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As I had stated earlier, we are spending a month focusing all of our attention on learning about leaves and trees. To ensure that the knowledge learned during this month persists, we have designed and made an educational game based on William Joyce’s book The Leaf Men. The Leaf Men is about an elderly woman who tends a garden until such time that she becomes ill. Her illness brings about the near demise of her beautiful flower garden. Neighborhood children and insects who love the garden fret over its state, and ultimately the insects go on a quest to save it. In the process, they enlist the help of a mysterious lost toy.

Our game consists of a board game with an enormous number of colored squares that make up the ailing woman’s quilt. We need a lot of spaces to allow for the enormous number of leaf and tree related questions that we are trying to fit in. Game play proceeds when a player rolls a color coded die. The player moves to the colored space indicated by the die. Alternatively, he encounters the “lose a turn” spider or a rose that allows him to reach into a bag and pull out a leaf shaped token. Back to the tokens in a minute.

Whenever a person moves to a space, he will take a card and answer a question about leaves or trees. If he’s right, he can take a token from the bag. If the token has the lost toy on it, he automatically wins the game. Otherwise, the first person to traverse the quilt to the old lady wins.

The Leaf Men Book & Game

The Leaf Men Book & Game


Our Leaf Men Board

Our Leaf Men Board


Leaf Men Playing Pieces & Die

Leaf Men Playing Pieces & Die


Leaf Men Question Cards

Leaf Men Question Cards


Lost Toy Token

Lost Toy Token

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Jeanne Willis (author) and Ruth Brown’s In Search of the Hidden Giant is a remarkably good book. We found this book hidden away in an out of the way corner in an old antique’s store. Initially, I didn’t even think the book was for sale. Fortunately, I picked it up, due to the eye-catching Fall color schema, which I love any time of year. I was expecting an overt and unimaginative tale of giants, so I was a bit confused by this book. It was a dollar, so bought it for the colors and decided to use it for “fill” for the fall curriculum. I left it in a bag with a bunch of other books, and thankfully just came across it again.

In Search of the Hidden Giant is a quiet but intriguing tale of two kids who go off on trek into the woods looking for an elusive giant who always seems to be hiding one step ahead of them. In some instances, the giant seems to be a stone’s throw away or perilously right under foot. When the kids finally find the giant, there’s a bit of a surprise that might disappoint kids with less imagination but thrill kids who are coming to understand the role and power of imagination. I LOVE this book.

Hiddent Giant

Hidden Giant

It’s been a few days! My adorable son was prescribed an asthma drug called Flovent for a chronic cough. This resulted in two weeks of unrelenting chaos. My high-energy son turned into an aggressive, raging little boy. I looked on line to discover that this drug contains a steriod, and these were very common side effects! In fact, in some instances, the side effects become so entrenched that they are long-lived and persist well after treatment with Flovent stops. Seems hardly worth it for a mild cough. My son is now off Flovent at the doctor’s advice while they mull an alternative to what may simply be a ragweed allergy.

Calm Before the Storm

Calm Before the Storm

The obvious occult leanings of Waldorf founder Rudolf Steiner might leave many wondering if Waldorf is right for them. Steiner’s educational system is excellent and can be divorced from Anthroposophy. I know it can be done, because I don’t really know anything substantial about Anthroposophy, and I’m successfully using Waldorf curricula everyday. Our days our fun-filled and revolve around nature and rhythm. This is a typical day:

1. Nature Walk
2. Sing circle songs (Wheels on the Bus, Old MacDonald, Seasonal Songs) and reciting poems (Stevenson, Yeats)
3. Doing activities that reflect our month’s theme (e.g., reading about leaves, leaf rubbing)
4. Engaging in handwork, watercolor painting or some other craft
5. Free play which usually involves playing with our home made educational games
6. Yoga (*maybe*)
7. Telling a Grimm or other fairytale & discussing it
8. Practicing writing our two letters for the month
9. Discussing our number for the month (e.g., let’s draw a one, what does it mean to be unique, name things that are unique)

See, nothing esoteric here. The only unusual thing we might do is celebrate one of the Waldorf holidays. This month is Michaelmas. I’d never heard of that until I became acquainted with Waldorf. It’s a real Christian holiday that celebrates the Archangel Michael. Apparently, it was much celebrated in Europe, but a quick look on Wikipedia suggests that it is not so well observed nowadays. We choose to celebrate these holidays for a variety of reasons. Unlike the well-known holidays, there’s absolutely no commercialism associated with them. Thankfully,my son doesn’t expect any gifts. Instead, these new, unexpected holidays are purely family oriented. The symbolism is rich, and they lend themselves to lots of fun-filled activities. Michaelmas is based around Michael defeating Lucifer portrayed as a dragon, so there’s lots of crafts and plays and storytelling with dragon themes. Kids love that.

Holidays aside, Waldorf is a superior educational system that simply can’t be beat. Right now, the focus is simple but as the age of the child progresses, it takes on the form of a classical education. Waldorf is not Dick and Jane literacy and teaching to tests. Right from the get-go, Waldorf presents very challenging texts and language for children to absorb. The youngest of children are listening to Rumi, Yeats, Robert Louis Stevenson, Robert Frost, and other great poets. Even the Grimm tales are presented in the original language. This promotes advanced literacy and vocabulary. Advanced geometric concepts are presented in ways that children can understand. Overall, everything that is taught in a way that involves the “head, heart, and hands.” The head is obviously the intellect, but use of things like oral story telling and puppetry (imagination/heart) and handwork and painting (hands) to enforce lesson material further engages the child and reinforces retention in ways that rote learning does not.

Additionally, the range of subjects is also impressive. Whereas many schools are just teaching the basics, Waldorf schools teach quite a variety of subjects in the first eight years. Botany, Art, Drama, Music, Mineralogy, Physics, Algebra, Geometry, Chemistry, Ancient Hebrew/Persia/Indian/Egyptian/Native American Culture, are just a few of the many subjects. There’s a constant focus on creativity and world culture that simply is not found in public school. The range of subjects also shows that children are capable of being challenged in ways that many public elementary and middle schools do not attempt.

That said, I’m seriously considering taking a foundational course in Anthroposophy to see if it is or is not something that I want to involve myself with further. Steiner’s metaphysics does not grab me thus far, but his educational system is brilliant. I’m tempted to see if there is anything else in Anthroposophy that may be of use.

I mentioned earlier that gnomes are ubiquitous in Waldorf culture. Why is that? I don’t know all the specifics, but I do know that the founder of Waldorf education, Rudolf Steiner, believed in gnomes. Rudolf Steiner was an unabashed occultist. In his early days, he apparently had some psychic experiences that predisposed him to interest in the occult, and he eventually went on to affiliate himself with a group of Theosophists. Theosophy is a school of occult thinking for which I definitely do not care. I’ll get back to that later. For now, suffice it to say that Rudolf Steiner distanced himself in many ways from Theosophy and went on to found his own system; Anthroposophy. Anthroposophy is a very complex occult system that Steiner called a “spiritual science.” Anthroposophy deals with the whole cosmos, but the gnomes are a elemental spirits that live in the bowels of the earth. They do not look like the the gnomes on the cover of Huygen and Poortvliet’s book, either! No red hats and blue coats here. LOL. The gnomes appear to be invisible mean spirited, surprisingly earth hating, asocial, clever creatures that help plants grow. If they are visible, it’s when they take on the form of frogs or toads. That’s my take on reading Steiner’s book Nature Spirits. Nature Spirits is by no means light reading. It’s some of the most abstruse, convoluted–and if you like this sort of thing–intriguing–material you’ll ever read.

What does this mean if you’re considering Waldorf education? It depends. If you’re homeschooling, it might not mean anything at all. I’ve purchased many curricula, and they have no obvious, teachable anthroposophy in them at all. Zero. If you purchase Waldorf homeschooling products, you’re likely to see gnomes, but that’s most likely along the lines of objects to set out on your nature table or counting toys. The most I’ve ever heard coming out of a Waldorf private school is gnome themed garden hunts for little children. In other words, little kids go outside and “look for gnomes” during something akin to recess. While teachers seem to operate with an anthroposophy mindset, they don’t seem to teach anthroposophy to kids in any overt way. I have several friends with kids in Waldorf schools, so this seems to be the case. Hopefully, I’ll find out myself. Until then, it’s Waldorf homeschooling!

Gnomes

Gnomes

I’m new to WordPress, but it looks like someone did a search on our blog to see if we read the gospel. The answer to the question would be yes and no. We don’t study theem extensively or read them exclusively as some fundamentalist homeschooling households do, though we will have a whole year of Bible studies in the future (second grade).¬†We’re Unitarians. I’m a Unitarian Sunday School teacher. I taught a course called Bibleodeon last year that touched upon the gospel. This year, I’m teaching Tapestry of Faith. ¬†Unitarians study scriptures from all faith traditions. My son should be attending his own weekly Tapestry classes, as well. Here are two of my favorite Unitarian songs. The first is based on a poem by the Islamic poet Rumi, and the second is more of a folk song.

Around here, we can feel that fall feeling in the air. Just last week, it was nearly 100 degrees, but now, it’s barely reaching the mid 60s. There’s a crisp breeze, and the leaves are just starting to change colors and fall. There’s also that “fall smell” that I love so much. That can only mean one thing. It’s time to change over the nature table. This is our first year with the nature table, and it’s grown into quite a sight to behold. The table itself is this little two person dinette table that we have pushed against a mirror wall. We were actually going to use it, but that never happened. It’s in too tight a space to be functional. It’s ideal for displaying things, though. To that end, we first put out a few little critters mixed in with some cheap candles and a diffuser from the dollar store, but the little table grew and grew into quite a production!

Two of the things that really make the table and pull it all together are this enormous piece of fabric from earthboundpixie and a wooden calendar from mamaroots. The fabric was truly a surprise. I ordered a playmat, and this enormous piece of fabric was wrapped around it. And, I do mean enormous! It’s gold, toile, and about 7’X7′. We used that to cover the mirror wall right up and it gives our nature table error a warm, inviting, and enchanted look. The wooden calendar is based around an old Czech folk tale called the Twelve Brothers. Each brother represents a month of the year. Whenever a new month roles around, the figure representing that month–a little “brother”–is pulled out and put in a place of honor on a little rock. It’s absolutely adorable. The calendar also comes with a little wooden bowl that can contain nature or other objects that can represent the month.

Here’s our summer nature table:

Summer Nature Table

Summer Nature Table

Here’s a close up of our wooden calendar:

The Twelve Brothers

The Twelve Brothers

Here’s our table all aglow during Midsummer:

Midsummer's Eve

Midsummer's Eve

Lastly, if you’re new to nature tables, they need not be so elaborate. In their simplest form, they should have four objects. There should be at least one object from each “kingdom” which Rudolf Steiner, the father of Waldor education describes as the animal, mineral, vegetable, and human. A lot of people may use found or handmade objects that are seasonal. Apparently, some people add one kingdom per week of the month. Some people might add the objects with songs or other fanfare. I’m thinking of deconstructing the summer table all in one go and adding all the new fall objects with some fall songs. Some of the other objects on this table were all made by prettydreamer, NatureTableTreasures, MamaMadeThem, and mamakopp.

We have a variety of playmats. Each playmat depicts a different landscape. Some are double-sided to depict the same terrain during different seasons. The playmat depicted in the Hands-On Nature post was made by EvesLittleEarthlings. (The various figures are from NatureTableTreasures and Rjabinnik). Basically, whenever we have a particularly interesting story, I look through our collection of wooden and other creatures to see if I have a suitable number of characters on hand to illustrate the story. If I do, I pull out the characters to put on the story. That makes it all the more entertaining and helps my son internalize it more so than a simple oral telling. We also tell the same story over and over. It’s not uncommon for the same story to appear every day for a week, as was the case with Jack & the Bean Stalk, The Three Little Pigs, and Little Red Riding Hood.

Enacting Master Hare

Enacting Master Hare

Above, my son is getting ready to act out the tale of Master Hare. I don’t recall ever hearing that tale before. It came to us in a collection of Spring themed stories in his Live Education curriculum. Waldorf curricula stress the importance of marking the seasons with seasonally aware stories, songs, food, and activities, so our Spring was filled with tales of bunnies, ducks, temperamental weather, and budding flowers. We weren’t quite officially homeschooling yet, but we were trying to get the rhythm down. The little play mat in the above picture was created by MuddyFeet. It’s very simple, but it’s interesting, because it can be flipped over. One side is green and one side is gray. This is good for illustrating tales with a change of seasons or the classic kind of fairy tale were in the “morally upright” character comes upon a green landscape filled with “milk and honey” and the dubious character finds the same landscape dark and dreary and filled with foreboding things. The puppets and playthings here were created by MamaMadeThem, NatureTableTreasures, and HeartFeltFolks.

Troll & Gnome Story

Troll & Gnome Story

Finally, anybody who knows anything about Waldorf knows that gnomes are ubiquitous in Waldorf culture! I’ll say more about that later. For now, the above picture depicts one of our deluxe playmat experiences. I wanted to get my son into gnomes, so I had him watching the David the Gnome series. I’m not a big fan of TV. We don’t have cable or network TV in the home, but I decided to let him watch the DVDs. I quickly tired of David the Gnome and decided to buy the Gnomes book. (The animation is dated, and David is sexist sounding! The storyline is also sanitized compared to some of the Grimm-like stories in the Gnomes book.) The book is a little old for a four year old, but it does have some great stories in the back that lend themselves to being acted out. There is an epic tale of trolls abducting a gnome child. That is the tale being enacted here. We used an additional mat from EarthBoundPixie, a Shadow Gnome from Grackled Gnomes, and a little wolf from irishenciya.

A dear friend surprised us with a wonderful gift. She gave us a copy of Jenepher Lingelbach’s Hands-On Nature. Hands-On Nature is filled with activities for exploring everything from spiderwebs to snowflakes to bees to feathers to rotting logs. Each subject is introduced with an information section. The information section is text based and definitely geared for older, school aged children. I’d say the appropriate age range is 9 or above. Then, a series of activities follows. Usually, the activities are usually 5 in number and are hands-on and suitable for a wide age range. I love this book! We are currently working on a section on Rotting Logs. We took out our playmat and some wooden figures to enact a simple play about cholorophyll.

Hands-On Nature

Hands-On Nature


Enacting a Nature Play

Enacting a Nature Play

I’ve been in love with window stars ever since I came across some examples in a Waldorf-related photo album on Facebook. I was quite excited to find an instructional book entitled Magical Window Stars, but I have yet to buy it. Just the other day, I discovered a simple Window Star tutorial on the Twig and Toadstool blog. We are getting ready to celebrate our first Michaelmas, so I decided this would be a great craft project to take on during homeschooling. My son and I raced off to our local Michael’s craft store to look for kite or tissue paper, but we could only find cardstock. We had to make a difficult decision. Should we purchase cardstock and see what happens? We knew it would be sub-optimal, but we were so excited, we purchased paper in some fall colors and forged ahead. The results were so-so, but I think we can still make use of the stars.

My Star

My Star

My Son's Star

My Son's Star