The winter break is coming to an end and I am busy planning our next Main Lesson Block.
“What’s that?”, I hear you ask.
Well, every 3-6 weeks we choose a core academic area to focus on and plan our formal lesson time around this theme. It’s an immersive learning technique employed by Waldorf educators the world round. The idea is that a topic is explored in depth using all of the lively arts to bring the topic alive for the child/ren. (Waldorf schools then have 2 more lesson blocks per day, but we do things a little differently in our home environment. Back to the planning…)
Before the winter holidays we enjoyed a block on science, exploring sunbeams, air and the water cycle. Here’s a snapshot of some of Nikolai’s work on the watercycle.
Wet on wet watercolour painting from our Story of a Water Droplet’s Journey
Chalk drawing of Water Cycle
When we start back next week we’ll be tackling grammar through the medium of Animal Tales and Fables. And believe it or not, Nikolai is excited about this introduction to grammar! I kid you not. That’s the magic of this approach.
So how do we go about planning a Main Lesson Block?
Choose a core learning area
First off you need to decide if you want to tackle maths, language arts, science, geography, history, etc. We did a science block last time so will go with a language arts block this time.
Choose a skill to focus on
In the realm of language arts we could choose to focus on handwriting, phonics, sentence structure…we are going with grammar, and more specifically with parts of speech.
If you were working on a maths block perhaps you would choose working with the four basic processes, times tables, fractions or measurement. Science could be the elements, weather, habitats, etc.
For those of you who would like a little direction on what to choose when, ACARA (the people in charge of the Australian Curriculum) have approved a Steiner Curriculum Framework which outlines which topics to address each year.
You could also go direct to the source and read Steiner’s lectures or utilise a resource such as Alan Whitehead’s ‘Spiritual Syllabus’ which lays out the progression of topics for you. Or go ahead and choose your own adventure if you feel so inclined!
Choose your teacher resources
Where will you as the parent get your information from? Will you draw it from a purchased curriculum or piece it together from other resources? For our grammar block I will be using Doroth Harrer’s English Manual as my primary resource.
Choose your stories
New information is brought to the child in the form of a story. Each 3 day cycle has its own story, often told cumulatively. Simply calculating how many 3 day cycles you have in your block will let you know how many stories you will need to bring to your child. This is a short block for us so I will only need 3 stories. I have decided I would like to use my own version of the grammar fairy story in Dorothy Harrer’s book to introduce our topic, so that makes 4 stories in total.
This time round I have scoured our local libraries and found a book of Australian animal fables, a pictire book of Russian trickster tales and a few other gems to draw from.
Traditionally in Steiner/Waldorf education, certain types of stories are presented to the child each year to meet them at their stage of development physically, mentally and spiritually. In first grade that is fairy tales, third is creation stories (often Old Testament stories, but it doesn’t have to be), fourth would be Norse myths. We are in the middle of second grade so stories of saints and heroes, animal fables and trickster tales are traditional. As I mentioned above, we will be using animal stories and fables this block.
Next I need to either choose stories or write them myself to convey the information I want to impart to the child. If I want to use someone else’s story, well of course I need to find it. Libraries, google, purchased curriculums; all of these are good places to look for the tales I need. In either case, the stories are usually told and not read. I do, however, like to leave complementary books lying around to be explored or to call upon to support a lesson.
Choose your activities
I mentioned above that learning is brought to life through the application of the lively arts, one of which is the Literary Arts, i.e. the story we are using as a basis for our topical learning. Accompanying activities to strengthen understanding came from the remaining arts; Dramatic Arts, Visual Arts, Movement Arts and Music Arts.
Will I have my child/ren retell the story, role play it, mold beeswax figures to use as table puppets to reimagine the tale?
Warming beeswax to model pictures we could see in the sky when learning about clouds
Will we write summaries or lists in our books, draw pictures or make beautiful wet on wet watercolour paintings?
Is there a song or verse we could memorise and perform?
A few activities we will use in our grammar block include writing colour-coded lists of nouns and verbs from our stories into our Main Lesson Books, performing our stories using clapping or stomping to denote nouns and verbs (in essence acting out the grammer using movement), taking a bushwalk to name plants and animals and brainstorming verbs and adjectives to describe what we see.
Plan out daily lessons
Once I have an idea of what I want to bring the lesson, and an understanding of why and how I will do this, now I can map out what our individual weeks and days will look at. Typically a three day rhythym is used where each day builds on the last with ‘sleeping on it’ an important part of processing the information.
Day 1- bring the story. Sleep on it 😉
Day 2- review the story (or review then build on it if using a cumulative tale). Follow up with a complementary art/craft activity
Day 3- review the story and write summary or perform a retelling
Begin again with next story.
The key is to ensure you are balancing inward and outward activities, utilising all of the lively arts in your lessons (perhaps some are used in a circle time warm up if they don’t fit your Main Lesson plans?) and address the head, heart and hands. Because that really is the point of holistic education, to educate the WHOLE CHILD, not just impart knowledge we deem important.
Take away message?
1. Know what you want to teach and why
2. Create balance and rhythm in your lessons
3. Teach to the whole child
And that’s it. It seems a lot but gets easier as you go along. Most important of all? Have fun!