The concept of “soul economy,” teaching in such as way as to succinctly represent themes and polarities in the world and then letting that knowledge sink down into the subconscious through sleep as an educational aid, is a concept in Waldorf homeschooling that sounds wonderful but often feels like a mystery to attain without a lot of experience or teacher training! For example, when I first started homeschooling the upper grades, about fifth grade and up, I realized I was trying to cram a lot of information into the blocks. It was a feeling, perhaps from my own public school education, that I needed to pick out the most important things to represent the essence of a time period but also I *needed* to get through most of the book of Greek myths or most of the biographies of famous people in Rome or most of the timeline of American History or most of the experiments for different concepts in physics or whatever it was. Yes, I tried to pick the most pertinent tales or biographies for the child in front of me, so in that sense it was personalized, but it was still that feeling in my head that we had to get through *all the things*.
Something shifted for me going through the fifth grade and up material a second time, and I think also combined with going through now the first two grades of homeschooling high school, which gives you a much better perspective on these upper grades. I got much better about really narrowing down the pertinent points and choosing for my child what they needed to hear. We really have this as such a luxury in the home environment!
I think in order to get at an essence of a block though, you have to know the material. This actually can be problematic for us as homeschooling mothers when we approach new material because we may be looking at new material across several grades. For example from my own time through sixth grade – there I was, two college degrees, and I knew very little about the Roman History covered in sixth grade! Not really enough to pick what were the watershed moments of this time period and also to choose what really my daughter and her temperament and development needed to hear. Again, I did much better with this the second time around as I was familiar with the material!
So, what can you do if it is your first time through a block of material? How do you find the essence?
Honestly, I think pick 4-6 “things” out of that block that you really want to bring to life for that time period, block of physics or chemistry, concepts of grammar or tales of mythology. I wouldn’t pick more than that. You really can’t do it justice. Find the broad arc and themes, or the broad polarities in science, and pick things that illustrate that. Arcs, themes, polarities, should be your mantra. Then you can pick what really speaks and stands out to you for your child.
Check out the suggestions in the book “Towards Creative Teaching: Notes to an Evolving Curriculum for Steiner Waldorf Class Teachers” edited by Rawson and Avison. I think their suggestions at least helped me think about what I really wanted to economically bring. This book says things such as, “One of the three great discoverers – Vasco de Gama, Ferdinand Magellan and Christopher Columbus – might be taken to represent the time of the great discoveries.” (Page 153). That is just one example of many suggestions as to how to pair things down and gather the essence of a particular block.
Think what and how concepts can be integrated across blocks. By that I mean, can the themes and polarities of one block be reinforced in another block? For example, history, math, science, world religions, and handwork can all overlap. Botany and mineralogy often overlap into geography and how people lived, and vice versa. Many of the concepts of sciences overlap. What overlaps personally to your child because of where you live in the world? What is reinforced by living where you live and how you live or the people in the child’s environment? That is another part of homeschooling.
Use art with drawing, painting, modeling, poems, songs, drama, and recitation of poetry in order to tie it all together. These arts are so wonderful and what makes a Waldorf Education different from anything else.
Just a few musings.
Thanks Carrie! This is just what I am needing at this moment.
Thank you for being a muse for thoughts! Blessings,Carrie
This was a really helpful peek into how to plan these upper grades blocks. I think I may write this on the top of my planning section for 5th: “Arcs, themes, polarities, should be your mantra. Then you can pick what really speaks and stands out to you for your child.” ❤ An excellent and succinct reminder.
Thank you Amanda! Love you!
This is a great post, Carrie. The thing I’ve discovered is that it’s only after going through a block – that is, actually teaching it, doing the art work, having that experience of the material – that I can really say, “This is the essence of that particular block. This is what is most important to cover.” Somehow, I never quite get there when I’m reading and planning. I guess that’s something I just have to learn to accept. It’s part of the process of going through it the first time round. We don’t really know until we’ve done it.
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