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The LessonPlanet Web site is a godsend. We are huge proponents of Waldorf, and we love our Christopherus curricula. However, my son’s early educational experiences have caused him to need significantly more challenging material to keep his interest. The LessonPlanet Web site offers just what I need. Somehow, I stumbled upon this site and took a free 10 day trial. I was quite impressed with the amazing amount of detailed lesson plans and worksheets that are available. Essentially, LessonPlanet functions as a search engine that sifts through seemingly hundreds or more educational sites and offers up educational resources that match the subject area and school grade of interest. Furthermore, the vast majority of the returned links point to non-pay sites, so no additional fees are incurred. Once my trial expired, I decided to go ahead and pay the nominal yearly fee to maintain access to this incredible resource. In fact, my son has been requesting various themed worksheets from the site, as he enjoys working on them so much.

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It’s time to get serious in regards to Homeschooling. This year marks the start of our first grade experience. We are currently using the Christopherus First Grade curricula. We started the school year around September 7th and have enjoyed the past few months without any unpleasantries or surprises. In general, my son prefers the First Grade curricula, as he is not a huge fan of circle time. Though he is quite young at 5.6, circle time does not appeal to him. He has a strong preference for math and science and other academics, so this curriculum is more suitable than a kindergarten package.

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

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

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.

Our Earthschooling curriculum has a great circle time song with lines like:

Across the sky,
Down from heaven,
That’s the way to make a seven!

My son enjoys the son and writes along with a dry erase board. This is just a fantastic way to teach number identification and writing.

Learning Numbers

Learning Numbers

My son and I have been easing into homeschooling for the past several months. Initially, we started purchased a few, sparse, inexpensive curricula, and plunged in. We started off in April and progressed on to may with very few ideas. We had a few songs and stories and craft ideas but nothing to really inspire or guide us. That changed when we purchased both the Live Education and Earthschooling curricula. The Earthschooling curriculum gave us the breadth of content we needed, and Live Education gave us the structure we needed. Further exposure to and experimentation with teaching methods brought about a further innovation: Focus Months. After a summer of experimentation, we finally settled on our homeschooling style and are implementing it with great success!

My son is four, and we are Waldorf and Montessori-based, so our initial lessons are all focused around general nature, weather, the seasons, and animal life cycles. We employ the typical Waldorf verses, circle time, story telling, puppet shows, nature walks, and so forth. However, having scene a “Focus Table” in another homeschooler’s blog, we have added a focus topic for each month. This month was mushrooms, and my son fell in love with them immediately. We’re studying everything about mushrooms from biology and ecology to representations of mushrooms and mushroom themes in popular fiction. The constant focus on mushrooms through stories, coloring, puzzles, and other activities has really ensured that my son has learned and retained the most knowledge that he possibly can on the subject. As we move on to leaves and trees during the next month, we will persist his mushroom knowledge using a custom game based on a classic, fictional story about mushrooms; Elizabeth Cameron’s “Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet.”