Claverack, New York
Environment | Kids and Schools | Soft news
15 April 2014 08:57PM

“I couldn’t have asked for anything better for my son, it is an absolute perfect match for what he needs right now.” This was what one of the parents of the Earth Program said to me when I asked her how things were going for her family in the new program at Hawthorne Valley School, Ghent NY. “I am not worried about my son learning all of the academics right now, mostly I want him to learn and find himself, if he spends most of his day hiking around through the fields, forest, working on the farm, building things, and in the process he learns some writing and math skills, I think it will be a very successful year. I know he is intelligent and I am not worried. I know that he will catch up when he is ready, if he needs to.” Another mother of the program sees it as a great opportunity for her son to mature and learn social skills in a small group setting.

In many ways, this year’s Earth Program is providing an enrichment program for third through fifth graders. The program was conceived by Stu Summer and a team of enthusiastic collaborators in the Hawthorne Valley Farm Learning Center Program. Beginning at 7:30 AM in the morning, the children arrive to participate in farm chores before heading to their classes across the street at Hawthorne Valley School. After Main Lesson, instead of foreign language, music and academic classes, the children return to the farm for farm and field based projects and to their yurt for math, reading and writing activities that relate to their hands-on projects. For this pioneering group of children who have shown a need for an alternative to the traditional full day classroom setting due to social, academic or other needs, this has been a wonderful year of enrichment and discovery. Summer says: “I have heard teachers describe classroom challenges with some of the children in this program, but I just don’t see it. They are content and engaged and take up everything that I bring them.” Next year, EARTH will add a nature centered main lesson as well, providing a full day immersion.

In this remedial and potentially therapeutic program, the therapy is largely inspired by the principles of “Earthing”, becoming closer to the earth through hands on projects and more time spent outdoors. Many early learning pathways are formed first through large body movements and later are refined for fine motor skill work. Since many children who struggle with fine motor work such as writing and reading also often have a difficult time orienting themselves to their body’s position in space (proprioception), gross motor activities that engage their limbs with heavy work are very helpful for them. So, another form of therapy is felling trees, hauling wood, building a furnace, or smithing iron, to fully cultivate an alive and meaningful sense of their body and how to work with it. Along the way they are learning practical skills that they can now comfortably engage in and demonstrate to others.

The EARTH program was inspired in part by other innovative programs including Aongus Gordon’s Ruskin Mill Educational Trust, UK, also The Otto Specht School in Spring Valley, NY and Mulberry Farm in Santa Rosa, CA. These are more established programs that incorporate therapeutic educational principles with outdoor and classroom learning to meet children with a variety of learning needs. Research has shown that a practical craft-based curriculum stimulates neural growth and enhances social, cognitive, perceptual and motor development. Benefits include increased confidence and self-control which supports emotional stability, behavioral and mental health (1). Some of the children served in these programs will reintegrate into a more traditional classroom with self-confidence and skill. When stress is reduced, maturation can occur while other children are best served longer term by EARTH’s nature-based program..

For the 2014-2015 school year, EARTH is offering a full day of nature and farm centered learning, with the children’s main lessons, academic and artistic work drawn directly from their practical activities.

For more information on the Earth Program please visit:


Attend an info evening on Monday May 12, 7:15 pm at Hawthorne Valley School

or call Amy Flaum, Admissions Director at 518-672-7092

For more information on Waldorf Schools and Waldorf inspired alternatives visit Why Waldorf Works at http://www.whywaldorfworks.org/02_W_Education/faq_finding.asp

(1) Aric Sigman Practically Minded: The Benefits and Mechanisms Associated with a Craft-Based Curriculum. http://rmt.org/pdf/New%20Folder%20(3)/brantwood-practically-minded—research-into-a-practical-curriculum.pdf

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