Wednesday, December 30, 2020

World Geography and Waldorf Education

For many years I have had persistent questions about World Geography. I'm definitely thrilled that Waldorf (and Montessori) address this better than traditional public education, which seems to be slowly removing it from the elementary and middle school curriculum, but things are still bothering me.

It would be wonderful to have a comprehensive scheme of how I'd like to do a Geography study of all 7 continents throughout the years of Waldorf education. So I would like to start hashing that out, and I welcome thoughts!

In Montessori, continents are simply color coded in the Primary years with a Colored Globe of the Continents ("the lion lives on the green continent") to keep things easy to understand. For getting a sense of the earth at an even more basic level, there's a Sandpaper Globe, with landmasses represented in rough brown sandpaper and water painted in smooth blue.

Biome maps (such as the puzzle maps and continent stencils at Waseca Biomes) are explored in Lower Elementary and political maps come last. Besides learning names of countries, capital cities, and major landforms and water features, Montessori makes a big deal about knowing all of the flags.

Flags of the World Complete Set of three part cards
Montessori Research & Development

Moving on to Waldorf education, Landforms and Water Features are done in grade 4 as they tie in with Local History & Geography. And one's home continent, which for me is North America, is done in grade 5. A block on Africa is traditionally done in grade 7 before the Age of Exploration. World Geography is supposed to be tied in with Economics in 8th grade. European History & Culture is studied for years in the traditional Waldorf curriculum.

So... that leaves Waldorf teachers figuring out how to make sure they also spend time on Central & South America, Asia, Oceania, and Antarctica.

I have been participating in lots of trainings and online conferences about diversity, and the traditional curriculum is leading to a real time of reckoning for Waldorf education. Even in my Handwork teacher training, we have had serious discussions about how to share Handwork techniques from around the world with children in a way that is not cultural appropriation! Here was the schedule for my Handwork teacher training online week this summer:


    10am Welcome and meditation to create our space

    10:30– 11:30am Practical Activity
    Felting a ball to make a pincushion or vessel


    10 – 11:30am Discussion
    Inclusion, diversity and equity in our handwork classroom and in our curriculum


    10-11:30am Discussion
    Thoughts about the consequences of teaching with distance learning or socially distancing limitations in the classroom - Practical and artistic questions

    Practical Activity
    Dyeing multicolor yarn


    10 – 11:30am Practical Activity
    Sewing a felt slipper


    10 – 11:30 Discussion
    Our contribution to enhanced awareness about the environment

This question of cultural appropriation also came up in the Oct/Nov/Dec Handwork professional development with Elizabeth Seward, where we studied different kinds of embroidery (Otomi, pulled thread, and sashiko).

By the way, there was such a long waitlist that Sunbridge Institute is now offering TWO encore sessions of the 2020 Teacher's Conference topic Calling It Like It Is: Uncovering and Dismantling Racism in the Waldorf Movement. So I was really fortunate to be able to attend the first one, Nov 13th & 14th!

I have been collecting suggestions from various teachers and thinking about how to pull this all together into a cohesive plan.

  • I have seen suggestions of incorporating Ancient China into grade 6 Business Math but I've also seen Japan studied in grade 7 Handwork (sashiko embroidery, temari balls).
  • I know one teacher who did a Central & South America block in grade 7 but I've also seen Mexico in grade 6 Handwork (otomi embroidery).
  • I spoke with one homeschooling parent who suggested Oceania in grade 6 and more of an emphasis on celestial navigation of ancient peoples in Astronomy. I also know someone who was thinking Ancient China would go well with Astronomy.
  • I suppose you could hit Antarctica and the Southern Lights when you did Magnetism & Electricity in Physics (especially if you did grade 6 when you'd also have Astronomy).

So there are many great ideas floating around out there!

This is what I am currently thinking and, of course, everyone will have to make these decisions for themselves!

Grade 4 - Local History & Geography

    Live Ed specifies Local Industry & Geography so that you're not getting into the Colonial period, Civil War, and so on which come later

    I like to do Landforms & Water Features as well as the Timeline of Life as additional blocks this year (for us, the Timeline of Life is essential to understanding where the coal comes from that is in our mines)

    and I like to do Tall Tales in Language Arts, as each Tall Tale figure illuminates the Industry of each region perfectly

Grade 5 - North America

    U.S., Canada, and Mexico with major landforms and water features, biome map, states, territories, provinces, capitals, and tribal lands

    I like to do Native American Legends in Grade 2

    I like to do Wonderful Houses Around the World in Grade 3 and skip North America

    and then I like to do Native American shelters in particular in grade 5; it is nice to tie this in with a Biome study of the continent and how First Nations peoples met their fundamental needs for clothing, shelter, transportation, food based on the biome they lived in

    so we look at the land and what it is like and who lived there first and what their lives were like, and then overlay the modern state lines

Grade 6 - World Geography

    blocks on
    Oceania tied in with Astronomy & Celestial Naviation


Grade 7 - World Geography

    blocks on

    Central & South America

Grade 8 - World Geography

    Antarctica tied in with the Layers of the Ocean as part of Ecology

    Middle East tied in with a block on World Religions

    a sense of World Geography overall tied in with Economics

I do NOT mean to imply that these are the only times we learn about these cultures. For example the block on Jataka Tales in Grade 2, the study of the Silk Road in the Fibers & Clothing block in Grade 3, and the block on Ancient Mythologies of India and Persia in Grade 5 are all times when Asia is studied. But thinking about specifically addressing the continent in a fully developed way is also important! I welcome your thoughts!

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