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What Is a Morning Lesson Book?

What Is a Morning Lesson Book?
Emma Hamlin

When I moved out of my parents' house, my mother pushed a huge steamer trunk to the door, and with great effort we hefted it into the back of my now-husband's truck. In that trunk were a few mementos of my childhood – a Peter Rabbit bowl I ate oatmeal from, a wee little spoon – but mostly the trunk was full of Main Lesson books. My trousseau, my mother called it. It was tangible evidence of all my early academic learning at a Waldorf school.

For Waldorf grade school students, the first part of the day is called Morning Lesson (formerly called Main Lesson). Toward the end of each day's lesson, time is set aside for bookwork, which looks different both by grade and by subject matter.

letters, number, and crayon drawing of Hansel and Gretel

In grades 1 and 2, the two bookwork subjects are language arts and math. In a language arts lesson, the teacher might draw a picture on the chalkboard to illustrate a story. Students then copy this picture into their Morning Lesson books with some guidance, such as "you may dress Hansel and Gretel in the colors of your choice." This allows for a bit of freedom and independence while still following explicit instruction from the teacher. Writing instruction usually takes the form of simple words or sentences, with guiding lines for letter formation. When students are responsible for creating their guiding lines, they are able to see the results of their efforts in a concrete manner: if their lines are rushed and crooked, their writing will be less beautiful. It's a distinct opportunity to observe cause and effect.

Math lesson books often depict an illustration from the story out of which numeracy lessons will be taught, along with simple equations, lines of multiples, number bonds, and more. It is an opportunity for students to learn the left-to-right organization of writing and number formation, but also there is the modality of learning where to truly know something, a student has to make that knowledge their own. Writing it into a book has a degree of finality to that ownership, and can help solidify their knowledge.

As the grades progress, illustrations become more complex, writing grows lengthier, concepts become more abstract, and bookwork becomes more of an independent exercise. There develops this sense of respect and pride in a student’s output, not because the product is the point, but because it is tangible evidence of all the work that has been done.

student illustration and writing - anatomy of the eye

Books are stored with care because of the sheer amount of effort they contain. At the same time, at the end of the year, students are able to see the development of their skills and abilities since September – often as we pack up for the summer, students can be heard to say "look how I used to write!" or "my trees didn’t have leaves!" While encouraged to be gentle on their former selves, it is wonderful to hear these comments arise out of a sense of awe over the journey students have taken. Even more so, at the end of eight years, a student can then reflect on their journey from first grade, when they carefully transcribed "the cat sat on the mat" in big capital letters, all the way to their narrative essay on Eleanor of Aquitaine. Or, in my case, the literal heft of thirty books into the bed of the truck — a mighty weight of inspiration for my own teaching journey.


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