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

First Grade Planning By Subject: The Seasonal Year

If you are just starting to  plan first grade, welcome!

First grade is different than the Early Years, but yet as a homeschooling parent you are still  building upon the seasonal year. This in some ways becomes the culmination  of the rhythm of the Early Years, nursery and kindergarten ages, where by discovering by repetition over the years what makes the festivals, holidays and seasonal activities you made the season of the year, month and day your own.

Only YOU know your family’s culture, religion and spirituality and the geography and seasonal changes of where you live.  So those notes you have taken about what you have done and noticed during the Early Years are particularly helpful in planning first grade.  When does the first butterfly come out?  When are the leaves really crunchy on the ground?  What do we do every single year for this festival or that festival?  What do these months and festivals really mean to me on an inner level?   What festivals and holidays make you feel replenished and what festivals and holidays make you feel depleted and in need of a vacation afterwards?   This is  important work that you have done is the foundation for first grade, from both the perspective of the child and from the perspective of the balance needed for the homeschooling parent.   However, now in first grade,  you are embedding and layering blocks into the cycle of the year.

This can be important to think about.  Where does your seasonal year  best tie into your blocks?  For example, the first time I did Form Drawing, our first block of first grade, I chose to do it through a story about beavers and pond life in our area in the autumn.  To do this, I had to know what the animals in our area were doing that time of year and translate that into what I call “movement snippets” of forms.

Where will you put your nature blocks?  What animals and plants will you focus on in the nature blocks, in painting and modeling?  For this, you have to have been an observer of your area.

Making crafts and cooking for the festivals and holidays your family celebrates is still a huge part of first grade.  This develops gross and fine motor skills, attention, balance and a general sense of life needed for more academic work.

The other piece of the rhythm of the year, month and day is BALANCE.  Yes, you have to carve out time for lessons;  but you also still have to care for and nourish your home and the people and animals and plants in  your life as well.  Time needed for first grade may not be extensive, but it is there and needs a set time, place and consistency to be there! The time for direct instruction and teaching has come!

Our next post will be about movement; in the meantime, for first grade inspiration please check out my First Grade Pinterest Board.

Blessings,
Carrie

What Do Veteran Waldorf Homeschoolers Want You to Know About Planning First Grade? Listen and Find Out!

I recently had the distinct pleasure of discussing what veteran homeschooling mothers would want mothers new to homeschooling the grades to know over at The Waldorf Connection Expo.  You can sign up and listen to my talk for free this weekend!

The Global Waldorf  Expo teleseminar starts TOMORROW May 15-17th.  It kicks off at 4 p.m. EST with a talk by Rainbow Rosenbloom of Live Education!  and free talks will be released every day of the Expo.    Register  here and be sure to tune in:  http://waldorfhomeschoolexpo.com/

Some of the things I touch in my talk include:

  • Why veteran Waldorf homeschooling mothers feel Waldorf homeschooling should be a separate daughter movement of Rudolf Steiner’s initial work.
  • How to create a foundation of goodness and beauty in your home
  • How to become an astute observer of your child. 
  • The top 5 things Veteran Homeschooling mothers want you to know.
  • How to plan from the year to the individual blocks to the day.
  • Some of my favorite resources for first grade!

Hope to have further discussions about planning first grade in this space!

Blessings,
Carrie

Which Waldorf Curriculum Should I Buy?

This topic comes up over and over again on Facebook groups, Yahoo Groups and in real life.  There is even a Facebook group devoted to sharing information about the different curriculums called “Waldorf Homeschool Curriculum Discussion”.

If you as a homeschooling mother have investigated Waldorf at all, then you probably realize that for the Early Years, under the age of 7, life and being home is the curriculum.  Play, meaningful work, rest, stories and songs and verses and being outside, along with seasonal activities IS the curriculum.   It is living and changing.  You don’t need to buy a curriculum for this, but if you feel you need verses, songs, or seasonal ideas, there are plenty of books, Pinterest boards and the like to demonstrate ideas.  You could also attend an open house if you have a Waldorf School near you and see a puppet show.  This is the time to develop your own skills, learn to be able to set a rhythm in your own home, and be a gentle leader in your own home if you plan to homeschool in the grades.  There is no “homeschooling” a four year or five year old in Waldorf!  You are living a beautiful life!  Life is the curriculum!

If you have investigated the Waldorf curriculum for the grades, you probably have seen there are certain subjects that Rudolf Steiner indicated as part of the development of the holistic human being by age, and there are some things built up in secondary pedagogy over these years as being done in certain grades.  You have to know enough to see how this curriculum can be adapted to your own unique geographical environment  (look at the manuals from the East African Waldorf teacher training curriculum and see how they adapt the curriculum for their country and continent) and most of all, to the unique child standing in front of you.  LOOK at the child right in front of you.  This is homeschooling, and homeschooling with Waldorf means you are a TEACHER.    It is not “child-led” but it is sensitive to the child based upon Rudolf Steiner’s view of development and how you, the teacher, brings it!

So this type of homeschooling takes work.    And that seems to scare many.   I  also feel many parents are interested in Waldorf Education because they perceive it as gentle (it is), child-led (it is not), nature-oriented (it is), easing into life in a more gentle way that is unhurried (it does, but then the other grades become VERY rigorous indeed).  The early years of play silks and wooden toys don’t last forever and wooden toys do not an early Waldorf childhood experience make.  Waldorf Education is about protection of the child, but it is also about bringing things at the right time developmentally and that does mean the world opens up, especially after the age of twelve.

The curriculums currently on the market include Celebrate the Rhythm of Life Living Curriculum Program,  Live Education, Waldorf Essentials, Earthschooling, Lavender’s Blue, individual offerings from Rick and Jennifer Tan at Syrendell and Marsha Johnson at her Yahoo Group waldorfhomeeducators@yahoogroups.com and her on-line store The Magic of Waldorf, and  Christopherus Homeschool Resources, Inc.   I am not really including  Enki and Oak Meadow as they were written by former Waldorf teachers; Enki is closest to Waldorf pedagogy our of the two, but each are there own distinct programs with their own scope and sequence.  So these are more “Waldorf-inspired”. Little Acorn Learning is aligned with Lifeways of North America, and is nature-based.  I don’t know of any other curriculum programs than these.   Also, please do not forget the myriad of resources available to Waldorf teachers that are also available to you through booksellers such as Rudolf Steiner College Bookstore or Waldorf Books. 

If you are not piecing together your own curriculum, (which I recommend you try to do, especially in the early grades when it is easier and you can get the hang of it), then you will have to sort through all of these options.  Most mothers I talk to say they would love to have enough money to purchase more than one curriculum because each one has its gems, its loveliness, and they like to combine pieces and resources.  In the upper grades, where there is much less in the way of curriculum to pick from, you will have to do this anyway. 

If you want to see my criteria regarding choosing curriculum, I suggest you look at this back post.  You can also look at this post about how to learn more about Waldorf Education and the suggestions there.    Look carefully at the credentials of the people writing the curriculum and how much they have extensively worked with children in real life . If you are writing a “Waldorf” curriculum and using that word – where is your training, Foundation Studies, workshops that helped train you in this method?  I think all of these things combined make a “curriculum” worth looking at.

Blessings,
Carrie