Planning a Main Lesson Block

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.

For example:

Day 1- bring the story. Sleep on it πŸ˜‰

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!

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When public school is the way to go

You believe wholeheartedly in the need for holisitic education. You passionately want it for your children. Yet for one reason or another you may choose to send your child to a mainstream school.

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Choose your own path

If your family is like mine,Β the travel time and the dollars involved both put alternative schooling (like Steiner Education) out of reach. That often leads to family choosing to homeschool which has been our path for the last year. But what if you don’t choose to homeschool?

Maybe you have to work so homeschooling isn’t an option. Maybe your local primary school has some fabulous programs you want to take advantage of for your child. Perhaps you gave homeschooling a go and then your little one asked to go to school like all of her friends who live on your block.

Or you were losing your mummy marbles. Or your child has special needs you find it hard to accommodate at home, on your own,Β  on a fulltime basis. Or you plain didn’t enjoy it. Maybe you just don’t want to fulltime homeschool.

And that’s ok. Really. I promise you, it is. If you have weighed up all of your options, listed your pros and cons, and have still come to the conclusion that public school is the way forward…it will be ok. Don’t let mummy guilt (or really, the internet) get you down. Your choice is valid. It is ok. More than ok.

You don’t even need to give up your dreams of providing an holistic education for your children. Honestly! Because there is this cool concept you may not have come across yet. Afterschooling.

Yep, afterschooling. For some this means sneaking in the academics they are worried their child is missing out on, but in the context of holistic education afterschooling is a conscious striving for balance in your child’s life.

Remember the head, heart and hands concept we talked about? School will take care of the head. It’s actually pretty notorious for it πŸ˜‰ Many people (myself included) feel mainstream schooling focuses too much on the head aspect. So outside the hours of 9-3, Monday through Friday, you can bring the focus to the heart and the hands.

How do you do that? By consciously focusing on the 3Rs of reverence, respect and ryhthm. By consciously choosing to forgo the cult of busy and the standard slew of extra curricular activities. By consciously including stories, handcrafts and the arts in your daily life. By consciously eschewing consumerism and instead focusing on imagination, freeplay and time in nature.

Rather than sign up for Saturday sport, perhaps you could spend the time hiking as a family. Instead of listening to the news on the radio for the drive home,  you could choose to listen to classical music or ‘Sparkle Stories’. Perhaps you could leave off the tv and work together on a sewing project or play a co-operative boardgame.

A candle and a verse when you serve breakfast. A family tradition of rolling beeswax candles and having a bonfire to mark the Winter Solstice. Meals prepared together with food collected from your garden. Baking bread together. Evenings spent listening to mama tell stories. A nature table given pride of place in the living room.

We each have to make the best choices we can for our families given our own unique set of circumstances. The trick is to make these choices work for us, rather than feel like the choices are being done to us.  Learning doesn’t just happen in schools, so holistic education doesn’t just have to happen in an alternative school or homeschool either.

You have the power to offer your child all of the benefits of an holistic education. School gets him for 30 hours a week. You get him for the other 138 hours. Make the time count.

Have you tried mainstream school with a holistic afterschooling twist?

The Holistic Homeschool

This article is Part Two of a series on holisitic homeschooling.

I know, I know. I promised this post moons ago. I’ve been busy writing an article for the next issue of Mulberry Magazine (due out very soon) and writing/procrastinating/agonising over my plan and report for the Home Education Unit. Not to mention the general business of running our micro homestead. But here it is. Finally πŸ˜‰

The holistic homeschool. What is it? What does it look like? What is the point?

In Part One of this series I talked about holisitic education and how it differs from traditional education. The topic is HUGE but at it’s core we can boil holisitic education down to a few points: rhythm, balance, relationships, a transdisciplinary approach. A holisitic homeschool takes these values and ideas and applies them to the home and to home education.

Here’s how it works at our house ☺

Our home hums along to a gentle rhythm. This makes sure our day-to-day life flows gently and with purpose. Children thrive on knowing what comes next and what to expect. And to be perfectly honest, so do I. When your home is also a homestead, daily rhythm becomes imperative. Those animals aren’t going to feed themselves unfortunately. At least the bread rises all on its own πŸ˜‰

Aside from a daily rhythm which includes our everyday chores, our meals, our lesson time, play time, self-directed learning time, etc., we also have a weekly rhythm. This helps us balance our lessons to ensure we are addressing all learning areas across the week, sharing our time between home and community, between lessons and play, between inside and outside.

Overlaid with this we have our yearly rhythm. This includes family celebrations, festivals, seasonal planting/harvesting/preserving and celebrating the cycle of seasons. We endeavour to live seasonally, with respect for nature and our place within the environment.

Each of these rhythms seeks to bring balance to our lives and our learning, to foster an understanding of and respect for the environment and to help us become productive members our chosen communities.

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One of our old rhythm charts


TIP! Writing out your rhythm on a chart serves as a helpful visual reminder to the whole family.

While we are focusing on bringing our lives into a harmonious balance, we are also seeking to balance our learning. Unlike traditional schooling, book learning isn’t deemed to be more important than learning (both through and about) art, music, handwork, yardwork, or even the learning that comes through being bored and at a loose end. It’s amazing the things you learn when you’ve got nothing but time and imagination!

Aside from the intrinsic value of each of the areas mentioned, we also believe that utilising these as tools is helpful in learning the more traditional subject areas. We discover science through story telling, maths through the art of form drawing, English comprehension through drawing and modelling. And this is just to name a few!

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A story began this science lesson outside with friends. We learn handwork with the help of songs. Drawing helps with comprehension of stories. Story and manipulatives assisted this maths lesson.

A balanced approach to learning has us overlapping between the subject areas. As holisitic homeschoolers we aren’t into learning subjects as separate entities, studied individually. We try to incorporate head, heart and hands learning- to bring story, song and art- to all areas.

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Art, song and story make it into all of our learning

We’re also not very interested in sitting still in one spot for our lessons. We learn in the garden, on our nature walks, at our co-op, and on family outings. We learn in the kitchen, in the playground, on our blackboard and in our books. It happens on our couch and on the floor. Learning happens in all sorts of places with all sorts of people. It happens as part of our daily life. It happens just as often while jumping around as it does sitting still. Actually with my kids it very rarely involves sitting still for long πŸ˜€

On a very practical note, we have tried curriculum and no curriculum, very structured and rather unstructured curriculum. We’ve gone DIY and we’ve gone open and go curriculum. For us, a Waldorf-inspired approach works best and we have found Kristie’s curriculum at BEarth Institute to be the right fit for us (nope, not being paid to say that and that is NOT an affiliate link. I just love the curriculum and wanted to share it with you all).

While we dedicate LOADS of time to pursuing personal interests, to freeplay and to just doing our own thing, we discovered unschooling just wasn’t for us. We prefer the structure, the rhythm, the balance, the parent/teacher-child relationship that comes with a holisitic model of homeschooling. We enjoy the magic, the art and the story of the Waldorf approach (even if the anthroposophy isn’t for us).

I’d love to hear what model of homeschooling you have adopted or are drawn to and why πŸ™‚

Happy Homeschooling xx