An Introduction to Waldorf Homeschooling

 

To me, there are five main areas which come together to compose a Waldorf homeschool:

The Inner Work and Inner Life of the Teacher – this is of paramount importance, and the basis and foundation of Waldorf homeschooling.  Who you are and where you are on your inner path and spiritual work  is more important than the subject you teach.  Your will, your rhythms, your outlook, your spiritual work, will determine far more for your child than anything else – especially in the world of homeschooling where you are both parent and teacher.

An Understanding of Childhood Developmental Phases – I write about childhood development extensively on this blog.  Suffice it to say the view in Waldorf Education is that the human being is a spiritual being and that we continue to change, develop and grow throughout our lifetime.

Temperament of the grades-aged child (and in the teen years, emotion and personality) – We need to recognize not only the temperaments associated with the various developmental stages, but also the temperament of  our own child and ourselves and how to bring balance to that within our homeschooling experiences.

An Understanding of the Curriculum and How to Adapt it to Your Child and Homeschool:  We can start with such things as Steiner’s lectures and the secondary literature of the pedagogy.  However, the time we live in, the local geography, customs, language, local festivals and cultural events are all points in which the learning experience starts within the child and the child’s world. So, therefore, we must be familiar with not only the curriculum, but also with our own child and our own observations and meditation as to what that child needs, and then how to have the curriculum fulfill the needs of the child.  Dogmatic story-art-summary rhythms are often not helpful in the home environment and there are many ways to bring the rhythms of Waldorf Education to the home.

An Ability to “DO”, rather than just read.  This includes not only the ability to hold a rhythm and be organized, but also the ability to learn new things for oneself both in the area of the arts and in academic subjects.  For example, few of us were taught geometry the way the curriculum is outlined, and one most be willing to take a subject, even a familiar subject and see how  to dig into it and look at it from a spiritual perspective and to view art as a spiritual activity.

Many blessings,
Carrie

Guest Post: Learning By Observing At A Waldorf School

 

My guest post tonight comes from long-time reader Bonnie.  Bonnie recently had the good fortune to go and observe a first grade main lesson period,  a second grade German class and a second grade Handwork class at a Waldorf school. I asked if she could write a guest post and explain what she learned as a homeschooling parent from observing these classes at a Waldorf School.  Here is what Bonnie had to say:

 

My visit to a Waldorf school as a homeschooling mom….

Last week, I had an opportunity to visit an open house at a prominent Midwestern Waldorf School. As a homeschooling mom to a 6.5 year old daughter and a 4 year old son, it took a lot of planning to make this happen, since the school is quite a distance from our house. But, I knew I had to go – I had to EXPERIENCE the Waldorf classroom for the grades.

Just to back up a moment, I should share with you that I have been a loyal fan of Waldorf and its lifestyle since before I even had kids. So much so in fact, that I visited an open house for a Parent-Child class when I was still pregnant with my first child. The teachers were shocked and all commented on how I was “starting early”. But, for me and I’m sure many of you, reading the blogs, books, and curriculums is not enough. I need to EXPERIENCE it – FEEL it – LIVE it. I want to have a deep sense internally of the beauty and feeling world of the classroom mirrored with the ideas and knowledge a Waldorf-trained teacher exhibits and exudes while working with the students – no matter what the age.

Currently, my daughter is finishing up her second year of kindergarten and will start first grade in the fall. I have been collecting information, curriculums, and ideas for first grade over the years and have a general sense of what is taught at this level. I’ve seen beautiful pictures of alphabet letters and chalkboard drawings on the internet and in curriculums, but I struggle with not only how do I bring this to my child, but what does it really look like, and more importantly, feel like? The ages of 7-14 are the feeling years – so this must be considered at some level. Hence, why I signed up to attend an open house.

So, without further ado, the morning of the open house…. I got there bright and early and was greeted by so many friendly parents and staff. Naturally, they shake your hand, make eye contact, and make you feel right at home. They walked me to a classroom where I met Mr. K., the first grade teacher, and whose class I would be experiencing for the next two  hours as he taught the main lesson. He was happy and full of energy. We chatted a bit and then he excused himself so he could meet and greet each child at the door. What I found amazing was that he greeted twenty plus children and every single handshake was not rushed, was authentic, and the child was met with sincerity and reverence. The children put their coats away, took their chairs down from on top of their desk, and then were eager to see the three new numbers he placed on the chalkboard for a “number puzzle”. Once everyone was sitting at their desk, they reviewed the numbers and looked for patterns. After this, attendance was taken. And, I don’t mean the teacher just checked off a name on his attendance sheet or monotonously said one name after the other waiting for a “Here”. Oh no, no, no……after all, this is a Waldorf school. The teacher sang, in a pentatonic scale, “Child’s name, are you here?” And, then the child sang back, “Yes, Mr. K, I am here.” And if a child wasn’t there, the whole classroom sang, “No, Mr. K, she’s not here.” I had goose bumps. Who knew taking attendance could sound so beautiful and magical?!

After attendance, the children stood up and did some stomping, clapping, and jumping jacks focusing on different numbers. Then, it was time for an in-breath. The children stood with their arms crossed over their chest and Mr. K turned off the lights. It was candle time – and a child lit the candle and they said their first grade verse. The candle was then blown out and he played the pentatonic flute, while the children hummed and sang, “Good morning sun. You’re looking through my window….” Once again, I was blown away, not just by their angelic voices but by also hearing singing coming from another classroom. I had read that in a Waldorf school, one could hear singing all day long. That’s great – but, I had no idea what that would feel like at a soul level, especially in a pentatonic scale.

After singing, the children pushed their desks/chairs out of the way and sat on the top of their desk, so there was room in the middle of the classroom for circle time. The teacher turned the lights on, signaling an out- breath. He started to sing, Continue reading

Guest Post: A Homeschooling Manifesto

One of my best friends wrote these words, and was gracious enough to let me share these words with the world.  I can see this being printed out and put on refrigerators everywhere for a dose of encouragement.

Thank you to my dearest friend, Andrea Hartman!  These are her fine words:

I remember back to when we were homeschooling, on those really hard days when the house was a mess, and I was a mess, and the kids were a mess, and I would be having the passing thought  that I should send them to school.  School would be better for them than this.

We had to do public school this year.  We might have to again.  You might have to one day.  It’s not the end of the world, but now I see the public school experience not from my own experience, but from the experience of my children.  I feel like I am really blessed with the knowledge of ‘both sides of the coin’ here.  We are planning to go back to homeschooling this coming fall, so I have written a Homeschooling Manifesto. I didn’t write my little manifesto to discuss the negatives of school, but to reconnect myself with the essence of homeschool.  I’d love for you to read it, file it away, and on those crazy days, you can pull it out and remind yourself of what you are really doing.  I promise you, I will be reading it next year, many times.  ;-)  I hope you enjoy it!

 

Today, in New England, it was a beautiful day. Sunny, breezy, low 60’s. Perhaps to my Florida family, this is a chilly day, made for long sleeves and snuggles. But to my northeastern friends, this was a day for opening windows, climbing trees, and running through the grass barefooted.

As I gratefully cracked open my own window over the kitchen sink this afternoon and felt the cool breeze on my face, I realized that these three aforementioned activities are so very symbolic of the choice our family has returned to- homeschooling.

For a variety of reasons, our family tried public school this year. I must say, that of all the public schools out there, this is one of the best. Not because of test scores or academic standards, but because it is old and has character, it is small and cozy, and the principal is there every day, accessible and available to chat with a smile on her face. One cannot say this of many public schools. Continue reading

The American Impulse In Waldorf Homeschooling

I think in Waldorf homeschooling, we have a unique chance to take the indications and pedagogy built by the indications of Rudolf Steiner and the Waldorf Schools and build off of them toward our own culture or our own religious impulses.

The American impulse in Waldorf homeschooling is something I really want to discuss today.  I alluded to it in one of my last posts where I referred to the Neoclassical period of American history here: http://theparentingpassageway.com/2013/03/17/pondering-portals-part-three-media/

I have been deeply disappointed as to the depth and breadth of the American spirit as covered within the Waldorf Curriculum as according to the AWNSA chart, which otherwise I love and use for planning my year. There are a few nods to American literature and Continue reading

Top Ten Ways to Make Waldorf Homeschooling Work For Your Family

I see many families who start along the path of Waldorf homeschooling.  Some embrace it fully, some families weave in and out of it for quite some time.  Some families choose to go a different path, some go a different path and then steer back towards Waldorf homeschooling around the time their children go through the development shifts of ages nine and ten.  And yes, some become absolute haters of Waldorf education, which I frankly feel many times is not due to Waldorf education in and of itself, but how that family approached it all.  Are there ways to avoid pitfalls in Waldorf homeschooling?

I don’t know for sure, but I do have a few ideas.  So here are my Top Ten Ways to make Waldorf homeschooling work for you!

1.  Do not get so hung up on the “right and perfect way” to do Waldorf education or the “right and perfect curriculum” that will be the “magic” for your home.  YOU are the magic.    In the home environment, there are few guideposts and roadmaps.  The main thing is to know development, observe your child and strive yourself, have joy and keep things vibrant.  If you are trying for “perfect” it is all drudgery and you will soon abandon Waldorf Education.

2.  In the Early Years, be  wary and careful of doing way too much way too soon.  Far better to live within the rhythms of the year, the seasons, the liturgical year, your own home and develop those things fully than to spend hours creating perfect handwork projects and charming things for your children (unless creating perfect handwork projects is part of what nourishing YOU).  Do not stress over every little thing trying to make it “Waldorf perfect.”

3.  Remember the  wisdom of the forest kindergarten movement.  I really feel this is where a child birth through aged five or so should be centered more than anything, in nature and in that movement, in the musicality of creation. Around that shift of five and a quarter, five and a half I think is where you can really observe your child and see what skills they still need to develop in order to be successful in the early grades.  You can search “Nokken” in the search engine on this blog and learn more.

4.  Look ahead.  Yes, there are differences between a Continue reading

Cursive Writing

 

Cursive writing in the Waldorf homeschool has come up three times this week, so I figured I needed to write a little post about this subject. Friends, I can find nothing anywhere about what Rudolf Steiner thought about cursive writing.  My guess is that it could be that Steiner didn’t really think about it much!  I mean,  if you think about that time and place, German writing in cursive seemed to be pretty well established and in use. If you use a search engine, you can find images of German cursive writing.  (Perhaps my German readers can tell me how much cursive writing has changed in their country over the years).

 

Fast forward to the twenty-first century here in the United States.  Cursive writing is being phased out in many public schools and if cursive is taught at all, many schools do not have specific instruction in cursive after the third grade.

 

Many Waldorf Schools seem to have adopted use of the Vimala Handwriting.  I understand, because the soul qualities of Vimala is about learning the hidden soul qualities of each letter, of transforming your self-esteem, healing old wounds, and expressing your creativity.

 

I know many Waldorf  homeschooling parents who have chosen to bring Vimala to their children and cite that their own handwriting is much better than it was.  I understand this, so I feel badly telling you all this: I don’t especially love Vimala as the choice for cursive writing, as many are using Vimala for that purpose.  I think I am the only one in the entire Waldorf world, LOL.  So, feel free to disagree!!   I think much as many Waldorf students practice writing the Russian alphabet in conjunction with the Russian fairy tales, the Greek alphabet in fifth grade, Latin in sixth grade, calligraphy and such, the Vimala alphabet could be used in this way for fluidity and flexibility of the brain.  However, here is why I personally don’t love Vimala as a cursive writing tool:

 

I like the fluidity of using a traditional cursive script for fine motor development:  really working on cursive writing helps strengthen hand-eye coordination, and other things such as how much pressure one must apply to the paper (ever seen a child who puts a hole in his paper every time he goes to write?), directionality, spacing between words since all the letters are linked and the spaces are between the words and not the letters, and fluid cursive decreases reversals of letters.  It also increases fluidity and speed, once a child masters cursive. 

 

One thing I never thought of is that some proponents of cursive writing point out that a very simplified, print-style signature is easier to forge than a cursive one.  I never thought of that, but it does make sense.  Also, some things still are written in traditional cursive writing, and it would seem a shame to me that a child or young adult would not be able to read an invitation to a wedding or other formal function or historical documents because they never learned a fluid form of cursive writing!

 

However, my caveat to all  of this is that in teaching cursive writing the instruction and practice should carry on for YEARS.  It shouldn’t be that the child is “taught” cursive in second or third (I generally prefer third for the most complete development of fine motor control and then not expect cursive writing in a main lesson book until the end of third or fourth grade),  and then that is “it”, but that this practice should continue on through (and this is just my opinion!) into sixth and seventh grade with several practice sessions a week.  These lessons can have the qualities of those meditative middle lessons in a Waldorf school, with a  really beautiful beeswax candle lit and that smell permeating the school room, and to really sit and focus on each letter for fifteen minutes or so after the cursive letters have been introduced in a block. 

 

I essentially teach cursive from my own writing, which looks probably closer to Palmer handwriting.  I was raised by grandparents and that is also what I grew up mainly reading in terms of letters and notes. I know people who really like to have alphabet cards hanging in their school room – the website Educational Fonts has many.  Find the font that looks closest to yours if you want something “standardized” or if not, make your own alphabet cards! 

 

This post is already too long, so I will just leave you with the idea of using form drawing and forms to work toward cursive.  That topic will need to wait for another post.  Many Waldorf teachers teach the cursive letters as being ones of the sky, the earth or dipping into the water.  It is a great pictorial image!

 

I would love to hear how you teach cursive in your homeschool!

Many blessings,

Carrie

 

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Attachment And Individualization

I think as homeschooling families, one of our  main goals is always the connection of the family and how we stay attached to each other in a society that sometimes doesn’t seem to value that at all.  Some of the homeschooling families who read my blog, many of them, are also what has been termed and made popular in the common literature by Dr. Sears as “attachment parents.”

But what I want to talk about today is the development of the independence of the child  within the context of attachment.  I don’t think attachment and becoming more of an individual, more independent and more capable are mutually exclusive at all – we can still be attached but have separate psychological identities.  In fact, I would argue,  in order to become an adult that has a meaningful role within their own family and and as a citizen of the world, this has to happen.  We have all heard the jokes or seen instances of people whose adult lives were totally enmeshed with their parents.  It is funny for a television show, but not so funny in real life.  Enmeshment prohibits a child and an adult from reaching the fullness and freedom of who they are.

I think healthy attachment starts not only with connection, lots of connection and including but not being limited to extended breastfeeding and co-sleeping, but with loving authority and boundaries.  I think if you have read this blog for any length of time I have made that abundantly clear.  I think I have also talked a fair bit about boundaries.  Boundaries, in its essence, is not just how “strict or loose” your parenting style is; it is about how you GUIDE your child to HEALTH as a growing, developing SEPARATE individual.  It is also about creating balance, and creating opportunity for right growth, especially for those children where self-growth and self-development are not initiated.

Separation, to me, starts around the child is age three and says “I” for the first time.  That is the beginning, the spark of recognition that “I am myself.”  I may not know or understand all that means yet, but I am me.  Bernard Lievegoed, author of “Phases of Childhood,” marks this as a stage of self-awareness.  This can also be a phase of negativity from the child; by pushing against the outside world the child begins to develop the self.

It continues with the six/seven year old change.  Some parents write me and say, “My child went through the six/seven year old change.  They slammed doors, said they hated me, said that I was not the boss of them.  Then they were done.”

Okay, but let me put this out to you:  the six/seven year old change, to me, is not just about “you’re not the boss of me.”   It is about finding a psychological identity that is separate from parents – that they have a role in the family or at school, they know what that treasured and valued role is, and that they do  feel accepted and loved but also a bit “separate”, a bit ready to take a view on something…there is a shift toward the child having real opinions about the world, that may be different than the parent’s view, and that in this view that the child has a continuous self and therefore can participate in learning.   At this stage, children in the six/seven year change usually  also are interested in having friends, being a friend, in having community outside of their family.  I think many times this is neglected and not mentioned in Waldorf Educational literature, because the assumption is the child is at the school in community.  I think this is an important point for homeschooling families when looking at the development of their child.  To me, turning outward toward community and peers and not just within the family, is a hallmark of the six/seven change.

This process can take up to a year and a half, I think especially for sensitive children who haven’t had a lot of opportunity to be around  other children, or just children who develop a little bit slower.  They may not be as interested in peers until the nine –year change, but then I have personally observed that that change may be a much more difficult one than the six/seven year change.

I think one way we can gauge where are children are in the six/seven change is to look at their play(see the many, many back posts on play on this site about how play changes during the six/seven year old change), and to  look at their drawings of human beings, a house and a tree.  Here is an interesting, brief look at drawings made by two thousand German five and six year olds prior to school entrance, comparing drawings made by those who did and didn’t watch media, those who did and did inhale passive cigarette smoke, and those with psychological disturbances:  http://www.waldorflibrary.org/images/stories/articles/RB13_2rittelmeyer.pdf  There are whole books on working with children’s drawings in Waldorf Education; you can check Rudolf Steiner College Bookstore or Bob and Nancy’s Bookshop for those titles.

For the nine/ten year old going through this change feels utterly and sometimes desperately alone, apart from humanity, out of the Garden of secure family.  They have an experience of self and it is a tragedy; there is no shelter of the family or of being with friends. Therefore, I believe firmly that children who do not have a strong sense of community and belonging built up through early childhood through family, extended family and strong friendships can have an even more fragile nine year change.  Boundaries and loving authority can also make this change better, along with loving connection.  The child is becoming an individual.

From the viewpoint of Waldorf Education, three things are traditionally seen as helping a child become an individual:  childhood diseases, what author Edmond Schoorel in his book “The First Seven Years: Physiology of Childhood” calls “naughtiness” (which made me chuckle!), curiosity, and we develop memory.  One that Schoorel mentions briefly, and that Bernard Lievegoed discusses further is that of the force of antipathy.  “Very often there is the tendency to concentrate only on positive feelings.  This is impossible.  It destroys  the drama, the basic law of feeling.  Any attempt to present only positive feeling results in superficial sentiment.  Feelings are brought forth from contrast and the nature of their polarity…It is not a matter of guarding children  from negative feelings or denying them as such, it is a matter of presenting the feelings as opposites in the correct way.” (Lievegoed, page 170).

I don’t want to go into too much detail here, but I do want to leave you with a few teasing comments by Edmond Schoorel:

  • “Children do not need to understand everything; it is even better when they don’t..It is essential for children to have the opportunity to ask questions; yet they do not need answers on the level of their understanding.  Mysteries are interesting because we do not have an answer.”  (page 260)
  • “When children have too little curiosity, we face the question:  can we stimulate curiosity?  I think that we can do this only in an indirect way.  When weakness has to do with the child’s constitution, we may have to work with movement development.” (page 248)
  • “Naughtiness can be a first exercise in waking up.  With naughtiness, the child turns away from the order of which he or she was a part.  It is a first step toward freedom and individuality.”  (page 246)

And this process of connection to others, and connection to ourselves,  continues as we grow and change throughout our lives. And sometimes we realize, yes, our circumstances and such may have been specific to us, but the tumult of different ages was by no means unique but being part of the human race.

Many blessings,

Carrie