Homeschooling with Waldorf Education: A Primer and a Math Lesson for Second Grade
An Introduction and a Lesson in Mango Math
I didn’t always know I wanted to homeschool my children. To be honest, I hadn’t given theireducation much thought. But once my twin girls arrived and we began attachment parenting, the bond that formed was so intense that teaching them at home became a natural move. I wasn’t yet ready to part with my babies for even an hour a day, let alone a half or whole day, so my mother, a former primary private school education teacher, gave me the confidence boost to keep them home for preschool.
We had so much fun playing and baking together that when it came time for kindergarten, there was no way I was going to enroll them and next thing we knew, by Grade 1, I had filed as a private school in the state of California, following our local laws. Since that first day we began this journey, I have never looked back. Put simply, homeschooling works for our family.
Homeschoolers come about in many ways. Some find themselves homeschooling because the distance to the school is too great. Some wish to teach certain subjects or styles that aren’t allowed in government funded schools. And some just can’t afford to send their children to private schools; while others pull their children from school because it just doesn’t work for them. There are many reasons, and many outcomes, but usually there is one primary goal: to foster a love of learning in our children. In the Waldorf tradition, we have an additional goal of striving to raise well balanced children by appealing to their heads, hearts, and hands.
We are now Avalon Academy, aptly named fro the idyllic island of Arthurian Legend that has come to symbolize a refuge for excellence, natural fertility and universal harmony. In our Waldorf inspired school, my children have a refuge to grow and flourish. I am honored that Lisa contacted me to represent the Waldorf inspired homeschooling movement in this fabulous publication and will do my very best to showcase this rapidly growing side of the Waldorf educational movement. This is: Homeschooling with Waldorf.
While each of our homes models us and our values, in a Waldorf inspired home, as in a Waldorf classroom, you will most likely find simplicity. There will be limited toys, carefully chosen of natural materials, often handmade which allow for open ended play. If the dolls have facial features, they will often be expressionless, allowing the child to create the character of that doll in various free play scenarios. If there is a wooden car or truck, it may be natural in coloring or have one standard color, rather than several flashy colors which will distract the child. You may see lots of baskets with natural materials organized for the youngsters which find themselves magically worked into the child‘s play and learning: pinecones, acorns, wooden stumps, rocks, sea shells, feathers, silks or cotton fabrics. You may see shelves to store the baskets. There is usually a table or two for seasonal scenes to be displayed, along with a nature table which adds rhythm to the child’s year. While the walls are lightly colored, there are specific colors which appeal to the different ages of the child, but most likely muted pastels or blended lazure painting is what you will commonly find. A Waldorf home need not be expensive as ideal materials can be found free in nature or can be lovingly handmade. The ones made by mom or dad, grandma or grandpa, or someone the child is close to and bonded with are ideal. And always, less is more.
On a personal note, my most valued educational items are what we have found freely in nature, used often to embellish our stories or as manipulatives in our math practice. Acorns, nuts, shells, pebbles, etc have all been used in counting. They find themselves in the girls play on an almost daily basis and children love to collect treasures found in nature. They will be proudly displayed on the nature table.
My top five recommendations to embellish the homeschool play are:
~ gems from nature (pinecones, shells, rocks, twigs and braches, larger rocks, sand, etc)
~ a basket of silks or cotton fabric in various sizes
~ wooden figures (such as Ostheimer) or needle felted dolls (these are fairly easy to make)
~ wooden blocks to be used in building structures
~ glass pebbles (dragon’s tears) found in crafting stores
My top recommendations for the homeschool are:
~ a blackboard with lots of colorful chalks (smaller boards for children are also nice)
~ beeswax crayons in both block and stick (depending on the age of your child)
~ high quality colored pencils, such as Lyra Color Giants
~ stockmar watercolor paints, a painting board, 1” brush, watercolor paper, and a sponge
~ modeling beeswax
~ main lesson books (you may make your own or purchase with onion paper)
~ beeswax to make your own candle (you will need a wick) and a candle snuffer
~ a bell or a glockenspiel or some kind of angelic whistle to begin the day
~ you will also benefit from a musical instrument for your child, such as a choroi flute and handwork supplies, like knitting needles and wool yarn, etc
In your home, you may elect to do school at the kitchen table, or you may set up your own school room in the dining room or a spare bedroom. You may utilize your yard and neighborhood. Many homeschooling families begin their day with a morning nature walk before settling down inside. Others conduct much or all of their day outside. You will never find two homeschools exactly alike.
We are very lucky in the modern era to have, through the internet, seemingly unlimited support available online through yahoo groups, blogs, friends, and lovely guidance from some amazing credentialed Waldorf instructors, two of whom you will find in The Wonder of Childhood magazine. Both Marsha Johnson and Eugene Schwartz have inspired and helped me (and countless other families). Although I have not met either in person, I would like to thank them for the gifts that their wise and sagacious teaching has bequeathed to my children and to me. And by giving of myself within this column, I hope to carry part of that torch and showcase a bit of what our Waldorf inspired homeschool is all about. I share this material with an earnest hope that it might facilitate the deployment of yet another layer of love around each and every one of your precious children. My strong belief is that every child deserves the unique opportunity that Waldorf inspired homeschooling can provide.
My twins are in Grade 2 and the main theme of this grade is the “Duality of Man”. We are just wrapping up a lovely block using the touching Jataka Tales as our math vehicle and I would love to share a tiny sample of how we use and interpreted this block.
There is a wonderful book called, Twenty Jataka Talesby Noor Inayat Khan. The first story in it is called, “The Monkey-bridge” and the story tells a tale of a mango tree deep in the jungle on which grows the most delicious fruit. The tree branches out over the water, leading to a stream which flows far off down into a kingdom. The clever monkeys realize that if but one mango should fall into the river and flow downstream, and the men below should taste of its delicious flavor, they will search for the tree and take all the mangos for themselves, leaving the monkeys with none. So they try, in vain, to gather up all mangos that fall into the stream. One day, one lone mango slips by them and flows downstream where the king is bathing below. He tastes the fruit and, as the monkeys feared, declares he and his soldiers must go and find this amazing tree for their own.
When the King reaches the tree, he announces that the men should surround the tree, capture the monkeys for supper, and then eat the mangos for dessert. The clever monkeys understand the King’s plan and begin to panic as there appears to be no way to escape. The wise monkey chief realizes that he can save the rest of the monkeys by jumping across to the opposite bank, grabbing a reed with his foot, and jumping back to the mango tree to create a bridge with the reed, over which his subjects may flee to safety. However, the reed isn’t long enough and the chief decides to sacrifice himself by holding onto the reed with his toes and the branches of the mango tree with his arms. The monkeys scurry across his back, like a bridge and in the process, break the poor chief‘s back.
Meanwhile, the King, who has witnessed the monkey chief’s selfless act, is so overwhelmed by the sacrifice that he honors him by building a temple and remembering his wise words, “It is not your sword which makes you a king; it is love alone…rule them through love because they are your children…”
An alternate version of this story can be found free through The Baldwin Project here.
For this story, I set up a scene on our kitchen table and used “dragon’s tears” to represent the mangos from the tree.
In Waldorf education, a three day rhythm is commonly used and stories are more often than not told, rather than read. The eye connection and personal twist put on by the teacher draws the children into the story and experience on a much deeper level.
After the story was told, we played with various scenarios using the dragons tears and practiced the four processes. I wrote the problems on the board and the girls copied them on their mini chalk boards.
In Grade 1, Waldorf math problems are introduced horizontally, but in Grade 2, we begin to move to vertical. In this lesson, I wanted to showcase the transition.
As always, we have a drawing for our Main Lesson Book.
A chalkboard drawing is usually done early in the lesson and can be hidden behind a cloth or a silk until it is revealed to the children, who are always quite eager and excited to see it. It remains one of my favorite moments in our homeschool, as I never tire of hearing their breath and squeals of glee as I remove the silk from our board.
During the scope of this lesson, the children copied the drawing into their Main Lesson Books.
and I retained part of it as the problems changed during the week.
We worked together on the board or in their books to copy carefully selected problems.
From here, we branched off, inspired by a fun little story in Dorothy Harrer’s book, Math Lessons for Elementary Grades called “Big Smoke and Little Flame” about a squirrel and a chipmunk who were gathering nuts and stealing them from each other. This presents a wonderful opportunity to create many playful scenarios and math problems which take on practical meaning to the children as they are drawn into the story and begin to relate to the numbers and equations through what they are experiencing as the characters in the story. I changed things around a bit to utilize beloved holiday toys the girls received, which were handmade by Etsy artisan, Eve’s Little Earthlings.
The girls had so much fun hiding and finding the *nuts* (dragon’s tears) under the silks and working out word problems using the glass beads as counting objects.
Grasping concepts like the four processes becomes so easy when it can be tied around something the child is passionate about, making learning fun and playful. This results in better retention, positive reinforcement, and a love of learning.
And it can be drawn into life in a variety of ways and senses. Here, a fruit bowl with grapes and various berries illustrates how a math lesson can revolve around a snack.
Charley took 4 strawberries, 6 grapes, 2 raspberries and 8 blueberries and placed them in her bowl. How many pieces of fruit did she have in her bowl? She gave half of them to her sister. How many did each of them have in their bowl? Both Charley and Elena ate one strawberry, one grape, one raspberry, and one blueberry. How many of each piece of fruit was left?
Not only are you reinforcing their understanding of the four processes, but you are filling their belly with good, healthy foods and making learning so much fun in the process! Waldorf education does a phenomenal job of using stories to enhance learning, bringing a true comprehension that just isn’t achieved using only basic worksheets with bland and meaningless problems. Within a story and using manipulatives, combined with interests of the child, they can truly see an understanding between the numbers, they grasp the quantities and qualities of numbers, and math becomes practical and joyful. One of the many benefits of homeschooling is being able to tailor each lesson to the interests of your child. I have found this to be the best way to ensure excitement in their learning. More benefits include tailoring the presentation to their individual temperaments, along with their learning styles in attempts to bring more balance to their learning.
Have fun, tap into your own inner creativity, and share the joy of learning with your little ones! Time for school!
Jen DiMonte is a waldorf inspired homeschooling mama who lives in the mountains of southern California with her husband and twin daughters. She is active in dog rescue and welcomes all kinds of furry critters into her home. Jen’s blog is called Ancient Hearth and she loves needle felting and crafting. You may see her handwork in her Etsy shop, Ancient Hearth.