We are well into the school year, but I haven’t done very much of the alphabet yet because I’ve strayed a bit from the plan. I floundered for a bit because I just wasn’t “feeling it” about either the container story in the Christopherus curriculum, or the first Grimm’s tale (Simeli Mountain) in A Little Garden Flower. While I love both curriculums, neither one of those stories felt right for my son, and I really want his education to engage what is going on with him for his temperament and individual struggles and abilities. Not only that, but if the specific Grimm’s tales didn’t engage me, it seemed less likely that they would move him in the way I want them to, since our children are absorbing a bit of us that we offer with our storytelling. I even started to doubt whether I should go with the Grimm’s tales for a while, and I asked Carrie Dendtler (my Waldorf homeschooling mom hero ;)) in an email about it… were they really the “Magic Potion” they seemed made out to be? Were they even appropriate (I heard from another source that they were originally for adult audiences, and perhaps were first presented in a very “adult” venue at that). Carrie responded,
“I think you should definitely use the fairy tales. I don’t view them as a magic potion, really, but I do think they set the stage within the Waldorf curriculum for the very beginnings of history in a sense….all over the world, folks sat around campfires and told fairy tales with those archetypal images and legends or tall tales….and then we have the beginning of increased civilization and consciousness with the Old Testament stories in Third Grade, then the Norse myths and the Kalevala in the fourth grade, leading to greek myths and roman myths and increased history. Whilst it is true that the Grimm fairy tales were collected by the Brothers Grimm from adults, I feel confident in saying that many of these tales were told to children as part of the children just listening in. Some of the tales had definite sexual overtones that were toned down over the years, I believe I have heard, but it is interesting that nearly all fairy tales from all cultures have the same themes. Look at how many Cinderella tales there are from all different cultures. So I do feel we would all be missing part of our basic humanity if we didn’t hear these themes. Some of the Grimms tales are definitely for older than 9 but many work just beautifully for the kindergarten and first graders. Have you typed in fairy tales into the search engine on my blog at all? I have a few posts as to the why, and what can be gained from them. Bruno Bettelheim’s book is another good resource. However, that being said, Dr. Steiner was German, and actually was friends with one of the sons of the Brothers Grimm, so he thought those tales had meaning…I have heard some teachers use Slovak tales in first grade. I like the Slovak tales a lot! Either way, you will most likely tackle Russian tales in second, and Persian/asian fairy tales in third as well.”
I thought about this for a while. Hansel & Gretel, Cinderella, Snow White… these stories truly are such a part of our culture and remain with us long past childhood. And the adult elements- I know these always just floated over my head anyways when I was a child, and didn’t eclipse my consciousness until I was at a place to understand them. So I decided to forge my own lesson plans, and buried myself in my Grimm’s book and there is no looking back- we are truly enjoying these fairytales! I think some of my favorite things about the Grimm’s stories are the way solutions to problems come to many of the heroes and heroines through dreams, which they instinctively follow (such a great truth we would do well to heed!); the way justice and fairness prevail, and hard work and kindness are always rewarded, but greed and pride end in disaster; and the way elementals are always present to add a bit of magic. I half expect to catch a glimpse of a gnome or elf when I turn a corner nowadays!
I am enjoying the one story per letter approach, and after a lot of reading and contemplating what would really meet my son where he is at, these are the stories I picked to introduce each letter:
“A”- The White Snake
“B”- Bremen Town Musicians
“D”- The Devil’s Three Gold Hairs
“E”- The Elves and the Shoemaker
“F”- The Frog Prince
“G”- The Goose Girl
“H”- Mother Hulda
“I”- Iron John
“J”- Jorinda & Joringel
“K”- King Thrushbeard
“L”- Little Red Riding Hood
“M”- Maid Maleen
“N”- The Nixie of the Mill Pond
“O”- Snow White & The Seven Dwarves
“P”- Sweet Porridge
“Q”- The Queen Bee
“S”- The Star Money
“T”- Tom Thumb
“U”- The True Bride
“V”- The Seven Ravens
“W”- The Water of Life
“X”- The Six Swans
“Y”- The Young Giant
Each of the stories “fits in” to the Cloud Boy container story (he draws the words and pictures of the tales in the clouds for the four winds to blow to all the fairy clans dispersed across the world, so they can be recorded for the young fairies in a book of Fairy Tales which teach them the Fairy Codes of Conduct). Some stories only take a few days, others we spend a whole week on. I am trying to support the imagery of the story with related crafts and activities, too. This is how I am determining which stories to tell when. For instance, next time I do Grade One with my second child, I will save the Frog Prince story for spring and dovetail it with observing and catching frogs. Right now I am trying to focus on the stories that involve sleep or cold or being locked away in a tower for a time (such as Rumpelstiltskin and the Star Money) because these are wintry “themes”. I am saving the vowels for last, special “keys” that tie the other letters together. We will do something special to introduce those (I’m still brainstorming!).
In math, we are enjoying some counting rhymes I made up. In the morning when we go to feed the chickens, we do this one:
Five little chickens sitting in the barn
Peck, peck pecking their meal and corn
One mama hen laid (*) eggs speckled
Another hen laid (*) eggs brown and freckled
How many eggs are laying in the box? (Child answers)
That’s right! But (*) were stolen by the fox. How many eggs are left for us? (Child answers)
* change the number to make new math problems.
During afternoon walks, we use:
As we were walking down the road
Hopping along was a spotted toad
He had (*) brown spots and (*) more green
How many toad spots have we seen?
As we were walking through the park
We saw (*) crows with wings so dark
And perched on the branches of a tall oak tree
Were (*) little sparrows. How many birds did we see?
Then (*) of the sparrows flew away
How many were left in the oak tree that day?
All three of my children love throwing a ball back and forth and counting to 100, forwards, backwards, and by 2’s or 3’s. My first grader and I do the counting; the little ones just like to be involved in the throwing and catching, and repeat the numbers after us. When I first began I had lofty ideas of entertaining the younger ones with special toys we’d only bring out at lesson time, but they just want to do what mom and older brother are doing! Being able to change my vision for how our day will go has helped make our homeschooling successful and more realistic to complete.
I have a beautiful vision of my Amish neighbor, Alvah, with her children. She was tending to a planter in her yard, and all about her were her children, I am guessing ages 14 down to the toddler, 6 or 7 of them. All were seated around her as she worked, and it was so obvious that all of her children adored her and just wanted to be with her, doing what she was doing. Without the trappings of too many toys, distracting electronics, or peer-oriented society- the mother is truly the heart of her home and the most exciting person to be around! Alvah and her husband recently died in a tragic accident, leaving her many children orphaned. I often think that after being by her side so often and for so much of the time, they probably still feel her with them in a way, and that they truly made the most of every moment they had with her. I will carry that vision of Alvah with her children surrounding her always, a potent reminder not to push my children away or be so apt to try to get them to “go play”; to instead seek out inventive ways to be able to keep them close to me in every aspect of daily life- main lesson for my first grader included! And offer a few prayers for her children (now in the care of loving family members) if you would be so kind.