What is Michaelmas?
Michaelmas (pronounced Mi-kel-miss) was originally a Christian festival in Western Europe during the Middle Ages. It is the feast day of the archangel St. Michael, and is celebrated at the end of September and beginning of October each year.
Because Michaelmas falls near the equinox, it is commonly associated with the beginning of autumn. Waldorf schools use Michaelmas to teach students the importance of using courage to prepare for the colder, darker, winter months as we begin to feel the impulse to turn inward after the long, warm days of summer, and gather up strength and fortitude to face the colder days and long nights of the winter ahead. In addition to honoring St. Michael and marking the beginning of fall, Michaelmas represents harvest time – a time when people make preparations for the winter.
In Waldorf schools, Michaelmas, or the Festival of Courage, is the first festival of the new school year. Traditionally, Grades children perform the play of St. George taming a fiery dragon with the help of the archangel, St. Michael, who gives him courage. Following the play there is a small harvest themed feast which usually includes fresh baked dragon bread baked by the school children and fruits and vegetables that are in season, like apples and grapes.
The story of taming the dragon symbolizes the inner courage it takes to face our human challenges. As the days grow colder and the nights grow longer, we must find and bring forth our own inner light when the sun, warmth and growth of the earth are fading.
St. Michael, who in some versions of the story, gave courage to St. George and in others, gives courage to all the brave people of the village who have to work together to save themselves. Whatever the version, these stories give us courage to uphold what is right and true, and the strength to face the challenges that lie ahead. The story speaks to children in a deeply symbolic way, feeding their innate need for truth and justice.
“Michaelmas is a great time to ponder our own inner dragons and to cultivate the courage and strength necessary for self development.” – from Waldorf Publications newsletter
Why are Festivals important to Waldorf education?
Festivals allow us to be attuned to the rhythms of the Earth and the community we live in. Regardless of personal beliefs and faith, every human being can connect with the magic and gifts that each turning of the seasons brings.
How can you bring this Festival to your homeschooling family?
Your family can read stories about St. Michael, there are lots to chose from out there. In this first version which is typically told in Waldorf schools, the dragon is slain and this second version, instead the dragon is tamed by St. Michael and becomes a friend to all. You can decide which version is best for your family. Here's a completely different Michaelmas story about stars and courage instead of dragons. The key element of these stories and the Michaelmas festival as a whole, is that it celebrates inner strength and courage.
Here is an Autumn verse:
Golden light is turning grey,
Mists begin to rule the day.
Bare the trees, their branches lift;
Clouds of dead leaves earthward drift.
Through the field the farmer goes,
Seeds of ripened corn he sows;
Trusts the earth will hold it warm,
Shelter it from cold and harm.
For he knows, that warmth and light
Live there, hidden from our sight;
And beneath a sheltering wing,
Deep below, new life will spring!
Deep below, deep below, new life will spring!
And an Autumn Blessing:
Brave and true will I be,
Each good deed sets me free,
Each kind word makes me strong.
I will fight for the right!
I will conquer the wrong!
Sword of Michael brightly gleaming,
Down to earth its light is streaming,
May we see its shining rays
In the Winter’s darkest days.
Your family can spend a morning making bread and forming it into the shape of a dragon and invite friends over to share a fall harvest feast. This is a beautiful story you can tell your children while you are preparing the dragon bread, as well as a recipe.
Earth who gives to us this food
Sun who makes it ripe and good
Sun above, Earth below
Our loving thanks to you we show
Visit this site for for 10 traditional Michaelmas songs.
Michaelmas Hands-on Activity:
When we once ran our little Waldorf school, for Michaelmas one year, we had students create a paper mâché dragon. Michaelmas is the Festival of Courage and a time to gather our strength to overcome the shadows within us, shadows like bad habits. We asked students and families to write any bad habits they were wanting to free themselves of on pieces of paper. Then we had them place those inside the dragon's mouth to later be consumed by fire thereby releasing them. After the festival, the dragon was brought to safe place on a family's property to be burned. You could easily create this at home with your child(ren) in the way that would work best for you.
Fun Outdoor Activities:
Go outside and choose activities that require strength, courage, and bravery, such as; going on a challenging hike, having a tug-of-war with friends and family, and having a scavenger hunt for “dragon eggs” (these can be small gourds spray-painted gold).
Michaelmas is the beginning of the fall season, and the beauty of homeschooling is that these activities can be extended and enjoyed throughout October.
As Parents, this is a wonderful opportunity to use this time to focus on our inner work and spiritual growth. Take time for meditation and journal writing, and think about the areas you would like to grow.
Whether you do none of the activities, some of them, or all of them plus more, whether you celebrate with just your family or beyond, may you find your inner strength and courage as we head into these darker days.
“Celebrating festivals illuminates our life on earth with heavenly meaning and shows us the significance of our human existence in the universe. We human beings stand between the two worlds uniting them in ourselves. We are the crossing point where the upper circle representing the heavens flows into the lower one belonging to the earth.”
– Evelyn Frances Derry, Festivals and Seasons
Throughout the year, we can celebrate festivals to connect us with the cycle of nature, establish a yearly rhythm for our children, and strengthen our community.
Autumn is a time to reflect on our inner selves, to find the inner light that will carry us through this time of darkness. It can be an opportunity to know ourselves more profoundly. We can mark this season of inner searching with fall festivals to help guide us on this path of introspection. Our ancestors must have spent many transitions from summer to fall worrying and doubting whether the sun would ever return to its full brightness. This time of year triggers feelings of doubt, fear, and anxiety, possibly stemming from our ancestors' times around fires in the darkness of the year. Seeking comfort, our ancestors would have shared stories and songs as nourishing soul food. The flickering light of the fire would have been a beacon of hope. It's helpful to honour the shared human experience of the seasons when heading into Fall. It is very healing to acknowledge feelings of darkness by bringing them into the light. As nature begins to go to sleep around us, we also feel this downward pull to sleep. It's fair to say that this is also when seasonal depression is common. Instead of unconsciously emanating what's happening outside of us, this is a call to create a strong inner light. Everything that we joyfully soaked up during the summertime, from the beauty of the flowers and trees to the long hours of sunlight, can be harvested now as inner light. When we celebrate this call to kindle our inner light, it is most beneficial to participate in rituals with others. Celebrating together brings depth and meaning to the experience.
There are as many ritual and celebrations to choose from as there are communities in the world. It is a beautiful process to choose the ritual that works best for your family based on laocation, values and beliefs, and community. Here are some things you may want to include in your seasonal celebrations;
We'd love to hear about how your family honours the light. Be sure to share with us in the comments below.
Teaching cursive is fun, easy, and has great pay-off. Cursive can be especially supportive to those that struggle with forming print, reversing letters, eye-tracking, or reading. Not convinced it’s worth it? Check out these articles that explain some of the benefits of teaching cursive.
Literacy Benefits: Scholastic.com
Biological and Psychological Benefits: PsychologyToday.com
Daily Wonder recommends teaching cursive as soon as grade two, when your child knows all the letters, knows their sounds, and is beginning to understand the rules for encoding (spelling). We recommend that the archetypal forms are brought in order of difficulty rather than letter by letter. Below is a step-by-step guide to bringing the forms that are the basis for the letters. Remember, any new skill needs daily practice to become a capacity. We recommend that once you have brought all the forms/letters that cursive then becomes your expectation for all written work. It can take a whole year to become a natural at cursive but just think of all the brain pathways you will create and strengthen in your child, what a gift!
Lesson 1: loops
You’ll teach your child all the letters/forms in lower case first, they can print the capital letters until they have mastered all the forms, then you’ll bring the upper case. The looping letters are the first lesson in cursive. Have your child practice creating the loops, big for l, small for e, across several lines of a lined book. You don’t need to tell your child that these are the letters, just have them practice the form of the loops. Remember to show the areas for placing letters on the page as in the example. You can have your child join the tall and short loops all together to practice the size of them on the lines for today. They can try eeeelllllll or elelelelelelele across the page in cursive.
Lesson 2: points
Make sure you have practiced the looping forms for a couple of days before you move on to this second form. The second form is the pointing form as in the letters i and t without the dot or cross. They’ll be practicing the motion and size of coming to a point, unlike the loop. They can try iiiiiiiiittttttttt or itititititititit across a couple of lines. Be sure to indicate the height of each line or loop using the imaginative image of the sky, earth, and sea.
Lesson 3: bringing letters
Take this day to practice cursive that you’ve brought so far. Show your child how the e loop is an /e/ the l loop is an /l/ the i point only needs a dot to be an /i/ and the t point only needs a cross to be a /t/. Support them to cursive write all the words they can think of with these letters: let, lit, tell, till, little, lilt. Give feedback about the size of the letters in comparison to each other and their form and starting place.
Lesson 4: wave
Today you’ll bring a new form, the wave. Guide your child to practice the wave letter form like for ‘c’. This curving line makes up the base for ‘a’, ‘c’, ‘d’, ‘g’, ‘o’, and ‘q’. Have them try just cccccccc, then switch to cececlclcl and cicicictctctct.
Lesson 5: wave, point, loop
Today guide your child to practice the wave and point together that form the a in cursive. They can do a line of ‘a’ and ‘d’ and then combine other practice letters such as ‘cat’, ‘tall’, etc. Take your time. If the ‘a’ isn’t making sense, don’t go ahead to adding other letters.
Lesson 6: down and loop
Before beginning, make sure that your child has had plenty of practice with previous forms. The next lesson is to guide your child to practice the down and loop line, as in j. Remind your child the difference between: sky, where letters reach way up; earth, where letters always begin; and sea, where some letters reach way down. Show them the ‘j’ without the dot and notice how your child crosses the line to loop, this can be tricky. Practice as much as is needed, combining other practiced letters as is appropriate.
Lesson 7: point and hump
For this lesson, you will guide your child to practice the point and hump as in the h, m, and n. They can combine skills now to try words such as ‘line’, ‘men’, ‘hen’, etc. The point of the ‘h’ can transform to a loop if that is the style you choose, either a point or loop is acceptable.
Lesson 8: wave, point, and down loop
Remember to ensure you give lots of time for practice before moving on to the next form. This lesson will have you guide your child to practice the ‘d’, ‘g’ and the ‘y’. They can create words once they master these two that are a combination of the ‘a t j’ lines.
Lesson 9: point
Time for practice, then guide your child to try the ‘u’, ‘v’ and ‘w’ lines that are point lines. Again, they can take some time to practice any words they can spell with letters they know
Lesson 10: loop and backwards wave
Today you will guide your child to practice the ‘b’. This is a tricky one that is a loop followed by a backwards wave. Provide some time to practice any words they can spell with letters they know.
Lesson 11: point and curve
Today you will guide your child to practice the ‘o’ and ‘p’ which include point and curve lines. As always, once they have practiced and feel confident, they can take some time to practice any words they can spell with letters they know.
Lesson 12: double loop
Today’s form is another tricky one, the double loop. The letter ‘f’ can be formed with a double right side loop or with a reverse at the center. In our experience the double right is a bit easier for some children. You choose what is right for your child. Once they have the hang of it they can take some time to practice any words they can spell with letters they know.
Lesson 13: wave, point, loop
This one is my favourite! The full wave followed by a point on the earth, followed by a waving loop! The letter ‘z’. When they feel confident, take some time to practice any words they can spell with letters they know.
Lesson 14: point table, point curve
Your next forms make the letters ‘r’ and ‘s’. Again, they can take some time to practice any words they can spell with letters they know.
Lesson 15: final forms
There is no easy combo for the remaining letters x, q, and k so we’ll practice them as the final and most challenging letters. The x requires a lift of the pencil, the k requires a switch in direction, and the q also requires a switch in direction. Take it slow, follow your child’s lead. If you need to do one each day to avoid confusion, take that time. After these final letters, they should be able to form all the lower case letters and will need lots of support to keep practicing. You can bring the upper case letters as needed when your child is writing. If you embrace cursive as the way to write, they will too:)
Image credit: Andy Everson
Content warning. This post, which addresses the painful history of residential schools, may be distressing to some readers.
Canada has declared that September 30th will be a National Day for Truth & Reconciliation fulfilling the Truth & Reconciliation Commission's call to action #80. This call to action means that the federal government in collaboration with aboriginal peoples, established this statutory holiday to honour Survivors, their families and communities and ensure that the history and legacy of residential schools is never forgotten.
This has created another opportunity to find meaningful ways to connect to this important part of Canada's history. Below we share some ideas for how you can honour this day.
Appropriate for Grades 1 and up:
Phyllis (Jack) Webstad, a residential school survivor, shares her personal story which inspired Orange Shirt Day.
After you share this story, here are three simple craft ideas for the young child, to build meaning and connection with the story:
Appropriate for Grades 3 and up:
This video is a gentle reminder of what residential schools were and why it's important to learn about them.
After watching the video you could have your child do the following activity:
At Daily Wonder, our goal is to connect parents with heart-felt, age appropriate activities to bring meaning to being human in our world. We hope to inspire you to build community and take a moment to reflect and connect on this new national holiday in Canada. We'd love to see your ideas. Be sure to share with us how you built connection on this day.
Explore schedules, rhythms & routines, songs, music, festivals, free play, meals, projects & more to support your homeschooling program.
The Wonder Squad