Elaina's Blog
Elaina Vimmerstedt

Elaina Vimmerstedt

Sunday, 19 September 2021 18:45

Barefoot at School

Many children in the Younger Group forgo footwear during the school day. We have some ground rules - to be barefoot outside, it has to be at least 60 degrees Fahrenheit, and we wear shoes if we're hiking or otherwise going off school grounds. Other than these circumstances, the children are allowed and encouraged to be barefoot if it is comfortable to them. 

One of the most compelling reasons for this practice is that we encourage the children to take appropriate, manageable risks. The act of taking off protective footwear exposes the children to some elements of risk that are manageable on our playground, and we often see that the reward is worth the risk many times over. Being barefoot can also increase a person's tactile sensory experiences and can add a rich layer of proprioception. 

The teachers also notice that being barefoot is simply more comfortable than restrictive shoes for many of the children. When shoes are necessary, some children may be more comfortable in shoes that have a wide, rounded toe area, are "zero drop", with minimal cushioning and arch support, and flexible soles so that they can continue to strengthen the intrinsic muscles of their feet. 

There may also be some long term health benefits related to being habitually barefoot as discussed in this study from the NCBI/NIH: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5556098/

Cheers to free feet and the opportunity to take manageable risks! 






Sunday, 12 September 2021 20:41

Doing our best work - what is good practice?

In the YG, children begin learning how to read, write and do arithmetic in earnest. When we begin this work together, sometimes I notice that the children have started to receive messages about productivity and work from the broader culture that run counter to the goals of learning and joy we have at our unique school. 

With this sort of academic learning, I ask the children to focus on the idea of "doing your best work". When we talked about it last week, the children came up with some excellent criteria to describe what one's best work is. They said that it is done carefully and not rushed, and we also thought that your best work is something you're proud of and that doing it isn't too hard or too easy, but just challenging enough. 

We also thought about what good practice feels like - it feels like you've accomplished something when you're done, and you're focused (not restless).

Learning stays joyful if the goals are centered around doing our best work and getting in some good quality practice. I'm excited to see how the children practice these skills this school year! 

Monday, 06 September 2021 13:45

How We Begin in the Younger Group

Each classroom group at the Antioch School begins the year a little differently. Like everything we do at school, the way we go about things is child centered. In general, the younger the classroom group, the gentler the start to the school year.  In the YG, we begin with half of the group visiting the school for half a school day. After our half day groups have had their turn to visit, we all come together for our first full day of school. 

On our half days, we spend time learning names, thinking about our classroom agreements, and practicing important responsibilities. New YGers learn to hear the difference between the bell that signifies the end of the Older Group's free time and the bell that signifies the end of our free time. Returning YGers help out - "You don't need to go inside yet, that was the OG bell".  The whole group goes on a boundary walk together and we learn how far we are allowed to range at free time. The children talk about why it's important to know the free time boundaries. We practice hand washing to get ready for snack and lunch time, we learn where to find special materials in the classroom, and how we leave school at the end of the day to meet our families for pickup. 

On our first full day together, we finalize our first set of agreements, knowing that we can always add to them if we need to. We learn about the flow of a full day at school, and we prepare to dive into folder work, lessons, jobs, and projects. There's a lot to learn, and the children are so happy to be back at school together. I'm looking forward to a great school year with this Younger Group! 

Sunday, 02 February 2020 18:49

"You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth"

Last week, a couple of Younger Group children came up to me and excitedly reported how we are all just made up of star particles! This cosmically-aware statement struck me. I marveled at their joyful discovery of their place in the greater realm of existence! The children inspire me daily to think about the big picture, even as they are completely absorbed in their child-sized worlds.  People who work with children as teachers, and people who raise them as parents and guardians are so lucky to have their presence in our lives. I love teaching at a school that celebrates childhood every day.

I'd like to pair these thoughts with a passage from one of my favorite writers: 

Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them,
but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

You are the bows from which your children
as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
and He bends you with His might
that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer's hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
so He loves also the bow that is stable.

Khalil Gibran, The Prophet 

Sunday, 12 January 2020 17:00

Can I visit...

One of my favorite design features of our school is the long, light-filled hallway that is lined with blocks, cubbies, coat hooks, roller blades, plants... and entrances into every classroom. This design reflects the idea of the linear progression of time. When the children are younger, they are in classes farther down the hallway. As they grow, they move ever closer to the Older Group classroom which is the closest room to the main entrance of the school. When they graduate from the Older Group, they move on to new adventures in new schools, and the way out is right there next to their classroom. Last week at school, the children in the Younger Group expressed an increased interest in trying out a non-linear approach to their time at school. We started talking more about visiting. Visiting is something really special about our school. Children at the Antioch School are not strictly bound to stay in their group. They are allowed to make plans with the teachers to spend time with other groups. Children who are preparing to transition into an older group have the opportunity to spend time with their future peers, and get a preview of their new schedules. They can see the kind of lessons they will have, and the kind of work they will be doing. They get a feel for the new roles and responsibilities they will have. Some children decide to visit younger class groups. They may be curious about their younger peers. Some people visit younger class groups when they are feeling nostalgic, or like they missed out on some important work that could have happened when they were younger. I'm excited to see how the children explore this exciting non-linear approach! They Younger Group follows these guidelines about visiting other groups: 1. Make a plan with Elaina and MJ, and the teacher of the group you're visiting 2. You do whatever activity is happening with the group you're visiting 3. Visits are for one person at a time
Sunday, 10 November 2019 23:51

Hallway Dominoes

I love that our school allows children to have free time. It's one of the most important parts of the day for them, and so much self-directed learning happens during these intervals. We love free time at school for so many reasons. We believe that play is serious work for children. They are given plenty of time to play how they decide to. Free time helps children develop a sense of self-direction, time budgeting skills, trust in themselves and their peers, and so much more. I love seeing what the children come up with at free time. Some children are busy writing books, while others are creating the millionth version of tag - there's a huge range of possibilities. Last week, many of the children in the Younger Group made an amazing domino chain out of the hallway building blocks. They worked so hard on it - from the design, to the delicate task of placing each block in the perfect spot. It was so satisfying for them as the creators, and for me as their teacher, when they yelled "Three, two, one!". They knocked down that first block and we all watched the chain reaction unfold.  

Sunday, 03 November 2019 18:08

The YG Play

The YG play was last week. It was quite an experience! The children started working on it at the beginning of October. Little by little, the story started to take shape. We started by making lists of ideas. Big lists! Some of them really started to catch on. 

I sensed we were onto something when the kids created a game at free time based on one of our Halloween play ideas. The Haunted Hospital. This idea really spoke to the whole class. The children began to create characters and imagine scenes that might happen in the play. I transcribed the lines they thought their characters might say, and MJ and I gently guided their discussions on how the drama would play out. Everyone chose their own roles and wove their characters into the story. Not only did the children create the script and their characters, they also made set pieces and props. Two students stepped into the role of stage manager and helped the cast come out on stage at the right times. Everyone contributed to the final product! 

The show was delightful to watch! It totally belonged to them as all their learning at school does. It was a silly, imaginative, nonsensical, short and sweet play, and it was an honor to help them create it. 


Sunday, 15 September 2019 18:26

I need a meeting...

It's easy to get along during the first few days of school. We're all excited to see our old friends and play our favorite games together at free time. I've noticed that the children in YG are starting to move out of the "honeymoon stage" and into some deeper work - the work of conflict resolution. 

Conflict is a natural part of communities that work as closely as the groups at our school. We try not to shy away from it. Working through conflict is one of the most important things the children learn at school. It amazes me to hear the solutions the children come up with because oftentimes, the solutions the children agree on are not solutions I or any other adult would suggest.  They are not strictly bound by codes of justice, utility, egalitarianism or others that would inform conflict resolution in the adult world. The outcomes they value in resolving a conflict are sometimes different than the outcomes a grown-up would prefer.

Allowing these creative solutions to exist is part of a larger guiding principle at school - children are allowed to be themselves. We restrict the amount of top-down judgments and this allows for a flexible, wide path to solve our problems together. 



Monday, 09 September 2019 00:11

"Playing with Cuisenaire rods is math work?!"

Most mornings in the YG involve math rotations. We do a combination of work that I choose for the children, and work they choose themselves. One student was surprised that one of their "free math" choices was playing with Cuisenaire rods! Playing with Cuisenaire rods is something the children often want to do at other times when they get to choose their work, like project time or free time.

Lots of children who are YG ages (6-9) are in a concrete stage in their cognitive development. Their work is... playing with concrete objects! While they play with these manipulatives they are making discoveries that lead them forward in their math work, and all the while, it's fun! 


Tuesday, 03 September 2019 01:54

YG Agreements: 1. We do not hit, punch, tackle, or push each other and we do not step on people’s feet!

The first few days of school were so much fun for the YG! There were games of zombie infection tag, RipStik-ing, make-believe, reconnecting with old friends, and meeting new ones.  The first day we were all together, there was some trouble at morning free time. There was wild trike riding going on. Some of the students voiced their concern to MJ and me. After our regular morning meeting, we talked about how we use the trikes as a group. This was a wonderful segue into creating our YG agreements. 

The agreements are a set of guidelines we make together. They are the foundation of how we go about our day-to-day lives at school. They help everyone feel safe - the agreements outline the boundaries of what feels safe and right, and what does not. 

The children know what feels safe and unsafe, right and wrong, just and unjust. It’s great to be able to give them the space to set those boundaries together. 


Here is the first draft of the YG Agreements. It was created by the children in the class and recorded by MJ, me and one of the children who volunteered as a scribe: 


  1. We do not hit, punch, tackle, or push each other and we do not step on people’s feet. 
  2. No running in the hallway or in the classroom. 
  3. Don’t be rude. 
  4. Don’t call names or use mean or bad words.
  5. Save big energy for outside. 
  6. Take care of the school, equipment, and supplies. 
  7. No destroying things. 
  8. No taking stuff from other kids. 
  9. Be safe on the tire swing.
  10. Don’t cut through the school for outside games. 


On trikes:

  1. We do not stand on trikes. We only push them from behind to get them started, not to go really fast, and we don’t push on the porch. 
  2. People driving trikes should be careful. 
  3. We do not crash the trikes on purpose, but connecting them is ok. 
  4. Stop your trike if you see a person ahead. 
  5. No going really fast by the porch doors. 
  6. We do not crash trikes into RipStiks. 


As the year gets going, we may discover that these agreements need to be adjusted, or we may have missed something really important to us. I’d say we’re off to a good start. 

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