The Curriculum of the Steiner School - Human Physiology

Notes and Lesson Plans

Human Physiology
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!

This site records my journey. I hope my honesty is encouraging and helps break down some barriers that may prevent people from trying Waldorf ideas. Because this is an ongoing site documenting my curriculum experiences and ideas, some materials are more Waldorf-y than others. Please feel free to take what you like and leave the rest.

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Human Anatomy & Physiology
for Class 8

Waldorf Main Lesson Block Planning: Human Anatomy & Physiology

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Human Physiology lesson plans (PDF)
for Class 8

Dancing the Relationship Between Photosynthesis and Respiration lesson plan (PDF)
for Class 5 and Class 8

Used for Background Information & Hands-On Science Experiments

The Private Eye : "5X" Looking/Thinking by Analogy - A Guide to Developing the Interdisciplinary Mind
by Kerry Ruef

Wall Chart of Human Anatomy : 30 Full-Body Images and Detailed System Charts : 12 Fold-Out Panels
by Thomas McCracken

Wolf-Heidegger: The Color Atlas of Human Anatomy
edited by Dr. Kopf-Maier

Brown Paper School book: Blood and Guts
by Linda Allison
(This book is fabulous; we used it as our primary text.)

Easy Genius Science Projects with the Human Body: Great Experiments and Ideas
by Robert Gardner

THE HUMAN BODY: 25 FANTASTIC PROJECTS Illuminate How the Body Works
by Kathleen Reilly

The Book of Think: Or How to Solve a Problem Twice Your Size
by Marilyn Burns

Zombie Makers: True Stories of Nature's Undead
by Rebecca Johnson
(Don t be fooled by the tacky title... this is an incredible Science book.)

Gregor Mendel: The Friar Who Grew Peas
by Cheryl Bardoe
(She also has a free educator guide on her website, available for download as a PDF.)

Learning About the World Through Modeling: Sculptural Ideas for School and Home
by Arthur Auer

For advanced work with clay:

Creative Pathways: Activities that Strengthen the Child's Cognitive Forces
by Elizabeth Auer

She, in turn, highly recommends The Portrait in Clay by Peter Bruno as a resource.

Painting and Drawing in Waldorf Schools: Classes 1-8
by Thomas Wildgruber

For some very interesting parent reading:

The Edison Gene: ADHD and the Gift of the Hunter Child
by Thom Hartmann

TWO Four Week Main Lessons / Pacing

We divided our study of Human Physiology into fourteen stories, with The Nation of the Great River (Montessori Lesson sometimes referred to as The Sixth Great Lesson) being the first one and the 13 systems included in the Montessori nomenclature as the remaining thirteen.

The Five Great Lessons are, without a doubt, the most Waldorf-y part of Montessori. These detailed yet impressionistic stories are memorized and told in the classroom using a silk (which hides artifacts, revealed as the story unfolds) and a candle. For this particular story, however, I told the story while drawing The Nation of the Great River on the chalkboard.

We used a three day cycle and broke the study of the human body into two blocks. I wouldn't do Physiology in 7th and Anatomy in 8th. Personally, I like combining them... but I would still break it into two parts. Therefore, you can a) do the first part in grade 7 and the second part in grade 8, b) do both parts in grade 8 as two main lesson blocks, or c) this could be done, all 14 in a row and at this level of detail, in High School.

Please note that what we did is much more comprehensive than the traditional Waldorf 7th / 8th grade Human Anatomy & Physiology block. That's because I based it on Montessori nomenclature, which is more detailed.

Week One
Monday - story #1 - The Great River
Wednesday - story #2 - The Circulatory System

Week Two
Monday - story #3 - The Nervous System
Wednesday - story #4 - The Eye

Week Three
Monday - story #5 - The Vestibular System
Wednesday - story #6 - The Ear

Week Four
Monday - story #7 - The Endocrine System
Wednesday - story #8 - The Respiratory System / Photosynthesis

Week Five
Monday - story #9 - The Digestive System / The Teeth
Wednesday - story #10 - The Urinary System

Week Six
Monday - story #11 - The Skeletal System
Wednesday - story #12 - The Muscular System

Week Seven
Monday - story #13 - The Integumentary System
Wednesday - story #14 - The Cell

Week Eight
Monday - story #15 - The Immune System / The Lymphatic System
Wednesday - story #16 - The Reproductive System / Genetics

Montessori Materials

I highly recommend these! The two are sold in a combined package called the Human Anatomy Bundle.

The Great River Montessori material
Human Physiology Montessori material

    Ages 9-12. "Dissect the secrets of human life! This set of materials covers the main systems of the human body and includes:
    • three part cards
    • control charts
    • booklets
    • experiments
    • research cards
    • teachers notes
    • lab background
    • scope and sequence
    • objectives and standards.

    "This material includes the following systems:

    • Circulatory system
    • Digestive system
    • Endocrine system
    • Integumentary system
    • Lymphatic system
    • Immune system
    • Muscular system
    • Nervous system
    • Reproductive system
    • Respiratory system
    • Skeletal system
    • Urinary system
    • Vestibular system

One of the things that frustrated me the MOST about the Montessori materials, although they are lovely for clearly presenting and practicing the correct terminology, is that they don't give a suggested order of presentation. The systems are listed alphabetically in the teacher guide, which is ludicrous. I created my own order, which felt logical to me.

Creating Analogies

For every component of each system we studied, we created analogies - What else does it look like? What else does it remind me of?

These questions are from The Private Eye : "5X" Looking/Thinking by Analogy - A Guide to Developing the Interdisciplinary Mind

Natalie, for example, decided that red blood cells look like bean bag chairs and she is reminded of Santa Claus, because red blood cells bring every cell in the body what they want the most -- oxygen, nutrients, and so on. This sounds simple but it is very effective in helping students to understand and remember the content.

These analogies, along with the illustrations (body part cross-sections and diagrams, science experiment notes), go in the main lesson book.

Chalkboard Drawing for The Great River

a picture of The Great River
and free download (PDF) of mute chart and control chart

    Nation: Human Body
    Great River: The Blood
    The President: The Brain
    The President's Cabinet and Communication Department: Nervous System
    The Department of Air Quality: The Respiratory System
    The Department of Nutrition: The Digestive System
    The Department of Purification: The Kidneys and Excretory System
    The Walls and Towers of the Nation: The Skeletal System
    The Maintenance Department: The Integumentary System
    The Department of Defense: The Immune System
    The Department of Transportation: The Circulatory System
    The Department of Water Control: The Lymphatic system
    The Space Program: The Reproductive System

link to a free version of The Story of the Great River


look at the interactive website CELLS alive! Interactive HowBig?: Size of Cells and Microbes

click on green arrows to slowly zoom in/out; click on blue to jump to

    Human hair
    Dust mite
    Ragweed pollen
    Red blood cells
    Baker's yeast
    E. coli
    Ebola virus

Main Lesson Book Pages - Illustrations

*** MLB Pages - Human Physiology ***
my blog post, with photographs of all of Natalie's work from this block

Don't forget Pinterest! My Pinterest page for this topic has many helpful main lesson book pages and chalkboard drawings.

Dissection Wishlist

My husband has been in touch with the butcher, the animal control officer, and friends who hunt. He just ordered me a cow heart and a pig heart!

Before he brings me hearts from everything from deer to frogs to fish to armadillos to opossums, I need to let him know what other body parts we are interested in:

animal parts for activities in

    chicken leg, turkey leg - p.23
    cow shin, cow knuckle - p.27

      Painting and Drawing in Waldorf Schools: Classes 1-8
      suggests using vertebrae for modeling (out of clay) and drawing (with pencil) pp.356-357

      I made Smoked Turkey-Lentil Soup with smoked turkey necks from the grocery store ($4.04) and saved the vertebrae after removing and shredding the meat.

      The spinal cord was still in the neck - so this was an interesting discovery as well!

      To clean the vertebrae for modeling we found it helpful to boil it for a long time, remove most of the meat with our fingers, and then set it on a plate in the fridge uncovered overnight to help dry out the remaining bits which were sticking to it.

    human baby teeth - p.34, p.35

    chicken, cow, any raw muscle meat - p.40
    chicken leg with drumstick and thigh still attached - p.46

    cow, lamb, pig - p.53
    I ordered a cow heart from the local butcher

    lamb - p.86

    sheep, cow - p.92

    any mammal - p.115

    My husband also brought home two "capes" after helping a friend process his deer. Natalie and I were able to examine the skin up close and to put our fingers into the mouth and down the windpipe. This was fascinating. We were too squeamish to dissect the eyes, though.

Hands-On Experiments and Additional Activities

The Science experiments we used are all listed in the lesson planning pages PDF at the top of this webpage. Here are any other links which I have discovered after the creation of that document. Summaries are courtesy of Wikipedia.

  • 1. Circulatory system

  • The circulatory system, also called the cardiovascular system, is an organ system that permits blood to circulate and transport nutrients (such as amino acids and electrolytes), oxygen, carbon dioxide, hormones, and blood cells to and from the cells in the body to provide nourishment and help in fighting diseases, stabilize temperature and pH, and maintain homeostasis.

  • 2. Nervous system

  • The nervous system is the part of an animal's body that coordinates its voluntary and involuntary actions and transmits signals to and from different parts of its body.

  • 3. Vestibular system

  • The vestibular system, in most mammals, is the sensory system that provides the leading contribution about the sense of balance and spatial orientation for the purpose of coordinating movement with balance.

  • 4. Endocrine system

  • The endocrine system is the collection of glands that produce hormones that regulate metabolism, growth and development, tissue function, sexual function, reproduction, sleep, and mood, among other things.

  • 5. Respiratory system

  • The respiratory system (called also respiratory apparatus, ventilatory system) is a biological system consisting of specific organs and structures used for the process of respiration in an organism

  • 6. Digestive system

  • In the human digestive system, the process of digestion has many stages, the first of which starts in the mouth (oral cavity). Digestion involves the breakdown of food into smaller and smaller components which can be absorbed and assimilated into the body.

      Food Pyramid Quiz

      I also like projects for mapping the microbiome, which is a fascinating new field of research. Kids should definitely be involved in Citizen Science!

      look at small intestine under a microscope
      #22 from our set of 25 prepared microscope slides

      extra day on The Teeth

      As soon as you stop eating your dinner / Your dinner starts eating your teeth!

  • 7. Urinary system

  • The urinary system, also known as the renal system, consists of the kidneys, ureters, bladder, and the urethra. Each kidney consists of millions of functional units called nephrons.

  • 8. Skeletal system

  • The human skeleton is the internal framework of the body.

  • 9. Muscular system

  • The muscular system is an organ system consisting of skeletal, smooth and cardiac muscles. It permits movement of the body, maintains posture, and circulates blood throughout the body

  • 10. Integumentary system

  • The integumentary system is the organ system that protects the body from various kinds of damage, such as loss of water or abrasion from outside. The system comprises the skin and its appendages (including hair, scales, feathers, hooves, and nails).

  • 11. Immune system

  • The immune system is a system of many biological structures and processes within an organism that protects against disease. To function properly, an immune system must detect a wide variety of agents, known as pathogens, from viruses to parasitic worms, and distinguish them from the organism's own healthy tissue.

  • 12. Lymphatic system

  • The lymphatic system is part of the circulatory system and a vital part of the immune system, comprising a network of lymphatic vessels that carry a clear fluid called lymph (from Latin lympha meaning water) directionally towards the heart.

  • 13. Reproductive system

  • The reproductive system or genital system is a system of sex organs within an organism which work together for the purpose of sexual reproduction. Many non-living substances such as fluids, hormones, and pheromones are also important accessories to the reproductive system.

    Blog posts from when I taught this block the second time, in the 2017-2018 school year:

    Blog posts from when I taught this block as a summer camp in 2018, doing a ton of stuff each day:

    Blog posts from when I taught this in weekly Science Club sessions via Zoom (COVID-19) in 2020:

    Blog post on a new option for the Excretory System:

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