Sunday, December 4, 2016

Waldorf Festivals {Michaelmas}

  This is our first year as a homeschool and our first year using the Waldorf curriculum, so we were very excited to celebrate the first festival, Michaelmas on September 29.  This feast commemorates the expulsion of Lucifer from heaven by the Archangel Michael.  This day has almost equal daylight and sunlight and marks the point when the northern hemisphere begins to tilt away from the sun.   As I understand it, the feast celebrates the idea of a renewal of light within yourself to prepare for the coming darkness of winter.

 St. George and the Dragon is used an allegory for the story of St. Michael throwing Lucifer from heaven, so many Waldorf schools make capes, swords and shields as well as bake dragon bread to celebrate.  Since Jack was a little ahead in his fourth grade block, he joined in the Michaelmas fun for the week (as did Sean).

  We made our capes with silk scarves and tie dye.  Using a natural dye from goldenrod seems like the more traditional way to go, but we took the practical suggestion from our Waldorf Essentials curriculum and bought a tie dye kit from Dharma Trading.  Naturally, we dyed some shirts while we were at it!

 To no one's suprise, making swords was a thrilling activity for all involved.  Since we didn't have a jigsaw to make wooden swords, we improvised with something we saw online.  Our swords are made by a small stick as a handle and a large stick secured by twine.  

 Our cardboard shields, adorned with painted dragons, completed our knightly ensembles.  This was around the point that the kids requested we do homeschool forever and never go back to school : )

  On the day of the festival we baked a dragon bread which we feasted on with chili and blackberry pie.  The legend says that when Lucifer fell to earth he landed in a blackberry bramble, making the berries turn sour, so you shouldn't eat them after Michaelmas.  After our feast the boys acted out the story of St. George.  I got to be the weeping princess sent as sacrifice to the horrible dragon.  A great time was had by all.  I think we are really going to enjoy the Waldorf festivals!

:Waldorf Grade Two: {Saints Block}

  When I began planning out our homeschool journey I knew that Waldorf was the pedagogy that most resonated with me.  When I saw the second grade curriculum centered around Saints and Heroes it gave me pause.  I am Catholic, much less devout than how I was raised, but a very spiritual person still, but my husband is Jewish and this is the path we have chosen to raise our children.  However, we do not feel that learning about other religions is any threat to our beliefs and, in fact, openly seek to learn about other religions and cultures.  The Saint stories are amazing and the core lessons about doing good works are applicable to anyone trying to be a better person.  We thoroughly enjoyed our first Saints unit and look forward to working on more stories as the year progresses.

  The saints unit follows the Waldorf model of listening to a story, creating from it (in the form of a drawing, modeling, a song or a play), and summarizing it on the following day.  My second grader, Will, has always been an avid writer and he likes to recount a lot of detail.  The challenge with him has been getting him to leave out some of the details and get the gist of the story written down before he gets tired of the task.  Sometimes he is adamant about including the minutiae and we just take another day to finish writing the summary.  The stories are included with the lesson plans from Waldorf Essentials and we really didn't use any additional resources.  I looked through a few Saints books, but found the material in the curriculum to be better.

  St. Francis was always a favorite Saint of mine, and I have visited Assisi a couple times, so he was a fun one to start with.  Will enjoyed the stories about his birth and troubles with his wealthy father. He was told in a dream to rebuild God's church on earth and so he sold his father's luxurious belongings to give the funds to a priest to literally rebuild the crumbling church.  Another dream revealed to him that "the church" he was meant to rebuild referred to the people, and so he set out to work in service to the people.  This theme on helping God by helping His people was a recurring theme I was happy to emphasize through this unit.  


  For fun, we made pinecone and peanut butter bird feeders to celebrate St. Francis' love for all creatures.
  Grammatically, we are trying to work on natural pauses when we read our work aloud to avoid run on sentences.


  St. Jerome and the Lion is definitely an exciting tale and Will really enjoyed this lesson.  We also worked with our modeling beeswax to make lions.  It really is nice to work with as we hold it in our hands to make it warm and malleable while we listen to the story and then it's ready to form.  


Our next Saint story was the transformation of the powerful soldier Offero into St. Christopher.  Will was absorbed by the tale of Offero searching for the greatest master to serve.  He ultimately realizes that the greatest master is God and serving Him means putting down his weapons and using his strength to help people. 

my chalk drawing for St. George and the Dragon, copied from a pinterest photo with no link

Well, obviously, St. George and the dragon was a huge hit! Will was very surprised that George ended up killing the dragon.  He said he thought it would end like St. Francis and the Wolf or St. Jerome and the Lion, with George finding out what the problem was and helping the dragon.  Interesting.  He liked the Tomie dePaola story much better!

Our first unit on Saints culminated with St. Martin and the feast of Martinmas.  I'll record more about our festival in the next post.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Favorite Picture Books

  Our favorite way to start the day is with some breathing exercises or yoga, an intention for the day, candles and a storybook.  Sometimes we read it cuddled together on the couch.  Sometimes we read it sitting at the work table.  We read lots of different types of stories and don't worry about them fitting in with any of our other subjects.  These are just for fun.  They have beautiful pictures, or words.  They are seasonal.  They might remind us how to be a better person, or give us something to think about.  They might just be funny.

  How do we choose our book each day?  Sometimes we just are attracted to the cover at our library, or we already have it at home but haven't read it in a while. Most of the time we heard about it from a friend or a blog post or Instagram blurb.  When I see an interesting book recommendation, I go immediately to our library website and reserve it.  We go to the library at least once a week and having that reserved stack of books ready for us is the most amazing thing ever!

  Without further ado, here are some of our favorites from this past fall:

This is My Home, This is My School by Jonathan Bean
  We read this on our inaugural day of homeschool and it couldn't have been more perfect!  The illustrations are busy and fun and the text perfectly conveys how I would want to describe our homeschool efforts.  The fact that the author was homeschooled leaves me hoping my own kids have such fond memories of the experience.

On a Beam of Light by Jennifer Berne
  The boys have read about Albert Einstein before, but this book really pays homage to his imagination and creativity in a way that isn't conveyed as well in a traditional biography. It encourages kids to wonder and imagine and ask questions.  It's perfection.

Infinity and Me by Kate Hosford
  The boys had a vague idea of what infinity meant before we read this, but I think the idea is much more firmly planted now.  Uma asks everyone she sees what infinity means to them and the answers vary from an endless line of ancestors to a spaghetti noodle cut in half again and again.  

i carry your heart with me by e.e. cummings, illustrated by mati mcdonough
  A beautiful poem with sweet, whimsical illustrations.  I'm always happy to expose the boys to more poetry and this type of book is a great way to do that.

Stopping by Woods on Snowy Evening by Robert Frost, illustrated by Susan Jeffers
  This is my favorite poem of all time and I love seeing it set to such beautiful illustrations.  My favorite page was the old man joyfully making snow angels beside his bewildered horse, although most of them are more serene.

 Zen Shorts by Jon J. Muth
  We read all of the books about Muth's lovable and wise panda.  I still think this one is the best.  A mysterious panda moves in across the street and the siblings all come to him with their problems.  He tells them each a tale to gently show them the way.  A thought provoking serires with beautiful illustrations.

The Midnight Library by Kazuno Kohara
  We were first introduced to Kazuno Kohara from her book Ghosts in the House, which was Will's favorite book for at least a year.  Her illustrations are instantly recognizable to us, with their bold use of black and limited color palette. We realized that her books are available in Spanish at our library, too.  We love to find good Spanish picture books to learn a few more vocabulary words and recognize the words we already know. It's adorable in whichever language you choose. When I see this book I think of the turtle happily heading home with a book he has fallen in love with tied to his back. We have reserved her version of Jack Frost at the library and can't wait to pick it up this week.

Seven Silly Eaters by Marla Frazee
  This is an all time family favorite.  The story is very silly and the rhyming text adds to the fun.  Mrs. Peters is exhausted preparing food for her picky brood.  When they decide to give her a break for her birthday, they inadvertently find a long-term solution to her woes.

How Full is Your Bucket? For Kids by Tom Rath & Mary Reckmeyer
  This story takes the abstract concept of how actions and words make us feel and gives it a very concrete visual.  I hope we are still talking about "filling our buckets" when they are in college!

The Knight and the Dragon by Tomie dePaola
  I have a soft spot for Tomie dePaola, as he was one of my favorites as a child.  This retelling of the classic St. George and the dragon tale is wonderful.  Instead of fighting they figure out a fun way to work together and still use their talents.  My boys thought this was the best story we heard leading up to Michaelmas and they were glad to see the dragon didn't get killed.

My Teacher is a Monster by Peter Brown
  A chance meeting at the park allows a teacher and her pupil to interact in a fun way, as the drawings of the teacher morph from monster to human.  The boys think this one is great fun.

A Hungry Lion or A Dwindling Assortment of Animals by Lucy Roth Cummins
  This one is really cute and has a nice surprise at the end.

The Snow Globe Family by Jane O'Connor
  This one is just so fun!  The little tiny family that lives in the neglected snow globe on the mantle is just hoping someone will give them a good shake.  They haven't had a real blizzard in years.  The only excitement is from the occasional flurry when the maid does the dusting. 

The Garden of Abdul Gasazi by Chris Van Allsburg
  The illustrations are superb. The tale of the boy searching for a runaway dog will leave you wondering.  A perfect combo for a book that will stay with you.

  This has been a family favorite for years.   When Treva hikes up the mountain to visit her cousins she encounters one troll after another along the way.  They all want her dog.  She manages to tempt them with her lovely mittens, hat and sweater to get him back.  Finally, she runs out of trinkets to ransom the dog with.  The boys love the greedy, fighting trolls and delight in the heroine's clever way to deal with them.  

The Bear's Song by Benjamin Chaud
  This is a book that gets read often in our home.  Mostly to the three year old, but the older boys are happy to listen.  They love finding the bear cub and bee on each page and absorbing all the details of the Paris scenes in the illustrations.

Home by Caron Ellis
  Beautiful, whimsical illustrations of all kinds of houses, both real and fantastical.  A great prompt for drawing homes.

Happy Reading!

Thursday, December 1, 2016

:Waldorf Grade Four: {Geography Block}

  Somehow 2016 is nearly in the books and I still haven't had time to post about what we've been up to for the first semester.

  Jack's first block of Main Lessons from Waldorf Essentials is Local Geography. We started with drawing maps of our home, our street, our neighborhood, city, county and, eventually, state.  I really like how Waldorf Essentials provides a basic framework for lessons (and weekly form drawings and some writing practice) but leaves some room to customize them to fit your own needs.

Jack adding rivers and highways to his NC map
  We added in some local history by visiting Big Rock Park, which is conveniently just a few miles from us.  Nomadic groups of Paleo (or Archaic) Native Americans used this site as a campground dating back 12,000 years.  The gigantic rocks provided shelter from the cold winds that blew across the ancient grasslands and made great lookout points as the clans followed herds of big game.

Learning about the abundant tree nuts around the park.
Big Rocks are awesome!

We traveled to Winston-Salem for the Old Salem homeschool day to learn about the Moravian settlers who founded the town in 1766.  The boys were able to see demonstrations about gardening, rifle making, dyeing, hearth cooking and furniture joining. They got to make marbles from the clay that is dug up in a nearby creekbed, sample hot chocolate and cinnamon water as well as try their hand at writing with a feather quill and ink.  They had a really fun day and really got a sense for the life of an eighteenth-century settler.

Visiting a recreation of a typical kitchen garden
  In addition to drawing maps of the world around us, we also learned about map reading.  I used the Montessori three part (or nomenclature) cards to help us learn terms.  For fun we used our Safari Toobz World Landmarks and Around the Globe with these cards.  The cards don't quite match every landmark from our sets so I made a few more cards by finding a blank template.  The boys got the terms down quickly (yes, this activity was so fun the second grader joined in too), and worked together to plot out the landmarks.  We followed this blog post and used Google Earth to find the latitude and longitude of each landmark and then place it on the big world map.  They worked on the Great Wall of China first and were surprised that their coordinates led them to North Carolina!  They quickly realized that the Google Earth search found a local takeout restaurant instead of the actual Great Wall.  It was a great exercise to emphasize the importance of the East/West and North/South designations on the coordinates.  All three boys loved matching the landmark figures with their three part cards.

Monday, September 5, 2016

The First Week of School at Home

Adding some wet on wet watercolors to our main lesson books.  St Francis, Leif the Lucky and a Compass Rose.  Sean loves to join in on the painting.
  Although I was very excited for our first week, I really was worried about how it would go.  I think it went much better than anticipated and we learned quite a bit about a lot of different things.  One of my biggest lessons was how important timing is for the reception of certain assignments.  Both of my boys balk a bit about writing assignments, so I've been trying very hard to observe what times of day they are better received and fit them into the (loose) schedule accordingly.

  This week our loose schedule has been to start with Circle Time around 8:30 and then move into Waldorf Essentials main lessons/independent fifty states work followed by recess around 10:30.  After an invigorating walk or bike ride we settle down for read aloud time from our American History and Spanish picture books and a little artwork before lunch.  After lunch we indulge in a little free play time before finishing up with piano practive and Brave Writer literature work/reading.

I'll share some of the highlights of our week in pictures:

Discovery Place science museum field trip on Tuesday.  Sean's expression on the bed of nails cracks me up!
More Discovery Place field trip photos.  Exploring simple machines, rainforest exhibit (only interested in the rope bridge climbing), and life cycles of a frog.
Multiplication flowers and writing work
Making pinecone bird feeders to go with our St. Francis unit study
Jack & Sean working together to make muffins
The boys were pretty excited that recess was not "rained out"

Monday, August 29, 2016

Our First Day

We did it!  We finished out first day of homeschool!  It really went much better than I anticipated. The boys even said it was better than they thought it would be.  I'm sure this won't be the feeling every day, but I plan to enjoy it for the moment.

Here's a rundown of our day:

8-8:30 - Got dressed, made beds, ate breakfast
8:30-9 - Circle Time (yoga, prayers, intentions)
9-10 Main Lessons/50 States project
10-10:30 Math
10:30-11 Recess
11-12 American History, Spanish
12-1 Lunch, free play
1-2 Reading and Literature

Once everyone was dressed and ready to learn we warmed up with a little yoga.  The boys have taken a few yoga classes with me at the Y this summer, so they have a little knowledge about the basic poses.  We worked on a few cat/cows, sun salutation and tree balance poses.  Then we sat down at our table, lit a candle and read our intentions for the day (from the Waldorf Essentials post here). We added in the Prayer of St. Francis since that has always been a favorite of mine and Will was going to be learning about him today. We concluded circle time with the thoroughly delightful book This is My Home, This is My School by Jonathan Bean.

Will's Grade Two form drawing
The boys are going to be working with the 50 States as an independent activity while I alternate Main Lessons with them.  Today they did the first few pages in the activity book.  Going forward they will alternate writing about two states each week, with Jack memorizing capitals, and completing activity book pages.  Today Will's Main Lesson from Waldorf Essentials started with a form drawing.  Will found this very challenging and  really enjoyed working on the form. The Main Lesson was on St. Francis so I told the story and he made an illustration.  Tomorrow he will summarize the story verbally and we will work on a written version to go with his illustration.

Fourth Grade form drawing
Jack was not quite as thrilled with the challenge of the form drawing, but I think it was a really good exercise for him.  He did enjoy drawing the compass rose and coloring it in.  We talked about map features and looked at several kinds of maps.  I drew a map of our neighborhood on the blackboard (which I made with a piece of plywood and chalkboard paint this weekend, and realized it is a total mess because it rubs the paint when propped up against a wall, ugh).   During this time Sean (age 3) played with the chalk and wrote in his purple notebook and colored, happy to be a part of everything.

We came back together to brush up on math skills.  Neither boy really understand how to add large sums by lining up the numbers by place value and carrying.  Seriously.  And, they are amazing at math.  Thanks, common core.  We quickly remedied that situation and added large numbers.  Everyone was ready for a walk to the little playground, especially Sean.

On our way home from the playground, we picked up those empty water bottles from around the treehouse fort in our neighbors yard and had a talk about leaving places better than how we found them.  In Judaism, a good deed is called a mitzvah, and so we decided to try to do one together each day.

We gathered on the couch for American History storytime with Leif the Lucky.  The boys were pretty into it.  Viking ships and baby polar bear wrestling matches are very exciting!  We talked about the Native Americans and Columbus and "discovering America," as well as geography.  We should finish this book up tomorrow but will spend the week exploring the concepts more in depth.

Our final joint subject was Spanish.  I had recently read that you should teach a foreign language the same way we teach babies English - with picture books!  I love this concept.  We read a counting book today.  They remembered most of the numbers at dinner this evening, so we will go back to this one again.

After lunch and some free time we moved on to our Brave Writer literature units.  Jack chose Farmer Boy by Laura Ingalls Wilder and Will selected The Mouse and The Motorcycle by Beverly Cleary.  They each read a chapter.  We got the audio book on CD at the library for Will, because we are worried we may have pushed too much with our early reader, but he chose to read today.  The option is there if he wants to use it.  They wrote out their dictation passages and we discussed grammar, vocabulary, spelling, punctuation, possession and parts of speech.  I really love the concept of learning this all through dictation.

Wow, that was a busy day!  They worked on loom bands (I know, not the proper Waldorf handwork with plastic and neon colors), legos and played outside until their friends got off the bus.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Curriculum for 2016

I have spent years poring over various homeschool curriculum. I have read books and posts about Waldorf, Montessori, Charlotte Mason, Project Based and Unschooling.  The more I find out the more I know how much I do not know.  Finally, it was time to make a decision on how to work out this year before my brain exploded.

Jack & Will's curriculum will be centered around the Waldorf Essentials lesson plans.  I think they make a great backbone for structuring our year.  Since I'm not a trained Waldorf teacher and we are joining this movement late in their schooling, I've tried my best to catch up.  The lessons are supposed to take a few hours each day, but to me it seems we will finish them quicker.  I know the point is not to speed through, but I think this will be part of the learning process for how to slow down from the programmed school speed.  A bit of a decompression period.  The lessons mention practicing math facts and lots of read alouds, but we are also going to try to incorporate a few other things with the daily lessons.  

Both older boys will be doing a Fifty States project independently.  I'm hoping this gives me a little time to spend on the main lessons with one child while the other does this.  We will record two states a week noting the capital, flag, location on the map and a few interesting facts of their choosing.  Jack will be memorizing capitals this year.

As a family we will be working on the Early American History pack and guide from Beautiful Feet Books.  This is one that I did not realize had a Christian emphasis until after I bought the guide.  We are not opposed to this, I am Catholic, but my husband is Jewish and that is the way we are raising the boys.  Luckily, at their core, the values of those two religions align well and the emphasis on religion can be applied to Judaism with very minor changes.  I think these books will be great for family read aloud time and retelling the stories for main lesson work should be fun.  As a history buff, this is definitely a portion of the year I am eager to start.

Fourth Grade
Waldorf Essentials focuses on Norse Mythology this year.  The first unit is maps and local geography, so we will incorporate early North Carolina history along with this.  Some road trips and a book about the Lost Colony of Roanoke are planned.

Jack is doing really well with reading and math.  We will be doing daily math facts and trying to incorporate real world math.  We have always tried to incorporate math in daily life and I'm not sure if the boys like math because of it or we were encouraged to do more math at home because of them.  We constantly ask them about dividing food up fairly, question them about using different measuring cups for baking and have them figure out sums on any situation that arises - they love tabulating lego set costs vs. the money in their wallets.  We love to share with them about how much rent costs in our area, a car payment, insurance, groceries, etc to help them understand why we need to budget and why it is so hard for so many to be able to afford all of these things.

Writing is an area that needs some improvement, both in neatness and content.  He tends to write without thinking about the sentence or idea first, often leaving out or adding words that make his writing confusing. I am going to try to get him to think about what he wants to say before putting pencil to paper.  We will also spend some time trying to make more complex sentences by adding more parts of speech.  Spelling is another area he struggles with and this I would like to gently correct by making him read it back to me and hoping he can figure out that it doesn't sound the way he wants.  We may do some spelling or vocab lists from our literature work.  We will probably use units from The Arrow by allowing Jack to pick the books he would like to read.

Second Grade
Waldorf Essentials focuses on Saints and Heroes this year.  The first lesson blocks focus on St. Francis, a Catholic saint I have always felt great admiration for and I even have some props from a trip to Assisi years ago.  We are very excited about celebrating the traditional Waldorf festivals.

Will is definitely up to speed on math and reading, but he needs to work on comprehension.  One of his biggest problems in school was comprehension questions.  He read at a third grade or higher  level but the scores he got on comprehension pulled his reading level back down to first grade.  Which is fine, he was in first grade!  The questions that tripped him up were usually multiple part and he lost focus and only answered the first portion.  Sometimes the question would ask for three instances in a passage and he would only cite one.  I always felt this was way beyond what should be expected in first grade, but, alas, we will continue to work on comprehension, probably doing more aloud.  His writing, spelling and vocabulary seem great for his age, but we will also work on more descriptive writing.  He loves to learn new words, so we may add in a vocabulary component as we go.

Sean will be going to preschool a few mornings a week - he loves it there and doesn't any kids his age around us like his big brothers do.  The mornings that he is with us for school time, we will have a more traditional circle time in the morning.  We will focus on fairy tales and include lots of art, music and movement.  Hopefully he will be able to play independently while I work a little with his brothers and then, they, in turn, can work independently while he gets some mom time. 

Since Nana and Pap are busy moving, we took over the Muffin Ministry duties for them this week. Jack loved making them for the men's shelter so much we are going to sign up to do it all the time #jackb
Jack baking muffins for the Muffin Ministry through St. Matthew's Catholic Church

The boys will continue with piano and swim lessons.  They are also signed up for a soccer league at the Y this fall, which my husband is coaching.  We plan to do a few science classes at Discovery Place and I am still working on ways to incorporate Spanish into our days.  My husband and I both took it in high school and college, but we are far from fluent speakers.  I feel like the natural way of learning through exposure would be better than the vocab/grammar heavy way we learned, but I'm not sure how to provide that yet.
We also want to add a service component to make sure we are helping to make the world a better place.