After my post about extending Africa throughout the curriculum, a long-time reader 🙂 wrote in and said she would appreciate suggestions for including Latin America throughout the curriculum. I agree that this is needed, and in a way this comment was wonderful timing as we just returned from visiting Mexico, the Mayan ruins at Lamanai in Belize, and from snorkeling in the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef. Latin America is on my mind!
I think as Americans working within the Waldorf tradition of education, (whether North, Central, or South Americans), we should and must consider what contributed to the consciousness of the American soul in our own homeschooling. Although it is not as well spoken about, the basis of Waldorf Education does actually consider this. While the Egyptian Epoch is seen as the platform for Western Civilization, David Mitchell, in an essay in the free ebook, “Riddle of America,” wrote about how the legends of Mesoamerica, particularly the Legend of Huitzilopochtli, and those found in the temples of Mexico in particular were congruent to those found in the Egyptian Mystery Centers.
And, of course, the point of Waldorf Education, is to work with where you are in the world, and with the cultural heritage of your family or your classroom. This is important and being done in Waldorf Schools around the world. So, without further ado, this is how I see the Latin American influence unfolding in the American Waldorf homeschooling curriculum:
In kindergarten and first grade, I use Latin American fairy tales. I like the Bear Prince from Mexico (“El Principe Oso”). Juan Bobo, the trickster from Puetro Rico, I think could be used in first grade as lighter and funnier stories or in the second grade stories as he is quite a trickster. Other stories that come to mind for the trickster part of second grade include Ananzi the Spider, originally from West Africa, but extremely popular in the Caribbean Islands. There are stories about the fox and the guinea pig from South America, and the tiger and the rabbit tales from Puerto Rico. There are also many nature stories that could be used throughout first and second grade. This, in many ways, is an easy part of the curriculum to infuse. Festivals, cooking, and music can round out these grades in a lovely way.
In third grade, I really have enjoyed the approach of how man lived on the land through the stories of the First Peoples, and I think the Olmecs and Mayans should be included here. One could also include the mound-building practices of the indigenous people of the Amazon River. What I normally do is refer to the First Peoples by geographic area, the way the Christopherus Third Grade curriculum does. This makes sense to me in the consciousness of the child, but you may feel differently. At any rate, what I think should be included here is shelters, food sources, clothing, and save the societal structures for fifth grade. If one talks about time in second or third grade, I often see such books as “Thirteen Moons on A Turtle’s Back,” referenced by homeschoolers for block studies on time, but one could also include the Mayan calendar as part of this. In third grade, some Waldorf homeschoolers include more creation stories as part of their curriculum, so I was thinking that the Popul Vuh could be included here.
In fourth grade, one could choose animals from Latin America as representatives for the different categories of animals, and choose a favored animal found in Latin America as a subject for a report. I think the fractions block could be done around something such as preparing for a festival, in practical form and Main Lesson book form. Fourth grade is the year for the Norse Myths, and I think stories from the Popul Vuh might fit in nicely here.
For fifth grade, I would include a block on the Olmecs, Toltecs, Maya, and Nazca civilizations. The Olmecs certainly need to be covered, as they are a river valley civilization just like the civilizations that sprung up around the Indus, Nile, and Yellow Rivers. ( If there is not time to include the Toltecs, Maya and Nazca, I would put at least several days of the Nazca in with the Roman Empire in sixth grade as the Nazca also used aqueducts, and focus on the Olmecs and Maya). There are many beautiful artistic ventures that could be explored just from these two civilizations, the Olmecs and the Maya in fifth grade. Fifth grade botany typically focuses on the vegetation in the student’s world and beyond into the different types of plants, but one could also talk about the ethnobotanical practices of the Maya that are still used today as related to the palm trees and other types of trees. The British military even learns about some of these plants when they go to Belize to do jungle training; the give and take tree comes to mind. I would consider purchasing Master Waldorf teacher Marsha Johnson’s block unit guide on “Chocolate Math” as this talks a lot about the use of cacoa and how chocolate is made and would fit in nicely with Ancient Civilizations of Mesoamerica. It would also be nice to include a tie-in to Mayan mathematics much the way some homeschoolers focus on or at least touch upon Vedic math in fifth grade.
In sixth grade, some schools do Latin American geography as a block at this time. I tend to do that in seventh grade. In sixth grade, there could be a focus on naked eye astronomy, with a return to astronomy with lenses in seventh grade, so I would bring the Maya back in sixth grade to talk about Mayan Astronomy. I would try to include the Incan Empire at the end of sixth grade if possible, as this fits in chronologically and in consciousness with the Medieval time period often covered in sixth grade, or begin seventh grade with this if you run out of time.
In Seventh Grade, I normally do a Latin American geography block and spend time on the Aztecs (and review the Inca and Maya). Then,of course, during the block on Exploration, the sad effects of the Europeans on these civilizations must be discussed. However, I think it is also important to say that Mayan people are alive today. For example, in Belize where I just visited, the Mayan population is about 11 percent of the total population. Incan people are still in South America today. This is important for children to understand.
In Eighth grade, I like to do a World Geography course that counts for high school credit, so that would be another place to look at Latin America and perhaps pick up more modern streams of thought about this region in current events, more modern history from World War II onward. It usually takes us all of eighth and ninth grade to get through American history because we literally start at the Paleo-Indian Era and work up, but there are many points to include Latin America in both of these subjects. A Revolutions block in eighth or ninth grade should include Simon Bolivar and all the Latin American revolutions. Tenth grade typically includes a block of Ancient Civilizations, and I intend to focus again on the river civilization of the Olmecs and the Maya as well.
Lastly, if one is studying Spanish as a language, there will also be many more cultural opportunities for exploration through the grades as the language is learned. As homeschoolers, many of us are on a tight budget, but if you can save up money and travel to Central or South America, I would highly recommend it. There is nothing like standing in front of a Mayan temple that was built 1500 years BCE to bring all of this to life. Homeschooling is about using the ordinary minutes of every day, and there are some homeschoolers who embrace roadschooling and worldschooling as their medium, but wouldn’t it be nice if more of us had the opportunity to see culture and history come to life?
I hope this helps provide ideas for how to extend Latin America throughout the curriculum. I think in Waldorf homeschooling, we must always consider our cultural heritage and what streams make up the Americas as a vital part of the educational process.