Waldorf Homeschooling With Large Age Gaps Between Children

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 homeschoolingwaldorf@yahoogroups.com 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.

Lauri writes:

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!

Carrie

Unschooling and Waldorf : The Student-Teacher Relationship Birth- Age 7

So, we started to explore Unschooling and Waldorf in this previous post ( http://theparentingpassageway.com/2010/01/17/unschooling-and-waldorf/ ), when this really astute question came up in the comment box.

Writes in a wonderful mother

“The only question that remains for me is about the teacher/learner relationship. What if the child is not interested in learning what you present him with, even if it is age-appropriate for him? What if the child doesn’t want to sit and do what you invite him to do? As my girls are getting bigger, I can see that they do not always want to do what I suggest we do, and I want to honor that. It doesn’t feel right to coerce them into doing what I think is good for them. Don’t get me wrong, I will not let them have chocolate for breakfast and go to bed at 10 pm, I am talking reasonable things like drawing all day instead of going outside (even if I know it’s good for them to go outside, it feels wrong to get into a fight, a tantrum and tears to get them out the door). I guess, what I am saying is that I am a bit confused in that area. I do not want to be the dictator of my children’s life, I want them to learn to listen to what they feel inside…..”

 

I would like to address this in two parts: one geared toward children under 7, and one part more pertaining to the grades.

Part One:  The Student-Teacher Relationship for Children Under Age 7

You know, from everything I have read, Steiner was a warm man, a man who observed children with love, a man with a good sense of humor.  I think he would understand that first and foremost homeschooling is about the joy of being with family.

If your children are completely upset about something in your rhythm, I think there are at least two ways to approach it:  #1 – approach it as the fact that the rhythm is for you to follow and they can follow or not and weave in and out in play but you can mix that with this idea:  #2 – perhaps the rhythm needs to be changed to better meet your children.

A rhythm should change seasonally, right?  One of the original examples given above was small children not wanting to go outside….Well, this is a really cold month in many places. Perhaps you change your rhythm to accomplish your goals (connection with nature, getting energy out) in a different way.  So, you make treats for the feathered friends and small creatures outside, and you set up indoor forts and bear caves and tunnels for the children to crawl through to find the hibernating bears and they get the energy out inside.  Goals still accomplished, different methods. 

You are homeschooling, you can be flexible, and the more years you do this, you will plan ahead of time because you remember the last time – last January was this way, so this year I am going to plan some ice-skating, but also a lot of baking and crafting and storytelling for us to do.  We will play games and sit by the fire, and love  each other.

See, no coercion at all!  But whilst we are on that word, I want you all to meditate on that.  If you feel in heart that you will “present” something and it might “fail”, I think that is something to be explored.  Children can sense when we don’t feel confident and certain.  Feel clear with yourself before you even start.  What are your goals for your children this year in homeschooling?  What do they need to work on?  To me, there are goals, even at the Waldorf Kindergarten level.  If you know your goals, you can change the method of delivery and still meet your goal in helping your child.  :)

My other point with the under-7’s is that they are working out of imitation, so don’t necessarily give them the opportunity to debate about what they will or won’t do in words……  The kiss of death is to say, “Now it’s time for our puppet show” and everyone groans and says, “Not now!  We are making ice porridge in our kitchen for the snow bears to eat!”  No, just gather up your puppets, set up your stage and start singing the opening song and start.  They will come.

But do learn to read you children as well, if they are playing beautifully and building gorgeous sibling bonds, why interrupt that?  Sibling love is an important component of homeschooling to foster…The puppet show can happen in an hour.  This is a line we always tread in homeschooling – the play, the family love versus the fact that sometimes things do have to happen, that is part of developing the will of the child and our own will, our own self-discipline. 

The other part is, don’t present to the under-7 child.  Present around them instead.  For example, sit down and start finger-knitting and when they gather around and ask if they can, you have the choice to pull out the story and teach them, yes.  But you also have the choice to say to the four-year-old, “This is Mommy’s task right now, but I bet when you are bigger I can teach you how to do this” and sing a song.  Build up some anticipation for the beautiful things they are going to learn, it becomes then a privilege to try rather than something to resist.

Steiner felt what small children needed in the Kindergarten age was love,  warmth, worthy adult activity to be imitated, play, protection for childhood, gratitude and reverence, joy, humor and happiness, and adults who are developing their own inner intuition, so…….K.I.S. (Keep It Simple). 

Keep it simple.  The under-7 child should have a simple rhythm, and you don’t need a complicated craft that coordinates with your story with a complicated snack that coordinates with your story with all of these things with a complicated nature activity, etc.  That turns it all into more of a Unit Study than just seasonal activities and storytelling and singing.    Live, breathe, and focus not only on the goals and the things for the Waldorf Kindergarten experience at home (see back posts here   http://theparentingpassageway.com/2010/01/13/waldorf-in-the-home-with-the-three-and-four-year-old/  and here  http://theparentingpassageway.com/2010/01/06/waldorf-in-the-home-with-the-one-and-two-year-old/ ), but on those intangibles that Steiner talked about – love, joy, warmth, humor.  Infuse your activities with these things, not with a drill sergeant of the rhythm keeper attitude.  The rhythm is your helper, not your enemy.  Make it work for you and your family.

Lots of love,

Carrie

PS Part Two to follow

The Waldorf Kindergarten

This is written by Marsha Johnson, veteran Waldorf teacher.  To see more articles by Mrs. Johnson, please join waldorfhomeeducators@yahoogroups.com.

The Intellectual Education of the Kindergarten Age Child in Waldorf

Consider the definition of the word education? What comes to mind?

Aha, in that very question lies the root of much of current
understanding about education in general, a process that primarily
deals with the MIND of a person.
Let’s see, Webster’s says:
a : the action or process of educating or of being educated; also : a
stage of such a process
b : the knowledge and development resulting from an educational
process

Ah. I kind of like that definition because it has at least two
aspects: knowledge (i.e., knowing how to do something or remembering
something) and development (that is a large word that could include
so many different areas for the human being).
In historical times (not very long ago) human children were simply
living and working with their families, playing about when there was
time, travelling in nomadic groups, watching, imitating, observing,
and participating. Nearly all the activities were directly related
to the sole purpose of sustaining life: gathering food, protecting
the body, creating adequate dwelling space, finding mates, caring for
one another, and creating community. Up to 200 years ago, nearly all
children lived in that very same fashion, give or take the wealthier
children who had much more leisure time and free time and who were
taught to read, write, and higher subjects, generally after about age
7 or so. One or two very bright ones were sent off to the larger
urban areas for further study, often with the religious institutions
or political organizations of the times.

But the young child, the child under age 7, what did they do? They
played and worked with their families. They trotted alongside parents
on the way to the springs, they stayed close to mama at age 2 or 3,
and helped, or played with a few simple items from nature or
contrived toys (corn cob dolls in a hanky).

They also heard and listened to many stories. In an oral culture, it
is through the songs and the stories that history is carried. In a
non-reading world, it is the minstrels and the poets who carry the
burden of the memories of the group. And to whom do they speak? To
the whole group.

It is estimated that a person can retain about ten percent of
information that we hear once, more if we read it, and most of it
when we do it! Example: how to catch a fish. Someone can tell you,
you can read about it, you can do it.

Repetition, however, of oral traditions, vastly increases the
retention of material by human beings. (I know it does not seem so
when you remind your ten year old to hang up his coat a zillion
times, but that is a different matter!)

In the child under seven, there is also a very strong natural urge
and interest in repeated stories. How many times do you find that
four year old who wants to hear that story about daddy and the dog?
They never tire of it, and if you hesitate a second in your speech,
they will often simply fill in the words that they heard so many
times before……it is like growing, they do that very cute and
sometimes tiring thing, and they cannot stop it or help it. They
NEED it. They need oral stories, repetition, many many times.
Small children often love repetitive singing, too. Those long songs
with the slightly changing focus, Old MacDonald. This is good food
for that growing child who delights in the rhythm and safety of known
material.

How else do those stories affect them? If we follow along with Dr.
Steiner, we refuse to dumb down the vocabulary and we use the words
that were originally present and repeat them and as children learn
the many thousands of mother-tongue words as they grow, these new
words are also eaten and digested and absorbed and re-emerge. This
is a very good education!

The developmental part of education is or primary importance, even
from a physiologic point of view: movement and action stimulate
brain cell growth and maturation. What a surprise! So if we swaddle
babies and keep them in dark rooms without much stimulation, they
tend to have lower IQs than the ones who are allowed to crawl
around. Isn’t that a no brainer?

Developmental education has been abandoned by our crazed drive in
public education for better ‘test’ scores. This is practically
criminal in my book, and would be like paralyzing a child’s body, and
simply focusing on activities that involve the eyeballs for 6-8 hours
per day, nothing else. Insisting that five year olds sit at desks,
use pencils, write and copy, give up recess because there
isn’t ‘time’ for it in the day, causes me great alarm and concern
about the future effects of this new generation of ‘eyeball’ educated
children as adults in our society.

Developmental education is critical for healthy balanced adults:
using all the various parts of our physical bodies, enjoying the
intense inner pictures of a child’s world of imagination, seeking
out the social sphere with friends to act out questions, dramas,
concerns, fantasies, celebrations, rituals, and human destinies, is
vital to an educational process. Sitting a five year old child in a
booth with a computer screen and a mouse, to ‘learn’, is very much
like inserting the printer cartridge into the slot on my machine here
that I just did today, of viewing a human soul as on object, a tool,
a machine…..and yet many very clever people support this and
endorse.

Playing, helping, resting, imagining, thinking, painting, modeling,
experimenting with blocks, logs, string, trees, mud, wind, cooking,
eating, sharing, giggling heaps of preschoolers in a rainbow house,
planting and gardening, sewing, fingerknitting, listening, singing,
playing with bubbles and learning to cut with scissors and use glue,
and sitting on a warm human lap…….hearing the stories, hearing
the words, creating the images inside those adorable curly and stick
straight haired heads………..this is the intellectual development
of the human child in the best sense of the word: addressing all the
aspects, the head, the heart, and the hands.

Educators in Waldorf will insist on this process and work
diplomatically and lovingly to assist parents to see the realities of
what happens when we place children in work that is not appropriate
for their stage of development. It is not our intention to hurt
feelings, scare people, or simply sound weird. We are and have been
the forerunners of realizations that are actually emerging as a
backlash in this country, all over! Since 1918, Waldorf educators
have been speaking about these ideas, quietly, and persistently, and
then actually providing the proof of the pudding in the brilliant
young men and women who emerge from our schools and take their places in this beautiful needy world of ours.

At home, you can accomplish this so much more easily, in a sense,
because YOU are the creator of your world. Your home, your schedule,
your possessions, your choices, your stories, your food, your tone of
voice, your joy and creativity, you are the queens and kings of your
child’s universe, the King Peter and Queen Susan and Aslan all rolled
into one! In a sense, you are the suns of your galaxes, and your
children dance around you in their own ellipses…as such, you can
select and create elements that will shine on all of us….now and in
the future times.
Mrs. Marsha

Many blessings,

Carrie

Waldorf In The Home With The Three- And Four- Year Old

Well, this is the controversial post of the day, mainly because I disagree with some of the typical Waldorf School Kindy activities for home for these ages.  :)  I wrote about the one-and two-year old here:  http://theparentingpassageway.com/2010/01/06/waldorf-in-the-home-with-the-one-and-two-year-old/    and today we are going to move on to the three-and four-year old.

If you need a refresher as to where the three-year-old is developmentally, please see here:http://theparentingpassageway.com/2009/01/19/peaceful-life-with-a-three-year-old/  and here:  http://theparentingpassageway.com/2009/01/18/three-year-old-behavior-challenges/.   For the four-year-old .please see here: http://theparentingpassageway.com/2009/12/08/discipline-for-the-four-year-old/  

I am going to depart from so many of the hallowed and sacred texts of Waldorf, and tell you that Waldorf “homeschooling” (I really dislike that term!  How about just living?) for a three-and four-year-old looks a bit different at home than in the classroom.  This is especially true for those three and four-year olds who are the OLDEST in their families.

I think this much is true in both the  environments of Waldorf at Homea nd Waldorf at school though: the work of the three- and four-year-old is play. Play, fantasy and being outside.  These are the true things one needs to be working with on a child of this age. Mothers often write me and feel they should be worried about handwork projects, wet on wet painting and other things.  I say worry about the quality of your child’s play ( if you feel like worrying!), and think of ways to stimulate that if you feel the need to be “doing something” outside of the rhythms and things we talked about for the one and two year old.

For the one and two year old here are the things I mentioned as being important, with some added notes to build on for the three-and four- year old.

Bodily care, toileting or diaper changes, is HUGE. I cannot stress this enough.  Times for bodily care should involve love, their involvement, singing and joy.  This is still big for a three and four year old.  Your four year old is not at school and being expected to wipe themselves independently after a bowel movement, this is home, and these bodily care situations still deserve time, attention and dignity. 

Meal times.  Again, unhurried, unrushed, singing, having your child help with preparation and clean-up.  Use your meal time now to start working in things to develop their movement – kneading bread, using a rolling pin, sweeping the kitchen floor, scrubbing a countertop, etc.

Nap times/Rest Times.  Sing lullabies, have a blanket that is special for sleeping, have a routine involving physical touch of gentle massage or foot rub.  

It can be very hard with a three or four year old who has stopped napping, but shooting for some time that is quiet is a great goal.  They may not be able to do it on their own (although some will happily play with a play scenario you have set up), but that may be a time to read a story, a time to tell a story, a time to sing soft songs whilst massaging their hands or feet, and just dim the lights and be together and rock in the rocking chair for a bit.  You may also catch some down time for yourself at this time or during outside time if your child gets engaged.

Bath times.  Singing, finger plays and toe plays, gentle rub downs with the towel (those textures again)

Outside time.  This is the time to think of some creative things for outside. 

Being outside is of extreme importance and to provide opportunities for physical movement outside. No going outside to just sit there!  If your child is a reluctant woodsperson, try some of the following suggestions:

  • Make a “carpet” by laying down sticks in squares and then filling in the squares with things the child can find.
  • Find the natural objects to make plates, forks, spoons, for a fairy feast
  • Make pinecone people by getting a pinecone and decorating with leaves, small twigs by pushing the objects into the pinecone.
  • Show your child how to rub their chins with flowers and see if they like butter, how to make flower chains, how to take the caps off acorns, how to grate dry leaves into dust and powder, how to roll a snowball and look for tracks of fairies and giants in the snow.
  • Get them things to lug, tug, push, pull, dig.
  • Play in the sand and in the mud, make mud pies, hunt for worms and bugs.
  • For other suggestions, please see these  posts:  http://theparentingpassageway.com/2009/09/25/nature-day-number-8-of-20-days-toward-being-a-more-mindful-mother/  and this one:  http://theparentingpassageway.com/2008/11/24/connecting-your-children-to-nature/ 

Participation in household life.  Your very gesture is so important, it should not be you rushing around trying to get the whole house clean in one day.  It is taking each article of laundry and smoothing it out, folding it tenderly, putting it in the pile to be put away with love for your family. What is important is not only that the child sees the work being done, but imitates that gesture of love and care.  That extends into caring for plants and animals, this is the very first “environmental education” that a child gets with you, right at home.

To this we add the thought that physical work is very important, not only outside, but inside as well.  Can your wee one help you wash lettuce?  Peel carrots?  Peel an apple? Grind wheat? Knead bread?  These experiences are the first form of handwork for the young child.

Music – as mentioned many times, music and rhymes and verses should take precedence at this point over any written word. 

Inner Work/Personal Parenting Development:  The most spiritually mature people should be the ones coming into contact with the youngest children.  This is a very important time for your own work and  development.  If you are anxious, practice being calm.  If you are impatient, practice being patient.  If you talk in a stream of conscious way, practice being silent.  This is a time to develop your spiritual and religious beliefs.  It is a time to become more aware of the things unseen. 

And to this list we now add a few things:

1.  We work on building up the first four of the twelve senses:

The Sense of Touch: Holding, cuddling, taking baths together, swimming, piggy back rides, games that involve holding hands and singing, wrestling and roughhousing, tickling games if your child likes that, rolling around on the floor together,  being outside in nature, natural materials to touch and play with and wear

The Sense of Life:  RHYTHM, humor and joy!

The Sense of Movement:  crawling, any sustained movement over time such as learning to ride a bike or swim,

The Sense of Balance: RHYTHM again, swinging, rolling, 

2.  PLAY.  This is the time to encourage play.  A reader brought up in another post’s comments that her three year old liked to play “fireman” and she wondered how much detail to go into about why fireman wear what they wear, etc.  I would say it is our job to “unstick” our children’s play if they are stuck.  So, in this example, if all this little boy could do is sit on the sofa and make the noise of a siren, I would set up something where “Fireman Bob” now got a call to go and rescue a cat up in a tree (a stuffed cat on a bookshelf) and now we must check the kitty and oh, the kitty is fine, but whoa, now the firetruck needs gas and let’s check that tire out and then you slowly back out of the play until your child is playing by himself or herself for a few minutes.

It is our job to help advance their play through setting up play scenarios and helping the child become “unstuck.”  You can see the back posts on fostering creative play and the progression of play by age and suggested toys.

3. Preparation for Festivals. This is a great time to help children participate by DOING, not explaining in words.  There are lots of posts on this blog about individual festivals.  Our next one is Candlemas, there is one you can start with!

4.  Art – okay, here is where I differ a bit.

  • Painting -  I still think three and four is young for wet on wet watercolor painting.  Wet on wet watercolor painting should, to me at least, have a very quiet, contemplative and meditative quality.  It can be done, but I think it is more successful when there are older children about to help carry this meditative mood of experiencing with color.  I know many will disagree, but thought I would throw it out there.  I know it is not especially “Waldorf school style”, but I am all for fingerpainting at these ages.  So politically incorrect, I know.:)
  • Coloring with crayons – I know many three and four year olds who would just make a scribble and run off.  Again, I think three and four year olds are still really interested in developing gross motor skills and I know every child is different and some will love this, but many do not, especially without that group to carry it.
  • Carding wool – can be a hit as it is repetitive sensory movement.  You can buy fleece to wash and dry and card it with little dog brushes.  This is great.
  • Sanding wood might be good as well.  Any thoughts?
  • Modeling – I like the idea of modeling with sand, salt dough, snow, kneading bread.  I think beeswax modeling is for older children myself.  Again, this differs from Waldorf school.
  • Sewing – I know Marsha Johnson talks about having the three year old who can sew little felt shapes or whathave you for festivals, but I also know handwork teachers who would disagree with having a three or four year old hand sewing. I think this one is up to you!
  • Finger knitting – again, I think better for the five and six year old.  
  • Other Arts and Crafts – some can be successful, especially in preparation for a festival, but I think for the  most part recommendations in books such as “Earthways” the age range is always put lower than what I would put it.  Why be in such a rush to do all this?

5.  Storytelling and Puppetry – If you have not had a time where you light a candle and tell a story, now is the time to begin.  Pick a story, memorize it, and tell it at least three days a week for two weeks to a month.  Simple nature tales, stories you make up, repetitive fairy tales such as The Mitten, The  Gingerbread Man, stories from Suzanne Down’s books, can all be used.   I especially like the stories with music in them if you can read music and sing.

Circle Time is the heart of the Waldorf Kindergarten, but can be a complete flop at home.  I love the book “Movement Journeys and Circle Adventures” (use  the search engine box to find the review), but at home it can really flop.  Still, I think it is worth a try if you can convince your four-year-old to “teach” your younger child, LOL.  Still stick to the verses and songs you have in daily life, and add seasonal fingerplays and seasonal songs.

Other questions parents have?  What to do about the four year old who is writing?  Wanting to write their name or copy words is still different than formal academics, so just being very ho-hum and not worrying about it is the way to go.  Colors are on the nature table and you can point out an orange pumpkin that is round and  not feel bad your child is “being exposed.”  Again, a bit different than formal academics.  Many of the verses and rhymes for childhood have numbers in them, or letters, and that is okay. Again, different than formal academics. 

Social experiences outside the home can still be limited.  I wrote about social experiences with the four-year-old here:http://theparentingpassageway.com/2009/09/09/more-about-social-experiences-for-the-four-year-old  and took some grief about this post, but I still feel about things the same way as when I wrote it.   You can agree or disagree, and take what resonates with you.

I am sure I am forgetting things about these ages and Waldorf in the Home, but hopefully it is a good start for you as you think about these ages.  Again, take what resonates with you.

Many blessings and peace,

Carrie

My Little One Is Being Lost In The Shuffle!

Many of us have an Early Grades child (ie, Grades One – Two-Three) child we are providing Main Lessons for in Waldorf homeschooling, but also have a Kindergarten-aged child to consider as well.  The number one complaint I hear is that “my (three to six year old) child is just tormenting us during our attempt to do a Main Lesson for the older child”.  I understand! 

Here are some things to kick around and see if any of it helps:

1. Consider doing your Kindergarten work first – ie, Kindergarten Circle, Kindergarten Story, a response to the story if needed.

2. Consider where you are putting practical work in – is that happening or has your routine of Tuesday as Baking Day, Wednesday as Crafts Day, etc, that you had with your older one completely flown out the window now?  Sometimes using the earlier part of the morning to do that and then coming to the Main Lesson for the older child does the trick.

3.  Are you starting your day with physical activity?  I know sometimes it is hard, because once you get out and walk and ride bikes and such and come back in and regroup it seems the whole morning is gone, but perhaps some variation of this will work for you and your family.

4.  Can your older child be flexible?  Can you do something at naptime?  Can you take a day and go hiking during the week and make up that Main Lesson on the weekend at all when Dad is around to help with the Kindergarten-aged child?  The weekend idea may not work well with a three-day rhythm, but might work well for something such as Form Drawing once a week or wet on wet watercolor painting where you need a more meditative quality.

5.  Can you home school outside?

6.  What sensory experiences can you set up inside?  Can you have an indoor sandbox, can you build a fort for the little one to play in, can you have a sensory table inside, can your little one play in the sink, etc?

7.  Could anyone be a mother’s helper for two days a week so you can get more concentrated work done?  Is there an elderly neighbor who would love to garden with your child during the week at one point or bake?  Is  your spouse’s job flexible enough at all to portion out part of homeschooling your Kindergarten-aged child to him or her?

For those of you who have been there and done that, what has worked for you?

I think the most important thing to remember is that homeschooling is about family first, it is also about flexibility and enjoying some of the advantages of homeschooling has to offer – like being outside during nice fall weather!  :)

Most of all, remember that even the Early Grades are still little (First and Second), Third should be a lot of hands-on work perhaps even more than Main Lesson Book and perhaps we should take a hint from our friends Raymond and Dorothy Moore that late is better than early.  Oral storytelling can assist the whole family, plays and puppet shows and the academic pieces will come..

Looking forward to hearing YOUR ideas on this one,

Carrie

Waldorf 101: Waldorf “Preschool”

Faithful readers of this blog will probably know  what I am going to say:  there is no Waldorf preschool. Waldorf Kindergarten used to start after age 4, and now the age has dropped to age 3 with “Morning Garden” classes for toddlers to age 3 in many schools.   I have a strong dislike of where the Waldorf schools are headed in terms of taking younger and younger children out of the home.  Waldorf Kindergartens work to emulate a loving home, and this is something that we obviously can work on at home for far less cost and for far more personal development than perhaps would occur if our child was at Waldorf school.  Having your children with you 24/7 forces your own spiritual growth!  Ask any homeschooling mother!

So, if we are thinking about “preschool” we are thinking about the ages before age 4, or perhaps I would even argue before the age of 5 or 6.  I think in the home environment really we need to do “Waldorf Kindergarten” around the five-year-old year and the six-year-old year.  These are the ages for increased attention, increased ability to do artistic and creative work in a focused fashion.  It is just a thought; I know some will disagree.

Here are a few things to work on in the years before starting Waldorf Kindergarten in your home:

  • Work on your own ability to nurture and enfold your child into life on Earth.
  • Establish a rhythm for your child, your family, your life.  If you are still struggling with rhythm when you hit homeschooling for the grades, it will be difficult to focus on teaching.  Remember though, rhythm is not a schedule but a flow.
  • Establish health of your child through protection of the 12 senses, use of warmth, establishing rhythm.
  • Repetition!  It is what little people need!
  • Play, singing, interaction
  • Including your child in household chores
  • Outside and sensory experiences
  • Fostering the imagination through oral storytelling

If you need more information regarding the very Early Years, try the Waldorf Baby tag and Rhythm tags.  If you need more information regarding Waldorf Kindergarten, please try that tag.

Less is more in the Waldorf Home.  Please remember the differences between the Waldorf Home with a six-year-old versus a three-year old.  There should be a difference!

Love,

Carrie

Favorite Fall Tales for Waldorf Kindergarten

This is NOT an all-inclusive list, just a few of my favorites for the season!

 

For Four Year Olds:

For September: (and many of these could work for October or November as well!)

Anything from Suzanne Down’s “Autumn Tales” – I love
“Pipper’s Wild Plum Pie”  and   “The Apple Elves”

The Pancake Mill from “Let Us Form A Ring”

The Enormous Turnip

The Little Light Horse from “Plays for Puppets”

“The Apple Star”

Any of the wonderful Michaelmas stories available – Melisa Nielsen has a story in her “Before the Journey” book, Suzanne Down has “Little Boy Knight” in her “Autumn Tales”, in the book “An Overview of the Waldorf Kindergarten” (the pink book) try “Michaelmas Story of the Star Children” or “Michael and the Dragon”

 

For October:

Suzanne Down’s “How WitchamaRoo Became the Pocket Witch” from “Autumn Tales”

“The Naughty Hobgoblin” from “Let Us Form A Ring”

“The Anxious Leaf”  try www.mainlesson.com

Suzanne Down’s “Why Trees Turn Colors in Autumn” from “Autumn Tales”

 

For November:

Stone Soup – a song version can be found in “Let Us Dance And Sing”

Melisa Nielsen has a simple story of Saint Martin in her “Before the Journey” book

Suzanne Down’s “Autumn Bear” from “Autumn Tales”

“Autumn Story” from Autumn Wynstones about Hedgy Hedgehog

 

For December:

Suzanne Down’s “How the Robin Got Its Red Breast” from her newsletter

“St. Nicholas and the Star Children” from Winter Wynstones

The Gingerbread Man

 

For Five Year Olds:

For September:

Any of the above plus:

Song version of “The Three Little Pigs” as found in “Let Us Dance And Sing” could be personalized with fall details as could “Goldilocks and the Three Bears” or The Brothers Grimm Tale “Little Red Cap”

For October:

Any of the above plus:

Elizabeth Thompson Dillingham’s “A Halloween Story” 

For November:

Any of the above plus

“Spindlewood”, found in “Let Us Form A Ring”

“Mashenka and the Bear” found in “Plays for Puppets

“The Seed Babies’ Blanket” – try www.mainlesson.com

“The Elder Brother” also try www.mainlesson.com

“Sweet Porridge” many versions out there!

For December:

Any of the above

“The Elves and The Shoemaker” from The Brothers Grimm

The Story of the Christmas Rose

“The Mitten”

For Six Year Olds:

Any of the above plus:

September:

I love “The Hut in the Forest” by The Brothers Grimm – you could add fall details or spring details and tell it any time you like!

October:

The Bremen Town Musicians by The Brothers Grimm

November:

Any of the wonderful Native American tales – many are reprinted in issues of “Gateways” available through www.waldorflibrary.org

December:

“The Star Money” from The Brothers Grimm

“Little Grandmother Evergreen”

“Mother Holle” would be nice for January or “The Snow Maiden” from “Plays for Puppets”

 

Be sure to add YOUR personal favorites in the comment section below!  Share with other mothers and help them!  Also, don’t forget to tell some of the same stories year to year as children love the repetition!

Love,

Carrie

“I’m Homeschooling My Four-Year-Old”

We often say this out of convention, right?  Well-meaning people ask, “Oh, is your four-year-old going to preschool?  Where do they go to school?”  and we answer something to the effect of, “Well, we are homeschooling.”

However, I think we need to be very careful and clear within ourselves as to what we mean when we say this if we are Waldorf home educators.  Waldorf Early Years is about bringing warmth to our child, love to our child, rhythm to  our child with a strong cornerstone of rest and sleep, helping to foster imaginative play, working together on practical things that create an ensouled home, singing together, and fostering a love of nature and reverence and respect.  It is not at all about direct academics at this point because children under the age of 7 are living in their bodies, in their motion, in the movement of the moment.  They are not living in their heads.

This is,  of course, difficult to explain to well-meaning strangers.  However, when one joins other Waldorf homeschoolers and talks about “schooling” their four and five year olds, I think we all need to get clear.  The Early Years is not about academic preschool skills the way conventional schooling is.

However, it is also not about doing NOTHING, which is what many parents conversely seem to think.  There should be a strong rhythm to your day, there should be times of out-breath and exploration in nature, times of fostering quieter reverence for a special told story.  Waldorf Kindergartens in Waldorf schools often make the day look seamless – outside play or walk, practical work for the day, preparing for snack, having snack and clean-up from snack, special songs and a story, rest time, more play in nature; and all the while the adults are engaged in strong practical work with their hands -  but the reality is that is takes quite a bit of planning to make this come off as easily as it looks!

Many mothers of Kindergarten-aged (and remember while Waldorf schools plan for children ages 3 to 6 in Kindergarten your child will most likely be five and six before having great attention for festival preparations, bread baking and etc without a peer group to carry them along) ask about planning.  Less is more for the Kindergarten-aged child.  Seasonal stories and verses can be simple and revisited year after year.  Craft ideas can also be re-done year after year.  There is comfort to the child in knowing that there is dragon bread on Michaelmas,  lanterns are made around the time of Martinmas. 

Many mothers collect songs and verses and stories by season on their computer in files and then take the time to organize it by day over the summer either by writing it down by hand in a spiral notebook or in a computer file that is printed out.  It takes time to collect verses, songs, stories, ideas for festival preparations and gardening.  This is the time for you to really sharpen your own skills – learn to play that blowing instrument, learn to garden and identify some plants, learn to knit.  Check out all the Waldorf Kindergarten posts on this blog, they will hopefully help guide you as to what you should be doing and what a typical Waldorf homeschooling Kindergarten day might look like.

The day should be short in terms of attention for practical work and the circle/story.  Steiner said if we got just 15 minutes of work done that the child could observe that that was wonderful.   He didn’t say hours of work, and in a Waldorf Kindergarten school setting there are multiple teachers and assistants and older children to help carry the group along. 

Mothers say, “Well, my child doesn’t want to do beeswax crayoning, they just do a scribble and run off.”  The point is that YOU do the activity and model it for them.  Children are notorious for not liking their mothers to sing or do whatever, and then lo behold, there the child is singing the song you were singing this morning!  The one they hated and ran away from.

You can work in a two-pronged manner:  stories and songs and activities that are interesting to the child within the realm of practical work for the day, and also by NOT forcing the child.  The child is free to weave in and out and just watch what you are doing.

Your child IS learning academic skills, believe it or not.  Many nursery rhymes and songs have letters and numbers in them, many things about science can be learned by fostering a connection with nature, many fine motor skills needed for handwriting and other things can be learned through arts and crafts and festival preparations.  You may find your child easily meets the PreK and Kindergarten requirements for your state with no direct academic work at all!

Get clear with yourself; there is a reason for the first seven years to be one of movement and will and not regurgitation of dry facts.  In fact, children who are treated to just dry facts by the age of 7,8, and 9 often seem to rebel against this and need more imaginative stories, more sensory and active movement.  Perhaps this is because this stage was missed earlier, and perhaps because even a 7, 8 and 9 year old needs to learn in this manner.

Four is a great age for sitting on laps, four is a great age for loving each other.  Do not underestimate the most important goal for homeschooling:  spending warm, loving time together and fostering close bonds between siblings.  This is the real and true goal of homeschooling.

So, if someone asks you if you are homeschooling your four-year-old, just know and be clear within yourself that you are giving them the foundation that will make academics even better later on, that you are giving them the foundational skills for relationships they will need later on.  Be clear that you are giving them the best education possible by the things we do every day as Waldorf home educators.

Many blessings,

Carrie

Nokken: A Review of Two Books and A Few Thoughts

(Post updated 6/28/2012)  Nokken has come up on almost every Waldorf Yahoo!Group and Waldorf forum I am on, so I thought it was about time to address the work of Helle Heckmann.  More and more, Nokken is being held up as an example within the Waldorf community of what to do right within child care for young children, and as an example of the value of outdoor play and outdoor time and connection with nature for young children.  For this post, I read both “Nokken:  A Garden for Children” by Helle Heckmann and “Nokken:  A Garden for Kids September 2003 Celebration Edition.”  I hear there is also a lovely video about Nokken that I have not yet seen.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with Nokken, Nokken is a Danish approach to  Waldorf-based childcare in Copenhagen, Denmark.  The minimum age for children to enter is walking age.  Helle Heckmann writes, “The child must be able to walk away from her mother and into the world on her own,” on page 26 of “Nokken:  A Garden For Children.”  The center is open for six hours a day only, from 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.  “Our idea is that we share with the parents,” writes Helle Heckmann on the same page.  “We look after the children for six hours, the parents have them for six waking hours and the children sleep for twelve hours.  In other words, the family will still exert influence on the child’s development.”  The staff at the center does not change during the day, unlike child care centers in the United States that are open for long hours that necessitate shift changes.  The children are together in one group from walking age to age 7, and sibling groups are welcomed and kept together, which is again different from the vast majority of child care centers in the United States.  Most Americans would agree this is a huge and vast improvement over the majority of daycare centers in the United States.

Helle  Heckmann writes on page 27 of Nokken,”  It is obviously difficult.  Parents often need longer opening hours, while at the same time they want the world’s best early-childhood program with a motivated and relaxed staff.  This is a difficult task, and knowing that we cannot accommodate all needs, we have chosen to favor the children.  It is a conscious choice we have made as a child-care center. Most of our parents also have to make a choice.  They change jobs, reduce their working hours, or work flexible hours:  the solutions are many and varied as they consciously choose to spend a lot of time with their children.”

She goes on to write that the role of child care has changed; in the past it was for primarily for social stimulation and now,  “The centers must teach children the basics to help them achieve the necessary skills to choose their life style at a later stage.  The parents’ role is mainly to stimulate and organize activities of a social and/or cultural interest.”

Ouch.

Okay, I guess since I am home with my children, perhaps I have a different perspective on this as a homeschooling mother.  Why as a society do we throw up our hands and say, this is the way it is?  People have to work, people have chaotic home lives, so the children are better off in child care than with their own families?  Why are we not coming up with more ways to support and develop parents?  Why in this age of abundant information (yet, often contradictory and just plain wrong information!) are parents feeling so confused and isolated as to what children truly need?  Why is there not more understanding of children as children and childhood development and such as opposed to treating children as miniature adults?

Back to the things that are good about Nokken.  On page 31 Helle Heckmann writes, “Our first priority is to spend most of the day outdoors.  We spend five out of the six hours we are together outdoors.”  The children and staff walk daily to a park with open natural spaces and also have a garden with many fruit trees, berry bushes, sand pits, a hen house, rabbit cages, a pigeon house, a vegetable garden, a herb garden, flower beds and a laundry area.  The children who are younger and need to nap sleep  outside in an open shed, which is common in Denmark.

Children are met in the morning with a handshake, which I find uncommon for Early Year Waldorf programs in the United States.  This seems very awakening for the child, and something I truly only hear of teachers of Waldorf Grades doing with their students in the United States.  Perhaps my Danish readers can tell me if this is a cultural difference?  My husband’s family is from Denmark but have not lived there for a long time, so I have no one to ask!

The daily schedule is something that is lovely and takes into account the ages of the children.  On page 60 of Nokken, Helle Heckmann writes, “We are careful not to let the youngest children participate in story-telling.  If it is a long story, the three year olds sit in another room and draw, because in my experience it is important not to engage them in activities for which they are not ready.”  She also talks about how festival celebrations are mainly for children over 3 as well.  I love this.

The part I have the most difficulty with however, outside of the few things I mentioned above, is the perspective of child development based upon the work of Emmi Pickler and Magda Gerber and their Resources for Infant Educarers.  I realize this puts me outside of most in the Waldorf community, which has embraced RIE.

I liked Helle’s description of the need of the infant to cry as a form of communication.  However, much of the thrust of her perspective of infant care seems to be “to leave the infant in peace and quiet to sleep or, when awake, to get to know herself without constant intervention from her surroundings.  Often it is difficult to show this infant respect and leave her alone. Constantly satisfying your own need for reassurance and your need to look at your beautiful baby will often influence the infant’s ability to be content with herself….By giving the infant peace and quiet for the first months of her life, she will get used to her physical life; the crying will gradually stop, and the baby may start to sleep during the night without waking up at all hours.”

As an attached parent, I believe I can respect my child and still enfold her within my protective gesture and be physically close.  I believe I can still carry her in a sling and nurse her and  have her act as a (passive) witness to my life without overly stimulating her.  I believe in our particular culture at this particular time, parents need reassurance to enfold their child within themselves and their family unit, not to separate their children in their infancy to be independent.  Perhaps this is a cultural difference than Denmark, I don’t know.

However, I also have to say that I  do not believe baby-wearing is an excuse to take my children everywhere I went before I had children.  I believe in protecting the senses but doing this in an attached way.

I do agree with some of Helle Heckman’ s statements regarding infants, including her statement on page 17 of Nokken that, “The more restless the adults are, the more restless the children will be.”  However, statements such as “The less we disturb the infant, the better chance she has of adapting to her life on earth,” rather bothers me.  I agree in not initiating the disturbance of  the infant, but I fear too many parents will take this as license to just set their infant down and let them cry or to keep them passively in a crib.  I do  agree with Helle Heckmann’s assessment that it is difficult to care for children under walking age within a child care setting  because of the high needs of care and because infants need peaceful surroundings.

As a homeschooling mother, what I take away from Nokken is the lovely thoughts of a forest kindergarten, napping outside, using action to communicate with small children and not words (see page 32 of Nokken), using singing as a way of talking to small children (page 51), Helle’s constant inner work and development, her obvious love of the children.

And as a homeschooling mother and attached parent, I don’t like the whole notion that is invading Waldorf Education that children under the age of 4 or 4 and a half should be out of their homes, I don’t like the notion that the child care center, no matter how outdoorsy “shares” the child with the parents, and I don’t like the idea that parents are not as empowered as they could be in childhood development.  Why are we positioning anyone but the parents to be the experts on their children and acting as if someone else knows better?    Waldorf schools are also taking children earlier and earlier into Kindergarten, and I also have an issue with that.   I would like to see more effort to again, empower and inspire parents within the Waldorf movement to be home.   The hand shaking to greet a small child with such pronounced eye contact also baffles me.

There are many wonderful things at Nokken, and many American parents who need child care would be thrilled to find a center such as Nokken in their neighborhood.  Many mothers attempt to create such an environment as part of their homeschooling environment or take in children from outside their family for care so they may stay home with their own children.  These are all realities.

However, I would love to see a movement toward empowering and inspiring mothers to be homemakers, to be truly spiritual homemakers, to encourage families to make tough choices to be home with their children,  because I feel this is where the power of the next generation is truly going to disseminate from.

Blessings,

Carrie

“What Do I Do? My Child Can’t Handle Fairy Tales!”

If this is your child, take a deep breath.  This issue comes up more frequently than one might suspect. 

First of all, check yourself.  I had a friend once who said how much she enjoyed fairy tales and felt comfortable with them, but then admitted there were parts that “were not so nice”.   Okay, so not as comfortable as she thought she was!  The thing is, one HAS to look at the fairy tales as archetypal images, not from an adult perspective of literal happenings. 

Secondly, check the age of your child and what adult factoids the child has been exposed to in their educational career.  If your child has been exposed to lots of “but these are the facts, m’am” regarding science and other subjects and things usually have a “literal” answer for the child, then it will be more difficult for the child to absorb these tales in an archetypal way.  Some children are truly not comfortable with Grimm’s tales until age six and a half or seven, but there are many other kinds of tales to pick before then.  If you need suggestions, please leave a comment in the comment box and I would be happy to suggest something for the age of your child!

Third, pick tales that you are comfortable with.  Read the tale for three nights before you tell the fairy tale so you  absorb it yourself and you can TELL it to your child.  Consider songs and puppetry and props for your tale as opposed to just straight “telling”.  I think especially for children who have been “over-factoided”, they need that soothing visual imagery of silk marionettes to help them along.    There are many wonderful Waldorf resources that have turned fairy tales into Circle Times and puppet shows.  “Plays for Puppets”, available through Waldorf booksellers, is a lovely place to start.

I wrote a full post regarding the necessity of fairy tales with more suggestions for choosing fairy tales by age here:  http://theparentingpassageway.com/2008/11/20/the-importance-of-fairy-tales/

These tales are medicine for your child’s soul; for helping your child deal with their own fears, for showing a child the optimistic view that the world is truly a good place.  Meditate on this, find the truth in this.

Blessings,

Carrie