This is the time of year when I feel I must make an annual plea for the homeschooling family: your family homeschool is not a Waldorf School. There are extreme differences, and if you are trying to replicate a Waldorf School, or any kind of institutionalized schooling in your homeschool, please let it go!
I see many parents trying to recreate the Waldorf School in their homes; I think this comes up so frequently because the curriculum is so philosophically driven; each grade is geared toward the level of soul development of that child with the subjects geared toward the development of that age. The subjects are presented by the teacher through the vehicles of art and movement in a rhythm that utilizes sleep as an aid to learning.
So, this must mean I have to turn myself into a Waldorf teacher at home, right? Wrong!
First of all, the homeschool environment is looser, and in many ways, richer than the curriculum at a school. You can choose things based upon your child’s interest and really tailor it within those subjects in the curriculum. In the early grades of first through fifth, I don’t always directly ask what my child wants to learn but in homeschooled children it is usually pretty ready and apparent what they are interested in, what their passion of the moment is, and I do try to work that in. You can tailor the fourth grade zoology block to what animals your children are really interested in; you can add science blocks. There are a million possibilities for nature stories that highlight different natural cycles or animals in second grade, for example. Go off on rabbit trails if you want to, and come back.
Many of the subjects could span grades or be brought in at different times; for example the curriculum of fairy tales and folk tales and tall tales and nature stories can span grades one through four at varying points; the zoology block of man and animal typically found in fourth grade could also be started in third grade with a block on domesticated farm animals as in conjunction with the third grade farming part of the curriculum. Many parents have told me their children were not fully interested in “The Age of Revolution” until ninth grade, not eight. Renaissance studies could span both seventh and eighth grades…there really is some latitude. Look at your child! Are they through the nine year change yet? The twelve year change yet? Your child will show you in so many ways what to do with their homeschooling within the context of Rudolf Steiner’s ideas about education if you just look at the child!
For the very practical side of “scheduling homeschooling” with your children, I find that if your child has an interest such as sports or dance, around fourth grade you may be in the position to start working your rhythm around that. I found that my oldest, who is into rhythmic gymnastics and lives for it, has competition season in the Spring, so next year I will plan to power through a little more in the fall so we can take some time to just live in the Spring, for example. By fifth grade, children are pretty ready to help you plan a rhythm for the practicalities of each day. What day will they do their homework for that outside Spanish class? Will they do their main lesson before the other children or after? By sixth grade and up, if not before, they are going to have definite opinions about more than the practicalities of homeschooling but what things they will be studying and why – talk to them and see how you can work those things into the curriculum! ( I have found, very honestly, that by the time my children expresses an interest in studying something, at least in the early grades, it is Spring and that subject will be covered in the Fall. Amazing how that works out! ) High school can really be tailored toward their goals. Partnership is really important, and you can really work their interests around the major questions that the Waldorf curriculum poses for each grade of high school (see any Waldorf High School website’s curriculum outline for these years for more information).
You can base things around the family and what the family’s interests are as well, and also around where you live. I attended a talk about homeschooling high school by a terrific mother the other day, and they lived about two miles from our State Capital Building. They used the building and got involved with homeschooling legislature and saw first hand their representatives at work and how bills are made into laws. It is entirely appropriate to take your older children (and yes, the younger ones would tag along!) on what you are involved in, whether that be legislation, working on a CSA, helping mothers breastfeed, helping that elderly neighbor, or whatever comes up. Learning doesn’t only take place in a main lesson book! We are homeschoolers! Life is the lesson, college is a high point, but learning to be able to function in life in all areas is part and parcel of homeschooling!
As a homeschooler, schedule in field trips and trips to the beach or the mountains. That is partly why must people can homeschool, so they can have a life! Leave your house and explore your community. There are many wonderful field trips to be had through the natural world through all the grades, fourth graders are getting into local geography and maybe even geography of their country, fifth graders enjoy museum exhibits tying into Ancient Civilizations. Go and do! That is better than any main lesson book!
Always make time to get ready for festivals, whether you have a first grader or a sixth grader. Your middle school-aged child may grumble, but they will remember this when they are older and most likely look back at it fondly. Carry on with tradition, breathe life into it as your child has ideas, but carry on!
And just like a classroom teacher, use your strengths to teach your children and don’t feel guilty if you cannot do it all. Whatever you do well, just do it. I was never the biggest puppet maker for kindergarten and first grade. I LOVE puppets, but never had a lot of time to make them because my emphasis in all my afternoon free time with the children was on movement – getting them to swim, ride a bike, hiking in the woods or at the lake. No time to sit and make puppets in the afternoon, and at night I usually had a sleeping baby or just such short spurts of time it was hard to get ahold of it. No time at night. And then with the puppets I did needle felt inevitably my dog would get ahold of them and eat them! Now, with my middle child going into second grade, I feel like I have the chance to make some puppets and even though she is older, we are having puppets for her and for our toddler…and now I have an older helper in my soon to be fifth grader who loves handwork! So, some things come in time because we have life and not a school building where we stay after school to make things and we don’t have any other teachers to borrow things from! In our homeschooling group, we are thinking of starting a puppet library to rotate the props mothers have made, and that will help the mothers of kindergarten and early years. Wouldn’t that be wonderful? To have things to pass on? But I digress…my main point of all that rambling is that I personally do movement, community, music and singing, baking and cooking, cleaning, gardening really well..and I use my strengths, try to balance the rest of it and carry on! You can too!
Let go of your guilt. You are doing a great job! You don’t memorize well? Kindergarten stories with props should actually be relatively easy to memorize, but I think the problem there is with all our small children, our life forces are being stressed and stretched. Get a pretty notebook and write the story in it. For the older grades, there are many more stories and they are long and involve history – I don’t know mothers memorizing these stories and bringing them in that way at home. There is more reading together involved than would be at a Waldorf school. That is okay; this is home.
Which brings me to my next point: if you want to see something happen in your area regarding Waldorf homeschooling, you may have to take the bull by the horns and make it happen. Start that group. Get together with mothers of older homeschoolers, even if they homeschool a different way, and listen to their wisdom and tailor it for your family and your time. And you simply MUST get involved in what is going on in your state with the bigger picture of homeschooling; you must protect your right to homeschool in this way of homeschooling in a manner that doesn’t match up the “standard homeschooling grade subjects”. Homeschooling should not be public school in a box at home! If I wanted that, I could send my children to public school! Homeschooling should have freedom and form, more form as your children are small, and more freedom the older they become.
You are not in a school: public, Waldorf, or otherwise! Love what you do, find the joy! If your lessons are stale and everyone hates it, may I humbly suggest it is not the Waldorf curriculum but perhaps the way you are bringing it? (I know, I am sorry! You are probably ready to kick your computer screen now!) I find the number one problem most mothers have in bringing in the curriculum is it starts falling into this day one: review and present material, day one or day two: draw picture, day three: write. Where is the movement, the baking and cooking, the singing, the modeling, the painting, the NO main lesson book for this particular block but lots of oral recitation or making a big project that is different, like drawing a mural? Don’t get so stuck in a rut! And stop trying to bring it perfectly the way a Waldorf teacher would, you are home! Snuggle up on the sofa and read! Walk outside! Take breaks every fifteen minutes and stand up and sing. Set a timer so your desk work is limited and get up! Loosen up.
Love to you all,