Waldorf Homeschooling: Combining Grades

One of the most asked question on ANY Waldorf homeschooling list or Facebook group is , “How do I teach my 1st grader and 3rd grader?  My 7th grader and my 11th grader?”

We are so lucky as Waldorf homeschoolers!  If we understand Steiner’s picture of the developing human being and really meditate on the children in front of us, the answers of how to combine and bring things will come.   If you already know the WHAT’s and the  WHY’s behind why you are bringing things for a particular age, then you start to be able to unravel the HOW’s.  If you want to know what the iconic blocks are as I see it for the American Waldorf homeschooler, try  this post regarding American Waldorf homeschooling.

Here are just some suggestions from me.  I have homeschooled three children of very different ages over 11 years now.  This year the children will be in 11th grade, 8th grade, and 2nd grade.  Remember, this is about HOMEschooling, not re-creating a Waldorf school in your kitchen.  We need to not only meet the developmental needs of the children in front of us, we must teach with even more soul economy than a teacher in a Waldorf School due to multiple ages and the need to create loving homes and loving family life on top of teaching.  It is a tall order, and I think combining is how to do it!

These are my suggestions for combining, with more ideas to come soon:

For the Early Grades, combining children in Grades 1-3:

  • Consider that the foundational experiences of the Early Grades are things that are in the home environment all the time, and are things everyone can participate in on some level – cooking, gardening, cleaning, handwork, chores, farm work if you are on a farm, canning and preserving food.
  • The foundation of Grade 1 is fairy tales, Native American Tales and Nature Tales.  These stories  can be done with all children ages 7-9 (1st through 3rd grade).   Third grade can be a wonderful grade for Russian fairy tales, folktales, African folktales – and these can be brought to first graders as well.  At the end of the year you could put in an Old Testament block for your third grader or bring the stories through painting or modeling for your third grader.  Or teach the first grader their letters through the Old Testament stories.  Yes, the Old Testament stories speak most strongly to the third grader, but the first graders can grasp the stories too on a different level.
  • Bring the important component of PRACTICE of skills through games! Lots of games! Together!
  • Get everyone outside – movement and nature are fundamental to reading, writing, and math in these grades.

For Combining Grades 1-3 and Grades 4-5:

  • Coordinate  the blocks – everyone is on a math block at the same time, everyone is on a language arts block at the same time.
  • Blocks that can correlate in my mind:
  • Scandinavian folk tales – Norse myths – cooking, handwork, painting
  • African tales and scenes from Ancient Africa
  • Latin American folk tales and studies of the Maya and the Popol Vuh
  • Ocean studies – animals and botany for 4-5th graders, animals and exploring the ocean for 1st and 2nd grade. Drawing, painting, modeling.  Could do this with any biome, the biome that you live in!
  • American Tall Tales for the 2nd-3rd grader and North American geography for the 5th grader (or 7th grader if you are studing First Peoples of the world).
  • Native American stories and local geography for all American homeschoolers
  • Weather for all ages – hands on, not heady – poetry, nature studies, observations, tied into gardening and preserving
  • Blocks of math games
  • Nature studies and stories to go with Man and Animal in fourth grade and Botany in fifth grade

For Combining Grades 1-3 and Grades 6-8:

  • Coordinate your blocks.
  • Have your middle schooler help you with practical work and games for skill practice for the 1-3 grader
  • Coordinate fairy tales/folktales/First People Tales with such things as Han China (could be good 6th grade parallel to Roman Empire); with Exploration studies/Renaissance Studies; with American history; with geography of South America, Europe, Asia, Africa
  • Coordinate building in third grade with shelters around the world/studies of First Peoples and tribes in 7th grade
  • Coordinate general nature studies of ocean, sky with exploration, navigation, astronomy in upper grades.
  • Coordinate  textiles block of third grade with an economics-based geography block in eighth grade such as tracing cotton and its impact around the world.
  • Tales from First Peoples for younger grades with Earth Science for older grades.

For Combining Grades 4-5 and Grades 6-8:

  • Everyone is on the same block type at the same time.
  • Hero tales from any land and geography of that land for the 6-8th grader.
  • First people studies for all grades
  • Ancient Africa in 4th or 5th or 6th grade to Medieval Africa in 6th or 7th grade to studies of African tribes in 7th grade to modern Africa in 8th grade
  • Waterways of the world – could encompass geograpy, exploration, navigation, astronomy, inventions
  • Great inventors
  • North American geography and Colonial America including diverse Colonial figures in 7th or 8th grade
  • Revolutions in 8th grade (Simon Bolivar) and Latin American geography of 6th or 7th grade, combined with First Peoples studies of those areas.
  • Book studies for mamas who need a break!  I like the book studies over at Magic Hearth.
  • Four Elements block for 4th-5th graders and physics for grades 6-8
  • Cooking for younger grades, write out recipes and make a book – combine  with chemistry for grades 7-8
  • Man and animal block with any geography studies for upper grades
  • Weather in the lower grades and the meteorology block of 8th grade

These are just a few ideas.   We could go through the whole curriculum like this.  I think as Waldorf homeschoolers we need to stop trying to separate our children in little boxes, figure out the iconic things we really want to separate out and bring for the particular age, and then figure out how to combine!  There are so many neat ways to do it that makes homeschooling so much easier!

If you need to talk more about finding the shared spot between grades and ages, DM me  at admin@theparentingpassageway.com for ideas.  This is one of my favorite subjects.






4 thoughts on “Waldorf Homeschooling: Combining Grades

  1. This is such a relevant, helpful, and appropriate post. I have been chatting with one of the mamas you have been chatting with and this has come up in our conversations, too. This challenge can come up regardless of how long one has been homeschooling and I wonder if it is less about ‘how’ to combine, but in some cases, about letting go of guilt and worry about homeschool looking different than a Waldorf school or even different from a homeschool curriculum. Great post, Carrie. Thank you for continuing to write about Waldorf homeschooling!

    • Thank you, Nicola! I hope all Waldorf homeschooling mothers who are lucky enough to have a community are talking about this. I really think as a community this is where we need to come to! Blessings, Carrie

  2. Hi Carrie! I would love to hear more about the mechanics of how a combined main lesson would work (I’m sure it’s obvious to some but I am struggling with it). I just finished my first year with two in the grades (3rd and 1st) as well as a 5 yr old and baby. I would love to combine our year more next year. I find skills work/review to be particularly challenging to do with both at the same time, especially math. A breakdown of how a combined ML would work would be extremely helpful! Thanks!

    • Great Idea, Margot! I think games especially for a first and third grader once the third grader gets past the first two math blocks are doable – try the book “Games for Math” by Peggy Kaye and Family Math. As far as things such as writing, your younger might have one sentence to write or word family drawing and your older one would have several sentences. Or perhaps you could present the Main lesson story together, and then break them apart for skills practice. I think it is important to do it together as much as possible when younger and set that expectation that you can help one and the other can work and then you can help the other, etc. This will really help when you move into the upper grades and things are more independent. So I would think of it, for example, a language arts block – Circle, Opening Verse, Games to review math concepts once first grader past two math blocks and otherwise movement games to review counting etc (jump rope, bean bags) (bean bags for multiplication and your first grader could recite along), review of previous days material (and this is where I would spend my time planning more – the review is and can be a re-telling of the story, but I also think it is practice for the skills that they are learning. What academic language arts skills did they learn from the last story? So what do they need? Phonics work or writing the order of the alphabet? Write it big so everyone can jump it? Have a letter hunt on the floor? Word family words? Sight family words? Work it with movement!) New Material, perhaps today is the artistic response day so everyone can paint or draw or model or put together a drama of this work. The day with the academic material would be the day to introduce the new word family, work with cursive and writing, how to write a good sentence. I hope that helps a little. I think every situation is different, every family has different dynamics between siblings, so I don’t know as there is a great standard answer. Blessings,Carrie

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