Visual Challenges–Part One

I have been receiving a bit of mail regarding visual therapy and what to do about visual challenges, so I thought I would address that topic here.

Waldorf Education, both in school and in homeschooling,  is often known as “that method where the children learn to read late.”  This is true in one sense, as we start academics directly in first grade the way many schools in Europe used to do, and the progression through the first few grades is slower than what we might be accustomed to in the United States in public school.  In fact, it is true that many Waldorf teachers find children, especially boys, do not become fluent writers and readers until ages 9-11.  Many of these children are active, healthy, normal children.

However, I want to look at this a little closer for homeschoolers.  Noted Master Waldorf teacher Eugene Schwartz has stated  in many of his lectures that two-thirds of a third grade Waldorf School classroom typically is reading at a third grade level.  If this is true, then one must believe that there is progress in the first few grades toward reading.  Progress toward reading includes movement with cross lateral integration (more about that in a minute), oral recitation with memory, writing and then reading is being made in first, second and third grade, if the parent is working with the child in a Waldorf way.

The corollary of this, is of course, that if this is true that the majority of children in third grade are reading at grade level, then we also know one-third of the class will not be reading at grade level by the end of third grade.  In Waldorf homeschooling communities, we often hear of children who were not reading, not reading, and then suddenly around the age of 11 or 12 or so the child can suddenly read everything and anything.

So the challenge for the homeschooling parent often becomes one of  – is this just a normal pace of development for this particular child and I  just need to leave it alone or – is there something going on that needs to be addressed earlier?

I think to answer this question we must first look at Continue reading

What Are We Doing??

I got a unique chance to hear Rainbow Rosenbloom of Live Education (http://www.live-education.com/) speak this weekend.  He almost never comes to the Southeast, so I am filled with gratitude that he accepted our homeschooling group’s invitation to come for our annual Conference/Curriculum Fair.

I think one of the most interesting and provocative things he said was (in going through all the ages from the Early Years through Grade 8 in one day, on Saturday) was how he saw the subjects as the vehicle for teaching the bigger picture of character development, for training soul faculties, and how this corresponded to a child’s developmental age.  This is something that many veteran Waldorf home educators know, but it is always nice to be reminded about this again and again with different stories of children, different terms and vocabulary that reflect a broader picture, and what that  all really means.

For example, in much simpler terms than the four hours or so we sat in lecture about this subject (!), he broke the developmental stages of childhood down into: Continue reading

“Working Material for the Class Teacher Forming The Lessons of Grades One Through Four”

 

This is a little gem,  a document put into a bound book along with the few pages of the working document I mentioned in my last post (“Examining the Waldorf Curriculum from an American Viewpoint”).  On page 18 of this manuscript, there are several “golden rules” for teaching from a Waldorf perspective and I thought I would highlight a few for you.

 

1.  Thinking, feeling, willing – you hear this a lot in the world of homeschooling blogs and literature but the point is to always bring the subject at hand back to the child.  How does this have to do with your child, how does this concern your child? This takes careful child observation and in this, we can tailor our homeschooling to the child.  It always goes back to the human being.

2.  Doing then understanding, whole and then parts.  This is opposite of how many adults function (ie, first we as adults have to understand in order to “do”), so this can take some getting used to.

3.  The world is beautiful!  I love this one, because it sums up my philosophy of life.  Here is a direct quote:    “For the teacher there is the stumbling-block that he sees what is NOT beautiful in the world.  His task and his exercise will be to see the beautiful in everything and point it out.”  Bring everything into a picture. This is why individual biography is so important in fourth grade and up (after the nine year change). 

4.  Rhythm.  Rhythm is still important – movement and resting, listening and speaking, group activity versus individual activity.  How do we work with this in the home environment?  This is an important question.

5.  Practical life.  Waldorf homeschooling is first and foremost an education of beauty, and of beauty in the practical life.

 

One last quote:  “Of course we must take care take care today that the child does not become precocious, that he is not made “old” too quickly, which is that the times and the overall environment want to achieve with force, and so we must develop willing, imagination and warmth of heart as strongly as the intellect.”

 

Lovely thoughts to ponder today,

Carrie

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

Part Two Of Neurologic Development: Opportunity, Experience And Encouragement

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In our last post, we looked specifically at gross motor and fine motor development for the early grades aged child.  I posted several articles about fine motor skills.  Fine motor skills are especially important, because when fine motor skills are delayed, then many times speech, social skills, and such academic skills as reading and writing are also delayed.  They all are tied together.

 

Here are a few more areas to consider:

 

Speech: Is your early grades age child’s speech UNDERSTANDABLE by those around him or her that are outside of your family? In most children, speech problems disappear by age five or six according to many Waldorf resources (see the article “The Wonder of Acquiring Speech” by Michaela Glockler, MD for an example), but this of course has to be taken in accordance for each individual child.  I have been reading that there are some specific sounds that may not be mastered until ages seven or eight or even nine, but I think there is a difference between specific sounds (a few) not being well-pronounced and the whole of a child’s speech not being understandable!  ( However, certainly even the inability to pronounce single consonants once a child is over the age of 7 also leads to difficulty in linking consonants for consonant blends).   

If a grades-aged child is behind in other areas besides just speech, it may be more pressing to get an evaluation and get started on some therapy at this age rather than wait until age nine or later.  I  find that the older children become – ie, if a child is eight or nine or ten – speech and other delays really can affect the child’s social life and self-esteem because other children that age may have less patience with the delays, the child  starts comparing him or herself to others and sometimes no matter how nice the children they may not be as social with the child who has speech problems and is not understandable. Therefore, if delays are affecting your grades- aged child’s feeling of being accepted and loved outside of their family, especially if they are getting close to age 8 or so,  I think that also deserves a closer look and perhaps not just letting it ride.

What opportunities are you giving your grades-aged child for reciting poetry, tongue twisters, working with rhyming sentences, and speaking and expressing himself clearly and cleanly? How does your child communicate? Does your  grades-aged child who is closer to nine look children and adults in the eye if that is part of showing respect to others in the culture in which they live? Does your early grades age child know how to greet adults? Part of dealing with speech is opportunity, helping your child to navigate and make sense of the experiences of communicating with others (the feeling life), and also ENCOURAGEMENT to use clear words, clear sounds, clear thoughts.

Emotional Life: The “soul life” of the child is considered extremely important in Waldorf Education. Young children under the six/seven change often have strong emotions that quickly dissipate. Children who are school aged often find a deeper well of emotions, and emotions and impressions hang on longer than before, but still often in a undifferentiated way (things are “good” or “bad”) until past the nine year change.

Art is the most important vehicle for the school-aged child to deal with emotions. This, to me, is understanding that movement, speech, vocal and instrumental music, modeling, drawing, crafts and painting are paramount at this stage. As Michaela Glockler and Wolfgang Goebel write in “A Guide To Child’s Health”:

“These activities allow the children’s feeling life to express itself in the tension between beautiful and ugly or successful and unsuccessful artistic efforts. When children of this age lack artistic opportunities (my bolding), their natural tendency to make judgments based on sympathy and antipathy shifts to the intellectual level and is applied to people’s appearance and actions, and the result is criticism, grumbling, and an unpleasant degree of resistance to adult requests.”

The other piece of dealing with the emotional life is setting a balance through rhythm and habit. Drs. Glockler and Goebel again; “Unless they’ve already established good habits, their only motivation for doing “boring stuff” like tidying up or clearing the table is their desire to do the adult a particular favor. Their assessments of everything around them are based on their personal likes and dislikes, sympathy and antipathy – in other words, on feelings.”  This passage reminds of how a child needs to have roots in order to have wings – rhythm, ritual, habit, are not the chains that bind but the tools that provide a foundation to fly!

Being a “beloved authority” is also of extreme importance to a child of this age.  I have already discussed boundaries and that too is of importance.   

Social Life: Again, Drs. Glockler and Goebel: 

“Raising a child to be loving is based on cultivating a rich interpersonal life – relationships to other people, to surroundings, to objects and events.  In this process, learning to cope with yes and no, with being allowed to do some things and forbidden to do others, plays a decisive role, because the ability to love also involves respect for other people’s life situations and hence the ability to see the positive meaning of a “no”.  How many relationships in later life suffer from the face that we never really learned to deal with yes and no, with sympathy and antipathy, or to accept failures and errors as part of life?” 

Does your child have a rich interpersonal life?  Does your grades-aged child play well with children of his or her own age or are they only attracted to being with adults?  Can they also play with children of other ages?  Can they handle one on one play, playing with two friends, playing in a group?

Spiritual Life:  An adult who has a “religious” approach to life in the sense of Waldorf Education is one who approaches life with a sense of trust, gratitude, a sense of goodness, a sense of harmony.  I love this quote from Drs. Glockler and Goebel

Today, many people believe that religious education should be avoided because it manipulates children and takes away their freedom of choice.  In fact, however, children who are not allowed to experience qualities such as reverence,admiration, and devotion grow up “unfree” with regard to religion…People who establish undogmatic, independent relationships to the contents of specific religious traditions find in them ever new incentives for inner development..As adults, these people radiate the peace and certainty that children need…”

If you are interested in this subject, I highly recommend the essay “Learning Through Celebration”, found in the book, “Offering The Gospel To Children” by Gretchen Wolff Pritchard.  It offers many interesting things to think about. 

When we think of the child and their spiritual life, what images do you think of?  How do you think your child views the larger and greater world?  Is the world a place of goodness and beauty or one to be feared? Does the natural world convene upon the liturgical year at all in your household if that is the spiritual nature of your family?  Do your children get to experience the spiritual year?  Experience is so important for the child; not to analyze but just to experience the wonder of it all.

 

Many blessings,

Carrie

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