Sunday, April 5, 2020

Making a Set of Waldorf Math Gnomes: Why & How

Why Bother? Is This Some Kind of Weird Waldorf Thing?

Yes, Waldorf in grade 1 is heavy with gnomes but that's not the only reason why we use them in Math. In Math, they actually have a very special and practical purpose. Here are my notes for how to tell the introductory story.

The basic idea here is that you are imagining... what if each mathematical operation was a person? How would that person dress? Move? Talk?

Actually embodying those characters helps children develop their mathematical thinking.

In addition, Steiner aligned each operation with a temperament. Addition is phlegmatic. Subtraction is melancholic. Multiplication is sanguine. Division is choleric.

This not only comes into play in the colors and actions in the storytelling, but it allows each child to identify with an operation (his/her own temperament), as well as to see the balancing effects of coming out of one's own temperament and experiencing the world from the point of view of others.

In the Waldorf classroom, we actually act out the math stories, with children acting out the characters/operations/temperaments and dressing in those colors. When the students solve the problems, we manipulate little pieces (suh as flattened glass "gems") and the characters each collect or distribute the gems according to their own way until harmony is achieved in the land.

The King simply serves as someone to give the tasks for collecting or distributing. Sometimes the King will request that each gnome bring him a certain number of gems at the end of the day, and the child has to create the math story to explain how the gnomes did it (ie. the King wanted 12 but Plus got too many and he had 15, so Minus helped him by taking away 3).

How Many Gnomes Come in a Set?

Four and an optional King. The four characters are + (green), - (blue), x (yellow), and ÷ (red).

They have different names in different stories. Farmer Plus, Mr. Minus, Tommy Times, and Mr. Divide are what I use, but it doesn't really make a difference. And feel free to make some or all of the characters female!

Here's the sample lesson from World of Numbers by Live Education! (a Waldorf curriculum company), with the character they created for Multiplication. It is called Mul de Plier: The Girl from the Land of Plenty.

my set of Math Gnomes (made by Melisa Nielsen)

Counting Gem Ideas

flattened glass gems
dried beans
whole peppercorns
dried juniper berries
cardamom pods
plain popcorn kernels
sunflower seeds
tiny fir cones
acorn caps
small shells
or other uniform items from Nature

You will need to collect 50 pieces, so they should be relatively small. You can sew a small pouch to keep them in or use a pretty dish or a wooden box.

Gnome Patterns & Ideas

Thomas and Petra Berger, bless them, made up an entire book of gnome patterns and instructions. If you have The Gnome Craft Book you are in luck!

And if you don't, you still have lots of other options.

If you're a knitter, knit them. If you're a needle felter, needle felt them. If you're a sewer, sew them. If you're a gluer, glue them. Have fun with it!

Pinecone Gnomes from We Bloom Here

Walnut Shell Gnome from Andrea Greco

Yarn Pompom Gnomes from Lia Grffith

Even Wine Cork Gnomes(!) from Ruffles and Rainboots

You can also make simple yarn dolls (suggested in The Gnome Craft Book)
Make Yarn Dolls from Little House Living

Gnome with Pipe Cleaner Frame (also suggested in The Gnome Craft Book)

How to Needle Felt a Gnome from Shepherd Like a Girl
includes step by step instructions

Needle Felted Gnome Tutorial from Lincolnshire Fenn Crafts
step by step instructions with lots of photos if you're new to needle felting

Felt Gnome Tutorial from Wee Folk Art
for wooden peg doll gnomes
includes step by step instructions with photos, also patterns in two sizes

Simplest Knitted Gnome Pattern (this is from The Gnome Craft Book)

    Body and Head
    Cast on 24 stitches in gnome clothing color and knit 4 rows in garter and then 10 rows in stockinette stitch. In the next row k2tog all the way across. Purl the remaining 12 stitches. Change to skin color. Knit 10 rows stockinette stitch. In the next row 2tog all the way across. In the next row cast off. Fold the knitting in two lengthwise and sew up the top and back. Fill the head with unspun wool. Stitch a thread around the neck, draw tight, and tie at the back.

    Cast on 20 stitches in gnome hat color and knit 2 rows in garter stitch and then 6 rows in stockinette stitch. In the next row knit the first two and last two stitches together. Repeat for the 11th, 13th, and 15th rows (these are all knit rows; the even rows are the purl rows) and so on until all the stitches are finished. Sew the sides together and sew the hat firmly onto the head.

    Cast on 26 stitches and knit 2 rows in garter stitch and then 4 rows in stockinette stitch. Then k2tog all the way across. Cast off. Sew the collar around the gnome's neck, leaving the front seam open.

    This book suggests knitting cotton or fine wool and knitting needles in U.S. size 1. Of course, you don't have to make them that tiny!

Simplest Sewn Felt Gnome (click the link for full-size version)

If you don't have wool felt, try them with whatever fabric you have in your stash. If they are all patterned fabric, find patterns where the dominant color is the desired one. If you don't have wool batting or fleece to stuff them with, try pulling apart some cotton balls until you have a little pile of fluff.

Other Patterns & Ideas

It doesn't have to be gnomes, folks! Some people use four little squirrels, especially if your preferred manipulative is acorns. The squirrels can also hop about and collect and distribute in a different way (you could read Beatrix Potter's The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin to start the block) and if you make felt finger puppets and embroider the signs on them, that could be quite sweet.

Squirrel Pattern (click the link and print at 125%)

If you have Around the World with Finger Puppet Animals by Suzanne Down, there's a squirrel pattern in there. Of course, it could be any animal! Rabbits, bears, ducks, or anything that fits and which your child likes (maybe not turtles; it's hard to imagine a turtle springing around with a bell on his hat). Bears could collect blueberries; rabbits collect carrots, radishes, or cabbages.

Songbird Felt Finger Puppet from Melissa Depper Family
(this would be nice if you were using sunflower seeds)

Owl Felt Finger Puppet Tutorial from Playing with Words
(burrowing owls are distinctive in that they eat animals but also seeds & fruits; owls do not ever build a nest so don't have them collect twigs)

You could even cut a bunch of little fish out of colored construction paper and have all the characters be paper doll fisherman. It really would be fine.

In fact, one of the main qualities of the melancholic is deep empathy for the suffering of others, so the blue fisherman would constantly be releasing the fish he caught. What a lovely and different way for children to experience subtraction, as a sympathetic "giving away" versus "taking away"!

Fisherman Pattern (click the link and print at 165%)

What you do outwardly is not the thing that matters. You don't have to buy something beautiful and handmade from Etsy or stay up all night sewing. Really. It is your child's inner experience that matters. You are trying to set up a situation where they will have a lively understanding of the operation. That is all! This is worth doing because of the deep understanding it gives your child, but do not stress out about having every little detail be perfect!!

This post contains affiliate links to materials I truly use for homeschooling. Qualifying purchases provide me with revenue. Thank you for your support!

Saturday, April 4, 2020

Guest Blog Post from the Department of All Beings

I have really enjoyed having colleagues share guest blog posts this school year. From our art teacher Anna Davis to puppet-maker and storyteller Madrone D'Ardenne to handwork teacher Barbara Albert, we have had really talented women share their expertise.

Today I would like to share something from the three incredible SIU undergraduate students who came as special guests during our Farming & Gardening block in February! They led a wonderful lesson where the children began to look at the actual land they were standing on when we were standing in my yard. I plan to have a continuing partnership with them where they will lead Environmental Education lessons, helping the students develop a sense of place and connect with where they live... in multiple contexts over a period of time. This is also called Place-Based Education.

Sienna Walaszek was chosen to be one of only nine speakers at TEDxSIUC on January 5, 2020. Her talk was titled "Connecting to Our Inner Child" and you can watch it here. She is a junior Philosophy major.

Grant Depoy and Jacob Bolton were chosen to be two of just seven 2019-20 SIU University Innovation Fellows as part of the Center of Innovation, located at One Innovation Place, 1745 Innovation Drive in the SIU Research Park. Grant is a senior Forestry and Hydrology major. Jacob is a senior Forestry major.

Together these three up-and-coming SIU student innovators / philosophers / entrepreneurs have formed a group called the "Department of All Beings."

Their mission statement reads, "The Department of All Beings role in global sustainable development is to facilitate programs and resources for local communities to co-create an environment of holistic learning and socioecological resiliency which consciously preserves the integrity of all beings.“

Their current focus is on creating children’s programs and outdoor laboratories / natural playscapes, and so I asked them to share some ideas for our families who want to do Outdoor Education in their yards. They write:

Growing Memories in the Yards of Our Global Neighborhood

Warm greetings from Southern Illinois! Our names are Sienna Walaszek, Grant Depoy, and Jacob Bolton! We are students at Southern Illinois University - Carbondale and grateful supporters of our community's beautiful, diverse ecosystem. The current COVID-19 pandemic has presented us with the realities of a global-scale social and ecological disturbance, and in opposition to sitting idly, we wanted to offer some perspectives and tools to make use of for the caretakers of children, and really anyone else who wants to use their freed-up time to become deeper connected with the earth!

As trained environmental educators, we see that our role is crucial in framing obstacles and unexpected disturbances as opportunities for growth - either within ourselves, in our relationships with others, or in our relationships with the natural world. What opportunities for growth might have arisen from the presence of “social” or “physical” distancing in the lives of our children, whose innate quality of playful and social learning has been challenged by the confinements of home-life? What safe environments can parents and guardians facilitate for their children to learn freely and happily, without exhausting anyone’s emotional or physical reserves? Luckily for many families, a back or front yard, a small park, or garden area aren’t too far from home - and all provide perhaps one of the most suitable settings for ease-of-learning.

Enjoying time outdoors can supplement your child's formal education. With a pinch of patience, and with a willingness to be outside, anyone can act as an environmental educator, opening them and their children up to the diverse relationships between them and their surroundings. With the tools which mother nature equipped us, such as our creative imaginations and our senses, we can experience these relationships in any number of ways, facilitating neural connections and making memories. Smelling the sweetness of Spring’s flowers and sprouting leaves reminds us of the pollinators busy at action, the direction of the wind gently pulling the scents about, and offers a foreshadowing to the berries that we can later taste in the summer. Looking closely at leaves reveals small hairs that might be long and silky or matted and shaggy, or stepping back and looking from afar reveals their shapes, patterns, and colors. To which trees and shrubs do these leaves belong? What creatures like to hang around these plants and why?

Our animal senses gift us with some of the most accessible educational experiences. Intentional mindfulness and open observation brings about a new appreciation of the myriad of sensations permeating us in each moment, and these experiences offer opportunities to understand deep concepts embedded within the natural processes. All we have to do is keep asking questions with a genuine curiosity! Pairing our senses with the miracle of human imagination ensures that even the smallest of green spaces will yield infinite learning opportunities. Thankfully the imagination and roleplaying abilities of our children thrive when given a little encouragement. Next to our natural imagination and observation skills, there are tons of step-by-step activities (see below) to explore - some of which contribute directly to sustainability, like tree planting and gardening (please contact us for more tips on these!).

Research and Benefits

In a study by Ryan et al. 2010 "Vitalizing Effects of Being Outdoors and in Nature", the authors define vitality as "having physical and mental energy." Spending time in natural conditions is shown to raise our vitality and vigor! "Vitality represents energy that one can harness and use for purposive actions" (Ryan et al. 2010) such as self-cultivation and learning!

    Ryan, Richard M., et al. "Vitalizing effects of being outdoors and in nature." Journal of Environmental Psychology 30.2 (2010): 159-168.

In this study, Forest Schools in Europe provide regular interaction for school children with their environment. "Improvements in the children's confidence, motivation and concentration, language and communication and physical skills were recorded by teachers in Forest Schools."

    O'Brien, Liz. "Learning outdoors: the Forest School approach." Education 3–13 37.1 (2009): 45-60.

Here are 8 super-fun outdoor activities to try today!

Activity 1: Identifying Our Surroundings

Activity 2: Planting a Family Tree

Activity 3: Garden Projects and Crafts

Activity 4: Recycled Bird Feeder

Activity 5: Listening Walk

Activity 6: Backyard Fun

Activity 7: Nature Scavenger Hunt with Sensory Card

Activity 8: Exploring Our Sense of Taste

Friday, April 3, 2020

Montessori and the Nitrogen Cycle

Montessori and Waldorf emphasize doing everything in a hands-on way, and having it be beautiful, so it is easy for people to assume that they don't get as much actual content in as a public school classroom. WRONG! I learned the Nitrogen Cycle in a public high school, in A.P. Biology in 11th grade. If I was in a Waldorf school, I would learn it in middle school, in 7th grade. If I was in a Montessori school, I would learn it in Lower Elementary, ages 6-9.

There are several good resources for the Nitrogen Cycle, Montessori-style. Waseca Biomes includes the three-part cards for it in their Introduction to the Biomes with Curriculum: Elementary material and you get blackline masters to make a booklet. There's also a wonderful lesson for making a Nitrogen Cycle feltboard lesson and, inspired by her post, I did make one in December 2013. Had a great time cutting, sewing, and embroidering the pieces using pure wool felt.

Here are some pictures of that material and students giving the lesson to their families:

    Becca and her grandmother

Sadly, when I came here to Illinois, the Nitrogen Cycle feltboard lesson was misplaced in the move. I'm sure it is somewhere in one of the boxes that has not yet been unpacked. But it was bothering me so much to not have it for my students to use. I did include the Nitrogen Cycle when my class did their recent Waldorf Farming & Gardening block, but we used the Waseca cards.

(And, I will point out, that was my own idea. Usually in Waldorf that 3rd grade block doesn't have much 7th grade Chemistry or Soil Science in it!)

Well, very recently (last November) my homeschool group finished up our collaborative tapestry for the Backyard Biome. We did this weaving as part of the Waldorf 4th grade Local History & Geography block. What could be more local than your backyard? It is a great tapestry, with layers of clay (yep, I have that in my soil) and mole tunnels (yes, I have those too) and a mama and a baby mole and layers of Autumn leaves decomposing into the soil and earthworms burrowing and new green grass and a digging pit full of water.

Because we didn't want to weave the sky blue -- thinking that then it would get confused with the water area -- a student cleverly suggested weaving a stormy gray sky. We even added some bolts of lightning! I promised the children that when it was done, I would sew beads into the sky to be the raindrops.

All of those things came to pass and I was sewing the beads on last weekend when it hit me like the proverbial bolt of lightning.

the only piece I can find from my original work
Nitrification Box 1:  Atmosphere

Lightning? Wait! That's part of the Nitrogen cycle! And then I looked at the tapestry again. Autumn leaves returning to the earth... yes. Earthworms... yes. Lighting and clouds and rain... yes. All I needed to add were the tree and the deer and the legume with nitrogen-fixing bacteria and the fungi and mycelia with denitrification bacteria. I could turn that tapestry into a classroom lesson on the Nitrogen cycle!

the tapestry carefully wrapped in brown paper in my Science room
alongside my Waseca Biome materials

Ever since I had that amazing idea, I have been sewing. Every morning when Zac wakes up, I've completed something new. I even shared it with my students on Wednesday when they were sharing their Passion Projects for March. It has definitely been my Passion Project! Today I finished it all, and photographed it. I'm very excited to share it with my class, and I'm equally excited to share it with you.

For this lesson I'm also suggesting the Parts of the Biome Jars by Waseca Biome. They no longer sell those separately; they are part of a Backyard Biome Mat Bundle (which also comes with a canvas Backyard Biome Mat). Happily, you don't have to weave an entire tapestry to make use of my notes. You could simply start with their mat and make any extra pieces out of felt that you needed.

Of course, you could do the entire thing of felt as I did the first time around!

The first time I did this I got four identical little boxes and labeled them with my labelmaker and put the pieces in them. This time around we are all staying home due to the COVID-19 pandemic, so instead of going to Hobby Lobby, I looked around my house for little boxes. I ended up finding four boxes that used to have Christmas cards in them and have colorful sides and clear tops. Each one is different, which at first I didn't like. But when I sat down and practiced the lesson I found that I really did like having each step being a different colored box. It's so easy to grab the pieces that I need.

Here are my Nitrogen Cycle Presentation Notes as a PDF. This is based off of the feltboard lesson created by "Somewhat in the Air" (which I was very grateful to find online) and includes exactly what to make and what to say.

And the photos:

our beautiful hand-woven collaborative tapestry
using the 48 inch wide Friendly Loom by Harrisville Designs

the felt tree

and the four boxes with the pieces

free Nitrogen in the atmosphere and the soil

water (H2O) 
in the cloud as water vapor

and in the sky as rain

lightning bolt and nitric oxide (NO)

nitrogen dioxide (NO2)

nitric acid (NHO3)

nitric oxide, nitric dioxide, and nitric acid move to the soil

the seed beads on the roots are nitrogen fixing bacteria
ammonia (NH3)

the ammonia is converted into NO2 and NO3

plants use NO2 and NO3 as fuel for growth
(lay down the plant's new leaves) and Oxygen is released

Nitrogen is stored in the leaves, fruit, and roots of the legumes

the deer eats the legume

the Nitrogen moves into the deer

the Nitrogen exits the deer via excrement

and the process of death and decomposition

I made extra bones for the little mole we had woven
into the tapestry

of course, the tree has Nitrogen in it too
it drops its leaves

and the leaves die and decay

we had already woven a layer of decaying leaves
(and earthworms, doing their job as decomposers)
into the tapestry as well!

the mushroom and mycelia

with seed bead denitrification bacteria

bacteria... simply amazing

it's so beautiful and I'm so glad to be able to give this key lesson
in such a rich and lively way again!!!!