Making The Burden Light: Homeschooling The Upper Grades

I think things really start to hit the fan sometime in the upper grades. Some families don’t get into too much worry and anxiety about the block content or repetitive practice that they are finding (or not finding) in curriculums until 6th or 7th grade; some until high school; and some starting in fourth and fifth grade. This is understandable, because some of the contents of the blocks tap into things that perhaps we didn’t receive in our own education, so in order to have to teach that,  and then to understand the impulse behind why we are teaching what we are teaching, and then to present that in this “magical” way we see on Pinterest or Instagram can often put a lot of pressure on a busy Waldorf mama!

One thing that always helps me is to have an idea of the flow of the curriculum of the Waldorf School in my head. No, I will not follow this curriculum exactly because I am a HOMESCHOOLER, but I also do not want to miss the iconic blocks that meet the archtypal development of the child. I also want to EXPAND the curriculum because I am not European, and I don’t want my homeschool to only include Western Civilization, but to be encompassing and inclusive.  If I was South African or lived in the Pacific Rim countries, the curriclum I have chosen to use would look different because we work where we are, and there are Steiner Schools all over the world, not just in Europe or in the United States! But still, I have to know where the curriculum starts for my country.

So, if I can think in my head at first in generalities by looking at the overall flow for grades 4-12… (not including extra artistic work or music) , I can find where things will come around AGAIN.  So I don’t have to include every little tiny thing about Rome  for my sixth grader, because it will come back in high school! This list is so brief for this blog post, but my friend Lisa found a great list here from Emerson Waldorf School in NC regarding content by grade.  However, here for your reference is a quick list for grades 4-12:

4th Grade – Local history and why early settlers were here and how natural resources were developed; Norse sagas; map making; Human and Animal block; Long Division/Word Problems/Fractions/Freehand Geometry; embroidery and cross stitch.  What I might include as an American:  hero tales; tall tales from North America;  book reports; letter writing; spelling

5th Grade- Ancient India/Persia/Mesopotamia/Egypt/Greece; the lives of Manu/Rama/Buddha/Zarathustra/Gilgamesh and more; Greek mythology; Geography of the United States; Botany; could include zoology of other animals not covered in 4th grade; Decimals/Fractions/Mixed Numbers/Metric System; Geometry; knitting with four needles. I may include the entirety of North American geography in this grade. I also include Ancient Africa and Ancient China and the Maya in MesoAmerica.

6th Grade – The Roman Empire; Medieval life; the Crusades; The Golden Age of Islam; the life of Christ; the life of Muhammed; Geography of North and South America; World Geography – the big pictures of contrasts in the world; Physics of light, heat, sound, and magnetism; Mineralogy; possibly continued botany; Business Math (especially percentages, ratios, exchanges, equations, proportions);Geometry with a compass; creating patterns and sewing. I include Medieval Africa here as well.

7th Grade – What is often called “The Golden Age of Exploration” in schools I term “Colonialism”; The Renaissance; The Reformation; biographies; Wish/Wonder/Surprise block for writing fluency; Geography of Europe (I often put in sixth grade instead) and Africa; Astronomy; Chemistry; Physiology; Physics; Beginning Algebra/Perimeter/Graphing/Roots/Formula/Area/exponents; Geometry; Sewing and embroidery

8th Grade – Modern History – I like to get up through present day; Revolutions (or I might put this in 9th grade depending  on the child); Poetry; Geography of the Pacific Rim; World Geography; Chemistry; Physiology of bones/muscles/the eye; Physics of light/heat/electricity/magnetism/aerodynamics; Meteorology; Geometry – Platonic Solids; Equations and Mensuration; Number Bases; Machine Sewing

9th Grade – Modern History (what I might focus on would be state history starting with the hunter gathers and First Peoples of our area, Early Settlers, any Modern History not finished in 8th grade); Great Inventions; Comedy and Tragedy; Art History; Meteorology; Mineralogy- Plate Tectonics; Chemistry; Physiology; Physics; Earth Science;  Algebra/Euclidean Geometry; Copperwork and Pottery

10th Grade – Ancient Civilizations and History; dramatic literature and epic poetry; Chemistry; Physiology – Embryology; Physics – Mechanics; Earth Sciences – oceanography/crystallography; Algebra – logarithms; Plane Trigonometry; Land Surveying; Projective Geometry; Metal Working; Weaving and Dyeing; Stained Glass work.  I included a block on African-American Literature from the Black Arts time period to the present day.

11th Grade – Roman/Medieval and Renaissance history; Dante, Chaucer, Shakespeare; Parsifal and other Grail legends; History of Music; World Geography and Map Making; Atomic Theory in Chemistry; Physiology – plant and animal comparison; Physics – Electricity and Magnetism; Botany; Algebra including logarithms, exponential equations, spherical trigonometry; Computer Math and Science; Projective Geometry; Blacksmithing; Poettry and Copper Work; Photography. I will include a block on Latin American Literature.

12th Grade – Modern and World History; Russian literature; The Transcendentalists; Goethe’s Faust; World Geography and Map Making; Chemistry; Biochemistry; Physics – optics, mirrors, light, color; Zoology; Algebra and Geometry brought together in Analytical Geometry; Statistics; Probability; Computer Math; Integral Calculus; Logic; Building computers;  History of Architecture.  I will include a block on Modern African Literature.

When I look at the blocks, I have to think – how much do I know about this subject? If I close the curriculum pages, and think about what I know, what do I know?  If I pull this topic up on the Internet what comes up? What is general flow for that subject normally for high school or early college?   I usually do some Internet research on my own plus extensively use my library in order to write up a summary or biographical sketch that I can present, along with reading the actual curriculum or Waldorf resources I bought!

Often, for history especially, I need a timeline in my head and match biographies to the timeline I have for that historical period.   For science, I may need to think about a particular flow to a block and  if I understand the phenomenon myself or not and what i would need to understand it.  It is very hard to teach these upper level subjects if you don’t know anything about them at all.  It is different than opening up the pages of a fairy tale and reading it three nights in a row in one way but in another way if you can condense the information down into a summary you can present to your child, then you CAN read it three nights in a row and memorize.  For example, right now I am writing some summaries based on what I have read regarding the Paleolithic  Age and the Neolithic Revolution for our block in February on Ancient Civilizations in tenth grade.  I have to research a little and put things together, and then own it and present it.

I have to understand the content in order to figure out the gestures behind the content and the polarities. I am always hunting for polarities, to teach in that antipathy-sympathetic way for the contrasts because that makes it all come alive! I also try to relate it back to what we studied previously.  I find fault with the Charles Kovacs books sometimes, but I do think that is one thing those books do well – find the polarities, find how it relates to previous subjects.

Secondly, what is the  Waldorf perspective on this? Do I understand the WHY of presenting this at this time? Most importantly, is  the child in front of me ready for this topic now or developmentally are they behind or ahead where this topic is? I may need to shuffle the order of my blocks!

Then I have to think how can I present this in the most ENLIVENING WAY possible for us?  What is most doable in our situation, and what excites us the most?  Pinterest can help there;  sometimes just having time to sit down and draw and decide what you want to capture is also the best use of time. The Main Lesson books for our oldest and middle daughters look different because we chose to capture different things, even with the same stories for fourth grade or for the Renaissance or whatever.   Or maybe we threw the Main Lesson book out for that block and chose lapbooking or some other way to do something, especially for high school due to sheer volume of information.  Homeschooling is flexible like that!

Then I have to think of the way we lay out sleep as our educational aid. With these blocks do I:

Open warmly (and how)

Review (many different way to review; variety is the spice of life!)

Practice skills; Work with the material artistically and in our heads

Have new material or deepen the material we have gone over.  There should always be something new there!

If you are looking for ideas about this, I suggest Meredith’s podcasts on these parts of the Main Lesson over at A Waldorf Journey Podcasts. I also suggest the great documents on planning a Main Lesson and especially all the different ways to review here at Waldorf Inspirations. I especially like the ideas about forming a daily rhythm and how this is different for older students in fourth grade and up, at least in the classroom setting (and it might give you ideas for the home setting as well!)

So, this may not seem especially “light” but I do think it is reality.  I don’t think there is a “one size fits all” for the upper grades. I think Live Education, Earthschooling, and Waldorf Essentials all have fairly complete curriculums for at least grades 6-12, and perhaps you start there when in doubt!  But you actually need to look at the content and not just open up the curriculum morning of to teach.  These upper level subjects need more preparation than that!  If you break it up into small chunks starting in the spring, it is really doable.  Use a few hours on a night to prepare for the next week, and the more you go through it, if you have multiple children for example, the more doable it becomes.  

Teaching IS an art.  I would love to deepen my own teaching and help readers deepen their own homeschool teaching. I would love to hear from you! How has working with your fourth through eighth graders deepened and differed from teaching your first through third graders?  How has your high school teaching deepened?  What have you learned along the way?  This would be a great subject for a conference call with many mothers!

Blessings,
Carrie

 

 

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Fifth Grade: Beautiful Botany

“The plant world is the Earth’s soul world made visible, and this is why we can compare it with human beings.  But you should not merely make comparisons; you must also teach the children about the actual forms of the plants.”……”All children, who in their youth learn to know plants according to scientific principles,  should first learn about them as we have described – that is, by comparing them with soul qualities.” – Discussions With Teachers, Discussion Ten, Rudolf Steiner

I think we can get a little hung up in this block if we are not careful.  There is a balance to hold about the study of botany and the ideas that come from anthroposophy about the soul qualities of plants and awakening the feeling life and this sort of scientific botany proper.   I think we hint at the scientific, we work with observation skills needed in all sciences, and we also see the wonder, awe and reverence for the plant world. Scientific botany proper often comes in during the grades 6-8 in ecology and biome discussions, and then a whole block in grade 11.

Some people really balk at Steiner’s analogy about human development compared to plants that he outlines in “Discussions With Teachers.”.   However, one must remember that in the line of Steiner’s thinking, he is not working on the physical level (ie, that physically mushrooms have no complexity, for example)  but the spiritual level in his analogy of expressing the “pleasures of infancy” to mushrooms and fungi ( remember, this is a SOUL quality, he is NOT saying that the mushrooms and fungi are babies!), pleasures of early childhood – algae and mosses; experiences at the awakening of consciousness of self -ferns; experiences of the fifth and sixth year up to school age – gymnosperms and conifers; first school experiences, years 7-11- parallel veined plants, Monocotyledons: experiences of the eleven year old – Simple dicotyledons: and school experiences from the 12-15th year – the net veined plants, Dicotyledons; plants with green calyx and colored petals (page 144, Discussions With Teachers).   There is a lot of information for you to digest in his lectures, which I highly recommend you read before you plan fifth grade! He is also is comparing the different types of plants to the perfect plant as expressed by Goethe as well.

Yet, I personally feel remiss if I don’t mention a little bit about where plants are currently in scientific thought in this block along with some of the anthroposophic ideas about soul qualities of the human being as identified and unfolding in different plants as mentioned above. (See the comments from readers  below for more on this!) I mean, at this point, algae and lichens are not even considered part of the  plant kingdom and I  usally do mention this (I also mention that for most laypeople, however, people still think of them more as plants if we look at things from the perspective of mineral-plant-animal- people, which is why we study them in this block). I don’t think it has to be either -or, but a balance.

Outside of lots of field trips and lots of time to draw out in the field, some of the things I like to do in a general flow as below:

  • The Plant as a meeting of all four elements (Earth, Air, Fire, Water) along with Time.  The plant as an expression of the human soul in stages of unfolding capacities.
  • How do the seasons work on the plant? (great drawings can come out of this!)
  • Roots (tap roots, fibrous roots, rhizomes, tubers), stems, buds,  leaves
  • Fungi (stem cap, gills) (dying properties) (great for modeling,  drawing with pastels)
  • Algae (great for painting and modeling)
  • Lichen ( I tied into the idea of biomes and relationships with the animals)
  • The Perfected Plant and how some plants attain part of this perfection (like a fern mainly expresses the leaf, horsetail mainly the stem)
  • Mosses (liverwort, mosses, creation of peat, uses of moss)
  • Ferns (the largest division of the plant kingdom) (also great for painting, drawing, modeling)
  • Conifers
  • Monoctylodons, bulbous flowers (see Learning About the World Through Modeling for modeling ideas)
  • Grasses
  • Simple and complex Dicotyledons
  • Trees (look in “New Eyes for Plants”); find out about your state tree if you are in the United States
  • Biomes which will extend into all of the middle school grades….

Resources:

  • Discussions With Teachers, pages 105-135
  • There are numerous suggestions for painting in the book “Painting and Drawing in the Waldorf School”
  • Drawing From The Book of Nature
  • New Eyes for Plants
  • Learning About the World Through Modeling
  • Tree in the Trail by Holling C Holling is a nice read aloud for this block
  • The Internet for legends about plants
  • Your local library

Blessings,
Carrie

What Are Waldorf Grades 6-8 About Anyway?

In the Waldorf School, there is often a sharp drop-off at sixth grade (the twelve year change), and then again as children enter high school in grade nine, as many parents switch to different forms of education.  This is also happens in Waldorf homeschooling. I know very few people who are Waldorf homeschooling grades 6-8 in the manner in which they homeschooled grades 1-5.  For many homeschoolers, this coincides with an uptick in outside activities of their children with just not enough time to plan or implement something lengthy, the want/need for children to do something more independently, or simply a dissatisfaction with the middle school curriculum as it is often said the true “thinking” part of Waldorf Education begins in high school.

I personally think it may be more of a daunting teaching problem rather than anything else.  I found this interesting quote regarding a more esoteric view of the human being  from  January 2002, Volume 7 #1: Did Rudolf Steiner Want a Seven-Grade Elementary School Configuration? – Waldorf Library in discussing whether or not a teacher should be with a class for all eight classes:

Waldorf education is not only about educating but about “awakening” the children. If a teacher does not possess the powers of awakening a certain age group, should one not accept that and instead work with the principle of specialization?

I think this problem of “awakening” children sometimes is daunting not only for teachers in a Waldorf School setting (who really might be better served by being with early years children) and who don’t want to awaken older children, but also for homeschool teachers as well…if we don’t awaken children by throwing facts and judgment at their heads, then how do we awaken them in the middle school grades?   How do we teach?  As the days with older children grow busier and more out of the home, these grades are not spoken about nearly enough compared to first and second grade, at least in the homeschool world. How do we get sixth through eighth graders ready for high school?  Still, though, in my observation of my own children and in looking at other children from even non-Waldorf families and what those children are ASKING to study during those years, the Waldorf curriculum meets those needs in a lovely way.

I found this interesting quote regarding a more esoteric view of the human being  from  this article:

The four upper grades deal with the same aspects of the human being in reverse order. In the fifth grade, the great individuals of Ancient History stand as a polarity to the Norse Myths, because they both deal with the human ego. The sixth grade topic of Romans, especially Roman law, is polar to the Hebrew Law because law shapes the astral. The seventh grade topic of Age of Discovery is polar to the topic of animal fables; both are connected to the life of people/ animals or to the etheric in general. The eighth grade topic of cultural history is polar to the archetypes found in Fairy tales of the first grade, because both describe the nature of human archetype thus representing the physical body level of the curriculum. A teacher who masters such interrelationships has mastered the content, form, and organic wholeness of the entire curriculum, and is thereby able to give the children the sense that all the subjects are interconnected and taught for a purpose.

Steiner did give indications of what to bring in these upper grades and it all culminates beautifully in the high school curriculum, where tenth grade is back into Ancient History, eleventh grade is back into Medieval and Renaissance topics, and twelfth grade is back into modern scenes.  A beautiful balance of the working of the will (cultural geography), working with the heart (history and literature), and working with clarity of thinking (math and sciences) permeates all grades.

I urge you to think about how the curriculum that served your children so well in the younger years serves them even better in the upper grades and high school.  I see children in the middle school years who are asking about the exact topics that the curriculum provides! It doesn’t change just because a child is past 12 or even past the 15/16 change.  The curriculum meets the child in front of you.

Many blessings,

Carrie

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.

Blessings,
Carrie

 

Finding Rhythm With Grades-Aged Children

I think rhythm with grades-aged children (which I consider children in grades 1-8, so ages seven to thirteen or fourteen) can become trickier.  As children grow, chances are that you are not only juggling one grades-aged child but perhaps children that are older (teenagers) or younger (the littles, as I affectionately call them) with children that are in these grades.  There can also be an increased pressure to sign up for activities or increased pressure at school  as a child advances toward high school.

Here are some ideas for finding rhythm with children in grades 1-3:

  • Seriously think about how many structured activities you need outside the home!  I wrote a post about choosing time outside the home wisely in which I detail how many activities I really think a child in public or private school, versus homeschooling children need.   Remember, it is almost impossible to have a healthy rhythm if you and your children are gone all the time scurrying from one activity to another.  Children under age 9 deserve a slow childhood with time to dream and just be (without screens) and I would vote for no outside structured activities for these tiny ages.  Mark off days to be solely home with no running around!
  •  Being outside in nature in an unstructured way is so very important, along with limiting media.  I suggest no media for these ages.  There are many other healthier ways for children to be spending their time that promote great physiological and psychological health rather than being a passive recipient. First through third graders need an inordinate amount of time to be outside, to swim and play in the woods or sand, to ride bikes, to climb trees, and just be in nature.
  • For those of you who want to homeschool through many grades, I do suggest getting involved in a homeschooling group or finding a group of homeschool friends for your child.  This usually becomes a much larger issue around the latter part of  age 10, post nine-year change for many children (especially melancholic children and typically girls over boys around the fifth grade year) and for those who are more extroverted.  However, one activity is plenty for third graders in anticipation of this “coming change” as a ten year old. 
  • Rest is still the mainstay of the rhythm – a first grader may be going to bed around seven, a second grader by seven thirty or so, and a third grader by seven forty-five.  This may sound very early for your family, but I would love for you to give it a try. If you need ideas about this, I recommend this book.
  • In short, I do not think the rhythm established in the Early Years should be changing too much in this time period.

Here are some ideas for finding rhythm with children in grades 4 and 5:

  • Rhythm begins in the home.  What are you doing in the home? I find sometimes fourth and fifth graders are anxious to go, go, go because there is not much happening in the home.  No rhythm is being held, preparing for the festivals has fallen by the wayside, and they now see being involved in things such as preparing meals and such as work instead of just part of a rhythm of breathing in and out.  This takes time to develop again by being home. Be home!
  • All the things in the first through third grade section above applies. Rest is still very important and fourth and fifth graders may need help in this area – both in resting and in having a reasonable bedtime.  Children this age should be getting 10-11 hours of sleep a night, plus time to rest! Most children this age are still going to bed around 8 or 8:30.
  • I do not believe fourth and fifth graders really need structured outside the home activities, especially for children attending public or private school. I have seen some fifth graders who really relished one special activity.   Many homeschoolers will find their fifth graders really wanting a homeschool community and friends at this point, so I think that might need to be honored.
  • Media!  I have written many posts about media.  Fourth and fifth graders do not need media or their own phones or their own tablets.  Think carefully about this.  There are other ways they should be spending their time that are much more important to development.  The reason media is important in the context of rhythm is that it generally is used as a time-filler – so if the pull to media is strong, that typically means the rhythm is not strong or that the child needs help in finding something to do – handwork, woodworking, and other activities can help that need to create and do.
  • Being outside in nature and developing the physical  body is still of utmost importance. Setting up good habits for physical activity is important in this stage because most children feel very heavy and clumsy when they are in the sixth grade and changing around age twelve.  Having great habits in this period of grades four and five can really  help with that.  
  • This is a great age for games in the neighborhood – kickball, foursquare, etc. – and general physical activity of running, biking, swimming.  Free play is probably one of the most important things fourth and fifth graders can do!
  • Keep your yearly rhythms strong.  This may be easier with younger children in the household, but never lose sight of the fact that a fourth or fifth grader is in the heart of childhood themselves and therefore should certainly not be treated like a middle schooler.  This time is very short, and needs to be treated as the golden period that it truly is!  Keeping the festivals, the times of berry picking and apple picking and such, is the thing that children will remember when they are grown up.  If everything is just a blur of practices and lessons and structure, there is no space and time to make those kinds of family or community memories.

Here are some ideas for finding rhythm with children in grades 6-8:

  • Rest!  Rest and sleep are very important components of rhythm.  Sixth graders who are twelve are generally sluggish, and teenagers have rhythms regarding sleep that begin to change.  This article from the New York Times details many of the changes for teenagers (seventh and eighth grade).  In order for these children to get enough sleep, and since the starting time of public school middle school may be later (but probably not late enough!), I highly suggest limiting late night activities.  Again, choose your activities outside the home carefully and with much thought.
  • This is a prime time to nurture life skills and responsibility around the home. If you are running everywhere, this time of learning, which is really the most important thing when children grow up and have to live on their own, cannot happen.   Life skills and home responsibility deserves a place in daily and weekly rhythm.
  • Media is harder to keep at bay for most families.  Remember, media impacts rhythm and vice versa.  It is often a time filler, and can prevent middle schoolers from solving their own problems of what to do when they are “bored” (or just being bored; there is value in boredom as well!)  and tapping into their own creativity.  It can derail any kind of “doing” rhythm.  Hold strong standards about media!  Some ideas:  use a Circle to manage time and content across devices ;  strongly limit apps (because every app you add generally leads to more time on the device) and do not allow social media.  We introduced the  computer in eighth grade (which I know is not always feasible for public or private school students who are using technology as part of school from an early age)  as a tool for school work more than a plaything, and I think that attitude also made a large difference.  If you allow movies/TV shows, I recommend using Common Sense Media , but I also feel this needs to be strongly limited (and I would vote toward not at all or extremely limited for the sixth grader/twelve year old) since these middle school years are  ages where children feel heavy, awkward, clumsy, and don’t particularly want to move.  So, more than anything else, I think watch what you are modeling — are YOU moving and outside or are you sitting all day on a screen?  Modeling still is important!   If they are sitting all day at school and with homework, it is important that they move vigorously when they are home from school and on the weekends!  With both things that unstructured in nature and as far as structured movement..
  • This is a great age to pick up sports if that hasn’t already happened, although many children will say they feel they should have started much earlier. Again, this is such a symptom of our times that everything earlier is better, which I often find is not actually the case.  There is a big discussion right now about sports burn-out for middle schoolers who have started in elementary school.    If you want to see more of my thoughts about sports, take a look at this post that details the last pediatric sports medicine conference I attended.
  • I find the artistic component often needs to be increased in these years to really counteract some of the headiness of school subjects and media exposure.  It is a healing balm for middle schoolers, even if they complain they are not good at drawing or painting or such.  Keep trying, and do it with them or as a family.  Keep art and woodworking activities out, provide craft ideas and help them harness some of that creative power!  That can be a part of the weekly rhythm for your middle schooler.
  • Remember that your middle schooler is not a high schooler. The middle schooler does not think, move, or act like a high schooler. Please don’t force high school schedules onto your middle schooler.  There should be a difference between the middle schooler and high schooler.

Last tips for rhythm with children in grades 6-8:

  • Where is the family fun?  You should be having tremendous family fun together.  Family is where it is at!  Family is more important than peers – you can look back to the book, “Hold On To Your Kids” by Neufeld and Mate if you need further confirmation.  Family fun can be part of all levels of rhythm – daily, weekly, and yearly! It is an attitude and an action!
  • Where is your rest, and your inner spiritual work?  I think you need this, especially as you enter the middle school years. Children can have a lot of emotion during this time period, and you have to be the steady rock.  If you need a reminder about boundaries and parenting, try this back post.
  • How is your home coming along?  By now, with children in these upper grades, there should be pretty steady rhythms and routines regarding the home and the work that it takes to maintain a home.
  • How is your relationship with your partner or spouse?  This is the time to really start thinking about date nights if your relationship thrives and deepens on that.

Blessings,
Carrie

A Guest Post: Main Lesson Structure

Main Lesson Structure – A Guest Post by Meredith Floyd-Preston from A Waldorf Journey

(Thanks so much to Meredith Floyd-Preston from A Waldorf Journey for sharing with us her thoughts about the structure of main lesson. Meredith is a long-time Waldorf teacher and the host of a brand new Waldorf podcast that you can find on her blog or on iTunes. Please make sure you check out the link at the bottom of the post for a free offer for Parenting Passageway readers. Thank you, dear Meredith, for being in this space today. – Carrie)

Rudolf Steiner, the founder of Waldorf Education, is often said to have indicated that all of the learning a child needs to experience in a day can happen in the first two hours of the morning. Anything outside of that precious, sacred two hour main lesson is bonus, enrichment content.

Now, I’m not sure how my subject teacher colleagues would feel about this statement, but for those of us who teach main lesson, it could bring a little anxiety and some big questions.

  • How can I make sure that I am making the most of those two hours every day?
  • What are all of the things that need to fit into that time block?
  • What activities and experiences will ensure that my students are primed and ready to receive and engage with my lessons?

I’ve spent my 10 years as a class teacher trying to answer these questions and I’ve come to a few conclusions about how to structure main lesson to make the most of it. Thanks to some great mentoring and a lot of trial and error experience, I feel like I’ve settled in on a rhythm that works really well for me and my students.

Here’s what it comes down to …

  • Warm Up and Wake Up
  • Review and Deepen
  • The New and Exciting Content
  • Write, Draw and Beautify Bookwork

Warm-Up

During the warm up, your task is to get your students ready to engage with the lesson that is to come. When they first begin the day, your students are facing many barriers to engaging with the lesson. If you teach at a school, your students are coming from different parts of town, houses, family dynamics and morning commute situations. One goal of the warm-up is get all of these different students coming from their varied circumstances all onboard the same ship, ready to set sail into the morning’s lesson.

There are many different ways to think about this warm-up, but it helps me to think about the 3-fold nature of the human being and the activities that will wake up my students’ heads, hearts and hands. Here are some examples.

  • Hands – rhythmic movement activities, relay races, jumprope, a morning walk, obstacle courses, outdoor play
  • Heart – social interaction time, singing, recorder-playing, poetry
  • Head – quick thinking work, mental math, memorization quizzes, times table work, beanbag parts of speech game

Review

Often the review comes in the form of a discussion about the previous day’s material. The idea of the review is to refresh the material from the day before to see how it has grown and changed in the students’ sleep life. You know those little epiphanies you have when you wake up in the morning after sleeping on something that happened the day before? That happens for your students, too. Coming back to the material from the day before is how you can make use of and solidify the ideas that came in the new content from the day before.

Most teachers look for ways to spice up this daily review so students don’t become tired of the idea of reliving content from the day before. Reviewing the content with dramatic reenactments, specific questions, pop quizzes, creative drawings, or poetry-writing are all ways you can make the review a little more interesting than just orally rehashing the story from the day before.

One other suggestion – I have found it useful to save a little nugget of new information to share during the review. I’ve noticed that when I casually mention some additional detail from the story that I didn’t share the day before, a little spark of interest lights up in my students and they’re much more engaged than they were before.

Though the traditional model positions the review right after the warm-up, many teachers are now experimenting with doing the review after the new content when possible. The idea here is that the new content is the part of the lesson that the students are most engaged and interested in. It is the reason they come to school and it is the part of the lesson that they most look forward to. If we can bring that to them earlier in our lesson we’ll have more engaged and interested students.

New Content

As mentioned above, from a certain perspective, the new content is what the lesson is all about. This is the curriculum material that you put your heart and soul into preparing and it is what your students most look forward to. In the lower grades it is often the story content that inspires the imagination of your students. In the upper grades it is the new thinking content that your students’ intellectual minds grapple with.

Whatever the age of your student, this content is a gift that is given directly from teacher to student, without the interference of a textbook or other reference material. Take the time to learn the content and make it your own, so you can deliver it to your students in a living way.

Traditionally, the new content is delivered at the end of main lesson, and I can imagine this model working well in 1st or 2nd grade. But any older than that, I recommend bringing the new content as soon as it realistically makes sense. If the new material doesn’t need the lead-in of the review, you can even bring it right after the warm-up. There have certainly been times when my excitement about the new content has inspired me to bring it to my students right away

Bookwork

During the bookwork portion of the main lesson, the students take the material they have learned and put it into crystallized form. They bring the rich imaginative experience of the content into final physical form. In the upper grades, it can be a very satisfying experience to live into the content one more time in this very will-oriented way. Younger students appreciate the opportunity to engage with the content in a more tangible, active way.

I encourage you to think creatively about these four parts of the main lesson. With an understanding of the purpose behind each component, you can freely craft lessons that guide your students through the process best. You can imagine each component making up one half hour of your morning lesson, but use your powers of observation to determine if that structure makes sense for your students. Generally, younger students need a longer warm-up, older students need more new content time. Observe your students and plan accordingly.

I’m all about encouraging and empowering teachers and homeschooling parents to craft lessons that speak specifically to their own students. There is no secret sauce when it comes to Waldorf Education. As long as you understand child development and observe your students, you have everything you need to create your own lessons.

To help teachers and parents feel confident about planning their own curriculum, I have created a free 3-part video series about planning curriculum. To receive a link to the first free video, head over to my blog and subscribe using the form in sidebar. You’ll receive a link to the first video, as well as my Ultimate Guide to Chalkboard Drawing.

I hope these little videos, along with Carrie’s fantastic posts here at Parenting Passageway, can inspire you to create a Waldorf curriculum that is uniquely suited to your individual students.

About Meredith

Meredith Floyd-Preston is a mother of 3 teenagers and a trained and experienced Waldorf class teacher who blogs about her experience at A Waldorf Journey. Her new podcast A Waldorf Journey Podcast is a resource for supporting teachers and homeschooling parents with their teaching.

More About Planning Sixth Grade Roman and Medieval History

I wrote a post here about planning Roman History; I also have at least three back posts regarding Roman History in Waldorf Sixth Grade homeschooling from the first time I went through this grade (with the rare addition of pictures of artwork as well!) so if you use the search engine box those should come up.

I just finished  planning my Medieval History block and it came to me that there are just things I do when planning that I don’t really think about but might be of interest to those of you planning.  I talked about hte most important part, the knowing WHY we are teaching this at this time to a twelve year old from the standpoint of childhood development (Steiner’s indications) in the post I linked to above.  I also mention in this post setting objectives and gathering resources.

However, one thing I always do automatically as well is to use  a time line to get a big picture of that time period (and to refresh my own memory if it has been awhile!)  This helps me get an order in my mind.  I can also use the timeline big picture to get an idea of the big personalities and the big events that  lead to that invigorating picture of contrast for the child.  Polarities, or contrasts, often help us all see the period of time and help the child find wonder. And, whilst a timeline doesn’t help you flesh out the “this is how people lived day to day”, it does help you establish a consciousness of the people of this period.  This changing consicousness of people is what defines history in the Waldorf curriculum.

It also helps you do something a little specific to homeschooling:  it helps you find and hone in on things of interest dependent upon your child’s personality.  For children who are more scientifically oriented, starting with Greece and Rome, for example,  I might use a timeline to look at technological and scientific advances and I would follow that through all the grades. Or for another child perhaps it is following food or navigation or something else.  These things wouldn’t be the whole block , of course, but the point of homeschooling is to throw ideas and projects that really pique interest our children and still highlight the developmental theme of that block.

The other thing a timeline does is to help you see what is happening in other parts of the world at the same time as your block.  Some homeschooling parents get really frustrated with the history part of the Waldorf curriculum as it follows the stream of development that Steiner saw as archetypal for the development of Western Civilization and the development that becomes recapitulated in the inner life of the child’s soul development.  You can understand more about this if you read An Outline of Esoteric Science and understand how Steiner saw the evolution of the world and epochs of time.

However, please do remember that a variety of cultures are studied in the Waldorf Curriculum and that we as homeschooling parents always have the opportunity to bring to use the beauty of the curriculum as a beacon for our children regarding our own heritage and our own place in the world .   If you think about it, this is why the kindergarten and early grades start with the home, the local area and work outwards.     Fifth grade covers a variety of  world cultures and most homeschooling parents I know also put Ancient China and Ancient Africa in that grade.  Ancient Africa, as a neighbor of Egypt and the cradle of humanity, certainly deserves to be in this grade and  I like to put the Kingdom of Axum, Queen of Sheba and King Ezana in  sixth grade.  In my history blocks, I also am careful to put in at least one main lesson or outside reading of “what is happening around the world”.  I certainly don’t want to take away from the stream of development that led to the consciousness of the human being in Western Civilization.  This to me, would defeat the point of the Waldorf curriculum that I believe meets my child’s developmental needs.

However, to make a general note on upper grades curriculum planning,  I think we  MUST  be very careful in this day and age to make sure the curriculum is not eurocentric and adjusted for  where one lives (and where one is from).  Some Waldorf teachers around the world are doing this.  For example, those Eastern Africa Waldorf training manuals (for example, here is the Grade 3 Training Manual)   always do a great job about pointing out how to adapt the curriculum for a particular region.  I think there are many ideas to be gleamed to see how Waldorf teachers in Oceania, Asia, Latin America, and Africa are doing things.  Also, in homeschooling,  as I mentioned above, family matters as well – picking up the lines from the parts of the world where your family is from could be gratifying.  In our case,  our family is mainly of European descent, but when we get up to more individualized world events in Europe, I try to include the countries where we are from (our children have lines going back to eight different countries).

World cultures are also followed from the beginning of the grades through fairy tales, myth and legend and so on, so I also include Native Americans/First People in every grade from kindergarten on, and I include Africa in some way from kindergarten on.  I include Asian and Latin American fairy tales and stories in all  the early grades and then from fifth grade onward, include those regions in history as well to provide a complete picture of the world and dynamic contrast. For Roman History, for example, I put in correlations to the Han Dynasty in China and we can compare and contrast how these two Empires were similar and different.   If you did Ancient China in Fifth Grade, this is a natural progression.  For Medival History, I put in  the wonderful biographies of Sundiata, Musa Mali,  and one can at least mention the Ancient Puebloans of our country if one is American, or the Mayan Civilization (which I tend to cover in detail in seventh grade) and look at the Japanese feudal period.   Great Zimbabwe and the Kingdom of Zimbabwe would also be appropriate in this time period.  Seventh grade always includes a lot of African and Latin American geography along with stories of the great civilizations there, so sixth grade can be the time to plant seeds. Eighth grade obviously includes the geography and history of Oceania and the entire modern world, and my Down Under readers will certainly be finding out what is going on in their part of the world during the times of the Roman Empire and the Medieval Ages .

The other thing I always do  automatically besides think of timelines and biographies  is to look for food, dress, music, poetry, and games that will tie in.  I don’t talk too much about that on this blog but it is always in my planning.

Just a few more thoughts, take what resonates with you.  It is your homeschooling, and you are the expert for your family. If you have are a Waldorf homeschooler, you have a beautiful and developmentally appropriate framework.

Blessings,

Carrie