Cursive Writing

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Many blessings,

Carrie

 

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Attachment And Individualization

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Many blessings,

Carrie

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

Russian Creation Poem and the Joy of Learning

I have had a lovely time so far in the second year of my Foundation Studies in Anthroposophy and The Arts.  I feel blessed to be there, and I am excited for our homeschooling group since we have one mother who has already completed her Foundation Studies, there are three of us finishing up this year, and two to four mothers planning to start their Foundation Studies in January.  That seems a significant number for our smaller homeschool group, and I think speaks to the dedication of the families within our group to an education based upon Steiner’s curriculum.

As a physical therapist, one of the most joyous things I have found Continue reading

At The End Of The Teaching Day…

Did I put as much movement as possible into my Main Lesson?

Did I stir a feeling in my child through the pictures, stories and images I presented?

Did my child put forth effort and work, thereby developing his or her own will?

Did we have fun?  Did we laugh?  Did I hug my child and love them?

Did I teach my child something new?  New can also be nuances on an existing subject or theme…

Did I use sleep as an aid to my teaching?  Did I keep reviewing what my child needs to review?  One time is not enough!

Did my children and I do something practical for the nurturing care of our home?

Many blessings,
Carrie

Guest Post: Botany In The Waldorf-Inspired Homeschool

Our guest blogger today is the wonderful, wise and inspiring Lauri Bolland.  She lives in Pennsylvania with her husband, Eric, and their three always-homeschooled Waldorfy children who are now 22, 18 & 14. Their youngest, Gracie, recently published her first book, which grew out of their Seventh Grade Creative Writing Main Lesson Block. Gracie can be found on Lulu here:

http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/AmazingGrace

I asked Lauri to share some words regarding the “botany” block of fifth grade, and this is what she wrote:  Continue reading

The Simple Homeschool

I have been talking to more and more mothers regarding planning for the upcoming school year, and one theme has been recurring:  they want simple.

  • They want curriculums that take into account that most mothers are time-constrained, either by activities or by having multiple children.
  • They want to know that when they spend a lot of money on a curriculum, that the curriculum is planned out.  Most mothers seem to want a day by day plan.
  • They want ideas for the magical parts of homeschooling – movement, drawing, music, painting, modeling, and how to bring the academic ideas to life through these vehicles.
  • They do want academic progression
  • They want to know how to take their spiritual and religious life and help their children absorb that in an age- appropriate way in the home environment
  • But most of all, they want simple.

In some respects, many people homeschool, not because they want to make life harder or to stress themselves out with having more complex days, but because they wanted a slower pace of life that allowed for more time and more connection with their children.

I think simplicity can actually start in planning. Planning helps ensure that you are not doing too much, but yet that some of your bases, especially for those past the age of ten, are covered.  For example: Continue reading

Gathering Love

I was thinking specifically about new parents, and parents of children in the age of birth through seven when I wrote my post “Gathering Grace” recently.

One thing I think about with the children aged seven through fourteen, who really are in the heart of childhood, is that they should be gathering love. Continue reading

Are You Raising A Potted Plant?

 

There should be warning signs for parents on every child in America:  “Warning!  This is not a potted plant!  This is a human being that needs sunshine, free play in nature and lots of movement throughout the entire lifespan!  Warning!”

 

Too often our children today are treated like potted plants. Sterile, not moving, in a pot, watching only one view because the inherent nature of the human being to move is essentially ignored by our predominate educational system, our medical system, and our society at large. 

 

Children of all ages, birth through twenty-one, need to MOVE.  Children birth through age seven should be developing their will, their doing.  Movement also is learning.  I have read research estimates that 80 percent of the brain is devoted to taking in sensory information and deciding what to do with that information.    Almost any long-time teacher will tell you that most children are kinesthetic learners. 

 

We know from current research that school aged children need at least three to four hours a day of true rough and tumble outside play. Heavy work benefits ALL children and ALL adults.  We are wired for it!

 

In a classroom setting, just having ten minute breaks to really move every two hours can completely increase learning.  According to a 2006 study in the journal of Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, children with ADHD who take movement breaks for ten minutes every two hours show a 20 percent improvement in “on-task behavior.”

 

In Waldorf Education, we look at movement to be about a third of our learning time if possible.  We play movement games for math, we walk our forms before we draw them, we have eurythmy and Bothmer gymnastics in the Waldorf School setting, we include folk dancing in the curriculum for certain grades, we have drama and gardening.

 

You CAN do this at home and it will not complicate your homeschool, but enhance it!

 

Simple ways to start:

 

Finally, are you moving in your free time?  Are you cleaning, gardening, working? Hiking and biking and swimming and skating?  Or are you sitting down on your computer?  Just sayin’.  Smile

 

Happy Moving!

Carrie

Rhythm: Part Four

I talk to so many mothers who have children of multiple ages and who are very concerned as to  how to fit in multiple main lessons, or what to do with their children when their ages are spread out between the Early Years and the grades.  It can be daunting, and many veteran Waldorf homeschoolers say that you cannot schedule that many main lessons without going insane….but then how to do it?

Let’s start at the beginning.  If you have a first or second grader, and the rest of your children are under the age of 7, then life should be relatively easy.  You can often think in terms of outside time together, a circle for all, a story geared to the kindergartener, perhaps the main lesson for the first or second grader, nap and quiet time (and perhaps do something else for fifteen to twenty minutes with the first or second grader during quiet time),  the work of the day geared toward the kindergartener but including all, and finish with playing outside.   My friend Sheila has a lovely post about her rhythm with her fourth grader and her Early Years child here:  http://sureastheworld.com/2012/03/18/brass-tacks-my-homeschooling-day/

With two children involved in  main lesson work, I think it is still possible to either put them “together” if they are close in age…ie, a first grader and a second grader could both hear folk tales, but work on slightly different academic levels.  If the two children needing main lessons are further apart in age, then you may want to have separate main lesson times.  Then for other lessons, such as foreign language or handwork, you could combine the children but have them work at their own levels.    I think all of that is possible with only two children needing main lessons, even with younger children in tow.  I think this is the sort of thing you must jump in and try and switch around as needed.  It is daunting when I go to the homes of my homeschooling friends who are not using Waldorf methods and their homeschooling is a lot of workbooks, worksheets, independent reading textbooks, and videos.  Waldorf homeschooling is different, and sometimes only by doing it can we wrap our heads around how it will work for our family and what that will look like!

I will have a fifth grader, a second grader, and a two year old turning three in the fall.  I am planning my essential rhythm to look like this:  Continue reading