Want to know more about Romulus and Remus? Okay, Trekkers and Trekkies, they aren't just planets in Star Trek, but twins (well, one of them) who eventually founded Rome, at least in ancient Roman mythology. Donna Simmons of Christopherus Homeschool Resources offers us a unit study on Roman History. This is the first in a series of many books to come, interweaving history, math, science, language arts, and art.
Simmons uses a Waldorf-inspired approach in her lessons, so some terminology is interchangeable with more traditional terms. For example, unit studies are also called main lessons, the mainstay in Waldorf education. Main lesson books are basically books into which drawings, writings, and artwork for the unit study are created by the student. There isn't a great deal of discussion about Waldorf education, just enough to give you a feel for how a teacher would use this unit study in a classroom. It's really a one-size-fits-all type of unit study, and very well organized.
Simmons, as always, has a practical approach that is refreshing to read and use. In her introduction, Simmons notes that "Main Lessons are a wonderful way to approach learning, as they give the teacher - or parent-educator - a comfortable arena in which to creatively work with subject material." The lessons can cater to different learning styles and age groups, thereby taking a lot of stress off the parent who wants to teach multiple aged children. She also notes that "other topics, perhaps not obviously relevant to the Main Lesson, can be woven in. For instance, during the Third Grade farming block one can also work with measurement: how many pecks in a bushel? how many quarts of oats do the horses eat?"
This 38-page booklet, hole-punched in a small presentation folder, is full of useful material for anyone who is studying Roman history during the year. The table of contents includes subjects such as:
Why Study Roman History?
How to Use This Unit Study
Working with Teens
Key Elements in Roman History
Important Dates in Roman History
Summaries, which can be copied into a main lesson book or used as dictation
Drawings and Maps
Instructions for Two Art Projects, along with pep talks by Simmons
Quotes - passages from historical figures to be copied into main lesson books or used to spark discussion
Poems, which can be copied into main lesson books or memorized
Study Guides for The Bronze Bow
(students 12 and up) and Ancient Rome: How It Affects You Today
(10th Grade and up), to provoke thought and discussion and give direction to essays
Examples of Student Work
The introduction explains a bit about Waldorf education and how to use the unit study. The key elements include the mythical beginnings of Rome, the Punic Wars, the Roman Republic, Roman Empire, Pax Romana, East and West empires, the rise of Christianity, the rise and fall of the Roman Empire, and Byzantium. Simmons has included some drawing instructions for main lesson books, maps, and some crafts instructions, too.
Simmons makes practical suggestions for the homeschool that has multiple children and, in her pragmatic and creative style, suggests ideas for enrichment, and gives a plethora of reading and web site suggestions. While I was reading this book, I felt like she was sitting beside me, talking to me in a casual, conversational style.
A personal and hands-on teacher, Simmons has a background in education. She has been involved with Waldorf education since she was four years old, when she was sent to a Waldorf kindergarten and continued this education through graduation. She later studied child development and taught at two Waldorf Schools in England. She eventually became a youth worker, drawing on her rich childhood experiences to find creative ways to work with some very challenging inner city youth. Donna's perspective on Waldorf education is largely colored by this work and the fact that she is a pragmatic homeschooling mom. She is eager to find "what works" in different situations. Children come out occasionally to the hobby farm in Wisconsin where she and her husband, Paul Newton, a homeopath, live and learn with their two sons, 12-year-old Daniel and 10-year-old Gabriel.
To get on-the-spot information from Simmons, one simply needs to join her Yahoo!Group, entitled Waldorf_at_Home
Donna and Paul recently set up Christopherus Homeschool Resources with the aim to help homeschooling parents find a relationship with Waldorf education at home, one which will vary according to each family's situation. Christopherus provides a telephone consultation service with Donna, a correspondence course in writing, an informative and ever-expanding website, and a series of curriculum materials written by Donna. Parents are encouraged to sign up for Christopherus' free monthly e-mail newsletter, "The Homeschool Journey".
Please note that some people involved in Waldorf education study a philosophy known as Anthroposophy, based on the writings and lectures of Rudolf Steiner. There are concepts in Anthroposophy that are based on Christian beliefs, so there are references to Christianity in Waldorf education. For example, school festivals often follow the Liturgical Christian calendar, and children learn about saints in the second grade and Old Testament stories in the third grade.
On the other hand, not all of Steiner's esoteric ideas are accepted in, and some run counter to, traditional Christian theology. Consequently, there are problematic areas that cause some Christians to shy away from Waldorf education as a whole.
As a Christian and an eclectic homeschooler, I have not found the practical Waldorf teaching methods to be incongruent with my Christian walk. The introduction of art, music, and movement in a curriculum based on a child's development brings richness to its delivery. The use of physical activity with recitation helps my son's ability to process information. Hence, I am comfortable taking what I want, leaving the rest, and adding my own Christian beliefs to the spiritual aspects of Waldorf education.
Some people, especially those who are new to Christianity, may not be comfortable doing this. It is always wise to prayerfully use discernment when reading any Waldorf-based materials, in order to separate the wheat from the chaff.