I have no personal experience with Live Education! so I am pleased to offer one of my reader’s experiences with this curriculum for you all to read. Thank you to Eva, a homeschooling mother of five bilingual children, for writing this piece. I think you will find this review to be balanced and interesting not just from the perspective of the curriculum itself but how Eva uses Live Education with her large family. I love to see how other Waldorf homeschooling families do things, and I love Eva’s blog! Please do be sure to check out her beautiful bilingual blog here: www.untroddenpaths.blogspot.com
Review of Live Education!
Live Education! is a Waldorf curriculum for grades kindergarten through 8. It can be used either in a school or a homeschool setting. It was founded in 1997 by Rainbow Rosenbloom, who was later joined by Bruce Bischof. Live Education! offers separate curricula for each grade and provides consultation services and an online community as part of their services. All consultants are trained Waldorf teachers and/or have been involved with Waldorf education for many years. I’m reviewing the first edition of the curriculum, but am aware of some changes and improvements.
Each grade’s curriculum captures the essence of what would be taught in an American Waldorf school, focusing on the main lessons. Main lessons usually comprise the subjects English, mathematics, history, geography, physics, chemistry, and nature studies in grades 1-3; the latter is later divided into botany, zoology, and human studies. Foreign languages, music, art, handwork, woodworking, physical education, and eurythmy are not covered unless they pertain to the main lessons, e.g., learning to play the recorder, or drawing and painting as the artistic part of each subject.
Putting the kindergarten curriculum aside, each grade is organized in a similar fashion. There are several slim booklets dedicated to one topic, but sometimes interwoven with a second topic, especially in the lower grades. The nature studies booklet for grade 2, for example, also contains ideas for math. Ideas are important in this curriculum. Some lessons are spelled out for the teacher, for instance the ones on history in the upper grades, but quite often you find only suggestions for what you might do with a topic. The enables the teacher to truly make the material being covered his or her own. It also helps grant a certain amount of freedom to the teacher and his or her personal circumstances. For some people this is truly inspiring, others might feel at a loss. To get a feel for each grade one has to purchase the material in advance and read through all the booklets before knowing what the grade is about. It is possible to pick up a booklet and start teaching (I have done this after just having had a baby), but one doesn’t really get to know the material well in this way.
Each grade always provides a short description of the development of the student as a person and shows why certain subjects appeal to that age. There are references to Rudolf Steiner’s writings and sometimes to writings of other educators in the Waldorf education tradition. Each grade also suggests how the material could be divided up. The characteristics of a main lesson are discussed in detail for each new level with the three parts of opening activities, lesson presentation, and lesson application. Ideas for the opening activities include reciting poems, math facts, recorder playing, and more. The lesson presentations are quite often laid out in detail to be read or told to the child. Sometimes additional books are recommended or required. Most lessons are followed by lesson activities. These activities are varied, ranging from compositions, drawings, modeling, cooking, and dictation to hands-on projects like making a simple plow. There are many colorful examples and instructions on how to paint certain watercolor pictures or how to make a drawing. In fact, one of Live Education!’s strong points is how well it conveys the artistic element to the user — something which is missing from similar publications. Each grade also has bibliographies, reading lists for children, and other interesting reading suggestions.
The curriculum includes plenty of material, more than I’ve typically been able to cover. Some subjects have more detailed lessons than others. History and the sciences are covered in depth and detail; English and math sometimes get incorporated in other lessons, e.g., in grade 5 you practice composition within your history studies. For math practice some volumes in the Key to Series are used or recommended. I wish there were a similar series to supplement Live Education!’s English lessons. Some children require regular practice to retain new concepts. I have found myself using a few selected titles to give my children added practice in that area. I use Charlotte Mason type materials or sequentially organized materials depending on the learning style of my particular child. The same is true for spelling. Live Education! gives spelling lists and word groups for the lower grades, but only suggests that you take your spelling practice from the lesson you are presenting in the upper grades. Though this might be the ideal, it can be too time-consuming for a homeschooling family, or a particular child might require more consistent review of previously learned words. Here books like The Natural Speller, Sequential Speller, or Spelling Power fill the need. I know that some people talk about Live Education! burnout, but it is possible to use Live Education! even with a larger family. (I have five children, aged 2-12).
The kindergarten curriculum is organized differently. Four booklets address the four seasons, and a separate booklet describes the kindergarten at home. Instructions for activities like painting, drawing, and modeling with beeswax are given. There is also a section on storytelling and organizing a kindergartener’s day. Festivals are described, and appropriate songs, rhymes, crafts, and stories are given. There are additional reading lists for children and parents in each seasonal booklet. Having worked in a Waldorf kindergarten in Germany for several years myself, I can attest that the material is adequate and plentiful. Some parents might need more visual aids to create the atmosphere of a Waldorf kindergarten, though. I only have the first edition of the kindergarten curriculum, but it seems to me, judging by the samples on Live Education!’s website, that the curriculum has been widely improved and expanded.
Not only has the kindergarten curriculum been revised, but some of the grade levels have also. The revisions seem to be in the area of presentation, arrangement of materials, and additions to lessons. I haven’t seen the new texts, but I do hope that one of the biggest complaints I have about the booklets has been solved: bad editing in the form of many typos. I’ve also noticed that a new booklet on English (The Sentence Sounds a Melody) fills some of my suggestions for more practice in English.
This is my eighth year with Live Education! All in all I have been very pleased and inspired by it. I know that many people criticize the cost, but I think it is comparable to other materials. Buying a year of Sonlight, Oak Meadow, or even some other Waldorf suppliers is not so different. I once tried putting together my own curriculum for grade 2, but in the end it was not any cheaper, required even more work, and was not as rich as Live Education!. I like that the people behind Live Education! are actually trained Waldorf teachers themselves, who have been exposed to the education in different settings. I wish Live Education! could also give help in foreign languages, handwork, woodwork, even religion (I’m from Germany where religion is taught at the Waldorf schools). For those subjects I rely on Rudolf Steiner’s Curriculum for Waldorf Schools by Karl Stockmeyer, in the German original. I also wish Live Education! would help with purchasing or recommending sources for main lesson books, art supplies, and handwork supplies. Maybe a special discount or buying option with Mercurius could be arranged? Furthermore, I suggest that the online forum at Live Education! should be moderated, because the participation is very poor. It could be such a help for users. Nevertheless, without Live Education! my teaching would be not as varied as it has become, and I’m deeply thankful for the help and insights they have given me over the years.
Eva is a homeschooling mother of five bilingual children, aged 2-12. She comes from Germany, where she was involved with the Waldorf community for several years. She resides in New York with her American husband in the middle of nowhere. She documents her homeschooling journey at her blog: Untrodden Paths.