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Pedagogy of Sledding

Soon the whole of the North Country will be a winter-wonderland. The Lakeside children and teachers will build an all-terrain park for winter activities. The children know just what to do. Donning helmets for safety, they trundle up to the launching pad with sled in hand. Going down by ones, by pairs, sled-loads, in ‘trains’ the children revel in the opportunity to sled. This all-terrain park also includes mounds for ‘seal sledding’, sledding down using ones snow suit as a sled, climbing, tunneling, digging, building and tumbling. During the elementary movement class, the children will take to the hills with their x-country skis and spend all afternoon touring around the pond, ending with some downhill activity on the hill in the play-yard.

I hear parents, as they kiss their children goodbye, saying, “Have fun”. Indeed, these children do have fun at school. But this fun is also hard work and our way as educators of ensuring the children are prepared for their formal academic work when the time comes. Here at Lakeside, we choose to engage the younger children in activities that set academic foundations. These foundations for the young child come in the form of physical activity. Think about it, if you are not settled and comfortable in your body, if you have difficulty sitting up in a chair or focusing your eyes on a blackboard, how is it going to feel to be required to engage in these activities for most of the school day? Most of your energy would go into keeping yourself upright instead of taking in the lesson presented. The antidote in some educational systems for challenges in the academic areas is more time spent in those academic areas. Here at Lakeside, we take another approach. The daily activities that the children engage in, whether it’s sledding and skiing in the winter, hiking in the spring, climbing, tumbling, crawling, hauling (wood, food and water for the animals, pine boughs for the spiral walk, etc), swinging, see-sawing, digging –these each develop neurological pathways for the young child. The more pathways that are created at this time, the more the child has to work with when sitting down to his formal academics in elementary school and beyond.

Let’s take sledding for example. Sledding builds core strength, and requires balance and stability in the sled. As the child gets older and has more control, she begins to not only go for the ride but also guide the sled. Seal sledding helps to integrate primitive retained reflex. The integration of one of these reflexes allows ones head to more from side to side without the body following. All of these are preventative methods to mitigate possible learning challenges that a child may have.

Once the children then sit down in first grade for their formal academic lessons in arithmetic and language arts, these children are ready to be sitting up straight in their chairs, they’re ready to focus on their lessons and be still in themselves. These are per-requisites to being able to take in any material that is presented. So when a first grader sits down for a math lesson on addition, subtraction, multiplication and division, the child is able to grasp the underlying concepts and begin working with numbers in a more abstract way. We at Lakeside do not aspire to the “more earlier is better” philosophy. We believe that the right activity and content at the right time allows the individual to grow in to a free thinking human being. Thus, we do not formally teach academic lessons in the kindergarten or nursery, rather give time and space for the physical, social, and emotional development that is necessary at that time in life. We save the formal teaching of arithmetic, literacy, science, history until the elementary and high school years.

Not every child is able to meet the challenging elementary school curriculum through these preventative activities in early childhood. Each child has unique gifts and challenges in different areas. Here at Lakeside, a child who has academic challenges is seen for the gifts they do have in other areas and remediation of their challenges is often brought through Therapeutic Eurythmy, drawing, nutrition, movement, or remedial exercises. Many of the roots of challenges, that even we as adults carry, lie in poorly integrated movement patterns and primitive reflexes. On the other hand, the children who are academically dexterous are seen for those gifts and have opportunities to grow in the places where they do have challenges.

All that to say, this fun that the children of Lakeside have every day is real work for them and lays solid foundations to take up the work of elementary and high school and enjoyment in life long learning. I hope you enjoy the winter as much as the children at Lakeside do!

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