The Curriculum of the Steiner School - Class 2

Notes and Lesson Plans

Jataka Tales
updated August 19, 2023

Recorded here is my own personal collection of articles, resources, favorite links, teaching ideas, and lesson plans. It encompasses many years, from the very beginning of my experience studying and learning about Waldorf to the present time. People from all around the world visit my site and recommend it to others. Welcome!

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Jataka Tales
for Class 2

Waldorf Main Lesson Block Planning: Jataka Tales

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Sample Lesson from Live Education!
from The Jataka Tales: Legends of the Buddha with Animal Fables
Sanjaya and the Elusive Wind Antelope

This is a new block for me and I am really excited about teaching it in the 2017-2018 school year! Below are my notes as I prep for this topic.

I already own two collections of Jataka Tales. Here are the books and their contents.

I Once Was a Monkey: Stories Buddha Told

by Jeanne M. Lee

  • The Foolish Forest Sprite
  • The Deceitful Heron
  • The Monkey and the Crocodile
  • The Flight of the Beasts
  • The Wise Dove
  • Three Friends in a Forest
I like this book for this block because it provides a narrative which joins all of the stories together. The Afterword reads
    The six stories retold in this book are called Jatakas, or birth stories, in Buddhist literature. Siddhartha Gautama Buddha, who was born 2,500 years ago, told the Jatakas to his disciples on special occasions, to illustrate his teachings. He was born a wealthy and happy prince, but once he saw how sickness, old age, and death caused misery outside his palace walls, he resolved to find a way to overcome human suffering. He abandoned his rich and pampered life, and after a long and arduous period of meditation, he found a spiritual answer to his quest. Buddha became a famous teacher, and he established an order of monks to continue his work.

    For the curious, Old Path White Clouds: Walking in the Footsteps of the Buddha by Thich Nhat Hanh recounts the life of Siddhartha Gautama Buddha from when he left his palace and became a hermit, through his enlightenment, his preaching life, and his death, all in the words of one of his young disciples. "The Deceitful Heron" and "Three Friends in a Forest" are retold in Thich Nhat Hanh's book. For a complete collection of the Jatakas, which number over five hundred in all, read The Jataka or Stories of the Buddha's Former Births, edited by E.B. Cowell.

The other collection I own is by Demi and is in a simple anthology format, with the moral written at the end of each story. It contains eleven Jataka tales.

Buddha Stories

by Demi

  • The Lion King
  • The Turtle and the Geese
  • The Black Bull
  • The Beautiful Parrots
  • The Cunning Wolf
  • The Little Gray Donkey
  • The Clever Crab
  • The Monkey King
  • The Golden Goose
  • The Magic Pig
  • The Magic Elephant

Although it's true that the stories in this collection are hard to read, the Author's Note explains

    The world's first printed book was a Buddhist sutra, or teaching, made with wood blocks in 600 A.D. It contains one picture and text in gold on deep indigo rice paper, in scroll form. Buddha Stories is modeled on that first book. The fine lines were created using pen and ink -- and sometimes a single mouse whisker.

Here are six of Demi's tales from Buddha Stories, available online as a PDF (The Black Bull, The Beautiful Parrots, The Cunning Wolf, The Clever Crab, The Monkey King, The Magic Elephant).

If you're looking for online resources, Ellen C. Babbitt collected two books of Jataka Tales, both of which can be found at Gateway to the Classics for free. The first volume of her stories, originally published in 1912, is also available to download for free as a PDF from Global Grey E-Books.

I have decided to use I Once Was a Monkey as my primary source for this block, and then supplement with some of the other Jataka Tales once we have finished that volume. I generally prefer to do 10 - 12 stories in a three week main lesson block.

Week 1: Stories One, Two, and Three
Week 2: Stories Four, Five, and Six
Week 3: Stories Seven, Eight, Nine, and Ten

    Story One - introduction and story for "The Foolish Forest Sprite"

    the dark cave with just the eyes peeking out: DIY Scratch Art the Easy Way
    (Sturdy paper, Oil pastels, Black paint, Foam brush, Toothpicks and Q-tips)

    the forest: Autumn tree perspective drawing with an emphasis on colors and textures
    (love the idea of going outside to lie on our backs and look up at the trees)

    Story Two - introduction and story for "The Deceitful Heron"

    the fish: the perfect opportunity to do some fish printing with my collection of rubber fish and Daler Rowney acrylic artist's ink (the pearlescent inks are particularly beautiful for this)

    silver moss... birdwing copper... moon violet... waterfall green...

    Story Three - introduction and story for "The Monkey and the Crocodile"

    the figs: Watercolor Fruit Still Life of Figs
    (a light table is great for this activity and I really should have one for my toddler... so this main lesson block was my excuse to finally buy one!)

    Instead of watercolors, we used water soluble oil pastels. DO trace over the pencil lines with permanent marker. It really helps define the edges of the fruit against the background.

    NOTE - I couldn't find fresh figs the last time I went to do this lesson, so I'm writing myself a note. I found fresh figs in the Co-op in early September!

    Story Four - introduction and story for "The Flight of the Beasts"

    Donna Simmons recommends doing a large chalk mural outside on the sidewalk for this story. I have used the Live Education! book Drawing Simple Animal Forms in the past, since it contains directions for a lot of the animals. It's pretty difficult for second graders, though, to draw that many animals without much time to build up to it. So I would recommend focusing on the hare and the mango falling on his head, instead of the stampede.

    the rabbit: The images of page three and page five are enough to get you started with this way of pencil drawing. (The rabbit is three eggs.)

    Story Five - introduction and story for "The Wise Dove"

    the dove: continuing with Drawing Simple Animal Forms, the dove is a circle and a paisley

    We found the dove too hard to draw so we ended up just drawing the empty cage. Since we had so much extra time, we did go ahead and print the colorful papers for tomorrow's illustration.

    Story Six - introduction and story for "Three Friends in a Forest, conclusion"

    the turtle: scrapbook paper collage turtle shell and/or sack on the ground
    step-by-step tutorial

    we could use scrapbook paper but it would be fun to print some colorful papers of our own first... using my 6 inch square Gelli Printing Plate, acrylic paint, and a brayer

    At first this project seemed too ambitious... but after a while the children got the gist of it. Even when I demonstrated, they didn't quite understand the idea of making a pattern for their puzzle pieces. They also couldn't see how much cutting work was ahead, and they kept drawing these really tiny turtles. It helps to draw the initial turtle, the one which will become the puzzle pieces, on a piece of stiffer paper like cardstock. Number the pieces after you draw them, so that the children get the idea of how many they will need to cut out. Cut the head, feet, tail, and large shell out first. Trace these pieces onto the scrapbook papers and then cut them out and assemble them on a piece of blue construction paper. Don't glue them down yet. Then, for children who want to go further, let them cut out the smaller decorative shell segments, first by making patterns for the pieces from the stiffer cardstock and then tracing the pieces and cutting them from the colored papers. Glue down everything once you have it arranged.

    we did discuss the Buddhist belief in reincarnation, since he addresses it so directly in this part of the book

    there are also directions to draw a turtle in Drawing Simple Animal Forms on page seven (flattened oval)

    Story Seven - read Buddha by Demi

    If you want to draw the monkey: use Drawing Simple Animal Forms page fifteen to draw a monkey (inverted pear and kidney shape)

    Story Eight - "The Black Bull" from Buddha Stories

    the pile of a thousand gold pieces (there are instructions in Drawing Simple Animal Forms for a bull, which is on page twelve and is a squared-off kidney shape, but I think that the pile of money which goes to his owner's head is a better image)

    beautiful artwork with overlapping layers of gold circles

    the coins: We had a very successful printing experience using gold paint with wine corks for smaller circles. Simply fill the page with them so that it looks like a huge pile! I couldn't find a paint that acted quite the way I wanted it to on the cork (pounce the cork in the color and then place it on the paper and twist your wrist to make the paint come off evenly) so we blended gold acrylic paint with metallic gold liquid watercolor paint in a shallow dish.

    Story Nine - "The Beautiful Parrots" from Buddha Stories

    Drawing the parrots would be too overwhelming but we can definitely draw the feathers!

    the feathers: create beautiful doodle feathers with fine point sharpie outlines and colored pencil inside

    it is easiest if the adult draws the large feather pieces and then the child creates the patterns which will go inside

    Story Ten - "The Cunning Wolf" from Buddha Stories

    the wolf: there are directions in Drawing Simple Animal Forms for the wolf on page nine (elongated kidney shapes for the body and the head, ovals for the haunches, elongated ovals for the legs)

    add final summary and illustration to MLB, number pages, write the table of contents on the first inside page, decorate front cover of MLB with name of block and an illustration

    write child's name, age, date of school year, and which book this is in the 2nd grade series of MLBs on the back cover

Other resources are:


    by Demi

    Don't get too carried away with trying to cover the biography of Buddha. That's not really what this block is about. This is more like the Aesop's Fables block; remember that you will do the full story of Prince Siddharta in fifth grade's Ancient Mythology: India, Persia, Mesopotamia. For that main lesson block, I think Charles Kovacs's book is the best.

    The Brave Little Parrot

    by Rafe Martin

    This picture book is a lovely retelling of a Jataka tale. I usually also use it in Philosophy for Responsibility, Courage, or Compassion.

    The Magic Plum Tree

    by Freya Littledale

    Hooray! An early reader retelling of a Jataka tale!

    The Golden Deer

    by Margaret Hodges
    A retelling of the story of the Banyan Deer from The Cat Who Went to Heaven

    The Cat Who Went to Heaven

    by Elizabeth Coatsworth

    It would be so sweet to conclude this block with this beautiful, tender 1931 Newbery medal winning chapter book. Perhaps as a classroom read aloud. Perhaps as a bedtime story.

My Blog Posts from Teaching This Topic in 2017

My Blog Posts from Teaching This Topic in 2021

We actually began with The Cat Who Went to Heaven as a read aloud & introduction to the block.

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