Articles

The following article, on developing a Waldorf curriculum for Deaf children, was

printed in The Waldorf Kindergarten and Early Childhood Newsletter as well as

Anthroposophy Worldwide.

Outside the stars twinkle in the night chill. The young children are tucked in

their beds. The house is put in order and the tea water is warming---but the

day is not yet done. Bundled against the chill, rosy cheeked, the kindergarten

teacher arrives and with her that sense of cozy nurturing. But around that

coziness another energy dances, a creative impulse, a determination, an

inspiration. Two others arrive and strangely the silence is unbroken except for

the swish of jacket sleeves, an occasional clap of hands or laughter as

greetings fly about and news is exchanged in a language unspoken.

The two silent visitors are brave soldiers indeed, crusading on a lonely and

often difficult quest. They are Deaf teachers in training to become Waldorf

teachers. Long distance relationships, long hours, enormous interpreter bills,

low pay and no job security, isolation, prejudice and the pain of others’

ignorance are endured to follow a dream: A dream of bringing Waldorf

education to Deaf children.

This task has led to a scrutiny of each verse, circle, rhyme and artistic

endeavor used in the classroom, in an attempt to find a way to translate its

soul experience to one which is accessible to Deaf children. Teacups settle to

bookshelves and windowsills as the work begins. "The North wind doth blow,

And we shall have snow, What will poor robin do then? Poor thing..." How do

we sign this? The concept is easy enough to literally translate, but the

experience, the playful lilt of the language, the rhythm and rhyme, are then

completely lost. How do we create a visual experience of rhyme? One way is

to use handshapes. The group plays with finding a handshape or two that can

change and move and dance and transform to represent the changing images

and experiences in the verse. They settle on the "five handshape" palm open

and five fingers extended. This handshape is the basis for gestures

representing wind, blowing, snow, will, what, fly, wing, warm, house and many,

many others. They play with the movements, the transformation from one sign

to the next, and weave into that a breathing of large and small gestures and

varied pace, rhythm and pause. The result is a rich and beautiful visual rhyme

enriching the experience of language for Deaf and Hearing children alike. We

all watch it one more time, acutely absorbed as we are carried by the

movement of the limbs right into the formed image and as one image

transforms and flows into the next.

The work continues, as silently the group discusses ways to transition. Rather

than a song or music as are used to gently suggest to the hearing children a

change in activity, what visual cues can serve to create the same change for

Deaf children? Traditionally in Deaf schools, the lights are flashed on and off.

One person suggests using a dimmer switch, curtains and skylights to

enhance or dim lighting. Another offers the idea of a clean-up puppet

designating tasks and perhaps inspecting afterwards. One of the Deaf

teachers creates a lighthearted visual rhyme for a clean-up song and we

notice we are all smiling.

Other challenges are brought to discussion from classroom experiences. We

realize resting with closed eyes is a different experience for Deaf children who

cannot maintain their connection with the surroundings through hearing.

Perhaps they can rest with eyes open. Or the teacher can give them a tactile

cue when the time has come to transition out of rest time. What about holding

hands in the circle or on the way to the bathroom. Neither teacher nor Deaf

child can communicate effectively during this activity. How does the puppet

show work? Deaf children cannot watch the story and the puppets

simultaneously unless the field of view is overlapped and the timing of

storytelling and action alternate. Every age-old technique must be re-

evaluated for efficacy with these children’s special needs. The Deaf teacher’s

experience is invaluable in realizing how subtle changes can make all the

difference to the Deaf child’s access to communication.

The tea has grown cold now; flying hands have been too busy to drink. Much

is accomplished and much remains for the next meeting. Pedagogical,

medical and deeper philosophical questions or observations that arise are

jotted down to be brought to the monthly Curriculum Development Committee

meeting for consideration by specialists in Eurythmy, Speech, Medicine, Deaf

Education and Waldorf Pedagogy. We bundle up, sign our goodbyes and step

from bright warmth out to crisp winter darkness, full of our endeavor and

eager to return to waiting families. In the car, fingers twitch remembering the

verses or working out a particular visual rhyme or sign transformation. The

night is quiet...

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