3.15.2016

Homeschooling with Main Lesson Books

One of my favorite parts about Waldorf education methodology is their use of main lesson books.  Instead of using workbooks or worksheets, students compile their work in main lesson books.


Main lesson books contains a child's very best work.  Time, care, and attention is poured into each page.  When students work through workbooks or worksheets, sometimes they rush through, with the goal being to finish them as quickly as possible.  With main lesson work, the opposite approach is taken. Children are encourage to slow down, to work with intention.  It becomes the cultivation of a discipline.


Third Grade Old Testament Block ::  Watercolor Painting the Days of Creation

Main lesson books also integrate several subjects into one place.   Handwriting, grammar, spelling, punctuation, art, and the main lesson (like science, social studies, math, or language arts) are all pulled together in one cohesive way.  There is generally an illustration on one page and a written summary, sometimes called a narration, on the other.


Another thing I love about them is that they are a record of the child's work for the year.  As homeschoolers (or maybe just as parents?), it's so easy to feel like we're not doing enough, especially when we can view the highlight reels of other homeschoolers on social media.  Don't get me wrong- I love seeing what other families are up to and being inspired by them.  I am so grateful for all I have learned through social media!  But it's easy to feel like we should be doing more.  


It's just as easy to fall into the comparison trap in "real life," too.  My kids were just telling me over lunch about their neighborhood friend, a kindergartner who attends a classical charter school and has already memorized the complete water cycle and can label all the parts of the brain, with their individual functions.  The temptation to feel inadequate is ever present.


But no one 'does it all'.  It is simply not possible.  We all have our own unique school and family cultures that are true to ourselves and our values.  The main lesson books can remind us how much our children have accomplished.  You can easily see the progress each child has made in a given year.


For example, the picture below on the left is Tia's work at the beginning of the school year.   You can see her stick figure people as well as her struggle to write the letter B.  (In Waldorf education, students work off of a drawing done first by the parent or teacher, so that is my B/bear on the right.  Don't judge!  :P)


And this is Tia's written summary and illustration of a fairy tale we read just last week.


She has come a long way in just 6 months!

For the past three years, I have used traditional Waldorf main lesson books - large notebooks with blank sheets of paper inside.  But this winter, I changed my approach after listening to a podcast by Jodi Mockabee.  She described her method of using individual pages of card stock for illustrations and narrations, which she then laminates and places in a three ring binder.  (I use this laminator and this laminating paper.)


There are several advantages to doing main lesson books this way.  For one, because the sheets are laminated they are well protected from the wear and tear of being paged through repeatedly.  But they are also protected from the damage that can occur when younger siblings get their hands on a main lesson book that has been accidentally left out.  I can assure you that big tears have been spilled when Hazel has colored on main lesson work, after so much time has been spent on it.


And even if you are not homeschooling, the lamination and three ring binder method is a great way to preserve your child's best artwork.


Another advantage of working with individual card stock pages rather than in a main lesson notebook is that there is always the chance to start again when mistakes happen.   I have one child who takes great care in her work.  If something isn't done exactly as she envisions, she will gladly start again.  For her, a perfectionist, having a main lesson book with mistakes would not be satisfying.  In a traditional main lesson book this would mean tearing out pages.


I have other children who need to be reminded to slow down and put forth their best effort.  They need to learn the discipline of doing things correctly, of persevering and developing grit.  Dan tells them, "Go slow to go fast."  The classical Greeks said it this way: Make haste slowly.  If their work is not done correctly the first time, they need to improve upon on it or even start again and this can mean tearing out more notebook pages.


Finally, from a practical perspective, I found I was having to buy so many main lessons books (see my previous paragraphs about ripping out pages!).   Waldorf uses block scheduling with main lessons for each block.  Below are the books my girls completed during our previous semester alone.


The shipping costs add up and it started to become difficult to keep track of all of the different main lesson books.   My kids don't want to store away any of their main lesson books, so we were starting to accumulate a rather large stack of them on our bookshelf.    Having the kids' work in their own individual three ring binders has made things simpler and more streamlined.  I am all about that!



 Waldorf main lesson books have worked beautifully for our family.  We do use workbooks for math and grammar, but have enjoyed using main lesson books for our other subjects.  I am  so grateful to have this collection of my children's work.  And more than that, these books hold so many memories of our days here at home, learning together. 

11 comments:

  1. I love this approach! Do you hole punch after laminating? Do you laminate at home? I have a binder full of sheet protected boring workbook pages from school last year.

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    1. These are great questions and I am so glad you asked. Yes, I punch the holes after I laminate them. That's a bit of a pain, so Dan often does it for me. :) And I do laminate them at home. I added the links of what I use to the post! The process does create some fumes, and I don't care for that, but I haven't found a better way to preserve their work yet. I just try to open a few windows and do it at the end of the week, at one time. Tia usually does 2 illustrations and 2 narrations every week. I let Iris make one alongside of her each time, so she feels special and included. Indigo's amount of work will depend on the block we are in and Jude's curriculum does not include main lesson work anymore. But this is reserved for their very best work only. I definitely don't want to be laminating everything. :)

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  2. Rachel...I'm curious how you keep on schedule if they are encouraged to take their time. I have a perfectionist too and she could literally take hours on some assignments. I also like the 'go slow to go fast' message for my others! Finally, how do you correct their work when you are keeping this for them...just verbally? I think my kids would really love this concept...which we do on a much more low key way when our curriculum includes it. But, I find we are always rushing and I just can't see myself relaxing for them to take their time on it! Would like to try though! I'd love to hear more about your daily schedule. Always enjoy your homeschool posts!

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    1. Hi Shannon! So great to hear from you!

      About a month ago, I wrote a post about what our daily rhythm looks like. You can find that here : http://www.stitched-together.com/2016/02/establishing-home-life-or-homeschool.html#.VumqNBiQDGc

      Regarding the main lesson books specifically, I think the way our curriculum (Christopherus) sets it up is helpful. First, we work in blocks. So we do not have a lot of different subjects going at one time. Often, the blocks are integrated with other subjects. This has been especially true for Indigo (third grade). So for example, in her Native American block she will learn about geography, wild life, botany, weather, native dwellings and art, and survival all in the same block. I actually plan to write a post about block scheduling because we love it so much.

      On a given homeschool day my kids always do math, handwriting, spelling (until they pass their test each week), piano practice, and 30 minutes of quiet reading. Then we try to do a read aloud together and Jude, Indigo and I are reading the Bible in a year aloud together. On top of that Tia and Indigo have their main lesson work (Jude uses a different curriculum). So they actually have a lot of free time to work on their main lessons, and I try to set it up for them during a time when they won't rush through. With Tia, I usually need to be working side-by-side with her. She will often work on a drawing while Hazel is napping or alone with me after Dan gets home from work, before bedtime. Indigo has often worked on her paintings or drawings at night after the little girls are asleep, so they won't disturb her. Or she will take her work into her bedroom and work on it alone in there where it is quiet. I do ask that she does the writing in pencil so that we can correct it together. And I ask that she please proof read the writing herself before bringing it to me.

      Finally, I get that not all children will love drawing and that is ok. It hasn't been Jude's favorite thing and so we don't use this curriculum for him. But we do try to follow the same approach with his curriculum.

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  3. Great post Rachel - and just as I was thinking "but what about my kindergartener, who rushes through everything so she can be the first one done?" you addressed that too. Your kids have done some lovely work.

    Last year we used a Waldorf-inspired curriculum for our religious studies and there were several units that required a main lesson book, however we did all the artwork on separate sheets of paper and then I mounted them into the books at night (because I too make them start over!). It was kind of a pain in the neck though.

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    1. I used to do the exact same thing with mounting things into main lesson books! I would use washi tape to tape their watercolor paintings into their main lesson books, but it was a pain and never looked as nice. (Yours probably looked a lot nicer than mine did!) The lamination makes it look really sharp!

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  4. I love this so much!!! I was really delighted with Joe's teacher's approach this year. Joe does one page of simple and fun math homework every week - often it's a fun game to play with a parent or sibling, and then there is a little spiral book with a laminated cover. Every week he has to answer a prompt, draw a picture, and write a little bit. The prompts are often related to the season or recent events in his life. What I love is that it's a record of the year, and you can see his progress! It's not as intentional and polished as these lesson books, but it's such a good idea! Plus we appreciate that his homework is minimal and fun (he is only a kindergartener after all!). These little books will be such a treasure!!

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  5. I love my laminator. I have been saving a picture or piece of work, every six months, for all my children. I laminate them as I go.
    They are just in a draw but one day I will put them together.
    Beautiful post and photos.

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    1. That's great, Nicole! I should have asked you from the very beginning! xx

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  7. I remember my own main lesson books from when I went to a Steiner school as a child. I still feel a bit heartbroken thinking about the day they were thrown out - they truly do get cherished and become a work of art. You are doing a wonderful job!

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