Sunday Selections


How shall we live?

Once upon a time, when women were birds, there was the simple understanding that to sing at dawn and to sing at dusk was to heal the world through joy. The birds still remember what we have forgotten, that the world is meant to be celebrated.

– Terry Tempest Williams, When Women Were Birds


My life flows on an endless song

Above earth’s lamentation

I hear the sweet though faroff hymn

That hails a new creation.

Through all the tumult and the strife

I hear the music ringing

It finds an echo in my soul

How can I keep from singing?


– Old Christian Hymn

The Seven Lively Arts: Part 2

Jean Miller is back with Part 2 of her article “The Seven Lively Arts.” You can find Part 1 here. She is also available to answer questions and comments, so don’t be shy!



The Seven Lively Arts

Drama, Drawing, Movement, Music, Modeling, Painting, Speech

By Jean Miller, 

MUSICAL ARTS  (Singing & Recorder)

Steiner described the musical and poetic arts as bringing people together and having a harmonizing effect. Music creates the right mood. Steiner: “Music tunes and heals the soul life of the human being.”

One can bring music to young children in two ways: through singing, or leading simple melodies on simple instruments. Pentatonic songs harmonize what children feel inwardly; the pentatonic scale leaves out the 3rd and 7th notes in the octave – the sharps and flats. Until age nine, the pentatonic scale fits with child’s inner being.

One can use music for a variety of purposes:

  • To wake up children
  • To meet the mood of the season
  • To get them into the mood for work they’re about to do
  • To deepen feelings about work they’ve done
  • Singing in K; Recorder and Singing in G 1 & 2; Recorder, Singing and Instrument in G 3

Steiner: “Every child is a musical instrument and inwardly feels a kind of well-being in sound.” Steiner believed that the very forms of our bodies are made out of music.

Sing the melody in the early grades; children are naturally musical and imitate. Lead children into an experience of beauty and purity of tone through singing in unison. After age nine, rounds are appropriate and create harmony. Between the change of teeth and puberty, when the astral body is slowly being liberated, music is particularly important as an aid in this emancipation. In the upper grades, children can sing three and four-part songs.

Steiner: “If you can, you should choose a wind instrument…it is a wonderful thing in the child’s life when this whole configuration of the air…can be extended and guided.” Choices include recorder, choroi flute, or penny whistle.

 (Painting, Drawing, Modeling)

Steiner explained that the pictorial and sculptural arts (visual arts) deepen our experience of ourselves as individuals, and that the musical and poetic arts bring people together and have a harmonizing effect.

Painting is a way of exploring the beauty of colors on paper and gives us the experience of the quality and moods of different colors. We experience the harmony of colors inwardly.

Steiner: “Throughout the grades, painting primarily serves as a form of expression rather than a means of representation.”

Accompany painting with a simple story. Mondays are good days to paint (water day – also good for laundry). Tell a color tale or integrate painting into the main lesson.

Steiner said: “If there is a lot of flu going around and the children are not well, a painting lesson will renew their forces for their work in other subjects.”

Steiner suggests that if children can be taught how to draw so that they let forms arise out of color and let lines arise out of the meeting of colors, they will be enlivened and will develop a truer relationship to the external world. Drawing is a skill we can all learn.

  • Drawing isn’t arithmetic, there is not one right answer; pictures will look more similar in grade one and become more individual.
  • Drawing is an expression of feelings and images in your heart and head.
  • To get away from outline drawing, draw lightly at first and then that can easily be changed.
  • Colored pencils after age nine (because pencils force children to draw outlines).

Steiner: “In the sculptural and pictorial realm, we look at beauty, and we live it; in the musical realm we ourselves become beauty.”

Modeling with various materials enhances a child’s experience of the curriculum and has a vitalizing effect on the human being. Working with the hands in this way trains observation and awareness. Modeling can be incorporated during or after a story, and often goes well with nature stories; the scene can then be set out on the nature table. Beeswax gives qualities of warmth, color and fragrance to suit the light and airy nature of the child. The progression of modeling materials begins first with beeswax in the early grades, then moves on to clay, then wood, and stone in high school.

When Steiner describes the first day of school in Practical Advice to Teachers, he describes a conversation with the children about the importance of their hands – using their hands to work and create things. In the fourth grade block on the human being and animal, there is an important distinction about how our hands allow us to help bring goodness and beauty into the world. There are so many ideas for handwork, just remember to push through to finish!

Handwork ideas: knitting, crocheting, weaving, hand sewing, embroidery, paper crafts, felting, woodworking, carving and so much more. Handwork projects can also be tied to the seasons and incorporated into Festival celebrations.

Good luck and have fun bringing the Seven Lively Arts into your lessons! This will help to enliven your teaching and your time with your children. At the end of his life, Steiner talked about taking Waldorf education in a “drastically different direction” and was referring to grounding all teaching more fully in the arts! There are so many ways to do this that serve to inspire both our children and ourselves. Goethe believed that through art, human beings could reveal the secrets of nature that are concealed from our sense perception and consciousness.

A Brief Background on the Seven Lively Arts
The Seven Liberal Arts come from ancient times and grew out of the Four Branches of Knowledge in ancient Egypt: astrology, geometry, arithmetic and music. These Branches of Knowledge became the Seven Liberal Arts in ancient Greece, a time when spiritual and intellectual pursuits were intertwined. The Seven Liberal Arts included: grammar, rhetoric, dialectics, geometry, astrology, arithmetic and music. In the early part of the twentieth century, around the time Steiner opened the first Waldorf School in Germany, the history of western art was characterized as incorporating the Seven Lively Arts: literature, dance, drama, architecture, sculpture, music and painting. There is a massive mural depicting these Seven Lively Arts at the Center for Performing Arts in Toronto! In his time, Steiner was concerned that teaching had become too abstract and strictly intellectual, and so created Waldorf education to bring the elements of feeling and willing (through the arts and hands-on activity) into all lessons to accompany thinking. The Seven Lively Arts give us a great scaffolding for bringing the arts into all of our learning.


JeanHeadShot3-13-13Jean Miller is the mother of three children and has been homeschooling inspired by Waldorf education for almost 20 years. She lives in Cleveland, Ohio with her husband of 25 years and their youngest child, who is still on the homeschooling journey and going into high school; their two sons are now in college. Jean has a Master of Arts in Teaching and has taught in both public and private schools, has tutored, homeschooled and taught small groups. She has been involved in and spearheaded several Waldorf-inspired groups over the years including Bridgeways, a charter school initiative, and Rainbow’s Edge, a small cooperative grades group. Her knowledge of Waldorf education comes from attending workshops, extensive reading, and planning and implementing many lessons. For the past seven summers, Jean has been one of the teachers presenting at the Taproot Teacher Training, organized by one of her mentors, Barbara Dewey, of Waldorf Without Walls. Jean finds inspiration not only in teaching and building community, but also from nature, poetry, the creative arts and singing.


She is Magic!


I had just typed the title to this post when Vincent came up beside me, read it and asked, “Who’s this post about?” I asked him a question, “Who is the most magical person you know?” No hesitation: “Miss Beth.” There you have it. Beth Magill teaches both my boys penny whistle. She is passionate, open-hearted, gentle, and yes, some would say magical. Her lessons are the highlight of our week for many reasons. Beth also teaches Andrea’s kids. We all camp out at her house for about 2 hours every Wednesday while we catch up, knit and rotate the kids in and out. It is a wonderful way to mark the middle of the week. (You can read Beth’s take on our weekly version of “Occupy” here.)

Each child has a 20-30 minute private session with Beth. The sounds that emanate from behind the closed door range from shrill squeaks, to snatches of a recognizable melody to lively tunes that make you want to dance a jig. Beth’s enthusiasm for each child’s progress is unbridled. Listening to her engage with them, you would think not only is your child the best whistler to ever play “Hot Cross Buns” but that they also invented the tune and composed the music. Somehow, this effusive praise is never delivered with anything other than a pure heart and a genuine spirit. Under such light, we have seen our children grow musically in ways we never imagined possible.

I feel blessed to be able to drive to town every Wednesday and have my children sit and play with Beth. The good news is, you can too – no matter where you live. She is now offering lessons via Skype. If you are wanting to bring music into your everyday life, contact Beth by emailing her (beth at magills dot net) or by checking out her blog.

** Just a note: I am in no way compensated or rewarded by Beth’s tireless efforts to populate the world with penny whistles. She is a friend, a dear friend, and a resource I think everyone should know about.

Second Semester Adjustments


This post is a part of Waldorf Wednesday. See all the links here.

This is the point in the year where I second guess everything we have done so far. Actually, I don’t know if that’s accurate. Because if I am being honest, this is the point in the year where I feel like we have done absolutely nothing, so really what is there to second guess? The boys are behind. I am behind. I’ve been too lax. They can’t do this. They don’t know that. Yikes!

One would think these hyperbolic thoughts would get my butt in gear, but rather they make me think ahead to next year. Greener pastures and all that . . . sad, but true. This happens every January. I let myself have my little panic, maybe even take a peek at next year’s blocks and then I force myself to look at the evidence: all the paintings we’ve done, the main lesson books we’ve completed, the books we’ve read, the handwork we’ve created. The facts are we’ve done a bunch, had some great successes and learned a lot. Yes, there are some adjustments that need to be made, but nothing enormous. Some plans need tweaking, some things have been skipped and some struggles have come to the fore. This is real, live homeschooling, and it’s not for the faint of heart.

Below you will find a listing of our first semester’s accomplishments and also our second semester’s adjustments. Seeing everything in list form allows me to view things objectively, without the baggage of what went wrong, what could have been improved, what someone pitched a fit about, what I thought I was going to poke my eyes out over. A simple list. Just the facts. A thorough assessment, and then, we move forward.

Vincent: Fifth grade is vast. We will not accomplish everything – not by a long shot – and that is ok. The first half of the year was devoted almost exclusively to Ancient Mythologies and Math, specifically fractions. We covered India, Persia and Babylon. We reviewed carrying, borrowing and double-digit multiplication. We introduced long division. We reviewed basic fractions and started adding, reducing and multiplying fractions.Vincent has extended his pennywhistle repertoire and knits everyday. He is able to follow simple knitting patterns and has taught himself to increase and decrease. His agility in basketball and football has improved greatly. He is almost swimming. He is on track to earn his Arrow of Light in cub scouts.

Some adjustments we need to make include adding daily math practice, assigning independent reading related to main lessons and imposing a 2 handwork project limit. My grand plans for Botany have gone by the wayside. Somehow, we all shut off on Thursday night – me most of all. We still bake on Friday and have storytime, but that is about all we seem capable of. I’m giving myself a pass on this, and sometime in March or April we will do a Botany block. I have also decided to finish up our US Geography block from last year where we never made it west of the Mississippi. Plus I saw this state quilt in a magazine, and it made me swoon. I showed it to Vincent (Mr. No Fear!) and he was confident we could do it. Hmm . . . we’ll see.

Jude: Jude has taken to school like everything else in his life: slowly and steadily. He is (mostly) agreeable during main lesson, but would still prefer to be outside playing ball. I keep his lessons short, with lots of art, stories and movement. We have completed our letters block, introduced all the numbers from 1-12, and completed 2 mini nature blocks on fall and winter. Jude has become a confident knitter. He can cast on, cable cast on and do the knit stitch. He has made lots of squares. Just this past week he has started knitting with brown yarn, whereas previously he would only knit with green yarn. I’m seeing progress where I can and viewing this as pushing some sort of creative boundary. He continues to improve on the pennywhistle and is becoming more assertive during his lesson time. He loves Tiger cubs and has achieved several belt loops.

With Jude, my tweaks will be minor. First grade is just getting your feet wet. I do want to incorporate a little more writing, such as Jude copying a summary sentence from the board into his main lesson book. Trying different tactics (anything!!) to encourage him to retell the stories he has heard. I made a storytelling basket full of props that will hopefully assist in this goal. A little more pennywhistle practice and tackling a larger knitting project.

Is it June yet?

Twenty Minutes


This post is a part of Waldorf Wednesday. See all links here.

It seems I always need an extra 20 minutes before we start the school day. It doesn’t matter when I get up, how much I do or don’t do before the boys get up, I always need 20 minutes to finish those little things that seem to set the day straight. Putting away the breakfast things, taking something out of the freezer, filling the crock pot, clearing the table and the counters. What I do in those last 20 minutes before school pays off in spades. They allow my mind to clear and the rest of the day to flow more smoothly.

For some reason, I always begrudged myself this chunk of time. I would look at the clock and think, “We need to start school – NOW!” This thought usually led to one of two responses. Me forgoing the undone tasks and announcing repeatedly, “OK, it’s time to start school. Everyone upstairs. It’s time to start school.” The volume of these announcements was in direct correlation to how many tasks I was leaving behind and how slowly the boys were responding. The second was me taking the time I needed to do the tasks, while the boys took this as a signal that I was busy and they were free to get involved in something else. This meant by the time I was finished it was even later, they were engrossed in some sort of non-school related activity and the volume on the school-starting-announcement got turned up – way up.

I know in Waldorf circles singing is encouraged for signaling transition times. However I needed a 20 minute transition, and I figured even an extended dance-mix version of any Waldorf-sanctioned song was not going to get me 20 minutes. What to do? Inspiration came from this post by Irie over at irienarrowpath. (That post is actually chock full of great ideas, but so far, this is the only one I have implemented.) She plays music in the morning. What a great idea. I put our little cd/radio/ipod dock on the counter in the kitchen, put some choice cds in the drawer underneath, and presto! our mornings flowed so much better. Playing music allows me to get done what I need to get done, holds the space so the boys don’t get involved in something else and encourages us to start the morning by singing together. Yes, this is a very good idea. Thanks Irie!!

Below I have listed some of the musical selections we have been enjoying. They are seasonal and/or related to our main lessons. If you have any others, I would love to hear them.

  • Music through the Grades by Anne Cleveland: This is actually a Waldorf-inspired music curriculum for grades 1-6, however I just use it as a collection of cds. Anne’s voice is amazing and her song selections are perfectly matched to each grade.
  • Various Waldorf songs and cds by Jodie Mesler: If you hung around my kitchen door from October through December, you would have heard Jodie’s voice everyday. Autumn Songs was by far the boys’ favorite. They would both sing the songs and play along on their pennywhistles. (I just noticed that Jodie also has a compilation of Waldorf-inspired songs that is carried by Melisa over at Waldorf Essentials. Might just have to put that one in the budget.)
  • Various classical compilations: A hundred years ago when I was a member of the Book of the Month Club, I purchased a series of cds with titles like Mozart in the Morning, Bach at Breakfast, Beethoven for Bedtime. I dusted them off and put them in our musical rotation. Perfect little samplings.
  • Handel’s Messiah: This may be my favorite piece of music next to Sketches in Spain by Miles Davis and A Love Supreme by John Coltrane. Vincent fell in love with it also and requested it at least once a day during December. I thinking attending a live performance is in order for next year.
  • Simple Gifts: I talked about this song here. I still play it every so often when I need a little grace and a little gratitude.