Extending Africa Through The Curriculum

If we are Waldorf homeschooling within the Americas, I feel the streams of the Native American culture and African culture must be represented as foundational and carried through all grades of the Waldorf curriculum.  I wrote a brief post about multiculturalism in the Waldorf Curriculum before, and highlighted the wonderful Waldorf Teacher resource book Hear The Voice of the Griot!  by Betty Staley that will carry you throughout all the grades, including high school.

For the early grades, the thrust, should of course, be stories and activities.  First Grade can include African fairy tales; Second Grade can include Aesop’s fables and all the African folk tales and trickster tales, including Ananzi the Spider and the stories that Joel Chandler Harris wrote down as the B’rer Rabbit stories.  In Third Grade, I like doing a another block of African tales and also in our focus of how people lived on the land and built shelters, I like to include that Geechee culture that is here in the Sea Islands of my state (you can see this link for more information).  In talking about the farmer and crops and such, I also talk about indigo and cotton.  This could be included in a fibers/textile block or the farming block or both.

In fourth grade, I like to have a block of Bantu and San tales along with the Norse Myths.  This is mentioned by Betty Staley as fitting nicely here. In fifth grade, I  spend a good amount of time studying the Nubians, who came from what is now present-day Sudan.  We talk about the Kingdoms of Kush and Meroe along with Egypt, and the connections between all of these kingdoms.  I like to point out that at that point, the Sahara Desert was semi-arid to downright lush around the southern Sudanese Sahara and that Sudan has more pyramids than Egypt.  The Ancient Egyptians wanted to control the wealth of the Nubian kingdom, and after the decline of the Egyptian dynasties, the Meroe kingdom became the center of power and increased links and trade to Sub-Saharan Africa.  We also spend time talking about trade routes across the Sahara, and return to this theme in sixth grade mineralogy when we talk even more about salt and its importance in trade.  The Kingdom of Askum would be great to cover in Fifth grade since it is also an ancient civilization, but I find I rarely have time and often it has to go into sixth grade.

In sixth grade, we cover more about Northern Africa in regards to the Roman Empire; and then I like to do an whole block on Africa beginning with the Kingdom of Askum , which I rarely get to cover completely in Fifth grade, and move into Medieval Western African kingdoms. I also do a mini-block in Islam – not just how this fits into the Crusades, but the religion of Islam and how many of the African kings were Muslim and how Islam spread throughout the African continent.  We cover Timbuktu and the importance of the Niger River; Ghana, Songhai and Mali, salt and copper mining;  and then I like to talk about Swahili-speaking peoples. We often, in Waldorf Education, say that Latin phrases should be brought in during this grade.  I feel Swahili could also be brought in as well.  The Swahili-speaking peoples were extending trade across the Indian Ocean.

In Seventh grade, I pick up with Africa beginning with  whatever I didn’t get done in sixth grade, and move into an entire block on the geography and peoples of Africa.  Last time I did seventh grade, this was probably my longest block of the entire school year!  We really get into it and paint and draw and cook and make things and learn songs.  If anyone is interested, I am happy to post an outline of this block in the comments. In our Explorations block, we also talk about African explorers – the connections with Meso-America, the explorations by Africans into the Indian Ocean, Ibn Battuta.  We talk about the deadly impact of the European explorers in both our Africa block and our Exploration block and start to tackle the very hard and real subject of enslaved, kidnapped people brought here to the United States.   This sets us up well for the Colonial America block I usually do as the very last block of Seventh grade.  We also talk about the biographies through sixth, seventh, and eighth grade of black scientists.

Eighth grade and ninth grade brings us to an entire curriculum of United States history where we study the times of Lewis and Clark onward to the very present day in eight grade, and in ninth grade I go back to the pre-European beginnings of the Americas in order to make a full American history course that hopefully brings the stream of Africa into the consciousness of the high school student and how we look at American history.  We talk a lot about enslaved people in our country, but also the settlements of free black people, the role of black people in the Revolutionary  War and the and Civil War.   I also devote a good amount of time to the struggle for Civil Rights in our country, the peacemakers in our country in this movement, and also the struggle for freedom in South Africa.  We also focus on Africa in world geography, including ideas about renewable enery in Africa,and the economy of the continent of Africa.  In literature in eighth and ninth grade, we look at both African-American literature in prose and poetry, usually through authors more well known in high school literature classes – Zora Neale Hurston, Langston Hughes, the play The Raisin In The Sun, and various poems, along with “Black Like Me,” by John Griffin.

Next year, in tenth grade, we will be doing an entire unit on  contemporary African-American literature, which will cover truly contemporary literature (not the Harlem Renaissance!).  We will be studying U.S. Government and will be looking at the issue of white privilege, the prison system, inequality and poverty and more.  We will be reading “Just Mercy,” by Brian Stevenson, and the book, “Between The World and Me,” by Ta-Nehisi Coates.  Eleventh and Twelfth grade ideas will unfold next year.

I hope this post brings you some ideas for bringing in Africa throughout your homeschooling years.

Many blessings,



Winds of Change

I love this spring season of winds and showers.  It feels like a cleansing breath in the middle of not only Lent, but also in this season of the year and perhaps also of  this time in my own life.  A season,  for me at least,  where burnout in homeschooling and in parenting lurked in every corner; where every foray seemed frought with difficulties.  Have you ever been there? Perhaps, like me, you have been, and perhaps like me you also find the cleansing spring tides that most perfect remedy.  Beautiful and lovely days are here!

I find this a wonderful time to…

  • Begin your spiritual practices anew
  • Clean out clutter in the home
  • Spring clean
  • Jump start healthy eating with a spring cleaning of the pantry
  • Make plans for a new school year
  • Make homeschooling fun again
  • Change tactics regarding a troublesome situation in parenting
  • Observe the children in front of us and how we can best guide and help those children
  • Cast aside the things that are not working
  • Renew putting your self -care at the top of the list
  • Find your own strength courage as we head toward the end of the school year

Last night I attended a Tenebrae Mass.  In the Episcopal Church and Anglican tradition, this is a service of  darkness usually celebrated during Holy Week.  Prayers and readings are chanted, sung or read as candles are extinguished one by one until the church is in darkness with the exception of the sanctuary lamp.   In our parish, we also use incredible choral music. The children sang, and it was an amazing and stirring performance.

How often life is like that service; we feel at the end and in the darkness but yet there are others beside us and walking with us.  And if we look up just right, we can see in the distance the light just like that sanctuary lamp and the promise that things will come together and it will be good.  Life is always and still beautiful, my friends.

May you all have a blessed spring and find the renewal that is so important this time of year.  It promises to be a glorious time ahead.

Many blessings,


Planning 101

So, planning season is upon us!  Are you getting ready for fall school yet?  I am.  Partially because I am more sanguine and sick of all our current subjects this time of year, and partially because I like to be prepared.

So, step number one:  gather your chief helper in planning. Mine is a fuzzy dog who sits by me whilst I contemplate my thoughts.  And tea.  I always have tea.

Then, I make or pull out a yearly plan. I have had my yearly plan since my oldest was six, so it is very battered by now.  It is a big piece of paper divided into twelve big squares, one for each month, and scribbled/ written on with all kinds of pens and pencils. Each month is labeled and I added things such as our family holidays, food we normally eat around that time of year, things in nature in our area that time of year, different fairy tales and songs.  You might wonder what this has to do with homeschooling a tenth and seventh grader (outside of the fact I still have a second grader) in the fall, but I find the essence of these months still permeates into our work within the diversity of the year.

Then, because my children have friends who are in two different school districts, I look at the public school calendars for those districts and see what days friends are likely to have off. We can’t always take off all the dates, but I try to look and see what fun we might be able to have at those times.  Then  I determine a possible start and end date to our school year, and our vacations and festivals.  It is always flexible, though.   I never really know when field trips will pop up per se as we have a homeschooling group that often gets good deals to things, but if I know any field trips for the coming school year I pencil those in.

When I know how many weeks I am schooling and how many days are in each week, then I know approximately how many weeks I can devote to a block.  I start thinking about what order I want to do my blocks in.  What makes sense for that time of year?  Will we be getting ready for holidays or tired or wanting to be outside more?  Those kinds of things help the decision- making process. So I write the order of the blocks on the yearly calendar that has all the dates. After getting the order of blocks down, I start assembling resources for each block of each grade.  Usually that means stacks of books in each block divided by grade and my house is a giant library- looking mess, and a list of books I would like to either look at through the library or books I want to buy used.  For our high schooler, it also means figuring out if I am ordering any curricula for the year long track classes or if we are doing any classes outside the home.

I then start to think about daily plans.  I think about if we need any extra time for skill development  for the upper grades or for track classes that run all year. This year, I decided that during non-literature blocks for my tenth grader, I am going to combine her with her seventh grade sister for writing several days a week (skill development for the seventh grader).  I also decided I am going to pick a topic a month and all the children can do a project on it together once each week.  I chose things that mainly overlap in seventh and tenth grade, but I will have something special for my little second grader too.  So, I make this idea of weekly lessons down to the daily flow of things.  Who will go first?  Together?  Last?  How will this flow?

And lastly, but perhaps it should be first – where will my self-care be?  This year I realized I had to do some things for my own physical health and I had to put those things first thing in the morning but I could no longer do it at 5:30 AM.  So I am meditating on self care and what that will look like in the new school year.

I would love to hear how your planning is coming along!

Blessings and love,




Sorting Through Writing In The Middle School Grades

Waldorf Education lays an amazing foundation for writing throughout the elementary school years by working with rich oral language, varied sentence structure and vocabulary and opportunities for expository writing ( informative), creative writing (narrative), poetry (both written and in songs).  Many of the Waldorf teachers I have spoken to do speak of the need to bring in more opportunities and examples for book reports, reading non-fiction sources and writing reports, and opportunities for persuasive (argumentative writing) throughout the middle school years of grades 6-8. A public school environment would also focus upon cause and effect and comparitive essays in addition to the types of writings just mentioned. I think there are many ways to incorporate all of these types of writing along with grammar and oral language opportunities, but only if one plans ahead.  I  also fully believe on demand timed writing can wait until at least eighth grade if the student is headed to a public school high school  environment (but to know that this can be a focus in some school districts) and to begin in high school otherwise.

There is no one “Waldorf writing” resource for grades 6-8 or high school, although I am partial to the articles by Betty Staley on these topics over at the Waldorf Library On-Line and I like the Comedy and Tragedy booklet that Christopherus Homeschool Resources, Inc offers for ninth grade.  Live Education does have a grammar book for the upper grades that could be of interest to some.

If you are looking for resources, I have been reading a lot lately in the realm of English Language Arts for teenaged writers (which would essentially cover grades 7-12 in a Waldorf School or Waldorf homeschooling setting).  My favorite author so far is Kelly Gallagher and pretty much anything he writes I enjoy and can find gems in his work for my own homeschool.

I think  in the Waldorf homeschool setting, sixth grade is a great time to work on grammar, poetry, book reports, and  creative/narrative writing and expository writing, which can include gathering information from non-fiction sources.  Looking back upon Mr. Gallagher’s work and the sixth grade year I am in the midst of  with our second child, I am convinced we have done enough reading, but I am not convinced we have done enough writing.  I am working hard to increase our writing volume now.

Seventh grade is a traditional time of creative/narrative writing with the “Wish, Wonder, Surprise” block in Waldorf Schools.  I find seventh grade is a time when many students really up the quantity and quality of their writing.  I look back upon my first child’s work and I can see this amazing leap between sixth and seventh grade.  Then, in eighth grade, just as in previous years,  there is opportunity for all types of writing and I think also opportunities for using and deciphering news articles regarding current events.   I like requiring book reports quarterly from sixth grade onward (perhaps some of you start this requirement earlier), and I focus a lot on reading non-fiction texts in putting together  2-3  research papers or to accompany larger projects  a year in sixth grade, and then in seventh grade and up even more. Of course, we are learning grammar, summarizing topics, working with poetry and recitation and more throughout the year in all of the middle school grades.

I would love to hear some of your successes in homeschooling grades sixth through eight and how you approached the development of lovely writing in these grades.



Curriculum Decision Fatigue

Sometimes mothers can really work themselves into a decision fatigue over planning the homeschool year and picking resources.  In the land of Waldorf Education, homemade is wonderful because the subjects that speak to the development of the child at a particular age are ALWAYS going to be better when they are understood and warmed by the breath and touch of a parent and teacher.

However, that being said, many parents are trying to Waldorf homeschool without ever seeing a Waldorf School, where so many of our traditions as homeschoolers come from.  Parents are trying to homeschool without ever knowing another Waldorf homeschooler, let alone Waldorf homeschoolers that have walked this path into the upper grades or high school to see where things really land!

For these reasons, I think curriculum can help, especially if it means not choosing to do the healing waters of Waldorf Education versus other streams of education.  I have spoken again and again about what I look for within a curriculum and from a curriculum author who proclaims to represent Waldorf Education.  I have spoken time and again about how I wished mothers would read Steiner for themselves, look at the descriptions and blogs of the school, and to consider attending any in-person workshops or conferences they can travel to.  Choose your resources wisely and with care.

But most of all, know in your heart that homeschooling will be different than the school setting. It is not supposed to be school.  You cannot do every extra subject on top of a main lesson time with multiple children.  And that is okay.  You do need an afternoon to clean your house and go grocery shopping and you do need time to take care of yourself.

Homeschooling can become  a long picture view instead of a quick decision fatigue over curriculum.  If you homeschool through eighth grade or high school, you have eight to twelve years to get things together.  It is okay if it all doesn’t happen in one year!  Small steps add up to beig results in being slow and steady over the years.

Love yourself, and your family,  by trying to get things down to a level of simplicity and a feeling of being unrushed. If you feel rushed, you are doing too much probably both outside of the home and also probably trying to do too much within your homeschool.  Simple is best, and oh so lovely.

Many blessings and much love,

Planning Tenth Grade (And Combining With Seventh Grade!)

So hot on the heels of my ideas of ways that will improve our next ninth grade experience, I am busy thinking about and ordering resources for tenth and seventh grade.  Seventh grade is my favorite grade, but it is very full, so I am thinking of ways to combine an also very-full tenth grade (and second grade).

For tenth grade, I am seeing if there are any local classes we could take advantage of for areas where it might be a struggle, and then seeing what we will be doing at home. We are not going to do any kind of dual enrollment this year with our local colleges, but I know some tenth graders who have done that as well, so that may be a possibility for your family if you are planning tenth grade.

The main things covered in many Waldorf Schools in tenth grade (and I got this by looking at the grade outlines for high school from the Honolulu Waldorf High  School, the Seattle Waldorf  High School, Austin Waldorf School, The Rudolf Steiner School of Ann Arbor, The Rudolf Steiner School  in New York City, and Academe of the Oaks, the Waldorf High School in Atlanta), seem to include:  

  • History:  Ancient River Valley Civilizations through Greece. Some include India, China, and Tibet as a focal area.  Some include Colonial America as another block.
  • U.S Studies:  Some include Civics. Some include U.S. History I.  (we already did US History over eighth and ninth).
  • Literature/Language Arts: Most seem to include epic poems, The Odyssey, Poetics in general, Greek Drama and Mythology (some include Siddhartha), The Old Testament as literature. Some include separate world literature or focus on a geographic area literature (ie, Pacific Rim and literature, etc)
  • Math:  Most include geometry or Algebra II as a year long course, trigonometry and land surveying, practical trigonometry
  • Earth Sciences: Some include hydrology or oceanography or crystallization
  • Life Sciences:  Embryology; some also include circulation. (we did circulation in ninth grade)
  • Physical Sciences: Mechanics
  • Chemistry:  Acid and Bases  (Since we are going to do a full chemistry course in eleventh grade, I may not totally worry about this!)

So, I started to think about where tenth and seventh grade will or COULD overlap. The middle school grades have a bit of fluidity to them, so I thought I would just see what I could come up with:

  • Mechanics definitely
  • Oceanography could be a maybe – hybrid between eighth grade and tenth grade
  • Navigation (exploration and astronomy in seventh grade, navigation and astronomy in eleventh grade)
  • Poetry – all three children can enjoy this
  • Colonial America – not typically included in seventh grade, but I did this my first time around in seventh grade so we could start around the time of Lewis and Clark in eighth grade and I was thinking about how to include it again, and some schools are including Colonial America in tenth grade.
  • World Geography – this could tie in to Africa and Latin American blocks in Seventh grade, and Ancient World Civilizations in tenth grade. This could also tie into World Literature.

So, I am thinking for blocks we will do Ancient Civilizations (but I have not decided which ones yet!), literature tie-ins to the Ancient Civilizations  but not get too involved with compare and contrast between texts, (which is more eleventh grade in a Waldorf School),  a hands- on trigonometry block using Trig Trainer and trigonometry board games plus a geometry design game, embryology and a  poetry block.

Our number of blocks was smaller this year in ninth grade simply due to the year long courses requiring so much work.  My main goal throughout these high school years besides helping our student with what she needs and wants and having fun and loving as a family is also to keep  things manageable for myself because of the demands of teaching so many things at once and because I have already homeschooled for years. No burnout wanted here!

I was thinking our combination subjects could happen one day a week and will involve projects that both grades/students could enjoy about these areas ( and I am sure my little second grader will be listening in).  They wouldn’t be blocks per say, since there would be no two or three day rhythm, only one day a week, but I was thinking one subject area per month and just having fun things to do throughout the Mondays (or on other days of  the month! Field trips!).   This would be a unique way to tackle some different parts of the curriculum for both grades that might otherwise be harder to get to and fit in (especially for tenth grade, which seems really full!)

Many blessings,

Homeschooling Waldorf Ninth Grade

So, we are fast coming to a close on our ninth grade year.  This year was not nearly as light and fun as I predicted it to be for several reasons:

  1. My own inexperience.  I felt confident in teaching any subject at all, but it was still hard in terms of what would best reach my student – for example, the order of topics within biology, more literature analysis versus composition in language arts, etc.
  2. The year was busy with outside things and we had less time to be home and really do elaborate projects and things.
  3. We were still trying out resources to find what really clicked.
  4. My expectations were too high.  All over the Internet I kept reading, “Oh, it is so easy to homeschool high school!  They are so independent and all you have to do is facilitate!”  That may be true for students attending a hybrid school or taking all on-line classes, but I did NOT find this to be true in our case. Also, at least according to a Waldorf perspective, a  ninth grader is in a black and white stage where they do not think too deeply; it is general thinking and not introspective thinking; the main focus is outward and not inward – it is simply the year of “WHAT?”   “What is happening around me?”  Some Waldorf sources note the students are willing to do work without too much questioning of “Why?”  Again, this did not fit our case at all.  My ninth grader was not excited about homework or, happy to take things in but not so happy to provide any response.

So, my tips and advice as to what I would have done differently and what might help you as you plan ninth grade:

  1.  I would have spent the year doing a physical science or an environmental science and saved biology for tenth grade.  And in doing biology, I would use Oak Meadow again (which we found halfway through the first semester after an unsatisfying start), but I would re-arrange it so we started with the “macro level” of taxonomy, the kingdoms, and worked down to the microscopic level. This is what we are used to in Waldorf Education, and I think it would have made more sense to us even though pretty much every high school text starts with the cellular level.   I tried to start this year with using my own syllabus I created using Campbell (the high school level) Biology book, “The Way Things Work,”  and several lab books that many homeschoolers use, but this did not work for us. Oak Meadow Biology did work well for us, with added resources from Waldorf resources and Teachers Pay Teachers.  We did keep a Main Lesson book and did all the experiments and that was fine.
  2. We started the year with a Comedy and Tragedy block, which was a hit.  After that, we used American colonial poetry and the book “The Last of the Mohicans” with our Native American/Early American History block.  This was more difficult but okay. We then used pieces of the Oak Meadow syllabus to look through several works of literature, including “House of the Scorpion”, “Kidnapped,” and “Their Eyes Were Watching God,” and poetry by Mary Oliver.  Most of this was not enjoyable to our student and rather like pulling teeth.  I think when I re-do ninth grade, we will spend the year writing, but not  as much literary analysis.   I  would advise you to look at your student and see if you think your student would be better served with composition (argumentative/persuasive writing, narrative writing,  descriptive writing, expository writing, etc ) or is ready for analysis of literature past one block or so.  One idea I had was to base the types of writing across the year on Art History, which normally is  one or two blocks in the Waldorf Schools in ninth grade. So I may try that next time, (although my next student is super science-oriented, so I may base that through science next time!)
  3. I would have alternated solely the history/language arts blocks -3- 4 months each, 2 hours a day would have met the required hours for a college track class (120 hours), and then just added the math and science as year long classes. So yes, you would be teaching blocks plus two track classes at home, which could be a lot on top of teaching younger children.  But I think one could pull it off with careful planning.
  4. Apart from science, which I really do not believe you can get enough credit hours over four years with blocks to equal 180 hours in biology, chemistry, etc with labs, I would look carefully at keeping the block system with running math and science as year long courses if your student loves block learning like mine.  I had grand plans for more blocks, but we ended up with an Early American history  block to finish off our American history credit, Comedy and Tragedy, Literature, Art History ,  and year long courses in Ninth Grade Literature and Composition,  Biology, Algebra I, and Spanish II.  It wasn’t horrible or anything, but I felt like it all could have been lighter and more fun.
  5. Think carefully about what you might need to farm out to save your own sanity, and be prepared it may or may not really be what you needed!  This happens.  For example,  I farmed out Algebra I , but I wish I had farmed out the language arts component instead.
  6. We did have some great experiential learning this year, so borrow a trick from our unschooling friends and keep track of the hours of an experience and count that toward credits.  For example, we did a two hour class on fish anatomy, physiology, and classification, so that could count toward biology.  We did another class at our local aquarium on sharks, so that too could count towards biology.

I have some big plans for tenth grade since I had an epiphany this weekend, so stay tuned for some more ideas of dealing with the upper grades.  I have some ways I am thinking of combining seventh and tenth grades!

Many blessings and love,