall we created many activities around the story of a little chick searching for shelter when lost in the rain. The children watched the puppet show performed under the new Pavilion, learned the little chick’s song, “Los Pollitos,” and dressed up as the chick, frog, mother hen, and other characters from the story to perform the skit under the Pavilion. Since the Second and Third Graders have been building shelters in the woods next to the playground, the First Graders had a chance to perform the little chick story using this special setting. This week we are starting a new project. The First Graders will be walking around the area where the shelters are being built and will learn and perform a story of little forest gnomes based on the song “Hay Diez Duendecitos.” Each gnome will gather something from the woods—such as stones, branches, or nuts—as we sing the song.
Grades 2 and 3
In the fall, the Second and Third Graders increased their vocabulary through different activities based on the story of a pirate and his friends. This story got interrupted last school year when we had to move our lessons to Zoom and since the children were really enjoying it, they were happy to resume where we left off. The students learned the names of many sea creatures and moved around the playground swimming like a walrus or moving like a sea urchin or crab. They also recreated parts of the story in sand and earth, using elements from nature available to them. When the pirate and his friend the donkey got sick, the children dressed as ancient healers and went in teams to invent medicines to cure them both. Some were edible medicines created from ingredients from their vegetable garden, and some were less edible and used minerals from the earth. (I played the pirate in this skit and had to taste them all!!) In the next chapter, they crawled through tunnels to experience a trip the pirate took with his friends in an underground passage through a mountain. In the spring we may do some treasure hunts.

This January, in relation to their housebuilding block in main lesson, the children have been working in small groups to build shelters in the woods that may be useful on the days when they want to find protection from the chilling winter wind or cold rain. As they work on their projects, they are learning a song about a house. They will also learn and perform a skit, “La Ranita Cuacuana,” about shelters in the woods using the settings they have built.

Grade 4
The Fourth Graders’ main task in the fall was to learn to read and write Spanish. They learned the Spanish alphabet, practiced writing and reading words they learned in previous years, and then worked on learning new vocabulary and labeling things in the playground such as the bell, stairs, fence, trees, earth, sand, swings, seesaw, etc. Once things were labeled, the students received little papers with items’ names written on them and had to go find the items in the playground. Towards the end they took turns writing the names of their favorite places so they could go visit them.

This January, the Fourth Graders have been working on a project related to their main lesson block about animals.  They were asked to list animals that carry their homes with them, such as turtles, and given cardboard boxes and duct tape to imitate them and create a house-shell they could wear and carry wherever they go. These portable houses provide them with shelter from the winter wind, and the overall project offers them lots of new vocabulary to write and read. Once all their shell-houses are ready they will perform a brief poem about a turtle called, “La Tortuga Uga Uga.”

Grades 5 and 6

This year the Fifth and Sixth Graders’ main goal is to develop verb conjugation skills. They worked throughout the fall on conjugating regular verbs in the present tense and learning the playground vocabulary in order to do some of their favorite activities. They wrote the conjugations and sentences on their small whiteboards, learned them by heart, and recited them every time they wanted to use the swings for a few minutes, climb a tree, or do other activities.

Since school started in January, they have been working on building individual portable teepees to fend off the cold and wind. These teepees may allow them to write on their boards more comfortably and are the topic of a building skit they will learn and perform once their building activities are completed. This project has offered them many opportunities to increase their vocabulary and practice their recently acquired skill for conjugating regular verbs in the present tense, such as: I look for sticks in the woods; you cut the sticks; she ties the sticks; we build a teepee…

Grades 7 and 8
At the beginning of the school year, the Seventh and Eighth Graders got to play outdoor games with questions and answers and practice the vocabulary they had acquired over the years. Nevertheless, I decided to work mainly indoors with this group, as they are focused on learning to write grammatically correct sentences in Spanish, and a desk happens to be very handy for this type of activity. Outdoor periods will happen occasionally so we can do movement exercises and games.

During the fall the Seventh and Eighth Graders concentrated on learning to write letters to one of their classmates who was in Mexico for a few months. They practiced the vocabulary and grammar rules they have learned over the years and learned the past tense of regular verbs.

This January they have been working on grammar exercises in preparation for writing short stories.

The experiences with all the grades have been rewarding and I greatly appreciate the support and collaboration I have received from my colleagues, my students, and their parents.

The school leaders and our Facilities Manager have put enormous effort into making substantial playground improvements. As I see the outdoor space as my classroom, I can’t thank them enough for continuing to provide sheltered spaces throughout the year and adding interesting equipment for all ages.

Maria Wolff, a longtime Waldorf teacher and my mentor, has also offered me all sorts of interesting materials that I am now able to use alongside outdoor activities to enrich the language experience in each grade.

Finally, it is my students’ enthusiasm for exploring outdoor activities which inspires me to find Arctic-appropriate weather gear and continue to come up with ways of teaching Spanish in all kinds of weather!

Marcela was born in Bogota, Colombia and is fluent in Spanish and French. She studied Architecture at the University of Los Andes, Bogota where she graduated in 1988. In 1991 she received a Fulbright Scholarship to do a Master of Science, History and Theory Program at the University of Cincinnati, OH. Marcela also studied animation at the School of Visual Arts, NYC. Read more about Marcela here.