How To Put Together A Block–Part Two

Once you have decided what blocks you are teaching, you can start to gather resources.  I look at what is available for Waldorf teachers through Rudolf Steiner College Bookstore by grade and subject; I also look at general homeschooling book lists for subjects such as history in the  upper grades and I look at “that section” in the library.  I look hard for books in the library of poetry and music dealing with a topic as well.    In the upper grades, I have also looked at artistic books regarding charcoal drawing and other artistic pieces. 

The advantage of having friends who might have Waldorf resources or being able to gather resources from the library is that you can pick the same “tale” or look for the same section of science or whatever and skim through several resources and see which author’s voice resonates with you best.  This can help in narrowing down how many resources you really need to have on hand or order from the library…often with too many resources you can get overwhelmed.   What you really need is the resource that speaks to you best, and then figure out what to fill in any of the things you deem “holes”.  For example, when tackling bigger subjects in the upper grades, I find I often need more than one source to garner a complete picture in order to write my own presentation for my child.

I  tend to order from places like Abe Books or Book Depository if it something I can get used but I also usually have an order from a Waldorf bookseller as well.  Then once I have all my resources gathered, I create little stacks of resources for each subject.  Then  I sit down to read through everything and get an idea of general flow with subjects such as history or epic sagas such as the Norse Myths and also this idea of soul development.  For this understanding, you really have to understand Steiner’s view of development and the goals for each grade in dealing with the soul development of a child that age and also the temperament, personality and interests of the child standing in front of you.   What are your goals for this child, for this block?  Something building their capacities, something to help the soul development of where the child is right now, something to deepen their bodies and their artistry, something to  bring forth their FEELING LIFE.  This is something that curricula on the market can allude to, can suggest regarding, but really it is up for you to figure it out! So reading through and digesting is a large part of planning for a block.   Get a general flow of the block.

Once I get a general flow, I start  thinking….. Which biographies or stories will I pick to accomplish these goals?   What will our warm –up be, our practice be, what will our recall be from the day before and deepening this older material be, what will the new material be?  It sounds daunting, but once you get into it and start planning, it will flow.

More about this  to come.

How To Put Together a Block–Part One

If you are transitioning to the grades from the Early Years, it may seem daunting to put together a “block” of a certain length regarding an academic subject and HOW to teach that subject through movement and art.  How does one begin?

First of all, THINK about the blocks.  What blocks are in this grade and WHY?  Will you include them all?  Most curriculums, especially in the upper grades, include some blocks and don’t include others… and the other curricula on the market will have different blocks (although some are archetypal and always are included).  YOU have to sit down and think about what you want, what is important to you, and why. I felt it was very important to place Ancient Africa and Africa in fifth and seventh grade.  That was a block I invented.  This is just an example; I am certain you can think of other examples.  There are almost archetypal blocks for each grade, but there are also places to create your own.

The next step is to figure out (approximately) when planning the year how many blocks of each subject the child needs and the approximate length.  Most block run three to four weeks, but sometimes things can run two to six weeks depending upon the subject.  I find in my own homeschooling form drawing and math run in shorter blocks than upper grades history or language arts, for example.  Plan a general flow to the year.  I like starting each year with something “new”.  One child really likes to start the year with form drawing/geometry; another child I know will love starting each year with science now that we are moving into fifth and up grades. Think about your child and the year.  Get a flow going!

The second step is to consider how you will start school each day during your block. Many Waldorf homeschoolers have been told the “warm up” should be verses, songs, pentatonic flute or recorder, mental math, movement – and should take up twenty to forty minutes or more of time!  I like this article by Christof Wichert’s article here that challenges some of the assumptions we hold.

I personally like to start the morning with  – a verse, singing a song or two  that ties in seasonally or with subject matter of the block, a few speech exercises, a few fingerplays and some  math practice  if it is not a math block.  That is it.  Poetry I always tie into the Main Lesson, not the warm-up time.    What I found more effective for us with flute/recorder is to tie pentatonic flute or recorder songs and even more singing (especially in geography in the upper grades, singing!)  also into the Main Lesson  itself.

I know this would be a “no-no” in the school environment and instead it might be either part of the “warm-up” or a middle, rhythmical “heart” lesson but in the homeschool environment with three children I do not have time to run three lessons a day for two grades children plus an early years lesson.   Many homeschooling mothers try to be done by lunchtime or have minimal work to come back to after a later lunch, especially with multiple children.   

Another thing I would like to mention is reading aloud.  In the homeschool environment, even in the Waldorf homeschooling environment in the upper grades especially, I find many families reading aloud for an hour a day – some less, some more.  This is probably a big difference from the classroom environment in a Waldorf School. Some families put reading aloud after lunch as a sort of “quiet activity” with older children especially or put it with handwork after lunch.   It is part of the fabric of family life but also part of school.   I tend to do reading aloud as part of our main lesson and because of the large age gaps I mainly read separately to each child.  I read aloud for about fifteen to twenty minutes to each grades-aged child during main lesson time.  I find phlegmatic children often seem to like this toward the beginning of the main lesson; my oldest likes  it at the end of a main lesson.  Totally not how it would be done in a Waldorf School, but it seems to work at home.

Next post in this series will talk about putting together the nitty gritty of a block…


Rhythm of an Early Years Day

Mothers who are new to Waldorf parenting/homeschooling often would like a “sample” day to follow.  If they have never seen a Morning Garden or Waldorf Kindergarten in person, they often have a hard time wrapping their heads around what this might look like.

I think one thing to do in the home environment, which is not a group school environment, is to start with where you are.   You will look inside yourself, and you can also look amongst your community.  Some parents are just inherently more rhythmical than others.  I started noticing the parents in my life who were rhythmical when my children were small.  My own personal model of parenting when my older two children were small were modeled in part after my two Dutch neighbors.  I was so lucky to have them in the formative years of my parenting.  As one Dutch neighbor told me, in her eyes Dutch parenting was really based upon  cleanliness, rest and rhythm (I think that was the phrase – it all started with the same letter in Dutch!)

But most parents, even the most arrhythmical, do have some sort of inherent rhythm.  One of the premises of Waldorf parenting is that the cosmos has a rhythm and we can see this inside our own bodies.  So this is where we really have to look inside ourselves and realize a rhythm set by someone else can be helpful, but we have to work with ourselves.  Mothers have different temperaments, geographic locations, circumstances, health and stresses. We must start with ourselves.

I invite you to pull out a notebook for  a few days.  Write down what you do when.  Are you really getting up at a different time each day?  Are meals really at different times each day?  I think if you can start with just the small pieces of getting up at the same time, yes, even if you have been up with a baby in the night, and getting breakfast going (even if you have to use a crock pot  or rice maker to make oatmeal), that starts something.  Light a candle at the table, say a blessing.  There is a start that you can build upon.

Think about play outside, time for chores where you and the children can do meaningful work, lunch, a quiet time after lunch, more outside play, dinner and early bedtime.  There is a rhythm.  From that, you can work in a story and fingerplays and singing. From there you can work in verses as you transition to each activity.  From there you can figure out what “activity” of the day your kindergartener (ages five and six) can do each day.

I think the above  really applies well to those of you whose early years child is oldest or a singleton.  I think the bigger issue in some ways is what to do with early years children that are third, fourth, fifth….especially with large age gaps between children.    That is a different post for a different time, though!


Planning, Planning, Get Your Planning Here–Part Three

Hello, lovely planning parents!  The first part of this series looked at planning the year and planning blocks.   The last part of planning is to look at  the week and the day.   Looking at the week and daily rhythm is something that comes so automatically in planning Early Years, but in the grades we also have to consider this!

 Planning the Week:  You may have looked at a little of this  when you planned out how many days a week you are going to homeschool each week, but now really look at activities.  HINT: I don’t think children under 10 really need much in the way of outside activities but they will enjoy gathering with other homeschoolers and a ten year could certainly enjoy the right activity.  It may only go “up” from there, depending upon your financial situation, the interests of the child, and what is available in the way of outside activities that is appropriate.  Our oldest daughter is approaching fourteen, so I say to you with those under the age of 14, enjoy these ages of having time to just be home.  Try to give your children this solid, unhurried foundation instead of having activities scheduled every day.  Some mothers are okay having school in the morning and going out in the afternoon most days of the week, I see that a lot in my area, but some mothers find it difficult to switch gears like that and prefer  have “home” days and days they go out after school is done.  So, how many days will you be home, how many days out?   

Planning the Day: You looked at this a little when figuring out what to do with the week, and with what you want to regarding such things as handwork or foreign languages or even gardening and such. A pressing question for the homeschooler is always LIFE. When will LIFE happen?

This comes down to the daily rhythm.  In  Waldorf homeschooling families, children have to help.  Chores are where it is at, baby.  Life skills such as cooking, gardening, cleaning, baking, washing, folding, ironing ARE the curriculum, even (and especially!) for children in the grades!  Leave some time in your days for these activities.  And don’t forget cooking and gardening can be part of main lesson blocks at home.  Cooking especially lends itself well to geography!

Be wary of trying to stuff too much into your day.  You are not a Waldorf School and your time is going to be structured differently than trying to follow the schedule of a certain grade at a Waldorf School.  Look at and capitalize on the things that make your home and homeschooling wonderful.  Homeschooling is a different environment and over the years, as I am nearing the end of our first eighth grades with our oldest and half way through the eight years with our middle child, I can see over and over how in homeschooling we ARE different than the school..  The school curriculum has given us a remarkable foundation, but I think as homeschoolers we are really building upon that foundation.

A Note About Play:  Play is the most important basis and foundation for everything.  Being outside in nature and in a like-minded community if you can find that is so important for children of all ages, even (and especially) for  teenagers.  Work hard to put this in your rhythm every day.  Teenagers still like to play. Their play may look different, but they still play!  There can be a crisis of play around the ages of nine and twelve in many cases, which is probably a whole different post, but be mindful of helping children not shut off their play lives too soon. 

Many blessings in planning!


Easter Monday

There are many traditions that occur around the world on Easter Monday; some are religious and some are national holidays.  I personally love having a festive breakfast and a good hike or precious time at the lake on this special day!

This is a beautiful day in Eastertide and a time to think of those many spring and Easter crafts, spring recipes, spring songs and more!  I love to take this time to do some spring cleaning and re-set my ideas regarding rhythm now that the days are getting a bit longer and warmer.

Rhythm is an ongoing process of change and adjustment based upon the development of your children and the seasons.  In some ways, it doesn’t change very much from when children are little – it may be that meals are generally at the same time, the need to be outside and moving is there no matter what the age of children, the meal planning and errand running day is still there, the quiet time after lunch, the bedtimes can be adjusted up or down according to age and seasonal activities. 

If you are struggling with rhythm, I think there are two things that really can make a lot of difference for mothers.  One is just to step back and observe for a few days and write down what you are doing when.  Are mealtimes and bedtimes really all over the place or is that your perception because you feel scattered?  Are you really going out every single day which is making mealtimes and bedtimes later than they need to be?  These sorts of questions and answers lie within you, your own observations and your own goals.  What small step can you take with rhythm that would help the most right now?

I also find this is a great time for homeschooling mothers to take stock as to plans for fall (in the Northern Hemisphere).  What grades will you be doing, do you have start and end dates and vacation dates in mind yet based upon how this year went, what blocks will you be doing, what resources do you need to order?

I hope you are having a joyous week!


Finding Stillness and Peace With Small Children

The other day I got to observe a very sweet, active little guy.  He was going in and out of a garage.  He was busy.  He was in the kitty litter.  He was in the not-for-children-not-organic bug spray.  He was dripping paint on things in the garage.   He was playing with a cat that didn’t want to be played with.  He was re-arranging all of the garden ornaments.  He needed supervision  by an adult every minute. His mother was awesome; patient and kind while responding to his needs and re-directing him.

This is so developmentally normal for some children who are small.  And yet, it can be so challenging from the perspective of a parent  to literally have to be on your toes all day long to save your child from danger or harm.  And so hard to never have a moment to sink into peace, quiet and stillness.

Peace, quietness and stillness. For just a moment.  To breathe.  To pray.  To just be.

As parents, how do we find this?  Time can be so hard to come by.

Without children:

Some parents like to get up before their children.  For some parents, this is more frustrating than not in terms that then their small children are also awake and up when they leave the bedroom or they just sense someone else in the house is up.  Gentle boundaries over time can help, and I have had parents say their children really did stay in their rooms at a fairly young age (5 or so) until the sun came up or a certain number was reached on the clock.    That type of child can exist!

Some parents swear by an early bedtime and then having time after the children go to sleep.  I myself am an “early bedtime” for children kind of person.  That can be hard in a world when many people are not into early  bedtimes, but that can work for some families.  Perhaps then those parents can garner some time in the morning if their child sleeps in later.

Some parents have an entire night to themselves each week when their spouse or partner will take the children and they go out of the house.  Or their spouse or partner will take their children out on a weekend afternoon or morning and leave mom home.  Figuring out when, where and how you will get some breaks is really important.  Some parents don’t seem to mind being home and with their children at all times, but most I have talked to, especially after their children are a bit more independent – ages five and up perhaps- feel comfortable enough to start thinking about this.

Some parents have the ability to exercise daily and consider that a peaceful, still time for their head even if their bodies are moving!  However, again, this  usually depends upon having someone else care for your children unless your child does exceptionally well in a sling or stroller for walks.

Some parents create a village.  It can be hard to find like-minded parents and entrust that parent with your child.  I think this can be so hard especially for mothers who consider themselves attachment parents – no one can do it like them!  That is true, but in this case no one is going to be mom except mom, but mothers can have a village help you so that mother can be the best she can be.  Often  children seem really ready to stay with a friend or neighbor on occasion around the age of four or five if it is within your neighborhood or a close family friend.   Around age 10 and up children may be ready for sleepovers.  (and yes, there is a specific reason I say age 10 and up, and I actually prefer the teenaged years for sleepovers,  but that is another post!)

With children:

Some mothers really can have time whilst their children play outside.  This can especially happen with groups of multiple children or children that are a bit older.    I think if you are home a lot and have a great rhythm in doing this, it can be so helpful.   If you have really small children and are just getting into the world of rhythm, please consider this.  Healthy play outside perhaps with you near but not on top of them, or as they are older, you inside and the children playing outside can work really well if it is part of your rhythm and routine to have your children create their own play and you not feel as if you have to fill up all their time with structured, adult-led activities.

For very small children, you will probably get the most peace and silence in just being outside together.  Many parents tell me their children have almost frenetic energy when they are inside and have a hard time leaving their parents alone, but outside things seem to slow down and children can get absorbed just poking in the mud with a stick, listening to the creek, watching insects and birds.  This is especially true of small children.

Have  a steady rhythm.    Just having a rhythm of in and out breath can be such a positive way to garner those few peaceful moments.

Know your child. If you have a child of higher energy, you probably will have to get that child’s energy out before you even try to  sit down.  If you can stop, observe and  think what makes your child peaceful or see when your child is most peaceful, that can be a big help in tailoring time and space for peace.

How do you model reverence? Part of being peaceful and silent is to feel reverent towards life.  Praying, reading sacred texts, gazing at beauty, wondering about the small and ordinary,  being able to be still without chattering comes from modeling and providing these opportunities. 

I would love to hear from you.  How do you gather a few moments for yourself in the midst of a busy world of small children?


Wrap-Up of Week Twenty-Five, Week Twenty-Six and Week Twenty-Seven 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-four 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:   Spring has sprung here!  The first weeks I mention in this post included cold weather, but it certainly seems in this Holy Week that spring is here.

And with all the events of life and Holy Week, it seems as if things have been very busy outside of our home and not as much with school.  I feel as if we are swimming in molasses trying to get school done.  This third week covered in this post, Holy Week is a most important week.  I usually try to take some of this week off as there are many things at church to attend, but I feel as if almost every week has been days off as of late, so this week we went ahead and did four days of school.

Next week, the first week of Eastertide, we were supposed to take Spring Break but events did not conspire to have our whole family together doing something, so I imagine we will do at least a few days of school and I may work on planning some of the other days.

Homeschool Planning:  I have the block rotation for fifth grade planned out along with about three full blocks that still need tweaking. I hope to finish up fifth grade soon so I can get started on eighth grade.  That will be much more involved with a lot for me to read and digest!  I finally got the block rotation for eighth grade pretty much done, but I have revised it a hundred times I think.

Kindergarten:  We are back to Suzanne Down’s “Old Gnome Through The Year”.  We have been doing a “Springtime Circle” and the story of “Old Gnome and the Fairy Cradle”.  We have done some spring painting and nature crafts.  We have also been working hard on life skills – dressing oneself, good manners, cleaning one’s room and making one’s bed with help.

Fourth Grade:  We have spent a good amount of time looking at the reptiles and amphibians in our state.  Our state is particularly rich in this area.  We have over eighty species of amphibians, including over thirty kinds of salamanders.  Some of these salamanders are found no where else in the world.  We have five kinds of sea turtles, and our state reptile, the gopher tortoise is a keystone species.  The American Alligator found in the southern part in our state is another keystone species.  We modeled a sea turtle and did some beautiful paintings.  This week we have talked about mammals, including the opossum (a common sight in our state), the beaver, the sixteen kind of bats in our state, including the yellow bat and the Rafinesque Big-eared bat and coyotes.  The Rafinesque Big-Eared Bat really lends itself to a diorama, and we got into a discussion about tupelo trees in regards to the yellow bat.  Next week I hope to finish up mammals, review watersheds and  will talk about the oceans off our state’s coast and our state whale.    I am planning a math block and then a block on insects, bees and herbs as our very last block of the school year.

We finished reading “Thorkill of Iceland” and have been reading Isabel Wyatt’s “Norse Hero Tales” by Isabel Wyatt.

There has been a lot of musical and play practices for two plays, along with horseback riding.  Our fourth grader also took a “Climb and Clay” class where one week was pottery/clay and the next week was climbing trees (in harnesses to go up into the tree canopy).  It has been fun for her, and I think a good experiential foundation for Botany in fifth grade.  We have also been playing a lot and not doing very much in the way of handwork. 

Seventh Grade: Week twenty-five has seen us jump into the Renaissance – we started with building up a picture of the geography of China, Genghis Khan and Mongol ways of life, the Silk Road,  Kublai Khan and Marco Polo, and reviewing the Magna Charta is depth.  We have also talked about  the life of Chaucer, The Hundred Years War and Joan of Arc, and the beginning of the Renaissance in Italy through the biography of Lorenzo di Medici and some of the artists under his patronage.  It has been a busy time of painting and drawing.  I have assigned a project to pick artwork from a Renaissance artist and re-create it, so we shall see how that goes.  We finished “The Hidden Treasures of Glaston” . Our daughter is reading Chaucer’s “The Canterbury Tales” by Geraldine McCreaghean and has “A Proud Taste For Scarlet and Miniver” next on tap to read (review of Eleanor of Aquitaine).  I am reading aloud the book “The Magna Charta” by James Daughtery.

We have been doing quite a bit of math as well – algebra mainly, along with review of fractions, decimals, percentages, and geometry.  We started the year with a combined algebra/geometry block, but I hope after Renaissance and then Latin America and explorers, we will have time to touch on algebra again.  Next week our daughter starts a physics class with a trained Waldorf teacher for a month, so that combined with the physics we did in the very beginning of the year should take care of our physics this year.

We are still busy with horseback riding, musical and choir practice at church, and this coming week our seventh grader will be doing a little camping with friends.  It has been such nice weather this week so we are all glad to go out and play.