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DWS on Colorado Public Radio

Denver Waldorf 4th Graders on Colorado Public Radio

FEBRUARY 9, 2013

4th Grade Classgirl2Click on this link below to hear the Colorado Public Radio report featuring The Denver Waldorf School that aired on Friday, February 8, 2013. Mr. Todd Matuszewicz and his 4th Grade students were interviewed by CPR education reporter Jenny Brundin about their “media fast” experience.

Click on this link to listen to the audio.

Colorado Public Radio Transcript:
Waldorf’s 4th Graders Gain Insight From Media Fast
by Jenny Brundin, Colorado Public Radio

The Denver Waldorf School’s 4th grade class participated in a media fast for two weeks and is now on a “media diet.”

Schools across the country are wiring up, plugging students as young as three into the latest digital technology. But not so fast say educators at Waldorf schools. The Waldorf model avoids technology in the classroom before high school. But some students are still getting a steady diet of screen time at home. One classroom at Denver’s Waldorf School decided to put themselves on a media fast outside of school.

Here is a transcript of CPR’s education reporter Jenny Brundin reports.

Reporter Jenny Brundin: Every morning Todd Matuszewicz watches his 4th grade class file into Room 4. He pays close attention to the ebbs and flows of their energy, their moods.

Todd Matuszewicz: Monday mornings were always the hardest.

Reporter: The kids would bounce into the classroom.

Matuszewicz: ..and they would be really wired. There was kind of a heightened state of anxiety in the classroom. And then here was lots of talk about what they had seen.

Reporter : …TV shows, commercials.

Matuszewicz: And then the week would mellow out, like Thursday and Friday, I’d go ‘Oh there we are!’ and then Monday it would get ramped up again.

Reporter : One Monday morning, the boys were particularly amped up imitating moves from a Fox TV commercial advertising a bare knuckles fight. It was…

(TV ambience)

Matuszewicz: The straw that broke the camel’s back.

Reporter: He’s not anti-boxing. It’s just that the graphic and at times bloody style of fighting was not appropriate for 4th graders. The school had just had a visit from a scholar who challenged them to unplug from all media for a period of time. See what happens. Does it sharpen the senses? Bring families closer? So Matuszewicz consulted with parents and then broached the idea of a 2-week fast with students. Aiden Rhysling’s first reaction?

Aiden Rhysling: Oh no!

Reporter: He and his buddies knew their teacher was a Pittsburgh Steelers fan.

Matuszewicz: So the Steelers had gotten eliminated from the playoffs and they said, ‘You’re doing this to punish us because the Steelers are out of the playoffs!” – that was the first thing that came out of their mouths. (laugh)

Reporter: Football, as it turns out, was a major issue during the fast. The big Broncos game, you know, the one everyone wants to forget, was coming up.

Charley Morris: I was like ‘Oh my gosh, we’re not going to be able to watch this game!’

Reporter: Charley Morris’ family broke down, called Mr. Matuszewicz, and confessed they had to watch the game. But other than the big game, families gave up televisions, iPads, videogames, cell phones, music and even radio in the car for 2 weeks. It was a challenge says Sierra MacMillan.

MacMillan: But then it’s kind of fun because you have to find something else to do

Reporter: And that is a central question in Waldorf philosophy, says enrollment director Leigh Rhysling:

Leigh Rhysling: What aren’t the children doing when they’re in front of a screen?

Reporter: According to Waldorf founder Rudolf Steiner, children think by creating mental pictures. If those pictures are supplied ready-made – there’s less opportunity to build the “imaginative muscle.” It’s based on this simple belief: technology is a tool. Introduced too early, it becomes a crutch, an addictive one at that. You would only introduce a hammer to a child when he has mastered the skill to hit something accurately. In the century-old Waldorf model, children focus on developing the neural networks needed for higher learning – and that means movement – skipping, running, jumping, balancing – making their own content instead of absorbing content created by others, on a screen. It is creative hands-on projects and play –and no computers in the classrooms until high school. 4th grade teacher Todd Matuszewicz:

Matuszewicz: We’re not anti-technology, we’re not anti-computers. We actually celebrate the tool. But it’s important that you have skills that enable you to use that tool. Master the tool, not let the tool master you.

Reporter: The media fast at home, while challenging, led to lots of reflection. One family noticed they slept better. They definitely spent more time together. Teacher Todd Matuszewicz held daily “what are you doing instead of media” chats with his students.

Student speaking in class: We’ve been playing a lot of board games in the mountains and I’ve been reading a lot. I just started a book and I just finished it.

Reporter: Fourth grader Sabine Keppeler had an insight about how addictive TV is.

Sabine Keppeler: Well it’s made me realize is, I wish the media was never invented. I don’t mean all the lights and stuff. I mean TVs – they’re like magic. They keep you staring at them for like 10 minutes and then when it’s time to leave, you’re like, no I want to see this just until the end of this episode and then you watch another and another.

(sound of classroom)

Reporter: It’s on Wednesday of the second week of the fast when Matuszewicz finally notices a difference in class.

Matuszewicz: Today as they were having snack, the conversation stayed really calm, there was not a lot of volatility, and so I would say today is the first day when I can say, I can see a new calmness to them as a whole.

Reporter: Matuszewicz asks the students how they’ll end the fast. It appears, the kids are ready. Aiden Rhysling says he’ll “chuck his school bag against the wall,…”

Rhysling: sit down on the couch put in the Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy and watch it!

Reporter: The class is open to another fast in the spring.

Matuszewicz: They’ll be no play-off games to miss so we’ll be OK there….maybe a little bit longer?…maybe 3 weeks? Class: No!

Reporter: A few weeks later, though, as a class, the Denver Waldorf School’s fourth graders agree to try to stay away from screens from Sunday afternoons until Fridays after school. Call it a screen diet.

[Photos: Bruce Kelley/ The Denver Waldorf School]

Denver Waldorf Families Take Up “Media Fast” Challenge

Denver Waldorf Families Take Up “Media Fast” Challenge

4th Grade Class10Could your family unplug from media for two weeks?

That’s just what 4th grade families at The Denver Waldorf School did in January.

Dr. Thomas Cooper, author of “Fast Media, Media Fast” came to The Denver Waldorf School this fall and challenged families to unplug from all media for a period of time. Cooper said such media free chunks in our lives would help us rediscover our personal identities, sharpen our senses, save us time and money, and help us tap into hidden talents.

The families in the 4th grade at The Denver Waldorf School took up the challenge and agreed to a two-week media fast in January, giving up televisions, iPads, videogames, cell phones, music and even radio in the car.

Media Fast ‘Made My Imagination Fly!’

It “made my imagination fly,” said 4th grade student Marilese Ray. The Ray family, who have three girls including 4th grade student Mariliese, said the media fast helped them all sleep better.
“They played with the family pets and the girls had fun with Grandma instead of just watching TV with her,” said mother Mary Ray.

“We had a great experience and truly embraced the media fast,” reported Trish Licata, mother of 4th grade student Sole, and Giuseppe in 1st grade. “Our family found more time for games, books and chore sharing. It also gave us an opportunity to strengthen how we communicate with each other.”

“The Media Fast provided us an opportunity to explore a relationship that was not constantly filled with noise,” said Michael Sawaya, father of 4th grade student Alma. “We enjoyed the quiet time together. It let us find times to do things that we would not have thought to do, such as reading together, playing games, talking, walking, playing with the dog and more. It allowed things to slow down and life was a lot less frantic. We were able to cook together, for instance. I was surprised, but we did not miss all the media stuff,” he said.

Studies Find Technology Zapping Students’ Attention Spans

Two studies by the Pews Research Center and Common Sense Media released in November found widespread belief among teachers that technology is affecting students’ ability to focus.
Todd Matuszewicz, the 4th grade teacher, suggested the class take up the media fast challenge. He is hoping the class can do it again in the spring, perhaps for even longer. Matuszewicz remembered a lecture given by Joseph Chilton Pearce, the famed child development expert.

Pearce was asked: What is the most important things one could do for their child?

“’There are two,’” Matuszewicz remembered Pearce as having said, “’One, get rid of your television. Two, send your child to a Waldorf school,’” he said.

The Denver Waldorf School is committed to raising awareness about the impact of screen-time and educating our community about alternatives that will support the healthy development of children and foster joy and peace within families. Too much screen-time is now also being linked to many childhood learning disorders, including loss of focus. Addiction centers are cropping up in the United States at an alarming rate to help wean people off media addictions.

Waldorf schools around the world have recognized for years the impact that screen-time has on children, including difficulty in developing gross and fine motor skills, visual disorders, social and behavior problems, and other developmental problems.

As Douglas Gerwin, Director of the Center for Anthroposophy and Co-Director of the Research Institute for Waldorf Education, wrote in a recent article, “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice: Mind Over Machinery,” electronic media is a tool that should serve humans, rather than the other way around.

Gerwin asked the question: At what age do children gain the developmental skills necessary to handle what the media is throwing at them? If they are engaging in media, what are they not doing? The fear is that children who should be moving, creating their own mental pictures and engaging in lived experiences, are instead sitting in front of a screen, absorbing content created by others who likely did not consider what was developmentally appropriate for children.

‘We Found That It Is Hard to Get Away From Screens’

Many 4th grade families reported they already lead an unplugged home lifestyle.

“The media fast was a non-issue for our family as we have been committed to living in a way that supports our commitment to Waldorf education and is ordinarily very low media,” said Stephanie Slade Winfield.

“We didn’t really miss media too much, since we don’t have a TV and didn’t do much to begin with,” said Christine O’Connell, mother of 4th grade student Sabine Keppeler, “one thing we did sort of miss was our recorded music. No biggie, but we’ll probably go back to listening to selected music in our living room.” O’Connell also said that used to have a family movie night every Saturday, but during the media fast the family played games instead and really enjoyed it.

“I do not think the media fast was too painful for us, since we have very limited TV (<2 hrs/week) and no video games or computer time for kids,” said Krista Douglass, mother of 4th grade student Braden. “It was good for all of us to be aware of how much media seeps in anyway- from restaurants with TVs on every wall, to people who carry their iPads everywhere to watch football, to the E.R., we found that it is hard to get away from screens. It was a useful exercise to be more mindful and I noticed that I spent less time checking email on my iPad and my husband no longer brought his iPhone to the table at meals. However, I will be happy to turn my classical radio station back on!”

Throwing a big wrench into many families’ media fast plans was the success of the Broncos, who made it to the divisional quarter-finals in January. Jenny Thompson, mother of 4th grade student Charley, was one of many families who called Mr. Matuszewicz that night to confess they would be turning on the game.

The MacMillan family really wanted to watch the championship Broncos game, but instead, 4th grade student Sierra and her two sisters created a song and dance performance for their parents, complete with costumes, hair and makeup and choreographed moves to ‘Girls Just Wanna Have Fun.’ Dad Peter Macmillan said it was one of the best family nights they’ve had in a long time.

The media fast provided a wake-up call for many families on just how media-saturated society has become.
One family continued their media fast during a trip to their grandfather’s surprise birthday party in Las Vegas.

“The electronic media was everywhere, of course, but not having it in our room and being conscious of not partaking, changed our experience of it,” said Renee McMichael, mother to Abby in 4th grade and Logan in 8th grade.

“We actually had a nice quiet time in Las Vegas that was focused on spending time with our immediate and extended family. We went to an aquarium, took the tram, swam in the pool, ate every meal with extended family, walked a lot, and my husband and kids performed (played guitar and sang) for the birthday party,” she said, “The media that was totally in our faces was visual media and it gave us a chance to have several conversations and teachable moments,” McMichael said.

During the media fast, 4th grade student Aidan Rhysling had a dentist appointment and averted his eyes from the TV screen in the waiting area to stick to his promise.

“We spent more time playing games and enjoying the outdoors,” said Pam Holbrook, mother of Jillian, another 4th grade student. “I’m keeping it up … no radio in the car! It’s easier to chill out and stay present!”