In many Waldorf grade 3 classrooms, students undertake their very first project experience, choosing and building a model of a shelter or dwelling. Grade 3 students at SWS first learned about shelters and dwellings constructed by Indigenous people in North America and around the world, and how these people ingeniously used what they had in their local surroundings to keep warm, safe and dry.

Housing we studied included cedar plank houses in the Pacific Northwest, adobe dwellings in the Southwest, igloos in the far north, and wigwams made by many Native American tribes. Guest speakers joined the class (through Zoom) on several occasions—one local teacher of Ojibwe descent who talked about wigwams and the connection of the past and present, and the importance of these traditional dwellings to Indigenous people today. A guest speaker with family in India spoke about modern-day houses in India.

The students then chose their own shelter/home to research and build a model of. Choices were wide-ranging, from a tipi to an igloo to a lean-to, and even an Iranian home built underground, a Maasai mud hut, a traditional adobe housing complex, and many more. With parents’ help, the children learned a bit about the shelter and then built the structure, mostly on their own. They also followed the writing process to create a short write-up which described their dwelling.

This project combines elements of cultural and geographical learning; allows for student freedom, inspiration and choice in their project; and also engages a host of higher-order thinking and executive functioning skills. In the end, students were asked to expand out of their comfort zones and speak briefly in front of the class about their projects.

–Ashley Ulmauf, Grade 3 Class Teacher


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