Fifth Grade: Beautiful Botany

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

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

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

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

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

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


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



Great Gifts for Waldorf Homeschooling Mothers

Waldorf homeschooling mothers work so hard!  In a homeschooling world of workbooks and textbooks, Waldorf mothers are often penetrating artistic and academic activities centered around developmental themes for multiple grades.  It is absolutely no easy task, and it takes a lot to bring it every day!

So, with that in mind, I wanted to highlight a few things perhaps you or another Waldorf homeschooling friend would love for the holidays:

For Self-Care

Tea and honey

Beeswax candles

Bath Bombs

Essential Oils

Gift certificate for a massage

Gift certificate for yoga classes

Brush for Dry Skin Brushing

Great lotions or soap

Inner work resources:  Towards the Deepening of Waldorf Education might be a good choice or And Who Shall Teach the Teachers?


Books For Thoughtful Family Life

For all mothers:  Adventures in ParentingAnthroposophic Medicine for all the Family: Recognizing and Treating Common Disorders

For mothers with small children: How To Create The Star of Your Family Culture WorkbookWell I Wonder

For mothers with older children  Managing Screen Time: Raising Balanced Children in the Digital Age



For School: 

Chalk:  These  are on my list to try!

Watercolor Paints

Plant-dyed yarn

Waldorf Education in Practice

I would love to hear what is on your holiday list for yourself this year!

Blessings and love,


Making the Holidays Enjoyable!

I have met so many mothers over the years who have a big let-down and feel depressed with birthdays and holidays.  If you have been parenting for any length of time, you may have had some experience with any or all of the following:

  • You cook all day for a meal eaten in a short period of time
  • You spend weeks making homemade gifts for your children, (who may or may not appreciate them).
  • You spend weeks or months planning a birthday party or holiday, and your child melts into a puddle or the gathering doesn’t go well.
  • You spend so much time celebrating all the festivals of winter you feel depleted and exhausted.
  • You say “yes” to everything you are invited to, thinking it will be nice for the children, but they are overloaded on sugar, out of their usual rhythm, overexcited, and their behavior is hard for you to manage.

This absolutely doesn’t happen to everyone. Some people really have simplicity for the holidays down pat or they have expectations that these things will surely happen along the way.  I often think about my friends who have four to ten children or more – something is always happening, and I think mothers who have one to four  children should also understand there is no such thing as perfect  with holiday celebrations either!

Perhaps it is just the build up to holidays (and the subsequent let down) seems to happen much more now than it did when I was growing up.  I think a lot of it has to do with Pinterest and Instagram and such. There is this notion that the mother should be working extra hard for everyone to have a nice holiday and it should be just so special that the likes of it have never been seen before!

I think there there are some simple things you can do to make the holidays enjoyable. If you can use this use this week, the week before Advent even begins, to see what you can do with the calender, the budget, and everything else, the holidays may be more enjoyable than ever before!

In Waldorf homeschooling families, this can be especially important for those celebrating many winter festivals – St. Nicholas Day, Santa Lucia, Winter Solstice, Christmas, the 12 days of Christmas, etc.  This can be many days of preparation, even if you try to keep it simple!  The goal is sustainability and fun!

So, here are some of the things I have mulled over and done in the past regarding holidays and fun:

Decide what the overall focus is….for our family, Advent and Christmastide are part of our religion and spiritual path of the year, so attending our place of worship is a priority, as is spending time together doing cozy things like crafting, baking, being in nature, kindness and service to others.

If you have small children under the age of 9, you are probably still establishing traditions.  This doesn’t have to be done in one year; you can layer it over many years.  Some traditions will change as your children become teenagers (and many traditions will stay and the teenagers will secretly love the traditions, even if they complain!)

Keep decorating super simple unless you absolutely love to decorate.

Keep food preparation simple for holiday meals and for the entire month of December. The crockpot or instapot is your friend.  There are many healthy recipes out there!

If the holidays are about being together, how about doing it at home?  Decide how many days you really  want to commit to be out of the home. Factor in end of school performances, recitals, banquets and more.  If there are many of these, then the rest of the time you may just want to be home.

What is your budget?  If you override your budget and bring in the New Year financially poor, that is no fun.  Keep gift-giving simple!  What are the expectations for gift-giving in your family?

On the flip side, for Waldorf families who like to make everything and have a homemade Christmas – will it all be done?  Is it feasible to do all of that on top of school in December (if you do school in December; many homeschooling families do not) and on top of all the other commitments?

Where is the time to just bake cookies, or just go outside for  a walk in the crisp air or sit with a great book?

What can you do to keep bedtimes and mealtimes as rhythmic as possible despite travel, parties, or outside activities?

If you are traveling, do you have to?  Would you like to just have a holiday at home?  How far is the travel?  Would it be easier to have family come to your house?

Make self-care a priority. I like Jamie Martin’s self care calendar for the introvert for Advent here.  You can download it for free!  I think everyone, not just introverts, need to protect themselves during the holidays.

Share with me your ideas for keeping the holiday season simple, manageable, and meaningful!

Blessings and love,


Getting Ready for Advent!

We are so fortunate that Advent begins this year on December 3rd!  I always feel a little behind the ball when Advent starts the weekend directly after Thanksgiving.  So, these few days after Thanksgiving are finding me gathering some of the things we need for our first week of Advent, which will cover December 3rd – December 10th.

For me, there are a few main things I love about this week, including gathering the greens for our Advent wreath and setting that up, (along with gathering the minerals, rocks, bones, and other representations of the mineral kingdom we will use in our wreath this first week); finding our Advent calendar and setting it up; and gathering stories and recipes and things to do for this first week that have to do with Saint Nicholas Day, which is December 6th.

If you would like to learn a little more about Saint Nicholas Day, I suggest these two back posts:

Saint Nicholas Day in the Waldorf Home

Musings on Saint Nicholas and Starting New Holiday Traditions by Christine Natale

I also suggest looking at the wonderful St. Nicholas Center.  There are incredible stories there, including ones by Parenting Passageway contributor Christine Natale!

If you are on the hunt for great books to build your Advent library (or some families will wrap 24 books, one to be unwrapped and read for every day of December until Christmas Day), I suggest the Advent book lists by Elizabeth Foss:

Advent and Christmas with Tomie dePaola

Read Aloud books for Advent

And here is a back post with a book list specifically for Saint Nicholas Day:

Favorite Stories for Saint Nicholas Day

Happy Planning!  I will be posting pictures of some of our activities on The Parenting Passageway Facebook page!

Blessings and love,

Extending Indigenous Cultures Throughout The American Waldorf Curriculum

I wrote posts some time ago about multiculturalism in the Waldorf School curriculum, about extending African studies through the curriculum, and about extending Latin America, particularly the study of the Olmec, Maya, and Aztec tribes, throughout the curriculum.

I  am not sure how many Waldorf homeschooling families subscribe to “Renewal:  A Journal for Waldorf Education”.  It really is a wonderful journal, and brings up many interesting ways of keeping the curriculum open, up to date, and inclusive.  I was very pleased to see the most recent Fall/Winter 2017 issue of “Renewal:  A Journal for Waldorf Education” had an article entitled, “Indigenous Cultures and the Waldorf Curriculum:  Suggestions for Grades One Through Eight” by Adam Jacobs and Ronald Koetzsch.  This article grew out of the 2016 Rudolf Steiner College’s conference on the “California Indian Curriculum and Stories.”  There were suggestions in this article how different pieces of the indigenous cultures fits into every grade of the Waldorf curriculum, and where it views might  be discongruent.  This is especially important as Waldorf Education is now established both on the Pine Ridge Reservation (Lakota; United States) and on the Six Nations of the Grand River Reservation (all six Iroquois nations living together; Canada), and I imagine will continue to expand over the coming years.

Suggestions included:

Grade 1 – Native American tales.  Of course the expectation is to find Native authors who have told these tales, not European versions of these tales.  One book recommended included “A Broken Flute:  The Native Experience in Books for Children” and the website American Indians in Children’s Literature.

Grade 2 – Possibilities for the Saints blocks included Deganawida (Iroqouis), Black Elk (Oglala Lakota), and Wovoka (Northern Plains).  Animal stories are always used in second grade, and this article talked about the disparity between the western view of animals as less developed and the Native view of animals as “models of behavior to be observed and integrated.”  This is important to know as we teach.

Grade 3 – Creation stories (Although important for the teacher to note that  in a Native American framework, creation is always present and occurring). Many North American homeschoolers combine Native American studies with the shelter and fiber  blocks of Third Grade, which was not mentioned in this article.

Grade  4 – Trickster tales where the trickster is crossing the boundaries between good and evil, heaven and earth are often found in Native American tales and appropriate for those in fourth grade and past the nine year change.  (And yes, we often hear about trickster tales in second grade. The first time I heard about trickster tales in fourth grade was in the Math By Hand curriculum, which is also out of California.  I found this interesting!) According to the article, another place to consider integrating Native Americans includes the biographies of great Native leaders in local geography.  There were suggestions for dealing with colonial encounters with the book, “American Indian Myths and Legends” and Thomas King’s “A Coyote Columbus Story.”  I have not personally seen these books, so I have no recommendation. I tend to tread lightly on colonialism and its horrors in fourth grade and really delve into depth with these topics in middle school and high school, so I think every homeschooling family will decide what is right for them.

I find it interesting there is no mention of Native American views integrated with the Man and Animal block.

Grade  5 – It was acknowledged that there are “at least three cradles of civilization that are not usually emphasized in Waldorf schools – the North China Valley, the Andean area, and Mesoamerica.”    This article suggests including the Classic Mayan civilization for certain, and talks about how many Waldorf schools are already including China.  You can see the link to the back post I linked above regarding Latin America as to how I have integrated the Mesoamerican and Andean civilizations into our homeschooling.

Grade 6 –  The article mentioned the Iroquois (Haudenosaunee) Confederation could be an intersting political model in addition to the Roman Empire.

Grade  7 – Noted that “The Age of Discovery” and  such terms are very Eurocentric (and, in my view, no longer needed). Do bring in stories of Ibn Battutu ( see my back posts on Africa to delve deeper into this), Zheng He, and the Polynesian people. I think most Waldorf homeschoolers I know have been doing this for years, but glad to see it mentioned here.

One lovely thing mentioned here is that the “spiritual destiny” of the Americas was not to have indigenous people subjugated and their lands taken away and their resources exploited. I also was very glad to see this in print and hope all Waldorf schools and teachers take note of this.  This is an Age of Colonialism, and the bad things that went along with this and also the contributions of the Native Peoples (farming, navigation, diplomacy, etc) to the very survival of the colonists can be noted. Such a duality!

Grade 8 – One other duality  mentioned in this article to bring in during block  regarding the Industrial Revolution and Westward Expansion is the duality that while the genocide of Native Americans was occurring on American soil,  the ideas of the  Haudenosaunee Confederacy were helping to shape governmental structure.

Over all of the intermeshing of the ideals of both some Native American tribes and Waldorf Education is ethical individualism,  where every act of the individual is  seen as one of spirituality and one of responsibility.  This is embodied in the Great Law of Peace and as an ideal  in Waldorf Education as the pinnacle of the developing human being.

Many Blessings,


An Outline of Fifth Grade Ancient Mythologies

Fifth grade Ancient Mythologies is an interesting block. I find it to be one of the more anthroposophic blocks of fifth grade in a way, because the platform underneath this block is really in tracing the development of the spiritual consciousness of  (Western) man through several different civilizations.  Typically this starts with Ancient India, Ancient Persia, Ancient Mesopotamia, Ancient Egypt (and I always include more about Ancient Africa here!),  and landing in Ancient Greece.  Some Waldorf schools include Ancient China, which doesn’t really fit into Steiner’s original nod to the development of the Western consciousness, but I think is important before getting to sixth grade history proper.  So this isn’t really about history per se, but a child is getting a great feel for these cultures, how the people thought and lived at the time, what the land was like and how people lived on the land, and how the consciousness of people changed over time.

Some of my favorite resources for this block includes:

  • Any of the Live Education books on these subjects
  • Chapters From Ancient History  by Dorothy Harrer
  • Ancient Mythologies by Charles Kovacs
  • The Christopherus Ancient Mythology book (Ancient China is included in the main fifth grade syllabus, but not this separate book).

So I think in trying to combine all of this in a broad, sweeping view one must, like in any block about a place, time or culture, look for the things that are the incredible hallmarks that one finds in these civilizations that provide the big picture keys to the land, the people, the thinking process of those people and how the thinking changed or evolved.

Here are some of my brief notes on each of these areas that might help you:

At the beginning of this block, I like to talk about time  and some ideas about how we look at large blocks of time, BCE, millenia, century, generation, etc.  You can get into this a little more in mineralogy and such, but I think it is worth a mention before you look at these very ancient stories!

Ancient India:

The Land -Basic Ideas:  The vastness; the Himalayas – the throne of the gods; the Indus and the Ganges Rivers; I touched on Harappa not so much as a history proper lesson but to plant the idea that civilizations often spring up around rivers just like we saw in our local geography in fourth grade;  six major climatic subtypes.  I find painting to be a good way to express landscape variety in fifth grade.

The People /The Thinking – as illuminated best by the great stories : The Creation Story (About Hinduism website); a story about Indra comes next in the Kovacs book but I could not find that on the About Hinduism website so we moved into story about the Trinity of Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva.  Some of the major concepts of Hinduism. The story about Brahma and his four heads; Vishnu and Lakshmi;  Shiva;  we did the story of Manu and used the story of Manu and the Flood; the caste system; the laws of Manu; the sacredness of the cow; the story of the sons of Pandu from the Mahabharata.

The story of Rama and Sita is in Live Education, Dorothy Harrer’s book and Christopherus has a play version.  The story of Rama and Sita is often told at Diwali, so a community celebration may also bring this to life.

Experiential Learning: a field trip to your local mandir would be fantastic, especially around Diwali.  Cooking.  Ancient Indian Music.  Make a 3D map of India.

General Ideas:  The book “Come Unto These Yellow Sands” has “Look to this Day” from the Sanskrit, the Dorothy Harrer book has “The Song of Creation” from the Rig Veda.  “A Journey Through Verse and Time” also has part of the Rig Veda in it. The  “Story of Brahma” by Ralph Waldo Emerson.  There is a poem regarding the caste system on page 221 of “A Journey Through Verse and Rhyme”

Free Resources to Love: Waldorf Inspirations Fifth GradeHomeschooling Waldorf blog post

Read Alouds:  The Iron Ring by LLoyd Alexander.

Ancient Persia:

The Land: A land of extreme heat and cold,  flat plains that caused Persia to be invaded over the years; no major rivers for travel; the Zagros Mountain area,

The People/The Thinking – as illuminated by the great stories -“Knowledge of self is knowledge of God”; Zoroastrianism, which is considered an early influence on Judaism, Christianity, and Islam and one of the first monotheistic religions; the Avesta (the holy book of Zoroastrianism) and the battle between Ahura Mazdao and Ahriman; how people moved into farming.  I think the best stories for this part are those found in Kovacs’ book. The Wise Men are also a good story to include.

Experiential Learning:  Drawings of the stories of Zarathustra; find a family or communal celebration of Nowruz, the Persian New Year. Paintings of the land, modeling of stars or daggers; dioramas of first farming; cooking Persian food.

General Ideas:   I find this a good time to review writing fantastic sentences and paragraphs.   Verse on page 222 of “A Journey Through Time in Verse and Rhyme.”

Free Resources to Love:  There is a play about Zarathustra in the Hawthorne Valley Harvest Elementary play collection, available for free here.  Sheila has a lovely post with ideas here

Ancient Mesopotamia:

The Land:  The Tigris and Euphrates Rivers; the impact of this on the Sumerians, Babylonians, and the Assyrians.  Farming and domestication of animals.

The People/The Thinking:  The story of Marduk in Kovacs; the story of Hammurabi; ziggurats and astronomy; the famous hanging gardens; the story of Gilgamesh; the irrigation system of the Mesopotamia; Cuneiform writing; Hammurabi’s Code; the invention of the wheel.

Experiential Learning:  Clay tablets; ziggurat models or paintings; paintings of the land, glue painted plaques from Pinterest, make sand clay, drawings of Gilgamesh.

Free Resources/General Ideas:  This is a nice blog post from Five of Us

Read Alouds: Gilgamesh, of course!

Ancient Egypt:

The Land:  The Land of Egypt; The Nile, The Flooding of the Nile

The People/The Thinking – as illuminated by great stories:  The Creation Myth; The Birth of Osiris and Isis; The Terror of Sekmet; Ra’s Secret Name; any of the other many Egyptian Mythologies; life in Ancient Egypt; the pyramids; Hieroglyphics and the Rosetta Stone;  mummies (why?  what does this have to do with the afterlife?)

I like to extend into Ancient Africa here – there are more pyramids in Sudan than Egypt!  Places to begin might include Nubia and artistic work around that and how Egypt was conquered by  Nubia (this National Geographic article might be helpful with this idea); the Zaire Basin and the Mbuti; The Creation Story of the San People.

Experiential Learning:  Drawings and paintings of the Egyptian stories; drawing and paintings of the pyramids and the landscape; working with making paper;  visiting Egyptian artifacts at your local museum; making an Egyptian feast

Resources:  Tales of Ancient Egypt by Roger Lancelot Green; Hymn to Ra; background reading for the teacher might be this article:  Waldorf Journal Project #4. There are also some free resources on Main Lesson.Com. “Pyramid” by David Macauley.

Read Alouds:  The Golden Goblet or Mara of the Nile

That is just a bit to start you on!  It isn’t hard to put together these blocks, and the library often is an incredible source of free resources.





Preparing for Advent 2017

Advent is a time of anticipation and waiting in the Christian tradition.  In the tradition of the Waldorf schools, however, Advent is accessible to all faiths as a season of hope and waiting; a season of lightness in the dark.

One thing I love to do around Thanksgiving is to start to gather greens that we will use to build an Advent wreath. Many families find an Advent wreath with a verse to be a comforting daily or weekly ritual.  The verse that many Waldorf families use with their Advent wreath is this one:

The first Light of Advent It is the Light of stones:
The Light that shines in seashells In crystals and our bones.

The second Light of Advent It is the Light of plants:
Plants that reach up to the sun And in the breezes dance.

The third Light of Advent, It is the light of beasts:
The Light of faith that we may see In greatest and in least.

The fourth Light of Advent It is the Light of humankind:
The Light of hope, of thoughts and deeds,
The Light of hand, heart and mind.

Each week, one can choose to add the things mentioned in the verse – seashells and crystals; plants; wooden animals or other representations of the animal kingdom and then lastly representations of the human realm.

There are so many wonderful Advent ideas and books out there.  Some of the favorites I have had from over the years include the ebooks from Little Acorn Learning and from Annette over at Seasons of Joy.  You can also see my Nativity Fast/Advent Pinterest board and my General Advent board.

Here are some back posts about Advent, Winter Celebrations, and the first week of Advent:

Advent For All Ages

The Mystery of Advent

The Inner Work of Advent

Advent and Winter Celebrations

The First Week of Advent 2009

The First Week of Advent 2010

The First Week of Advent 2011

The First Week of Advent 2012

The First Week of Advent 2015

The First Week of Advent 2016


Please share your Advent traditions!