A look into the mobile classroom

By Iris Taggert, August 2021

Since the “mobile classroom” was developed at the Bochum-Langendreer Waldorf School about 20 years ago, many Waldorf schools have taken up this form of teaching and implemented it in their own way. Thus you can now find the typical benches and seat cushions in many classes 1 and 2 nationwide.

Photo: © Charlotte Fischer

Those of us who have ourselves been taught from the first day of school in a conventionally furnished and managed classroom usually have little idea of teaching under these conditions. Let us therefore take a look at the mobile classroom together.

It is still early in the morning: the outer doors of the school are opened and some pupils of class 1 and 2 race towards their classrooms. For a few weeks now, an obstacle course has been waiting for them there in the time before classes begin. A few minutes later, they are climbing, balancing, crawling and jumping over, under and through benches, cushions, ropes, hoops, stilts and blankets. Despite all the movement, there is order here. The children know the rules, the variables and constants. The course has a beginning and an end and is followed by all in a way that avoids congestion, collisions and unnecessary commotion. The arrangement changes daily and thus always seems new and challenging to the children.

In this way they have the opportunity, as perhaps at no other time of the day, to be in motion and meet each other in movement in the smallest space and with the greatest pleasure in the time before classes begin. Without much effort, the so-called basic senses mature, which, as has been increasingly observed in recent decades, are not yet fully developed in many children when they start school. When the first school bell rings, the class teacher distributes the tasks for converting the course into a circle. Whereas in the first few days the children still needed this help and foresighted coordination, after a short time they enthusiastically carry out the now familiar procedures, so that after just one or two turbulent minutes everything is in place and the class can settle down for the initial circle.

There is no seating order here. In this way, the changes in the social structure of the class can be seen and experienced immediately. Now we look to see who has been ill overnight or who has recovered. Only then is everyone present, even if some only in our thoughts. Has anyone found a chestnut on the way to school? Who would like to report something from yesterday afternoon or evening? Who experienced something so important the day before or at the weekend that everyone should know about it?

While the class 1 pupils only answer the teacher’s question occasionally and then often in monosyllables, the pupils visibly gain in openness and eloquence in the coming months and years through this daily conversation in the circle, carefully conducted by the teachers. They experience the sincere interest in themselves of their class teacher and fellow pupils. Not infrequently, it is deeply touching what is reported in this circle, which over time becomes very trusting and deep in content, in addition to everyday things. They practise listening to each other. The teacher tactfully corrects the children’s pronunciation and choice of words. What is heard in this way at the beginning of the day from the child – and sometimes also from the teacher – builds trust and allows everyone to really participate in the weal and woe of the individual and at the same time attunes everyone to the respective condition of the others. It has an effect on the way we deal with each other, on the expectations that can or cannot be placed on each other. The lessons can begin!

With the morning verse, the “sun’s dear light” is then welcomed. The songs and verses, which are still accompanied by animated gestures in the first years of school, can be practised particularly well in a circle without separating furniture. While at least half of the schoolchildren disappear behind tables and chairs, in the circle everyone can perceive each other in their entirety. Exercises on laterality and body geography can thus be done again and again with all the children. They quickly become awake to it and skilled at it. In these moving opening minutes, seasonal songs are sung, verses for language development are recited, and games are played to promote coordination and the social structure of the class. The secret lies in the varied repetition. The children enjoy the small changes that each new school day brings and thus develop attention for the content, for each other and for the teacher. This phase of the lesson can be compared to the tuning up of an orchestra.

The class is still sitting in a circle, encounter the content of the previous day and now complet the third learning step before the teacher prepares the new content with the class: in form drawing, these are grasped with the whole figure; in the arithmetic lessons, counting and mental arithmetic are done in many different ways; and in the writing lessons, the children practise linking symbols and sounds, the written and the spoken word, in every possible way. In the circle, everyone always speaks to everyone and not just to the teacher – and everyone is heard by everyone!

After this first concentrated phase of work, the conversion from the circle to rows follows – an undertaking that, with good preparation and guidance, takes less than a minute and gives the class another opportunity to exhale. The classic cushions, still stuffed with spelt husks, have meanwhile been further developed in many schools in terms of shape and filling, so that the sitting posture of the pupils has been improved as a result. In the second and third years of school, the children initially sit on their benches without cushions, notebooks and pencil cases after this change and can listen to the verses individually given to each pupil without distraction. Only then does the class find out what exactly needs to be taken out of the school bags. These remain in their place on the wall throughout the school day. Again, after a high level of concentration, the children are let go for a short time, only to be brought back to themselves with a well-chosen rhythmical exercise and guided into calmness.

The precious minutes of absolute calm and concentration that follow are ideal for introducing new content. New learning steps are taken before the class moves to doing and diligently practices what they have learned. Due to the low seating, everyone has an unobstructed view of the blackboard from their seat as there is no “tall person” blocking the view. This means that physically small pupils can sit at the back and tall pupils at the front. The teachers also have an unobstructed view of their class from the blackboard all the way to the last row and can walk between the benches in order to observe and support the individual children in their activities even more directly. For the school breakfast, the benches can remain as they are or be placed back in a circle. On special occasions, they can also be arranged to form a large festive table. However, despite all the joy of activity, care must be taken to be economical with time and energy. For example, the form chosen for breakfast can simply be the form that the subject teacher wants for the following lesson.

The different possibilities offered by the movable furniture can also be made productive in the subject lessons.

This is where another, particularly important aspect of the original “Bochum model” comes into play: despite all the movement, there is a need for constants – especially in the often turbulent lives of children today. By far the most important constant, especially for class 1, and if possible for longer, is the accompaniment of the class teacher throughout the entire school morning. This makes it much easier for the children to follow the familiar rules, develop good habits and become capable schoolchildren.

If it can be arranged, it is good for the class to hear the story, for which the circle is again particularly suitable, at the end of the school day. In class 1, the children may be allowed to sit within the circle for this, where and how they feel comfortable at the end of the school day, perhaps even lie down on the carpet? Some are grateful for the opportunity to get a little cosy after what is still a busy morning for them. Many children also move very close together or to their teachers on this occasion – others prefer more distance – everything is allowed – as long as silence is maintained and eye contact between pupils and teacher is possible. From class 2 onwards, everyone has the strength to listen to their teacher’s stories even at the end of the school day sitting upright in a circle.

With a warm handshake and friendly eye contact, the pupils are bidden farewell – are their little hands warm, the cheeks rosy, the eyes shining with joy at what they have experienced and learned? Then it was a good day at school!

After years of experience in the lower classes, class teachers no longer want to do without the possibilities offered by this form of teaching in classes 3, 4 and even in middle school. As a result more and more folding tables and chairs are being used in middle school classes, so that the advantages of the circle as well as many other forms of placement can continue to be used as required.

However, the most important element of the mobile classroom is and remains the teacher: inner mobility and at the same time inner calm and order in thinking and acting are the prerequisites for becoming a “lighthouse” for the children. They can use the teacher as a guide even on stormy days and thus find their way safely even when the seas are “running high”.

About the author: Iris Taggert was a class teacher in Kirchheim unter Teck for many years and has worked as a lecturer at the Freien Hochschule Stuttgart – Seminar for Waldorf Pedagogy since 2015.


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