50 Ways to Celebrate Eastertide

Eastertide is such a joyous time – in the Northern Hemisphere, spring is beginning, and the season of Eastertide runs all the way from Easter Day until Pentecost on May 20.  I think of Eastertide as a time to remember that play and joy are such an important part of being human.  So, without further ado, here are 50 ways to make Eastertide memorable:

  1.  Dye eggs and try your hand at some spring crafts
  2. Visit a sheep farm where the sheep are being shorn and then wash, card, and dye some fleece.
  3. Make projects having to do with sheep – I have an entire Pinterest board devoted to to wool and knitting here
  4. Spring clean your house (deep clean)
  5. Get rid of things you no longer use; paring down in the spring feels so good!
  6. Re-vamp your diet to include even more fruits and vegetables and meatless meals.
  7. Take great care of your skin
  8. Cleanse your rhythm from things outside the home that are no longer serving you or your family
  9. Look at our bee and butterfly friends in the garden, in books, and in crafts.  There are some ideas on my spring Pinterest board
  10.  Clear your life from people who bring you negative energy
  11. Make time to spend with those you love and trust – family and friends
  12. Think carefully about new endeavors.  What are you growing for this season?
  13. Find a wonderful new book to read!
  14. Go hiking.
  15. Go camping. If your spouse doesn’t like to camp, gather a moms and childrens group to go.
  16. Spend time in nature every day.
  17. Add some puppetry to your life
  18. Try journaling 50 days of gratitude
  19. Change your priorities so you have time for self-care.
  20. Slow down and rest
  21. Learn some beautiful new songs for spring for circle time or to sing as a family
  22.  Carefully investigate your spiritual path and find a way to deepen your inner work
  23. Go easy on yourself and give yourself space
  24. Find an app to help you meditate or visualize
  25. Go swimming
  26. Get a massage or sit in a sauna.
  27. Spend time with animals.
  28. Get to know your local farmers and enjoy local foods.
  29. Create art
  30. Plan ahead…or not. Whichever brings you joy in your homeschooling!  Here is some inspiration for planning high school and here is some inspiration for planning the grades.  Also, here is  a whole Pinterest board devoted to the  Early Years
  31. Learn some new Waldorf verses
  32. Pick fruit
  33. Plant a garden
  34. Create something beautiful for your outdoor space
  35. Plan new adventures in travel –
  36. Have a May Day festival shared with friends
  37. Plan for Ascension Day
  38. Plan for Pentecost through these musings
  39. Make some rock art
  40. Create, cook, and sing for Pentecost
  41. If you celebrate Pentecost as a family, consider a gathering for Pentecost
  42. Encourage someone or become someone’s mentor.
  43. Drink more water
  44. Set up a new exercise plan
  45. Catch up on your doctor and dentist appointments
  46. Take naps
  47. Walk in nature
  48. Watch a sunrise
  49. Go slow and enjoy spending time with your children.  If you are homeschooling, less books and more play.
  50. Have a picnic

Blessings,

Carrie

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Raising Siblings As Friends

In many sitcoms and movies, it is almost taken for granted that the siblings of any family hate each and throw snide words at each other. Like this is normal, and good. Like it is better to like friends more than your own flesh and blood.  Like it is better to not want your brother or sister around.

My children have gone through definite phases of needing more space from one another, partly due to age differences (16 down to age 8), and partly due to personality differences.  To me, those phases are kind of like a little dust storm or a big rainstorm.  I may not be able to see my destination clearly, through the sand or rain, but I know it is there.  And the big destination for me is to make sure my children adore each other and take care of each other.  I want to make sure they know that when my husband and I are gone, they will be there for each other. There will be things between them that my husband and I will never know, because siblings are the best bond ever.

As an only child, I often wondered if it was a big fabrication in my head that I built up that having siblings is truly wonderful (especially when they were fighting!). However, I  can say without hesitation in watching our own children, even through the phases of more distance, that yes, yes it is truly that wonderful.  Every time I see them all playing together, helping each other, doing fun things together, I feel that flush of happiness for them.

How do you get help them get that close bond?  Here are some of my top ways, in no particular order:

Don’t ever let them treat their friends better than they treat their siblings.  Call them out on that.  Every. Single. Time.  Part of being with friends includes being nice to a brother or sister if friends are at our house, and part of being with friends includes being nice to a brother or sister when you are home.  If you cannot do that and handle your relationships at home with kindness and love, then you are not ready for much in the way of friendships outside the home.

Make interdependence happen.  Help the children learn to work as a team in whatever way that happens in your home – cleaning up, having fun, taking a trip together, making food. Part of this is also making sure that activities outside the home don’t trump spending time with siblings and family.  It is all part of being a family, and part of learning what makes relationships tick is learning these first relationships at home.  All relationships, if you want them to last, require time well-spent, and kindness.

At the same time, allow for space.  Some developmental phases just simply require more space than others.  And like other relationships in life, sometimes one sibling feels rejected, the other just needs space, some siblings are closer at one point or another, etc. Space and individuality are important, and it makes interdependence work. I find when an older child is 10 or so and has younger siblings that sometimes they just simply need space away from the siblings.  Teenagers who are 14-17 sometimes have a hard time relating to younger siblings as well, especially those aged 8-12, and may need help to remember what it was like to be younger.

Encourage that equal doesn’t equate to fair.  I find this idea of things having to be “fair”  usually peaks for children between 7-10 years of age.  Usually the best thing you can do is empathize with whomever is upset, and have solid reasoning behind what boundaries you are setting and why. Sometimes having “this is just the age you can do X thing in our family” is helpful because it is a more generalized rule.  For younger children where things like taking turns or who gets to hold the special toy are problematic, I find using a timer or counting aloud for “fair turns”  is usually helpful.

In sibling fighting and drama, for younger children,  I usually start with helping the victim of the situation without much attention to the aggressor.  Sometimes just not giving attention for negative behavior helps.  Usually the aggressor has to help the victim by doing something nice for the victim :).  Kindness wins.

In sibling fighting and drama for older children, I try to listen to both sides with active listening techniques and empathy but then help guide them toward problem-solving the challenge themselves.  Stock phrases usually include, “What would you like to see happen?”  “How would that work out for your brother or sister?”  “How could we have an agreement that both of you would like?”

Take the hard knocks in stride.  Just because they don’t like each other at this moment, doesn’t mean they never will!  Keep working toward fun and positivity and help them see each other’s needs are valid.

I would love to hear your best suggestions for helping siblings get along!

Blessings and love,

carrie

 

Your Children Are Exactly Who They Should Be

We can spend a lot of time in parenting trying to change our children, or thinking about how we could change our children.

You know, like  when they are babies we hope and try to help them sleep longer or walk earlier or eat solid foods when they don’t care.  As they grow and become toddlers and preschoolers, we hope they aren’t too clingy or too fussy or have too many temper tantrums.  As they grow even older, we hope and try to help them with their tempers, their shyness, their this or their that.  Then we spend time shaping even more of their habits so we hope that they will do well in the adult world.  There isn’t probably anything inherently wrong in any of this; boundaries and guiding are part of parenting and so are hopes and dreams for our children.

However, sometimes it  is easy to forget that our children are exactly who they should be!  Sometimes children have traits that are just uniquely them, and make them so wonderful.  Some children have traits that really do make it harder to parent, but will serve them so well in the adult world and the adult world needs them so badly.

Boundaries and guiding are beautiful things.  Balancing things to help a child unfold is also a beautiful thing.  But let us also never doubt the sun we see shining in our children’s eyes, and let us never diminish that.

If you feel like all you notice or call attention to  are the bad things a child is doing, take a deep breath.  Get a break from someone you love and trust.  Or bundle everyone up and go take a walk together  out in the sunshine and just reset.  Do something fun and just love each other!

You are all on the journey together and becoming together.  I hope to be sitting around years from now with my adult children and their beautiful families and I hope we are having a great time and laughing.  Because that’s what it is about.  The light that shines so brillantly in all of us that the world so desperately needs begins right at home.

So balance and guide, but never forget that your children are wonderful with all their unique strengths, abilities, talents, and love to share.  Perhaps they are meant to be in this time and place.  May we all grow and shine together!

Blessings,
carrie

Dyslexia + Waldorf

I wrote a post some time ago entitled,“Dyslexia, Dyscalculia, Dysgraphia and Waldorf Homeschooling”   regarding working with the dyslexic child within the Waldorf homeschooling curriculum.  This first post was much longer, and there is a lot of information about movement and visual therapy and other things on this blog.  This post, today, is sort of the quick and dirty in terms of how many parents homeschooling with Waldorf feel.  Remember that dyslexia covers a wide range, and that it can “bleed” over into handwriting or math, some people use different terms for that as I did in the post linked above, but some people just term it all under an umbrella called “dyslexia”

In the post above, I mentioned that most homeschooling parents end up using a more structured reading and/or spelling resource that is outside of Waldorf because these children NEED and HAVE to have explicit instruction.  And, I stand by the point that part of teaching IS to provide this explicit instruction to all children.  Yes, some children learn to write, read, and spell from making up summaries.  But I would venture to say that most children need more than that unless they are a good organic writer. Our oldest was a good organic writer and I have had to work much harder with our other two children.   Most of the Waldorf curriculums do talk about the whole language approach, summary writing, using a combination of phonics, word families, sight words, and spelling rules.  Not all curriculums go into much detail about how to do this, however.

So, the  parts of teaching a child with moderate to severe dyslexia, to me, means several things in these stages:

The “something isn’t quite right” stage.  This may mean going forward with the idea that you are teaching to dyslexia or learning challenges without having had formal testing, or this may be the stage where your child has been tested and you have an official diagnosis.  This may also be the stage where other therapies are involved, such as visual therapy for visual convergence insufficiency, or occupational therapy to help with handwriting.    Resources for Waldorf homeschoolers may also include Extra Lesson Work, Eurythmy, working with an anthroposophic doctor and more. This stage usually for Waldorf children  is anywhere between Grades 2-4.  Hopefully with more Waldorf homeschoolers aware, we can start catching dyslexia earlier and providing the most effective help.

Intervention for direct reading, writing, and spelling instruction.  Waldorf families often add mainstream products to their homeschooling day, which means they are doing separate programs on top of a Main Lesson.  This is hard, and because the timetable in which children with dyslexia unfold, this can be years of extra instruction on top of main lessons, which takes a lot of time. Sometimes dyslexia really affects things like drawing or modeling or painting if handwriting is also affected, in which case some Waldorf homeschoolers feel like their children are missing the “best parts” of Waldorf homeschooling. One thing I want to say here, is not that art instruction isn’t a goal of Waldorf Education, but the ultimate goal is art as a spiritual activity, so keep heart!    More on that in a later post!  Unlike many mainstream homeschooling methods, we probably aren’t reaching for assistive technologies right off the bat due to the younger age of our students and our strong belief in bringing in technology at a later time for overall development.  We may, however, as a family, use some audio resources, and we continue to read aloud a lot as a family.

Looking for accommodations.  There may be a point of some catch-up, but as the workload increases in sixth grade and up, many families are hunting for reasonable accommodations even as they continue to work on reading, writing, spelling, comprehension.  It typically takes a child with dyslexia a longer time to learn to type, even though typing is most people’s answer to slow handwriting in the dyslexic child.  This great post talks about some of the tools for dyslexia, some of the new technology out there, and how to adjust those typing programs to be more effective!

I am in the journey with you, and am currently hunting for technological accommodations to try out in preparation for eighth grade and high school!  Will let you all know what we love.

Blessings and love,
Carrie

The American Waldorf Homeschooling Curriculum

Those of you who have followed this blog for years know that when I could come up for air from the busy times of being in the trenches with my own three children I have been dreaming of what an American Waldorf homeschooling curriculum would look like.  There is a chart compiled by the esteemed David Mitchell that many schools and homeschoolers use entitled, “The Waldorf Curriculum:  An Overview for American Waldorf Teachers” with the sub-statement in large letters:  “These course descriptions present possibilities for the American teacher to expand upon.”  This is the place where many American Waldorf homeschoolers look, and it can be a good overview for those looking to familiarize themselves with some of the things Steiner said, and some of the traditions of the Waldorf School.

I have written before in these posts about some of the American impulses I can see or visualize in the Waldorf curriculum:

Extending Inigenous Cultures Throughout the Waldorf Curriculum (Specifically for the Americas!)

Extending Africa Through the Curriculum (one of my favorite posts, suggestions for extending African history and culture all the way through tenth grade!)

Designing Eighth Grade American History Blocks

High School American History

Third Grade Native American Block

The American Impulse in Waldorf Homeschooling  (from 2013, that is quite some time ago!  I have been thinking about this subject for a long time!)

I appreaciate those of you who ask questions, who ask about the curriculum.  Because, in case you haven’t noticed, Waldorf homeschooling isn’t really popular. Yes, wooden toys and handmaking and nature is popular.  The idea of being “Waldorf-inspired” is often popular for kindergarten through second grade, but drops dramatically after that. I know of very few middle school and high school Waldorf homeschoolers – they are spread out around the entire United States.  Waldorf homeschooling itself is fairly unpopular.  You never see a Waldorf curriculum provider at a state homeschooling conference!  It is often mentioned in homeschooling how-to books as one of the methodologies of homeschooling, but not much beyond that.

Homeschoolers are a fiercely independent lot, and they want to tease out what Rudolf Steiner really indicated and in what lecture (was it in the educational lectures, the general anthroposophy lectures?  where?) and how this actually fits the child in front of them in this day and age.   It is teacher-intenstive for parents who are stretched for time, and it is specialist-intensive from the school model with separate teachers for so many of the subjects that make up what homeschoolers see as the beauty of Waldorf education – foreign languages, games and eurythmy, handwork, orchestra and voice and band, drama.  All of these things are hard to come by at home and are negatives for most homeschooling parents trying to distinguish between methodologies of homeschooling.  Perhaps the traditions of the Waldorf School, in the large sense are a wonderful fit for every child, but in a small sense some of it is very difficult for the average homeschooler. Some Waldorf teachers have gone on to argue how Waldorf homeschooling shouldn’t really exist, because Steiner was laying out indications for a school setting and how this model is not possible for home for one child, let alone multiple children of different grades being taught at the same time.  But then, we also hear that the Waldorf Curriculum is living and breathing as well and is adaptable to different geographic locations around the world – so why would it not be adaptable to homeschooling?   It can all be quite confusing, especially to those unversed in the traditions of the school or who haven’t read Steiner.

I started homeschooling my children for HEALTH.  Nothing was more important to me than their spiritual, physical, mental, and emotional health.  I have always felt Waldorf was the best educational vehicle to meet this goal.  It has very specific indications for the developing child, who is seen as a holistic being and it  is taught through the model of head, hearts and feeling life, and hands and practical work.  The stories for each grade meet that child, and we tailor our stories and curriculum to our particular locality , our particular place in the world!  This is such a hard thing to put in any Waldorf curriculum!  A Waldorf curriculum writer is not going to know about my tiny location in the Southeast, our particular ethinic and cultural background as a family, our particular interests, our health challenges,  and what is around me regarding places of geographic, cultural, and historical interst!   There will not be enough resources in any homeschooling curriculum to bend to all of that, so I write my own  year after year.

However,  I would like to see Steiner’s original indications for a breathing curriculum outline for American homeschoolers to love and be attracted to.  Otherwise, the healing impulse of Waldorf Education is going to miss most of a generation of homeschoolers in a time when our children’s health is more threatened than ever before.  This seems a complete shame to me at a point when what I care most about is the health of my children’s generation. I have been asked by several readers to write some blocks for specific content areas for specific grades in order to meet some of the American needs of the curriculum and I am contemplating that. 

Stay tuned for more.

Many blessings,
carrie

 

Suggestions for Dental Trauma in Children

So, unfortunately our family has a lot of experience in this area and we recently gained some more experience when our little 8 year old fell on a concrete floor, didn’t put his hands out, and fractured both front teeth and nearly knocked them out.  This happened a month ago, and the dentist was surprised at our follow-up appointment yesterday that our son hasn’t had to have double root canals yet nor has he lost the teeth.

So, I am NOT a doctor or a dentist or anyone important. I am just a mom and sharing my experience in case this ever happens (hopefully not) to one of your children so you can be prepared.

If you don’t know much about teeth, this is my understanding of dental trauma.  The tooth is covered by white enamel and a hard layer under that called the dentin.  Inside of the dentin is a soft layer called the pulp that contains blood vessels, nerves, and connective tissue.  The pulp extends from the crown of the tooth to the tip of the roots where it connects the tissues surrounding the pulp. Usually adult teeth that have been dislodged  will need a root canal.   A tooth can survive without the pulp, which is the basis for something like a root canal.  The root canal, especially in adults,  is usually started within a few days of the injury. The pulp is cleaned out ( so all those vital structures such as blood vessels, nerves, etc are removed, because if things are traumatized or dying or dead, it generally leads to infection, the body reabsorbing the nerves and losing the tooth permanently and other things) and a medication is put in with a permanent root canal filling placed later.

However, children ages 7-12 may or may not need a root canal since the nerve roots are still developing. In this case, the child needs very careful long term follow up because sometimes the nerves of the teeth will die off without a lot of symptoms, the body will re-absorb the root and the permanent tooth will fall out.  So, in a way, a root canal “saves” a tooth, but the tooth is not alive and becomes a  sort of a placeholder.  There is new research (I am guessing experimental still at this point???)   that in young people stem cells present in the pulps of the teeth can be stimulated to complete nerve root growth and heal the pulp, but I don’t know anywhere doing this in practice in my area.

ANY dental injury should be seen by a dentist immediately.  Again, I am not a dentist but it seems that you cannot tell from the tooth or the bleeding how damaged the pulp is.  Neighboring teeth that were not directly  hit are often affected as well.   If a tooth is completely knocked out, is it important to handle the tooth gently, not touch the root and it needs to be placed back into the socket immediately by the dentist.  There are solutions you can buy at the drugstore to keep the tooth in until you can get to the dentist.  If the teeth are luxated, or moved, due to trauma, you need to see a dentist right away as well.

So, before something happens, talk to your dentist.  What do they advise you to do in dental emergencies?  Do they have emergency hours?  An emergency phone number?  If a 6-10 year old knocks out or badly hits a permanent tooth, do they treat it different than a 12-15 year old knocking out a permanent tooth?  Would you need to follow up with an endodontist right away?  What does the endodontist they refer to typically do?

So, now I want to share some things that we did that I think were helpful,things that were  a little out of the box.  Traditionally, since we don’t have stimulation of stem cells in teeth present in my area that I know of, which is probably experimental I guess but being mentioned in literature,  is just sort of  “wait and see”.  This is very stressful, and I  personally couldn’t accept that the nerve roots might just die or he might just lose his permanent teeth at only 8 years old. I thought even if I could save one tooth from a root canal that would be important.   So, the three main things we tried included cold laser therapy, chiropractic adjustments, hyberbaric oxygen therapy, and ozone therapy. Mainly we tried these things because I was familiar from hyberbaric oxygen therapy from working with burns and wounds and injuries, and the other things we learned about from friends and health care professionals.

One thing I would recommend is to locate who does ozone therapy for teeth in your area. If injury happens, you want to run to your pediatric dentist right away because most likely the teeth need to be splinted and xrays taken. They may use a local numbing agent as well because with this type of injury, especially to both front permanent teeth, it is exceedingly painful.

We had an ozone shot one week after injury but I wish I had known about it and done it within 48 hours after injury.  I learned about ozone therapy, not through our dentist, but through the place where we initally went for hyperbaric oxygen some days post-injury, but then it took me time to find a dentist who did it and to get an appointment.  There doesn’t seem to be much of a protocol on using ozone with injured teeth, but it does increase circulation and healing.  We only had it once, and I am not sure about whether or not it would be effective now that we are one month post injury to have it again.

We started cold laser therapy about 36 hours after injury. Our chiropractor happened to have one available so that is how we got to start so soon.   Many cold laser protocols say 10 sessions as a general protocol, but consult with your practicioner as there are different protocols out there and different cold laser systems.   We also started using hyperbaric oxygen therapy 72 hours after his injury. We went to a hyperbaric oxygen place for the first few sessions, but I  had a wonderful friend who let me borrow her tank so we can use it at home.    Most hyperbaric oxygen places seem to say “40 hours” in response to many traumas, so we are aiming for 40 hours or more during the next few months. We have about 15 hours in so far as we had some lag time in between what we could afford and in receiving and setting up the tank that we borrowed.

We went back to the dentist yesterday, one month after injury, and the splint was removed.  The teeth still feel a bit wobbly, which the dentist said is not totally unexpected after splint removal.  Our little guy will have to be carefully followed up through the next six months to a year with xrays to make certain that the root hasn’t died (which you can’t really tell by an xray, but you can tell if the body is re-absorbing the nerve that at that point must be dead).

We also had follow up with an endodontist and will have to continue to see him as well over the next six months to a year as we don’t know for sure if root canals will be needed or not (although it’s a good sign they were not needed yet!).  The first endodontist we went to wanted to do double root canals one week post injury due to lack of sensation to cold but the second endodontist we went to said that sometimes this is not completely uncommon one week after injury and in a small child there would need to be other indicators in addition to lack of cold sensation.  So, again, sometimes things can happen with the nerve root with no symptoms,which is why close follow up with xrays is important,  but many times there are symptoms of nerves dying such as discoloration to the tooth, pain with hot or cold liquids, pain with eating.  I think although a root canal only takes a small amount of time, because it cleans out vital structures, it is important to have more than one opinion and if necessary, to have someone who will be willing to follow your child closely, especially if they are under 12 years of age.

The homeopathics we used  for the first 72 hours after injury included arnica pellets, hypericum pellets, and yes, old fashioned ibuprofen for pain relief.  I didn’t have any helichrysum essential oil (it is expensive), but a knowledgeable friend knew it was good for inflammation and helping nerves heal. I had a topical only blend for skin care that had helichrysum in it and used that topically on the upper lip area, but will be getting this oil soon and will use it in a mouthwash type preparation to help over the next few months.

The other thing we had was a lot of prayers and healing touch from people we knew who were prayer warriors, positive wishes from many, and healing touch practicioners who healed from afar.  Our son was even prayed for at the Kurst Root Icon, which comforted me to no end, and I thank my Orthodox readers.  Our parish has said healing prayers  (he was also bit by a dog several weeks ago above his upper lip and needed stitches), and we had a wonderful discussion with our Children’s Director who  was invaluable in knowing just what to say!   Our parish has healing services with holy oil, so that also is comforting to us.

We have a long six months to a year ahead of us, but I hope by sharing this experience it helps someone else if their child is hurt in this way. Get second opinions, and don’t ever accept just “wait and see.”  We are made wonderful, and while complete healing is not always possible, it is always possible to try.

Blessings and love,
Carrie

The Human Being and Animal

This is a typical fourth grade block for Waldorf Schools, and it confuses many homeschooling parents!   I find it to be based in a deeply anthroposophic approach that transcends much more than zoology and takes some familiarity to really carry this approach.  I think the main assumptions of this block are very foreign to many people.  You can find the roots of this subject in Steiner’s lectures, particularly references sprinkled throughout “Discussions With Teachers.”  One thing Steiner says is that “...we should remain clear in our minds that a human being is really the whole animal kingdom.  The animal kingdom in its entirety is humankind.  You cannot, of course, present ideas of this kind to the children theoretically, and you certainly should not do so.”

So, we think about bringing this through example.  Steiner talks about  studying the animal world before the plant world, which Waldorf Schools typically do, and he talks about using cuttlefish, mouse, horse and a person as good examples.  He also talks about (in “Practical Advice to Teachers”, lecture 7), about relating all animals to the human being.  He advises animal study in third grade (which most Waldorf Schools and most homeschoolers don’t do), and then in the fourth grade  looking at the animal kingdom scientifically in its relationship to the human being, and then in fifth grade adding less familiar animals, and then moving the study into plants in the fifth grade, and more botany in sixth grade plus mineralogy in conjunction with geography.  Then one moves into physics, chemistry, and physiology of the human being and back into high school biologic sciences in grades 9-12.

So, the first place to start is to look at the human body.  What is the head like? What is the trunk like?  What makes human beings different than animals?  Eventually, through study, we find that what makes us different is our ability to be upright, which frees our hands to help and serve others.  Animals are wonderful, and very specialized!  Human beings are not so specialized, we are generalists.  We will never have the keen eyesight of the beautiful eagle, nor the incredible body that is so much a head and can do so many interesting things as an octopus, but instead in a way carry around these different aspects within ourselves and all the aspects of the specialized animals make up humankind.  We can look at different animals and see are they chiefly animals of a “head nature” or a “trunk nature” and look at different types of limbs…Charles Kovacs postulated in his book that human beings are the only true limb animals in a sense because our hands are then free to serve all of humanity.

I think the confusion comes in as some anthroposophic resources divide the animals by whether or not they are head, trunk, or limb animals OR through a look at the threefold nature of animals – are they mainly “ruled” by their metabolic/digestive system, such as a cow or bison; or by their  rhythmic system, like a dog, or by their nervous/thinking system?  Again, these are generally foreign ways to look at animals for those of us raised without a spiritual scientific look at the human being and the animal kingdom, so it takes some getting used to to decide if one or both of these approaches resonates.  I like to do both of these approaches in the first block of the Human Being and Animal. You can see how I do this in the notes of these blocks below.

After this introduction and tying in of the animal kingdom to the human being, we can then  move into a second block that shows all of the differen types of animals in perhaps a more traditional manner, but always keeping in mind sympathy and antipathy.   Where do different groups compare and where do they contrast?  This block usually contains a researched report as well.  So, one would cover birds, reptiles, amphibians, fish, insects, mammals, etc as suitable for a fourth grader.  For this block, I like to tie it into our state’s animals, such as our state reptile, our state fish, etc to further illustrate the local geography a fourth grader has been studying during this year.   I also like to include a few weeks study on ocean animals specifically because we live in a state that has a coastline, and this furthers our study of local geography.  You have the upper grades to get into more specific zoological considerations if you add a zoology block in seventh grade, study animals along with geography of the world, and then of course in high school  you will have the biological sciences throughout the high school years.

The art opportunities in these blocks are amazing!  You can paint, draw, model with clay, create dioramas and origami and more.   Speech work with amazing poems, tongue twisters, and riddles is also so much of this block!  Field trips are also a wonderful part of this block, and we can do many!  We have done farm, aquarium, zoo, animal rehabiliation center, vet all as field trips for this block.

My favorite resources for this block include:  “Drawing From The Book of Nature;”  “The Human Being and the Animal” by Charles Kovacs; the free files from Marsha Johnson at waldorfhomeeducators@yahoogroups.com,  many library books about the specific animals I have chosen to present, “Learning About The World Through Modeling” by Auer, “Painting and Drawing in the Waldorf Schools”, the Christopherus “The Human Being and Animal” booklet; and there are free resources in the East African training manual for Waldorf teachers and Waldorf Inspirations.

So, in practice, just as an example, the last time I did fourth grade my blocks were structured somewhat like this:

Block One, Week One – 

Poetry for the Creation in the World, (we are Episcopalian so we used a prayer from our Book of Common Prayer).  I usually have the student lay down on a large piece of butcher block paper and we trace each other and have everyone fill in their own bodies with crayons or pencils.    We take a good look at ourselves, and write down what are some of the things we can do?  What can our younger sibling do?  What can adults do?

We also do a picture of ourselves as a round head, a crescent-shaped body, and limbs that are raying out at the hands. This idea came from Marsha Johnson, Master Waldorf Teacher, in her free fourth grade files available within her Yahoo Group waldorfhomeeducators@yahoogroups.com and she has more details on the why’s and how’s of presenting this in her files.  Once the drawing is done in crayon, we paint over it in watercolor paints and it makes a beautiful resist painting.

We talk about our heads and how our head sits quietly even if we are running and jumping around, how the head is along for the ride taking in everything around us as we process the information that comes in through our senses.  There are some animals that act almost wholly like a human head.  The cuttlefish is a prime example of this as the cuttlefish hardly moves but has to take water in and squirt it out in order to propel himself, and the cuttlefish takes in what he sees with his large eyes, and even his skin changes color in response.  Snails are another great choice, and fun to model with a sea shell and beeswax.    We have also looked at the squid (great fun to paint!) and talked about giant squid.

Week Two –

For animals that seem especially adapted to their environment due to their trunk, we first looked at the seal. This animal is mainly found in the United States far away from our state, but most children love the idea of seals so it seems like a good place to start.  Seals are fun to draw, and there is a wonderful poem by Rudyard Kipling called, “Seal Lullaby”.  We also talked about the  Eastern Harvest Mouse, since that is more specific to our region (but not as exciting as a seal! LOL).

Finally, we looked at the different limbs of different animals and connected these animals with how the limbs are specialized for the environment the animal is in.  The mole is a wonderful example; one of my children did a report on elephants and her interest in the elephant stemmed from our discussion of the elephant’s limbs.  We compared the padded feet of the elephant to the hooves of horses as well, and drew horses. Finally, we can compare this to the human being who doesn’t have specialized hands for flying, digging, or swimming but instead we can use our hands to serve others and the world. This is beauty in the world, and we can create it with what our hands do.

Week Three –

You could end as above, (some families do and that’s fine!) , or move into a threefold look at the animals.  I usually use the American bison as an example of an animal associated with  metabolic/digestive  forces, and this can lead to great modeling, dioramas, and probably rabbit trails into geography as the first thoroughfares of North America were traces made by bison and deer in seasonal migration and between feeding grounds and salt licks.  Many of these routes were followed by Native Americans and then later by explorers and  settlers (see how this all fits together as a foundation for the upper grades? )  I also like to mention our National Park System; most Waldorf homeschoolers in America have camped and explored different National Parks so this idea of protecting and preserving our lands is an important American concept.

We can then look at a the discerning, thinking American Eagle (beautiful poetry), and the rhythmical system that the dog is so associated with.  Great opportunities for modeling and making dioramas!  Lastly, we can create the very iconic Waldorf picture of the human being with the animals representing these realms superimposed on the human being. If we, as human beings are not specialists or ruled by one particular area, then what do we have?  We are generalists, and we can look briefly at the development of the human being.  Many fourth grade children are astonished to know that adults are still developing too throughout the life span!  We receive gifts from the animal kingdom, and have relationships with the animals kingdom for food, domestication, pets, and more but our gift to the animals is our abilities in conservation, in our stewardship, in our ability to wonder and awe at the beautiful planet we live on! We can talk about concrete ways we can help the animals.

The second block, at least the way I do it, is very specific to our state.  I live in the Southeastern United States, so I picked our state and regional animals to represent general animal categories.  The richest biodiversity of reptiles and amphibians in the United States is concentrated in the Southeast, so I usually start there.  This is a great time to paint, and to look at these creatures closely.  Salamanders are a great study.  For reptiles, I usually look at the American Alligator as this is a keystone species ( a keystone species is a species that has a very large affect on its environment even though the abundance of the species may be small, and it supports other species in its habitat). I find keystone species to be good subjects for reports as well.  For reptiles, I also like looking at turtles and tortoises, (finding out the differences!), and if you are in a coastal state, the types of sea turtles.  This also incorporates a lot of discussion about geography.  For example, our state has barrier islands, which hosts a large number of sea turtle nests.

In the second week, we usually look at birds.  This is also a good time to look at the biographies of such greats as James Audoban or Tory Peterson.  We can get a good general look at birds, visit falconers, places that rehabilitate injured birds, go to birds of prey shows, and more.  We also take a close look at our state bird and look at water birds as well.

Week three  and four is generally mammals, which is a huge and diverse category ranging from moles to flying bats to whales to manatees to donkeys.  Again, I try to stick more local as I think this makes the most sense to a fourth grader.  The American marsupial the opossum is very interesting to study, and I think educational as many people carry about misconceptions about the opposum.  We also usually look at beavers as those are right outside our neighborhood, and coyotes and bobcats as those are also close. Primates I tend to save until our seventh grade geography studies, but also can be looked at.

For week five, because we are a coastal state, we look at our own coast and animals in the coast.  I usually start with ideas about waterways (which end in the ocean in our state). So, as we find out about the watersheds in our state, we find out about the bass family as that is common.  Then we look at oceans.  We read about Jacques Cousteau and Sylvia Earle, and learn about the different ocean zones.  Ninety percent of marine life lives in the sunlight zone, but some that live in that zone dive down into the twilight or midnight zone (Sperm whales are a great example!).  We talk about the hatchet fish, the lantern fish, bioluminescence and some of the animals that live in these deep zones.  We also talk about the ocean floor and the trenches, which is a great foundation for  geography and mineralogy in the sixth grade.

Lastly, sometime in May to go along with our gardening, we look carefully at insects.  Which insects are creatures of the dark, which ones are hard versus soft, what is the metamorphosis of the butterfly and other life cycles?  Which insects are social?  How do pollinators work and what kinds of pollinators can we offer as a family to our insect friends?

These are just some ideas from my experience.  I hope you and your student have a wonderful time in this block!

Blessings and love,
carrie