Sunday, October 30, 2011

Fun Algebra with Kids

Well... Halloween is usually the time that I introduce algebra a little bit. I tell the students that one number in our number sentence is wearing his Halloween costume (usually I draw a little ghostie). What we have to figure out is, what is the ghostie number?

For example: 3 + 7 = ghost + 2

This requires a clarification of what "=" actually means (an important prerequisite for algebra later on). A child who thinks = means "put the answer here" will say that the ghostie number is 10. 3 + 7 = 10. They will ignore the + 2 since they have no idea how to process it. One of the teachers in my evening class was saying that they have stopped using the word "equal" at her school and instead they say "is the same as." 3 + 7 IS THE SAME AS 8 + 2.

I wanted this to be a fun project for the kids so I am thinking about using rubber stamps to be the variables and making a book of Halloween math problems that they can take home. We will use a simple sheet of 8 1/2 x 11 card stock, so the book is sturdy. Lie a ruler down at the top edge of your paper (lay it landscape or portrait, whichever you prefer). Draw a line at the bottom edge of the ruler, remove the ruler, and cut the strip of paper you have traced off of your big sheet. You now have a slightly truncated original sheet and a strip of paper. Decide where on your big paper your math problem will go and lay the ruler down again across the paper in that spot. Trace the top edge and the bottom edge of the ruler (this is where the strip of paper will fit later). Now, write your math problem with the correct answers in all parts of the problem. Write it inside the lines you have traced and it's best if you write it big! You can make it as complicated or as simple as you want but there can only be one variable (one number which is hidden by a ghostie). Next, choose which number you are going to hide. Lay the short edge of the ruler on either side of this number and draw a line so that you have put this number in a little box. Fold your paper and cut out the left and right lines on either side of your number. It should have little slits on either side, so that the paper strip can be run through the large piece of paper, first covering and then revealing the hidden number. Thread your strip through the large piece of paper using the slits to align it over the number you wish to hide. Use a rubber stamp, or draw a picture if you prefer, to "hide" the number with his Halloween costume. Quiz a friend -- can they guess the hidden number? Pull aside the paper strip to find the correct answer. Add more problems to the sheet if you wish.

This will be a fun activity for the end of the day on Monday. And then for the rest of the week I can write ghostie problems on the board to start our day. But I want it to be a really concrete concept -- the idea that the variable is a hidden number which you want to figure out, in order to make the statement be true.

P.S. I just tried this concept out on Leah and she loved making it. It's nice that they have to think of a complete equation in advance and then decide what the variable will be -- so they are solving their own problems first before I ask them to solve one of mine. She carefully drew a little witch on her slip of paper to be the costume, but the nice thing about using rubber stamps as variables is that the children who want to keep doing more of this during the year can just get out the box of rubber stamps and make problems for a friend to solve. They can do this ad infinitum.

3 - flower = 0 + 2

flower = ?

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Somebody Wanted But So

My daughter is doing her book report this weekend and she needed help figuring out what the "problem" was in her chapter book: Dancing Shoes. I thought back to a workshop I had gone to about reading strategies, and told her about SWBS statements. That's Somebody Wanted But So. It worked! It's a really nifty way to help students identify the problem in a book. Just fill in the blanks:

Somebody (that's the main character)

Wanted (what... what did they want?)

But (but... what was standing in their way?)

So (so... how did they respond? What happened because of the conflict?)

In this case, Rachel had promised her dying mother that she would make sure her adopted sister Hilary went to a proper ballet school. But the guardian who they go to live with runs an exhibition show troupe and, although it is dancing, Rachel doesn't feel like it's the proper sort of dancing. What's worse, Hilary seems to love high kicks and cartwheels and couldn't care less about toe shoes and ballet. So what is Rachel going to do?

Friday, October 28, 2011

Pumpkin Pudding

Our recipe for a Gluten free, Dairy free, Soy free Pumpkin Pudding turned out great. It was a huge success (7/8 children ate it and everyone who ate it came back for seconds) and super easy in the classroom. A whisk and a can opener and some measuring spoons are all you need. Each child can add an ingredient and whisk to his or her little heart's content and you don't have to worry about over mixing.

One tip about cooking with children: I finally discovered that it works best to have extra-long ties on the apron so that they can cross it in back and wrap it around their bellies and tie the bow in front. This way each child can put it on and take it off without help and pass it to the next friend. On cooking day, I write in my planbook what each child contributes as we go through the ingredients. That way I make sure no one is forgotten! Children have preferences, too, like one little boy who always likes to add the spices. He adores very strong smells. This week's recipe, which uses whole nutmeg and a mini grater to grind it fresh on the spot, was perfect for him!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Form Drawing - Autumn Leaves

We have been doing some forms from Form Drawing by Hans Niederhauser and Margaret Frohlich. These have turned out to be too complicated for my students (I teach a combined 1st and 2nd grade) so I am moving to anther resource. But since I found a picture book that was a perfect match for one of the forms (figure 3 on page 3), I just had to share it! And I promise that you will enjoy reading this book on its own, even without the form drawing.

The book is called The Little Yellow Leafby Carin Berger. It is beautiful (the illustrations are exquisite) and simple. My students were completely absorbed by this lovely picture book. When we were done, they all drew a collective breath and asked if they could nominate it for an award.

At the AWSNA conference over the weekend, we did an activity in freehand geometric drawing where we were given golden paper and yellow, red, and orange stick crayons. The participants were asked to draw a freehand circle. Then, without talking, we went from station to station, "greeted the circle that was in front of us," and went over it with our own crayons, trying to smooth out any bumps. Trying to make it better. This continued until we arrived back at our starting circle. It was lovely and very profound. What struck me most was how much the collaborative effort improved the circle AND how much doing a circle over and over helped me get better and I was then able to improve the circles of others. So I brought this activity to my class today. We used the candlelight colors and as a story I talked about the many festivals around the world that use candles as part of their celebration. Our school celebrates Halloween and the Latin American festival of the Day of the Dead (Spanish: Día de los Muertos) so we have been looking at similarities and differences between the two. And a look at candles and light is timely, too, Halloween-pumpkin-carving being our activity for tomorrow afternoon. All around the world, the festivals are about light and also about community -- just like our form. Even a birthday cake is an example of this.

If you want background information on festivals around the world that celebrate light, Celebrations Of Light : A Year of Holidays Around the Worldis a nice resource.

Monday, October 24, 2011


It is gnome time again! We read "Sylvia's Turnip-Lantern" from The Seven-Year-Old Wonder Book.

Now I am setting that book aside until the winter months, when we will do the next group of chapters. At the Sunbridge bookstore this weekend, I got The Little Gnome Tenderroot by Jakob Streit, which we will read next.

We have finished our felt tapestries and are ready to move to a slightly more challenging sewing project: the Simple felt gnome from The Nature Corner: Celebrating the Year's Cycle with a Seasonal Tableau.

Today we will card the wool in our basket and we will trace and cut our patterns and choose our felt colors. This pattern is slightly more difficult because it is 3 dimensional instead of flat. You have to envision this when you are making it. You also have to manage the gathering line, and you have to fold the tracing paper in half and place the fold line at the correct spot on the pattern before tracing the gnome template.

By the way, there are actual directions in The Nature Corner: Celebrating the Year's Cycle with a Seasonal Tableaufor turnip lanterns (also pumpkin, beetroot, or swede). I think the children would enjoy making turnip lanterns this week if I can find enough big turnips. Our recipe is pumpkin, though: Gluten Free and Dairy Free Pumpkin Pudding. I had also considered mashed potato ghosts with black sesame seeds for eyes, but I couldn't find a dairy-free and soy-free mashed potato recipe that I liked.

In Watercolor Painting this week we did the "Mincemeat" poem by Elizabeth Gould (adapted by Kristie Burns). She adds the phrases "golden ladle" and "indigo dish." We painted red fruits all over our paper, then swirled them together with the yellow streak, and then put blue all over. The end result is a lovely brown. As Kristie points out, the children are always dying to see what happens if they mix all the colors together!

(original version by Elizabeth Gould)

Sing a song of mincemeat,

Currants, raisins, spice,

Apples, sugar, nutmeg,

Everything that's nice,

Stir it with a ladle,

Wish a lovely wish,

Drop it in the middle

Of your well-filled dish,

Stir again for good luck,

Pack it all away,

Tied in little jars and pots,

Until Christmas Day.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Website Fixed

Okay, everything is fixed. Thank God for Google. I had to go to a cached version of my homepage (luckily the spider hadn't crawled through to take a new picture yet), copy that code and then erase all of Google's comments on it -- like "This is a cached version of this page," and then upload it and make it live. All is fixed.

Now, I really need to come up with the correct software so that I can work with my website and update it. I have in mind a more streamlined system, so that it is easier for me to find the links I want (and for everyone else to find the links they want). And I want to do these updates before my grad school classes begin on Wednesday. ha


I have been trying to figure out how to edit my website from a Mac since I switched to a Mac in August. I have had no luck!!!

So I just made a mistake and goofed the front page... bear with me while I figure this thing out.

I miss Crimson Editor and SmartFTP. :-(

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Modeling Beeswax

Now, if there was only a Waldorf beeswax modeling curriculum! (There's Arthur Auer's book, of course, but he only gives a few indications for grade 1. There's a lovely book on clay modeling but now that I have a second student in my classroom with a broken arm, we definitely can't go anywhere near water. So that will have to wait. Live Education gives only the barest of instructions on beeswax modeling, in their Kindergarten curriculum -- click on the link to see a free sample lesson.)

So what to do?

It's off to the Internet, of course!

I found a blog post from a mom who wrote about the first time they had ever used modeling beeswax in her home. She warmed the wax in tins that floated in hot water, instead of using hands. That may be a nice modification for special needs students, if you have someone without a lot of strength but who still wants to participate and explore the material. In her post, this woman wrote about mushrooms, which I think we will do. We can add them to our Nature table, which already has Autumn silks, a few little Autumn figures, a wooden carved bear heading into his cave, and some ceramic mushrooms.

My students like it best when I read them a story while they are warming the beeswax up in their hands (about 10 minutes) so I think I will choose Elsa Beskow's Children of the Forest.

A Year of Waldorf Watercolor Stories

This is the first year I have religiously had wet-on-wet watercolor painting each week (it's not required that you do this -- one of the presenters at the homeschool workshop I went to over the summer said that she likes to use REALLY expensive paper so they just do one watercolor painting each mlb and then they usually contact paper it onto the front of the main lesson book to be the cover). For the first time ever, I am running a little low on ideas! I have lots of watercolor painting resources but I found Kristie Burns' e-book online and I think it's a nice resource for a homeschooling family. It is called A Year of Waldorf Watercolor Stories and she gives 56 stories and/or poems that are seasonal or related to the holidays of the year, and she gives painting indications that accompany each selection. The e-book is downloadable as a pdf form within 60 seconds of purchase. She does accept PayPal. The link is here:

This week we are doing her poem called "The Dragon's Flame." I don't celebrate Michaelmas with my students, so a lot of the Waldorf dragon stuff we don't do, but we are going to learn a dragon string game this week so I think it will go well with that.

NOTE: Update 04/09/2016

Kristie has changed her format quite a bit, and now promotes her work through YouTube videos.

She states, "This wonderful video takes you through all the basic steps you need to do wet-on-wet watercolor painting. Waldorf teacher, Diane Power shows you how to wet the paper, how to hold the brush, how to mix the paint and how to use many different painting and instructional techniques as she takes you through two of the painting stories in the popular book, "Waldorf Watercolor Stories for the Year". When you purchase her video at you receive the book, "Waldorf Watercolor Stories for the Year" for free (book available in Spanish and English)!"

The video and two PDF documents are now $25.00.

String Games

One of the things that I love about Waldorf is that, even though I've been trying to do it for many years, there's always something more to learn! And it is always so exciting for me when something "clicks" and I can figure out how to fit it into my routine.

This week's example is String Games. I went to a workshop at the Washington Waldorf School where there was a woman teaching string games and she had these lovely thick string loops that she had for sale afterwards. Well, I couldn't afford to buy any of them so I went home discouraged and never tried to implement the games into my classroom. This week I was looking in Games Children Playfor a new game to teach my students this week and I came across "The Dragon" on page 32.

Even though it was a string game, it looked doable. I went to get a piece of yarn from the basket to try the game out when suddenly I realized... I am going to teach my students finger knitting this week. Why not have them each make a string for the string game as a first finger knitting project!!!! We have a nice fat wool yarn (Bernat Felting Natural Wool) that would be perfect.

I went online for more info on string games and guess what I found? A free online book: String Games by Arvind Gupta. It recommends using a string that reaches from your arm to the ground when you hold your arm in the air. Tie this string into a loop and it will be right length for you. Sounds easy enough. I'll just have the children finger knit until their string reaches from their arm to the ground, we'll tie the strings into loops, and we will be all set. I think my boys will like this verse, too, because the dragon spits fire at you!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Wonderful Necklace

I was talking with the kindergarten teacher today about positive ways to support students (more of a "catch them being good" approach) and she told me that she has introduced The Wonderful Necklace in her classroom. When you observe a fellow classmate doing Wonderful Work you silently slip the necklace over their head. That student is then to observe other students and pass the necklace along to a friend who is doing Wonderful Work. She said that this has created a lovely atmosphere in her classroom where friends are complimenting one another and that the child who is quiet, focused, and hard working is often pleasantly surprised at the unexpected gift of the necklace. She said it has worked so well for her!

I asked if there was a book she used to introduce the concept and she said that Fly Free!is a great fit. It is all about the Buddhist idea of karma.

Her necklaces (she has a large class so she has 2) are simple beaded strands. I am bringing in a beaded sunflower seed necklace from back when my mom was a hippie. She gave it to me and I always thought it was so cool.

I can't wait to try this in my classroom! I had a student today compliment another friend on his hard work, and I think this is a lovely way to keep that concept going. Plus, Fly Free! is one of the picture book nominees for the Black-Eyed Susan award so we will use this opportunity to read it.

I'm also knitting a cluster of Black-Eyed Susans to keep on the bookshelf near the nominee list. 100 Flowers to Knit & Crochet: A Collection of Beautiful Blooms for Embellishing Garments, Accessories, and Morehas a Rudbeckia pattern (one of their simpler knitting patterns) which I am eager to experiment with.

Parts of the Plant through Cooking

After reviewing each part of the plant, and looking at foods that we eat which ARE that part of the plant, I've tried to pick recipes to help us get more hands-on exposure.

onion, garlic
We made the Butternut Squash Soup from The Waldorf Book of Soups.

carrot, ginger
We made Gingered Carrots with Cumin and Basil (divine).

leek, celery
We are making Chilled Celery Soup.

Lots more parts of the plant to go, but it is so fun to see the children exploring and becoming more familiar with these foods as we prepare them. This week is Stems so I could also bring in rhubarb, asparagus, Swiss chard.

Cooking also brings so much warmth to the classroom. Each child feels like a special helper, and having the smell fill the room is wonderfully cheery. We have a hot plate so I am grateful for that. There are also two ovens upstairs. Tonight my middle daughter, who is in tap class, invited her older sister for Bring a Friend to Dance Class Week and so they are off tapping up a storm and I get to be with my youngest. She and I made Ginger Pumpkin Bread (this recipe is easy and very kid friendly) and then she read me -- and her stuffed elephant -- The Story about Ping. It was so sweet! And now my house smells super yummy.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Waldorf Worldwide

I've just started my graduate studies and I was reading about some fellowship opportunities and thinking to myself, where would I like to travel if I was going to study about sharing Waldorf education abroad? So I began looking for information on Waldorf initiatives worldwide and found this incredibly inspirational website which I wanted to share with everyone. The list of projects going on is amazing!

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Simple Felt Tapestries

This year I have a student in my class with a broken arm. So, knitting is out and so is anything that requires getting wet (like felting). For the first few months, handwork has to be super-simple. That's great, actually, because I like to start the year with sewing and this just means that we will sew for the first two months before we move on to other things.

I like the Simple Felt Tapestries as an extended sewing project (Feltcraft: Making Dolls, Gifts and Toys has a lovely undersea example, plus patterns; in fact, it is so beautiful that when they came out with a new edition of the book, the tapestry was used as the front cover picture).

We are using the marvelous animal patterns from Around the World with Finger Puppet Animals by Suzanne Down. I gave the children a chance to think about their design overnight (I listed all the animal patterns I had on the board first), then to do a color sketch with their box of colored pencils. Then I had a meeting with each child to decide their background piece of felt. I am giving them a background piece of pure wool felt, so that it is sturdy and strong, and gorgeously colored (I like the felt assortments from Magic Cabin) but all of their pieces to get sewn on as part of the design are less expensive felt. I also have gathered beads, sequins, and other embellishments for them to enjoy. I did sew a sample tapestry first to show them.

To introduce this work, Clare Beaton's Mother Goose Remembersis an excellent choice. She excels in fabric art but the designs are simple enough that the children feel like they can do it too. Plus, you can use this at the beginning of the year when you are choosing verses for circle time -- keep it simple with Mother Goose.

Alternatively, if you are teaching in a traditional school and want to work in some sewing time, use this project as "Storybook Art." MaryAnn Kohl focuses on one of Clare Beaton's books, How Big is a Pig?, in her project "Stitching Time" on page 92 of Storybook Art: Hands-On Art for Children in the Styles of 100 Great Picture Book Illustrators

Happily, How Big is a Pig? is also available in a Spanish language version: Cerdota Grandotaso you could work it into your Spanish language lessons as well.