First Grade (Little-Talked About) Resources

I wrote a post some time ago, in 2010, about first grade resources.  That was seven years ago!  I did first grade for the third time last year, and have a few updated notes to add.

First of all, I suggest you take all questions regarding, “What curriculum should I use?” to the Waldorf Homeschool Curriculum Discussion Facebook group.  There are so very many back posts comparing all the major curriculums and what resonated with people (or what didn’t).  Curriculum, to me, is very , very tricky.  What appeals to one person will not at all appeal to another.  My advice, as always, is to look at curriculums in person if that is at all possible, and look to further your own knowledge of Waldorf Education through in-person  workshops and trainings.  My very simple three requirements for Waldorf curriculum can be found here.

But today I would like to mention a few very helpful  resources that are often over-looked for first grade (I am not in any way shape or form affiliated with these products; I just like them):

  1. “Waldorf Teachers’ Companion to Poems and Speech Exercises for Grades I and II” by John Cyril Miles of Promethean Press.  I have the fourth edition, and it is 141 pages of lovely speech exercises, tongue twisters, and then poems divided by categories:  morning, evening, the seasons (Michaelmas, Fall, Halloween and Martinmas, Advent and Winter Solstice, Spring and Summer), animals and plants, nursery rhymes, fable poems, elementals, people, number poems, miscellany, prayers, story poems.  The last two sections are finger exercises and riddles.  My only wish would be that it included jump roping  rhymes and clapping games, but overall a really thorough resource to carry you through two grades.  You can look at it here , along with other selections.
  2. “Spelling By Hand”  by Jeremy Harrmann.  I hope to write a complete review of this book. It is new to the market, and I think quite good for its 55 paged-size.  There are sections in this book about alliteration in grade one, the spelling of regular words in grades one and two, rhyming and hand spelling in order to make gestures part of the spelling of words, CVC words, finger spelling, the use of writing in grades one and two.  There are also learning objectives for grade one (essentially, such this as the children are able to rhyme and alliterate, they are able to properly spell CVC words, during independent writing they try to break words down phonetically even if they don’t spell them correclty, and that when the children encounter unknown words when reading they try to sound them out phonetically).   I would say these goals could easily extend into grade two for some children (two out of my three have been/are in this category going into section grade where these skills are still emerging), but there are also goals listed for second grade as well. There are many ideas for spelling word games,  and there are spelling word lists of rhyming fun, regular words (CVC or consonant-vowel-consonant words in English), consonant blend words, and then moving into CCVC, CCVCC,silent E words (words ending in long e, a-e words, e-e words, i-e words, o-e words, u-e words), consonant blend words, common vowel pattern words, tenses, common error words, and then “sophisticated errors”, ending with common prefixes and suffixes.   It is a very reasonable price, and I suggest it be on your shelf to help you grasp not only the sequencing of spelling from grades 1-8, but how to bring this is in an experiential way that makes it “Waldorf”. From Waldorf Publications here
  3. The resources available through Lemon Tree Press by Waldorf Master Teacher Howard Schrager.  This includes a variety of wonderful math stories that don’t involve gnomes; the book LMNOP and more. For a full discussion of these materials, head to the Waldorf Homeschool Curriculum Discussion page.
  4. For those of you with first and second graders mixed with having early year children in the house, I recommend Celebrate the Rhythm of Life  by Master Early Years Teacher Lisa Boisvert MacKenzie, who is on the Board of Directors for Lifeways of North America, is on the Waldorf Early Childhood Association of North America task board for birth through three, is a Simplicity Parenting Coach, and more.  Her monthly e-program is a reasonable cost, and will help you with rhythm and festivals.

Please share your favorite off-the-beaten path resources for first grade!

Blessings,
Carrie

A Day In The Life of Messy Waldorf Homeschooling

The older my children get, the harder it is to write about homeschooling.  The Waldorf curriculum is a constant for us, but every child reacts so differently to it in the homeschool environment and it is hard for me to know if any of our experiences will translate.  Homeschoolers tend to paint this picture of things being lovely on blogs and Instagram.  Our days can be lovely too, but  some days are not, and I find with older children they look much different than when I had children all in 5th or 6th grade and younger.  It is not as beautiful as the early grades when all the children were more on the same page as far as the curriculum; it is more academic; it is more juggling for me because the children are so spread out in ages (if you are a first time reader, my children are 9th grade, 6th grade, 1st grade) and it is more focusing on areas that are difficult and time-consuming.

Today started with the usual – breakfast.  My children really want hot meals at most meal times.  My fifteen year old and twelve year old absolutely can cook and do, but I find if I do breakfast it is speedier and gets us off to a better start.  So today I threw oatmeal and flaxseeds in the crockpot with some cinnamon and cut up pears and sauteed some apples in cinnamon, butter, and a little coconut sugar.

We started with our littlest guy.  After his opening verses, he is doing a lovely circle regarding Pelle’s Suit from the book, “Movement Journeys and Circle Adventures” but I added in a number of Spring Wynstone verses about daffodils, violets,  gnomes and the Spring Queen.  In this way, we wake up our voices, our fingers and toes.  We woke up our minds with some movement math.  Then we reviewed.  We started with a little song he knows well.  It was written on the board – (“Spring is coming, Spring is coming, birdies build their nest, Weave together straw and feather, Doing each their best) and we hunted for all the S’s, all the c’s, found the letter that makes the “W” sound, etc.  We also practiced saying the words and clapping on the S’s and stomping on the b’s.  He still mixes up some of the letters and their sounds, so we played some games of putting little alphabet cards that he wrote in order and then I pick a sound and he finds the letter or vice versa (and then he quizzes me!).  We also took turns writing the capital letter on the board and writing the little letter friend that matches – big A, little a, for example.  He re-told the story of Snow White and Rose Red to me in exquisite detail, and we modeled a bear.  Then we painted not so much a bear, but the gesture of a bear in red, with yellow around it for the gold, and then a shy blue hiding in the corners.  The painting looks like the painting of any other first grade with a play of abstract color, but to us it represents the strong bear who could defeat a dwarf and the inner gold we all carry.  I put a sentence on the board from the story and we looked at it carefully, finding all the letters.  Tomorrow we will re-tell the story again, and draw and write from the story and have a new story.

During this, my sixth grader was bringing me her report on Attila the Hun.  She is using the book “Attila the Hun” from the Villians of History series and going through the chapters and writing down three things from each chapter that she learned.  On Friday, we will take all her notes and make it into a little report that will bridge our Rome History Block and our Medieval Block.  And my ninth grader was wandering in and out, muttering about writing up a lab and how the graph was weird (which I later figured out it was because I was having her plot the wrong thing. Oops!  We did fix it).

Next I worked with our ninth grader.  We started with biology.  We have been doing ecology and lately succession and biomes in particular (and catching up on labs since we switched programs in the fall semester and are still catching up). We looked at the lab she was having trouble with, and fixed that.  Then we forged ahead with using a microscope.  Oak Meadow Biology doesn’t require a microscope, but I wanted our ninth grader to have this experience, so today we were using the microscope to review mitosis and using some labs I pulled off the Internet.  We also looked back through our main lesson book at mitosis since this was something we did earlier this year. Then we moved into our more current topic and went through the biology chapter and I have had several main lesson book activities for this topic.  Lastly, we went through the book Kidnapped our ninth grader is reading for literature and went through comprehension questions and vocabulary.  During this, our first grader was playing, our sixth grader was practicing violin and reading the fiction book, “The Dancing Bear” for bridging our history blocks.

We had lunch, which I hurried along and brought a smoothie for myself to the school room.  It was time for our sixth grader  to get to  work.  We worked on spelling, math written and with movement and some grammar exercises regarding possessive pronouns. This all sounds simple, but it took over an hour and we didn’t have lots of time left. We reviewed her information about Attila the Hun and made plans for moving forward.  She has a few things to finish up in her Rome Main lesson book, and we hope to finish this week.  We are also working on business math.  We have gone through the history of math, and we are going over fractions, percentages, and decimals.   During this time, our ninth grader was re-writing her lab, and working on some questions surrounding her literature assignment.  Our first grader was playing in the school room and throughout all three lessons, our little puppy was being entertained by whatever child was available and sitting on my feet with toys.  After school, it  was time to get ready to go to the barn and have a horseback riding lesson.  The fresh air was welcome! We came home for a later dinner  and made dinner and everyone was ready to relax.

We had a slow start to this year and even in January, but things are finally falling into place (at least for now until it changes, LOL).  Hope you all are having some catch-up days to your school if you need it or settling into the groove of a new semester!

If you post a day in the life of your homeschool, please do link it here in the comment box!  I would love to hear from you!

Blessings,
Carrie

The First Two Blocks of First Grade

We are finishing up our second block of first grade this week.  This is my third time teaching first grade, and I am discovering I have some set patterns about the way I go about  presenting the material that I thought might be of interest to other homeschooling parents starting out.  In teaching Waldorf First Grade, we know our material, we do our inner work, and we look at the child in front of us and ask for spiritual guidance as to what this child needs.

So, first of all, I like to schedule form drawing and qualities of numbers as the first two blocks before we get to our first letter block.  This gives me plenty of time to work with movement and rhythm, to really see developmentally where gross and fine motor skills are as we work.   I can see what skills and capacities are emerging as we go through singing and ( in our second block) with an introduction to pentatonic flute,  painting and modeling, form drawing,  and even cutting and pasting in the qualities of numbers block.  I can look at working memory and how the child is with bodily geography as we work with  verses and rhymes, fingerplays, songs, pentatonic flute, rhythm, and I get a general sense of temperment and how this child reacts to something new and uncharted.  It give me an idea of the level of joy and humor this child finds in his or her work.  In other words, it gives me A LOT of information about the child in front of me that I can use when we move into our letter block and into subsequent math blocks.

Form drawing is a block that is unique to Waldorf Education.  To me, this block (and all of First Grade and all of Waldorf education)  is about taking the capacities a child has and bringing them under conscious control.  It takes time, and it is not about perfecting the forms, but it is about self-awareness and following instructions and trying  and how that ties into memory, fine and gross motor skills, eye-hand coordination.  Our first block also included a lot things from Movement for Childhood, a seasonal circle with gestures,  lots of fingerplays and games that involved rhythm (great preparation for math – get rhythm in the body, in the feet, in the hands!).  We always paint on the first day  according to Rudolf Steiner’s indications and  we also paint a few more times in this block and do some modeling with beeswax and clay too (yup, clay.  Send out the Waldorf Police.  I like clay, although we also beeswax modeled every week as well, especially in the qualities of numbers block).   The modeling exercises are usually archetypal transformations from one thing to the another thing but our math block included numbers, transitioning forms from three sided things to “how many things with three sides do we need to make nine sides all together” – that sort of thing.

I also always include within our form drawing story opportunities for acting out different gestures with movement and rhythm – walking like a giant, walking tiny and fast, walking slow.  How many steps does it take to get to the door, the window, the kitchen?  These things start to move into mathematical thinking of estimating, counting, size differences.  We also work on rhythmically walking/jumping/hopping to include counting of ones, by twos, by threes, by fours, by fives.  We work on counting forward and backward.  Again, this is all done orally and  just as part of our form drawing story.  And,  of course we work on movement and forms in space and on paper!  We also knit, mainly because our son already knows how to knit with needles.  So off we go.

And I just keep observing.  What is hard, what is easy, what is needed, how is behavior with each activity – that gives one a lot of clues. And I think what do I need to do for this child?

Our second block  has been a quality of numbers block.  For the numbers 1-9, I  made a new container story based upon a greatly expanded version of  the story “Robert’s Harvest Loaf” from the back of the book, “All Year Round”.  For the numbers 10-12, I used individual stories.  This block also included things from Movement for Childhood, a seasonal circle with gestures, and lots of seasonal fingerplays and songs.  We have  been painting and  modeling as I mentioned above.  We have done so much rhythmical movement with counting, counting backward, skip counting, and even informal adding and subtracting (We have a math-oriented little guy who loves little oral games or games with nuts or jewels) We have done a lot of searching in nature for numbers and shapes, cutting and pasting of three and four sided figures (and multiples of these figures to make more sides all together!), making circles and arranging jewels or nuts on the circle to make stars for the number five and other number patterns, finding the star in our own body for the number five and moving in a circle together fast and slow and listening to each other’s feet so we can move together (remember, rhythm is math! patterns are math!).   We also did counting and sorting – I like to see how children move objects when they count (or do they? do they put them in groups at all? )  I looked to see if my student uses words like “more”, “less”, etc.  It is all playful, fun.  We laughed a lot.  And we did some writing of numbers and how to spell “one”, “two”, etc.,and modeling of the numbers with beeswax.  I also introduced more rhythmic musical games and pentatonic flute because I think math and rhythm go together.  And we keep knitting and cooking and carrying that Michaelic spirit throughout September and this month.

I think if  you approach these blocks with the purpose of gathering information about bodily rhythm, movement, gross and fine motor skills, you will walk away with a much fuller and rounder experience and picture for both you and your child.

Some children are more resistant than others.  I actually find this is usually the more phlegmatic children, but it can also  be children who have learning challenges.  In my experience, children with learning challenges also have incredible trouble with rhythmical movement and working memory, yes, even as early as the first and second blocks of first grade.  So, that could be something to keep an eye on if that is an area where your child struggles.  Yes, all children unfold in their own time, and some do not unfold until the nine year change,  and yes first and second grade are gentle, but some children really do have learning challenges that deserve to be addressed as well and it is important to not discount that.   Sometimes it is hard to tell if it is a later unfolding of capacities or if it really is a learning challenge, but I think observing with attentiveness is so paramount. What is this beautiful soul telling you?

I really am sharing this  all with you to say this is all first grade is!  You can do it!  It is not hard to do first grade – keep thinking movement and rhythm, gross and fine motor skills, strengthening the will and the memory.  I really don’t want people scared away by the “Waldorf” part of homeschooling – jump in and give it a try!  I hope it feels “do-able”!

Blessings,

Carrie

 

The First Week of First Grade

Our little first grader came dressed for  the first day of first grade as a gnome, complete with hat, beard and pointy shoe covers and announced that I would be teaching “Pebbles the Gnome” every day this year. Those of you that have read “A Donsy of Gnomes” probably can understand this little gnome character! (Pebbles is his favorite!)   At any rate, we had a fun first week of school.

We always start with movement, so our first day was jumping rope and other movement from Brain Gym and Extra Lesson work, our first grade verses,  our seasonal circle, our  math games (oh yes!  I start right away!),  and then a few words about school in general.  So,  in addition to the “normal” things that I think are often ingrained in us from Steiner’s lectures to do on the first day of school  (talking about what we do with our hands, painting with blue and yellow and yellow and green – see Steiner’s lecture four  in “Practical Advice to Teachers” if you are looking for more information), I also made several other points to suit the dynamics of our family.  This included a good, new look around the school room in which our little guy has hung out since he was born – what is on the Nature Table?  Where are all the supplies kept?  Where is the rhythm of the day?  How do we know if it is a Feast or Fast Day?   Let’s look at this space  with new eyes since now you are in first grade!

We also talked quite a bit about coming to school and how school is for those eager to learn, and how we learn how to do things that make us like our mommies and daddies and our older siblings and how eventually we can use those things to help other people.  Even at this early age, our first grader completely understands that his father’s work is to help other people and the work outside the home and inside the home  was to help other people.  So that made sense to him.

We talked about the rules of our school time.  Normally I wouldn’t be so direct with a first grader, because perhaps we think of first grade in the home being modeled and held by rhythm and a presence of loving  authority, but I decided with much older siblings in the mix (middle school and high school), our first grader has a different perspective and really wanted and needed to hear the expectations of school in direct but kind and firm words.

After that, we went into the great secret that all inventors, artists, scientists know – that everything in the world is made of the line and the curve.  We had a delightful Irish tale about Lusmore of Knockgrafton on the first day and then the next few days we worked with a story I created that held archetypal images with more lines and curves in various configurations.  We did an intense amount of movement and math in rhythmic verses, counting, and games along with three beautiful paintings and  keeping up with the rhythm of our home in cooking, cleaning, baking, and handwork.  Next week will include more modeling and painting and form drawing.

Overall, it was a very fun week for both of us that I know he carried inside of him.  One night as he was falling asleep, he said to me, “You know, roads are  straight lines and cul-de-sacs are curves. Some roads are curvy too.”  A fitting image to drift off to sleep, wondering about all the beautiful secrets in the world outside his door.

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

How Is Planning Going For First Grade?

(Just a brief and gentle reminder, this post is copyrighted.  The posts on the Early Years and Early Grades seem the most likely to end up in other people’s work uncredited (and being sold for a profit!)   If you want to use something from this post in a public way, PLEASE link to it or credit my work in some way.  Please do not write a curriculum and use my ideas. Many of us with experience are becoming  reluctant to share due to this, and it hurts the homeschooling community. Food for thought).

I am so glad you asked!  It is going very, very slowly.  Between planning high school biology as a year long course, our ninth grade blocks, and our sixth grade blocks, which I did a lot of work on and re-did them all from scratch (this is  our second time through sixth grade)…well, first grade is coming along slowly, even though it is my third time going through it.  It is hard to get back into gnome and fairy land after planning high school, and also to juggle between high school, middle school, and first grade.  It is a situation unique to Waldorf homeschooling families and very different than a teacher in a Waldorf School setting. At any rate, this is what I have so far:

My block layout and a general structure for the day and week.  This essentially includes jumping rope, hand clapping or rhythmic games or skipping for more movement,  something from my favorite Movement for Childhood (see the article “Classroom Activities to Support Learning Readiness” on their website), our Opening Verse, a  seasonal Circle that is fairly paired down, some active math, and then our Review/Main Lesson Material.  Depending upon the day of the week, I have also  assigned my two helpers to do something with our first grader – usually this is cooking (August we will be working with peaches) or knitting ( I plan to use the story of Captain Tinker knitting a scarf for Jenny the Cat, for those of you who are familiar with the Cat Club books) , math and language arts games,  or painting, drawing, or modeling that  I want to do outside of our Main Lesson work.  I also always have several options for movement breaks on hand that I can pull out when we need a minute to get re-focused in our work.

A lovely 3 week block of Form Drawing.  I made up a container story involving a farmer, a little boy who loves to be up in the trees, a turtle who lays a golden egg, a giant,   and a journey to a kingdom.  It is actually not a very complicated story, but it encompasses a lot of movement and  many line and curve forms, and also introduces counting  as the different characters go over things on their journey.  This should be a fun one to set up with little wooden figures, silks, river stones, and sand.

Our second block is also a three week block and will involve our qualities of numbers.  This block will include the same general structure I detailed above, but I will also introduce the pentatonic flute in this block with a story along with continuing many rhythmic activities .  For our actual  Main Lesson, I took the story, “Robert’s Harvest Loaf”  from the back of the book “All Year Round” and extended it and added more characters to make it into a story about the qualities of numbers 1-8.   After number 8, I am using individual stories for the numbers 9-12.  I am spending a lot of time in this block on developing rhythm in different ways, to really imprint that in the body as I feel this is a large key to learning mathematics in the early grades,  and in forming spacial relationships of these numbers in relation to the circle.  So we are using many active math techniques and games and a lot of bodily movement.  This will also be our time leading up to Michaelmas, so we have some seasonal preparations to do.  We will be cooking with apples this month and going apple picking, and tent camping as well.

I am sitting down today to write our third block, our Introduction to Letters.  For this block, I am envisioning a lot of fingerplays, and  fun with sounds and rhymes.  I plan to make a story off of  Dorothy Harrer’s story, “The Prince Who Could Not Read.”  I am envisioning expanding it ( a lot)  and weaving fairy tales into it to include the letters  B, C, D, F, G, H, J, K, L, M, N, P and W.  Our next block will cover the other letters and the vowels.

Our fourth block will be our second math block, and I am planning on introducing the four processes through bears.  Not gnomes, but bears. 🙂  Black bears live in our state and in fact  we had one in our neighborhood this summer.  Bears can  climb trees and swim, they can live in hollow trees or elsewhere and eat a variety of things that lend itself to math processes (berries, fruit, acorns, grasses, insects).  I think this will be a great block full of fun and being outside, along with more camping.  This block should write itself fairly quickly.

Our fifth block will be in December, and this will be a nature block and preparing for the holidays.  We will most likely do nature walks and hikes, crafts for the holiday and for winter, animal stories of the animals in our areas, and possibly look at making a calendar, which is suggested in the First Grade Christopherus Syllabus (I have a syllabus from 2005, so not sure if that has changed over the years!).

So that is what I have so far.

I would love to hear how your planning is coming along,

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.