Multiculturalism In Waldorf Homeschooling

I have lately been exploring the ideas of multiculturalism within the Waldorf homeschooling curriculum, and lately especially the place of  Africa and  Asia within the grades  for the American homeschooler as these streams of civilization are part of the fabric of our society.    I have already talked rather extensively regarding Native American/First People streams before.  I am certain I will have something to say about the Latin American stream as well in days to come – after all,  one of my first degrees was in Latin American Studies.  The ideas in this post are borne from my own exploration and are solely my opinion.

In Kindergarten, fairy tales and little stories should come from ALL cultures and include festivals that are authentic and real to your community.  For Americans, I have a strong bias towards Native American tales and stories being used in kindergarten and throughout the first four grades, then moving into  more Native American figures and history in the upper grades, but all streams should be represented as fully as possible.   Although the characters in the  fairy tales themselves are archetypal, I feel strongly if puppetry is used, the puppetry should include a variety of skin tones that correspond with where the tale is from.

In the early  grades we include fairy tales, legends and fables, tales of the Old Testament/Hebrew legends, and the creation tales from many different cultures.   Especially if you are an American homeschooler, we have the streams of nearly every civilization running through our country.  Festivals could be included – for example, if you are doing a block of Chinese fables, you could include this block around the time of the Lunar New Year and see what is out in community to participate in, see, experience.  There are many African and African-American tales also wonderful for second and third grade, and hopefully community festivals you can participate in!  There are many wonderful Waldorf festival books about celebrating festivals, but I feel this can be authentic in a classroom setting than at home if this is not your cultural or religious background, which is why I mention community settings for the homeschooler.    This is an experiential level – for children to be experienced in real life, not in an abstract manner!

Artistic work in all of these grades should again, include skin tones of all colors that are accurate.  Old Testament figures, the Egyptians and Nubians of fourth and fifth grade should be accurate.    Fourth Grade is often seen as a year for the Norse myths, the Kalevala, etc but  “Hear the Voice of the Griot!” by Betty Staley  also mentions that this can be the time of Bantu and San stories.   

I  have also been  thinking strongly about American archetypes – for example, the West with cowboys and the vaqueros that became the foundation for the American cowboy, the Mid-Atlantic with coal mining, farmers in the mid-Western states, lumberjacks of the Pacific Northwest and how this would be embodied in the grades – some figures are larger than life, think of an  “American Tall Tales” block in second grade and we keep moving forward.  I think if you are American, an “American” stream is also important to think about.  It is complicated to think about so many people that have come to our shores, my ancestors included, and forget in this day and age the uniquely American archetypes that used to hold us all together in the past.

Fifth grade – I feel very strongly that Ancient China should be represented in this year, as well as Ancient Africa.  For Fifth Grade and up, a wonderful resource is “China:  Ancient Inspiration and New Directions” by Judith G. Blatchford, available through Rudolf Steiner College Press.   This 171 paged book is very helpful.  It is not divided by grade, so it is just a sort of “sit down and read” and gather gems as you go along.  There are many interesting things in this book as it applies to Waldorf Education and what Rudolf Steiner had to say about China!

India is traditionally well covered during this year   I like Marsha Johnson’s block on The History of Chocolate for math because this is yet another way to acknowledge South American geography and history as cacao and also other countries that produce chocolate.  It is important to remember that this year is not so much history as it is mythology, the feeling life of a culture (which you will harken back to in seventh grade with tribes of people)  and a note to the changing and evolving consciousness of humanity.  Steiner talked about the streams covered in India, Babylon, Persia and Greece but I feel since the American consciousness includes streams from all over the world, it is appropriate to build a foundation for the coming world history and world literature  for this in fifth grade.  Again, please make your drawings accurate with skin tones and provide accurate examples of handwork and crafts.

I also feel whilst fourth grade covers local geography, fifth grade should cover the United States of America (if you are American).   I acknowledge and like the idea of Donna Simmons of Christopherus Homeschool Resources, Inc to place our North American “neighbors” in this category as well – Mexico, Caribbean, Canada.    North America also includes what we as Americans often refer to as Central America and some folks seem to forget this!

Sixth Grade -In sixth grade, the Crusades, the arrival of Islam, the Ottoman Empire is traditionally well covered.  However, I  also feel strongly that feudal Japan should be included as an example of Medieval East Asia and perhaps even independent Vietnam, the Khmer Empire, or the Kingdoms of Burma or even Medieval Java  included as representatives of Medieval Southeast Asia.  We choose to study European Geography in this grade to go along with  Rome, but you may choose to map it out differently, especially if you decide to cover some of the Asian countries in their medieval periods.

Seventh Grade -In seventh grade, one can more closely study the Mongol culture and history, the rise of Buddhism, the Silk Road and China as part of “The Age of Discovery”, and also include the great explorer .  We studied African geography  in this grade and also  included Ancient History as well as explorers and colonization and the diaspora along with the geography, Ancient Civilizations and explorations of South America.   There is plenty to explore.  Latin American geography is another area of exploration.  I also feel this grade should cover Native American tribes again and colonial America

Eighth Grade – In eighth grade,   the study of modern history is broached with broad brush strokes and themes, and will continue into ninth grade in many Waldorf high schools. One most likely will touch upon colonialism,  nationalism and the rise of  independence as part of these themes, and of course there are many examples of this around the world.    I believe eighth grade should include Middle Eastern geography (you probably have already covered some of this; however, much of the Middle Eastern landscape was changed as a result of World War I and  II and it makes sense to cover this here)  Asian and Pacific Rim geography.    If you do decide to foray into more modern history past World War II, one could of course include Korea, Vietnam, and the Philippines and more. 

If you want an example of how to work with this if you are in a non-European country, I suggest the teaching manuals from East Africa Waldorf training that are available for free on line.  It shows how this training center  has adapted the curriculum to fit their geography and streams of cultural groups. 

Many blessings,

Why We Do What We Do In The Early Years

I often find parents who have small children are rather flummoxed by what they find on this blog.  I base my parenting upon development  – from streams of years of developmental testing from The Gesell Institute, from the pedagogical insights of Rudolf Steiner and the secondary pedagogical literature of the Early Years of Waldorf Education, from the research of Attachment Parenting, from my own experience as a pediatric health care professional and from just plain common sense.  And research – there actually is research in this area!

The Early Years is not a time of rocket science, yet we have strayed so far from what a small child needs in most countries across the world I think it would take massive public health campaigns to get back to having things be developmentally appropriate for a small child.   

The hallmarks of this campaign should be, for the Early Years child before first grade:  sleep and rest, time in nature, steady rhythm, protection from adult information and the seeping of adult and high school activities down to these tiny children, meaningful work, play, protection from all electronic screens, the building up of a healthy physical body and to model children reverence, and to provide children the sense that the world is a good place.

Play and School:  This is not the time for academics.  There is NO published research that shows a child who learns to read early does better in school later on, but there are studies that show the benefits of a play-based Early Years program.  Here are a few links on this subject:

The value of unstructured play:

Value of play-based preschools over academic preschools:

Alfie Kohn’s case against direct instruction of academics in Early Childhood Education:

Homework:  Research regarding the unclear relationship between homework and academic achievement (and hint, this talks about the optimal amount of homework in studies of high school students, and the disparity of benefits homework provides across groups of people, and the lack of clear benefits of homework for small children):

Pitfalls of homework from Stanford University:

Benefits of homework vary across nation, grades from Penn State (again, most of the research is being done at the middle and high school levels, and I think homework is another seeping of adult and teenaged ideas down to the smallest level of our population.  Early Years children are not teenagers!):

All parents who want homework sheets given to their kindergarten-aged children should have a look at these studies. 

The Value of Protecting our Children From ADULT information:

The value of protection for our children:

Study from Pediatrics regarding use of mobile devices by caregivers and children in restaurants:

Why are we in such a fearful place in parenting small children?  It is not a race to run as fast as possible to get to the next stage of childhood. It should not be a stage where the parent is so full of fear of parenting and uncertainty in  trying to hold a rhythm in the home and guide a small child that keeping the child busy every second  is the norm.    If we set an unhurried pace at home and are happy being in our homes and neighborhoods, our small children will be as well.  And they will have much greater health because of it!


Which Waldorf Curriculum Should I Buy?

This topic comes up over and over again on Facebook groups, Yahoo Groups and in real life.  There is even a Facebook group devoted to sharing information about the different curriculums called “Waldorf Homeschool Curriculum Discussion”.

If you as a homeschooling mother have investigated Waldorf at all, then you probably realize that for the Early Years, under the age of 7, life and being home is the curriculum.  Play, meaningful work, rest, stories and songs and verses and being outside, along with seasonal activities IS the curriculum.   It is living and changing.  You don’t need to buy a curriculum for this, but if you feel you need verses, songs, or seasonal ideas, there are plenty of books, Pinterest boards and the like to demonstrate ideas.  You could also attend an open house if you have a Waldorf School near you and see a puppet show.  This is the time to develop your own skills, learn to be able to set a rhythm in your own home, and be a gentle leader in your own home if you plan to homeschool in the grades.  There is no “homeschooling” a four year or five year old in Waldorf!  You are living a beautiful life!  Life is the curriculum!

If you have investigated the Waldorf curriculum for the grades, you probably have seen there are certain subjects that Rudolf Steiner indicated as part of the development of the holistic human being by age, and there are some things built up in secondary pedagogy over these years as being done in certain grades.  You have to know enough to see how this curriculum can be adapted to your own unique geographical environment  (look at the manuals from the East African Waldorf teacher training curriculum and see how they adapt the curriculum for their country and continent) and most of all, to the unique child standing in front of you.  LOOK at the child right in front of you.  This is homeschooling, and homeschooling with Waldorf means you are a TEACHER.    It is not “child-led” but it is sensitive to the child based upon Rudolf Steiner’s view of development and how you, the teacher, brings it!

So this type of homeschooling takes work.    And that seems to scare many.   I  also feel many parents are interested in Waldorf Education because they perceive it as gentle (it is), child-led (it is not), nature-oriented (it is), easing into life in a more gentle way that is unhurried (it does, but then the other grades become VERY rigorous indeed).  The early years of play silks and wooden toys don’t last forever and wooden toys do not an early Waldorf childhood experience make.  Waldorf Education is about protection of the child, but it is also about bringing things at the right time developmentally and that does mean the world opens up, especially after the age of twelve.

The curriculums currently on the market include Celebrate the Rhythm of Life Living Curriculum Program,  Live Education, Waldorf Essentials, Earthschooling, Lavender’s Blue, individual offerings from Rick and Jennifer Tan at Syrendell and Marsha Johnson at her Yahoo Group and her on-line store The Magic of Waldorf, and  Christopherus Homeschool Resources, Inc.   I am not really including  Enki and Oak Meadow as they were written by former Waldorf teachers; Enki is closest to Waldorf pedagogy our of the two, but each are there own distinct programs with their own scope and sequence.  So these are more “Waldorf-inspired”. Little Acorn Learning is aligned with Lifeways of North America, and is nature-based.  I don’t know of any other curriculum programs than these.   Also, please do not forget the myriad of resources available to Waldorf teachers that are also available to you through booksellers such as Rudolf Steiner College Bookstore or Waldorf Books. 

If you are not piecing together your own curriculum, (which I recommend you try to do, especially in the early grades when it is easier and you can get the hang of it), then you will have to sort through all of these options.  Most mothers I talk to say they would love to have enough money to purchase more than one curriculum because each one has its gems, its loveliness, and they like to combine pieces and resources.  In the upper grades, where there is much less in the way of curriculum to pick from, you will have to do this anyway. 

If you want to see my criteria regarding choosing curriculum, I suggest you look at this back post.  You can also look at this post about how to learn more about Waldorf Education and the suggestions there.    Look carefully at the credentials of the people writing the curriculum and how much they have extensively worked with children in real life . If you are writing a “Waldorf” curriculum and using that word – where is your training, Foundation Studies, workshops that helped train you in this method?  I think all of these things combined make a “curriculum” worth looking at.


The Ten Kinds of Play

If one of the hallmarks of the early years through the teenaged years is play, it helps us as parents to know about the different kinds of play and what these look like.  In this way, we can help our children achieve healthy play if healthy play is difficult for them.

The number one thing to do to help encourage ALL of the kinds of play I am listing below includes turning off all screens – TV, computer, video games, etc.  Stop them cold turkey.  This is important for all small children as we offer a gesture of protection, but this is especially important if  your child is having trouble with creative play.  And start to schedule in large amounts of “unscheduled” time.  That sounds contradictory, scheduling in unscheduled time, but children of today are rushed from adult-led activity to adult-led activity.  They need time to just daydream and be – that is the genesis of being creative.

Here are some types of play:

  • Large Motor play – climbing, jumping, swinging,  crawling
  • Small Motor play – Fine motor play might include things such as sorting objects, stringing objects, bringing objects in and out,
  • Rules- based play – You see this a lot in pick –up games led by children.  I saw this this weekend at a 4-H event where I observed a  very large group of children ages 8-14 or so were playing kickball.  They figured out where the bases would be, what the foul line was, how far apart the bases should be after a few rounds, etc.  They were making the rules and changing the rules as they went along.  Children do not acquire this skill in adult-led youth sports.  Youth sports NEED to be balanced out by neighborhood pick-up games that are led by children working together.
  • Construction play – Building play.  We often think of building forts, ships or houses but I would also include older children building ramps for a skateboard or bike.  
  • Make-believe play – we see this often in kindergarten aged up children.  At first props may be needed, but older children, even ages 9-11 often have elaborate make-believe games with characters and scenarios.
  • Language play – Using words for play – telling stories, playing with words and rhymes, circle games and songs…..  This can overlap large motor play in the case of jump rope rhymes or hand clapping games.
  • Playing with art – Modeling, creating music, drawing, making posters and puppet shows are all examples of this kind of  play.
  • Sensory Play – playing with sand, mud, water, gathering natural objects that have different textures. 
  • Rough and tumble play – Animals do this too!  This is how children often learn body awareness and boundaries.  This kind of play often needs to be watched to make sure boundaries are set for how aggressive or how dominant a player becomes, but it is important for children to play like this.
  • Risk taking play – Play can and should involve risk.  You most likely will not find this on a conventional playground, but out in nature and even in childhood games.  In a childhood game, this is estimating risk – can I steal to that base? can I run fast enough to make it to “home” without being tagged?  In nature, this might be how high can I climb in this tree?  Will this branch in the tree or log across this stream support my body weight?  This is an important kind of play.  I think this type of play can easily morph in the later middle school and high school years into things that are active, involve an element of risk, but are generally a safe way to get risk-taking behavior out there.  For seventh and eighth graders and up, think about dirt biking through a Motorcycle Safety Awareness club, a tree obstacle course with ziplines, more strenuous hiking and camping, anything with animals such as horseback riding or dog training, rock climbing, skiing, etc.  Help children develop their own abilities to assess risk.  This is an important skill for life.

What kinds of play are your children doing? Can you think of a type of play that is not on this list?


Teens and Behavior: Is It All Just Hormones?

The short answer is no, not entirely.  I have been reading the wonderful, accessible book “The Teenaged Brain” by Frances E. Jensen, MD and Amy Ellis Nutt.  When we look at a teenager from a neurophysiology perspective sees more than just  hormones at work.  Some of the main points I took away from the first few chapters in this book regarding adolescent and young adult physiology follows:

Yes, hormones do rise.  The concentration of hormones does change; however the levels of hormones are not any different than the levels found in young adults.  So, if hormone levels are not any different than young adults, than what is the neurophysiologic challenge adolescents are facing that seems to make them more impulsive, more emotional than many  young adults?   (Although judging by some of the idiocy we are seeing on college campuses as of late, I guess this could be argued! LOL)

Part of the challenge is the way the brain is responding and  trying to regulate hormones  that have been previously dormant.  The brain is changing, and the  receptors in the brain and the neurotransmitters that go with these changes is profound.  Sex hormones are especially active in the limbic system, which is the emotional center of the brain.

Adolescents have an ability to reason that is as sharp as an adult’s reasoning, which is why an adolescent can perform well on standardized testing, for example.  Memory and the ability to learn new information is at an all-time high.   However, reasoning often seems to fall short in real life, for example,  a teenager’s perception of risk often falls far short of the reality of risk.  Why is this?

Part of this stems from the maturation pattern of the brain and part of it stems from the fact that a teenager’s brain gets more of a sense of reward than an adult brain because of the increased amount of dopamine that is released. 

The brain matures from the back to the front, and the parietal lobes mature late and the  frontal lobes are the last area to mature.  This is important because the parietal lobes help regulate being able to switch between tasks and help the frontal lobes to focus .  The frontal lobes help send inhibiting messages to the reward centers of the brain – but they are not fully developed and develop last.  They also function in prospective memory – the ability to hold in your mind the intention to perform a certain action at a certain time in the future.  (This skill is almost physiologically stagnant in children ages 10-14, so please don’t just expect them to remember!)Also, the prefrontal cortex that processes negative information, doesn’t work as well in teenagers’ brains.

When we crave what the brain perceives on a physiologic level as a “reward” and we get  a dopamine rush, the teenaged brain is less equipped to deal with shutting the dopamine reward of risky behavior down because of the less developed brain physiology.  Remember, the teenaged brain is about 80 percent mature and teens are hypersensitive from the standpoint of brain physiology to dopamine rewards.  The teenaged brain also releases more dopamine in response to a potential “reward” situation so it can be particularly difficult for a teen to resist situations, especially if negative consequences are never experienced, or if negative consequences are experienced, they are less likely to learn from the situation because they do not process negative information in the same way as a mature adult.  Therefore,  they are more likely to keep repeating the behavior.   This can help explain, for example, things such as addiction in teenagers is more strongly “stuck” in an adolescent’s brain and risk and reward system.

Based upon the above, we know the adolescents consistently disregard risks associated with sexual activity, alcohol, drug use.  We can add to this mixture a society that has devalued sexual activity and the peer role in risk-taking behavior.  Social isolation for girls and a lack of extra-curricular activities for boys increased risk-taking behavior (page 113).  This has nothing to do with the physiology of the brain per se, but we know environment and physiology always mix.    Mood and emotions also can be of profound importance in decision-making moments in teens as well.   

Lots of food for thought in this book.  I highly recommend this as a great read to help you understand and parent your teenager!


Ideas for Easter Baskets

I know many parents who are starting to gather together some small treats for Easter baskets.  I wanted to share with you some ideas I have collected over the years for baskets, including ideas for older children.

First of all, if you are looking for organic, fair trade or allergen free candy, you can try some of the suggestions listed here: here

If you are looking for a healthy alternative to those marshmallow Peeps, try this recipe

Ideas for baskets:

  • Bubbles/cool bubble wands
  • Small balls with different textures
  • Seed packets/gardening tools
  • Jump ropes
  • Pool or sandbox toys
  • Wooden animals or gasp, plastic animals if they are going to go live in the sandbox or a pond of water
  • Sidewalk chalk
  • Kites (older children love these as well!)
  • Pinwheels
  • Supplies to build a fairy house
  • Accessories for bicycles  like a bell for the bike or a bike basket
  • Pool goggles, swim shoes, snorkles (older children as well!)
  • Play silks
  • Clothespins and braided yarn ropes –they can be so many things!
  • Stuffed animals – homemade felt or knitted animals – or Waldorf dolls
  • Clothing for dolls, yarn “leashes” for stuffed dogs
  • Playmats that roll up for small animals, figures or tiny cars.  Many of the playmats are easy to sew.

For older children:

  • Books
  • Craft kits
  • Paper dolls to cut out
  • Small model sets that will fit in basket
  • Woodworking or leather working tools
  • Yarn, knitting needles, crochet hooks or supplies for cross stitching
  • For older teen sewers, the book “Sew Fab” might be nice.  (My teen has been eyeing it.  It is geared towards teen girl clothing). 
  • Card games
  • Watches
  • Art supplies
  • Gift cards (sorry, but older teens love gift cards)

For religious items, you could think about icons (there are even small laminated print icons), Bibles or other religious books, necklaces or bracelets with crosses.

What are your favorite things to put in an Easter basket?  Please leave the age of your children with your item in the comment box! 


Wrap-Up of Week Twenty-Four of Seventh and Fourth Grade

I am trying to post a little wrap-up of each week of grades seven, four and five year old kindergarten year throughout the 36 weeks I have planned for school this year.  I hope this will encourage mothers that are homeschooling multiple children (or who want to but are worried!), and  encourage mothers that even homeschooling children of multiple ages who are far apart in age is doable.  You can find week twenty-three here    and further in the back posts you can find a post pertaining to the first two days of school this year which gives insight to our general daily rhythm.

Living With The Seasons:   We are still in Lent and enjoying the beauty of this quiet season.  I was in a family Sunday school class last Wednesday night.  We gathered on the playground and  then the children climbed to the top of several different playsets in order  to gaze at the beautiful full moon.  We talked about the Cherokee names for the full moon, prayed for the children’s needs, went to the Memorial Garden (a contemplative garden) and by flashlight read a hand-cut paper book based off the song, “What a Wonderful World” and prayed again with each child holding a prayer stone.   Several children knew that song and sang the words.    What a lovely night, and a quiet, still time of year to feel close to God and His creation. 

I transitioned our Winter nature scene to St. Patrick and his deer.  What a joy to remember St. Patrick’s words and life this season. 

Kindergarten:  We are back to Suzanne Down’s “Old Gnome Through The Year”.  Our son said he missed Old Gnome and his friends, so for March we are doing the story, “Old Gnome’s St. Patrick’s Day Fun”, and a movement journey for circle written by Nancy Blanning called “A Pot of Gold” .  The weather has been mostly nice, and there were opportunities to play with friends many days this week out in nature, so that was nice.  Painting, drawing, cutting and coloring rounded out the week.   

Fourth Grade:  We have moved beyond the head-trunk-limb classification of animals we began in the first Man and Animal block, and now past the metabolic-limb/nerve-sensory/rhythmic system classification we started in this block into categories of animals.  We have done birds and spent a good deal of time here looking at classifying birds in a way that would make sense to a ten-year old (you could do just land/water birds, songbirds, birds of prey but I had a few more categories of birds).  We looked closely at the eagle – in Kovacs’ book, but also in Jim Arnosky’s “Thunder Birds” and Jean Craighead George’s “The Eagles Are Back”.  With help, our fourth grader composed a little report about eagles, which she dictated to me and I wrote on the board.  We corrected it, and she copied it.  We also spent time looking at and listening for our state bird, the Brown Thrasher.    I then used the description of birds and fish found in Roy Wilkinson’s little booklet “The Human Being and the Animal World” as a gateway into the land of fish  and some of the ideas in the Christopherus “The Human Being and the Animal World” book to look more closely at fishes.  We are moving into the talking about the watersheds of Georgia and the fishes of our state, particularly the bass family (the largemouth bass is our state fish), that lives there , and then we will talk about the oceans off our state’s coast and our state whale. 

Seventh Grade: This was a big week in learning about the human sexuality and the reproductive system.  The main resources I used included Linda Knodle’s “Human Fertility” book and the wonderful ebook from Rick Tan over at Syrendell, “Let’s Talk Biography and Biology” (see Syrendell for more details  I also used some of the ideas in my  back post about sexuality, and a document from the Antioch Orthodox Church regarding friendship and deeper topics here:   I especially enjoyed the part about genuine versus artificial friendship and the different levels of friendship.    More about this block in a separate post as it really is too long to discuss here.