People have asked for a minimalist sort of guide to Waldorf homeschooling. What is really essential and what is not? How can I really break this down and begin? So I have pondered this quite a bit, and this is what is essential, at least to me from my knowledge of anthroposophy and my years of Waldorf homeschooling.
The General Ideas:
- Know yourself, understand the developing spiritual human being, do your inner work, and teach to the child in front of you.
- Work from whole to parts; experience things first.
- Work simply and build up over time – high school is for the real analytical thinking. Youngers should be doing, middles should be doing and feeling deeply, high schoolers should be doing, feeling, and thinking. The whole curriculum is a spiral that culminates in high school.
- Connect to your local place – the local flora and fauna, culture, topography.
- Teach through the arts – drama, music, handwork, movement and games, modeling, painting, drawing, speech
- Use sleep as your teaching aid
What’s Essential? I am talking about the super, really bare bones and the really iconic blocks. You can add lots of things, and there are great examples out there from varying Waldorf Schools and homeschoolers. Of course you need math and geography and science if those things aren’t mentioned (see the expanded lists); I am just talking about what I think really cuts to the essence for certain ages, especially for American homeschoolers.
When the children are younger, it is easier to plan more blocks. However, I think around fourth grade there is a shift and depth is always better than more blocks. In sixth and up, there are MANY blocks to choose from and I talk to mothers all day long who are trying to do All The Things. You cannot do All The Things. Pick and choose the essential for the child in front of you. So, this is my list that hopefully points toward some essentials but ultimately you choose what is essential.
First and Second Grade:
- Fairy Tales and folk tales of animals
- Nature Studies/animal tales/ First Peoples tales
- Math with concrete objects.
- Festival Life; Curriculum of the family and what family life values/boundaries
Third and Fourth Grade:
- Old Testament/Hebrew Stories of dealing with separation and authority and the authority that comes from LOVE for those in the nine year change
- Studies of First Peoples for the child’s locality – how do we live on the land and in our bodies? – to encompass fibers, shelters, food, perhaps measurement Local Geography. Birchbark Tales and the Children of the Longhouse as literature. First Peoples Tales.
- Norse Mythology for those past the nine year change; Hero Tales that are legendary. Possibly the Popul Vuh.
- Human Being for those past the nine year change as the role changes from “I am one with the world” to “I am steward of the world around me.”
- Fractions and musical notation for those past the nine year change!
- Curriculum of the Family – values and boundaries; growth mindset
(Expanded Ideas depending upon your family culture: Measurement; African Tales; continue with fairy and folk tales from different cultures).
Fifth and Sixth Grade: It starts to get tricky as there are so many blocks!
- Tracing human consciousness through those Ancient Civilizations; Greek myths and history; I would argue for Ancient and Medieval Africa and the Maya civiliation for the development of American consciousness – specifically Sundiata and the Popul Vuh.
- Rome and Julius Caesar; possibly the Han empire studies for the sixth grader; the lives of Buddha, Confucius, Jesus, and Muhammad (and the Golden Age of Islam). Writing.
- Geometry and physics for the twelve year old.
- Mineralogy for the twelve year old
- Black and white drawing
- I have been thinking about the way American Waldorf schools place a North American Geography block here as the extension after local geography. I think it might be more natural to study the geography of Central America in conjunction with the Maya and then branch into First Peoples of the Americans and geography in Seventh Grade as the precursor to Exploration and more modern ways of looking at North American Geography in seventh and eighth grade with history studies.
- Curriculum of the Family; dealing with friends; boundaries; positivity; growth mindset
(Expanded ideas: Medieval studies; botany and continued zoology studies; ecology; decimals; business math with percents and ratios; astronomy with the naked eye)
Seventh and Eighth Grade:
- Renaissance and Explorers (see note above about First Peoples and Geography – dont forget the First Peoples of Canada and South America if you are from the United States)
- Epic tales of people’s bravery into new frontiers of not just physically conquering land but medicine and inventions
- Literature and writing
- Revolutions (American, French, Simon Bolivar, Industrial) and Modern History for American homeschoolers through contrasts) for the eighth graders right up through the War on Terror and digitality
- The ideas of sea and sky through meteorology and oceanography and geography
- Pre- Algebra for stretching thinking
- Healthy living; boundaries; dealing with friends; what do good friendships look like
(Expanded ideas: More World Geography through contrasts; Writing traditionally done through wish, wonder, surprise block in seventh grade in Waldorf Schools and short stories in eighth grade; geography; continued zoology studies; continued botany studies, continued astronomy studies; modern history of varying parts of the world, peacemakers; physiology; chemistry; more physics; more geometry and nature; platonic solids of eighth grade)
Ninth and Tenth Grade:
- Art History including American art for Americans as a way of tracing the consicousness of the world and specifically of our country; (Steiner’s indications covered mainly Greek through Renaissance in Western Art)
- Comedy and Tragedy for the ninth graders
- Black and white drawing for the ninth graders
- The biological sciences for both grades; tenth grade embryology; ecology
- Tenth grade back to the geography and history of those Ancient River civilizations
- Epics for the tenth grader but the inclusion of modern epics in addition to ancient ones; the Greeks and modern civics for tenth graders.
- Outdoor and service experiences.
- Algebra and Trigonometry for the development of thinking.
- Tools for healthy communication, self-care, and healthy intimate relationships
(Expanded ideas: earth science throughout both grades, physics throughout both grades, chemistry throughout both grades; computer science; Inventions; Shakespeare; )
Eleventh and Twelfth Grade:
- Parsifal and Hamlet for the eleventh graders
- World religions; I like the ideas of social justice and topics regarding minority rights for Americans for the twelfth graders – modern history from a modern perspective
- Faust for the twelfth graders.
- Self portraits.
- Outdoor and service experiences, social activism.
- Possibly calculus and atomic theory for really stretching thinking depending upon the child
- Child development. Development through the lifespan.
- In place of transcendentalist writers in twelfth grade, I might actually choose Faulkner and Thomas Pynchon. I need to think on that more.
- Tools for healthy communication, self-care, and intimate relationships
- Tools of good leading and being part of a team
(Expanded ideas: Roman and Medieval History; Chaucer and Dante: Modern European Literature; Transcendentalist writers; Chemistry; Biochemistry; physics; zoology; botany usually brought in eleventh grade; earth science; world geography; computer science)
I think this list could be a good start for American homeschoolers anyway. What’s on your list of essentials?
Incredible! No doubt this will be referenced by many for a very long time. Thank you!
Aww, Penny, thank you so much for your very kind words! ❤
Have you thought about writing a book with this very title. I would buy it in a minute!! You have so much to offer and distill it so well for the overwhelmed beginner homeschool mom like myself. Thanks!!!
Aww, thank you for your kind words, seedybeans! It’s on my list to write – now my children just need to grow. Everything has to be so mother-sized right now! I appreciate your kindness more than you know. Blessings,Carrie
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Thank you for this Carrie! I just found this gem of yours while sitting here on my bed, school books and papers scattered around me like leaves, scouring websites and looking through my notes from years and grades past. I am teaching eighth, sixth, and third grades this year, and the question of how I can homeschool with a minimalist mindset has been eating at me all year long. One thought that always stays with me is that in this age of information, our kids are learning even when we aren’t formally teaching them, more so now than ever before in history. Information is thrown at them from every one of life’s corners, and I feel that my job isn’t to give them more of it, but to dig for those golden truths that my kids won’t learn, at this age or maybe never, without my help. The question for me is, “What does this kid need to help him/her become a complete human being?” Miraculously, a few of the blocks on my list either change, or completely disappear! Something else I learned is that I can completley leave out blocks that are redundant for us, such as farming and house building in third grade, since we raise grass-fed beef and lamb, and are currently building a house. I love to consolidate where I can.
To answer your question about my list of esssentials, my third grader and I started writing a book together. I let her pick the storyline, and illustrate, and I am the writer. She chose a story about a banana named Jimmy, and his adventures. I know that isn’t Walforf style, but since I made the rule that the first letter of the first word of each page needed to be in alphabetical order, it’s been fun and a great way to teach language arts without sitting her down and formally teaching language arts.
A final thought I had is based on your comment of how we need to teach the child in front of us. This is so true! My 12 year old son couldn’t and wouldn’t read for a long time. I have been homeschooling via the Waldorf approach since day one, so I know that this can happen, but people around me were so uncomfortable with it! I had to sit down one day and really think it through and make peace with how he was developing and what he needed from me, and I was able to let it go. He just turned 12 in June and he is reading now like nobody’s business.
Thank you again Carrie for all the time and energy you put into every post. You have been a friend to me for years, unbeknownst to you, and you have held my hand through school planning, more times than I can count.
Brieanne – I love this and can’t wait to hear about the adventures of Jimmy the Banana! I think that is very Waldorf actually. One thing that is on my mind is once my youngest is older, I still want to write a curriculum for 5th-10th grades. I think like you said it is easy to get caught up with blocks, (and there are so many as you move up in the grades, as you know) and easy to miss things you were saying – what do we, as parents and teachers, bring to the table as essential truths? And for me, as an American, what is the American essential truths in the curriculum or that I can bring to the curriculum. I am really interested in that and bringing a lot of that together this year in my reading! So glad to hear from you! Blessings, Carrie