Preparing the First Block of First Grade

Some of you are already thinking of planning your first block of first grade.  I have just planned our first block.  This is my third time teaching first grade, and while each child is so different, I think there are some general tips that can be helpful to any parents planning a block.

If you have looked at the festivals of the year, your school year calendar, observed your child, and planned what blocks when plus gathered resources, you are ready to start planning your first block in detail.  If you are NEW to Waldorf homeschooling, you really need to understand the “why” and “how”. WHY do we do form drawing as the first block and HOW is it typically done?    Steiner’s educational lectures are the cornerstone in this regard, along with secondary pedagogical resources.

Many parents look at each block in terms of setting a goal for artistic work, soul development, and academic capabilities.  First grade is especially about getting children into their bodies, so to me this is an especially logical place to start.  I like to come up with an outline for each day and week. So, in our case, I have our day started with movement,  using the movement block rotation listed at the Movement for Childhood website. I also like to plan “movement breaks”  from this website as I know I will need them during the time spent with my child.

Then I look at establishing a daily order:  for example, after movement our order may be  our opening verse and active circle, active math, what the main lesson (in this case, form drawing) actually will be each day , and the ending of our day.  In our case, our first grader will also spend time each day working with his older sisters, so that will be listed as well – what they will be doing with him each day, whether that is cooking or handwork or reading to him or playing games.

Once you have this order of what happens during the time you are together,  and what happens each day of the week outside of the “main lesson time”, it is easy to make a template and start to plug things in from your resources or to make up what you need from your own creative and authentic self.  What will your movement, opening verse, active circle, active math, main lesson work be each day?   Look things up and create your own things!  You can write your own poetry or verses or songs and make up your own poetry!  Steiner outlined the first several days of first grade in his lectures, so looking at his indications is also an essential first step to planning the main lesson part of your template.

Lastly, don’t be afraid to draw from your child’s interests when it is developmentally appropriate.  For one child, when we did form drawing, I drew a lot from a story I made up about pond life and the movement of the animals, wind and things around the ponds in our local area.  For another child, I did form drawing based upon the stories and characters of Brambly Hedge.  You will find the right thing for your child if you just sit with it all for a little bit.  It will come. Trust the inspiration that comes to you!  It will be the right thing for your child.

Many blessings, and thank you for letting me share,

Carrie

 

January Homeschool Planning

Sometimes I find this quiet, post-Holiday time when the weather is not always as nice a good time to think ahead for the next school year. I have written many back posts about planning, but I will keep writing new ones because I want mothers new to homeschooling or thinking about homeschooling to know that homeschooling is really possible, and that if you want to homeschool using the pedagogy laid forth by Rudolf Steiner, that is possible too.  In the same breath, however, the world is full of possibilities, but it takes work and follow-through to make it come to fruition.  You have to have the will to plan, and also the ability to follow-through on any given day with the plans you have made.  This is what makes homeschooling a successful endeavor.

Despite the bad press that buying “curriculum” gets in the Waldorf homeschooling world (because Waldorf Education is a living, breathing art that flows between a particular teacher and a particular student in a particular time and place), I do believe there can be a place for curriculum, Maybe you are trying to get your feet under you or maybe it is a particularly bad year due to personal  illness or other circumstances.  I don’t think we should feel guilt about that.  Resources in Waldorf homeschooling are important, whatever “resources” might mean to you, and I want mothers to know that you can put your year together yourself.  It is not hard, and if you work at it, it gets easier each year.

One way I like to start for those working from scratch is to look at the year as an entirety – the cycle of festivals – and sketch that out with ideas for celebrating with music,food, crafts or activities.  That is a good place to begin.

Then, I like to look at a calendar and look at when we might start school and end school for the school year 2015-16.  When might our vacations be?  Things change over time as well – when my older two children were smaller we took a lot of time off in December, and now we have more of a break somewhere toward the end of September and we take less time over December.  If you know your state laws and know how many days you have to school, then that will help you figure out how many weeks of school that you need and how many days a week.

Those under the age of 7 are really just in the rhythm of life and the family and that is a constant, nourishing presence.  Know what ages you need to start reporting to your state for “school hours” – many states do not have reporting requirements for those under a certain age.  Grades 1-4 or 5 can probably get school done in 4 days a week, sometimes grade 6 as well, depending upon how long your days are.  Grades 6 and 7 and up often really need all five days.

Then spend some time thinking, really thinking,  about your child or children. What do they really need this upcoming year?  What can you plan out ahead of time or are there areas that are changing so rapidly you cannot predict what this child will need so far ahead?  That is valid too.  What could you do now to lessen your summer planning?  What might be most important for balancing your child, addressing strengths, weaknesses, capacities?  What academic, artistic, and soul content material would you like to develop?

With this in mind and knowing the number of weeks you will have in the school year, you can see what blocks you want to include.  Blocks can run as short as two weeks to six or eight weeks.  Only you and your experience as a teacher, and looking at the child IN FRONT OF YOU, can figure that out.    This is something that absolutely NO curriculum can tell you, and this is part of being a homeschool teacher!  What I advise is to  leave space in the rhythm of the school year – so if you have 36 weeks of school planned, DON’T plan blocks to cover all 36 weeks. Leave some wiggle room in there and plan maybe 33 or 34 weeks of block material.  It probably will take you 36 weeks!

Lastly, start gathering lists of books and supplies. A good place for new Waldorf homeschoolers to start is to look at places such as Rudolf Steiner College Bookstore and Waldorf Library On-Line and see what  things are listed by grade.  More experienced Waldorf homeschoolers seem to gather many books, Waldorf and not Waldorf, by topic,  and can “make it Waldorf”.  That is something that also comes with experience.

Anyway, this is food for thought for this month of new beginnings.  I recently planned the first block of first grade for our third child, and I am planning on writing a post on that so you can see one mother’s experience (mine) of putting a block together.

Many blessings,
Carrie

 

 

2016

The most beautiful day is today, and the most beautiful moment is now.  What I love most about New Year’s Day is this promise, this idea, that every ordinary moment is special and worthy of appreciation and gratitude as we revel in the beginnings, the newness, the now.  Whether you are where you want to be or not, whether there is chaos in your life now or not, or if you feel you are on the verge of some new endeavor or change, I want you to know I am extending my thoughts of contentment and thankfulness for right where you are and the journey you are on.

We were out hiking this afternoon, but this morning I spent a little time drawing  three concentric circles on a small piece of paper and just thinking.  The first circle I drew was small and had words in it that represented the values and things that really inspire my deepest self, such as my husband and my children, and my “word of the year”.   The next circle that I drew around this inner circle had all the aspects of self-care that I really want to focus on in order to stay connected with this truth for myself.

The third circle outside of this second circle had all the communities that I am involved in, all the things that I care so deeply about, and reminds me  that I can take better care of  things when I remember and connect with my own values and inspiration and when I take care of myself.  And lastly, outside all three circles, were the “big” things that I hope to impact across the whole country and world – bringing development into parenting, bringing development into education through Waldorf methodology and current neuroscience.

Who will you impact this year?  How will you shine in your corner of the world?  I can’t wait to hear!

Blessings and love,

Carrie

 

These Are A Few Of My Favorite Things: January

I love January with its beautiful and cozy inner light.  The lights of Christmas, the candles and outside lights are still up and we begin this month still within the Twelve Days of Christmas and the Holy Nights.  We find ourselves following the golden star to Epiphany and beyond in a cozy, quiet, stillness where dark skies, snowflakes (I am hoping!  It has been unseasonably warm here in the Deep South), tea by the fire predominates.  We can curl up with meal planning and garden planning and enjoy this time of rejuvenation under the mantle of peaceful family times.

Here are some of my favorite things for this month for the family:

  • Beautiful festival celebrations. I have several back posts about celebrating Christmastide, three or four about Three Kings Day/Epiphany, and several about the Holy Nights.
  • Creating music together, reading together wonderful read-alouds with popcorn, creating window stars and rose windows.
  • Taking long walks outside or hiking and looking at the lovely bare branches of the trees.
  • Taking the time to look at meal planning, organizing the home, along with a hard look at rhythm.  What is working, what is not working, what needs to be tweaked or changed?

Here are some of my favorite things for small children:

  • Fostering creative play.    I have detailed this in back posts, but suffice it to say that I think the   major components include paring down toys (not increasing the clutter as it might be tempting to do!  Keep throwing toys at them until one sticks is not a way to foster deep creative play, even though it is completely tempting in our desperate moments! :)), creating an inviting play environment, and having a steady rhythm of work in the home that the child can see, weave in and out of and imitate.
  • Warming rituals and warmth in clothing; in toys of natural materials; in an emotional warmth toward the small child; warming foods with bone broths and teas, hot water bottles.

Here are some of my favorite things for older children:

  • Vigorous outdoor exercise if at all possible.
  • Quiet moments of reverence before meals, before bed.  Finding ways that the older child can start to penetrate into the festivals of the month, whether this is in religious or spiritual ways or both.
  • Finding ways the older child can be helpful in the life of the family and in the community.
  • Warming rituals and foods.

Here are some of my favorite things for teens: 

  • Finding time to spend with your teen one on one so that child can talk about whatever is on their mind.  Combine that with something to do  physically,  or a special date out, and you have  intimate moments that are anything but ordinary.
  • Creating more complex crafts – straw stars, rose windows, more complex window stars, knitting and sewing, woodworking.  Basketry can feel meditative as well.
  • Fun and intriguing board games. There are so many wonderful ones out there right now to play!

Here are a few of my favorite things for my own health:

  • Making the time for health care appointments.  Get all those annual appointments out of the way and set up any appointments you need weekly or bi-monthly.
  • Creating a small desk space or crafting work space or updating the one you have!  Adding small quotes and things you find inspiring!
  • Making time to exercise in whatever capacity this means to you  – whether this is a vigorous hike, time at the gym, a yoga video.  Make time every day. Mark the time on the calendar because it IS an appointment worthy of your attention.  It has to be a priority in order for you to take care of everyone else and have balance.  Some of us are lucky enough to live on farms or other places where we have a good amount of physical exercise in everyday life, but most of us do not move nearly enough.
  • Menu planning and preparing freezer or crock pot meals.  Saturdays or Sundays could be a lovely time to do this, or pick your own afternoon during the week.
  • Inner work.  Now is a great time to renew your focus on sacred and holy reading, prayer and meditation, or just keeping silence.

Here are a few of my favorite things for homeschooling:

  • Check and see what supplies you have run out of mid-year and re-order.
  • See what you have really gotten through this fall, and adjust your schedule for the year accordingly.  Full confession – we are going to have to lengthen our school year by two weeks and probably knock out or condense down a block.  It happens, so don’t beat yourself up!  Life is still lovely.
  • Start planning for the upcoming school year.  So far I  have my start and end dates laid out,  block plans for what blocks I am doing when laid out for three grades, I have an idea for my high schooler’s year long courses what the flow will be, I have started digging into a few blocks that I have  the resources for,   and made a list of new resources I need to order or get through the library.  With three grades to put together from scratch, I am trying to be diligent so I don’t have to spend my entire summer planning!
  • For those of you who Waldorf homeschool, you might consider reading some of Steiner’s lectures.  Many of them are free on-line.

Please share with me your a few of your favorite things for January.

Blessings and love,
Carrie

 

 

 

More Christmastide: Field, Farm, Forest, and Stream

These twelve days of Christmas are such a beautiful and reverent time of year.  I hope you all are enjoying being outside and experiencing all that Nature has to offer through all your senses.  This is so important for children.  In our culture, screens and technology have taken over so much of the childhood of our children.  If you need more research-based data regarding this, please Common Sense Media’s report about Children’s Media Use in America. (latest statistics I see on this site are 2013).  Here is a report about brain changes with screen time from Psychology Today.   This abstract  is a review of the negative effects of screen time for children under the age of 3 and is a quick review.  This article on Facing the Screen Dilemma is one of my favorites.  This abstract details the association between greater than 2 hours of screen time a day with severe school absenteeism.   Here is an article by the American Academy of Pediatrics that discusses the positive and negative of social media for children and teens, including the hazards of “Facebook depression”, sexting and cyberbulling, and why the minimum age for participating with sites such as Facebook is age 13.  Interesting reading….

Which brings me back to field, farm, forest and stream.  There are so many positives to getting our families outside.  Here are just a few from my perspective as a pediatric physical therapist and from other resources from the forest kindergarten movement:

  • Family teamwork can be developed, along with family identity
  • Development of physical capabilities  in the realms of  gross motor, fine motor, and sensory system capacities.  This is especially important in this day and age in which the number of children with sensory system regulation challenges is increased, and in a place and time where the gross motor skills of many kindergarten-aged children are underdeveloped.
  • Development of core body strength, which is necessary for later academic success.
  • Development of language skills
  • Development of depth perception
  • Improves mental health (also very important for children of today); decreases stress
  • Promotes stronger executive functioning skill development
  • Helps develop self-esteem and self-reliance, self-confidence
  • Develops abilities to assess risk
  • Improves concentration and attention
  • Contributes to respect for and understanding of nature
  • “Timeless” moments:  extended unstructured time in nature and with animals

If you are looking for more information about the benefits of “farmschooling”, which has received  relatively less press than the forest kindergarten movement, I suggest these two resources.  This one is about the benefits of farm for teenagers from a Montessori perspective:   http://liveandlearnfarm.com/farmschooling-montessori-middle-school-part-2/  and here is an entire website for Farm-Based Educators Inspired by Anthroposophy  https://biodynamics.com/fbeiba.  There are also many websites that lay out the mental and physical benefits of gardening, which could be applied to farming as well.

Please continue to post your comments or pictures of your excursions into forest, farm, field and stream here or on Twitter @ParentingHearth

Many blessings,
Carrie

Christmastide: Forest, Farm, Field and Stream

 

The wonder of the days of Christmastide are upon us!  Parents are often amazed that small children who are loud, noisy, and yes, even destructive in the house can be focused, quiet and attentive in an outdoor space.  Cultivating stillness, quiet and peacefulness is so important to the foundation of childhood.  These are qualities all of us need as human beings!  Perhaps we ever crave it and even as adults are in pursuit of it as we create beautiful works of art and music, grand architecture, and invent new things.  But the roots of these grand excursions perhaps lie in the smallest and most ordinary of moments in the outdoor world from when we were young.  If we close our eyes, perhaps we can remember snippets from our own childhood, being outside in all kinds of weather.  How does the wind before a storm feel in your hair or on your skin?  What is the sight of the clouds before it snows?  What are the sounds of a meadow on a hot, hazy day?  These are sensations for the soul.

So, during these twelve joyous and beautiful days of Christmastide, I invite you to come with me, where we shall spend our days connecting with nature in the forest, farm, field or stream!

In order to do this, you will need to identify your favorite local places of nature and make plans.  This can be as simple as walking out your door and finding the tree you love most on your city block, or making plans to visit a State or National Park to which you have never been!  Twelve joyous days of being with nature.

The second piece of this is that in many areas of the world right now, the weather can either be very hot or very cold, so thinking ahead to proper attire for the whole family will make things enjoyable for everyone.  For those of you interested in forest, farm, field and stream attire for colder/wetter zones, the book “Forest Kindergartens: The Cedarsong Way” by Erin K Kenny, recommends the following specific brands for young children:

  • Bogs Boots
  • Jackets:  Columbia Omnitech or Bugaboo
  • Silk or Wool Long Underwear (I like to get mine at Green Mountain Organics)
  • Rain Pants:  Oakiwear, Lands End or REI rain pants
  • Mittens:  Gordoni or Outdoor Research brands

I would love to hear about any of your excursions into forest, field, farm or stream or your local city block.  What did you see? What senses were enlivened in you and your children?  Please post your thoughts or even a picture here in the comments, or on Twitter @ParentingHearth.

More tomorrow as we continue our harmonious Christmastide with the glorious Creation!  Let Heaven and Nature Sing!

In Joy,
Carrie

These Are A Few of My Favorite Things: Advent Week Four

The week is upon us!  Christmastide is almost here!  For those of you counting up to Winter Solstice, that day is coming as well.  A week of love and rejoicing! 

This week, we are also celebrating the crowing kingdom to rejoice in Christ’s coming: mankind.  In following this week’s theme of man, I have chosen the following books (the older children and I are also reading “The Return of Light

20- The Gingerbread Baby and Gingerbread Friends by Jan Brett.  I love these, because they talk about finding rest and joy in friends and in community and belonging.  I know the gingerbread baby and his friends are not people, but the qualities they convey are certainly very human-like!

21-  Getting ready for the Winter Solstice!  The older children and I are reading “The Return of Light:  A Christmas Tale” by Dia Calhoun; the youngest and I read “The Sun Bread” by Kleven.

23– Little Golden Books – “The Christmas Story”; also Reg Down’s “The Cricket and the Shepherd Boy”

24 – The Night Before Christmas – any of the many illustrated editions will do and “Christmas in Noisy Village” by Astrid Lindgren

There are also many wonderful stories for this week in “The Light In The Lantern” and “The Christmas Story Book” by Floris Books.

Some activities for the week:

  • Random acts of kindness for other people.  The possibilities here are endless for paying it forward.
  • Assisting in any way possible to help others who need it – we have participated in gift and food drives for the poor, wrapping gifts for homeless children…this week we will be keeping our eye out for anyone else who needs our help.  
  • Look for the people you know that are lonely and sad with the holidays.  Maybe they are dealing with divorce, the loss of someone they loved through death, poverty.  Take your time and spend it with them.
  • Honoring the wonderful people who impact us  personally every week.  I am thinking especially of our children’s teachers, such as our choir director at church and our horseback riding instructor, our county’s 4H staff.
  • Honoring our town and county’s police and fire personnel.  We are so lucky to live in a county with a wonderful police, fire, ambulance response team.
  • Make gingerbread men cookies!
  • Celebrate the First Day of Winter.
  • Prepare  for the flow of Christmas Eve Day and Christmas Day.  These can be quiet days, or in some families it can be days of family coming in, lots of cooking and craziness and small children can have a tough time without their regular rhythm. 
  • The Twelve Days of Christmas, or Christmastide, begins on Christmas Day.  These twelve days can be a time of inner work, inner preparation for the New Year.  This is about the The Twelve Days of Christmas  and  Celebrating Christmastide
  • Here is a message for Christmas Day about wonder 

Blessings,

Carrie