That tiny speck of color is our class in Bone Canyon. This photo was taken from above by one or our student’s fathers,  Chris Dahl-Bredine .

That tiny speck of color is our class in Bone Canyon. This photo was taken from above by one or our student’s fathers, Chris Dahl-Bredine.

In this section, you will find basic information on the structure of Joe’s first grade. For Silke Markowski’s forest kindergarten, see We collaborate daily. We believe in multi-age education, and Joe’s ultimate goal is to form a 1st through 3rd grade group which he plans to take through 8th grade. This group is currently in its second year of formation.

The information provided here is intended to give you an overview of the methodology I employ. For inquiries, please contact me directly at

First, I'd like to address the big picture. Put simply, I believe children need parents and mentors more than they need teachers. No one, in my opinion, has expressed this point better than Gabor Mate in his book Hold Onto Your Kids. A similar message can be found in Jean Liedloff's The Continuum Concept. Given a healthy environment, I am convinced that children learn rapidly, almost effortlessly. Given an unhealthy environment, it is hard for children (or adults) to maintain focus.

My primary goal, therefore, is not to teach. It is to create (or allow) an environment in which each child is hungry for her own education. No mean task.


Each of Us Carries a Story

Each of us carries an internal story of who we are. We are beautiful, strong, smart, athletic, dumb, bad, a victim and more. How and when do these stories develop, and what can we as parents and educators do to shepherd healthy stories into our children's minds and hearts? This, more than anything, is the guiding question of education for me.


We meet Mon-Thur from 9-3. Thursdays are often used for field trips, like apple picking, the town dump, helping a friend cut wood with a chainsaw (watching at this stage), ice skating, collecting bones, Farmer Ron's, and more. Our year goes from September to May.

20180927_120130 - Copy - Copy.jpg

9:00 Meet at Moose Crossing
9-9:20 3/4 mile walk to the classroom with casual talk
9:20 Gate of Silence & Walking Meditation Poem by Thich Nhat Hahn
9:30 Morning Verse
9:35 Enter the Classroom and get situated (date, time, etc.)
9:40 Main lesson
10:30 Brief recess
10:35 Snack - requiring some prep, dexterity or hand skills
10:40 Games or individual work relevant to main lesson
11:30 Walk to Earth Children
12:00 Lunch and story with Earth Children
1:00 Free play
1:30 Walk to classroom
1:45 Craft or Project
2:40 Pack up and walk to Moose Crossing
3:00 Pick up

20180927_140144 - Copy.jpg


I use the milestones set by the Waldorf curriculum and the Common Core State Standards for New Mexico as rough guidelines. I do not use a specific curriculum, and I do not expect to in the future (though I do expect to be widely influenced).

20190212_094222 - Copy.jpg

The education I seek is based on trust. The children in my care are largely from parents I have lived and worked with for years. They know me on a personal level, and see how I work. There is little need for explanation in such circumstances. However, I have done my best to represent our curriculum in the following topics. Click on each link (or photo) below for more detail.

Place as curriculum

Moose Crossing

how zippy taught us to read

An Inquiry into Motivation and Curriculum

weather as curriculum

Touching Science

Crafts and Skills

20181004_140718 - Copy.jpg

This year, we have done a lot of origami. The kids really enjoy it, and so do I. We have also done a lot of stitching, making bean bags, cross-stitch patterns, and then buckwheat cushions for our stools. We used clay, painted signs, planted kale, harvested beets, and many other projects. The kids love drawing, and this is a big part of almost everyday.

We also spend a lot of time outdoors, crafting objects, forts and designs out of natural materials. Just a week ago, we dug small, hand-sized canals in Bone Canyon to connect a series of huge puddles into one flowing “river” with multiple “lakes”. It was over a hundred yards long, and included some spectacular waterfalls. The kids were ecstatic. Me too.

In the fall, we picked, cut and dried apples. We split kindling. We changed light bulbs, fixed door handles, and even changed the oil in my car. In most cases, I focus on activities that have a lasting skill or purpose.

In the fall of 2019, Silke has offered to teach knitting and music once a week.

20181205_141810 - Copy - Copy.jpg

A Word About Math

In high school, I took the SAT’s twice. At that time, there were two sections and the highest possible score was 1600 - 800 for math and 800 for English. The first time, I scored 800 on math and 680 on English. At the time, 1480 was a big healthy number, but my guidance counselor, whom I had not previously met, called me into her office to advise me to take the test again. Improving my English score, she said, would open doors reserved for few.

I did take the test again, this time scoring 780 on math and 740 on English. I was disappointed. It was a better overall score, but it lacked the perfection of that first 800. Besides, who cares about English? Fortunately, my counselor later told me, the score reported to any colleges I applied to would be a compilation of my best math and best English scores, giving me a combined score of 1540. I went to college for free.

My first degree was in Engineering, second in Philosophy. I am one of the few people who read books on the philosophy of math. In first grade, I am focused almost exclusively on comprehension of the big picture. Mathematics is a language, and I believe it is to my students’ advantage to approach it carefully and joyfully. Nothing could be more destructive, in my opinion, than rote memorization or other tactics that solidify the message “math is boring” or “math is too hard” at an early age.

To that end, I have spent a lot of time playing games with the kids this year, particularly with devotion to comprehension of the 1’s, 10’s and 100’s places. Today, my students can easily represent a number, say 82, as a collection of eight 10’s and two 1’s, or seven 10’s and twelve 1’s. The subtle addition they are doing as they perform these changes is not something they are usually aware of. They simply see it. This becomes more nuanced when we have different colored stones worth 1, 5 and 10. The number 12 can be represented with these stones at least four different ways. Dollars and coins is another good example.

Big red apples are 10, little yellow apples are 1. We can play this game anywhere.

Big red apples are 10, little yellow apples are 1. We can play this game anywhere.

We also play games that require the use of two dice. This only allows for addition between 1-6, but is a great way to get the children to focus and get it right without the use of flashcards or worksheets. I recently purchased 9-sided dice from a specialty shop!

We have also given a lot of attention to the number line, using a variety of techniques for addition and subtraction, techniques that translate well to our fingers if the numbers are below 20. One of the main items we’ve used for a number line is a measuring tape, largely because they’re fun. They also fit in a backpack and instantly extend from 1 to 100. But one to one hundred what? By exploring measurement, which is fun with a measuring tape, we are setting the stage for the difference between number and unit we will address in later years.


We’ve also been playing BINGO. BINGO is a great tool for setting the stage for coordinates, tables, spreadsheets and even algebra. It is also a good tool for exploring luck, winning gracefully and losing contentedly.

Another math tool I use is a combination lock. With three digits, I can set the combo to whatever number I desire, then give the kids problems as we walk, or anywhere in nature we might otherwise be. Once again, it fits easily into my backpack, and provides endless opportunity for equations. Snip, click! Everyone loves getting it right, and it’s much more fun than writing answers on a piece of paper under a fluorescent light. It can even be cooperative, meaning the kids can work on it together.