Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Number Verses for the Quality of Numbers Block

It is a key part of the Quality of Numbers block to move around the room and chant rhythmically, learning to embody the gestures and skip counting patterns of different numbers. There are existing arithmetic verses created by some long-ago anonymous person, upon whom Waldorf teachers have relied for years. These can be found in Marsha Johnson's files, Barbara Dewey's math book for grades 1-3, Eric Fairman's grade 1 book, etc.

Here I have written down the traditional 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, and 10 verses. Since there aren't any for 7, 8, and 9 I figured out what those would be for my class. In the blog posts for each day I've written the riddles that we used to introduce each number. I'm working on making an easy-to-print PDF with all of the riddles... and I have just completed one for the movement verses.


I have a family strange indeed
Each member goes a different speed
They can walk for half a day
Counting footsteps all the way.

Here's number one (It's Auntie Prim!)
from Marsha Johnson

    My name is Prim
    I'm tall and thin
    My walk is straight
    My clothes are trim
    Count my footsteps
    And you'll see
    That every one's
    The same for me.

    1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12 etc.


Here's number two (It's Grandpa Hugh!)
from Marsha Johnson -- get out your "cane"
step harder on every second step

    But MY two STEPS are NOT the SAME
    For I must LEAN upON my CANE
    AlTHOUGH I'm BENT and WEAK and OLD
    I STILL can WALK with FOOTsteps BOLD

    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 etc.


Here's number three (It's little Timmy!)
from Marsha Johnson - get out your "ball"
step in a short, short, long pattern (bounce, bounce, reach for your ball)

    I'm a LAD
    Bright and GAY
    I would MUCH
    Rather PLAY
    I can RUN
    With my BALL
    While my FOOT
    Steps I CALL

    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 etc.


Here's number four (It's Cousin Lenore!)
from Marsha Johnson / Barbara Dewey
march and step harder on every fourth step

    My step is STRONG
    I'll not go WRONG
    With all my MIGHT
    I'll guard what's RIGHT
    I'll always KNOW
    How far to GO.

    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 etc.


Here's number five (It's Cousin Clive!)
from Marsha Johnson
tiptoe like a ballet dancer for verse and then leap for each number

    Carefully I go
    On my tippy toe
    Looking to the left
    Looking to the right
    Lightly I arrive
    I am number five

    5 10 15 20 25 30 35 40 45 50 55 60 etc.


Here's number six (It's the Elf Beatrix!)
from Barbara Dewey
skip five times and hop on sixth beat

    One, two, three, four, five, SIX
    I can do lots of TRICKS.
    I've a friend -- number THREE --
    He's a helper to ME.
    He has taught me to PLAY.
    But I have my own WAY.

    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 etc.


Here's number seven (It's the Witch Raven!)
wiggle fingers like casting a spell and then clap on last syllable
excerpt from Macbeth, Act IV, Scene I [Round about the cauldron go]

    Round about the cauldron GO [...]
    Fillet of a fenny SNAKE,
    In the cauldron boil and BAKE;
    Eye of newt and toe of FROG,
    Wool of bat and tongue of DOG,
    Adder's fork and blind-worm's STING,
    Lizard's leg and howlet's WING [...]
    Scale of dragon, tooth of WOLF,
    Witches’ mummy, maw and GULF
    Of the ravin’d salt-sea SHARK

    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 etc.


Here's number eight (It's her cat, Hecate!)
creep around the room and pounce on last syllable
"On Guard" from My Cat Has Eyes of Sapphire Blue by Aileen Fisher, p.4

    Oh, sweep the floor, but watch the BROOM!
    A mini-tiger stalks this ROOM,
    Prepared to pounce, to bring to DOOM
    A monster vicious as a BROOM.

    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 etc.


Here's number nine (It's the Gnome Crystalline!)
"Treasures" from The Waldorf Book of Poetry edited by David Kennedy, p.7
get out your "hammer"
tap with fingertips and knock with knuckles on last syllable

    Through echoing caves we run and GLIDE,
    Through cracks in the rocks we slip and SLIDE,
    Over great boulders we leap and BOUND;
    Little lamps show where treasure is FOUND.
    We hammer, hammer from morn till NIGHT,
    We hammer, hammer treasure so BRIGHT,
    Sparkling silver, glittering GOLD,
    Crystals so pure and clear to beHOLD.

    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 etc.


Here's number ten (It's the Giant Sven!)
from Marsha Johnson -- take big steps pretending you're a giant

    A giant am I, just sauntering BY
    To number so high I quickly will FLY.

    10 20 30 40 50 60 70 80 90 100 etc.


It is a bit hard to cite my sources, since the original verses for the numbers 1 through 6 and 10 are anonymous, and each Waldorf teacher tweaks them a little bit to suit their style.

It was from Marsha Johnson that I got the names Auntie Prim, Grandpa Hugh, Little Timmy, Cousin Lenore, and Cousin Clive for the numbers 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5. It makes sense to do each of these verses repeatedly when doing those numbers (for number 1, do Auntie Prim; for number 2, do Auntie Prim and Grandpa Hugh; for number 3, do Auntie Prim and Grandpa Hugh and Little Timmy; and so on).

I used the "From Big Voice to Tiny Voice" poem from Verses and Poems and Stories to Tell by Dorothy Harrer (page 3, available FREE at the Online Waldorf Library) to inspire our second batch of movements. It works best to read/perform this poem before doing each of the verses 6 through 10.


The anonymous verse already created for ten was a giant who took big steps (giant is the biggest voice in the poem). For six it did not specify a character, so I chose an elf skipping about (elf is the littlest voice in the poem).

And so, to keep things consistent and to let us spend more time practicing that very fun poem by Harrer, I used some of her other characters for the numbers that had no verses and were in between elf and giant in size.

So I chose names and verses for 7 (witch), 8 (the witch's cat), 9 (gnome), and 10 (giant).


Of course, this means that things get a bit fantastical in our "family," but I think that's okay, since it's the movement that is important. And I don't have an old man with a cane, a young boy who is always bouncing a ball, or a ballet dancer in my family anyway.

Keep it light. Keep it movement-filled. Keep it artistic. And the content will be well-suited to children of this age, who are still half in a dream-like state.


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

Monday, November 11, 2019

Quality of Numbers: Three & Four

Please do not skip reading the introductory notes in Quality of Numbers: One & Two. This block is quite different from how numbers are introduced in traditional American schools, and the rationale behind it is fascinating.

I know this block is an intimidating one for Waldorf homeschoolers, so I'm trying to be as specific as possible about what we are doing as we go along.


Friday, November 8

RNS prep beforehand:
cover third paper with salt

  • have children solve the third riddle
  • move salt to reveal Roman and Arabic numerals for 3
  • rhythmical walking - Miss Prim
  • rhythmical walking - Grandpa Hugh
  • rhythmical walking - Little Timmie
  • rhythmical counting by 3s, clapping and emphasizing every third number (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, and so on...)
  • discuss What is Three?
  • read The Three Billy Goats Gruff by Paul Galdone
  • read The Three Little Pigs by Paul Galdone
  • listen to "The Three Bears" by Gary Rosen from Putamayo Kids Animal Playground, track 6
  • think of other fairy tales with elements of three
  • practice drawing III and 3 in the salt tray
  • add III and 3 to MLB
  • add colored pencil artwork of three goats / pigs / bears / houses / chairs / porridge bowls / beds to MLB
  • hear fourth riddle

  • The riddle for THREE:


    The riddle for FOUR:

      From the North, from the West
      From the South, from the East
      When we push a door and find it shut
      We slip in underneath
      We whistle and blow
      Our number you know
      But who are we?

      ~ The Four Winds

      a combination of two riddles
      from Eric Fairman, p.21
      from Riddles, a Steiner Schools Fellowship Publication


Monday, November 9

RNS prep beforehand:
cover fourth paper with salt, get blue construction paper and bottles of glue

  • have children solve the fourth riddle
  • move salt to reveal Roman and Arabic numerals for 4
  • rhythmical walking - Miss Prim
  • rhythmical walking - Grandpa Hugh
  • rhythmical walking - Little Timmie
  • rhythmical walking - Cousin Lenore
  • discuss What is Four?
  • recall Winter, Awake! by Linda Kroll, which I read to the Early Childhood group this morning
  • discuss the change in weather which will be happening today as a new weather system of ice & snow rolls in (perfect timing!)
  • listen to "Blow North Wind Blow," from The Singing Year by Candy Verney, page 89, track 75
  • listen to "The North Wind Doth Blow," from Let Us Form a Ring by Nancy Foster, page 17, CD 1 track 27
  • practice drawing IV and 4 in the salt tray
  • add IV and 4 to MLB
  • add Four Winds artwork (clear glue wavy lines on a blue piece of paper, originating from the four points of the compass) to MLB
  • hear fifth riddle

  • The riddle for FIVE:

      Four together and one apart,
      Hold them still and behold -
      What is the number that
      I do hold?

      ~ Four Fingers and a Thumb / The Roman Numeral for V

      from Eric Fairman, p.21


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

Friday, November 8, 2019

Lessons in Sentence Analysis

We are following the progression of lessons provided in Mandala Classroom Resources's teacher packet Making Sense of Sentence Analysis ($55.00).

As was previously mentioned, I made our hands-on classroom materials.

In the Waldorf scope & sequence, this would be the grade 4 Grammar block.


Thursday, October 24

  • work with Logical Analysis Form 1 using Chart I, Box I sentences
  • practice asking the three questions

      What is the action?

      Who __________ ?

      What __________ ?


Friday, October 25

  • review Logical Analysis Form 1, introduce the terms Subject and Predicate
  • divide yesterday's sentences into Subject & Predicate by drawing a vertical line
  • have students write their own sentences and then divide them into Subject & Predicate by drawing a vertical line
  • complete Subjects & Predicates practice activity from TpT
  • add Subject and Predicate to MLB


Monday, October 28

  • complete Subjects & Predicates review activity from TpT
  • look at Working Chart I and hands-on materials (large black circle, large red circle, medium black circle, two black arrows)
  • review the three questions

      What is the action?

      Who __________ ?

      What __________ ?

  • introduce the term Direct Object
  • work with Logical Analysis Form 2 using Level A, Level B, Level C, and Level D sentences


Tuesday, October 29

  • give students small individual copies of Working Chart I
  • practice analyzing sentences by cutting sentences (Level C, D, or E) and placing the words on the correct symbols and coloring the chart


Thursday, October 31

  • review the three questions and what the answers to them give us (Verb, Subject, Direct Object)
  • add the three questions to MLB as an explanation of Direct Object
  • add Working Chart I, with sample sentence, to MLB as illustration
  • look at Working Chart II and hands-on materials (large black circle, large red circle, medium black circle, small black circle, three black arrows)
  • add a fourth question to our list, introduce the term Indirect Object
  • have students practice creating sentences which contain both Direct Objects and Indirect Objects


Friday, November 1

  • review Working Chart II and the four questions
  • give students small individual copies of Working Chart II
  • practice analyzing sentences by cutting sentences (Chart II, Box II) and placing the words on the correct symbols and coloring the chart


Monday, November 4

  • complete Direct Objects review activity from TpT
  • review Working Chart II and the four questions
  • add the fourth question to MLB as an explanation of Indirect Object
    (to whom? for whom? to what? for what?)
  • add Working Chart II, with sample sentence, to MLB as illustration
  • analyze the sentence "Ms. Renee baked her students Sun Bread," discuss the role of adjectives (they could describe Ms. Renee, the students, or the bread)
  • look at Working Chart III and hands-on materials (large black circle, large red circle, medium black circle, small black circle, three black arrows, three blue triangles, three blue arrows)
  • work with Chart III, Box III sentences (Level A, B, C, and D)
  • taste the delicious and still-warm foods made today! Sun Bread (made by Lower Elementary students) and Crockpot Applesauce (made by Early Childhood students)


Tuesday, November 5

  • complete Direct Objects & Indirect Objects practice activity from TpT
  • review Working Chart III
  • give students small individual copies of Working Chart III
  • practice analyzing sentences by cutting sentences (Level D) and placing the words on the correct symbols and coloring the chart
  • add the three attribute questions of Adjectives to MLB
    (which? how many? how much? what kind?)
  • add Working Chart III, with sample sentence, to MLB as illustration


Thursday, November 7

  • read and discuss List of Prepositions (PDF)
  • complete Prepositions review activity from TpT

    For their Preposition Circus, they named their group The Amazing Crew. They had 45 minutes to prepare and were required to present a minimum of 10 prepositions in their acts. They did 11. They were:

    • throwing beanbags into a target
    • walking across a tightrope
    • sword fighting around the room
    • limboing under the rope
    • waving the ribbon in front of the cat
    • dancing about the room
    • riding on the horse
    • finding gold upon the stone
    • telling jokes to the audience
    • disappearing and reappearing next to the ringmaster
    • bowing with all the cast
  • look at Working Chart IV and hands-on materials (large black circle, large red circle, medium black circle, small black circle, three black arrows, four small orange circles, four orange arrows)
  • look at Working Chart V and hands-on materials (large black circle, large red circle, medium black circle, small black circle, three black arrows, three blue triangles, three blue arrows, four small orange circles, four orange arrows)


Friday, November 8

  • review Working Charts IV and V
  • give students small individual copies of Working Chart IV
  • practice analyzing sentences by cutting sentences (Chart IV, Box IV) and placing the words on the correct symbols and coloring the chart
  • add the four attribute questions of Adverbs to MLB
    (why? how? when? where?)
  • add Working Chart IV, with sample sentence, to MLB as illustration
  • give students small individual copies of Working Chart V
  • practice analyzing sentences by cutting sentences (Chart V, Box V) and placing the words on the correct symbols and coloring the chart
  • add Working Chart V, with sample sentence, to MLB as illustration
  • finish MLBs by numbering pages, adding table of contents, adding front and back covers


Thursday, November 7, 2019

Quality of Numbers: One & Two

Another famous -- and fabulous -- Waldorf block, this one is all about getting a sense of the quality of each number. Instead of just being able to make the number, children actually experience it in their bodies and connect with it on an emotional level. Many of the numbers have archetypal qualities (such as 3 often being the number of obstacles to be overcome in a fairy tale). And 1 has a sense of wholeness and uniqueness. There's only one of each of us!

Montessori does a wonderful job of having math work be hands-on, but there is never a sense of the magic of it all, and there's no emphasis on children getting the numbers into the other parts of their body. When you feel the Waldorf verses and movements happen, you can really tell how different it is from the Montessori way. I would never replace this block, but I do build on the Waldorf introduction by adding in Montessori materials later on (especially since the Golden Bead Material and Colored Bead Bars look just like gems; in fact, there's a Montessori work called The Jeweled Layout). More on that later!

In this block, the Roman numerals as well as the Arabic numerals are introduced. The Roman numerals more closely resemble body counting (finger, hand, crossed arms) and are more intuitive for young children.

Just as children actually can experience the origins of our alphabet in the Capital Letters block, by seeing how written letters evolved from shapes in drawn pictures, they are given a sense of how our number system evolved.

I have taught the Quality of Numbers block before but this time I am basing my work heavily on a series of blog posts from Ancient Hearth which I found & remembered about when checking my website for my own notes about teaching this topic. You can't imagine how helpful it is to have a website as a homeschooler, since you often stumble upon things years before you'll need them. It's lovely to have a place to make those notes for the future. And, since the note I had written for myself said "Best main lesson block planning blog post EVER," I was certainly very interested in clicking on them!

I'm pleased about having a continuous storyline woven throughout, as opposed to teaching this with ten separate stories standing alone. I think it will add to the children's experience as well as to mine, and increase the imaginative nature of the work. You can feel free to look ahead at Quality of Numbers I to IIII, Quality of Numbers V to IX, and Quality of Numbers X (which is where the magic really happens). Enjoy!


Monday, November 4

RNS prep beforehand:
clear away Autumn scene from Nature table and leave it empty

  • recall Sun Bread story from Capital Letters block (I, J)
  • bake Sun Bread recipe
  • Form Drawing of vertical lines (like the rain falling)
  • Working with the gesture of rain falling from the top of the page to the bottom is important as my students begin to write their letters and numbers. Many children develop very bad handwriting patterns early on when trying to form letters and numbers, and these problems of incorrect letter formation plague them for years. It is crucial that the correct pathways be established immediately as muscle memory is already kicking in.

    There are no uppercase or lowercase letters and there are no numbers which are written starting from the ground and going up (in Chancery Script, the A, M, and N all begin with a starting stroke that is not at the baseline). In every letter which is formed with more than one stroke, when you lift the writing implement from the page, it rises up before beginning to make a mark again, to the left, to the right, or down. Children who have taught themselves to make the letters and numbers will often begin at the ground, to steady themselves, and then try to form the letter from there. This is not appropriate. Working with Form Drawing at the start of this block gives me a way to gently remind them (draw it like the falling rain) instead of a harsh correction.


Tuesday, November 5

RNS prep beforehand:
choose dish for number cards to be hidden on, cut 10 squares of 5 1/2 x 5 1/2 inch heavy vellum, write Roman and Arabic numerals in glitter glue, cover first paper with salt, prepare salt tray for students to share, set up story scene with tree, figures, silks, pine cones, and the shell for scooping

  • introduce container story for this block
  • have children solve the first riddle
  • move salt to reveal Roman and Arabic numerals for 1
  • rhythmical walking - Miss Prim
  • discuss What is One?
  • practice drawing I and 1 in the salt tray
  • add I and 1 to MLB
  • hear The Sun poem from Eric Fairman, p.69
  • add colored pencil artwork of The Sun to MLB
  • hear second riddle
  • The heavy vellum is nice because you can lay a piece of lined paper under it and keep your lines of glitter glue straight! It also looks fancier than cardstock. I used red glitter glue for the Roman numerals and green for the Arabic.

    I wrote the Roman numeral first on each card because it is older. I wrote the Arabic numeral in green to lay the foundation for the Montessori color coding for digits. In Montessori, green is the units place. The glass dish which holds the cards is also green.

    For our figures, I used two little flower girls (Calendula and Plantain) handcarved in the Czech Republic, the lively little Holztiger squirrel, and the majestic Holztiger elk.

    I had great fun setting up the Nature table to be our world for these stories. For our silks, I used the silver silk as the base of the mountainous world, which is just rocky with pine cones. This is on the left hand side of the table. I used my green glass platter for the number cards covered with salt, and turned the small green glass bowl over to be the mountain for them to climb. I covered it with silk to look more mountainous. The Mexican agate tealight holder (which will be the secret cave door) I placed at the back of the table, with more of the silver over it, and I placed the seashell by the cave door. I hid the elk behind the window curtain. So handy! I laid the blue/green/brown silkscape over everything and put the flower children and the oak tree with acorns at the base of it on the right hand side of the table, which is the world they start their journey in. And I hid the frisky squirrel under the silk beside them.

    I told the story as in the Ancient Hearth blog post with a few modifications. The flower girls follow a lively little squirrel. When they climb to the top of the mountain they encounter a majestic wise elk, who is the ruler of this strange pale land. He tells them that this land was once covered by an ancient ocean. The cave in the mountain behind him was once a secret grotto. As they solve each riddle, they brush away the salt from the ground at his feet (I like salt better for tracing figures in). The salt is of course from that ancient ocean, which once covered even the tallest mountain. The children in my class also have a salt tray to practice making each symbol in.


    The riddle for ONE:

      As straight as a spear I stand,
      To reach for the sky with both my hands.
      My shape reveals how many "I am".

      ~ The Upright Human Being

      from Eric Fairman, p.21


    The riddle for TWO:

      For me and you, we each have two
      It's not our feet or hands to eat.
      Our legs are strong, but that too is wrong.
      Our arms are bold, but this we can not hold.
      With these you see with so much glee...
      What am I?

      ~ The Eyes

      from Ancient Hearth blog post


Thursday, November 7

RNS prep beforehand:
cover second paper with salt, collect nature fact books by Steve Jenkins


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

November - Leaf Man

This week we read Leaf Man by Lois Ehlert and did some fun Nature art!

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


Circle Time


Monday, November 4

This is the final week we will be doing our Apple Picking verses (which have been a favorite), so I felt we definitely had to make applesauce! Crockpot Applesauce is my favorite recipe, and so simple. We substitute 1 tablespoon white grape juice for the lemon juice. It's the secret ingredient! The kiddos had a great time chopping the apple slices in half after I peeled each one, and adding them carefully to the crock. Of course, smelling the cinnamon was also a highlight.

We also punched maple leaves out of cardstock and dyed them in shaving cream. This is so easy to do and soooo pretty for the Nature table! Put an inch of shaving cream into a sensory-friendly bin (or a 9 x 13 glass baking dish) and then drop plenty of drops of yellow and red food coloring onto it. Swirl with a toothpick. Place a cardstock leaf on top, press down until the surface of the leaf is fully touching the shaving cream and color (but not so that it is submerged) and then lift it up and immediately scrape all of the shaving cream off with a large popsicle stick. Voila! It will already be dyed.

I thought we would do things with Autumn leaves all week long, but the children really weren't into it. Every class is different. Last year we spent lots more time on leaf rubbings and leaf identification. This group was super-into today's dyeing project, however, so we did more of that on Tuesday instead of beeswax dipped Autumn leaves (if you want to know how to do this, directions are here).


Tuesday, November 5

  • Leaf Man by Lois Ehlert
  • Dye Rainbow Rice

Sensory bins were such a hit last week from our Halloween activities, that I decided we would create another one. This one the children would help with, which would give them another great opportunity to experiment with dyeing with food coloring. Everyone got three quart Ziploc bags. Each bag was dyed a different color. I bought a five lb bag of rice from the grocery store, and added the remaining white rice when we mixed all the pastel colors together. So pretty!

To your baggie add 1 cup of white rice and 1 T vinegar. I used white wine vinegar that had been sitting around for a while and which I wanted to use up, but white vinegar is more traditional. Then add a few drops (three for a pale color, ten for a very intense color, something in between for something in between) of food coloring. Zip the bag shut. This step is very important! Shake the bag vigorously a few times, then massage the color into the rice (with the bag still shut) until there is no white rice left.

Pour into a loaf pan to dry, stirring with a spoon every once in a while. The rice will dry in several hours.

You can do all drops of the same color, or a few drops of one color and a few drops of another. I made orange with three drops of red and two drops of yellow. It is fun to see what happens! You could also try doing the same color but a different number of drops of food coloring, to see what results.

For a more uniform color in your finished rice, add the food coloring to the vinegar first and stir, then pour the vinegar onto the rice. However, putting the color in on top of the rice in the way I described gives your rice an ombre coloring, which is extremely pretty (click photo to enlarge).

I promise I will sit down this weekend and put together several posts of pictures from the past few weeks!


Thursday, November 7

Today we happily/reluctantly combined all of our colors of rice into one big bin. It's completely irresistable. No one can keep their hands out of it.

Of course, we also made Stone Soup. The contributions this week were red onion, sweet potato, red potato, turnip, celery, sugar snap peas, and fresh cilantro. I used a veggie broth. Thank you to everyone who contributed!

It was bitterly cold and raining today, so we stayed inside and did Yarn Wrapped Sticks. I've noticed a lot of people claiming special sticks on the playground lately, so this was a way to celebrate the beauty of their shapes without quarreling over them. And we have plenty of colors of donated yarn to enjoy!

As this group of children continues to become friends, I find that the simpler activities are the most successful. They often just want to play together (blocks, dolls, board games, trucks, play kitchen, chalk, sensory bins) and don't require directed activities to be content sharing the space with one another. I'm learning to brainstorm a lot over the weekend, and then take things OUT of my planbook as I observe the natural rhythms in the daily play. At the age of 3 or 4, even just sweeping the floor is an activity joyfully undertaken. Child-size lambswool dusters are also perfect. As the holiday season approaches, resist the urge to buy more toys, and think about real child-size tools instead. Montessori and Waldorf both emphasize this!


36 inch child-size Rainbow Broom



12 inch child-size Lambswool Duster


The Montessori website For Small Hands / Montessori Services is an excellent place to begin if you're looking for well-made child-size tools for your home.


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

Saturday, November 2, 2019

SWI Investigation of < sloth >

Our Structured Word Inquiry lesson on Friday, November 1st was an investigation of the word < sloth >. This came up because Zac got a baby sloth stuffed animal as his prize in one of the pumpkin decorating contests we entered in October. He was asking me all kinds of questions about sloths, some of which I had to look up. While I was on Wikipedia I saw two things that made me think about SWI. One was the statement The sloth is so named because of its very low metabolism and deliberate movements, sloth being related to the word slow. Aha! I immediately wondered if they meant etymologically related (they share a root) or morphologically related (they share a base). Then, when Zac asked me what other animals are related to the sloth, I examined its scientific classification and found it is part of the Superorder Xenarthra, along with the anteater and armadillo. Interesting!


Brown-throated sloth
(Bradypus variegatus)

from Wikipedia


So, on Friday morning at 10 am, we dove in.

There are four steps in SWI. The first is Meaning. What does < sloth > mean? We looked at Zac's sweet little stuffed animal and everyone shared sloth facts which they knew. Ms. Anna, our art teacher, sat in and she was able to share a lot, having visited the Sloth Sanctuary of Costa Rica! I also shared that the British pronunciation of the word < sloth > actually rhymes with < both > instead of < moth >, which made sense later on.

Step 2 is Structure. How is the word formed? Step 3 is History. What are the word's relatives? You can go back and forth between Step 2 and 3, as needed, so we actually started with Step 3. As I said earlier, there are two kinds of relatives. A morphological relative shares a morpheme (a base). This is a modern-day spelling pattern. The two words < construction > and < instruct > share a base < struct >. This base is a morpheme. The prefixes and suffixes which are added onto it to form a new word are also morphemes. When you strip away the prefixes and suffixes you are left with the same base < struct > upon which the word is built, and so these two words are said to be morphologically related.

When I draw this for children, I draw a tree with the base written on the trunk, such as < struct >, and all of the possible words which can be built off of this base written on the branches, such as < instruct > and < instructed > and < deconstruct > and < construction > and so on.

I also, whenever we review morphemes each week, have one child stand up in front of the class to be the base, and different children jump up and stand beside him or her as the prefixes and suffixes, showing the making of new words. But no matter what we add, the base child is still standing there.

The other kind of relative is an etymological relative. These words share a root. There is no longer a shared modern day spelling pattern, but you see a historical connection when you go back to Greek or Latin or Old English or PIE (Proto-Indo-European). Many words may have an ancient shared root. To the drawing on the chalkboard of our tree with its branches, I draw the ground and roots below. This makes it clear that there is a deeper layer of relatives (a bit like the second or third or fourth cousins on your family tree).

For the root of < struct > I can write down below my tree Latin struere "to pile, place together, heap up, build." Farther back in time, this word comes from PIE *stere- which meant "to spread." If you look up *stere- in etymonline, you find that words like < industry >, < strategy >, < straw >, and < street > also come from this ancient PIE word. Thus, these words are etymological relatives of < construction > and < instruct >.


We wondered whether The sloth is so named because of its very low metabolism and deliberate movements, sloth being related to the word slow meant that < sloth > and < slow > are morphological relatives which share a base or etymological relatives which share a root. So we began with the idea that they might share a base, and we began listing possible word sums.

The first idea was

slo + th

slo + w


In SWI you hypothesize and then immediately question your word sums. After all, this method of inquiry is based on the idea that the English spelling system makes sense. This may go counter to everything you've ever been taught, but it's true. Now we are trying to bring knowledge (yes, what linguists have known all along) to children... so that they are NO LONGER struggling in misery with a system that they've been told is full of puzzle words. And, if the spelling system was systematically and logically created, that means it can be systematically and logically analyzed. So in SWI we simply apply the Scientific Method to our study of spelling.

Do we have evidence for < th > as a suffix? Yes, in words like < warmth > which are < warm + th >. Do we have evidence for a < w > suffix? No, we couldn't think of anything. Plus, < ow > is a digraph and it didn't feel likely that it could be broken apart with a plus sign like that. At least, I can't find any evidence of that happening in another word.

So, we considered another student hypothesis

slow/ + th


Here, you have to imagine the slash sign as being through the w. In some words, you replace a vowel when adding a suffix. For example, in Thanksgiving, < Thanks + give + ing > is rewritten as < Thanksgiving >. The e is replaced. This student hypothesized that maybe in < sloth > the w in < slow > is replaced when the < th > suffix is added.

We couldn't come up with any other possible word sums, so it was time to turn to the Online Etymology Dictionary. Etymonline told us that < sloth > comes from Old English slæwð "sloth, indolence." Note the letters in OE which we no longer use, the Ash and the Eth. In Middle English, the word came to be spelled slou. So, yes, it appears that < sloth > is < slou/ + th >. A vowel was replaced when the suffix was added. It just wasn't the vowel we were expecting! (W can be a vowel.)

slou/ + th


From this very interesting discussion we turned to the scientific classification of the < sloth > and looked at the word < Xenarthra >. Adults know the word < xenophobia >; children do not. I also know the word < xenolith > from our field trip to the Giant City State Park Visitor's Center. This is a strange rock in a place it shouldn't be (usually dropped by a melting glacier). Etymonline tells us that < xeno- > is from Greek xenos "a guest, stranger, foreigner, refugee, guest-friend, one entitled to hospitality," and is related to Latin hostis, both coming from PIE *ghos-ti- "stranger, guest, host."

Hmmm. So, the scientists, when classifying the sloth and anteater and armadillo, simply chucked them in a group of South American animals which was called "other." Aka, these guys are strange!

It reminded me of last year when we studied the Illinois state fossil, the Tully monster, and how scientists couldn't decide where it went on the Tree of Life. They couldn't even decide if it was a vertebrate or an invertebrate.


SWI may sound extremely taxing for children but it is not. Lightbulbs are coming on all over the place. And it takes far longer for me to write it up than the actual lesson takes to do. Plus, there are multiple connections which are made. In Science Club, we have been doing Kings Play Chess On Fine Grains of Sand (Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family Genus Species) so this was another chance to practice that concept. In Capital Letters, we have been doing the graphemes, so seeing conversations about digraphs and ancient Old English letters which are no longer used all add to their understanding of our written language in a very subtle way.

For fun, you might like to watch the Youtube video 10 Letters We Dropped From the English Alphabet!


And, later that very afternoon, I was able to help a six year old child write a word like < light > with an < igh > trigraph in it and help him understand it. He stopped me and said, "But this word has a G in it." Yes, and he noticed that it has no sound of /g/. (Which is why, ladies and gentlemen, there's no such thing as a sound-symbol correspondence!) And I just told him, < igh > is a trigraph like < th > is a digraph," and held up three fingers and then two fingers. < igh > and < ugh > are modern spelling patterns which came from taking away letters in OE that we no longer use.

Step 4 is Pronounciation. Is there anything to notice about the pronounciation of this word? For < sloth >, I find it interesting that the British people pronounce it like < slow >, and I think I will start doing that as well, to honor the relationship between them.

It's not too hard for kids, and they appreciate having someone simply explain it to them!

SWI has been proven to be especially helpful for dyslexic learners. That is very exciting news! Usually the highest performing students get "extras" like etymology and lowest performing students get rote memorization; but research shows that the lowest performing students get the most out of this learning, which they had previously been denied. And, of course. Nothing motivates like understanding, as my teacher Pete Bowers says!

Higher order thinking skills should not be reserved for only one group of learners.

And my youngest students, the first graders, simply sit on the sofa and observe and knit. They use our Structured Word Inquiry on Friday mornings as Handwork time but they are continually bathed in these ideas about language, which are slowly laying a foundation for a more correct understanding of writing, reading, and spelling. When they put the pieces together as they get a bit older, they will be more successful at all three!