Friday, October 18, 2019

Capital Letters: Week Three

Please refer back to my How Waldorf Teaches Capital Letters post for important information concerning this main lesson block.

Monday, October 14 (T - Tower, B - Bubbles)


  • review W - Worm and U - Underground
  • make Worms in the shape of W with Chocolate Play Dough (PDF)
  • create MLB artwork: Stabilo Woody 3-in-1 chunky watercolor pencils for the underground tunnel
  • I drew the outline of the tunnel (a large U) on watercolor paper and my students colored the ground around the U and the sky and grass above. I reminded them that the U had to stay clean and clear (so that the mice could run through it). Then have them use a paintbrush and clean water to spread the colors around, so that you end up with a colorful drawing with the underground tunnel as negative space.


  • add dry watercolor paintings to MLB, write summary sentence
  • set up yeast science experiment, let sit while reading the story:

    Jar A - 1/2 T dry yeast

    Jar B - 1/2 T dry yeast, 1/3 cup warm water

    Jar C - 1/2 T dry yeast, 1/3 cup warm water, 1/8 cup sugar

  • read The Duchess Bakes a Cake by Virginia Kahl
  • explain yeast, explain that baking soda & vinegar also creates a reaction which makes bubbles and that these bubbles will make our cake rise... and that by leaving it unfrosted they will be able to see the texture on the top where the bubbles rose up and popped
  • bake One-Dish Chocolate Cake
  • use wooden blocks to build tall towers while the cake is baking

Tuesday, October 15 (O - Otter, S - Stars)

  • review T - Tower and B - Bubbles
  • create MLB artwork: Popped Bubble Art (make several jars of color using a little diluted Stockmar watercolor paint added to bubble stuff, blow bubbles onto watercolor paper, see the circles when they pop)
  • create MLB artwork: colored pencil drawing of a Tower with a Turret
  • read A Lot of Otters by Barbara Helen Berger

Thursday, October 17 (F - Feather, G - Goose)

  • look at illustration of T - Tower in L M N O P and All the Letters A to Z by Howard Schrager
  • finish Tower illustration, add to MLB, write summary sentence
  • review O - Otter and S - Stars
  • create MLB artwork: use brown paint to do potato printing for adult otter faces and carrot printing for baby otter faces
  • look at illustration of S - Stars in L M N O P and read poem
  • create MLB artwork: use glitter glue to make sparkly dots in the sky in the shape of large S, plus fallen star tears in the ocean waters
  • read Barnyard Banter by Denise Fleming

Friday, October 18

  • add dry Otter and Star artwork to MLB, write summary sentence
  • review F - Feather and G - Goose
  • create MLB artwork: make handmade paper poured pulp illustration of Goose (pulp colors: white, black, yellow, green)

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

Thursday, October 17, 2019

October - The Boggart

Monday, October 14, was Indigenous Peoples' Day. Here are a few notes from our week of Indian Corn Fun!

Our corn activities this week all came from the lovely book Earthways: Simple Environmental Activities for Young Children by Carol Petrash. This book is a Waldorf early childhood classic which is -- surprisingly -- out of print and inexpensive. She helps you transition into a Waldorf classroom or home slowly season by season with a host of easy to follow activities, organized step by step and labeled with specific age recommendations!

Our story this week is a traditional Harvest story from England, which is why it features "The Boggart." This tale is also sometimes called "Clever Reaping" and was retold by Janet Stevens in the well-known picture book Tops & Bottoms. We used the version in Festivals Together: A Guide to Multicultural Celebration by Sue Fitzjohn, et al. Before I told the story each day we sang "Song of the Harvest Hoe," a traditional Chinese work song (page 138).

We continued with our Songs, Verses & Movement for classroom routines.

Circle Time

In case the links to these fun finger plays do not work in the future, I'm going to include the words and movements here as well.

    Eat an Apple

    Eat an apple.
    (Bring right hand to mouth)

    Save the core.
    (Close right hand in fist)

    Plant the seeds,
    (Bend down and touch hand to ground)

    And grow some more.
    (Extend both arms out)

    Five Little Pumpkins

    Five little pumpkins were sitting on the ground.
    (Hold up five fingers)

    The first little pumpkin was short and round,
    (Point to thumb)

    The second little pumpkin was happy to be found.
    (Point to index finger)

    The third little pumpkin had a curly vine,
    (Point to middle finger)

    The fourth little pumpkin liked sunshine.
    (Point to ring finger)

    The fifth little pumpkin grew so quick,
    (Point to little finger)

    Now all five pumpkins are ready to be picked.
    (Wiggle all five fingers)

Also, The Children's Music Studio: A Reggio-Inspired Approach by Wendell Hanna is filled with great open-ended music explorations! It gives a musical "provocation" activity and then your children simply go in the directions that interest them. We just enjoyed doing the verse and its traditional movements in class, but if you're looking for new creative ways to incorporate music play into your family time, I highly recommend this book!


    Corn Bread Squares

    1 cup yellow cornmeal
    1/4 cup whole wheat flour
    2 tsp baking powder
    1/2 tsp salt
    1/4 tsp baking soda
    1 egg, lightly beaten
    8 oz plain yogurt
    1/2 cup milk
    1/4 cup vegetable oil
    1/4 cup honey

    Preheat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit and lightly grease an 8 inch square baking dish.

    In large bowl combine cornmeal, whole wheat flour, baking powder, salt, and baking soda. In medium bowl combine egg, yogurt, milk, oil, and honey. Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients. Stir until just moistened. Bake for 16-20 min or until a toothpick come out clean.


This day is a favorite of mine each year! I love helping the children to make necklaces of beautiful Indian Corn kernels with their many colors. Zac had great fun choosing the prettiest ones to soak in water the night beforehand. We also finished sewing the final dragon finger puppet today!

A new board game, Pancake Pile-Up, sparked lots of new imaginative play. The playstands were festooned with silks to make a colorful restaurant, "Sunshine Cafe", and many of the felt play kitchen foods were in high demand as customers came and went. The Haba Color Pie became a pizza. All of the dolls showed up at the restaurant, one at a time, to have a meal.

Then the children made beds inside the playstands with cozy silks (and Zac fetched some pillows from his room) and everyone played at going to sleep and then waking up and then opening the restaurant again as a brand-new day. It was nice to see them incoprorate some downtime naturally into their play like that!

Outside I watched the play evolve as well, as the initial Bell Hunt game (where the dragon comes out of its cave and chases the other children) became too intense for one child. And since another child really wanted to keep the sneaking up with bells portion of the game, a compromise was met. Sneaking up with bells held so that they would not make a sound continued, but there was no chasing in the second portion of the game. Instead, everyone become a dragon and they all played in the dragon cave together.

At the very end of our outside play time, we looked for persimmons which may have fallen from the tree, and I got out the child-size bamboo leaf rakes from the Montessori Services website For Small Hands and they raked up big leaf piles and then jumped in them. Ahhhh, Autumn.


Seeing Janet Stevens' illustrations really helped bring this story to life, and was a perfect transition to visiting a pumpkin farm on Monday. We will get to take a hayride through the fields and will be able to walk in the corn maze!

And, of course, today was Stone Soup day! It was delicious, as always. Thank you to everyone who contributed to the Stone Soup. And our sweet potatoes and Swiss chard were harvested just yesterday, at Dayempur Farm.

    vegetable broth
    red cabbage
    yellow squash
    sweet potato
    Swiss chard
    purple bell pepper

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

Monday, October 14, 2019

How Waldorf Teaches Capital Letters

Turning now to what we've been doing in our October main lesson block, the Lower Elementary group is doing their first main lesson book! They are doing the classic, and very lovely, Waldorf Capital Letters block.

All of the students I have are familiar with the Capital Letters already, but they are enjoying going through them again in this arts-rich way. It also makes the first main lesson book less stressful; when the content is familiar, the task of the actual bookmaking is the only new skill.

In brief, the concept behind the Capital Letters block is that you choose a picture for each letter (similar to how the English alphabet actually evolved in Ancient Phoenicia, Greece & Rome). The image is carefully chosen to be the shape of the letter and share a sound with the letter (such as M for Mountain). Two mountains side by side actually look like the letter M.

Ox, House, Stick: The History of Our Alphabet

by Don Robb

For more (you can always go deeper when it comes to Waldorf), the best resource is Roberto Trostli's Teaching Language Arts in the Waldorf School, compiling Steiner's quotes regarding each facet of language arts instruction. These are taken from the Essentials of Waldorf Education series of 25 books.

Trostli's book is still in print but it also available online completely free as a downloadable PDF, courtesy of the Online Waldorf Library.

Having done this main lesson topic before, I have a way that I really like of presenting the letters, which is to do them in pairs. If you're curious about all of the pairs, you can check out the Capital Letters page on my website.

I find a story which unifies two pictures/letters and we read the story, do our art, and add the pictures/letters to the MLB. This allows me to do the whole thing in one block, while still giving a picture for each of the 26 letters. Other Waldorf teachers with whom I've spoken find the time consideration difficult and will either do it in one block without doing pictures for all letters, or divide it into more than one block. However, I think that seeing all the letters right away is important for future writing.

After all, in Waldorf they learn to read by writing!

Writing, historically, had to pre-date reading. You can't read unless something has first been written down. Here, the children are both the writer (first) and the reader (second). They are walking in the footsteps of history.

How do they write without being able to read yet?

After we do each story we explore the pictures/letters further through art activities. The next day we recall the story and add our art to the MLB. Then it is time to add the words which accompany the artwork. I meet with each child one-on-one and give them an opportunity to dictate a sentence to me and I write that down; the children then copy their sentences into their book. The sentence is a summary of the story; the artwork is the illustration.

By following this rhythm each day, the students end up creating a book each month about whatever they are learning about. This technique works for first grade through high school, and students have a wonderful portfolio of handmade books by the end of the school year. The idea in Waldorf is that you learn to read in first or second grade by discovering that you can read the books you're making while you're making them! You look down and realize that you can read it! To do this, of course, you need familiarity with the letters and some idea of their sounds. What could be more compelling than reading a book you wrote... instead of the adventures of Dick and Jane.

The problem with introducing the letters through these pictures comes when you learn more about the English orthography system (and, in particular, SWI) and you know that later on the kids will enounter it as well. In our language, letters do not have a simple 1:1 sound:symbol correspondence.

That's okay, and we can deal with it through SWI, but what you do not want is to set students up for future frustration by giving them inaccurate information when they are beginning readers. Fluent readers don't actually begin at the start of a word, sound it out letter by letter, and know what the word is by the end of it. Research (and cameras which follow the rapidest of eye movements) have shown that readers check the first letter, skip to the end and check the last letter, make a prediction based on context clues of what the word is, and then skip to a few letters in the middle to confirm their prediction. If all checks out, they move on.

That's why you can read things like this with no problem:

    I cnduo't bvleiee taht I culod aulaclty uesdtannrd waht I was rdnaieg. Unisg the icndeblire pweor of the hmuan mnid, aocdcrnig to rseecrah at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it dseno't mttaer in waht oderr the lterets in a wrod are, the olny irpoamtnt tihng is taht the frsit and lsat ltteer be in the rhgit pclae. The rset can be a taotl mses and you can sitll raed it whoutit a pboerlm. Tihs is bucseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey ltteer by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe.

It's a quick process and it's far from "just sound it out." The number one thing you can do to increase your children's reading level is to read to them. That's because the bigger their vocabulary is, the more likely they'll be to recognize a word when they see it.

So, if first graders are still learning to read and you have to give them some phonological awareness so that they have a good foundation, but you don't want to over-simplify the system so that they are locked into distortions like "b says buh" (the word "doubt"?) or "t says tuh" (the word "action"?) or "a silent e makes the vowel say its name" (the word "come"?) or "when two vowels go walking the first one does the talking" (the word "shield"?), etc. what do you do????

Waldorf makes the introduction to the Capital Letters hands-on and artistic and soul-beautiful (each day, making the MLB is the favorite thing of my younger students, as evidenced by their gratitude journals) but in having those pictures of items introducing the letters (Mountain for M, Net for N, House for H, Tower for T, etc.) am I not still creating the false idea that one symbol goes with one sound?

The way we are doing this in my classroom is that we are doing the classic Waldorf block with two changes. One, I'm doing a pairing of Cinnamon for C and Ginger for G in addition to Cave for C and Goose for G, just to plant those seeds. And, two, I'm allowing the younger students to sit in on the weekly SWI lessons of the older students. Again, just to plant those seeds.

Would love to hear the thoughts of anyone interested in combining Waldorf with SWI! How are you handling this in your classroom?

Here are my notes from the first two weeks of this main lesson block:

Tuesday, October 1 (L - Ledge, D - Dragon)

Thursday, October 3 (R - River, N - Net)

  • review L - Ledge and D - Dragon
  • finish city illustration, add to MLB, write summary sentence
  • read Where the River Begins by Thomas Locker
  • look at illustrations of R - River and N - Net in L M N O P

Friday, October 4

  • review R - River and N - Net
  • begin MLB artwork for Net: Aluminum Foil Fish using aluminum foil, sharpies, and onion/potato mesh bags for texture of scales

Monday, October 7 (V - Valley, C - Cave)

Tuesday, October 8

  • look at illustrations of V - Valley and C - Cave in L M N O P
  • do dyeing project inspired by the story, dyeing pure wool felt with tea leaves and freshly ground coffee to create speckled brown designs

Thursday, October 10 (M - Mountain, E - Elephant)

  • use tracing paper, finger puppet pattern in Suzanne Down's Around the World with Finger Puppet Animals, and dyed felt to create speckled brown & white bunny finger puppets inspired by Chia
  • review V - Valley and C - Cave
  • create MLB artwork: colored pencil Valley and Cave drawings
  • read "The Magic Elephant" from Buddha Stories by Demi

Friday, October 11 (W - Worm, U - Underground)

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

Sunday, October 13, 2019

The Stream Table from Little River Research & Design

Many many thanks to Little River Research & Design, aka Fluvial Geomorphology in a Box, for loaning us their traveling stream table!

It is hard to do justice to the stream table concept -- an amazing piece of scientific equipment -- because it is capable of so many things that are beyond my ability to understand. I strongly recommend that you take a second to read LITTLE RIVER RESEARCH & DESIGN: An organization focused on river science education to meet challenges of the Anthropocene by Anna Durrett & Steve Gough. It is short and has beautiful photos, a better description than I can ever give of how it works and why it is important, and includes a video of the stream table in action.

This Emriver model travels to many schools and I'm honored that they included our little local Waldorf & Montessori homeschool co-op on that list. Little River is a wonderful local company! They have a stream table at Artspace 304 (located in the old public library building at 304 W Walnut Street in Carbondale) as part of "Seasonal Pulse," the art exhibit about the Mississippi River Basin. This exhibit is actually part of a much larger project with international backing titled "Mississippi. An Anthropocene River." In this 520 day long project, we are part of Field Station 4, "Confluence Ecologies."

I didn't know all of that when I went by the Artspace 304 exhibit opening reception on a Friday evening and took Zac to see what was going on!

While there we found information on a disappearing Mississippi habitat, the canebrake, and even how to bring this microbiome back by planting one. I thought that was pretty incredible. I have a copy of the instructions if you are interested! THIS IS NOT ABOUT SURVIVAL (IT’S ABOUT BRINGING YOUR CORACLE): Max Tells Us About Cane by Michael Swierz & Maureen Walrath

Zac was also fascinated by the stream table and I spoke with Steve Gough, Fluvial Geomorphologist and Principal at LRRD, who immediately said that we should arrange a loan of their smaller traveling stream table for our school. Jim came and set it up that following Monday! And tomorrow they are taking it down and it will head on to another school.

A stream table is just an incredible thing to have set up in your Art Room. It not only perfectly fit with our recent study of Landforms & Water Features, but I connected it with the Waldorf Capital Letters block as well (more on that in the next post) and the Montessori Grammar block. Of course, we also had plenty of stream table work happening in Choice Time and at Recess.

All week the Little Bluestem students and siblings, ages 2 to 17, were able to explore it. Parents were able to explore it. Friends were able to explore it. Art Class students were able to explore it. Science Club students were able to explore it. Homeschoolers who came to hear Dav Glass speak were able to explore it. All in all, I think we were able to share it with about 35 people. And it was a phenomenenal experience! We will all miss it when it is gone.

setting up the table

adding buckets full of color-coded sediment

it's completely irresistable
even without water yet!

adding the water to the basin

turning on the pump for the first time

we actually get to see the river abandon a meander

yes, big kids like it too

drying out the table and carefully adding a cave

this cave will not survive when the water
is turned back on

endless experimentation

bringing parents and siblings in to see

everyone who comes creates a new design!

"Mississippi. An Anthropocene River" is a project by Haus der Kulturen der Welt (HKW), Berlin, and the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science (MPIWG), Berlin, in collaboration with numerous international partners, funded by the German Federal Foreign Office as part of the initiative #WunderbarTogether as well as by the Max Planck Society.