Thursday, September 24, 2015

water and the will

wet on wet workshop

Teaching wet on wet watercoloring is as enjoyable with children as it is with adults. Wet on wet is a medium of painting used widely in Waldorf classrooms. It allows for the development of the whole child as its lessons encompass the expression of the curriculum and the expression of the self. In comparing my instruction for children with that of the grownups, I made some observations.

Children are less bounded by self-consciousness. For them, the act of painting is truly an exploration of the moment, not tethered to pre-conceived notions of their abilities. In this regard, they dive right in, they experience the art as it unfolds in front of them, they are not subject to self-critique or comparative inner dialogue. They are less afraid. 

It is a normal part of human development: as adults, our intellectual selves intertwine with our feeling lives and our will forces. This balance helps us think, feel, and act with the right intent. And together, we move through life with the right purpose. Often, however, our thoughts actually keep us from tackling life. 

Wet on wet painting for adults is a wonderful exercise in reclaiming our will forces. The medium asks us to work with water in such a way as to not so much control it, but to make friends with it. So the process is a balanced experience of the will. For us, it gives us wiggle room to try out our will without being hyper-critical of ourselves. The relationship with water, a powerful elemental being, guides us in gently rediscovering our will forces without judgment. And this builds confidence to allow oneself to not always be guided by our hyper-intellectualized self-doubt. We discover how to have the hands of a child, experiencing the beauty of the moment.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

benner creek

a sanctuary among the pines

My wife discovered it when she was a young girl. It is not accessed by a marked trail head. It is off the beaten path used mainly by logging trucks. You walk through tall grasses on gravel and sand. You have to hurdle a fallen tree, duck under a low hanging branch. Then you hear the trickling of water, and the curtain of pine trees open up onto a clearing. There sits a mass of boulders with a mountain stream and tall trees standing guard. A cathedral fashioned by Nature's hand. A quiet place for reflection and rejuvenation. There is an automatic sense of reverence. You discover yourself.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

navigator and captain

charting the college journey

I remember the day he was born. The times just watching him sleep and breathe. Dips in the pool. The first day of preschool. A love of all things dinosaurs. Homeschool. The day he accidentally deleted a saved file on GameCube and I stayed up late just to get the game back to where he left off. Gymnastics, tae kwon do, fencing.  Days on the beach. Guiding his artistic abilities and his musicianship. Talks about respect, love, relationships. Then suddenly, he graduates from high school, and in the same summer, he leaves for college.

Those eighteen years were spent shaping his person, his character, his values - often just by his simply living under the same roof with us, his family. He has a bit of me, a bit of my wife, a bit of his relationship with his siblings and birth order, a bit of his environment growing up. All of it contributed to who he is, along with the spirit of his being, the angel prior to his physical form. He journeyed with us on uncharted water, and together we sought horizons near and far.

Now he embarks on the next leg of a journey that he makes alone. In spirit, we're with him. In love, we're with him. But at eighteen, and college-bound, he tests his own decision-making processes, and he develops trust and confidence in himself. How does one learn to navigate through life without the opportunity to think, feel, and act independently?

We helped him move into his dorm room, his whole family did. He is only five hours away. I have some level of peace as I carry the image of his space, his bed, his roommate, the campus, the city, which he will call his new home, his new proving ground, his new uncharted sea.

I carry the memories of his childhood. He will not be gone long; he will return from his journey a man with new skills, new knowledge, new insights. He will continue to forge his own path as he is his own navigator and captain. And I will continue to love him.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

morning sun

first day of homeschool

From one of my first posts on the waldorf way blog in 2009:

"Thus my life flowed in two streams; I followed one as a lonely wanderer, the other in the lively companionship of people whom I had learned to love."

- excerpt from Rudolf Steiner's autobiography, Mien Lebensgang, in Hemleben's Rudolf Steiner, An Illustrated Biography.

We all need both paths. One spent in solitude. The other spent in togetherness. We learn something of ourselves as individuals and as members of a family and a community. We must give each other these moments as gifts. We grow in this learning. 

The cool morning sun of summer embraced Wilson and I in our walk together to the park on Monday. Homeschool perks - time spent in togetherness. Then a bit of dribbling practice - just Wilson, the ball, the court. Time spent in solitude, in personal growth.

Monday, February 16, 2015

first grade letters

another way to use watercolor paintings

Above the chalkboard is displayed colorful letters of the alphabet. Use watercolors to add beauty to the classroom, while at the same time giving your students a visual reference towards their learning.(There are some vowels still missing from the letter tapestry - they mysteriously appear after the students have heard a story about the letter and have printed the letter in their main lesson books.)

For classroom or home school, watercolors can be for more than just painting class. Have fun!

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

first grade

the beginning of the journey

Happy Holidays! Here is a song I wrote for the first grade students who sang it for their parents the day before Winter Break.
Winter Song

Long nights and cold days
The winter time is here.
Leaves have all fallen
The gray skies appear.

Star light shines on me
From heaven above.
I’m with my family
I sing a song of love.

North wind and dew drops
The winter time is cold
Branches sway softly
On a fading sun of gold

Star light shines on me
From heaven above.
I’m with my family
I sing a song of love.

Deer mice and hedgehogs
The winter wood’s asleep
Baby bird and baby bear
Slumber and dream

Star light shines on me
From heaven above.
I’m with my family
I sing a song of love.

Candle glows softly
My winter rest is time
Warm in my blanket
Bells ring and chime.

Star light shines on me
From heaven above.
I’m with my family

I sing a song of love.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

a school play about salem

the pedagogy and the pride of waldorf school plays

The Davis Waldorf School Class of 2014 performed their musical Good Village Salem: The Unsung Story. When the final song concluded, parents, friends, faculty, and alumni applauded the students' stage performance. For a Waldorf school, the applause is more than a traditional response to a production that was well executed, more than an appreciation for the actors' abilities. A Waldorf school play has a pedagogical basis.

It is just as much about the process as it is the performance. Through the grades, with a curriculum that is rich in biographies, legends, and stories, the class teacher chooses a play that can bring the curriculum to life for the students. Learning about the fall of Troy and the rise of the Roman Empire, for instance, is brought not only through main lesson lectures, but also through a play.

The work of producing a dramatic retelling of a story requires reading and memorization, delivery and recitation, collaboration and cooperation, music and singing, art and crafts. In this theatrical medium, skills that are honed in the students in language arts, practical arts, and performing arts are creatively taught and practiced. Additionally, in the eighth grade, the elements of theater such as the script, the cast, and set are introduced so the students can further their appreciation of this age-old craft. The curriculum lives through the play. For our eighth grade musical, I wrote a play that retold the circumstances of the Salem witch trials, which is pertinent to our studies of colonial American history. Its themes included the entanglement of law and religion, women's roles, community versus individuality, friendships and reputations.

On a deeper level, the teacher has the opportunity to meet the child's soul force by thoughtfully giving the child a particular character to portray. Through the character, the teacher is able to individually tailor a lesson for the child, whether the child needs more practice in reading or memorization, or that the child needs to learn some kind of social dynamic, or some underlying truth about him or herself.

After all the practice and the hard work, the play is ready to be performed. The theater arts is meant to be shared and experienced by others, the audience. A dialog, a relationship, is formed in that beautiful moment of a live performance. This is what makes a play so thrilling and raw and powerful. When the play is performed by the children of parents who make up the audience, the pride of the production completes the arc of a Waldorf school play.

The applause on the evening when our musical ended was as much for the performance as it was for the pride for the students on a job well done, on an effort made, on the creative spirit released and shared and enjoyed.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

a musical about salem

eighth grade sings and dances through Salem Village

In he beginning of the school year, I promised the eighth graders of Davis Waldorf that I would write them a play. Capitalizing on their love of music, singing, and dancing, I figured, why not really stretch myself artistically and write a musical? So over Winter Break, in the solitude of early morning, I pecked away at the laptop, and amid the afternoons of family life, I pounded away at the piano. Days before our return to school, I had completed my first musical! It is called Good Village Salem: The Unsung Story.

Twelve students, six original songs, one witch!

Not only was writing melodies and lyrics a challenge, but the story itself required sensitivity and plenty of creative license. After all, I was dealing with a dark time in colonial American history, where the Puritan way of life was wrestling with its strict doctrine, the colonists were faced with insurgency from the Wampanoag, and there were land disputes and political turmoil. The Puritans struggled with the clash of community and individuality. Their lives continuously put them at odds with the devil. And how do I deal with the witch craft trials on stage without actually hanging anybody at Gallows Hill?

Well, using historical figures from Salem, adding plenty of real themes and motivations that drove the Witch Trials, I managed to get to the court trial of one of their citizens Bridget Bishop, and after much drama in court (pulled from real transcripts), the judge rules that Bridget Bishop is.......

Sorry for the cliffhanger! I'll let you know, in about seven weeks after the students have performed the play, what happens!

Sunday, December 1, 2013

human anatomy

the four systems for eighth grade

high jumper chalk drawing

the biped leg model

In eighth grade anatomy, it is all about RELATIONSHIPS and GROWTH. We discovered the interconnected network of systems between the skeletal, muscular, and nervous systems. To function at our optimum level, we must coordinate the workings of the body. A notable exercise the students engaged in was the Quadruped Game. While ambulating as a quadruped, they had to perform tasks such as explore the forest floor for food and to watch out for and outrun potential predators! This led us to hypothesize about theories why human evolved into bipeds. From there we discussed the angle of joints and the muscles that enable us to stand in an upright manner. Along with the model above, it was a great way to compare the animal world with the human world. The model proved very useful and allowed for a dramatic demonstration on how the elasticity of muscles act on the rigidity of bones to allow us to stand upright.

For the nervous system, I created a table that matched 8 parts of the brain with specific functions of each of those parts, and discussed how all the parts must act in concert. The parts and their functions (not exclusive) are:

The fourth system we discussed was the reproductive system. We reviewed the eight-petal flower of Biology/Biography, and touched on fetal development and maternal health.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

brave new world

history for the eighth grade

In American History Part I, the students will travel through about 400 years of development from colonization to industrialization. In Week One, the theme is "A Brave New World," where the British colonists face the challenges of a new environment and learn how to create a new way of life, religions, and government. It ends with the building of the Thirteen Colonies. In Week Two, the theme is "A Fight for Freedom," where sides are drawn between the loyalist British colonists and the separatists, culminating in a fight for independence between the Redcoats and the Rebels. It ends with the drafting of one of the most important documents of our nation: the US Constitution. In Week Three, the theme is "A Nation Divided," and with the fundamental tenet of human freedom hanging in the balance (slavery), it pits brother to brother, North against South, teh Civil War. Lincoln plays a key role in this historical saga that will live on as the bloodiest, costliest war ever fought on American soil. In Week Four, the the theme is "Full Steam Ahead," and after the nation rebuilds itself, it becomes one of the world's leading industrial giants.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

a sweet life

organic chemistry for eighth grade

my chalk drawing for the block, 4 feet x 6 feet

What better way to start off the year than with a heaping serving of sugary sweet organic chemistry! Oh those carbohydrates are so much fun! Along with proteins and fats, the students discovered the building blocks and properties of these groups of organic compounds. With saccharades, we studied their solubility and correlated the length of saccharides with their usefulness. Monosaccharides and disaccharides are readily available sources of energy. Polysaccharides such as starch are a stored form of energy. Polysaccharides such as cellulose, the most abundant organic compound in nature - think trees, are insoluble and are a structural form of energy. Trusting the caramelizing propeerty of sugar, we made, well, caramel. We ate chocolate pudding as well, using corn starch as our thickener.

With proteins, we listed their functions and spent some time studying enzymes such as amylase and catalase. We made the analogy that an enzyme is like a maid-of-honor. A maid-of-honor helps along (catalyzes) the transformation of the bride to the wife, and at the end of the ceremony, the maid-of-honor, like an enzyme, does not become part of the product - only the wife gets married to the husband! It works.

We also studied two individuals: Milton Hershey, the captain of chocolate and philanthropist, and Dr. Marie M. Daly, the first African American woman to earn a PhD in chemistry, becoming well-respected as an activist and researcher.

We topped off the block with another sugary sweet favorite: ice cream - which combined carbs, proteins, and fats - yummy!

Friday, September 27, 2013

new crew

teaching the class of 2014

A new year, a new group. I return as eighth grade teacher after graduating the Class of 2013 at Davis Waldorf School. While it may be true that the Waldorf model of teaching is an eight-year journey with your class, it seems in the modern day, this lofty goal is becoming somewhat of an urban legend. Waldorf centers its curriculum on the development of the child, and it follows intuitively that, next to the parents of the children, a teacher who also grows along with the students will be able to fully meet each child in his or her growth. While my biography did not previously include a journey through the grades with this group, I would say that even just four weeks into the school year, I am connecting with them in an unexpected but happy and welcome way.

It may be that the immediate feeling of closeness is due to the fact that I have been on the same campus with them for the past three years.  Or, I'd like to think the synchronicity of unexpected and non-premeditated crossings of paths has its own lively way of bringing people together at just the right moment in time. Maybe they need me, maybe I need them, maybe we just simply hit it off!

Whatever the reasoning may be for this developing bond, I just know that we are heading towards an awesome year of growth, learning, building, doing, being. It's their time.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

art of teaching

G7 physiology and G8 anatomy 

Teaching G7 physiology and G8 anatomy is a challenge in the Waldorf classroom! There really are not many resources on it. I have had to myself compile ideas from various sources such as my own textbooks and online journals. Then, I added my own layer of ideas and imaginations - after all, that is what Rudolf Steiner had expected we would do in our teaching!

Whether you are teaching in a classroom for your students or in a home school for your children, you might find this post with an outline for blocks useful as a starting point.

I have included in this post the five key elements of the physiology or anatomy blocks. I then list four concepts within each of the four systems for physiology and anatomy. In this way, you will have a guideline for a four-week block. Most likely, you will conceive of your block in your own special way to meet your beautiful students.

I have updated this blog post to include a link to an eBook I wrote that addresses the topic of reproduction. You might find it helpful in opening a conversation with your teen! The eBook contains illustrations and a week's worth of ideas for a lesson on the reproductive system. Click on the photo here.

Be Authentic, Enthusiastic, Interested, Open, and Understanding. Tie in the Artistic, Musical, Performance, Language Arts. Use your own brand of teaching and skill set to infuse the science blocks with vibrant life!


1. THEME. In the arc of your year, each block has some kind of underlying theme or message you want to convey. With anatomy, for instance, my theme combined the geometry of the cylinder and the social value of standing on solid ground. The umbrella themes for the upper grades are WELLNESS, SELF-IDENTITY, and HEALTHY RELATIONSHIPS.

2.  PERSONAL RELEVANCE.  Draw the children in with how learning about their bodies is important to each of them specifically.

3.  HISTORICAL OR BIOGRAPHICAL CONNECTION. Acknowledge the work of historical figures who have contributed to the study and progress of the concepts, and those where anatomy or physiology play an important role in their lives.

4.  INTRODUCTORY CONCEPTS. These are the actual science concepts you wish to introduce to the students.

5.  PATHOLOGY, DISORDER, or SOCIAL CONCERN. Offer examples of the social impact of disease occurrence related to the body.


G7 student main lesson page

WEEK ONE: Digestive System - Flow of EARTH
1. The Five Core Values of Food
2. Anatomy and Function of the Digestive Tract - including the idea that digestion happens before the first bite
3. Healthy Choices (Proteins, Carbohydrates, Fats)
4. Biography of an Olympic athlete, or someone you might know who is struggling with a nutrition disorder.

WEEK TWO: Circulatory System - Flow of WATER
1. Components of Blood (Red Blood Cells, White Blood Cells, and Platelets)
2. Blood Flow through the Vessels and the Heart
3. Blood Typing, Blood Transfusion
4. Biography of Hippocrates or Galenus

WEEK THREE: Respiratory System - Flow of AIR
1. Tree and Human Relationship
2. Oxygen, Carbon Dioxide, and the Alveoli
3. Healthy Lungs, Unhealthy Lungs (Smoking)
4. Biography

WEEK FOUR: Reproductive System - Flow of FIRE
1. Male and Female Parts
3. Female Fertility
4. Spermatogenesis

An extra note regarding the Reproductive System: In the week, it was beneficial for the boys and girls to have a break out discussion with the boys and a male teacher, and the girls with a female teacher to discuss more gender-specific concerns. Another option is to have students anonymously place questions in a box for the teacher to answer in a whole group situation.


G8 student main lesson page

WEEK ONE: Skeletal System 
1. Bone Shapes and Function of Protection and Action
2. Bone Growth
3. Bone Structure - Compact Bone with Osteons, and Spongy Bone with Marrow
4. Joints and Fulcrum Action

WEEK TWO: Muscular System 
1. Three Types of Muscle (Skeletal, Smooth, and Cardiac)
2. Muscle Structure
3. Sliding Filament Model
4. Biography of Olympic Athlete

WEEK THREE: Nervous System
1. Central Nervous System - the Brain and Spinal Cord
2. The Neuron
3. Peripheral Nervous System - Somatic and Autonomic (Rest/Digest vs. Fight/Flight)
4. Biography: Ivan Pavlov

WEEK FOUR: Reproductive System 
1. Review of Eight Petal Flower of Seventh Grade  (This will soon be an eBook!)
2. Fetal Development
3. Maternal Health
4. Biography or Invite someone in your community who is a midwife or who is pregnant!

An extra note on Fetal Development: One of our more memorable activities was using a balloon during my presentation and I blew it up to match the size of the uterus as I talked about fetal development. When the uterus was at term, I had the students put their own balloons under their shirts to mimic being pregnant - it was fun and silly.  But....serious too - one of the girls whose balloon she wore under her shirt was adjusting it when it slipped out. One of the boys in class, thinking he was funny, grabbed the balloon, and popped it. My female student was visibly upset to lose her baby. So a lesson there for all of us - these things we do for our students really do matter.

NOTE: For the G8 Anatomy participants: soon, I will post the illustrations as promised that tie in the different systems.

Dr. Rick Tan

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

graduation and beyond

DWS Class of 2013

The Davis Waldorf School Class of 2013 graduated this year, June 8. I had the honor and privilege of being their class teacher for three years. I have grown to love them and cherish their soulful ways. While I am no longer their teacher, I hope to always be present somewhere in their hearts. I hope that I had made an impact on who they are becoming. It is my wish that beyond the sunset, they will love and be loved.