Drawing Supplies — Oil Crayons

A long time ago I did a series on basic main lesson supplies. I covered topics like pencils, crayons and main lesson books — all the basics.

Since writing that post I have discovered other supplies that started out as extras but have become part of my essential toolkit.

Of these new supplies, the ones that have changed my workflow most are oil crayons. There are a few things that I love about oil crayons.

  1. They make it easier to face a blank page. I use oil crayons in a way that is similar to the way I paint. You can turn your oil crayon on its side and fill the page with a light wash of color before creating a detailed, formed picture. Definitely less intimidating.
  2. They discourage outlining. If you guide your students through a drawing beginning with oil crayons and continuing to use them for as long as possible, they will avoid the tendency to draw outlines of the figures they are drawing.
  3. The range of pigment available is rich and diverse. Students can draw very lightly with oil crayons but they can also create beautifully rich drawings.

Basically, oil crayons allow your older students to benefit from the advantages of block crayons, without feeling like they are still kindergarteners.

So, my favorite oil crayons? Here they are.

Filia Oil Crayons

These Filia Oil Crayons were the first ones I started using and I really love them. They are especially great for the students I have who tend to draw very darkly. The colors are beautifully transparent which prevents children from coating the page so thoroughly with pigment that their drawings look as though they were done with markers. These crayons work great for drawings that include a combination of crayon and colored pencils. The foundation of oil crayon accepts the colored pencil just fine and though you can get a fair amount of detail with the point of the oil crayon, colored pencils allow for greater detail and depth of color.

Caran D'Ache Neocolor Crayons

These Caran D’Ache oil crayons were the ones I purchased for my students this year. We had our pencils leftover from last year, so I felt that we could splurge a bit on an extra-special tool. They are definitely more expensive than the Filia crayons, but for some people they are perfect. Personally, I love drawing with them. They allow me to draw with rich depth of color and I love the way that the colors layer over each other.

They take a delicate hand, though, and some of my students have a hard time getting good results with them. It is very easy to draw deep, dark pictures with these and many of my students end up with pages that are coated with layer upon layer of wax. Because the pigment comes off the crayon so much more easily, the crayons themselves are less dense and  more easily broken, and many of my students have fragments of crayons left to work with. If I had it to do again, I would have saved these for 6th or 7th grade when my students will be mature enough to handle the pigment and delicate nature of these crayons. If you have an older child who takes great, delicate care with art projects, or if you’re an adult who loves to draw with the crayons they give out at restaurants, these are for you.

Next year, I imagine we will return to the Filia crayons, but I’ll probably invest in a larger set (they go all the way up to 36 crayons in a set.)

Greek Mythology Resources

I’ve had a long break from this site, but I’ve recently decided to revive it with some fresh posts. I’m still getting lots of visitors everyday, and I have some great new ideas to share.

I’ve recently begun a Greek Mythology block, so the resources available for this block are fresh on my mind. There are some old classics, in addition to some new ones I’ve never used before.

Heroes, Gods and Monsters of the Greek Myths is a book I have used in the past. I’m not sure that there isn’t a better version of the stories out there, but this one is serviceable and has served my needs pretty well.
D'Aulaire's Greek Myths

D’Aulaire’s Book of Greek Myths is a resource not to be missed. I haven’t used it a lot this time around for story content (though I certainly did my first time teaching the block.) Instead, this time I’ve used this book for the drawings. Most of the drawings translate easily to the chalkboard or oil crayon with colored pencils. I couldn’t imagine teaching the block without it.

The last resource I have to share is completely new to me and I feel like I just discovered buried treasure!
Hercules bookHercules by Geraldine McCaughrean is part of her series of books on the Greek heroes, which also includes a book on Perseus and Theseus. These books are very descriptive, wonderfully-written young adult books that are manageable for the typical fifth grade reader.

I’m feeling a bit pressed to tell the stories of these three heroes in the two weeks I have left of the block, so in addition to telling the stories of some of Hercules’ labors, I plan to have them read some of them, too. I’m really enjoying reading them as I prepare and I feel completely prepared to tell the stories based on the versions that are in this book.

Of course, I’m just working on the Hercules book at the moment, so I can’t speak for all three, but they’re definitely on my list as I continue the block!

The Cricket and The Shepherd Boy — A Review and Giveaway!

Waldorf author Reg Down has kindly passed a few of his books along to me to share with you all! I’m so happy to review and giveaway his books, as they are just so beautiful!

The first up is a sweet little holiday book titled The Cricket and the Shepherd Boy. This is the story of a young shepherd boy who is surprised to discover a little cricket on the ground in the middle of winter. This little cricket who the boy had met in the warm, sunny days of summer, brings special news to the young shepherd and together they go to the lowly stable where the Christ child was born.

This story brings the story of Jesus in such a gentle and simple way that it would make an appropriate introduction to the story of Jesus for families of all faiths. The shepherd boy and the cricket are endearing characters who bring just the right amount of light-hearted fun and inspired reverence.

The most stunning thing about this book, though, are the illustrations. Each page is filled with wondrous watercolor that

gently depict the story with great subtlety. Features on the figures are left simple and unformed and the color itself is allowed to fill the page with beauty. Coming from my class teacher perspective, I found myself wanting to pull out my paints and try my hand at a few of the pictures.

I’m so happy to pass this beautiful book along to one of my readers. I could imagine this book making a truly special annual family read, becoming part of a lovely little holiday tradition.

If you would like a chance at winning this book, leave a comment below describing one of your favorite holiday traditions. I’ll choose a winner in one week — on November 30.

Contest over. Winner chosen. Thanks for reading!

Sixth Grade Readers

There is nothing like a good historical novel for conveying the feeling of a particular era. When you find historical fiction that is also age-appropriate, you simply have to grab the opportunity to have your students read. There are a few books like this that I’ve assigned to my sixth graders.

The first is the book that my current students are reading right now — The Eagle by Rosemary Sutcliffe. This book does such a great job of giving an inside glimpse at the life of the Roman legions. The book takes place in Roman-occupied Britain and it tells the story of Marcus, a Roman centurion who is retired because of an injury. In the book Marcus searches Britain for the eagle belonging to his father’s legion, attempting to solve the mystery of the lost ninth legion. The book does such a great job of bringing the vocabulary and customs of the Roman military that when I spoke about them in class I could rest assured that the students already had a nice frame of reference. It is technically rated at a grade seven level, so it is a little challenging for my students, but I usually consider that a good thing.

My students’ second reader of the year will be The Bronze Bow by Elizabeth George Pierce. This is a great book to go along with the second Roman History block. It tells the story of Jesus as his following is developing from the perspective of a young boy in Jerusalem. It is a powerful book that tells the story of Jesus from a historical perspective in a way that is thought-provoking and interesting. The reading level is just perfect, too.

Crispin, The Cross of Lead by Avi is a great book for conveying the feeling of the Middle Ages. Though it is a great book, it is written at a pretty simple reading level. For this reason it would meet some students perfectly but for others it could be too simple. If you are not already familiar with Avi’s work he is a great author to turn to when you’re looking for a good read.

There are more and more options for readers out there. Post your own recommendations in the comments.

Kim John Payne

I recently had the opportunity to listen to Kim John Payne speak at the Nelson Waldorf School in British Columbia. He has such an engaging, entertaining manner that made all of the attendees completely enjoy themselves. I’ve written a summary of his talk on my teaching blog.

His ideas about parenting make complete sense and I love how he related them to a view of child development that I am so familiar with. I haven’t read his books myself, but they have moved to the top of my long list of suggested reading.

Simplicity Parenting is a book that has been out for a little over a year and it has attracted a lot of attention. The basic premise is that parenting our children is easier and our children are better cared for when their lives are less full. We need to limit our children’s activities and choices so we have more time to connect as a family. As a busy Waldorf teacher and parent of three children, this concept really speaks to me.

His next book, which was the subject of the workshop I attended, is titled The Soul of Discipline and it will be released soon.

Ostheimer Wooden Figures

When my children were little I remember scrimping and saving so I could build up a little collection of Ostheimer figures.

I just love the simplicity.

The figures have very little detail to them — perfectly ready to be transformed by the child.


I could usually afford to just buy one figure at a time, but after a few birthdays and Christmases we had quite a little collection.

My children played with them all the time and they definitely earned their keep.

There are quite a few places online where figures like these can be found. One is called The Wooden Wagon. They have quite a collection to choose from.

Nova Natural Toys also carries a nice selection of beautiful wooden figures.

Though these figures are lovely, it must be said, your child does not need these expensive toys to have a complete Waldorf playroom. Ideally toys are as simple as possible, made from materials that are as close to the natural world as possible. It’s a wonderful thing to watch when children freely and imaginatively create the toys that they need out of the materials they find around them.

Caring for Our Materials — Crayon and Pencil Pouches

One of the loveliest things about Waldorf Education is the use of really wonderful, quality drawing materials. Though these materials are expensive, they will last a long time if they are well-cared for. Caring for them means storing them properly.

These beautiful pouches are available from this seller on Etsy. The pouches hold the crayons individually so they don’t rub against each other. This keeps the crayons clean — your yellow won’t have little bits of other colors on it. The pouch also means that crayons are easy to bring along places — a distinct advantage over having a crayon basket. It also means that individual children have their own set, which many children prefer.

Here is a pencil couch with the same premise. I love that this one has the slots different colors.

For younger children, who mainly draw with crayons but use colored pencils for writing, a wooden block pencil holder is a good solution. These can be kept on a shelf in the classroom and brought out just for writing.

Caring for our materials is so important and it’s nice when we can find such beautiful handcrafted things to use for this purpose.

More Mineralogy Resources

Now that I’m most of the way through teaching my Rocks and Minerals block in sixth grade, I have a few more great resources to share.

First, is an oldie but goodie called All About Rocks and Minerals by Anne Terry White. This book gives a nice bit of background about some of the important people in geology. It’s always nice to have a good resource for biographies and this is definitely one of those. I’ve particularly appreciated it for giving us some imaginative content to write about in our main lesson books.

Next is another old one called Earth’s Adventures by Carroll Lane Fenton. This book tells the history of the earth, rocks and minerals in a very readable story form. A child could easily pick up this book and read it through, thoroughly enjoying it. It’s always nice to have a resource that livens things up a bit.

The third resource that I’ve spent the weekend reading is called The Restless Northwest by Hill Williams. Williams has such a good, imaginative understanding of the landscape of the Northwest and he does a fantastic job of describing the evolution of this area with rich metaphors and imagery. It is an adult book, but I found it thoroughly enjoyable to read.

These, combined with a good textbook for factual information, will make your Rocks and Minerals block a fantastic imaginative, yet factual, experience.

One note about books, I decided a couple of years ago that I was going to just purchase the books that I needed for teaching myself. Ever since making this decision I have been grateful to have the resources that I’ll need to teach and I have happily shared them with colleagues. Fortunately books can be had pretty affordably on Amazon and if you choose your resources wisely it should break the bank. If you’re a homeschooler and will use them for multiple children, it is particularly worth the investment.

Wet-on-Wet Watercolor Painting

There is a real art to doing wet-on-wet watercolor painting.

It is not the easiest technique to master but there are a few resources out there that can help.

One of these resources is my own Guide to Fifth Grade Wet-on-Wet Watercolor Painting.

I’ve put this guide together that includes photographs and instructions for seventeen individual paintings, as well as tips and techniques for creating your own paintings. It’s exactly the kind of resource I wish I’d had as I taught fifth grade.

Basic, Traditional School Supplies

Every year one of the things I need to prepare for my students is a system for keeping track of their work. They need paper to work on and a place to put everything when it’s done. My system uses pretty basic school supplies, but it bears mentioning here.

For our daily morning work, we use inexpensive composition books. Our daily rhythm this year will involve recording the weather (writing down the temperatures and drawing a little picture of the sun), our daily dictation sentence and a math problem or two. These things will all go into these composition books — a page for each day.

For regular main lesson work, the students will work on loose leaf paper that I keep in the classroom. When their work is finished it will go into this binder. Last year I used divider tabs to mark sections for drafts, dictations, and math practice. At the end of each block we pulled out all of the work pertaining to that block, stapled it together and put it in the front of that block’s main lesson book. It was a pretty good system, and I think I’ll use it again this year.

For our math practice, we’ll use regular spiral notebooks similar to these. This is the first year we’ll be using this system for math practice so I plan on being really clear with the students about the formatting of their work. With my last class I sometimes found that students tended to be sloppy and either squeeze too much work onto one page or spread their work out too much, writing too large and leaving lots of white space. I’ll give some conscious attention to helping my students find the happy medium.

I’ve mentioned these pencils before but they are definitely worth mentioning again. Ticonderoga bills these pencils as The World’s Best Pencil which sounds like a pretty big claim, but it is absolutely true. I have tried buying the discount pencils you can find in the large office stores, but it is definitely worth spending a little extra to get these. They don’t break. They write smoothly and the erasers work really well. Your students will use them until they are tiny little stubs. Worth the money.

If there is a pencil I like even better than Ticonderoga’s regular pencil, it is this special black one that they make. They write even smoother and the erasers work even better. We love them. I usually indulge in these pencils a couple times a year and the children guard them well, so they last.