Math in First and Second in April

Week One

First graders reviewed Mul de Plier – our multiplication character – and we moved a step further in our understanding. In the fall, we kept our multiplying simple, in the 2’s. This week, we began to see that Mul de Plier can cross her sticks many times – 3 times, 4 times, 5 times and more! The children quickly made this connection and understood what to do with their manipulatives. We will continue to practice this. Next we reviewed our counting gnomes who mine beautiful jewels and took this a step further. The gnomes fill their bags with 10 gems and we all filled small bags with our gems in the classroom, but then we added these bags together and counted by 10’s. We also learned how the gnomes wrote these numbers. Two bags = 20. Three bags = 30 and so on. They loved learning to write numbers this way and understood quickly. We also talked about “extra gems.” Sometimes they may find 2 bags full and 3 extra, so we write that number as 23.


Second graders jumped right into their times tables. We introduced the 4’s, 9’s, and 6’s last week. All of these were introduced on a circle numbered 0 to 9. We did this on the floor (first graders helped) with yarn. We threw the ball of yarn to the 4, 8, 12, 16 etc – and found that the shape created was a beautiful 5 pointed star or pentagram. Then we transferred this image to the chalkboard in beautiful colors and the second graders drew it in their main lesson books accompanied by the times table and division table. The 9’s formed a decagon and the 6’s formed a pentagram again. Throughout all of this work I am highlighting number patterns, trying to find little tricks that help us remember how to count by 4’s, 6’s, and 9’s. We are also solidifying our understanding of the division tables, which are really just our times tables switched around. Each day we review what we did the previous day so we are keeping everything fresh and alive.


We did lots of math practice this week – counting by 2’s, 3’s, 4’s, 5’s, 6’s, 9’s, 10’s, and 11’s with bean bags, jumping rope, and clapping. We worked on dictations and math problems from the board for second graders that they copy and solve in their main lesson books.

The story we began in this block is the book, The King of Ireland’s Son, by Padraic Column. It is a wonderfully long and complicated fairy tale that we will read for the next 8 weeks. It will be the basis for our next language arts block. The children are raptured with the imagery, the names, the storyline. It’s a great way to end our math work each day.

Our Circle has new songs in it for the math block. I’ve amped things up a bit for the end of winter and so we’re singing Oh Susanna! and Yankee Doodle Dandee and we are dancing away! We’re also reciting a poem about the Crocodile to continue with our animal theme from the last block…

The Crocodile by Lewis Carroll
How doth the crocodile
Improve his shining tail
And pour the waters of the Nile
On every golden scale!
How cheerfully he seems to grin
How neatly spreads his claws
And welcomes little fishes in
With gently smiling jaws!

The children love this poem and have little sly smiles on their faces when they recite it.
And our new tongue twister…

A flea and a fly in a flue
Were imprisoned, oh what could they do?
Said the flea, “Let us fly!”
Said the fly, “Let us flea!”
So they flew through a flaw in the flue.

Week Two

First graders were introduced to Prince Divide. We heard a long story of his struggle to remove a star rock from the narrow passageway that led out of his city. Eventually he split the rock in two with a sword forged in the depths of the earth by gnomes – made of star iron. His sword in the middle of the two halves of the rock form the divide sign.
After hearing this story, we practiced dividing with our gems (manipulatives). Prince Divide’s sword also has the power to divide items equally whenever he taps the sword on the ground, so he settles many disputes between families and village members. If 4 people bring him 12 baskets of apples and ask for his help, he taps his sword on the ground 4 times and the baskets magically divide into 4 equal groups of 3.
We then learned how to write division sentences that showed the work we were doing with our gems. This still needs practice – as I was expecting. Multiplication and division are meant to be fully understood in 2nd grade, so I’m working on laying the foundation right now. Next the children heard a story of how Prince Divide met Mul de Plier and they realized how well they could work together. Mul can multiply items for the villagers and Prince Divide can split them up equally! We looked at how multiplication is opposite of division and so the math sentences involve all the same numbers but in different order. This is still a bit foggy for the first graders, but the concept will be solidified next year.

Second graders were introduced to all of the remaining times tables this past week – including today. We did the 6’s and 9’s, 10’s and 11’s, 7’s, and then today the 8’s and 12’s. All of these were completed with geometric drawings, done on the floor with string and then put into their books beautifully. This was a large task for the 2nd graders, but they completed their work. There was certainly a capacity built for writing – they had so much writing to complete. I was proud of them all for sticking with it.


On Friday we had a great time having Circle together – 1st to 4th grade. We sang Yankee Doodle Dandee and pairs of children lifted up a third child and twirled them around. It was so much fun! Fairy house building was a smashing success – many thanks for bringing all of the supplies. And then after a very long recess Maeve’s class and Luna paired up with students from 1st and 2nd grade to read a book to them. All of the older students were delighted to do this – it was lovely to see. We had some time to free draw and then ended with lunch time – a great ending to the week.

Week Three

At the beginning of the week, 2nd graders finished up and then reviewed all of their multiplication tables. They put a beautiful and helpful chart into their main lesson books to help them with these times tables.
First grade reviewed all four operations and practiced them with gems and in writing. We did this through story – all four of our characters worked together to distribute Happy Addy’s cookies throughout the village. Then we reviewed how we learned to write numbers above 10, talking about our mining gnomes again.




On Wednesday, I introduced a new story to both 1st and 2nd graders. This story will take us through the rest of our math block this week. I drew a big picture of a pathway that traverses two mountains on an extra chalkboard and introduced four children – Wes, Pete, Ruby, and Laura. These four children were chosen by the king to retrieve his magic crystal from the dragon. The crystal has magical math powers and the dragon has left math puzzles all along the path to his castle that the children must solve. Our class is helping the children solve these puzzles. Each day the dragon leaves us a message in his wooden box (a poetic message!) and then our task is set before us. I’m using this story to teach addition and subtraction strategies to both first and second graders. We are working together as one group, doing simple and then more complex problems. I’m also using the story as a pedagogical one – for the 4 children have characteristics of everyone in our classroom and they will learn some lessons themselves.

So far, this story has brought us to a forest to count the trees. They had to be counted in groups of 10 or 20 and each child would count – so our class had to solve problems such as 10=8 + ___ and 10=6 + ___ or 20=13 + ___ and
20= ____ + 8.
Then the dragon had us regroup the number 20 (first grade task) and add multiples of 10 such as 10+10, 20+10, 20+30, 30+50, etc.

The children are very engaged in the story and we are working on the math. It is very difficult for some of them and easy for others. I’m trying to get the hang of our rhythm and ease up on my expectations for the second graders. Because they only came 3 days a week last year, we are a bit behind in our goals for 2nd grade math. It cannot be rushed, so there may be elements we don’t get to this year.

Week Four

This week in our math story the four children succeeded in getting the math crystal from the dragon after accomplishing some mighty tasks. They had to shorten big piles of stones in order to walk across them, fill baskets with wildflowers, and throw huge piles of sticks onto a fire in order to progress on their journey.

Each day we tackled addition or subtraction problems – first working a task in addition and the next day working a similar task in subtraction. I’m trying to get the children fluent and at ease with numbers 1 to 20 and then use that ease with higher numbers.
First graders subtracted examples such as 9 = 10 – ___. 8 = 10 – ____
They also added up to 20 in examples such as 11+9, 12+6, 10+5
Then we did this in subtraction – always trying to go from whole to parts.
19 = 20 – 1 (they must find the 1) Or – 16 = 19 – ___


First graders also participated and helped second graders in their math. Second graders subtracted multiples of 10 in examples such as 20 – 10 = ____ or
70 – 30 = ____.
Then they added examples such as 25 + 3 or 36 + 2 and 25 + 10 or 36 + 10. And then did the opposite 25 – 3 or 36 – 2 and 25 – 10 or 48 – 10. To keep it a challenge for students who can do this easily, I always threw in something more difficult in the story. For example – the characters in our story had to throw sticks in a fire and they were taking sticks out of big piles. We were subtracting here. We started with 77 sticks and threw in 6. Well then we had 71 and threw in 2. This involves carrying and not all of them could do this in their heads or count backwards to solve the answer. The next challenge problem was 64 – 7 – a bit more difficult. For students who needed extra help, we used gems. Large gems were multiples of 10 and small gems were ones. So for the number 23 we had two big gems and three small ones. This helped with the addition and subtraction.


We did movement this week and lots of counting. I recognized that all of us need practice counting between 20 and 100 forwards and especially backwards. The transition numbers are more difficult. 29 to 30, 39 to 40, 49 to 50 and 50 to 49, 40 to 39, 30 to 29.
One of our movement activities helps to teach students to add or subtract problems such as 12 + 6 or 18 – 11. I placed numbers 11 through 20 on the ground and asked questions such as, “What is the difference between 19 and 12?” or “What is 12 plus 7?” or “What is 18 minus 4?” The students had to walk the numbers while counting them – so 12 plus 7 – stand on the 12 and count 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19 aloud while walking these numbers and counting the steps on your fingers.

We finished up with a day of review – noticing how much work we did in this 4 week block. We drew a cover page into our main lesson books and then brought our completed math book home.


Final Fractions Block- Third and Fourth Grade

In February the third and fourth graders dove into three weeks of whirlwind fractions in our final Math block of the year. I made a huge push to fit in some major fraction concepts into the short time period knowing that our Math Practice periods each morning for the rest of the semester will provide ample time to further hone their skills.

We began with a day of fraction review, to ease back into the swing of things. I pointed out to the students that their instinct has been to complain about math, but they might be surprised by how much they’ve already learned this year! To keep morale up during math blocks, I use gentle reminders of how capable they are to take on difficult concepts, and that I only give them what I know they can handle. As they tackle a challenging task, stick it out through the frustration, and finally gain mastery, these students are gaining the capacity to work hard. Repeated, consistent practice at working hard will benefit them for the rest of their lives.

Fraction Review

Fraction Review

In our review, we quickly worked from the basic picture and notation work in fraction identification, to more complex word problems that are designed to help them transition to addition and subtraction of fractional numbers. This culminated in designing their own ‘dream gardens,’ with labeling the fractions for each crop or flower on a garden map. Though their gardens quickly became more like exotic zoos, it kept them excited. All of our activities remain focused on gaining comfort in visualizing the whole, being broken into smaller and smaller parts.

Garden Fractions

Garden Fractions

Next, I introduced Equivalent Fractions. I explained that fractions like to behave similarly to the trickster, Loki, from our Norse Myths. They wear disguises to try to confuse us, but with the right tricks, we can reveal what they really are underneath! We learned how to work from a fraction in its simplest form up through its many other names. For example, 1/2 can be 2/4,3/6,4/8, etc. By learning how to write fractions in many ways, the students found it easy to work backwards and simplify fractions the next day.


Equivalent Fractions/Fractions in “Disguise”

Armed with this understanding, they were ready to begin adding and subtracting fractions with matching denominators. They were thrilled by the simplicity of the adding and subtracting, noticing that “it’s really just like first and second grade math!” The only added step, is remembering to simplify their final answers down to the simplest form. At this point, all students were able to do this confidently, probably 85% of the time. We continued to practice this skill in all of our examples.

Adding and Subtracting Fractions with Like Denominators

Adding and Subtracting Fractions with Like Denominators

We supplemented addition and subtraction with making jumps up and down a number line. This helps me gauge their ‘big picture’ understanding and number sense when it comes to fractional numbers. It is important for the students to grasp how endless fractions are hidden in between whole numbers, and that we can count by them as easily as counting by 2’s and 4’s.

On Friday, before a Valentine Party, my class spent time checking their work from previous days and getting individualized help from me on simplifying fractions. When finished, we dove into some complicated form drawings. Emma practiced a metamorphosis form, that was quite a challenge, and the 4th graders began an intricate Celtic knot. Similar to our math work, I asked them to try something that they found impossible at first. Then, with practice and guidance, their forms became consistent, balanced and lovely. I saw a class that could work hard, and quietly for a long stretch of time, while also supporting and complimenting each other. It provided a fitting and heartwarming mood for Valentine’s Day.

A three-day weekend followed the Valentine party, and we started our week back up with a thrilling celebration on Tuesday in German class for Karneval or Fasching. Needless to say, it was a little hard to come back to math after all of that excitement! To their credit, however, the third and fourth graders managed to take on some challenging fraction work and fit a lot into our short week.

We began by learning “Butterfly Fractions” on Tuesday morning. This was a fun method of setting up their fraction addition and subtraction problems to help lead them through a new complicated process. Now that we are beginning to add and subtract fractions with unlike denominators, they need to keep their work neat and clear to understand each step of the problem. The butterfly structure led them through cross multiplication and solving for the least common denominators. It was delightful to see how the drawing element kept them engaged and led to beautiful main lesson book pages from students who normally struggle with neatness.

Adding Fractions with Unlike Denominators

Adding Fractions with Unlike Denominators

We continued practicing this on Wednesday with time for all to complete their problems and work through questions with me. As I work with individual students, I am constantly assessing their mood and looking for signs as to what might be affecting their learning. Often, it has to do with their confidence level, and ability to stay calm when faced with uncertainty about a new skill. Especially in the fourth grade, children feel strong waves of emotions in rapid succession. I am sure all of you are seeing this at home. I strive in the classroom to keep us all in the feeling world of stories, imagination and vivacious curiosity, and out of the depths of personal, and fleeting emotion. This can be a challenge as they feel their self-confidence threatened during moments of math struggles, and are tempted to quickly compare themselves to others. Luckily, they love to laugh as much as whine, and our whole day can be saved by a good joke.

Keeping this delicate balance in mind, the stories throughout this block came from daily reading of “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.” Though a few students have already read this one, I found it still served our need for release and some thrilling magic after difficult math work. I appreciated the patience of the children who had read it already, as they did a pretty good job in keeping it a surprise for the rest of us!

To infuse the new content with some fun, I decided to introduce how to fix ‘Improper Fractions’ on Thursday as monsters that must be slain! Each student got to illustrate their own monsters in their Main Lesson Book, some scary, many very cute. When I introduce imaginative names for fraction concepts, they are paired with the proper vocabulary as well. I want to ensure that they know the terms without being too bogged down by them, and ultimately have a strong ‘number sense’ for what it all means in terms of fractional and whole numbers.

Improper Fractions

Improper Fractions

Friday morning was a day of reviewing the week’s new concepts. They got to choose review problems from color coded columns to challenge themselves to try a bit of each category, while getting to do more in the areas they like best. This provided me with useful insight into who is most comfortable with what topics. We ended the week with a beautiful painting of “The Prairie Waiting For Rain.” I told them to imagine a grey-blue sky, over a golden prairie, as the first storm of spring rolls in. We referred to our compass on our classroom walls and discussed which way we might be facing, and from which cardinal direction a storm would move in.

Wet-on-wet Watercolor

Wet-on-wet Watercolor

In the third week we wrapped up our final math block. The two new fraction skills for this week were multiplying and dividing fractions. After the difficult adding and subtracting from last week, these skills proved much simpler to understand. I revealed that division is simply multiplication with just one easy adjustment, and the students picked it up quickly.

Multiplying Fractions

Multiplying Fractions

Dividing Fractions

Dividing Fractions

The children are strengthening their understanding of the many ways fractions can be written and manipulated, which will provide a strong foundation for all of their fraction work in the future. We will use the remainder of the year to continue to practice and build confidence in all kinds of fraction problems. It provides a chance to mix the newer skills with the old, and allow for plenty of review. This practice will occur both in the morning 15 minutes of math warm-up, as well as during our extra time after lunch. I will incorporate a variety of math games and activities to help us review all we’ve learned this year.

Fables in February – First and Second Grade

For three weeks in February, first and second graders’ language arts block was based in fables. We transitioned from stories of saints and animals in our Form Drawing block to stories of animals – continuing with the same theme, but now in a new way. Each time I present a fable, I begin with telling briefly about the characteristics and behaviors of the animals we are to hear about. We spend 5 to 10 minutes learning about the animals, and then I tell the fable. Here is some of the feedback I get from the children:

“That was really short.”

“That was really mean of the raven. I don’t think that’s nice.”

“I didn’t like that story.”

and the inevitable…

“Is that story true?”

Fables are a completely different kind of story than fairy tales or saint stories. They are much shorter and without many details. They are awakening to the children and dissatisfying. They call on more of the intellect than the imagination, and this is right where the 2nd grader sits – at a junction between being more aware and analytical and being dreamy and filled with imagination. An 8 year old can be filled with opinions. They love vanilla ice cream and hate strawberry ice cream. They play with opposites and behave this way too. Some days they are saintly, and other days they act like animals! Fables speak to this dichotomy. The stories show our virtues and failings personified in the animal kingdom. They tell of very naughty behaviors and already our young children respond with, “That’s not nice! I don’t like that” after hearing that the Raven let his two oldest children fall into the ocean. However his youngest child was carried safely across the open seas after telling the truth. The children hold a feeling or image within themselves after hearing a fable, and the truth lives in them, so that it develops into a morality or code of behavior. It helps to soften their strong opinions and guide their inner development.

Before we dove into talking about animals, we spent the first two days of this block talking about humans and our qualities. This is a precursor to the Human and Animal Blocks that the 4th graders are experiencing this year. Specifically we are talking about what our hands and feet can do. Run, walk, clap, snap, wave, write, draw, paint, tiptoe, etc. We drew a beautiful picture of a human being and wrote some of these doing words (verbs) around the person. The next day we visited the kitchen in the church, looked out at the garden, talked about Peace Park and then our classroom with the same question in mind. What do our hands do in each of these places? We drew a picture of each place and wrote some of these words. On Thursday, we began talking about what animals do with their legs and we brought in the characters from our fables – lions, mice, foxes and storks. I asked, “What can these animals do better than humans?” The class came up with words like hunt, scurry, sniff, rip, fish, etc. We drew these four animals and wrote some of these doing words around them.

What do our hands and feet do?

What do our hands and feet do?

What do animals do better than humans?

What do animals do better than humans?


On Friday, Eva came in for me and the class painted complementary colors yellow and purple. It sounded like all had a great time outdoors in the warmer weather.

During Reading Time this week, I introduced the first of our consonant blends to the 1st graders – which was great review for 2nd grade. We learned the th, sh, ph, wh, ch sounds and played a game to try to make words.

In circle, we began acting out the fable of the Boy who cried Wolf. The children love it! And we continue to work on the Winter Wind song on our flutes.

In the second week of this block, we had five complete days in the classroom and my – did we progress this week. I saw the fruits of months of work. We are at a point in the year where everyone is deep into our routines and procedures and can easily work quietly and work hard. Handwriting is improving. The children’s capacity to work hard and work long is increasing, as well as their capacity to take care of themselves, wait patiently for my help, and remain quiet. Skills are coming around too! It’s an exciting time for teachers in the classroom!

On Monday, we reviewed the animals that we had talked about the previous week and remembered the actions words that answered our question, “What can these animals do better than humans?”  We took these nouns and verbs and made simple sentences such as: Lions rip. Storks fly. Foxes hunt. First graders copied these sentences from the board. Then the second graders came up with their own sentences and wrote them. This was our first big step into writing. Until now, second graders have only written in conjunction with me and then copied these sentences from the board. Now they made the leap to writing on their own. They sounded out the words and wrote them on scrap paper. Then I edited their writing and they wrote a final copy in their main lesson books. We used this opportunity to introduce grammar – naming words (nouns) and doing words (verbs) and talked about how sentences need both of these kinds of words.

Simple sentences with noun and verb recognition

Simple sentences with noun and verb recognition

Next we went back to think about humans again, and specifically their work in a garden. We had talked about this the week before, so we revisited but this time we explored rhyming couplets. We put a bunch of rhyming words on the board associated with the garden and then, as a class, we came up with many rhyming sentences. Then, delightfully, we put these together to write a class poem about the garden. The children then copied the poem into their main lesson books and were able to create beautiful borders around their words. They loved the choice involved here, for everyone was allowed to create their own border within my parameters.

Gardening Poem

Gardening Poem

The poem took us two days to complete main lesson book work and then we began to talk about animals again, but using rhyming words. So again we filled the chalkboard with animal rhyming words – which of itself is great for early readers to see and hear – and we began to write simple rhyming phrases such as, “The mouse scurries to his house.” Second graders got another chance to come up with their own rhyming animal sentences and write them, while the first graders copied from the board. Second grade also underlined their naming words with green and their doing words with red.

On Friday we continued our discussion with animals but focused on the sounds that animals make – this is a new dimension of doing words. We drew a beautiful forest together with animals hiding behind rocks and trees. Then we wrote sentences such as, “Chickadees cheep. Bunnies squeak.” Again, second graders got to write a few sentences on their own, sounding out the words and writing on scrap paper. After I checked them, they wrote final drafts in their main lesson books.

Forest animals drawing

Forest animals drawing

Fables told so far included, “The Lion and the Mouse,” “The Fox and the Stork,” “The Raven and His Young,” “The Horse and the Overloaded Donkey,” “The Tortoise and the Geese,” “The Fox and the Crow,” and “The Cat and the Rat.”

In reading time, our early readers are sounding out simple words using sh, ch, wh, ph, th. Our more advanced readers continue to read “The Secret Door” together.

We painted on Wednesday complementary colors of prussian blue and vermillion. These hung on our bulletin board for a few weeks.

Our third week of Fables began by reviewing our previous work and revisiting our forest animals drawing. We then began talking about barnyard animals and the noises they make, so together we drew a barnyard scene into main lesson books. The rest of main lesson was the Fasching party – where the children got to experience many fun German games and traditions.

Fasching - Fat Tuesday

Fasching – Fat Tuesday

On Wednesday we wrote sentences from the barnyard scene such as, “The horse whinneys.” We composed many sentences together, which the first graders copied into their main lesson books and then second graders got to write some sentences on their own. The entire class is needing less direction from me, and are better able to do their work on their own. This is just what I want to see.

Barnyard animals

Barnyard animals

In the second part of main lesson, we reviewed many of the fables I’d told so far. Then we talked about the merits and limitations of animals in comparison to humans, and I introduced the concept of a simile. On the board, I wrote, “She _____ like a __________.” Under the first blank I wrote (action word) and under the second blank I wrote (animal). We wrote many similes. She runs like a deer. He jumps like a frog. She sings like a bird. We talked about how humans can embody almost any animal or act like an animal. They couldn’t quite see this, so I challenged them to name any animal, and I would tell them how humans could act like that animal. This was great fun – and the conversation has continued for many days. For example, a student raised their hand and said, “A worm!” and I’d say, “She wiggles like a worm.” Some of the similes portrayed behavior we weren’t very fond of such as, “He eats like a pig.” Some portrayed meritorious behavior such as, “She dances like a flamingo.” And here is where we got to the heart of our fables block, seeing human virtues and failings personified by the animal kingdom.

These similes were written into main lesson books on Thursday and second graders did a great job of coming up with their own similes and writing them as well.

In the second part of main lesson on Thursday we added words to our Word Wall. These are sight words that the students will need for basic reading. We played a Mind Reader game with these words in order to familiarize ourselves with the words.

On Friday we looked back over all of our work in our Fables Main Lesson book, re-reading all of the sentences we wrote and talking about the lessons from each day. Then we put a beautiful title page into these books.

In the second part of main lesson, we broke up into 4 stations. Each second grader took a station and led a first grader through it. One station went through letters and their sounds and some word flash cards with short vowel sounds, another station went through consonant and vowel blends and simple Bob books, and another station went through vowel sounds and word flash cards with long vowel sounds. I took a station as well and taught a new game, a word game called Boggle. This worked so well that we’re going to do it a lot more! The second graders loved teaching and the first graders remained very engaged and eager. A fun way to practice our growing phonics skills.

This week the children heard the African fable, “The Rat and the Toad.” Then we heard three Jataka Tales: “The Hungry Quail,” “The Brave Lion and the Foolish Rabbit,” and “The Steadfast Parrot.”

“The Brave Lion and the Foolish Rabbit” is a tale of compassion and unnecessary fear. It is a long tale with repeating parts, only new characters that repeat the same action. After hearing short fables, this story seemed very long and all of the children were heartily engaged. In fact, sometimes our class reaches a higher plane, where we are all so engulfed in the story that it’s as if we are all living in the same image. Time stops and magic ensues, and I was right there in the midst of it with them. I encourage you to tell stories to your children at home, even if it’s simple stories of you as a child. The more stories you tell, the easier it becomes, and then all at once you come to a place where you don’t think anymore. The story just emerges and it is beautiful.

Handwork is also demonstrating capacity building these days. Students are finishing projects and moving on to new projects. Clementine, Frances and Iris have learned to crochet and are working on a pencil case. Nick moved onto knitting a flute case after finishing his bunny. Charly finished his potholder and will move onto knitting a bunny. Luna finished her flute case and will move onto crocheting this week. Fourth graders continue to work on needle felting animals, using pipe cleaners inside of their creations. This is proving harder than they expected, but sticking with it is proving rewarding for them. This is a huge lesson in handwork. We, as teachers, make the students continue working on their projects. This is hard. There is often whining involved. However students press on because it is the expectation. Then they finish the project and experience the satisfaction that comes after all of that hard work. It is an important lesson that will stick with them for their entire lives!

Here is a photo of our chalkboard when we drew the forest animal scene.

Forest animals

Forest animals



Norse Mythology in January- Third and Fourth Grade

In January our classroom was full of back-to-school energy after winter vacation! It was fun to see the girls return with stories of their adventures over break, and enthusiasm for sharing. We began with some journaling. I had them write for 20 minutes about anything they wished to share about their winter vacation. Then I read excerpts from my own journal I wrote in fourth grade. We discussed how helpful it is to get your thoughts on paper, especially when facing big life changes and transitions.

Next, we worked on a couple form drawings to get us back into our class rhythm. The fourth graders started with a Celtic knot and then progressed to creating small Norse characters with knotted bodies for their Table of Contents pages. Emma practiced a mirror form to border her Table of Contents.

Norse Knot Creature

Norse Knot Creature

Norse Knot Creature

Norse Knot Creature

We returned to Norse stories with the tales of Balder-the God of Light, Heimdall- the Watchman, and learned how Njord, Frey and Freya came to live with the other gods in Asgard. Freya is the first goddess to be introduced in greater detail, and she rides in a carriage pulled by grey cats. Needless to say, the girls love her.

Balder, God of Light

Balder, God of Light


Freya was the basis of our main lesson bookwork at the beginning of Week Two. We completed a drawing and recalled the story before they began their independent writing. I was very pleased with the students’ focus and motivation to improve their writing this week. The fourth graders each wrote 7-10 sentences on their own about Freya, which required some tricky summarizing of multiple days of stories. In addition to their ability to sit down and write on the rough draft day, they each returned the next day with fresh eyes and willingness to identify any weak sentences and areas for revision. We discussed how self-editing will be a useful skill for the rest of their school career, and that even the most accomplished writers find it difficult.

Freya and her daughter, Noss

Freya and her daughter, Noss



To add another necessary skill to their toolbox, we introduced dictionaries this week. The school used some of the materials budget to purchase 5 student dictionaries for my class, and the girls love them! It is yet another example of how their enthusiasm for knowledge and learning catches me off guard and brightens my day. I asked them to first alphabetize their spelling words, then look up the definition to each. Though they did not all finish their lists, they quickly learned strategies to speed up their searches. We will continue to practice using the dictionaries in various ways throughout the semester. Now that the students know how to use them, they are hungry for new words!

On Thursday we painted an image of the rainbow bridge, with Heimdall in the center keeping watch. This required a good sense of spacing to fit in all of the colors of the rainbow across the page, as well as control over the brush while lifting off color to form Heimdall’s body.

Heimdall watching over the Rainbow Bridge

Heimdall watching over the Rainbow Bridge

This week, in addition to writing about Freya, the students drew and composed sentences about Bragi, the God of the Bards. Since the story explained how the beauty of verse was introduced into our world, it began our class exploration of poetry. We started simply, with each student describing herself with words that use the letters in her name. They completed this in their journals on Friday, and we will continue to add to them.

Bragi, God of the Bards

Bragi, God of the Bards


Our final activity for the second week was a dramatic reenactment of the Valkyries and the Valhalla. This was my special treat to the girls for working hard all week, and they really got into the story! We used props to help us embody the warrior women who pick up fallen heroes from battle, and bring them to feast and fight for eternity as Odin’s heroes in Asgard. It was hilarious, and I’m sure they’d be eager to provide your families with a replay!

In our final week of Language Arts, we tackled the stories of Frigga and her Goddesses, Freya’s Necklace and Idunn’s Magical Apples. With a short week, we limited our writing work to summarizing last week’s reenactment of the Valkyries and the Valhalla. I began with a lesson on paragraph construction. We discussed the key components of well-structured writing, and that a clear structure helps the reader follow your train of thought. I gave plenty of silly and confusing examples of jumbled writing, then we wrote a 5-sentence paragraph together about the Valkyries. With an example before them, the 4th graders were challenged to limit themselves to writing only 5, well-composed sentences about the Valhalla and the life of warriors in Asgard. Emma went straight to copying our group paragraph into beautiful cursive in her main lesson book.

Our drawing of the Valkyries took us multiple days to complete, as it included many women on horseback and a battle scene. It was a challenge, and had us all marveling at the complexity of drawing a horse’s legs!

The Valkyries and Odin flying over a battlefield

The Valkyries and Odin flying over a battlefield


We fit painting in on Thursday, and reveled in the vibrant colors of pink and purple. The students were directed to place strong Prussian blue and Carmine red on their paper, and then had the freedom to explore the wide range of shades in between purple and pink. We threw out many names for the hues as they were unveiled, and I challenged them to try and achieve a smooth, gradual transition between the colors. Though this was a color experience without a clear form, it was challenging and required good control over the amount of pigment and water used. The girls were pleased with the results, and it was a nice release after our precise and focused work on the drawing. The wide, steady, sweeps of a brush during wet-on-wet watercolor is wonderfully soothing, and smoothes out the self-criticism that creeps in as we take on more challenging art projects.

We are continuing with daily math practice each morning.  Over the three weeks we reawakened our memories of fractions from before break, and practiced putting a range of mixed numbers into increasing or decreasing order. We also kept fractions alive in word problems and math games to help prepare us for our next block.

We continue to rotate between silent reading and our group reading of “Abel’s Island” in the last half hour of each day. I take ten spelling words from the reading each week, for our Thursday quizzes.

In Circle we learned a poem about winter, and sang songs that incorporate more movement and marching. This really woke us up in the morning, even on the sleepiest days! In our King Winter song, we progressed from first marching all together, to maintaining various rhythms of claps and instruments simultaneously. This is a great challenge for students to maintain contrasting rhythms while continuing to sing together as a group. Additionally, I incorporated some coordination games that worked on our dexterity and required crossing our midline, adding to the element of challenge and fun.

Our Winter Song used in rhythmic work:

King Winter is now in the land.

He reigns with cold and freezing hand.

He makes Jack Frost touch nose and toe, and brings us bright and shiny snow.

First and Second and Form Drawing – January 2015

We began the semester in a Form Drawing block. We completed three forms in the first week, all standing forms. The first was a straight lined spiral and the second two were forms inside of circles. These are more challenging than some we have done in the past, but everyone was ready for them. It’s great to begin the semester with form drawing, as it reminds everyone of our school routines and procedures. I was pleased that the students seemed to fall right back into these routines. We spent a little bit of time remembering to raise our hands and to listen without talking, but for the most part our days went by smoothly.

Straight lined spiral

Straight lined spiral

Circle form

Circle form

We painted a simple color wheel on Friday morning before we went out to Grindstone Park. The children were challenged to blend red into blue, blue into yellow, and yellow into red gradually. It takes control of the paint colors and brush to do this. We are all progressing in our painting skills. We talked about complementary colors and brother/sister colors – observing which colors were next to each other and which colors were opposite.

In reading time, our early readers group reviewed letters and their sounds, made three letter words with our letter cards, and then had a chance to review letters and simple words on their own. The other group began reading “The Secret Door” together. This coming week I will give everyone a First Reader that I’ve made, composed of many of our poems we’ve memorized so far this year. We will use them in school for awhile and then they will come home for you to read with your child as often as possible for those early readers.

We continued this Form Drawing block for a second week. First graders did a series of running forms (forms that repeat themselves in a straight line) that were quite challenging. Second graders did two mirror forms, a running form, and then a metamorphosis form (we talked about what metamorphosis means) where a straight line gradually turned into a strongly curving line.

All students had the experience of not being able to draw the form at first, so they would trace the form that I drew for them on the slate boards. Then they would erase the form and try it on their own – often not succeeding on the second attempt. So we spent the first part of our mornings practicing drawing the form. By Thursday, the students quietly practiced for 25 to 30 minutes – switching from slate boards, to the sand box, to play dough. I was very proud of the focus and determination I saw, and recognized that the students have built this capacity all year long. I walked around and helped, urging them onward but to their own standards.

We came back after snack and recess to draw the form on paper – getting only one try, though I would let students who were very unhappy with their work do it over on the back of their paper sometimes. Some days, I asked for volunteers to share their drawings and other students would politely comment. My goal here is to get students to use descriptive language, and to see the best form and how the students’ forms looked in comparison. Though form drawing is an artistic task in our curriculum, it needs a critical eye. Through our form drawings, the children are learning to see straight lines and curved lines, the roundness or flatness of the lines, symmetry, centering, and how all of this works together to make a whole. These thought processes require an artistic eye and an intellectual awakening.

Running form - waves

Running form – waves

Running form - upward and downward loops. This was very challenging.

Running form – upward and downward loops. This was very challenging.

Running form - First Grade challenge

Running form – First Grade challenge

Mirror form - Second grade

Mirror form – Second grade

Mirror form - Second grade

Mirror form – Second grade

Metamorphosis form - Second grade

Metamorphosis form – Second grade

In these two weeks, the children heard the stories of St. Werburgh and the troublesome geese, St. Kevin and the Cow, St. Francis and the Beast, St. Francis and St. Clare, St. Anthony and the Fish, Rumi and the Caged Bird, and St. Antony and St. Paul. The children loved these stories – loved the saints and the goodwill they brought and the striving for goodness and holiness. Through these stories we learned about monks and nuns and how they lived long ago and I watched the children’s wide eyes excited with new knowledge and story. These stories specifically speak to the 2nd grader, who at 8 years old experiments with behaving in saintly ways and then in naughty ways. We tell saint or hero legends to speak to their desire for moral uprightness and fairness, and then we tell fables later in the year. Fables show us the animal side of our humanity, and are wrought with naughty behavior. They awaken the intellect and can be dissatisfying. So is the developmental place of the 8 year old. They move in and out of dreaminess and consciousness, they want to be good but experiment a bit. They are emerging from the first 7 years of childhood and begin to play with their likes and dislikes, and so we feed them these stories that parallel their developmental place.

In reading time, I introduced the First Readers to my class. These are some of the poems we’ve memorized that I have written down. If these were sent home with your child, I encourage you to have your child read it to you. With the other children, I am using them in class still. They loved pointing to words and “reading” the poems, especially when I asked, “Well – this is amazing, how are you reading this?”

We’ve had math practice everyday. The children write numbers when I dictate them, practice counting in our bean bag work, answer oral math problems, and practice counting on their fingers.

In flutes we are learning a new song – Winter Wind. When we get it, we’ll play it for parents!

On Friday, we painted the beautiful golden light of St.Francis, and the orange glowing light surrounding him. Second grade got to paint a simple form of St. Francis within the gold. Then we made 6 sided snowflakes, remembering a story I told during our numbers block about the number 6, and we taped them to our glass doors. The children each brought one home as well. All were excited for the chance of snow this weekend.

In Circle the children really love the following poem – that simply calls to consciousness the way they act toward one another every day – where they pretend to be ducks and get to turn to a partner and recite with great dramatics and inflection:

Said the drake to his lady, one very wet day

As he and she waddled and splashed on their way,

“You really should know how absurd you appear,

If you could just see yourself from the rear.

You rock and you roll from left side to right,

You slap your feet down, Oh you are a sight!”

The drake walked ahead and the duck fell behind,

And watching him closely she said, “He is blind!

The way that he waddles he charges to me!

My dignified walk he simply can’t see.

But rocking and rolling in side to side sway,

He actually dreams that I walk that way!”

She paused for a moment to shake her tail dry

Then paddled along with a very deep sigh.

“No chance to correct him, I won’t try!”

Also our tongue twister:

Say, did you say, or did you not say

What I said you said?

For it is said that you said

That you did not say

What I said you said.

Now if you say that you did not say

What I said you said,

Then what do you say you did say instead

Of what I said you said?