Of all the blocks I am teaching this year, I am most excited about botany. I have hinted about how I plan to handle this subject before, and wanted to give some more details. I decided not to teach botany as a block, but more of a theme that will run throughout the year. My initial inspiration was a book Melisa Nielsen had suggested, The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady by Edith Holden. (Do a google image search for sample pages.) The book chronicles Holden’s nature notes for the year 1906, and also includes verses, folklore, paintings and illustrations. It is a beautiful example of artistry and attention – two areas I hope to broaden and sharpen during our study of botany this year.

The spirit guiding my teaching of botany came quite by chance. I found mention of a book entitled The First Book of Botany: Designed to Cultivate the Observing Powers of Children, written by Eliza Ann Youmans in 1873. The title sounded in keeping with the Goethean/Anthroposophical way of teaching science, so I did a quick google search. What a goldmine! I downloaded the book for free on google books, but the opening quotations and preface convinced me to track down a copy to own. Here is a little taste for you.

These two quotations appear on the title page:

“Not that more is taught at an early age, but less; that time is taken; that the wall is not run up in haste; that the bricks are set on carefully, and the mortar allowed time to dry.” – Lord Stanley

“You study Nature in the house, and when you go out-of-doors you cannot find her.” – Professor Agassiz

And this, from the Preface:

“In the first place, it introduces the beginner to the study of Botany in the only way it can be properly done – by the direct observation of vegetable forms. The pupil is told very little, and from the beginning, throughout, he is sent to the plant to get his knowledge of the plant. The book is designed to help him in this work, never to supersede it. Instead of memorizing the statements of others, he brings report of the living reality as he sees it; it is the things themselves that are to be examined, questioned and understood.”

Yes, yes, yes. I cannot wait to get that book in my hot little hands. It is also full of lovely engravings that will serve as a guide to the plants and trees we encounter. Between our morning walks, trips to the local Botanical Gardens and the Arboretum, Vincent will have plenty of opportunities to observe the local flora. On alternating Fridays, we will work on our own Country Diary, filling it with seasonal verses, botanical drawings, leaf and bark rubbings, samples of seeds, leaves and such. I’ll be sure to post updates in the coming months.


  • The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady, Edith Holden
  • Guest Post: Botany in the Waldorf-Inspired Homeschool“, Lauri Bolland via The Parenting Passageway
  • Botany” podcast, Melisa Nielsen
  • Botany: Christopherus Unit Study, Donna Simmons
  • Botany, Charles Kovacs
  • The First Book of Botany: Designed to Cultivate the Observing Powers of Children, Eliza Ann Youmans
  • From Nature Stories to Natural Science: A Holistic Approach to Science for Families by Donna Simmons

11 thoughts on “Botany

  1. I ordered The Country Diary… after reading your planning post. It’s a wonderful book. Thanks! The other one you mention here seems fabulous, too! I loved the quotes.

  2. Once again, it is your concise and beautiful communication of a Steiner idea that has spurred me to look more (and more and more all over the internet late into the night….). As we get closer to home and our school year draws nearer, I’ve been tweaking and thinking more about our plans –“science” included.

    The first I came to the Steiner approach of Science –protecting wonder and instilling observation was in another book you recommended (Donna Simmons). That gave me pause because, with the best of intentions, I am the person who will give every bit of known information to my kids about something we see and then go to the library and get more books and also jump on google. Am I creating a dogmatic child unable to think freshly and outside of the already known box?

    I put that in my mind and have stopped jumping on the Doctoral Dissertation style of explaining and more toward the “Why do you think?” answer and some of hte “I wonder why.” However, I was still planning on using a very lovely science curriculum when we got back (it is more in line with discovering than the generally available curriculum), but still pretty modern American. Then with this post with the quotes that resonate so deeply with me, I started reading everything on the web available and talking to my husband about the difference in perspective. (He thinks it’s quite obvious that the Goethe way will making scientific thinkers (; )

    So, thanks to you, Sheila, I’m purchasing Donna Simmons science book for guidance, and am otherwise planning on our “science” days being spent in natural environs.

    Would you have ever thought that a family in Florida would be brought to Waldorf by your little ol’ blog and continue to deepen a family’s life in the beauty of it?

    Thanks xoxo

    PS. I copied this into a notepad and can’t find the citation…but for your edification —

    Discoveries in the 90s of deficiencies in present public education in the U.S., related to the scope, sequence, and coordination of the science programs has led to suggestions in “Science Curriculum Reform in the United States,” to replace current science teaching methodology in public education with the basic science teaching methodology used in Waldorf education.

    This report points to the fact that the path chosen for science teaching in Waldorf education preceded its development in U.S. public education by 80 years.

    • Well I am a recovering “too-much-information” parent myself. Oh the stories I could tell about trying to fill Vincent’s vast need for information – I blush to think of it. But we live and we learn, and children are so resilient.

      I was going to recommend Donna Simmons’ science book, but you beat me to it. It is lovely, inspiring and practical.

      I have a post brewing, hopefully I will post it on Monday, about how so much of Waldorf is about ME. Me tempering my need to overload my children with information. Me talking less. Me holding the space, setting the intention and cultivating wonder. I truly believe we must be the change we want to see – in ourselves, in our children, in our world.

      I wish it was just about the crayons, lol!!!

      Again, I am so looking forward to sharing the year ahead with you. You are a light in my life.


        • I have no direct experience with Barbara Dewey’s book, although I think she is a gem. I would imagine her book to be a brief overview, bc it is only 19 pages. The one from Donna Simmons is 126 pages and I think very thorough. Plus if you are thinking re-sale value, Donna Simmons’ stuff always gets scooped up. I’m glad you brought this up again, bc I am going to put the Donna Simmons’ book on my list of resources for this block.

          PS I can’t believe you aren’t home yet! You are one tough cookie!

          • I found on Waldorf Without Walls a place to purchase all of her books as Ebooks – – so I bought the Science As Phenomena for only 10.00 (instead of 17+SH).

            I can’t get Donna’s site to enlarge the thumbnail images of her science book enough to be able to read them. I am still pondering — my thought at the moment is that the general outline of Waldorf seems to be easy enough followed and, probably more importantly for this family, being “less specific”, might save everyone here from Mama Forgetting that what I really want to do this year is create a quiet reflective space for Wondering.

            Well, thanks for listening…I think I figured it out (:

            BTW, my blog is now updating with posts I wrote from the road. We came home on Friday — exactly 2 months from the date of departure. (:

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  6. My life has taken an intense twist this year. Just turned 24 and feel so blessed to be alive and explore the wonders of this world. As for my 24th birthday my friend gave me £2.50 and took me to a charity shop, full of cold I looked down to see a small book titled ‘Botany – Designed to cultivate the observing powers’. What a powerful start! Can’t wIt to see where this journey takes me. It also took me to your website, what a pleasant find, really enjoyable and I will be making return visits

    Kind Regard
    Benjamin Rookledge

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