Fifth Grade Olympiad

In early May, Mrs. Leon’s fifth grade traveled to a town near Williamsburg Virginia, to participate in a Greek Olympiad with 3 other 5thgrade classes from our region.  This event was the culmination of the study of ancient Greece this year.  The children have anticipated this right of passage for many years and spent much time during this school year with Mrs. Leon and Mr. Gardiner, preparing for the five events of the pentathlon.

I attended the Olympiad as a parent spectator and was again reminded of why I chose Waldorf education for my child.  I need no convincing about Waldorf education:  every day I am grateful for the excellent curriculum in which depth of study and quality are prized, our wonderful school community, the caring attention of devoted teachers, the abundant artistic work, and the protected space for childhood.  But every once in awhile, I am impressed in a new way by this gift our children are receiving in a Waldorf education.

I traveled with the class on the bus, so I got to see the preparations for the event the day before it actually took place.   When we arrived on Wednesday at lunch time, the field was set up meticulously for all five events.  After enjoying lunch with the other schools,   all of the children were divided into groups to play ice-breaker games led by the class teachers.  This was followed by time for the children to practice each event.  This practice helped anchor the children from all the schools in the place they would compete the next day. After some free time, the children had dinner together in the dining hall, and then performed Greek plays, songs and poems from their studies for the parents and each other.  I was struck by how beautifully they all sang and recited and also by the collaboration of classes from different schools.   The culmination of the evening was a ceremonial burning of the odes the children had written to the Greek gods and goddesses, during which one student from each school read their ode. 

After this, each child was called up to join their city state of Athens, Corinth, Sparta or Thebes, with whom they would do each event in the pentathlon.  The children received a shirt indicating their city state.  The excitement and anticipation of each child as his or her name was called was palpable.

This graceful weaving together of athletic competition with emphasis on artistic form and beauty was central to the Pentathlon the next day.  As I watched students take a javelin, and go through the careful motions preparing to throw it, I saw evidence of months of practice that focused not only on throwing the javelin far, but on the style and grace of achieving a beautiful arc with the throw.  This attention to detail was evident in each event.  As I watched, I noticed that every child had a fairly developed skill in each event.  This made the competition satisfying for participants and viewers alike, no matter what the end result was.

The final event was a grand relay involving all city states.  While each city state clearly wanted to win, what stood out the most was the wild cheering and enthusiasm given to all runners, especially those for whom running this distance was not easy.  All the children were clearly ecstatic to see the effort given by fellow competitors.  And when the relay was finished, the Pentathlon complete, the children formed a circle in the center of the field and sang “Glorious Apollo” so well that even Mr. Bender would have been very impressed.

After the children had lunch, they attended  the closing ceremony, in which each child was honored with a laurel wreath and pendant as well as comments about the highlights of his or her individual performance.  Robert Moore, a grandparent who attended the event, wrote in a letter of appreciation, “I was astounded by the thought and care that went into the composition of these accolades.”   As I spoke with many of the parents who attended, I realized we all had the same experience: a deep appreciation for how well all our children are educated by participating in such a thoughtfully prepared event.   Thank you, Mrs. Leon and Mr. Gardiner.