If we readily agree that homeschooling is first and foremost about family, then there is no question that we home school with that in mind, and do not think,”Oh, I am going to have to send my two, three or four year old away” in order to home school my grades child.
I think Donna Simmons of Christopherus Homeschooling Resources puts it very succinctly in her “First Grade Syllabus”: “Similarly, if homeschooling is about family, we won’t get into a state about how to teach our First Grader when the baby and pre-schooler are around. We live together, we relax into our shared life – and we make it happen.”
However, there are several practicalities to be considered:
Little ones do need something to do while you are homeschooling the older children! They are not just going to “hang out” while you completely focus your attention on your older child.
If the practicalities involves children who are walking through age 3:
- Perhaps activities especially for them could center on a few songs or finger plays for them to start the morning and then setting them up with completely repetitive sensory tasks such as playing with water or sand in a sensory table, pushing a small cart, digging, pouring.
- Little ones may need protection from eating of block crayons and your older children may need protection of the destruction of main lesson books. The way you organize your schoolroom and what supplies you bring down when will be paramount.
- Needless to say, it will be difficult and dangerous to have your small child zipping through your house or outside without you there, so thinking about the physical set-up of your space is very important.
- You may schedule snack time if your little one is eating solids and if eating keeps them occupied. More intense work with the older one may be a great time to nurse the little one.
- Do not underestimate the power of homeschooling outside if that is a possibility!
- How about scheduling some of the more intense things during nap time or at night if your older child gets to stay up later than a younger child? You are home, you can be flexible. Your home school does not have to function within the hours of a typical Waldorf school.
- How about enlisting help of another adult – what role does Dad have in your home school? Is there a teenager or preteen that could be a Mother’s Helper for a few hours each week who could watch the baby or toddler while you are also at home doing something more intense with your older child?
- There are also many websites with ideas of things for toddlers to do during “Class Times” – these include making “I Spy” kinds of sealed bottles with sand and small objects inside to rotate around and look for; sticking a lot of tiny stickers to fill up a small space. (Okay, these are not especially Waldorf-y, but many mainstream websites have ideas such as these :). Other ideas for very small children may include playing with fluffs of wool, baskets of sticks and pinecones and silks. If you have not seen “Toymaking with Children”, this is a great book to check out regarding how to make toys your children will play with from birth up!
If the practicalities are stemming around a three or four year old and up:
- They may be ready to start on a rhythm themselves of circle time, a story with puppetry or modeling, and some practical work. Perhaps you could do this in the morning first thing so they feel as if they have done something special for the day.
- Many families start their mornings with a walk or being outside in nature to really get that energy out first.
- A special box of toys and things that only comes down when you do school (where the things in it rotate on a day-by-day basis) is often appreciated.
- Again, homeschooling outside and being flexible with the times you teach some of the more intense material is helpful.
A special consideration that arises with families using Waldorf is this notion that the younger one must be so protected that if a 4 year old is torturing us to learn to write a few letters we ignore, if our six year old wants a main lesson book, we ignore, a four or six year old cannot hear the older ones’ stories. Rubbish; a heap of rubbish I say! This may irritate some people, but here is what I think:
Yes, the stories in the curriculum is going to speak most deeply to the child when the child is at that point – in other words, Saint stories will speak most deeply to the 8 year old second grader, Old Testament stories will speak most deeply to the 9 year old third grader – but if they hear it before then, it is generally okay (Norse myths are rather intense and may be an exception).
Yes, if a four year old who wants to learn to read and write you should be directing them into other bodily activities, but you may also decide to teach to her to give her a piece of paper and a crayon to scribble and pretend to write. If she is extremely persistent and undeterred, perhaps you teach her to write her initials or her name and she may be perfectly satisfied with that and not wanting more after that. We must respect the intelligence of Steiner’s seven year cycles, but sometimes a four year old really is happy to learn to write just an initial, and then they are totally happy and able to move onto other things. Please DO NOT take this out of context and report I am saying you should teach your four year old how to learn to read and write – you should NOT. But sometimes I feel it is okay to loosen up a bit so the child can move on if they are extremely persistent. Direct them into their bodies, come up with projects for them to do, but it probably is also natural that in their imitative phase they will want to imitate an older sibling writing.
A six year old may have a Main Lesson Book that he may write in if he feels like it, and when he goes through the First Grade when he is seven he will enjoy the fairy tales and pictorial approach to the letters whether he can write all his letters before hand or not! And if he doesn’t want to write in his Main Lesson Book that is okay as well. The point is that the curriculum speaks to where the child is in their soul development.
We have to be careful to make Waldorf work for us in the home environment, not against us! We have to understand and respect the seven year cycles, but also respect that Waldorf at home is not Waldorf at school.
While it would be lovely to have the entire circle time, stories, poems, songs memorized, I have also mentioned several times that mothers write things out and place it between two sheets of watercolor painted paper as their “Special Book.” Donna Simmons talks about this extensively in her work, please see her website and books for more details.
You can use an open and go syllabus; it is okay!
Most importantly, relax. You need to know what is taught when and WHY there, but you can tailor Waldorf to your family and to the stages your children are in. Your children will not be little forever; again, make Waldorf work for you in your home environment and not against you.
You can do this!