Monday, April 20, 2009

Planning Lesson Blocks in Waldorf & EarthSchooling

A member asked me last week about using lesson blocks with my program. I apologize for the delay in answering, but I wanted to write something nice and comprehensive that everyone could use as this is an important subject. Thank you for your patience. And here is a very detailed answer to your question :)

Lesson Blocks in Waldorf Education
& How the EarthSchooling Program Uses Lesson Blocks
By Kristie Burns of http://www.earthschooling.com/

Note: This article is intended to be useful for all people following a Waldorf inspired method of schooling or enrichment. Even if you do not use the Earthschooling lesson plans you will find this article very helpful in your planning.

When Rudolf Steiner started the first Waldorf school, he established the “main lesson”—a two-hour class during which all academic subjects except for foreign languages would be taught. The subjects taught in the main lesson were studied for block of time lasting from three weeks to three months. There are many activities that would fall outside of the main lesson block category, however. These include nature walks , bread making, cooking and circle time (which happen daily), some crafts and handiwork (which naturally flow into some lessons even if they are not your main lesson block focus) and review (for example, you may include some math review in your circle time even if that is not your main lesson block focus).

Teaching in main lesson blocks is one of the most successful features of Waldorf education, for it allows teachers to cover the curriculum intensively and allows the students to become immersed. I know from experience with myself and my own students and children that immersion is the most effective way to learn many things. Learning in a block allows a student to open up to a subject slowly and naturally learn or to open up to it quickly and fully experience the joy of becoming completely involved in something.

One wonderful and unique aspect of the Earthschooling program is that you can choose to use the program as a monthly enrichment or you can use it to work in blocks with your child. This article will discuss:

A. The importance of blocks and how to use them
B. How to use the Earthschooling program as a block-method
C. Some specific examples for grade one – grade eight on how to plan the day

For ages 1-7 you will not be working in blocks. Instead you will follow a schedule that balances the head, heart and hands and breathing out activities with breathing in activities. I have provided a few sample schedules for this age in The Waldorf Year Planner that comes with your EarthSchooling lessons. Note also that foreign language, eurhythmy, yoga, nature walks, movement, some academic review and some music are not usually done in blocks. A child has exposure to these each week.

If you are wanting to follow a block system with my lesson plans or any other lesson plans then you would include verses, a nature walk, foreign language, and perhaps some review or “short lessons” in various subjects every day in the afternoon. In the morning, however, you would focus on one or two blocks of lessons. Some teachers hold firm to the “one block” at a time method. However, I find that with a smaller homeschooling class that two blocks can often be done at once as long as they are complimentary subjects. For example, if we are doing a lesson block on Native American stories we could easily do a grammar and writing block at the same time as these can “go together”. Or, if we are studying Greek Mythology it is also a natural time to do the block on Greece in general and learn more about the geography and culture of the country. I have provided a sample of our plans below which include two lesson blocks at a time. However, you can easily change them if you wish so instead of doing two lesson blocks during trimester one, you could do one lesson block at the first part of the trimester and another during the second half of the trimester. I have to admit I have also done that at times when my child needed that. I have three children and sometimes I have other children over for programs so the schedule below is an outline, but even I make changes and adaptions to it from time to time. As Steiner suggested, each teacher is unique. However, I hope this sample can inspire and guide you in your planning.

There is a large variance in the way teachers across the country do it. Even Steiner varied in the length of time he suggested that blocks be done. Some lasted as long as 3 weeks and others for 3 months. He also recognized that each teacher would need to establish this time for herself and her own class so he did not set an exact “rule” for an exact number of weeks for each subject. He suggested ranges of time. Additionally, you may plan to do a block for three months but feel “finished” at two months and want to move on. That is suitable too. Part of Waldorf education is to follow the natural rhythms of the child and life in general.

So How do I Integrate this into the Earthschooling Curriculum?
How Can I Use Another Curriculum in Block Format?


Each month of Earthschooling lesson plans focuses on one handiwork block, one literature block and one science block each month, so these are already planned into the year and in “block form”. If you look at the lesson plans for each month you will notice that I provide on only one or two handiwork lessons to focus on and only one or two science subjects per month. You may choose just one of these to focus on for your science block that month.

However, if you look at the literature I have provided each month you will find that I have provided more stories than anyone could use each month. This is so you can choose the block of literature that is most appropriate for your family, culture and season for that month. All the literature provided each month is age appropriate. You do not need to go through all the stories in one month – it is intended that you choose the ones appropriate for your block each month. However, if you are not working with a pure block method it is also completely acceptable to follow the stories each month as they are provided and according to your needs and preferences.
The only blocks that are not pre-planned each month are the math, cultural and language blocks. This is because we usually spend more than one month on these blocks. If you are a year or lifetime member you are given the math and language program for the year in block format to do when you want. If you are a monthly member you can purchase the math or language block in addition to your lessons (for only $7.50). However, I do provide a sample of each of these blocks each month so no matter what month you start in and no matter what month you are using to “try out” the program, you will have everything you need for that month without making additional purchases.

Specific Instructions on How to Block Out the EarthSchooling Lessons
Important Pre-Notes and Tips in Blocking:

1. You will notice that I have provided many more stories than you will use each month. This is so you have more freedom in your language block planning. Depending on your focus for that month you can choose stories only from that genre and then, after a few months, change the stories you are choosing. For example, in first grade you could do the following in three-month blocks: fables & folktales, learning stories, science stories, and finally, fairytales So for August, September and October you may only use the Fables in the lesson plans, for the next three months you may only focus on the science stories and for the next three months you would only focus on the fairytales. You would not be using all the stories each month anyway. There is not enough time.

2. I usually focus on two blocks at a time for one trimester each. For handiwork, science and literature I work in 4 week blocks. The main lessons below are trimester blocks that we do in the morning. The 4-week blocks of handiwork, science, foreign language and music we do in the afternoon. This is just a sample of what works for us. Additionally, I may sometimes lengthen or shorten a block depending on what my child’s needs are.

3. Note also that just because you are working in blocks does not mean you will not use the skills from all areas. For example for one trimester we may focus on language, but we will still use it the entire year. We will just not focus on it. Or we may focus on math for a trimester but we won’t avoid it the rest of the year when it comes up. As much as possible we try to integrate math and language studies into all of our lesson blocks. We also try to integrate science, music, geography and many things. So don’t limit your learning possibilities by closing your mind to “tie in” opportunities or even a little “unschooling” or child-led lesson planning. The blocks are a way to focus your lessons and not limit them.

4. In the summer months my children and I do blocks of handiwork and extra lessons such as nutrition, herbal studies, woodworking, storytelling and other subjects. I offer these blocks in the form of e-books at http://www.thewaldorfchannel.com/ If we have not finished a block during the year we may also work on it during the summer.

5. The lists below are an outline. For comprehensive lesson plans please visit http://www.earthschooling.com/


Here are some specific guides for each age and how I organize our lessons…

First Grade:
Morning:
Trimester One: Math (counting, the four processes)
& Form Drawing (straight & curved lines), Folk Tales
Trimester Two: Language & Cultural Studies, Fairytales – European/Americas
Trimester Three: Drama & Writing, Fairytales – Asia, Australia, etc..
Afternoon:
Nature stories, nature walk
Nature based crafts & art
Circle time including songs & verse in other languages
(Note: Choose your foreign language. It can be any language. It does not have to be German. You should base this choice on your culture and the culture around you. When we were living in the Middle East our language was Arabic. Now that we are living in the USA our language studies are more focused on Spanish. As the kids grow older they also have their own needs. Sofi is now studying Japanese.)
Knitting/painting/block crayons/beeswax modeling/etc…depending on the monthly focus Pentatonic recorder

Second Grade:
Morning:
Trimester One: Math (basics, the four processes: focus on addition) & Form Drawing (linear) - Fables
Trimester Two: Lower Case Letters & Grammar – Legends (simple, not epic like King Arthur or Gilgamesh)
Trimester Three: Saints & Heroes (we always include local heroes here and saints from other cultures. Although we traditionally think of saints as Christian, they can be found in every religion)
Afternoon:
Nature stories, nature walk
Nature based crafts & art
Circle time including songs & verse in other languages
Foreign language games, poems and verses
Knitting/crochet/painting/block crayons/beeswax modeling/etc…depending on the monthly focus in the lesson plans
Pentatonic recorder

Third Grade:
Morning:
Trimester One: Math (Measurements of volume, space, money and time) – Cursive writing – Form Drawing (Vertical Symmetry).
Trimester Two: Grammar & Spelling – Native American stories (for the Australians in my program I include the aboriginal stories instead).
Trimester Three: First Part: Old Testament stories and/or stories from the religious book of your religion (writings of Buddha, Koran, etc…).
Trimester Three: Second Part: We do some of our Persian block here and include a bit about the Middle East too. Some schools of Waldorf thought advocate doing these blocks earlier. I agree because of the current state of world affairs.
Afternoon:
Housebuilding & gardening
Nature based crafts & art
Circle time including songs & verse in other languages & rounds
Complex knitting/crochet/painting/block crayons/beeswax modeling/etc…depending on the monthly focus in the lesson plans
Soprano recorder & reading music

Fourth Grade:
Morning:
Trimester One: Math (Division, Long Division) & Form Drawing (Celtic Knots)
Trimester Two: Grammar, Spelling & Essays – Local History & Geography (incl. mapping)
Trimester Three: First Part: Poetry – Norse Mythology
Trimester Three: Second Part: Zoology (we incorporate a lot of “hands on” here. There are a lot of local organizations, reptile rescue, ARL, zoo, vets, local colleges, local farms, that can provide a lot of “real life” education here.
Afternoon:
Nature based crafts & art
Field trips for local geography
Practice the four math processes. Weekly review.
Circle time including songs & verse in other languages & rounds
Complex knitting/crochet/embroidery/sculpture/drawing/painting/block crayons/beeswax modeling/etc…depending on the monthly focus in the lesson plans
Soprano recorder & continue to learn to read music & start learning to do duets or work in an orchestra situation – more than one instrument.

Fifth Grade:
Morning:
Trimester One: Math (decimals, metric system) & Geometry - India & Persia
Trimester Two: Grammar, Research & Reports, Different kinds of writing, pen pals & Ancient Egypt
Trimester Three: Greek Mythology & Greece – North American Geography
Afternoon:
Nature based crafts & art
Botany/Nature walks – Vary intensity of study/science –vs- exploration and discovery
Practice the four math processes. Weekly review.
Circle time including songs & verse in other languages & rounds
Phrases and poems in foreign language of your choice.
Complex knitting like socks and mittens/crochet/embroidery/sculpture/drawing/painting/block crayons/beeswax modeling/carving, etc…depending on the monthly focus in the lesson plans
Recorder & continue to learn to read music & start learning to do duets or work in an orchestra situation – more than one instrument. Do two and three-part rounds, harmonies and music from Persia, India, Greece, and Egypt.

Sixth Grade:
Morning:
Trimester One: Literature (Spelling, Biographies, Composition & Poetry) & Physics
Trimester Two: First Half: Math (ratio & estimation) & Latin America
Trimester Two: Second Half: Math (geometry) & Physics
Trimester Three: First Half: Rome & The Middle Ages & Astronomy (I like to put these together because I can tie in some astrology with the astronomy too and then talk about how hundreds of years ago the two subjects were one and not two different subjects).
Trimester Three: Second Half: Geology (We include minerals and gems and studies on their effects in healing too)
Afternoon:
Nature based crafts & art
Botany Review/Nature walks – Vary intensity of study/science –vs- exploration and discovery
Practice the four math processes.
Circle time including songs & verse in other languages & rounds
Communication phrases in foreign language of your choice.
Knitting and sewing toys and clothing/drawing/painting/charcoal and pencil drawing/clay/carving a spoon or small toy, etc…depending on the monthly focus in the lesson plans
Recorder & continue to learn to read music & start learning to do duets or work in an orchestra situation – more than one instrument. Do two and three-part rounds, harmonies and music from Latin America and Rome. This is a great chance to do some of that awesome Latin music!


Seventh Grade:
Morning:
Trimester One: Part One: Math (pre-algebra, geometry, negative numbers, cube root)
Trimester One: Part Two: Language (Writing reports, creative writing, spelling) & History (The Renaissance)
Trimester Two: Part One: Legends (such as King Arthur or other native legends from your region)
Trimester Two: Part Two: Physics (review and part two)
Trimester Three: Part One: Chemistry
Trimester Three: Part Two: European and African Geography (If you are able it is also a great time to invest in some travel. Children at this age are eager to learn geography from experience if possible. You can also start looking for opportunities for them to join groups of students that may travel to different locations around the world. Some of these opportunities may have funding available).
Afternoon:
Nature based crafts & art
Botany Review/Nature walks – Vary intensity of study/science –vs- exploration and discovery
Practice the four math processes.
Circle time including songs & verse in other languages & rounds
Communication phrases in foreign language of your choice. Start studying vocabulary lists and building vocabulary.
Knitting and sewing toys & clothing/drawing/painting/advanced drawing/advanced sculpting with clay/Advanced carving, etc…depending on the monthly focus in the lesson plans
Recorder & continue to learn to read music & start learning to do duets or work in an orchestra situation – more than one instrument. Do two and three-part rounds, harmonies and music from the Renaissance. Ballads are also a good choice for this age.

Eighth Grade:
Morning:
Trimester One: Math (algebra & geometry) & Shakespeare & Other classic literature of your region or culture.
Trimester Two: Part One: Organic Chemistry
Trimester Two: Part Two: American History & Current Events
Trimester Three: Part One: Geography of Asia, Australia and Antarctica
Trimester Three: Part Two: Physics
Afternoon:
Nature based crafts & art
Nature walks – Vary intensity of study/science –vs- exploration and discovery
Circle time including songs & verse in other languages & rounds
Communication phrases in foreign language of your choice. Start studying vocabulary lists and building vocabulary. Venture into some “real life” experiences.
Sewing with machines/drawing/painting/drawing portraits and animals/advanced sculpting with clay/Advanced carving, basic woodworking skills, making simple wood items…depending on the monthly focus in the lesson plans
Recorder & continue to learn to read music & start learning to do duets or work in an orchestra situation – more than one instrument. Do two and three-part rounds, harmonies and music.


End Note: If you have questions please e-mail me at: herbnhome@gmail.com - sometimes I forget to include something important because it is "in my head" and so familiar but I forget to mention it. If you find anything missing or have questions please tell me!

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