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

The Wonder Years: Waldorf Homeschooling Grades One Through Three

There seems to be a perception amongst mainstream parents that children within the first, second and third grades should be “buckling down and getting to work”, which essentially means loads of worksheets and sitting with pen and paper in hand.

I have a different view, one that coincides with the way the grades are laid out in Waldorf Education, and one I would like you to seriously consider.

You will never get the ages of 7,8 and 9 back.  Seven, eight, and nine-year olds are still small, believe it or not.  The way they learn best most likely is not pen and paper and workbooks.  This only involves the head, and  nothing about the rest of the body.  Most of us learn best when we involve as many senses as possible, so why would we not offer the option of learning through movement, art, music and yes, paper and writing as well to the smallest members of our schooling community?

Seven, eight and nine are still ages of wonder!  These are not the ages for stuffing facts into their heads.  This is the age for igniting interest, for providing those valuable hands-on experiences that stimulate wonder.

Some of the physiologic parameters are not even there yet for true “sit down learning.”  A seven-year –old can still be fairly distractible, an eight-year-old finally has the development of the eyes completed, the nine-year-old is starting to be on the threshold from feeling as if he is one with the Universe and everything in it.  To treat these seven, eight and nine year olds any differently is not in accordance with their developmental level.  It is rushing, it is putting the horse before the cart, and it will set you up for problems as you actually reach the stages for greater “head-oriented” learning.

Here are some simple suggestions:

1.  Find and plan the ACTIVE part of each and every lesson!  A Main Lesson does not mean just sitting and writing!

2.  Have respect for the attention span and fatigue factor of the seven, eight and nine-year old!

3.  Realize that not every block calls for a Main Lesson Book creation.  Third Grade is full of hands-on projects, building and farming and gardening.  These bodily experiences are just as important, if not more important, than sitting and writing.

4.  Ignite the WONDER!  You are not there to stuff facts, you are there to distill the essence of the subject down into your Main Lesson, you are there to give SPACE to the child to let them form their own conclusion. 

5.  Leave your adult baggage BEHIND!  They don’t need it (and truth be told, do you really need it as well?)  Saints are wonderful other-worldly beings that the eight-year-old can still relate to as they do battle with the more heavy side of being human, the Old Testament Stories are stories of a people and how they dealt (or didn’t) with such concepts as authority and law and place in society. 

6.  Utilize REST and SLEEP as the true learning aids that they are to education.  Waldorf Education utilizes a three-day rhythm (some Waldorf homeschool curriculums utilize a two-day rhythm simply because Waldorf at home is not Waldorf at school).  This is vital!

7.  Understand the big picture for the 7 and 8 –year old, and also for the nine-year change.  I guarantee it is not textbooks and worksheets and workbooks that will speak to their heart, their soul development and their developmental stage.  I recently had the pleasure of speaking to a young lady who just finished public school first grade and she told me excitedly that her teacher had made snow in their classroom!  (Yes, making snow is a BIG deal in the Southeastern United States because we don’t really get any that lasts for any length of time).   That was the thing she mainly remembered from first grade, that is the one thing she really carried with her from the whole school year!

Work for creating wonder, for respect for the fact that 7 and 8 and even 9 year olds are still small.  Plan ahead with your 7 and 8 year olds for what they will need for the nine-year change.

Happy pondering,

Carrie

Waldorf Third Grade and Old Testament Stories

So many people get hung up with the Saint Stories in the second grade, and then many people get hung up with Old Testament Stories of the Third Grade.

The Old Testament Stories of the  Waldorf Third Grade are not told as a “religious” main lesson block.

For a good post on this subject, please see Donna Simmons’ blog here:

http://christopherushomeschool.typepad.com/blog/2007/11/old-testament-s.html

Perhaps it will illuminate an anthroposophical approach to these studies of the Third Grade and set your heart at ease.  These stories are important for children in the throes of the nine-year- change, and I hope you will take the time to meditate on what Donna Simmons has to say about this  and figure out how to bring these stories to your children baggage-free!

Peace,

Carrie

Where Do I Go Now?

What do you do when you realize your method of homeschooling has been more detrimental  than the goodness you thought it was bringing to your child? Or that your child just has tremendous imbalances between their body, their head, their social and emotional skills?   I am talking about parents of very,very bright children who were reading at age three fluently, the very smart child who is so incredibly “gifted”, the children who are so ahead of themselves and so logical…..

Until the parent begins to notice that this very bright child can relate to no one of his own age at all.  That the child has poor gross motor skills.  That the child is only drawn to books and textbooks and such.  That this child has very little creative ability, is very serious, has difficulty playing.  That the child seems very in their head, worried about adult things, in fact seems more like an adult than not…..

In my experience many of these children do  feel isolated, depressed, anxious – and they are still children and whether they can verbalize it or not, they are looking to you to take the lead, to make it better.  They are still small, they still need your protection.

And the parent is thinking now this child is 7,8 or 9, what to do, what to do?  Can Waldorf education help this child?

My first recommendation is this:  Call one of the national Waldorf consultants for a consultation.  This is important, because  sometimes you are dealing with an out of the ordinary situation, not just where the child is coming in late to Waldorf, which also may have its own challenges, but there may be therapeutic issues to be dealt with.   Here is the link with all the names of consultants I know:  http://theparentingpassageway.com/2009/01/03/waldorf-consultants/

My second recommendation is to look at yourself!  This will take hard work, change, motivation, being matter of fact and peaceful with your child as things change and they complain about the change!  Can you:

1. Stop talking and putting adult decision making on them?   Do not ask them if they want to “do Waldorf homeschooling.”  It is not their choice at this point.  They should have completely limited choices at this point on life issues.  They already have had enough pressure and the decision making process has worked on their psyche to the point where they are no longer children.  Help them reclaim their childhood by being the Authentic Leader in your home. You set the tone right now.

2.  Can you read some of Steiner and really penetrate what teaching first, second or third grade is  about?  What level these children are normally at in these grades in Waldorf? And there is more than academics at stake here – where are they gross motor wise, emotionally, socially, artistically, fine motor wise?     It is probably going to be very different than what you are used to.    Can you be okay with that while you take a year to heal and to shift toward balance?

3.  Can you be okay with balancing the child without the use of textbooks in these early grades, with the use of outside time, hiking, gardening, being in nature without identifying trees and bushes to death?  Woodworking, knitting, dyeing things, having an aquarium without all the plant and fish identification, having an art farm or worm farm, looking at the stars with the naked eye with Native American legends and stories as the backdrop would all be healing.  Apple picking, berry picking, making jelly, going to the zoo and aquarium (without writing reports or taking one of the those damned nature journals around with them to draw and identify everything by the latin name? just looking and being and seeing how those animals move), swimming, singing and jumping rope would all be very healing.

4.  Can you show them how to play by setting up stations for playing in your home?  Most eight year old girls still like to play with dolls.  Maybe your child has forgotten how to play!  Copious outside time will help.  Can you set up a woodworking bench, a knitting area, a sewing area, an area for art?  Can you work on some handwork yourself for an hour in the afternoons and set up that model, that expectation for your son or daughter?

5.  Think about warmth – less words, stop explaining, can you show your delight in your child WITHOUT words at all?  Smiles, hugs, fun!  Can you as a family go and have fun?  Hiking, ice skating, roller skating, picnics, – is this child’s seriousness coming from you?  This child is small and needs to be joyous!

6.  Think about early bedtimes, consistent meal and snack times with warm food.  Lots of fresh air and fresh unprocessed foods.

7.  Bring in stories to heal your child’s soul – fairy tales, legends, nature stories, stories from your childhood and from when your child was very, very small.  Lots of storytelling.  Remember, the academics in Waldorf can be adjusted to where your child is, but the stories for each grade is designed for the child’s soul development.  And while we would want to focus on what a child needs for that age, and not go backward, I see nothing wrong with lighting a candle and telling a fairy tale at night to a third grader!  Adults love fairy tales too!

8.  Can you bring in music?  The joy of having music as a family?  This is so important.

9. Can you make a big deal about preparing for festivals where school does not go on as usual?  Festival preparation is an integral part of life for the Early Grades child.

Your Waldorf consultant will have other suggestions based upon your child’s needs.  Waldorf is a healing method of education, but it takes commitment and a matter of fact peaceful kind of energy.

Peace and may goodness go with you,

Carrie