Neurologic Development: Opportunity, Experiences and Encouragement

 

Dear Friends,

This week a wonderful article written by Susan Johnson, MD has been circulating around one of the Waldorf homeschooling Yahoo!Groups:  http://youandyourchildshealth.org/youandyourchildshealth/articles/tv%20article.html

This article is called, “Strangers In Our Homes” and is about media and its relationship to the neurological development of the brain.  However, when I read this article for the second, third and fourth time, what I garnered was this: a profound interest in how what we do in Waldorf Education, within learning, affects the neurologic development of the child.  And, most importantly, how does this fit in at HOME where we are NOT re-creating Waldorf Schools within our living room? 

This part of the article was most interesting to me:

It is important to realize that a six-year-old’s brain is 2/3 the size of an adult’s though it has 5–7 times more connections between neurons than does the brain of an 18-month-old or an adult (Pearce 1992). The brain of a 6–7 year old child appears to have a tremendous capacity for making thousands and thousands of dendrite connections among neurons.

This potential for development ends around age 10–11 when the child loses 80 percent of this dendritic mass (Pearce 1992, Buzzell 1998). It appears that what we don’t develop or use, we lose as a capacity. An enzyme is released within the brain and literally dissolves all poorly myelinated pathways (Pearce 1992, Buzzell 1998).

So, if in the Early Years are job is one of protection, rhythm, and routine, and community so our children feel loved and accepted and that they belong,  I strongly believe our job in the early grades becomes one of  providing opportunity, experiences, and encouragement.  I argue in this back post that experiences form the basis of what happens in the upper grades of Waldorf homeschooling, and whilst this is not completely incongruent with “what a child wants to learn”, part of Waldorf homeschooling is accepting that you are a teacher and it is okay to introduce things that your child will need as a foundation for what comes later on:

http://theparentingpassageway.com/2010/01/20/unschooling-and-waldorf-the-student-teacher-relationship-in-the-grades/

 

Some children are more self-initiated than others, especially in areas of challenges.  We all tend to want to work in the areas where we are comfortable, yet most of us will admit that we have grown the most out of the areas we are most uncomfortable. 

So, we must ask ourselves:

Where are we in our inner work and MOVING FORWARD?  We cannot just wallow in the feeling life of what is going on with our children, our spouses, ourselves – how do we move this to ACTION to move forward?

And, most importantly, where are our children:

Physically?  Here is a list of Grade Three physical milestone from one of my favorite websites:  http://www.movementforchildhood.com/standards.pdfOpportunity for physical movement, for HOURS each day, is the most important key toward increasing and developing movement. If it is a priority for the family, it will be a priority in the life of the child.  Physical movement is the basis of learning.  One cannot develop further skills without a sense of the body.

Fine Motor Skills?  This is an article written by an OT that points out fine motor skills and some activities to strengthen the shoulder girdle and hand:  http://www.connectionsmag.co.il/articlenav.php?id=1170

From a Waldorf perspective, no creature on earth has hands with the potential that the human being does. Our helping hands are what can create beautiful music and art and writing and serve humanity.  Here is a wonderful article by Ingun Schneider, a physical therapist who is now head of the Remedial Education program at Rudolf Steiner College, about “Supporting the Development of The Hand”:  http://www.waldorflibrary.org/images/stories/journal_articles/GW4102.pdf.  She,  in part, writes:

After four years of age most children can hold the stick crayon or pencil through thumb opposition to the index and long fingers with the ring and small fingers in flexion beginning to stabilize the hand. As the ring and little fingers take up the role of stabilizing the hand against the drawing or writing surface, a subtle ‘arch’ of the hand develops longitudinally from the wrist to the space between the base of the ring and long fingers. (Like the feet, the hand has two arches—a transverse and a longitudinal—which create a cross.) Gradually, small movements at the metacarpophalangeal and interphalangeal joints begin to control the movements of the crayon or pencil. The shoulder, elbow, forearm, and wrist act as stabilizing joints, along with the core muscles of abdomen and back, giving support and a firm foundation from which the finer movements of the hand and fingers can operate.
By the time the child is five to six years old, his or her hand development has matured to the point where he or she now can eat and draw with a mature, ‘adult’ grasp. When writing, the mature hand rests on its side, stabilized by the little and ring fingers. The stick crayon or pencil is grasped in a relaxed, graceful manner with the ends of the curved thumb and index finger across from each other on top of the crayon, supported by the side of the long finger’s distal phalange underneath the crayon.

 

Part of supporting the fine motor development is to develop the upper body and shoulder girdle but also to provide OPPORTUNITY to practice fine motor skills.  Is there a craft corner, do you model cutting paper with scissors and cutting pieces of salt dough snakes, do you draw? Part of this is putting it in the rhythm for your household. 

 

More about speech and the emotional and spiritual life of the child in our next post.

Blessings on your week as you get back into your rhythm,

Carrie

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

Ideas For The Second Week of Advent

The second week of Advent is upon us; perhaps we are fasting and praying in accordance with our religious traditions of Advent being a small Lent.  Perhaps we are feeling weary from having a holiday season that is moving rather fast; the fatigue that comes from trying to create perfect holiday memories for the children or the fatigue of spending.

I invite you this week to go back to the true meaning of Advent.  Perhaps this is the week you really think heartily about that question that truly seems to afflict first-world citizens more than others:  how much do we really need to “get”?  What are we giving?  How much do our children really “need”?  Is that what they are going to associate this season with – getting?

Staring new traditions can be difficult.  I was reading the post on gratitude the other day on the blog A Holy Experience and how they exchange no gifts at all and instead choose gifts from catalogues designed to help others – giving the gifts of animals, trees, seeds, bees.  If you are thinking about new traditions, I don’t think it is ever too late to start.  I saw this post on Simple Mom regarding supporting mothers in need for the holidays here:  http://simplemom.net/csp/  Perhaps a tradition along these lines will be of interest to your family.

Here are some nourishing ideas for this second week of Advent. Continue reading

Taking Stock: The Adult Role In Waldorf Homeschooling

Quick: what makes the difference between a “bad” homeschooling day and a “good” one (bar catastrophic events?) The answer, is, of course YOU.

I was thinking about this today.  This Monday was not a good day for us; many Mondays  are generally not a great-flowing school day for us. ( I think this happens in a lot of homeschooling families, don’t you?).    And then this Tuesday came along and was beautiful- circle and singing, two main lessons done by noon, tea and read alouds about Saint Nicholas by the fire, productive, everyone getting along…and I was thinking, what made the difference between those two days?  Was it really the behavior of the children or was it me?

I think it was me.  If I can start the day Continue reading

The Secret to Homeschooling Children In Multiple Grades

 

I will never forget one of the stories of my husband’s great-grandparents. They were celebrating their seventy-fifth wedding anniversary and people at church asked great-grandma to stand up and say a few words about having a successful marriage.  She stood up, and probably to the chagrin of most of the people there wanting inspirational words, said, “Well, it hasn’t been easy!” and sat back down again.

 

I feel a little like this when readers ask me about homeschooling children in multiple grades, especially in the land of Waldorf Education, where things are often  so….teacher intensive…..

 

It just isn’t always easy.  (I know, not what you want to hear! )

 

Oh, sure, people can give you tips.  I have given out “tips” before, especially in this post:  http://theparentingpassageway.com/2011/04/17/crafting-a-homeschool-rhythm-to-work-with-multiple-grades-and-ages/  and in this post:  http://theparentingpassageway.com/2011/04/14/homeschooling-children-in-multiple-grades/  and here:  http://theparentingpassageway.com/2009/05/05/homeschooling-multiple-children-with-waldorf/

 

This is the thing with “tips”:  they are things that may work for one particular family, and that family is not your family..  So tips may be helpful, but they also may not resonate with you.  It may not work for your family.  You are the only one on this crazy homeschooling adventure that can figure out what works for you and your family!  You are the expert! 

 

Make a plan, keep it loose with plenty of time and space (yes, those of you who read this blog know I love those two words in relation to development and also in relation to homeschooling)…It is hard to know with different children what they will  blow through quickly and what will take more time, especially the older they get. For example, there is a much wider range in abilities in reading, writing and math in second through fourth grades than probably at any other time, I think, which can make it harder to plan the first time through those grades… Every child is different, and you are homeschooling to meet your children’s needs…so you tailor around that, not some blog you read where everything looks perfect!

 

Because there is no perfect way to Waldorf homeschool, and you find differences of opinion even amongst Waldorf homeschoolers.  And there is no life that is so calm and peaceful that it never influences how you feel in the moment about homeschooling…     Today I had a child who needed to get stitches out and whilst I was on the phone with the doctor regarding that, toddler man fell and knocked both front teeth which were now bleeding all over and we needed groceries and one child needed to be somewhere.  (So, theoretically, if I  could teleport, I could have gotten to all four places at once, but since I don’t have a nifty Dr. Who telephone booth, I couldn’t).   I say this to point out that sometimes it is not homeschooling itself that is stressful, especially since all of this happened during the afternoon,  but just the crazy of life that swirls around and that sometimes penetrates into making us feel like life would be easier if we were not homeschooling multiple children!  (Or just that life would be easier if we were sitting on a beach somewhere drinking something fruity with a little umbrella in it! Ha!)

 

But  that my friends, is the secret to thriving with homeschooling:  embrace the chaos.  Can you roll up and down on the roller coaster and smile? Can you keep your footing and calm amidst the wild ride?

 

Because if you have multiple children, multiple main lessons, along with younger children,  it will be a juggle.  And the juggle may extend down to the children: my children often alternate distracting or playing with a toddler whilst I work with one of them; (unless he is nursing or otherwise enthralled near us); there really isn’t all this time and space to just hang out that other homeschooling families often seem to have.  But this season is short, and in a few months it will be something different!  This I know for sure:  things change!

 

So, on my good days , I like to think homeschooling with multiple children teaches flexibility and resiliency.  Oh yes, we have rhythm for creating good health for the future adult (but remember that  it is the rhythm that works for us and no one else!), but we have the flexibility and resiliency that comes with having multiple children of different ages and in different seven year cycles.  We also have great time learning all the time, not just in “main lesson” because there are so many opportunities for learning with different temperaments and personalities and ages within the family. 

 

And on my bad days, it just looks a lot like crazy.  Smile

 

But the one thing that carries me through, and the one thing that I think you really do NEED as the secret to homeschooling multiple children is a strong spiritual footing.  If your inner work, your walk with your Creator is off, than all the days start to look like crazy instead of the beautiful blessings that God provided. 

 

Start your day with prayer, with silence to hear the voice of the Spirit, weave your religion into your schooling and your life…and then just  roll with it.  Crazy, chaos or not!

 

Blessings and love,
Carrie

Our Homeschooling Group Never Makes Those Lists……

(This group has since closed.  There are a number of inclusive homeschooling groups in our state to check out, and a Waldorf-inspired group as well.  Many blessings!)

Oh, you all know the lists I am talking about:  those ones on the big Yahoo! Groups where Waldorf homeschoolers write in and ask about, “Where is there a vibrant Waldorf homeschooling community?”  It always seemed to be answered by some destination in the Northeast or the Pacific Northwest.

I understand.  I mean really, the Deep South is not exactly considered progressive in many respects.  People from the West tend to be shocked by the lack of mandatory recycling when they move here.    It is extremely hot and humid so the air just plain upsets people from other parts of the non-humid country, and I remember being floored by the size of the insects when I moved here twenty years ago.  In fact, I distinctly remember thinking they surely were bigger than my dog.

But there good things too:  decent economic opportunity, a fairly low cost of living, a good stock of older homes and new construction, a good amount of hiking and biking and canoeing, great local farmers, lots of things to do, there are La Leche League, Attachment Parenting and Holistic Mom’s Groups here….And here, in the metro Atlanta area, we also have a very vibrant Waldorf homeschooling community.  It is a close-knit and loving group of really wonderful and wise women; we have supported each other through this journey and have a great love for  each other’s families.  People who move here from other parts of the country notice that and are really impressed with the intimacy, openness and friendliness of our homeschool community!  Always gratifying!

I have written in the past about how our group as grown from mainly meeting just for festivals and mainly kindergarten-type activities to now a full compliment of things for children ages birth through grade six.  This year, for example, we have field trips for each grade, seasonal activities like berry picking and apple picking, festivals with complete puppet shows, weekly co-op days with such things as handwork, German, woodworking and an Early Years group, park and swim days, a new annual trip to the beach to end the school year,  and lots of opportunities for adult learning where each month has a focus on some aspect of Waldorf education with adult classes and roundtables to learn more, adult classes, and a large curriculum fair that last year attracted folks from five neighboring states… We do work hard to reduce, reuse and recycle as a group…Most of our members are into natural foods and natural living.  We even hold classes on such things as how to make your own cultured vegetables.

We strive hard as a group  to provide the right thing at the right time, in accordance to what is traditionally done at a Waldorf School, to our children.  Sometimes we have bumps in the road as we grow…this year we have 46 children in co-op classes alone….  Growing a group can have its own aches and pains,and to address that we recently formed a Pedagogical Committee for our group that is comprised of committee heads and others to help discern the spiritual direction for our group.

We all live very spread out and are committed to driving to support each other and to make events.   If you want your children involved in a like-minded community, sometimes you have to work for it.   This can be challenging for folks who don’t want to leave their neighborhood, so that is always something we ask members to consider:  the balance of their own family life and the benefits of a like-minded community.    The location of things rotate, which sometimes works out well for some people on one side of town,and not so well for others.  Traffic can be not great, just like in any other metro area…

But overall, the ride is a good one.  So I wonder if Atlanta will ever start to show up on those lists?

Blessings,
Carrie

Foreign Languages In Your Homeschool

 

I have written about foreign languages in the Waldorf-inspired homeschool before here:  http://theparentingpassageway.com/2009/02/17/teaching-a-foreign-language-in-waldorf-homeschool/  and here:  http://theparentingpassageway.com/2009/12/24/learning-a-foreign-language-in-your-waldorf-homeschool/

 

As mentioned in these posts, most Waldorf Schools teach two languages from Kindergarten onwards and these two languages are typically ones that are from different poles: A Romance language and a language of Germanic or Slavik origin, for example.  In my own homeschool, we are learning Spanish and German.  My oldest daughter has plans to branch out into Russian.  You could bring in whatever language you have knowledge of, or of whatever languages you have in your surrounding area.  It is important to consider what languages are being spoken in your own geographic location, because tapes, recordings and such as not the approach in a Waldorf School, but immersion through a native speaker is the norm.  And the approach of the language is not just to learn the language, but to celebrate and immerse oneself in another culture.  For example, a Waldorf School Spanish teacher may come to school in native dress and do cooking and dance and festival celebrations along with the beginnings of the basic themes in Spanish for the early grades.

 

Some of my favorite resources for small children in Spanish, available through Amazon, are posted on the Facebook page of The Parenting Passageway here:  http://www.facebook.com/#!/TheParentingPassageway.  Another book I use frequently is “Senderos”, available through Rudolf Steiner College Bookstore: http://www.steinercollege.edu/store/product.php?productid=16373&cat=0&page=1  What I find especially helpful in this book is the list of books and stories by grade in the back of the book and the examples of how to teach for each grade.  It has extensive Spanish in it, so if you cannot read Spanish, this book may not be as helpful as you would like. (I see that it ends up on the used Waldorf book lists a lot and I think it might be because either folks don’t know what to do with it or maybe they think it provides comprehensive lessons, which it does not.  This might be one to try to look at ahead of time before you buy if you have other Waldorf homeschoolers in your area).    Many of the books suggested by grade in “Senderos”,  I have found used on Amazon, and they provide a great springboard for Spanish studies, especially for my fifth grader who is working at a middle school level in Spanish.

 

I found German to be harder, simply because I don’t know any German (!!), but I was fortunate to find a Saturday German School in our area and also a very dear friend who is a native speaker from Austria who became the tutor for our children.  This year my youngest will also be taking German in the classes for our homeschooling group, which is a group that seeks to unite homeschooling parents in our area who try to educate according to the tenets set forth by Rudolf Steiner in education.  (And PS, we have a smashing, busy, full homeschooling group – why is it that Atlanta never comes up on those lists of where to move when folks ask this question on the big national Waldorf Yahoo Groups?  Atlanta and the surrounding metro areas is not a bad place to live!  But I digress…guess that is a post for another time!)

 

I have had folks writing to me and asking for resources, preferably books with rhymes and songs that may also have a CD so they can learn the song themselves to teach their children….So, I am asking all my readers:  What languages are you teaching?  What resources do you use?  How do you bring in native culture – dress, festivals, dances, games – into your homeschool?    I have readers especially searching for resources in Russian and Chinese that could be tailored to Waldorf methodology.  If you know of any of these resources, please leave a comment in the comment box.

 

My readers are a big and diverse bunch, so I would love to hear from you in the comment box!

 

Many blessings,
Carrie

Very Simple Homeschool Planning

I have shared with you in past posts some of the little forms I created for homeschool planning.  I am talking to more and more mothers lately who are becoming affected with what I call “a case of the curriculum crazies.”

Please remember to keep things simple.

Pray.

Know your focus.  Know your child, and your top goals for that child and for your family.  What is the ultimate goal you have in mind for the education of your children?  Structure things around that.  You cannot do it all, and nor should you try.

Play a Very Simple Day.  I shared mine already:  gathering the children in song and movement, a main lesson with lots of movement and art, a tea break with read-alouds, another main lesson with lots of movement and art, lunch, a half hour after lunch for one child only per day four days a week for any “extra” work, and three days a week handwork, crafts or religion.  Add in outside time and chores and that is plenty!  We plan four days a week; you may need even less!

Plan in field trips, seasonal activities and FUN. We homeschool to have a joyous family life.  Please don’t forget that!  Homeschooling is first and foremost about having joy as a family.

Many blessings,

Carrie

 

Get Your Planning On! Chores and Movement: Where Do They Fit?

A few posts back, I  shared the daily planning form that I am going to use this year.  Several folks wondered about that all important movement that children need and that I keep talking about, and also about chores.  So here are some of the ideas that work for me personally, and maybe some of it will resonate with you.  Take what works for your family!

MOVEMENT:  Continue reading