Main Lesson Books in the Waldorf Homeschool

Standard main lesson book work: picture and summary. Teal, grade 2

Standard main lesson book work: picture and summary. Teal, grade 2

Spore prints from Teal's 5th grade botany block inserted into a 3-ring binder we used as a whole-year main lesson book.

Spore prints from Teal’s 5th grade botany block inserted into a 3-ring binder we used as a whole-year main lesson book.

Sun prints from grade 5 botany.

Sun prints from grade 5 botany.

The cover of a main lesson book we made from drawing paper for Pintail's grade 3 gardening block.

The cover of a main lesson book we made from drawing paper for Pintail’s grade 3 gardening block.

One of the pages in the grade 3 gardening book.

One of the pages in the grade 3 gardening book.

Weaving from Pintail's grade 3 fiber block that was stapled into the MLB at the end of the year.

Weaving from Pintail’s grade 3 fiber block that was stapled into the MLB at the end of the year.

A tiny six inch by six inch MLB full of songs and poems learned as we studied the seasons. Pintail, grade 1 or 2

A tiny six inch by six inch MLB full of songs and poems learned as we studied the seasons. Pintail, grade 1 or 2

A leaf rubbing from the season MLB.

A leaf rubbing from the season MLB.

Pintail, grade 1. The letter "c" and some paper bag puppets that we made for the story and keep in the MLB.

Pintail, grade 1. The letter “c” and some paper bag puppets that we made for the story and keep in the MLB.

What is a Main Lesson Book? It is a compilation of the child’s work from a block of teaching that might be over a period of time…The MLB [Main Lesson Book] is a blank book or pages that are completed and created by the wonderful child. It should reflect the unique qualities and capacities of that child and be a reflection of the ‘best work.’…It creates a picture of the whole-block or whole-year of lessons in both an illustrative and written form…You can think of it as a visual picture of the time spent on a subject or a topic, and the MLBs are often cherished and enjoyed for many decades.

from “Waldorf Main Lesson Books: A guide for creating beautiful memories and a record of work.” by Marsha Johnson

Here are some of my thoughts regarding Main Lesson Books in a Waldorf-inspired home school:

  • Your child’s artwork may not look like something you have seen online! Each child is blessed with their own strengths and weaknesses. Drawing may be your child’s (or YOUR!) weakness. That’s OK!
  • How does your child’s main lesson book reflect their unique qualities and capacities? Find ways to include your child’s artistic strengths in their Main Lesson Book. Take photos of their sculptures and glue them into the MLB. Paint something that will fit into the book and glue it in. Print out a recipe you followed and a photo of the finished baked good and glue these into the book. Staple a finished weaving project into the book. Remember, it’s not just about drawing and summarizing!
  • Main Lesson Books should show progress over the years, and not just in drawing! Is your child’s handwriting improving? How about the clarity with which they write? Punctuation? Grammar? Is the composition of their pages more complete? Are you teaching them techniques that they are incorporating into their pictures?
  • There is no right way to do a Main Lesson Book. Steiner believed teachers should be guided by “spirit-vision or spirit-driven responsive and artistic endeavors” (from Marsha Johnson’s aforementioned work.) This is an area I really need to work on! Often, it’s convenient and safe to find images online or in books for our children to copy into their main lesson books, but how often do we take the time to really respond in our own spirit-driven or inspired way?
  • Sometimes, a child just won’t do their ‘best work’ when working on the MLB. Do you do your best work every day? I would say you need to decide when to push for more and when to hold off.

I would love to hear some of your thoughts on creating Main Lesson Books in your home school! (I apologize for the shadows in all the photos above. Oops!)

6 thoughts on “Main Lesson Books in the Waldorf Homeschool

  1. motheringwithmindfulness

    Thank you for this. We will venture into the MLB next year when we start Grade 1, but it is nice to see how you do it, and hear your thoughts on it. I am starting to get ready for Grade 1, I know, it is year off, but I want to be prepared, so this is perfect timing.

    Thanks again, and have a wonderful weekend.

    Reply
    1. Mrs. Mallard Post author

      It is so fun to start preparing for your first year of academics Kim! I used to feel really worried because my children’s main lesson books didn’t look like a lot of the books you see featured online. Over the years though, I started to notice that there were all sorts of levels and abilities in Waldorf work – you just see the best posted online, of course! And rather than copying other teacher’s work, each teacher is supposed to follow what arises for a particular child. I do that sometimes, and when I do there is a real feeling of satisfaction that is noticeably different than copying what someone else has done. Best, Rachel

      Reply
  2. Lisa

    I think you have pretty much the same philosophy we do. My kids’ books don’t look like the fancy, beautiful ones I see online, but it is still nice to see how far they’ve come. We were actually just looking through Dallin’s old MLBs the other day and the kids had a great time talking about how “obviously Mom you are a better teacher now since Sariah’s fables drawings look so much better than Dallin’s in that grade”. I loved that they framed the clear discrepancy in artistic ability in that way. Just blame it on the teacher, lol!

    Reply
    1. Mrs. Mallard Post author

      Of course it’s your fault Lisa! LOL. Looking through old MLBs is one of my my favorite things to do. It helps me realize that we really have accomplished so much over the years. I think that’s another reason I treat them a little more like scrapbooks, throwing pictures in and projects, too. It helps me remember everything we did. xxoo, Rachel

      Reply
  3. licoricelovinglady

    We had to completely abandon MLBs when we started out, and even when we tried again about a year later some of my son’s first drawings looked more like scribble. I was so worried about his drawing and writing! Now I wish I could tell every worried parent that progress can be slow but they will get there in the end…

    We do a variety of things with MLBs too. For some we have used big sheets of really good quality painting paper and bound them to make large books at the end of the block (we did fables, OT creation, G4 geography like that), then others we have used spiral bound art sketch books by subject which last for maybe the whole year, sometimes even continuing on to the following year. We do a few blocks using the Mercurius main lesson books, but I tend to save those for blocks when I know we will fill them, such as our Norse Myths block. I see us using those more often as we progress through the grades and do more writing.

    One of the things I started doing was cutting our painting paper to fit into the MLB and sticking some of our paintings in at the end of the block. I took Eugene Schwartz’s tip of sticking the paper down with painter’s masking tape before we start painting and it makes a nice clean border around the painting. We probably do about half our paintings in “miniature” now.

    I love looking back at what we’ve done. I can’t imagine ever throwing these books away. I don’t think I’ve got a single piece of work saved from when I was at school, which is sad really. I think main lesson books are such a great idea and very special.

    Reply
    1. Mrs. Mallard Post author

      Thank you for your insights Cathy! I personally think it’s a great idea to do main lesson books in different formats, like you mentioned with painting paper or sketchbooks. It breaks up what could be a very monotonous way to go about things. I cut down most of our painting paper, too, just because I want it to fit into the MLB. I hate leaving things out, really! LOL They are special books. Are you enjoying spring? Best, Rachel

      Reply

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