When you reflect on your experiences as a child in the classroom, you probably remember your teacher telling the class that it was time for reading and directing you to take out the reading book. After that, it would be math time. The day proceeded with blocks of time devoted to individual subjects that were not related to one another.
Let me give you a visual analogy. When I established my first home with limited financial resources and a huge college debt, I purchased carpet samples. Those random blocks of color became my first floor covering. Then when I became more financially solvent, I acquired a Persian tapestry. Out went the carpet samples!
Think of the typical education as blocks of color with a random pattern. Then consider thematic instruction as a beautiful tapestry – woven with similar threads and colors as the carpet samples but intertwined to create an intricate design.
So why does a thematic approach work? How does it benefit the student?
We all have many ways of learning but we prefer different methods due to our strengths and weaknesses. The child who easily learns in the typical classroom probably has linguistic/verbal strength. Reading the written word makes sense and remembering math facts is not a problem. The LEGO builder/puzzle doer/game player probably has a good logical/mathematical ability. The artistic child learns visually/spatially. One child might learn through music, another through body movement, and another through nature. One child may want to work independently to figure out a problem while another child wants to interact with others on a team. Teaching thematically allows all children access to the material by utilizing a variety of activities.
If an integrated, multi-sensory method of instruction is used, the child’s mind is stimulated by varied sensory experiences. It’s important to follow your child’s lead. If your child has an artistic bent, then weigh the lessons with art. If your child needs movement, dance, or exercise, incorporate physical activity into the lesson. Your child will naturally indicate his/her preferences and interests. Capitalize on your child’s strengths while bolstering his/her weaknesses.
Surround your child with books, maps, globes, artwork, music, foods, and videos. A rich learning environment will allow your child to explore, to question, to seek answers, and to discover independently. Your goal is to create a safe space, to encourage curiosity, and to nurture the ‘love of learning'. Invest your time and energy into one of the best homeschool curriculums available!
One of the big questions is what to do about our children’s education. Sending them back into the classroom without a vaccine or ‘herd immunity’ is risky. How do 6 and 7-year-olds ‘social distance’? How do teenagers not ‘hang out’ with their friends? Is there an innovative answer?
One available option is to homeschool your children. But to engage your children, you have to be engaged. What if you can learn together?
Have you ever traveled? Have you dreamt of seeing the world? Why not travel around the world with your children vicariously? Right now, the entire world is being impacted by the same concern – a pandemic. We are in this together! Visiting other countries as freely as we have may not ever be possible again. But we can still travel to other places through beautiful literature, videos, maps, music, science and art. We can learn about other cultures and peoples. We can visit cities, villages, and towns. We can explore the habitats and geologic features. We can study the wildlife of the various continents. And because of our digital age, the information is readily available.
But where do you begin so that the learning flows rather than become random bits of knowledge? How can so much information be condensed into a logical progression? Why is it important to construct a framework? Why is it imperative that the travels have context?
That’s where weaving the tapestry comes into play. The foundation (the loom) of the curriculum is traveling to the seven continents of the world. Geography and map skills are the first threads of the warp. The following thread is ancestry. Where is the origin of your family roots and your children’s? Beautiful literature with finely drawn illustrations and well-written content become the next threads. The loom is warped!
The weaving can now begin. Art, music, hands-on science, writing, math activities, recipes, videos, and field trips become the weft of the tapestry. The thread in the shuttle crossing the warp connects all of the threads into one piece. The pattern emerges and fabric is created. Sensory experiences and the woven curriculum help your child make connections. Your child’s imagination is ignited and learning is fun!
The Magical Tapestry Is:
· an integrated curriculum based on literature, social studies, science, and the arts
· a curriculum specifically developed for grades 2-3 but adaptable to children in grades 1-4 (especially when teaching multiple grade levels)
· a well-thought out guide for traveling from continent to continent and country to country while visiting a continent
· a 2-year program:
Year 1 - traveling to Antarctica, Africa, Asia and Europe
Year 2 - traveling to South America, North America, Australia, and islands
· an abundance of ideas for delving into each country and culture
· a sensory approach with messy, hands-on lessons for experiential learning
· a complete curriculum with standards imbedded
· a program adaptable to child’s needs, interests, and abilities
The Magical Tapestry Is Not:
· a curriculum driven by worksheets
· a complete resource of information (parental and student research will be required)
· a sequential math program (hands-on activities included only when appropriate so a math text or program will be necessary)
· a turn to page # on Monday; turn to page # on Tuesday…
· an independent study (parent involvement is a ‘must’)
· a teaching manual for specific language skills (i.e. types of diphthongs, the rules of syllabication and how to teach them)
The Magical Tapestry manuscript guides you week-by-week with titles of books to utilize for appropriate lessons in language, science, art, history. A variety of ideas and topics for research are part of the week’s plan. Video titles available on YouTube and musical selections are listed. Explore, investigate, imagine!!!
An example of what each week’s lesson will look like:
Five to eight books are suggested in each week’s plan. It is important that your child holds the underlined titles. If the library is closed or a book is unavailable, you will likely find it being read on YouTube. Reading Rainbow episodes are a delightful way to reinforce the stories. As often as possible, have your child hold the book!
Rudolf Steiner, Nikos Kazantzakis, Susan Kovalik, Howard Gardner, and Charlotte Mason
“Where is the book in which the teacher can read about what teaching is? The children themselves are this book. We should not learn to teach out of any book other than the one lying open before us and consisting of the children themselves.”
― Rudolf Steiner, Rhythms of Learning
Being a product of a college education in the early 1970’s, I read Rudolf Steiner’s Waldorf philosophy. The balance of “head, heart and hands” built into the Waldorf curriculum made sense to me. The doing, touching, hands-on learning approach fit the way I wanted to teach. During my first two years teaching 5th grade, I was able to actualize a Friday incentive program. With the ear and support of my superintendent and the parents, I brought carpentry, sewing, baking, motor repair, and macrame to the classroom. The superintendent had an oven installed in the classroom and parents donated old motors and sewing machines. Parents volunteered each Friday afternoon to teach the children one of the activities. When the students completed their assignments, they could choose their interest. We built a go-cart that worked and flower boxes for botany lessons; baked banana breads; sewed aprons; and made macrame belts.
My heritage is partially Greek and I’ve always had a fascination with all things Greek. While reading Zorba the Greek by Nikos Kazantzakis, I came upon this passage:
“I remember one morning when I discovered a cocoon in the back of a tree just as a butterfly was making a hole in its case and preparing to come out. I waited awhile, but it was too long appearing and I was impatient. I bent over it and breathed on it to warm it. I warmed it as quickly as I could and the miracle began to happen before my eyes, faster than life. The case opened; the butterfly started slowly crawling out, and I shall never forget my horror when I saw how its wings were folded back and crumpled; the wretched butterfly tried with its whole trembling body to unfold them. Bending over it, I tried to help it with my breath, in vain.
It needed to be hatched out patiently and the unfolding of the wings should be a gradual process in the sun. Now it was too late. My breath had forced the butterfly to appear all crumpled, before its time. It struggled desperately and, a few seconds later, died in the palm of my hand.
That little body is, I do believe, the greatest weight I have on my conscience. For I realize today that it is a mortal sin to violate the great laws of nature. We should not hurry, we should not be impatient, but we should confidently obey the external rhythm.”
This quote became my philosophy of education. I can’t claim to have always had the patience to adhere to its wisdom, but I always knew it to be true.
In 1987, I attended a workshop presented by Susan Kovalik. She spoke about Integrated Thematic Instruction, giving the rationale for why it is so powerful. She described the immersion of children into the subject matter utilizing a year-long theme and a rich, natural environment. Literature, music, art, and nature were woven to create a sensory experience for the students.
I had always developed unit studies. The study of arthropods led to the study of monarch butterflies - which led to locating the caterpillars, finding milkweed plants, setting up a window box for observation, depicting their life cycle with a bulletin board, amassing a collection of books, assigning writing prompts, and creating art projects that covered the walls. The monarch butterflies took over the entire classroom and we were immersed in the wonder of nature.
The concept of a full-year strategy with an overarching theme was intriguing. My next assignment was in 1st grade with the majority of the students being Spanish speakers. I don’t speak Spanish but I do believe in communicating with hands-on instruction. That year, based on Rachel Carson’s book The Sense of Wonder, I developed a theme entitled The Senses of Wonder. I organized the year based on our senses. Thirty years later, I still remember the sequence of the plan and the activities the students enjoyed.
My following assignment was teaching 2nd-3rd grade combination. Both social studies curriculums were dismal with content and interest. However, ancestry and map skills were topics that offered a spring board for a yearlong theme. That was the inception of Travel the World on a Magical Tapestry. The students traveled to the seven continents of the world to gain an appreciation for the diversity of people and cultures; to study animals and biomes; and to discover the varied landforms. Their world expanded with a new understanding and acceptance of others.
“Children should have the joy of living in far lands, in other persons, in other times - a delightful double existence; and this joy they will find, for the most part, in their story books. Their lessons, too, history and geography, should cultivate their conceptive powers.” - Charlotte Mason
Why is Integrated Thematic Instruction so powerful? In giving the students a framework of the year’s studies, they become part of the process. They bring in books, photos, magazine pictures, and artifacts that connect to the theme. With a visual diagram of the year on a bulletin board or in a scrapbook, they can anticipate what is coming ahead and recall what has been. They become participants in their education rather than merely receivers.
“Our highest endeavor must be to develop free human beings who are able of themselves to impart purpose and direction to their lives. The need for imagination, a sense of truth, and a feeling of responsibility—these three forces are the very nerve of education.” -Rudolf Steiner
In planning a theme for a year, it also sets a pace and gives a timeline. The teaching environment becomes filled with rich literature, artwork, music, and artifacts. Meaningful content and concepts are learned within this contextual setting. An observant child should be put in the way of things worth observing." - Charlotte Mason
As a mother of three active children, a full-time 3rd grade teacher, wife, and gardener on 20 acres, life was very hectic. It conspired to bring me to a halt with a diagnosis of Valley Fever. I slept for 3 months of my life. During recovery and many hours confined to bed, I discovered Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences. Normally, I would not have had the time to read Frames of Mind and The Unschooled Mind, but what does one do with so much recuperative time?
Gardner’s theory confirmed why I taught the way I intuitively did, giving me a rationale. In a more concrete way, I introduced my students to his theory when I returned to the classroom. I posted a bulletin board showing the intelligences and explained that we all possess an array of intelligences. For those children who had the linguistic intelligence, they usually excelled in school because reading was central to their success. But for other students with artistic, athletic, and social intelligences, schooling may not come as easily. However, it was important to recognize one another’s gifts and delight in the diversity. The students gained appreciation of each other, realizing that we could applaud one another’s strengths and benefit from each other with cooperation.
After years of practicing integrated, thematic instruction using a hands-on approach in the classroom, I was given the opportunity to establish a program to support homeschooling parents in our community. I left the traditional classroom and joined a charter public school. During the beginning years, I met with families at my home to provide curriculum, hands-on science in my basement, and art in the garden. Now I wasn’t confined by school bus availability and the cost for field trips. There were no limits on our exploration. We took trips to concerts, the theater, and museums. We took two trips annually to Yosemite for hiking and skiing. We studied marine biology and joined sailing expeditions to Catalina. The world was our oyster!
I shared Magical Tapestry with the moms willing to step ‘outside the box’, becoming their travel guide to the continents. With so much rich material available, I expanded the program into two years of travel. The moms became convinced of the power of thematic instruction. For the rest of their homeschooling years, they integrated the curriculums of each grade level.
“Find ways be with good books, the best that we can find. " - Charlotte Mason
In 2000, homeschooling was not generally accepted by mainstream educators. Now twenty years later, more families are making it their choice. Two thinkers that may influence your approach are Charlotte Mason and Rudolph Steiner.
Charlotte Mason (British) published her methods and ideas in 1886. Rudolph Steiner (German) founded the first Waldorf School in 1919 for the children of factory workers. They both wanted to counteract ‘industrialized schooling’. They each created a method built on a liberal arts foundation with a ‘heart’ for the child.
Public education in Europe was established to train children to become good factory workers. Employers recognized the benefits because the most crucial lessons were punctuality, following directions, and tolerance for long hours of tedious work. They saw schooling as a way to implant certain truths and ways of thinking into children's minds. The best-known method of instruction was forced repetition and testing for memory of facts. School gradually replaced fieldwork, factory work, and domestic chores as the child's primary job.
Both Charlotte Mason and Rudolf Steiner were reimagining what education could be and sought reform. Mason’s approach focused on ‘living books’ with noble ideas. Steiner’s methods incorporated the literature and arts into all of the lessons. They both advocated plenty of time outdoors in nature with abundant play. Mason’s lessons are short, about 10-20 minutes in length and not necessarily around a single topic. Waldorf’s lessons are about two hours, delving deeply into one subject for several weeks.
As you take on the challenge of schooling a home, remember that you are not trying to replicate the classroom and school setting. As Charlotte Mason wrote,
“Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life.”
“The teacher who allows his scholars the freedom of the city of books is at liberty to be their guide, philosopher and friend. To introduce children to literature is to install them in a very rich and glorious kingdom, to bring a continual holiday to their doors, to lay before them a feast exquisitely served. But they must learn to know literature by being familiar with it from the very first…
The children's lessons should provide material for their mental growth, should exercise the several powers of their minds, should furnish them with fruitful ideas, and should afford them knowledge, really valuable for its own sake, accurate, and interesting, of the kind that the child may recall as a man with profit and pleasure."
“If mothers could learn to do for themselves what they do for their children when these are overdone, we should have happier households. Let the mother go out to play!”
If any of her wisdom rings true, follow it. Educating your child(ren) will become your education as well. Be curious, enjoy nature, create art, listen to music, watch videos, take time to play, and read beautiful books. Find joy and excitement in learning.
― Charlotte Mason
“For whatever the natural gifts of the child, it is only so far as the habit of attention is cultivated in him that he is able to make use of them. "
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