Ask Alison: Geology (part 2)


Alison is back with a few more thoughts about geology. Enjoy!


In my other post I mentioned books and activities that are very easy to do in and around the home. But I also think it is important to consider doing something BIG for geology if possible. And remember this does not have to be done during the time you are doing the main lesson. It can be anytime that works for your family. We just went to Big Bend National Park this fall, and even though Jack and James did their Geology main lesson years ago, we all still felt it was part of the same continuum. The expansive time frame of homeschooling is one of the things I love the most about it!

Recently I have been reflecting on the invigorating effect extreme locations can have on one’s imagination and stamina. Now I am never going to climb Mount Everest or float the Amazon, but over the years different trips have taken us to the deserts of Tucson, snow skiing in New Mexico, mountain hikes in west Texas, the beach in North Carolina, freezing plunges into Lake Michigan, the black swamp in Ohio, the bayous outside of New Orleans, steam boat rides on the Mississippi river, the Flint Hills of Kansas, the Sand Hills of Nebraska, and the pine forests of Northern Wisconsin.

As Waldorf homeschoolers we often stress about what should come first  – the observation or the explanation of a scientific phenomena. By the time your student reaches the age for a Geology main lesson, I think it is OK just to let this chicken or egg issue go. From my experience, children of this age really enjoy taking an arsenal of fast facts out into the field. Knowledge of some basic concepts relating to the earth’s structure, land formations, how different kinds of rocks are formed, gem stones and biomes can really make things conceptually  “pop” when out on a hike or on an excursion.

Those of you who know me well, also know that I can be somewhat of an armchair traveler or accidental tourist. I am grateful to my many years of Waldorf homeschooling for occasionally taking me out of my comfort zone. When I get back home, there is always that cup of tea or a cocktail waiting and my cozy couch to rescue me. Of course, there is also the perfect book to help process the journey sitting on my bookshelf. If you are interested, a perfect book to celebrate our planet’s mind blowing geologic extremes (my boys loved this sort of thing and now I do too) is Seymour Simon’s Extreme Earth Records.

Happy Travels  – armchair and otherwise,


Ask Alison: Geology (part 1)


Andrea and I talk everyday. The majority of our conversations revolves around homeschooling, and there is a phrase one of us utters every couple of days: “Ask Alison.” Sometimes it’s a question “Did you ask Alison . . . ” Sometimes it’s a statement “I’m going to ask Alison . . . ” Sometimes it’s a command, “Oh, when you talk to her, ask Alison . . . ” So hence a periodic pop-up on the blog here: Ask Alison. We all met at Taproot two years ago and hit it off instantly. You may remember her bird block back in August. It was a great way to start our year and I know a few other people took her advice as well.

A couple of months ago, I was completely spinning my wheels about the sixth grade geology block. I had a few resources, a couple of books, but no spark, no direction and no idea about how to bring it to Vincent. On a whim, I emailed Alison and asked her for a place to start. She emailed me about four times in 30 minutes. The woman is a science dynamo! The list below is a synthesis of her suggestions. We we able to find 80% of the books at the library and loved, loved, loved our geology block. I will post our block summary at some point, but I wanted to share Alison’s suggestions and enthusiasm in case you need a little inspiration yourself.


Here is a book list of books my boys loved for this block. Personally l like to do the structure of the Earth as a whole from core to crust. I think of geology as being about land forms, rock types (igneous, metamorphic, and sedimentary) and gem stones, volcanoes, earthquakes – plate tectonics, the history of the Earth’s formation (connects to astronomy) – maybe some fossils and paleontology thrown in for good measure. The idea of sifting through layers so to speak – the layers contain hidden treasures and each layer goes with a period in the Earth’s history – the fossil record.
  • How to Dig a Hole to the Other Side of the World – by Faith McNulty
  • The Magic School Bus Inside the Earth – by Joanna Cole. I know, I know but kids LOVE it – I feel like I might have been Mrs. Frizzle in another life. (Sheila’s note: Alison was DEFINITELY Ms. Frizzle in a former life!!) There is probably a DVD of this somewhere out there as well.
  • Cave by Donald Silver
  • Life Story: The Story of Life on our Earth From its Beginning up to Now by Virginia Lee Burton (Mike Mulligan’s author)
  • Geography from A to Z: A Picture Glossary by Jack Knowlton – good source of spelling words – play with modeling the land forms with clay and digging  them in the dirt etc.
  • Earth From Above for Young Readers by Yves Bertrand. Beautiful book – you can mix it up and just open to a page a day (random surprise!) and then find where it is on the globe and talk about what the surface is like there (biome) and what land forms are present. Kids love it – geography and geology
  • Check out the DVD Gum Boots which is about diamond miners in South Africa and a musical and dance genre they created
  • Let’s Go Rock Collecting by Roma Gans – seems a little youngish at first but both my boys LOVED it and it has a lot of really complex information presented in a very easy to understand way. Especially the three kinds of rock and how they are formed
  • Mountain Dance by Thomas Locker – beautiful.
  • Mastodon Mystery by Taylor Morrison
  • And for you  – John McPhee Basin and Range. I’m hard-core:)
  • Seymour Simon – EarthquakesVolcanoesIcebergs and Glaciers
  • Billy and Blaze and the Lost Quarry, C.W. Anderson
  • Billy and Blaze and the Indian Cave, C.W. Anderson

Project Ideas:

  • Rock and Gemstone pocket guides
  • Visit a jewelry store and/or a rock shop
  • Start a rock collection – organize by kind of rock, where and how are the gemstones were mined – geography again.
  • Get a crystal growing kit and some geodes to hit with hammers and crack open.
  • Oreo cookies and Plate tectonics – sound good?
  • Also think about making a clay model of the earth with the different layers in different colors and then slicing it in half.
  • You guys could also do some of those Dinosaur Digs in a Box to make it easy for you.  A surprise for a rainy day – you could drink some wine when they dig and chip away. (Sheila’s note: How can you not love her??!!)
  • Visit a Natural History Museum

Lesson Plans: November 2013


November?? How did that happen?? Below you will find our last formal blocks of the semester, although I don’t know how this is even possible. Time. Flies.

Vincent, 11 3/4 years old, Grade 6: Vincent will begin geology this month. We will take the subject from whole to parts by first studying the composition of the entire earth, then take a look at mountains/mountain ranges and finally examine different types of rocks. I have chosen not to do a Waldorf main lesson book for this block, but rather, Vincent will be completing a lapbook. (It is this one from Hands of a Child.) I have a few different artistic projects, some field trips and quite a bit of poetry that will add some Waldorf flair, but the lapbook feels like a load off my shoulders. (Plus, Vincent loves stuff like that!) If there is time, I would also like to study salt, which coincidentally is the only rock we eat. I have heard great things about Mark Kurlansky’s book, Salt and I have wanted to read it for a while now. Depending on Vincent’s interest level, I think we will either listen to the adult audio book version or just read Kurlansky’s children’s adaptation, The Story of Salt. (You can see my collection of resources, links and ideas for grade 6 here. I think of it as a gathering space of inspiration that I update frequently. I’m never, ever going to use half of what’s there, but it is good to draw from.)

Jude, 8 years old, Grade 2: Jude will be finishing up two animal fables that we did not get to in September, and then move onto a three-week form drawing block centered around the Uncle Remus Tales. I did a block of form drawing and fairy tales last year that worked well, and I am hoping for a repeat. We have read a picture book version of Uncle Remus during storytime some time ago, but for this block I will be using the Julius Lester edition which seems to be the gold standard. Jude finished his knitted sheep (“Mutton”) and will be moving on to a knitted rabbit. I found this pattern that makes a rabbit from just a garter stitched square. And although I don’t think this adorable little bunny captures any of the mischievous spirit of Br’er Rabbit, the point is to just keep those needles clicking. (You can see my collection of resources, links and ideas for grade 2 here.)

Sheila: Let me preface everything in this little section by saying that Carrie Dendtler is my dear friend. I know her personally and she has been instrumental in my journey to homeschool with Waldorf. I love her blog, The Parenting Passageway, and was reminded what a treasure trove of information it is when I recently spent a lot of time printing a bunch of archived posts for reference. This gem about Science in Waldorf Homeschooling was extremely helpful to me as I continue to try to wrap my head around science from a Waldorf perspective. I also did a bunch of research into Carrie’s thoughts on Second Grade. Why I didn’t do that this summer is beyond explanation. Better late than never, I guess. Anyway, if you are teaching Second Grade (or any grade for that matter) you want to make use of her deep knowledge and practical suggestions. Thanks Carrie!!

Grade 6: Roman History Block


We spent five full weeks on Ancient Rome, covering the founding of the city through the fall of the empire. This block was definitely a departure from how we have done school in the past and I feel a line has been drawn between grammar school and middle school. Although our overall focus was still heavy with art and story, I added in more traditional academic elements such as spelling/vocabulary words, quizzes and open-ended discussion questions. I also expanded our artistic media in this block, combining collage, assemblage and coloring with the traditional Waldorf trio of drawing, painting and modeling. Some of our projects were rather large and instead of working in a traditional main lesson book, we bound the work together with yarn at the end of the block.

Vincent liked Rome, however he did not love it like Greece. The material was very heavy at times (plight of the plebeians, endless war, omnipresent slavery, persecution of the Christians) and there was very little to lighten the overall conquering tone. Although our official block has ended, we are continuing with a bit of history during our current block (business math) by working on our ongoing timeline project and also continuing to read A Little History of the World. You can see more details about both of these endeavors in the “Vincent” section of this post.


  • The Library at Alexandria, Kelly Trumble – This book was an unexpected gem I found at the library. It made a nice segue between Greece and Rome, and gives a wonderful, big picture view of the ancient world primarily through biographical vignettes of philosophers, mathematicians and scientists who studied at the Library.
  • Ancient Rome, Charles Kovacs – I found Kovacs slightly tiring this time around. He gave a thorough impression of Rome overall, but was too heavy-handed in my opinion. He also adds quite a bit of early British history which we skipped.
  • Julius Caesar, William Shakespeare (audio narrated by Jim Weiss) – We listened to Act III which contains Caesar’s murder and Brutus’ and Antony’s subsequent speeches. It was pure pleasure listening to the spoken word – that Shakespeare, he could write.
  • Calendar Art, Leonard Everett Fisher – This is an amazing series of books with incredible graphics and great information. We explored how the calendar changed over the course of the Roman empire, paying particular attention to the Roman and Julian calendars and also Stonehenge.
  • Jesus, Demi – The text for this book comes straight from the King James version of the Bible and the illustrations are stunning. This was a nice companion piece to studying the historical Jesus.
  • Parables of Jesus, Tomie de Paola – Wonderfully done, as all his books are!
  • City, David Macaulay – It is hard to believe this book is 40 years old. You could really build your entire block around it – so, so good. (Here is a link to the PBS special “Roman City” which is narrated by Macaulay. Excellent!)
  • Roman History, Donna Simmons – I didn’t find this as helpful as her other guides, as it was a first edition and not written specifically for grade 6. It has since been revised, and I’m guessing it is much improved. (PS. If you are buying this used, you want the edition with the Roman colosseum on the cover NOT the Roman soldier.)
  • Story of the World Activity Book: The Middle Ages, Susan Wise Bauer – I had this book left over from my very brief classical homeschooling stint. I used a few coloring pages and the maps were good to use as quizzes.


  • Painting Seven Hills of Rome


  • Drawing of Romulus and Remus with birds (based on my chalkboard drawing above)


  • Made fasces out of sticks and cardboard axe – This was a great project for illustrating Roman discipline and precision. I gave Vincent the directions to find and cut 12 sticks 10 inches long and 1 stick 15 inches long. We then used an axe template (from SOTW) and covered it in tin foil. We attached it to the stick with big thumbtacks and secured the bundle with twine.


  • Map of Italy and North Africa – This was the best project of the block in my opinion. I had Vincent cut out a map of Italy and the surrounding land from an old atlas. We then taped the pieces on a big sheet of watercolor paper (18 x 24) and colored the water with blue block crayons. We used two different blues and did it on our uneven wooden floors which added to the overall dimension. I had planned on Vincent painting the land masses with watercolor, but we both really liked the negative effect of the white space. (For more details on this project, see my reply to Emmie in the comments.)


  • Modeled elephants out of beeswax


  • Drawing/collage standard with eagle – We used the eagle coloring page from SOTW.


  • Painted/collaged Cleopatra’s ship – This was a great project too. After painting the sea and sky with watercolors on one day, we mimicked the effect of gold leaf and silver by using metallic paper to collage the boat and oars.


  • Modeled a cross out of beeswax
  • Timeline (You can see more details about this ongoing project in the “Vincent” section of this post.)


  • Check out how Kelley of Our Fine Full Days approached Rome with her son here.

Lesson Plans: October 2013


Our impromptu week at the beach has altered our lessons slightly. I never put vacations into my planning schedule, as we are not advance planners in that regard. Usually, I just pick up where we left off, but this time I’ve decided to cut and condense instead. We are ready to wrap up our current blocks and move on. So move on we shall. October is a busy month with a Michaelmas celebration, several shows at the downtown theatre, a camping trip, a visit from the NJ grandparents plus all the regular scout meetings, penny whistle lessons and whatnots we’ve got going on. Here’s what we are up to:

Vincent, 11 1/2 years old, grade 6: Vincent is still working his way through Rome, and while he is enjoying the material, he is not as enthusiastic as he was about Greece. In our remaining two weeks, we will be studying the historical Jesus and the fall of the Empire. After Rome we will move onto some math. I had originally slated geology for this month, but when I looked at our calendar, I knew we needed a block that wouldn’t suffer from the choppiness of all our extra activities. Math to the rescue!! We will be using the Key to workbooks for learning percentages and this book from Simply Charlotte Mason to begin business math. Vincent’s independent work will continue with handwriting practice and also exploring Latin roots with this workbook from the Critical Thinking Company.

Jude, 8 years old, grade 2: Jude has loved hearing the animal fables, drawing pictures in his main lesson book and bringing a menagerie of puppets to his desk everyday. We will finish this block tomorrow and then move on to our first math block. This block will be a review of the four processes, a bit of daily mental math and an introduction to place value. In addition to Eric Fairman’s A Path of Discovery and Donna Simmons’ Mathematics Grade 2, we are using this little gem from The Toymaker: The Mysterious Math Carnival. We will also embrace the season and incorporate a little nature study as we move into autumn. I have several books and stories that we always read at this time of year, plus the mandatory leaf and acorn crafts that we all love. I am also hoping to dye some yarn one day soon, if for no other reason than to clean out the bags of onion skins I have been saving for longer than I am willing to admit. (Ok, it’s been two years. That’s a lot of onions.)

Sheila: I think I actually started to twitch when I flipped the calendar page yesterday. I loathe having a chock-a-block schedule, but that is what this month is shaping up to be. At times, I can be really narrow-minded in my thinking of what constitutes “school”. “Learning” happens at the desks in that beautiful school room, whose color I agonized over and is evidenced by all the drawings and summaries I so painstakingly planned this summer. Yes? Yes? YES???!!! (Please tell me you are ruefully chuckling with me and not hysterically laughing at me.) My lesson this month will be to take one day at a time and delight in whatever that particular day brings. Taking a day (or two or more!) away from the desks each week will hopefully rejuvenate the spirit, stretch the mind and fill the heart. Maybe the boys will get something out of it too . . . Here’s to the bounty of autumn! May our harvests be full to overflowing.