Some mothers have been writing to me saying that their school is coming to a close, and they are feeling badly that they didn’t get to this block or that block. In my household, we will not be finishing geography of the United States this year and will carry it over into our study of Mexico, Canada and the Caribbean next year in order to complete our North American Geography. It is okay, it happens, and it will be okay next year.
Many times, and I am finding this to be particularly true as a child moves into grades four and beyond, it can become difficult to outline this “exact plan” and stick to it. For one thing, life always interrupts (well, that is at any grade), but I think with the children who are bit older things don’t always go down the same path that was outlined – you don’t always know what will go fast, what will provoke a beautiful rabbit trail, and what will go slow. Development and learning is not a linear line that trends ever upward, but can be this dance of back and forth and sideways too. The job of the teacher in these middle to upper grades I think becomes one of balance, gatekeeper in a sense as to what needs deepening now and when to know that this is a layer that will be deepened later.
One thing that always helps me is to think of the overlap and the custom touch.
Overlap: Overlap, to me, means where the grades could overlap. One could think of “Man and Animal” being in third grade by looking at farming animals, the traditional thought of “Man and Animal” in the fourth grade, and maybe extending more into ocean animals or something else in fifth or sixth grade.
Fairy tales are often thought of in conjunction with first grade, but I love Russian and Chinese or Japanese fairy tales for second grade. Native American tales often are thought of perhaps in third grade in conjunction with a study of shelters or in fourth grade in conjunction with local geography, but I have also used Native American trickster tales for form drawing in second grade, and have used some Native American tales in conjunction with United States geography here at the tail end of fourth grade and into fifth grade.
I think overlap often comes too in the form of field trips; whether this be to natural sites, seasonal activities, or to see folks working in real occupations. Seeing people doing real traditional craftsmen kind of work may be associated with third grade, but certainly there are many places this could be worked in in many different grades.
There is also, from what I am hearing from discussions of mothers with sixth through ninth graders, plenty of overlap, and chances to move different blocks around. I always enjoy hearing from these mothers and talking to them.
The Custom Touch: The customization comes from knowing your individual homeschool and your individual child. Nature stories are part and parcel of first and second grade, but look at where you live and what your child is interested in and how you can bring this to them in an age-appropriate manner. Nature blocks can be built around the ocean, the forest, the meadow.
The customization also comes from knowing where you are in the year. If it is the end of the year and your child is “done”, could you take a break? End the year? Switch blocks and start the new school year with the last block you skipped? There are many options, but you can’t be afraid to jump off the pages of whatever curriculum you are using. Again, school at home, home learning, looks much different than school.
To start planning for next year, I recommend going and looking at the tabs for each age under “Development” on the header of this blog. Knowing where your child is developmentally is really important and will help you put blocks in the best places for the school year. Think about the overarching themes and goals particular to your child for this year. Here are some examples in thoughts for planning:
Six year old Kindergarten Year: Movement, movement and movement; the child as a social being and a spiritual being who lives within community, building up the lower four of the twelve senses, building up the ability to sit still for a story (or if they really are sedentary, how to get them to move!), artistic work, laying the foundation for attention and orderly thinking with projects that take more than one step, real work, seasonal work.
Grade One: Movement, movement, movement. The child as a social being. To me, these two things in first grade even preclude learning the letters and numbers, which seem to be the things most people talk about in conjunction with first grade. I would rather see you do “school” two or three days a week and focus on movement and social experiences if that is where your child is deficient.
Grade Two: A deepening of grade one skills…such a wide variety of stories and things to pick from in this grade. A really fun, fun, grade.
Grade Three: More complex motor movement and games are needed; a strong focus on doing, on real work and seeing real people doing real work, how we live with authority, and how we hold authority over ourselves. I think “facts”, especially those related to practical work: cooking, gardening, handwork and building should hold a special place this year. Grade Three can be a “melty” year for many children in the nine year change, so I think knowing this and being able to plan plenty of time and space is important.
Grade Four: I like to think of this year as being past the nine year change and really seeing more of the “gray” in the world, how human beings are different than anything else on Earth, how we have the Divinity given to us by God within us and carry the capacity to rise up. I think we see that in the Norse myths, and in the zoology block focusing on man and animal and the spiritual relationship between men and animals. I think we also see this in the children, especially those who are ending the year aged ten and a half or so as they display a new steadiness, maturity and calmness perhaps not seen in previous years.
Yes, we are getting into facts. Facts about animals, facts about geography, facts in graphing and in fractions, but always with the human being as the spiritual center of what we are learning, always with your religious beliefs as an anchor and form as well.
Think about how many days a year you need to school, those seasons and when you will take breaks, what you will need to do to prepare for festivals and plot out the year the best you can. Then start plotting out your blocks.
Think about your day and how the needs of all family members needs to be met. Your older children, yes, they are important, but it is not fair to make small children sit through two or three “main lesson” periods of their older siblings five days a week. What is geared to the smallest members of your family?
Craft a beautiful rhythm that leaves no one behind. Think about your work, your home, and what needs nurturing as well.
And always, homeschooling is not school; not Waldorf school or any other school. Being outside in nature, walks, singing, festivals, your spiritual and religious life, reading aloud all snuggled on the couch are all parts of Waldorf homeschooling too.
I would love to hear where you all are in planning so far.