Sunday, November 3, 2013

Black Walnut Ink

This is the time of year to collect black walnuts and make black walnut ink!

How to Make Black Walnut Ink

Wonderful for a language arts block that includes cutting quill pens and doing some handwriting practice.

Some books I just love for the story of written language (we teach this as a Great Lesson in Montessori so I have a TON of resources to suggest if you have any questions) are

Friday, September 27, 2013

Peter Gray to Speak at Fairhaven School

I'm so excited to finally meet Peter Gray! He's coming to speak at my oldest daughter's school, Fairhaven, which is the oldest Sudbury school in Maryland. We are lucky to live near it, since there are only a few democratic schools in the world, although there are the most in the U.S (according to the list of Sudbury schools on Wikipedia).

When I first heard about the democratic school model, I didn't give it more than a passing thought. It wasn't until I met Barbara Dewey's granddaughter, at a homeschool teacher training seminar (her organization, Waldorf Without Walls, is wonderful!), and realized the KIND of people who come out of a school environment like that, that I took it more seriously. This articulate, compassionate, bright young woman was simply a phenomenal individual!

So I began to research the model and was particularly interested in it for the middle school years. My school subscribes to the American Journal of Play, which is a wonderful peer-reviewed journal, and is available in print or free online. They'll also allow you to sign up for email alerts when a new issue is published and available online. This was where I discovered Peter Gray.

Dr. Peter Gray does his research on the value of play in education, and uses Sudbury schools as the venue for his research. They are valuable schools for this type of research because the self-directed model allows for time in the day for play, and the mixed age framework (ages 5-18 at our nearby school) allows for interesting research in the quality of play among mixed ages. The first article of his that I read was Play as a Foundation for Hunter-Gatherer Social Existence. Intrigued, I read more of his work. I liked The Special Value of Child's Mixed-Age Play, but Playing in the Zone of Proximal Development: Qualities of Self- Directed Age Mixing between Adolescents and Young Children at a Democratic School which he published with Jay Feldman in Psychology Today really blew me away. It is a must read! It was what caused me to choose Fairhaven School for my daughter, and I couldn't be happier!

Now I will actually get to meet Peter Gray! He's coming to Fairhaven on Saturday, October 5th to share his latest book: Free to Learn: Why Unleashing the Instinct to Play Will Make Our Children Happier, More Self-Reliant, and Better Students for Life

The reading and discussion will begin at 1 pm. I cannot wait, and I encourage everyone who is interested in and passionate about the value of play in education to take advantage of this wonderful opportunity.

Thursday, August 8, 2013


So, I just finished graduating from McDaniel College with my M.S. in Curriculum & Instruction! I'm really excited.

On the horizon this school year:
I'm considering going for the MAEOE environmental certification (

And I'm definitely working with the University of Maryland Writing Project on a project called 21st Century Teaching and Learning.

For this project I'll be exploring using a classroom blog to help with parent communication -- to help parents better understand the Montessori method in particular and alternative education in general -- as well as having it be a place for students to publish written pieces or share photos of their artwork. We use digital media very rarely in the classroom as a student learning tool, because I don't think it's developmentally appropriate, but I think it's worthwhile to explore how to use it in adult learning (i.e., parent education).

I do also like the idea of sharing with parents classroom communication -- like what we do, what we are excited about, and interesting links -- in a way that is separate from email. Email fills your box and overwhelms you. It's also not the most efficient approach. For example, if I email out a great weekend field trip idea that is totally tied in with what we are learning about, and then a few years down the road they (or I) want to remember what it was, I think a blog is easier to search. It also is interesting to explore what parents chatting with each other, via the comments box, might add to the conversation about what happening in the classroom.

I'd like to create a survey to ask parents what their impression are of Montessori, and whether they feel like they understand what their child does in the classroom, and pass it out at back to school night. Then, after using the classroom blog as a parent education tool during the year, I'd like to give the same survey again.

This idea is not Montessori specific; it could certainly be used with a Waldorf classroom as well, to help parents have a peek into the classroom. I think it would work, with the exception of having students publish their written work there. Photos would be great! I do think that, since Montessori kids are always writing reports on topics that interest them, that this makes sense as a way to publish.

  • An informational report of a few paragraphs could be shared as a blog post.
  • Short stories, and other creative writing, could be a post.
  • A classroom newsletter: We tried to have a newsletter that the children wrote themselves a few years ago, and it was wonderful, and a great way to teach the writing process, but the files got to be HUGE and were hard to email. A blog could be nice for this! (My professor is right that, for some reason, publishing online makes the revision process more fun.)
  • It would be a great way to publish poetry. Or speeches.
  • Photos of artwork
  • Photos of kids working in the classroom. Short videos of the classroom environment.
And, in terms of parent education, links to articles about alternative education, or great YouTube videos or websites. I love Sir Ken Robinson, for example! Also, if we DO show a video in the classroom (The Story of Stuff is one we did in Philosophy last year), to give parents access to that link means that they can watch it at home and then talk about it with their child.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Eastern Region events calendar

Central Region events calendar

Western Region events calendar

This is an amazing resource; definitely something to bookmark on your computer if you're interested in pursuing a study of anthroposophy further!

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Waldorf Kindergarten Curriculum - Cheap!

When people are starting out with Waldorf they are often overwhelmed at the apparent cost of it all. If you are trying to implement a Waldorf kindy "curric" -- remember, a Waldorf kindy is simply trying to recreate the home environment -- and you have a tight budget, here's what I recommend:
  • 1. FREE - Read The Education of the Child in the Light of Anthroposophy by Rudolf Steiner. This will explain WHY the kindergarten curriculum is the way it is. If you don't like what he has to say, stop here. Waldorf isn't a good fit for your family. May as well get that figured out right off the bat!
  • 2. FREE - Join the Waldorf Today weekly newsletter. Join Suzanne Down's Juniper Tree Puppets monthly newsletter. Join Marsha Johnson's waldorfhomeeducators Yahoo group. She has a lot of helpful files and concrete advice.

  • 3. FREE - Read back issues of the Waldorf Clearing House Newsletter -- a newsletter TO and FROM Waldorf teachers. Spring 1978 focused on preschool/kindy. What you'll find there is what you would find in any authentic Waldorf curriculum for that age. NO day to day specific suggestions. NO lesson plans.
  • 4. If you want some more specific suggestions on what to do with your child, this is where I recommend some titles.

    out of print - available used from $8.89



That comes to $50.00, not including shipping.

If you can go a little higher than that, and you want more support for creating rhythms (both daily rhythms and seasonal rhythms), I suggest adding on:



Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Rah, Rah, Radishes!

I'm taking the first course for my School Librarianship certification, Literature for Children.  This first assignment is to read 21-30 current (within the past four years) picture books and create annotations for them.  The annotation is the short blurb that makes you want to read the book but doesn't give away the ending.  It's a challenge for me to find recent books, because I tend to hang on to old favorites.  But, I have my pile and I'm ready to dive in!

Rah, Rah, Radishes!: A Vegetable Chant

The first thing I thought of with this book is how cool it would be to do papermaking with vegetables with the kids (The Gourmet Paper Maker by Ellaraine Lockie comes to mind) and then have a special display in the library of great picture books about vegetables. Or, if you're a homeschooler, you could go to the library and ask the librarian for recommendations and check out a whole bunch of books.

Here's a start to a list like that; feel free to share!

More thoughts (and if I spend an hour being inspired by every book in my box, I'll never get my homework done in time...)

Her website is here:

She also did a companion book on fruits called Go, Go, Grapes!: A Fruit Chant

This would be fun for older kids to go into art lessons like watercolor paintings or sketching veggies. We are doing a residency with a local artist as part of our Local Lunches cooking lessons where we photograph the produce and then will make oversized paintings that celebrate their colors and textures. This book is a great intro to a concept like that! Someone also does funny art where veggies are made into animals... I have to see if I can find it. Ah! Here it is.

Of course, then you could always go in the direction of Renaissance artist Giuseppe Arcimboldo...

Sunday, June 2, 2013

The Chisel-Tooth Tribe

Just updated the page on Class 4 with a great recommendation for a read-aloud for the Zoology MLB!

Wilfrid Swancourt Bronson also wrote lots of other well-researched and accessible books, including volumes on Cats, Goats, Coyotes, Grasshoppers, and Ants.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Painting with Children in Waldorf Schools

Fantastic Waldorf painting course available this summer that I thought I would pass along!

"An intensive course for Waldorf teachers and parents with Gail McManus"

Date:  August 12 - 17, 2013

Location:  The Arteum School of Painting in Ghent, NY 

Cost:  Tuition (including materials) is $450. Some tuition assistance may be available. 

Lodging: Assistance with lodging can be provided. Camping is also possible. 

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Gluten-Free Playdough

GREAT recipe for gluten-free playdough from

We made this in my classroom on Monday.  The pink color is perfect for Valentine's Day.  Smells yummy too.  Enjoy!

Gluten-Free Playdough
½ cup of white rice flour
½ cup of cornstarch
2 teaspoons cream of tartar
½ cup of salt
2 teaspoons of oil
1 cup of water
1. In a small pot, combine the dry ingredients and give it a whisk. Add the water and oil, and whisk until smooth.
2. Put over low heat on the stove, and stir with a wooden spoon. It will slowly thicken and start pulling away from the sides of the pot. You know it’s done when you lift a large spoonful of the playdough and it doesn’t drip at all, but remains a firm ball. Remove from heat and allow to cool.
3. Once cool enough to touch, you can knead in more starch or flour to firm it up, if necessary.
Keep well wrapped, and it will keep indefinitely.
To color:
Pink: Add three bags of raspberry tea to 1 cup of hot water. Brew for ten minutes. Use in place of the water in the recipe.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Modeling Beeswax - To Warm It or Not?

so, I am wondering about whether people warm up their modeling beeswax before they give it to kids.

I have, for years, been of the opinion that warming it is an essential part of the work.  You give them a basket of pieces, they choose a color that appeals to them, you read or tell a story while they warm it in their hands, and then you model something from the story.

Now I want to do some of the exercises from Learning about the world through modeling: Sculptural ideas for school and home by Arthur Auer with my group (Hand Gestures pp.14-20, interior hand-space form p.22) and it seems that for this work, the wax should be warm and ready to go.  You want them exploring their hands and then ready to look at the unique shapes made the wax formed by their own hands' curves, and I wouldn't want to stop all of that momentum to warm up your wax.

I know that there are directions for doing it online:

put the beeswax in a bowl and put the bowl on top of a warm stove

put it in very warm (but not boiling hot) water for 5-10 minutes

I was wondering philosophically what other people think.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Book Review - Coloring with Block Crayons

This is the other review I posted to our Yahoo Group:

Yes, I use Coloring with Block Crayons, Emphasizing the Primary Colors, 2nd Editionin my classroom.  I think it's helpful and I refer to it weekly. 

It is 72 pages long.  She gives basic exercises for the teacher to do before teaching the techniques, which are wonderful, since you're teaching through imitation here.

She talks concretely about topics such as introducing the materials to the children, starting with a verse, and lots of tips such as how to draw animals (and specifics for foxes, dogs, birds, cats, lions, rabbits, horses, cows, sheep, monkeys, fish, turtles, frogs), how to draw landscapes and skies, buildings, plants, all the things that might trip you up.

The basic technique exercises she covers are bands of color, clouds of color, tone shading, secondary colors, making browns, making a color circle, all color spectrum, drawing ribbons, controlling the width of the stroke, and controlling negative space.

In short, it really gives you a lot of details on all the things you might have questions about!  I think it is a good buy.  I actually have an extra copy and if someone is interested, just email me off list.  I somehow ended up with two.

The CD is helpful.  She talks right into the camera, holding the crayons and demonstrating the motions.  She also shows beautiful full color drawings that she has done that are pretty inspiring.  I think you could live without the CD, though, if you had to, because there are full color plates in the back of her book that also help you to see what's possible.  The plates in the book show alphabet examples, such as R for Rumpelstiltskin and B for bee, as well as people you would need for fairy tales (knight, king, queen, farmer and family).  She also shows completed full color drawings for "The Frog Prince," "Mother Holle," "The Tortoise and the Hare," and St. Francis and the Wolf of Gubbio.

I got our crayons through A Small Green Footprint, where you can buy the primary colors individually, as many or as few of each one as you want.

P.S.  My students went ahead and sewed pouches for their three block crayons, to keep them organized.  We used to have three small baskets, one for each color of crayon, but people seemed to want their own to take good care of.  I used a piece of Magic Cabin wool felt, cut in half, and then we folded that in half, divided 6 inches by three, measured two inches for each pocket using a ruler and drew lines with chalk, pinned along each line and the edges, put the crayons in while we sewed them (to make sure people sewed pockets that would ultimately fit), and sewed up the chalk lines and the edges.  Then I let them sew on snaps to keep the pouches closed when the top flap was down, which they were really excited about because they had only ever sewed on buttons.