Engaging The Will: Main Lesson Books

A distinguishing feature of Waldorf® education is the Main Lesson block: a daily ninety-minute period devoted to a particular subject for three to four weeks. Components of the lesson consist not only of listening to subject material but also active participation. During Main Lesson you hear a variety of sounds emanating from the classrooms. Students may be clapping and stepping to a movement exercise, singing, playing instruments, or reciting lines of an epic poem. Adapting the rich curriculum of Waldorf Education for our students is a wonderful gift as well as a challenge for curative educators. Working intensely with the material for a particular time and enlivening it through poetry, drawing, painting, modeling, and drama gives our students the opportunity to receive the content to the best of each one’s ability. 

Another significant aspect of Waldorf Education is its central focus on the teacher speaking directly to the students rather than through textbooks. Students instead create their own “textbooks” called Main Lesson Books, which include summaries of lesson content. The summaries vary from a few paragraphs to several sentences to a list of relevant sight words, depending on the student’s capability. Engaging the will is the important element in this part of the Main Lesson. Students gain daily practice in reading, writing, spelling, and sentence structure. Some students practice a single letter or word from Main Lesson content. All achievements, no matter the scale, support confidence and growth. To complement the writing, students capture content creatively through drawing, tracing, or painting. The Main Lesson Book becomes a portfolio of the student’s work. 

Main Lesson Books can be made in several different ways, depending on the topic and abilities of the class. They may use ready-made notebooks, loose pages that are then sewn together, or a folder made from a watercolor painting. A Main Lesson Book can be used for the entire year, devoted to a particular subject such as History or Language Arts or a new one may be produced for each lesson. Binders are frequently used for science blocks in high school to collect compositions, diagrams, and experiments. There is no one way of producing a Main Lesson Book; the objective is to help students integrate, internalize, and retain the material in a creative and lively manner. 

Creating Main Lesson Books provides a special opportunity for students with special needs to engage with each subject and foster a true sense of ownership. The effort required to produce one’s own book helps anchor lesson content and engage the whole human being through thinking (head), feeling (heart), and will (hands). Each teacher has experienced the pride students feel as they enthusiastically placed completed work into their Books. Care, perseverance, and effort— qualities that Rudolf Steiner said every person should have the opportunity to develop—are needed to create a beautiful Book. Books made by the students exemplify that “The heart of the Waldorf method is the conviction that education is an art—it must speak to the child’s experience. To educate the whole child, his heart and will must be reached as well as his intellect.”