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!


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,

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!