Eighth Grade American History Block One

I put together an outline for eighth grade American History and decided to share it in hopes it will help other mothers.  History can be some of the hardest blocks to put together for several reasons:  because there is so much, because we are trying to teach through themes and biographies which is different than the way we were taught in school, and because we are trying to bring in  light in the darkness of some of these time periods for our children in the upper grades of six through eight.

We did Colonial history and American independence in seventh grade, so I picked up with Native Americans in the opening of this block.  I wanted to paint a picture of our country with its First Nations, and how these changes were affecting these nations.  Since we live in an area of the Cherokee and the Trail of Tears, I wanted to use a different Native American group to show that what happened in our area was not isolated. I chose the Navajo and the Long Walk.  We began with Navajo poetry and the book “Sing Down the Moon” by Scott O’Dell.  We really worked with this book from a literary analysis kind of perspective.  From there, we went to the biography of Thomas Jefferson – what did he look like? what did his contemporaries say about him? what was important to him?  what were his interests?  We studied the Louisiana Purchase, and the journey of Lewis and Clark and the biographies of Lewis, Clark, York and Sacajawea.  Our main read aloud was Burchac’s “Sacajawea”.

From there we moved into Westward Expansion, the Erie Canal and the Golden Age of Canals (the Erie Canal was not the only canal!!), the steamboat.  From there we looked at Texas – how did Texas form as an independent Republic, biographies of famous Texans of this time period, The Mexican –American War and the Treaty of Guadalupe and why this was important.

We reviewed the ideas of Manifest Destiny and how the brief Pony Express still captures the minds of Americans.  Wae looked at Sutter’s Mill and the California Gold Rush (the first major gold rush in the US actually was here in the Southeast and not too far north of where we live so we have been there to look at things), how this impacted the Native American population and we looked at how this lead to things like the race for faster ships and then the growth of the clipper ships and whaling industry in the Northeast.  Then we looked at general technological advances, mainly through the biography of Eli Whitney and the cotton gin and how this only increased and entrenched slavery in the south and led to immigration in the North (although we also talked about the telegraph, John Deere, the vulcanization of rubber, etc)   I talked about some of the resources and things we are doing in our Civil War studies in the back posts where I recap every few weeks what we have done in eighth grade.

So we are essentially looking at all the events leading up to the Civil War, the biography of Abraham Lincoln and some of the famous Africans who struggled for freedom,  the Underground Railroad, and then specifically at the battles and course of the war through the biographies of Lee, Grant and Sherman.  Then to reconstruction, the 13th and 14th Amendments, and biographies to compare and contrast Booker T. Washington and WEB DuBois.  We will talk specifically about the rebuilding of Atlanta and the beginning of the historical black colleges in our area.  We will then look at Custer, Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull and I hope to talk about the Lakota Waldorf School and the Pine Ridge Reservation today.  The last things we are going to talk about will include Joseph McCoy and the rise of the Cattle Industry, and the Transcontinental Railroad with a special and close look at the Chinese laborers who made the building of this railroad possible.

We will pick up History again in February and cover The Gilded Age right through the War on Terrorism, Israel-Palestine, the Information Age/Digitality (nanotechnology), and the the third millenium – what are the challenges, what is our responsibility or role?  Just planting seeds for high school!

Later in the spring, we  also will  have a Peacemakers block where we will cover the important biographies of Harriet Tubman and Sojurner Truth, Martin Luther King Jr, (and compare and contrast Martin Luther King Jr to Malcolm X; I read a biography of Malcolm X this summer that was very interesting), Andrew Young and John Lewis from our own state.  We will also talk about Women’s Rights with Elizabeth Stanton and Susan B Anthony, Wangari Maathai and Malala Yousafzai.  Lastly, we will end with a look at nationalist Peace Movements with Ghandi, a look at Sierra Leone and Liberia, along with Ghana under Kwame Nkrumah, and Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and the fight against apartheid.    Other figures may be covered during read-alouds or assigned independent reading – some many great figures to be covered.  Other areas will be covered in our World Geography track and our Asian Geography block (the Dalai Lama will certainly be included in our Asian Geography block).

Our eighth grader will be over fourteen and a half by the time we hit the last parts of this, and is pretty ready for these topics. This outline could be completely different based upon the child in front of you!  So, don’t take my word and run with it – look at your child, dig around in your history books and on websites and see what you would like to bring in when.


Struggling With Preparing For Grade Five?

I am in the throes of watching another “drop-off” in Waldorf homeschooling.  This time around it is the eighth/ninth grade drop-off where many families chose not to homeschool anymore or choose more traditional academic routes.   It can be a lonely place to be, but yet in many ways this is reminiscent of the “drop-off” between fourth and fifth grade for many families (and in preparing for first grade before that!)  So, if you are sort of struggling to prepare for fifth grade, I would say you are in good company and  that it could possibly even be a natural part of the Waldorf homeschooling cycle for parents with children this age. I sometimes wonder if on a soul level we as parents are mirroring the “fractioning” off the fourth graders themselves are doing (remember fourth grade fractions and what that reflects in a class?!)

The reasons families have struggled is varied but seems to boil down into these categories:

Parenting:  Differing expectations of “protecting childhood” (much murkier than in the early years!)  now that the child has gone through the nine year change.  How much should the world really be opening up?

My caution:  Make sure the world is opening up in a nine/ten year old way, not a sixteen/seventeen year change way.  Ask parents who have teenagers if you are unsure!

The curriculum content:  Yup, I am going to say it out loudMany parents are uncomfortable regarding the amount of anthroposophy underlying the fifth grade curriculum.  Whether it is likening different plants to childhood development ( remember, anthroposophy relates to knowing the human being and how the world is a reflection within the human being) or the progression of Ancient Civilizations to reflect epochs and soul development, to the story of Manu and the Flood placing Manu in Atlantis, the content and the underlying pinnings can be challenging.

My suggestions:

  • Decide what is really authentic for you to bring as a homeschooling parent.  I personally do not use the story of Manu and the Flood beginning in Atlantis, for example, because it is not authentic and living for me.   I have had some conversations with friends  from India regarding these subjects and I want to feel comfortable presenting Ancient India in light of these conversations and thoughts.
  • Read some more and see with time and “settling” how things feel for you – which leads back to authenticity, but this time in a more objective and clarifying way then just dismissing things out of hand.  I don’t want to bury my head in the sand, and I do want to know what Steiner said about these things.  However, many of the things about Ancient Civilizations seem to be more in Steiner’s general writings, not the educational lectures.  The educational lectures talk a lot about Greece, for example.   It takes time to digest and to decide how deep one wants to read into these subjects.
  • Listen to veteran homeschooling mothers and what they discovered going through things.  Here is veteran Waldorf homeschooling mother Lauri Bolland’s take on botany. Well-worth reading!
  • Understand what Steiner said about the evolution of human consciousness.  Whether or not you agree with this is up to you, but again, food for thought.
  • Hang in there and breathe.  Sometimes the more you can be steady and bring things on a level you are comfortable with for your family, the next time around different things will click in different ways. Hold true to who you are and what your family culture is, and see how you can work with the curriculum as well.  To me, sixth and seventh grade are much more straightforward in a sense…

The academic side of the curriculum.  Some parents really leave Waldorf homeschooling behind because fifth grade is a big jump in content and in academic content.  If you feel pressured about where your child is and not feeling as if the curriculum is working for you in this arena, it is easy to think about abandoning it for another method of homeschooling that is either more traditionally academic or less academic.

My suggestion:  Remember, you are homeschooling this way for a reason. What drew you to it, how does it fit your child, be the teacher and get creative!

Tell me your stories about preparing for fifth grade.  Did you struggle?  How did it resolve?


Planning, Planning, Get Your Planning Here! Part Two

Hello!  We are back today with Part Two regarding planning.  In our last post, we talked about planning the year out (and if you are in the early years, your work stops here after you plan a weekly and daily rhythm).  If you are in the grades, the seasonal changes of the year where you live is and your family culture are the foundation for your homeschooling, but now you add blocks of subjects in another layer.  As you are thinking about blocks, think about if you have multiple children of different ages in the grades.  My argument is that as a homeschooling family, the blocks from first through third grade (nine year change) could be done together, the blocks from ages 9 to 12 (sixth grade) could also be fluid, and then blocks for children after age 12 to age 16 could be combined in ways.

After laying out blocks in a flow for the year, including knowing how many blocks for each subject, estimate how long you think each block will take.  Then you can  start gathering resources for each subject.  There are some tried and true Waldorf resources available through Waldorf booksellers.  Be on the lookout for other resources, and ideas for music, art, movement, gardening and cooking.    Many mothers keep lists on Amazon, in a notebook, and on Pinterest for these types of resources.    There are many places, including Abe Books and Book Depository, to order resources from.  You may choose to order a curriculum, which you will need to sit down and read from start to finish.  Once you have read your resources, start compiling a general flow to your block.  How long is it working out to be? Is it like your original estimate?  You can go back and adjust your calendar.

When laying out blocks, I used to always hand write everything. Now I  usually hand write notes from a particular book or resource, and then use a computer  because what I need to present regarding history or science, for example, can be long and I can type faster than I can write.  I also need to compile not just a general flow but more of a presentation on a particular subject for middle school grades and that is often a separate file.  However,   for grades five and under I think you can plan things just by writing things on paper or index cards just fine.   Some mothers devise manila folders for each block or just a binder with plans in it.  If you plan on your computer, at some point, you need to print it out and memorize it, especially for the early grades!

When you are planning a block, it is important to remember that  parts of a block are review from the day before, but also PRACTICE.  How will you practice?  Do you have games, movement, songs, kinesthetic experiences?  The other piece is ARTISTIC.  You can gather  ideas and resources for art – drawing, painting, modeling – and try it yourself.  Try to create something yourself as well – don’t let everything be a canned image from Pinterest!  Leave  your samples in a folder.  You may have to sit down and draw or paint step by step with your child, but you will thank yourself that you tried it first!  Depending upon your grade, you may also think about things such as what read-aloud goes with a block, or songs, or handwork.  Will you put handwork, music, foreign language in with your block or before you start main lesson (Gasp!  Some homeschoolers don’t follow the head-heart- hands that the schools follow.  Some homeschoolers do not bring a foreign language at all either.  This is up to you.  Do NOT kill yourself trying to do it all.  Better to have the main lesson and a few essential areas  and a happy home life rather than trying to re-create a Waldorf School at home!)


Blessings on your homeschooling,


Planning, Planning, Get Your Planning Here! Part One

This is a post for my homeschooling mothers today…

Welcome to Planning!  Now is a great time to start thinking about your planning for fall if you are in the Northern Hemisphere.

Here are the steps:

Know your laws of your state and your country – at what age do you need to start reporting?  I see a lot of mothers of small children completely stressed out about “homeschooling” their five year old and their state reporting laws says they don’t have to report until the child is 8 years of age.  Know your laws!  How many days do you have to homeschool, how many hours a day, what subjects, is there testing or a portfolio?  If you are Waldorf homeschooling, you still need to have the sense of the bigger picture of homeschooling in your area.  You are a HOMESCHOOLER.

Take out a calendar.  What are your start and end dates?  Your vacation times?  How many days a week will you be homeschooling and how many weeks of the year?  Most homeschooling mothers plan anywhere from 32 to 36 weeks total.

While you are looking at that calendar, get out a big piece of paper and divide it so you have six squares on one side and six squares on the other.  Write one month of the year in each square.  What does each month bring up for you?  What is going on seasonally? If you are religious, what is going on in your religion each month?  Write it all down. Any favorite traditions, songs, verses, crafts, activities by month?  If you are looking for resources for some of these things, I recommend A Child’s Seasonal Treasury, Earthways, the Wynstones books by season, and any number of the seasonal books such as All Year Round, Celebrating Irish Festivals, etc.

When thinking about the year, also think about yourself.  What will you do to learn this year and further your knowledge?  When will this happen?  When will you take care of yourself – when are the dentist and doctor appointments, time to exercise, time to plan without the children – start thinking about these areas and use this little planted seed as you look at the year, the week and the day.  Self-care is not selfish! 

LOOK at the child in front of you.  Where are they developmentally?  Are they at a transition point?  Are they in their body?  What sort of life skills are they able to do and assist you with in the home?  Have they had prior school experience that they need to come off of?  How and what in the curriculum and in Steiner’s indications would BEST meet your child?  During the first few early grades this may actually be difficult to discern, but it gets easier the more experience you have in teaching.

If you are teaching the grades, what blocks are you teaching?  If you are teaching upper grades, how far and where did you leave off in history (grades 6-8)?  If you are teaching the early grades, do you know what blocks you are teaching?  You can try sources such as the AWNSA chart or curriculums, but know that you need to adapt things for your seasons, your geographic area and YOUR CHILD.   Jot down what blocks you think you will do and how many of that block.  For example, in first grade how many language arts blocks, how many math blocks, how many form drawing and math blocks? In the upper grades, how many blocks of history or physics?  Do the blocks “make sense’’” for you, what you can do, your home environment?  This is especially important in the upper grades to think about.  This step may really take some time and thought and you may have several (or more) revisions.  I think I have switched around what blocks I am going to do in eighth grade and their order about twenty-five times right now, but I think I finally have it!

And a quick paradoxical note on the Waldorf World – it is always said to look at your child, your geographic location and adjust the curriculum for your circumstances. However, if you go too far off course, people will argue it is “not Waldorf”.  Conversely, if  you just follow along the pages of a curriculum, then some will deem that “not Waldorf”.  I have seen homeschoolers do really weird things and deem it “Waldorf” when it absolutely is not related to Waldorf education at all!.  I have seen homeschoolers really need to adapt things for their child or family and are afraid to do so.  Again, I think this is an area you get much more comfortable with over time and with experience.   Not everyone has the opportunity to do a Foundation Studies course or teacher training or even workshops, but those can help.  Reading Steiner is a must.  You have to understand why, developmentally,  why you are doing what you are doing and then you can choose to tweak it with that understanding! If you are inexperienced and need direction, you can talk to a Waldorf consultant.  Please just make sure it is a someone who has experience in Waldorf education!  Hopefully that someone has also had teacher training or at least Foundation Studies and subsequent workshops, and has had experience in actually not only homeschooling but also in  teaching groups of children that are not their own children for a length of time!

Tomorrow we will talk about what to do once you have decided what blocks you are teaching.

Many blessings,

Third Grade Old Testament Stories

There always seems to be some kind of controversy on the Waldorf Facebook groups or Waldorf Yahoo Groups regarding the stories of the Old Testament in third grade.  Some curriculums refer to this block as “Stories of the Hebrew People”.  Some go as far as to try to make the third grade a “Hebrew Year” to go along with this.

I think the title “Stories of the Hebrew People” may be done just  to emphasize that Steiner saw the place of the Judaic stream within Western Civilization as a profound shift of the consciousness of humanity. It was a time when humanity turned inward.  We can look at Moses and the Burning Bush and see how God was in the bush, loudly speaking to Moses, and how the Old Testament prophet Elijah found God not in the earthquake, not in the fire, but in the “still, small voice” after the fire.  In Steiner’s view, this represented a shift from a group consciousness carried by the Patriarchs to a more individualized consciousness.  There are other ideas Steiner had to be examined regarding Creation and the concept  of time within the Jewish psyche of this time that he felt was important.  These may be the details that speak unconsciously to the nine-year-old in an important way.

I think this block can be challenging for some families because despite what anyone says regarding the fact that this is part of the soul development of a nine year old in the  nine year old change that needs to hear stories about separation, loss and redemption; despite the fact that these stories are important literary and foundational references within Western Civilizations, it inevitably brings up for many homeschooling parents things associated with  religion.  It is especially hard when there are associations for parents with negative religious experiences, even if this is not supposed to be a religious main lesson!  In this day and age, however,   I would not expect less examination.  And because in homeschooling each home is like a world onto itself, and because whilst homeschooling is alternative and Waldorf homeschooling may truly be the alternative of the alternative, I think it often makes the diversity of opinions even greater.

Teachers in the school setting  have to work and struggle with the material as well, but in a classroom one may have an entire class of children from different spiritual and religious experiences there and that perhaps reminds the teacher of the archetypal journey of human consciousness of these stories, whereas at home, there is one parent (usually) leading the block with whatever background  and experiences the parent brings.  In some ways I think this makes it harder!  Some religious homeschooling parents (and there are Christian and Jewish families who use Waldorf homeschooling as their educational model!)  struggle because as part of their religion, these “stories” are not just “stories” but full of meaning, wonder and promise within their religious life; however  the goal of this block is not to have these stories associated with religion but with the development of humanity. As a Christian in the home environment, I know I look at the  Old Testament as not just part of the consciousness of humanity shifting, but through a lens of redemptive love found in the New Testament.  So that can be not so much a struggle, but a particular background to deal with.   Some parents struggle due to past negative experiences.  As I said before, this block is  not in any way meant to be a religious main lesson.  You can see more on this in the Christopherus post  on this subject here and also a small mention of this in this post over at Math By Hand.

I don’t know as there is any other answer than for us as teachers, as homeschooling parents,  to do the work.  I have known some homeschooling families that never really came to a place to bring these stories; I don’t think that can be nor should be forced.  The blocks need to flow out of who the teacher is.  It is worth it to look at this and see why it doesn’t flow, and see different points of view, but at the end of the day, all you can do as a teacher is bring what you think would work best for the soul development of the child in front of you and what is in your own inner work.  People ask for recommendations for “substitutions” for this block but I don’t know as there is any really.  You can certainly bring in more of the Native cultures from your area as tied in with the practicalities of the third grade curriculum; some families do creation stories from around the world but I am not certain that that really gets at the heart of why Steiner considered these stories important for children of this age.  It doesn’t mean that doing a block of Creation stories is wrong, I just don’t know as it is a substitute for what Steiner seemed to have intended…..

I don’t have the answers, but just a few thoughts to share on a situation that often challenges the homeschooling parent.


Seventh Grade Physiology

The seventh grade physiology block takes some thought.  Most of the mothers I have spoken with who are homeschooling this grade are not comfortable just using Charles Kovacs’ book “Muscles and Bones” straight as is and moving through it, and there are not millions of resources available from a Waldorf perspective.  I am going to share with you what I did find and use, so you will not have to re-create the wheel when this block comes up.  I am including Christian resources as I am Christian, and I am sure you will find the resources that work for you!

First of all though, just like with any block, plan and think and dream for awhile. How do you feel about physiology?  How does this tie into the human being on a spiritual and emotional level (there are many more resources out there for the physical level!)  How does this tie into the four elements or your picture of spirituality of the human being?

How do you want to structure this block?   Do you want to include the eye and the ear in this block or work it in with physics or another block?  Do you want to save those subjects or other ones for eighth grade?  For my purposes, I pretty much used the outline that Dr. Rick Tan provided in his blog post.  So, I decided to cover digestion, circulation, respiration and human fertility/reproductive system.  Then I just had to figure out how to bring this from a purely physical, cut down  materialistic way found in most mainstream resources and bring it to the spiritual that fits into my home.

The main books I used were  Continue reading

Wrap-Up of Weeks Twenty-One and Twenty-Two of Seventh and Fourth Grade

I am trying to post a little wrap-up of each week of grades seven, four and five year old kindergarten year throughout the 36 weeks I have planned for school this year.  I hope this will encourage mothers that are homeschooling multiple children (or who want to but are worried!), and  encourage mothers that even homeschooling children of multiple ages who are far apart in age is doable.  You can find week twenty  here  and further in the back posts you can find a post pertaining to the first two days of school this year which gives insight to our general daily rhythm.

Living With The Seasons:  These past two weeks have been very odd in terms of weather  (ice, snow, cancellations of everything and then not a lot of snow, then some snow that melted quickly, etc) and the unexpected things (like my husband getting rear-ended in a car accident that brought us down to one car and having to drive him to the airport, and our oldest daughter getting braces!)  that popped up and  just had to be done during our normal school mornings, so it seems as if we didn’t get as much schooling in as usual.  However, the good news is we are not too far behind where we should be and I think our ending date will be May 22nd.  I hope! (It is typical for schools in the southeastern United States to run on an August through May schedule; in the northeast it is more of September through June).

Kindergarten:  We have really been enjoying our “King Winter” circle extending into dwarves and gnomes – our kindergartener knows so much of this circle and can recite and do so many of the hand motions and such now!  Our story was “The Pancake that Ran Away” for the week of Shrove Tuesday and Ash Wednesday, and this week our story has been “The Rabbit and the Carrot”.  This is a tale from China found in my favorite little pink kindergarten book (“An Overview of the Waldorf Kindergarten”), and I have been telling this story with little wooden animals and our kindergartener loves, loves, loves this little tale!  Other than that, we have been doing a lot of our usual painting, coloring, cooking and playing.  I have worked very hard to set up a few times for our five year old to just play with some other five year olds, and have been grateful my husband has been home this week so we could divide and conquer so the bigger children could go to their activities and I could have some playtime for our five year old.  Lovely!

Fourth GradeContinue reading