Struggling With Preparing For Grade Five?

I am in the throes of watching another “drop-off” in Waldorf homeschooling.  This time around it is the eighth/ninth grade drop-off where many families chose not to homeschool anymore or choose more traditional academic routes.   It can be a lonely place to be, but yet in many ways this is reminiscent of the “drop-off” between fourth and fifth grade for many families (and in preparing for first grade before that!)  So, if you are sort of struggling to prepare for fifth grade, I would say you are in good company and  that it could possibly even be a natural part of the Waldorf homeschooling cycle for parents with children this age. I sometimes wonder if on a soul level we as parents are mirroring the “fractioning” off the fourth graders themselves are doing (remember fourth grade fractions and what that reflects in a class?!)

The reasons families have struggled is varied but seems to boil down into these categories:

Parenting:  Differing expectations of “protecting childhood” (much murkier than in the early years!)  now that the child has gone through the nine year change.  How much should the world really be opening up?

My caution:  Make sure the world is opening up in a nine/ten year old way, not a sixteen/seventeen year change way.  Ask parents who have teenagers if you are unsure!

The curriculum content:  Yup, I am going to say it out loudMany parents are uncomfortable regarding the amount of anthroposophy underlying the fifth grade curriculum.  Whether it is likening different plants to childhood development ( remember, anthroposophy relates to knowing the human being and how the world is a reflection within the human being) or the progression of Ancient Civilizations to reflect epochs and soul development, to the story of Manu and the Flood placing Manu in Atlantis, the content and the underlying pinnings can be challenging.

My suggestions:

  • Decide what is really authentic for you to bring as a homeschooling parent.  I personally do not use the story of Manu and the Flood beginning in Atlantis, for example, because it is not authentic and living for me.   I have had some conversations with friends  from India regarding these subjects and I want to feel comfortable presenting Ancient India in light of these conversations and thoughts.
  • Read some more and see with time and “settling” how things feel for you – which leads back to authenticity, but this time in a more objective and clarifying way then just dismissing things out of hand.  I don’t want to bury my head in the sand, and I do want to know what Steiner said about these things.  However, many of the things about Ancient Civilizations seem to be more in Steiner’s general writings, not the educational lectures.  The educational lectures talk a lot about Greece, for example.   It takes time to digest and to decide how deep one wants to read into these subjects.
  • Listen to veteran homeschooling mothers and what they discovered going through things.  Here is veteran Waldorf homeschooling mother Lauri Bolland’s take on botany. Well-worth reading!
  • Understand what Steiner said about the evolution of human consciousness.  Whether or not you agree with this is up to you, but again, food for thought.
  • Hang in there and breathe.  Sometimes the more you can be steady and bring things on a level you are comfortable with for your family, the next time around different things will click in different ways. Hold true to who you are and what your family culture is, and see how you can work with the curriculum as well.  To me, sixth and seventh grade are much more straightforward in a sense…

The academic side of the curriculum.  Some parents really leave Waldorf homeschooling behind because fifth grade is a big jump in content and in academic content.  If you feel pressured about where your child is and not feeling as if the curriculum is working for you in this arena, it is easy to think about abandoning it for another method of homeschooling that is either more traditionally academic or less academic.

My suggestion:  Remember, you are homeschooling this way for a reason. What drew you to it, how does it fit your child, be the teacher and get creative!

Tell me your stories about preparing for fifth grade.  Did you struggle?  How did it resolve?

Blessings,
Carrie

The Cost of Overscheduling Your Children

There was a very good post  recently over at “Becoming Minimalist” entitled “How To Slow Down Your Family’s Schedule” which did a great job in pointing out some of the problems with over-scheduling children in our world. I wrote a post some time ago about choosing time outside the home wisely.  In that article I mentioned several points, specifically in reference to the homeschooling community, where because children are not out at school all day, parents often feel the need to get their children out after homeschooling is done.  Here are a few of the discussion points:

  • I don’t think children under 12 need anything, although many parents of 11-12 year old girls have told me they felt their girls “needed something to do” whereas boys seemed to not care until age 14 or so.
  • Teens ages 13-15, somewhere in that time frame, really do seem to need something.  If you haven’t overloaded them with activities up until this point, then adding one or two activities may seem like enough to them.
  • Families with one child seem to vary on how they approach things – read the comments from the previous blog post.
  • Families with four or more children seem to pick activities where all children can participate at once, whereas families with one to three children seem to run around a lot more with the children all doing separate activities!
  • The DRIVER (parent) is often the one who is tired out!
  • Many parents noted they would love to stay home and have informal play with other children, but no children  are at  home in their neighborhood or they may live far out in the country and there are no children.  Children are interacting in structured activities these days, not in playing street games, tag and riding bikes like thirty years or so ago.

I think it could possibly take a full-on public health campaign in the United States to really change the perception of parents that there is value in UNSTRUCTURED play and to not sign their children up for every activity.  I am so glad to know so many of you are trendsetters and are pointing the way toward family being home!

If you want to pare down your schedule, here is a list of suggestions that other parents have told me works:

Discount activities that meet over the dinner hour.  Don’t be so willing to trade a structured, led by an adult outside your home for the benefits of the family dinner hour.  (and there are many benefits; there have been studies).

Let each child pick ONE thing per semester.  Many things now, at least in the United States, seem to run all year round, but see what you can find.

Delay the starting ages for doing activities outside the home.  “In our family, you get to pick an activity to do outside the home when you are “X” years old.”

Figure out when is YOUR day with your children if you are really busy with activities.  How many days do YOU need to be home to feel happy, to have the house the way you want it, etc.

You can try my method:  I put a big X over certain days of the week and do not allow myself to schedule anything on those days.  I have talked about this is in back posts.

Can you let go of guilt?  Every article, including the “Becoming Minimalist” post above, mentions how wonderful free, unstructured play with other children is, yet most parents say there are no children to play with!  Can you feel okay with your child playing by themselves or with their siblings for many days of the week?

The reality is that most homeschooling parents, at least most Waldorf or holistic homeschooling parents, do not want to be out every day and see the value in being home.  They see the value in space and time for development.

I think part of the problem is that most parents are working, and therefore no one is home and the child has to be somewhere.  Also, the ending time of school can vary and take away the down time of the afternoon.  For example, the middle school (grades 6-8) in my area get home around 5 PM, at which time they must eat and do homework.  So, part of this question I think becomes what do we do until economics – attitudes- amount of homework changes? A  tall social order!

Love to hear your thoughts and your thoughts on the “Becoming Minimalist” blog post.

Blessings,
Carrie

Monthly Anchor Points: June

Anchor:  a person or thing that can be relied on for support, stability, or security; mainstay: Hope was his only anchor.

When we work to become the author of own family life, we take on the authority to provide our spouse and children and ourselves stability.  An effective way to do this is through the use of rhythm.  If you have small children, it takes time to build a family rhythm that encompasses the year.  If you are homeschooling older children and also have younger children not yet ready for formal learning, the cycle of the year through the seasons and through your religious year becomes the number one tool you have for family unity, for family identity, for stability.

June is the month with the longest amount of daylight hours for the Northern Hemisphere (and the shortest days for the Southern Hemisphere – how are all my Down Under readers faring?)

These are the festivals that will anchor my month:

21 – Father’s Day

24 – The Nativity of St. John the Baptist

29-  The Feast of St. Peter and St. Paul

Famous Saints I will be taking to my inner work this month –

9- St. Columba

10- St. Ephrem of Syria (lots of great reading to do here)

14 – St. Basil the Great

22 – St. Alban of Britian

Aside Note – I have had a few folks ask me about the Calendar of Saints in the Episcopal Church…The Episcopal Church USA is part of the Anglican Communion, which is an international association of churches composed of the Church of England and national (such as Canada, Japan, Uganda, for example) and regional (collections of nations) Anglican churches.  Each province, as it is called, is autonomous and independent with its own primate and governing structure.  So, different feast calendars within the Anglican Communion share the Feast Days and Fast Days listed in the Book of Common Prayer, but there may be “lesser feasts and fasts” as well.  The Archbishop of Canterbury is our “primus inter parus” (first among equals) but holds no direct authority outside of the England, but is instead a force of unity, vision, persuasion,  for the entire Communion.  We don’t really govern off of creeds, for example such as the Westminster Catechism in Presbyterianism, but find “the law of praying is the law of believing and therefore The Book of Common Prayer is our way.  The Anglican Communion has in it elements of the Reformation and Anglo-Catholicism, depending upon the individual parish, but it is not “Catholic Lite”.  We pray for the unity of the Church (the whole of Christendom) and therefore “Anglicans have preferred to look for guidance to the undivided church, the church before it was divided by the Reformation and especially to the first centuries of the church’s life….to “tradition”, the worship, teaching and life of the church in its early days.” (page 65, Welcome to the Episcopal Church by Christopher Webber))

Ideas for Celebrating June:

  • Here we are tubing down rivers, camping, going to water and splash parks
  • Blueberry Picking – Strawberries are about done, but blueberries are coming soon
  • Try out different popsicle and cold drink recipes
  • Gardening – especially with an eye to our friend the bee
  • Hunt fireflies at night
  • Stay up and gaze at the stars
  • Have bonfires and camp fires and make s’mores
  • Summer theater outside!

The Domestic Life:  I love June for going through and re-organizing the school room, throwing out papers that have accumulated, going through closets and drawers, re-vamping meal plans with cooling foods in mind.

Homeschooling:  We ended this week, (week thirty-five), as everyone’s concentration was down (rightfully so for our geographic region and climate).  The children are outgrowing clothing at a rapid pace, and I could tell their forces needed to be directed to growth and rest.  I will be writing a post soon detailing a binder I put together for seventh grade to wrap up the year from a teacher  perspective, and what I am doing differently in planning fifth and eighth grades than I have in previous years.

I would love to hear what you are up to this ending of May and looking ahead to June!

Blessings,

Carrie

Connecting With Young Children: Educating the Will Week Three

This is our third week in looking at Stephen Spitalny’s wonderful book, “Connecting With Young Children:  Educating the Will.”  In Chapter One, the author writes:

For a parent or teacher or caregiver, the core principle is the meeting of the other, and to truly meet an other one must first know thyself.  This is a core principle of Waldorf education.

In the spiritual world, and at birth, the child is experiencing an “interconnectedness” of everything.  There is no experience of the self and the other, and the child slowly develops this over time in childhood development.  Education is about more than academics; indeed if the fundamental task of  being an adult is the ability to relate to another and connect to others, then education must start with this goal in mind

The task is to help the child relate to and connect with all aspects of life in ways suitable for their development, so that later as an adult many realms of connection are available to him.  This is a social path toward cultural renewal and a more peaceful word, one individual at a time.  (page 17)

This is why Waldorf Education is structured around approaching a child with love, and I would add through loving boundaries.  Because being human is not about “you”; being human ultimately is about being able to see and hear the other;  being able to so love and serve the world.  Our current educational system pushes children further and further into academic skills, and away from seeing the connection between all subjects, all of humanity, and from the goal of true education in living as a human being. 

Love and warmth are the keys to this type of education.  If we can truly connect with giving and receiving, speaking and listening, with true empathy for someone who is completely different in many ways than ourselves, then that is true education.  We nurture ourselves and others through warmth – in warmth we show our attention, our enthusiasm, our understanding.

This chapter brings up the following questions for me:

  • How can I truly know myself?  If I know myself, how do I then bring this to others in an authentic way, my children included? 
  • How can I show my child how to connect to and relate to people, in seeds however so small, in ways that are appropriate for his or her developmental level?
  • How can I renew my own balance, my own sense that all things  within the world are interconnected?
  • How can I be a true adult human being and serve others through love and through warmth?  How can I start within my own family?

I would love to hear what Chapter One brought up for you!

Many blessings,

Carrie

Homeschooling Fourth and Seventh Grade: Wrap-Up of Weeks Thirty-Three and Thirty-Four

(You can find the last post in this series here. )

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. 

Living with the Seasons:  We had a lovely Feast of the Ascension Day, and are now gearing up for Pentecost Sunday.  What a beautiful time of year!  The pools are open and we have been swimming frequently, and summer feels as if it is just around the corner!

Homeschool Planning: I am not sure I have made substantial progress since the last time I posted  in this series, but still feel confident that it is possible to finish planning by the end of June and just focus on artistic work the rest of the summer.  Fifth grade pretty much has a flow for every block, as does eighth grade at this point, along with plans for a once a week World Geography wrap-up in the autumn and American Government in the spring semester.  My little six year old year is still only about half-way done, and obviously I still have many presentations to write and mull over to go with the flow of the blocks planned out.

Kindergarten:  We have had a lovely spring circle and Feast of the Ascension story (found in “All Year Round”).  We have added in many spring fingerplays and songs as well.  This week we are moving into a new story for the last two weeks of school, and I am thinking about all kinds of plans for the six-year-old kindergarten year.  Cooking, baking, water play and swimming, seasonal crafts, sand play, walking distances are just a few of the things we have been doing the past few weeks.

Fourth Grade:  We are still working hard on math – both practice math of all four processes, games involving multiplication, Extra Lesson kinds of activities, spelling, and fractions.  We will be ending school soon, next week, and have a well-deserved break.  We only have a few chapter left to read in “Heroes of the Kalevala”, which has been enjoyed by our fourth grader.

Seventh Grade:  We are working hard on a review of measurement conversions and other past math topics each day.  We are also finishing up our Latin America block.  This was what was in our Main Lesson Book regarding Latin America as of my last post:

 

  • A beautiful title page
  • A physical map of Latin America with all mountains and highlands, lowlands and coastal plain areas labeled/ discussed as well as the Atacama Desert
  • A summary of the Andes Mountains and a painting; I want to go back and do a portrait of the people of the Andes if we have time
  • A summary of The Pampas and the gaucho, quotes from “Martin Fierro”, the epic gaucho saga by Jose Hernandez which we read.
  • A summary of the Amazon Basin; drawing of  toucans!

The last few weeks we added:

  • A lovely map of the four voyages of Christopher Columbus, a map of Hispaniola and a discussion and summary of the Taino people.
  • A very lively discussion and delving into the life and religion of the Mayan civilization. I feel strongly that the Maya should be in Fifth Grade for those of us in North America, but since we didn’t include it there, we are doing it now.  Our daughter composed her own summary from  notes taken, and we have looked at sections of the Popol Vuh. We also worked in clay and in using vivid chalks for a picture.
  • Now we are moving into the Aztec civilization, and will do the Incan Empire in our final week of school this year.

I found many books used and from the library that assisted me in putting together this block, including:

  • A little Latin American coloring book by Rod and Staff, the Christian publisher
  • A used copy of “World in Focus: Central and South America” by Allman
  • Mayan Mythology by Currie
  • Secrets in Stone:  All About Maya Hieroglyphs by Coulter
  • Popul Vuh:  A Sacred Book of the Maya by Montejo
  • Mayan and Aztec Mythology by Ollhof
  • The Aztecs by Heinrichs
  • Mountains Around the World:  The Andes by Aloian
  • The Inca Empire by Newman
  • The Inca from the Early Peoples Series by World Book
  • Macchu Picchu by Elizabeth Mann
  • The Inca by Braman
  • Fiction:  Secret of the Andes by Clark
  • Fiction:  Pedro’s Journal

I would love to hear what you are working on right now!

Blessings,
Carrie

First Grade Planning By Subject: The Physical Body and Movement

The “physical body” is an important consideration for first grade, as many markers for first grade readiness for academic work are dependent upon the development of the physical body laid in the Early Years.

The book, “The Extra Lesson” by Audrey McAllen, discusses the entering of first grade and how the child “should be six and a half years of age by the school entry date in the fall…With today’s increasing life-tempo and sensory impacts, children are less and less ready for school life at 6 years.  They need another six months to fully complete the last stage of the kindergarten development.”  For more on this topic, please see this back guest post regarding first grade readiness.

There is a list on page 88 of activities to ask the child to do in order to get a picture of the child entering grade school.  I would consider looking at potential fall  first grade child in the spring before first grade and screening them for developmental readiness.

Early Years children who display the following may need extra assistance and extra screening (from “The Extra Lesson, page 92):

  • Floppy, flaccid limbs
  • W-sitting
  • Behavioral problems in group situations
  • An inability to listen and focus
  • An inability to imitate

For the older child already in the grades, but perhaps still for us to keep in mind when we observe children (list from page 24, “The Extra Lesson”)

  • A child who fidgets and disturbs other people continuously
  • A clumsy child who stumbles and drops things frequently
  • A child who runs about wildly and crashes into other children without stopping but cannot engage in play
  • A child who always prefers to play with much younger children
  • A child who stumbles in his speech, especially with omitting or adding extra syllables
  • A child who cannot form sentences well and cannot find the words he or she needs
  • A child who cannot write neatly and cannot hold his pencil comfortably (remember, this second half of the checklist is for children already in the grades)

(From “The Extra Lesson”, page 92)

I would add to this list to look at core strength of the abdomen, ability to walk distances, and the shoulder girdle/hand during activities such as kneading bread dough, stirring in cooking, cutting with scissors and look at specific retained reflexes that may interfere with writing and copying from the board.  General posture also provides clues.

First grade should still be in a heart of movement.  This includes movement in circle time/warm up, in reciting verses and poetry and in drama, in the rhythm of movement found in math, in being able to distinguish left and right and develop laterality of the hand, eye, foot.    The four lower of the twelve senses of the human being include the Sense of Touch, The Sense of Life, The Sense of Balance, The Sense of Self-Movement are still being developed and built upon the foundation laid in the Early Years. Some remedial (Extra Lesson) Waldorf Teachers view excessive unruliness as stemming from a disturbed sense of life/well-being, excessive insecurity as a disturbed sense of touch, and a  lack of inner understanding indicating a disturbed sense of movement and balance.    For more about the twelve senses, please see this back post:  musings on the twelve senses and the twelve senses in homeschooling

Movement should be the basis from which all activity in first grade flows.  I have many ideas on my Pinterest boards, especially first grade and healing education  for you in regards to these areas.

Many blessings,
Carrie

First Grade Planning By Subject: The Seasonal Year

If you are just starting to  plan first grade, welcome!

First grade is different than the Early Years, but yet as a homeschooling parent you are still  building upon the seasonal year. This in some ways becomes the culmination  of the rhythm of the Early Years, nursery and kindergarten ages, where by discovering by repetition over the years what makes the festivals, holidays and seasonal activities you made the season of the year, month and day your own.

Only YOU know your family’s culture, religion and spirituality and the geography and seasonal changes of where you live.  So those notes you have taken about what you have done and noticed during the Early Years are particularly helpful in planning first grade.  When does the first butterfly come out?  When are the leaves really crunchy on the ground?  What do we do every single year for this festival or that festival?  What do these months and festivals really mean to me on an inner level?   What festivals and holidays make you feel replenished and what festivals and holidays make you feel depleted and in need of a vacation afterwards?   This is  important work that you have done is the foundation for first grade, from both the perspective of the child and from the perspective of the balance needed for the homeschooling parent.   However, now in first grade,  you are embedding and layering blocks into the cycle of the year.

This can be important to think about.  Where does your seasonal year  best tie into your blocks?  For example, the first time I did Form Drawing, our first block of first grade, I chose to do it through a story about beavers and pond life in our area in the autumn.  To do this, I had to know what the animals in our area were doing that time of year and translate that into what I call “movement snippets” of forms.

Where will you put your nature blocks?  What animals and plants will you focus on in the nature blocks, in painting and modeling?  For this, you have to have been an observer of your area.

Making crafts and cooking for the festivals and holidays your family celebrates is still a huge part of first grade.  This develops gross and fine motor skills, attention, balance and a general sense of life needed for more academic work.

The other piece of the rhythm of the year, month and day is BALANCE.  Yes, you have to carve out time for lessons;  but you also still have to care for and nourish your home and the people and animals and plants in  your life as well.  Time needed for first grade may not be extensive, but it is there and needs a set time, place and consistency to be there! The time for direct instruction and teaching has come!

Our next post will be about movement; in the meantime, for first grade inspiration please check out my First Grade Pinterest Board.

Blessings,
Carrie