This continues our vein of Waldorf homeschooling, Unschooling, and “What Does Waldorf Look Like In Your Home?” Today’s post is written by Lauri Bolland, a veteran Waldorf homeschooling mother who is a frequent contributor to Melisa Nielsen’s Yahoo!Group ( see firstname.lastname@example.org to join Melisa’s list). Lauri has a wealth of experience in this area and I asked her to guest blog for me and share her thoughts about this area that scares so many people away from Waldorf Homeschooling.
I have three always-homeschooled children, with 4 1/2 years between the first two and 4 years between the second two. So they were 8 1/2 & 4 when my youngest was a newborn, and they are now ages 20, 15 1/2 & 11 1/2.
It may seem with that kind of age gap (and considering the Waldorf curriculum) that I would be teaching three separate grades all the time, and – for the most part – that’s been true. However, there have often been many times when I could combine my children. When my middle child was in 1st Grade, for example, he spent most of his time hanging out while my eldest did a 5th grade study of the ancients. (With the toddler in the sling or blocked in the room with us with toys.) My eldest was still a non-writer at that point, and a very limited reader, so everything was done aloud – with LOTS of hands on. My middle child now has a tremendous love for history, and I think it was his sideways participation in that year that inspired it. He still remembers how we constructed the Nile River Valley from sand, dirt, seeds, and Legos – and then FLOODED it – and the grass seeds grew like the Delta grows after the rainy season.
When my middle child was in 7th and my eldest was in 10th, I kept them together for a Creative Writing block and a Grammar Intensive Block, both of which I ran like a workshop. We actually had a blast!
Then when my middle child was in 8th and my eldest in 11th, I decided to do Movies as Literature for English/Literature for both of them.
True, the timeliness of the curriculum was geared more towards my middle child, but I brought the Waldorf inspired thinking and discussion skills to my eldest – so both were well served. I was able to gear questions and discussion toward the developmental level of each child – which sounds very lofty, but wasn’t! LOL! It was a matter of asking one kind of question for one child, and other kinds of questions – according to Waldorf pedagogy – for the other. I required varying amounts of writing, and graded each child’s work differently. Again, I did a “workshop” type of format with discussion, cooperation, shared writing, reading aloud together, and more discussion. Interestingly, when my eldest began college classes in the Autumn, she said her English 101 class was just like homeschooling in that workshop/discussion format!
I put together a semester long block for my eldest’s last year of homeschooling, where we circled the Eastern Hemisphere (Asia, Africa, & Oceana) as a family. It was my choice to do one last thing en masse before she was off to college. For my youngest (4th grade) we focused on the food, clothes, games and Native People’s Myths & Stories of the lands we visited. My 8th grader focused on the geography of the world, weather patterns, native peoples, and the details of these continents – all “on time” for the Waldorf schedule. My 12th grader focused on the beliefs and the great thinkers who arose from these places – or traveled TO these places. We slanted it toward our faith a bit, as she had already covered the historical and geographical sweeps. She (my eldest) lead the majority of the crafts and the cooking for the other two, which gave me a nice break and allowed her to have some teaching responsibility. It was a beautiful way to end our time together, and one of those times I had to go with my “gut” on what to do, but could still tailor it to the underlying philosophies of Waldorf. I think my busiest year was when they were 15, 11 & 7, and I was teaching 9th, 5th & 1st simultaneously – all very demanding years!
I think the primary trick to working with larger age gaps is to be organized. As a woman, I really need our home and our relationships to be running right, or I feel discombobulated and out of sorts. If our cleaning, laundry, meals and shopping are in a shambles, or our relationships are rocky, I just can’t concentrate on school stuff. So I try to be very well organized in regard to what days we do what, and who does what. Also, I’m a bit of a stickler for the way people treat each other. Because it takes a lot of time to run a household and keep relationships pleasant when children are very little, I had to do my best with the small amount of time left for homeschooling.
When they were 9, 5 & 1, for example, I didn’t have two hours for doing the eldest’s schoolwork, so I had to make it a VERY GOOD 45 minutes at the table. Often we needed to move outside for some studies, or to the living room floor for others. It was so much better for my kids in the long run, and helped me to make the most of our days. Steiner had to do this with one of his students when he was a private tutor, and it contributed to his philosophy of teacher preparation.
My second trick for working with large age gaps is planning out every lesson. I know myself pretty well (I’m weak willed) and if I don’t have EVERY lesson planned out, I’ll buckle. As soon as the kids start to balk, I become tempted to drop it all and go do something fun.
I’ve done it more times than I can count! However, if I have all my lessons tidily planned for each and every child, I can hold firmer.
There have been lots of other times we’ve worked together. Believe it or not, we did daily circle time together until just this year. With older children it was more about doing Brain Gym type movement, memorizing facts or poetry, talking walks together, and doing elaborate (and not so elaborate) indoor and outdoor obstacle courses for each other. This year my 9th grader gets started on his High School work early, so it’s just my 5th grade daughter and I. We call it “Movin’ Time” and take walks, do Brain Gym, Form Drawing, etc.
However, she and I did have a two week color-intensive Watercolor painting block which my college student managed to join us for most of! :)
Very often over the years, I found life overlapped with homeschooling and homeschooling overlapped with life. By being flexible and organized, we’ve enjoyed quite a bit of family-centered (and still Waldorf) learning in spite of the age gaps between my children.
Carrie Here: I love to hear the voices of veteran Waldorf homeschooling mothers – they have so much to offer! So, what does Waldorf look like in your home? Getting over your fears enough to jump in and develop a relationship with this most healing form of education?
Many blessings, and much thanks to Lauri for sharing!