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.

Which Waldorf Curriculum Do I Buy?

I have posted on this in the past, but feel the need to bring it up again since it has been a little while since I last wrote on it and it is that time of year when people are looking for resources and asking about which Waldorf curriculum they should buy.  Some people have asked what I use personally.  I have box (es) of materials for each grade  ( grades 1-9 so far plus Early Years) because I make up my own curriculum for each grade for each child.  If you came to my house and looked through my boxes, you would see I own pieces of most major Waldorf curriculum providers for each grade ( at least for grade 5 and under; the pickings get more and more slim for grades 6 and up and for high school there is not much at all) and many of the resources from Rudolf Steiner College bookstore that Waldorf teachers use.  I am reluctant to “recommend” anything because I find it to be such a completely subjective experience – what I love and what works for me and my family absolutely may not work for you.  So I really refrain from giving recommendations, but I have in the past mentioned pieces that were helpful to me in particular blocks for a particular grade for a particular child.  It changes year to year as I go through each grade three times because each child – and our family dynamics at each stage –  is quite different.

So, this is what I recommend when thinking about Waldorf curriculum in general:

Look at the curriculum writer’s experience – do they have background in anthroposophy, the educational lectures of Steiner AND do they have background in homeschooling and teaching?  Have they gone through Foundation Studies or Teacher Training or both?  (This is a plus, I think, even in the homeschool environment).  Have they attended workshops to further their own understanding and also to be tied into the larger Waldorf educational community?  Have they worked with other children besides their own? (this is a huge plus!  Their child is not the same as your child!)   Have they homeschooled through all the grades, or just a few?  Do they have a big picture of where the curriculum is headed  or not (ie, high school!)?

Look at what  YOU need – do you need something to riff off of, so to speak, just to get started?  Do you need a full curriculum with lots and lots of ideas?  Do you need help implementing things practically in your home?  Do you need help with the artistic pieces?    Everyone asks for a completely comprehensive, organized by the minute Waldorf curriculum, and I understand the “want” for that in getting started due to fear or inexperience.  However, most of the curriculums written by experienced Waldorf homeschoolers/teachers will give suggestions that you  have to flesh out as Waldorf Education is an art.    And quite frankly,  at some point if you are going to stick with Waldorf homeschooling, you will be piecing things together. Commit to try and do something original for each grade, even if it is to just write a few poems and stories for first grade or some riddles for second grade or make up some stories, etc.  For sixth grade and up, I think you will be writing and piecing together an awful lot of your own things. Which leads to…

What are you willing to invest?  It takes time to develop your own skills in drawing, painting , and modeling.  It takes time to learn about things and the more complex subjects of the upper grades take time to flesh out and understand before you try to present it to your child.  So, what are you willing to invest in time and will the curriculum help guide you?

What are the goals for your family?  What are the dynamics for your children and family?  How will this curriculum assist in that?  Remember, homeschooling is about family and relationships first and foremost. And, when you talk to other people, they may or may not know what you need and what your family dynamics and rhythms are.  Know yourself and your family first!

Can you see the curriculum in real life?  It really helps to see what you are feeling drawn to if that is possible!  It helps you find what voice as an author reaches you and makes you feel empowered to homeschool.

Much love,
Carrie

 

 

 

 

Waldorf Homeschool Planning: Hands, Heart and Head

It is that time of year in the Northern Hemisphere!  School here in the Deep South is ending this week for most of the public schools, and we are coming to a close fairly soon as well.  This year our oldest will be heading into homeschool high school in the fall, and we will also have sixth and first graders starting anew!  These  important transitions are all the more reason to get organized over the summer.  I find myself following essentially the same sorts of rhythms ever year and  it really seems to fall into a hands, heart, and head pattern:

Hands – I start packing up the books for each year into bins and start getting out the books for the upcoming grades ( I have so many books by grade that I essentially only keep the grades we are doing out and the seasonal books and the rest go into the garage).  I organize the bookshelves and the school room supplies and see what we need to purchase in terms of art supplies and science supplies.  I also see what might need to be made for the first grade stories for our littlest member.

Heart – I sit down with my planner and figure out approximate start and end times for the school year and vacations; how many weeks of school I think we will do (which is usually 34-36 to fit things in); and I remember  and remind myself “what” our family’s goals for education are; I go through my Pinterest boards for homeschooling planning and make note of things that stir my soul for this year; I observe where the children really are in all spheres of development.  Over the years, I have made so many of those “divide a piece of paper into 12 blocks” – where you  write down your festival days, in our case Feast Days of Saints, seasonal qualities for where we live – that I don’t really have to do that anymore, but I do go through my seasonal Pinterest boards and see what we might like to make or do or use to celebrate by month and write it down.

Head – This is the most time-consuming part.  This is where the rubber meets the road and I start to lay out blocks – what blocks will I teach, in what order, how long will the blocks be, what resources will I use (which could be a post in and of itself!), what will each block contain and I write it all up day by day.  This part will take me most of the summer, even having been through first grade twice before and sixth grade once before. I include not only the block work itself, but opening verses, poetry and movement and other notes.

I also think hard about the daily rhythm at this point.  How many teaching periods each day or per week can I reasonably handle and not feel crazy?  Where can I combine?  What do I need to let go of and what do we really, really need as a family to be happy together?   I am finding the older my first child becomes, things are shifting in my family.  All the family in the children have very different needs right now, and I have different needs than before as I approach the last half of my fortieth decade of life.

Lastly, I make a schedule for myself for summer planning.  When will I plan exactly?  That part is really important because the follow-through has to be there.

Would love to hear what you are planning for fall!

Blessings,

Carrie

Preparing the First Block of First Grade

Some of you are already thinking of planning your first block of first grade.  I have just planned our first block.  This is my third time teaching first grade, and while each child is so different, I think there are some general tips that can be helpful to any parents planning a block.

If you have looked at the festivals of the year, your school year calendar, observed your child, and planned what blocks when plus gathered resources, you are ready to start planning your first block in detail.  If you are NEW to Waldorf homeschooling, you really need to understand the “why” and “how”. WHY do we do form drawing as the first block and HOW is it typically done?    Steiner’s educational lectures are the cornerstone in this regard, along with secondary pedagogical resources.

Many parents look at each block in terms of setting a goal for artistic work, soul development, and academic capabilities.  First grade is especially about getting children into their bodies, so to me this is an especially logical place to start.  I like to come up with an outline for each day and week. So, in our case, I have our day started with movement,  using the movement block rotation listed at the Movement for Childhood website. I also like to plan “movement breaks”  from this website as I know I will need them during the time spent with my child.

Then I look at establishing a daily order:  for example, after movement our order may be  our opening verse and active circle, active math, what the main lesson (in this case, form drawing) actually will be each day , and the ending of our day.  In our case, our first grader will also spend time each day working with his older sisters, so that will be listed as well – what they will be doing with him each day, whether that is cooking or handwork or reading to him or playing games.

Once you have this order of what happens during the time you are together,  and what happens each day of the week outside of the “main lesson time”, it is easy to make a template and start to plug things in from your resources or to make up what you need from your own creative and authentic self.  What will your movement, opening verse, active circle, active math, main lesson work be each day?   Look things up and create your own things!  You can write your own poetry or verses or songs and make up your own poetry!  Steiner outlined the first several days of first grade in his lectures, so looking at his indications is also an essential first step to planning the main lesson part of your template.

Lastly, don’t be afraid to draw from your child’s interests when it is developmentally appropriate.  For one child, when we did form drawing, I drew a lot from a story I made up about pond life and the movement of the animals, wind and things around the ponds in our local area.  For another child, I did form drawing based upon the stories and characters of Brambly Hedge.  You will find the right thing for your child if you just sit with it all for a little bit.  It will come. Trust the inspiration that comes to you!  It will be the right thing for your child.

Many blessings, and thank you for letting me share,

Carrie

 

Nimble Feet in Waldorf Education

The tasks of the first three years (to be upright and walk; speech and then thought) are intricately tied into Waldorf Education.  We see that the legs are connected with gravity and the surface of the earth, and as the feet move it is often with an inward swing in relation to the joints of the knee and the hip even when we walk in a straight line.  The right foot is seen as moving counterclockwise and the left foot moves clockwise as archetypal patterns.  You can read more about this in the book “Foundations of the Extra Lesson” by Joep Eikenboom.  As our hands become “free”,  and no longer needed for locomotion as we stand and walk upright, they become useful as tools, for expression, for work, for caring for another in lifting gestures as we react to sensory impressions.  Feet  remain in contact with the ground, for the most part, in a stretching movement for walking. Stretching and lifting provide a counterpoint for each other within the development of the body.  One is as important as the other; one is the balance for the other.

There are many books containing hand gesture games, fingerplays and other verses and songs involving the hands.  Yet, the development of the nimbleness of the feet is an important component of the stretching of the body and the development of the will.

There are many ways to incorporate feet into verses, songs and rhymes.  Almost any rhyme typically used for the hands can be used for the feet in some capacity with a little creativity and incorporated into circle time.  Stomping, being on tip toes, patting the soles of the feet are all wonderful.  Autumn brings to mind horses having horseshoes put on, cobblers mending and tending to shoes, giants stomping, gnomes stomping and walking up and down stairways to the inner earth, all manner of forest and farm animals trodding softly or loudly.   Traditional rhymes such as “Shoe a little horse, shoe a little mare” and “Cobbler, cobbler, mend my shoe” work well for foot plays and combinations of toe and foot wiggling, bearing weight on different sections of the foot, and using the feet across midline.

Older children can work with some of the exercises suggested in the book “The Extra Lesson”.  Some of the foot exercises tie into remedial work for children who are restless or children who have trouble sleeping or who suffer from nightmares and challenges with writing.  Foot dominance is tied to the dominance needed for writing and for a sense of spatial awareness in general.  The nimble foot, the nimble mind!

Blessings,
Carrie

The Cost of Overscheduling Your Children

There was a very good post  recently over at “Becoming Minimalist” entitled “How To Slow Down Your Family’s Schedule” which did a great job in pointing out some of the problems with over-scheduling children in our world. I wrote a post some time ago about choosing time outside the home wisely.  In that article I mentioned several points, specifically in reference to the homeschooling community, where because children are not out at school all day, parents often feel the need to get their children out after homeschooling is done.  Here are a few of the discussion points:

  • I don’t think children under 12 need anything, although many parents of 11-12 year old girls have told me they felt their girls “needed something to do” whereas boys seemed to not care until age 14 or so.
  • Teens ages 13-15, somewhere in that time frame, really do seem to need something.  If you haven’t overloaded them with activities up until this point, then adding one or two activities may seem like enough to them.
  • Families with one child seem to vary on how they approach things – read the comments from the previous blog post.
  • Families with four or more children seem to pick activities where all children can participate at once, whereas families with one to three children seem to run around a lot more with the children all doing separate activities!
  • The DRIVER (parent) is often the one who is tired out!
  • Many parents noted they would love to stay home and have informal play with other children, but no children  are at  home in their neighborhood or they may live far out in the country and there are no children.  Children are interacting in structured activities these days, not in playing street games, tag and riding bikes like thirty years or so ago.

I think it could possibly take a full-on public health campaign in the United States to really change the perception of parents that there is value in UNSTRUCTURED play and to not sign their children up for every activity.  I am so glad to know so many of you are trendsetters and are pointing the way toward family being home!

If you want to pare down your schedule, here is a list of suggestions that other parents have told me works:

Discount activities that meet over the dinner hour.  Don’t be so willing to trade a structured, led by an adult outside your home for the benefits of the family dinner hour.  (and there are many benefits; there have been studies).

Let each child pick ONE thing per semester.  Many things now, at least in the United States, seem to run all year round, but see what you can find.

Delay the starting ages for doing activities outside the home.  “In our family, you get to pick an activity to do outside the home when you are “X” years old.”

Figure out when is YOUR day with your children if you are really busy with activities.  How many days do YOU need to be home to feel happy, to have the house the way you want it, etc.

You can try my method:  I put a big X over certain days of the week and do not allow myself to schedule anything on those days.  I have talked about this is in back posts.

Can you let go of guilt?  Every article, including the “Becoming Minimalist” post above, mentions how wonderful free, unstructured play with other children is, yet most parents say there are no children to play with!  Can you feel okay with your child playing by themselves or with their siblings for many days of the week?

The reality is that most homeschooling parents, at least most Waldorf or holistic homeschooling parents, do not want to be out every day and see the value in being home.  They see the value in space and time for development.

I think part of the problem is that most parents are working, and therefore no one is home and the child has to be somewhere.  Also, the ending time of school can vary and take away the down time of the afternoon.  For example, the middle school (grades 6-8) in my area get home around 5 PM, at which time they must eat and do homework.  So, part of this question I think becomes what do we do until economics – attitudes- amount of homework changes? A  tall social order!

Love to hear your thoughts and your thoughts on the “Becoming Minimalist” blog post.

Blessings,
Carrie

First Grade Planning By Subject: The Physical Body and Movement

The “physical body” is an important consideration for first grade, as many markers for first grade readiness for academic work are dependent upon the development of the physical body laid in the Early Years.

The book, “The Extra Lesson” by Audrey McAllen, discusses the entering of first grade and how the child “should be six and a half years of age by the school entry date in the fall…With today’s increasing life-tempo and sensory impacts, children are less and less ready for school life at 6 years.  They need another six months to fully complete the last stage of the kindergarten development.”  For more on this topic, please see this back guest post regarding first grade readiness.

There is a list on page 88 of activities to ask the child to do in order to get a picture of the child entering grade school.  I would consider looking at potential fall  first grade child in the spring before first grade and screening them for developmental readiness.

Early Years children who display the following may need extra assistance and extra screening (from “The Extra Lesson, page 92):

  • Floppy, flaccid limbs
  • W-sitting
  • Behavioral problems in group situations
  • An inability to listen and focus
  • An inability to imitate

For the older child already in the grades, but perhaps still for us to keep in mind when we observe children (list from page 24, “The Extra Lesson”)

  • A child who fidgets and disturbs other people continuously
  • A clumsy child who stumbles and drops things frequently
  • A child who runs about wildly and crashes into other children without stopping but cannot engage in play
  • A child who always prefers to play with much younger children
  • A child who stumbles in his speech, especially with omitting or adding extra syllables
  • A child who cannot form sentences well and cannot find the words he or she needs
  • A child who cannot write neatly and cannot hold his pencil comfortably (remember, this second half of the checklist is for children already in the grades)

(From “The Extra Lesson”, page 92)

I would add to this list to look at core strength of the abdomen, ability to walk distances, and the shoulder girdle/hand during activities such as kneading bread dough, stirring in cooking, cutting with scissors and look at specific retained reflexes that may interfere with writing and copying from the board.  General posture also provides clues.

First grade should still be in a heart of movement.  This includes movement in circle time/warm up, in reciting verses and poetry and in drama, in the rhythm of movement found in math, in being able to distinguish left and right and develop laterality of the hand, eye, foot.    The four lower of the twelve senses of the human being include the Sense of Touch, The Sense of Life, The Sense of Balance, The Sense of Self-Movement are still being developed and built upon the foundation laid in the Early Years. Some remedial (Extra Lesson) Waldorf Teachers view excessive unruliness as stemming from a disturbed sense of life/well-being, excessive insecurity as a disturbed sense of touch, and a  lack of inner understanding indicating a disturbed sense of movement and balance.    For more about the twelve senses, please see this back post:  musings on the twelve senses and the twelve senses in homeschooling

Movement should be the basis from which all activity in first grade flows.  I have many ideas on my Pinterest boards, especially first grade and healing education  for you in regards to these areas.

Many blessings,
Carrie