How to use Main Lesson Books

The Main Lesson Book (MLB) is filled with the student’s drawings and writing and used as a learning tool as well as documentation of the student’s work. The creation of a main lesson book nurtures qualities of thoughtfulness, intention, perseverance, and creativity. It becomes a showcase of the student’s work as well as a cherished keepsake.

View our slideshows (click on cover images), complete with illustrations from Oak Meadow students. Read on to learn more.

Tips from Oak Meadow for using Waldorf main lesson books in grades K-4
Click on the image above for Tips for Grades K-4
Main lesson book 5-12 cover: Tips from Oak Meadow for using Main Lesson Books in grades 5-12
Click on the image above for Tips for Grades 5-12

Using Main Lesson Books

What is a main lesson book?
Main lesson books are large format, spiral-bound blank books that can be used for most of the student’s lesson work in grades K-4, and many students continue using them in grades 5-8. These books come out of the Waldorf schooling tradition and are designed to encourage active, hands-on learning.

We recommend one for language arts and social studies, one for science, and one for math. You will probably use three main lesson books in the first semester and three in the second semester. You may want to have a set of books for your child and another for yourself in the early grades—this way you can work together side by side. In fourth grade, students begin to produce more work, so you may want four, one for each subject.

The main lesson book serves as a way to collect all of your child’s work in one place. In the main lesson book, your child will fill the blank pages with beautiful drawings, colorful maps and diagrams, orderly numbers and equations, vibrant geometric drawings, and carefully formed writing. You can also glue into the main lesson book photos of larger projects, leaves and seeds collected for science studies, and anything else you would like to include in this special book.

Oak Meadow Student illustration of elves from Waldorf Main Lesson Book

Why use unlined paper?
Many parents wonder if it might be easier for children to do their writing on lined paper instead of using an unlined Waldorf main lesson book. There are many ways that children benefit from using unlined paper instead of relying upon lines to keep letters straight. In the early stages of learning to write, using unlined paper allows children to focus on the form of the letters instead of worrying about trying to write in a straight line.

However, as students gain experience, writing on unlined paper requires effort to produce straight lines. Students have to attend not only to their handwriting form but also to the use of space and how the writing is oriented on the page. This takes planning ahead and continually monitoring their actions. If students are given lined paper to write on in the early years, they miss an excellent opportunity to develop these habits and master their inner sense of spatial awareness, which affects learning in so many areas.

Although initial efforts at writing on unlined paper can indeed be wobbly, this will gradually improve until the child can write beautifully with or without lines. As children develop greater inner awareness and poise, the outer form will reflect that inner growth.

How is a main lesson book used?
The main lesson book can be used in different ways throughout the years, but in general, it is used for the “final” work rather than for practice pages. Your student can use scrap paper to practice forming letters and numbers or to practice spelling words. Once they feel comfortable with this practice, a beautifully formed line of letters, a carefully crafted sentence, or a neat word list can be written in the book. Your child should be encouraged to put his or her best work in the main lesson book. Guide and instruct your student to take the time to decorate the borders of the pages, add detail to drawings, and use the whole page.

It is helpful if you can model this behavior in your main lesson book. You don’t have to be an artist to create a beautiful, thoughtful main lesson book. Attention to detail, intentional use of color and design elements, and putting time and care into each page will result in a work of art that displays knowledge in an aesthetic way.

We encourage using block or stick crayons for both drawing and writing in kindergarten and first grade because they produce a thick line, glide easily across the page, and are easier for small hands to hold correctly, without tension. Oak Meadow’s main lesson books come with onion skin paper between the pages to keep the crayon drawing from rubbing off on other pages. (The onion skin paper is thin and translucent; it is not meant to be written on but to protect the drawings.) Colored pencils also work well in the main lesson book. Unlike markers or pens, crayons and colored pencils produce a softer, more changeable line that encourages students to trace over their work if they need to change the shape of a form, letter, or number. As your child begins to write paragraphs, stories, essays, and reports, it’s best to switch to graphite or colored pencils because they produce a more refined line and make it easier to write legibly in a smaller space.

You can find many excellent examples of main lessons books online, and these books can be used right up through high school (as they are in Waldorf schools worldwide). A main lesson book takes on a unique personality during the year and becomes an important and treasured record of your child’s educational journey.

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