February is such a great time to re-assess what is working and what is not. I have had conversations these past few weeks with several different homeschooling families about when to “do school” during the day. I don’t think there is a “right” answer; every family is different and we are not running Waldorf schools. And, because we are also (usually) the chef, driver, housekeeper, keeper of the tone of the home, and hopefully taking care of ourselves (and many of us also hold down an outside or from the home job while homeschooling!), we have a lot to consider when crafting a rhythm that works for the family. Because, really, the homeschooling rhythm cannot be separate from the home rhythm. Homeschooling is part of that home rhythm, but if you get up and the house is a mess and you have no food in your house, then probably homeschooling is going to go by the wayside whilst you clean up and go get food. (Okay, some homeschooling families live in remote areas and have well-stocked stores, so perhaps this is more of a suburban/urban challenge, but I am throwing it out there as an example!)
I can only share with you what is working for me this month…it changes frequently! Take what resonates with you, and works for you. We are all different. These are the things I try to examine each and every week:
- Self-care. I recently discovered my Vitamin D levels were at why-don’t-I-have-rickets- levels. It was rather shocking, considering that we live in a Southern climate and are outside a lot, but it also explained a lot about how I was feeling. So, I think if you are feeling as if everything is chaotic and awful and fatiguing, start with yourself and perhaps a trip to your medical professional. Also, are there any medical trips you need to make each week? Are there things you need to do each day for your own health? Most homeschooling mothers I know run from sun-up to sun-down. So seriously, where can your self-care go? That takes thought and it may involve cutting back somewhere else.
- A schedule for meal planning, shopping for food and cleaning. Use of crock-pots, Instapots,etc are usually helpful.
- Knowing if there is anything “special” coming up in the week – festival celebrations, birthday parties, etc It helps to plan ahead!
- Check your amount of running around outside of your home.
- Look ahead on what you are teaching! It really helps to have things planned ahead, for example, to have your watercolor painting done or an example of your modeling done or an idea of what the summary should say. It is a lot easier to fly by the seat of your pants in the early grades than it is the upper grades!
For us, we have been trying to get up by 7 and be ready to start school by 8:30 or 9. With having three children, it would be even better for me if we could start school by 8, but I find with breakfast, cleaning up the kitchen, starting laundry, pulling out food for dinner and the children doing chores with me, that is as early as it seems to get.
I usually work with our kindergartener first – circle, story, work of the day. Our eighth grader is usually working on something independently at this time. Our fifth grader is still not a good independent worker, so she usually has to wait for me. Depending upon the day, I might meet for fifteen or twenty minutes with our eighth grader to lay out work or answer any questions for her before I work with our kindergartener. It just depends.
Then I work with our fifth grader – usually this is opening activities, spelling, math if we are not doing a math block, main lesson activities and a chapter or two of a read-aloud. Our eighth grader is usually still working independently on Spanish, math, reading something for school, working on main lesson book pages, or helping with her little brother during this time.
Usually, our eighth grader gets in some time with me before lunch and then again right after lunch because everyone gets hungry by 11:30 or 12. Our fifth grader usually is the main lunch helper and sometimes solely responsible for lunch for the family. Our eighth grader’s school work with me usually consists of opening activities, reviewing her math and looking ahead to the next day’s math so she will be able to do it fairly independently, main lesson activities and a read-aloud. I don’t do a lot of formal spelling or grammar with her because that comes very naturally to my student, but we do spend time reviewing her Spanish vocabulary and grammar for her lesson for an outside class either when we meet in the morning or just on the fly. Our fifth grader at this time is usually helping with her little brother or reading or gasp-playing. If the weather is nice, they may be outside.
Some days go smoothly. Some days we are still working at three o clock. Some days I feel like someone gets short-changed, but that will even out and another day someone else will get short-changed in time with me. That is how it goes when you are using a very teacher-intensive method such as Waldorf Education, and especially if you have children who have learning challenges and need more of you or an older grade compared to kindergarten or an early grade.
People always ask about where to put handwork, music, etc. I try to incorporate music (and drama, speech and poetry) into main lesson activities and we do more formal music through our church’s program (which is part of the Royal Church School of Music ). We try to do handwork two afternoons a week, but fully admit I am thrilled when there is a handwork class with Waldorf people we know in our area since I would rather do that. I love fine arts, and I do like handwork, but I am not a handwork teacher by a long shot. My thought for fall, when I have a high schooler and middle schooler is to schedule two afternoons a week to do fine arts or handwork depending upon what outside classes are available, and use that time for our first grader to do handwork or festival preparation. And maybe in nice weather we will work outside and he can garden and such.
Things such as woodworking, foreign languages, even things like blacksmithing and glassblowing and basketry , I try to find in the community, even if it is something like a summer activity. For example, for high school , I feel grateful that we are within driving distance of a folk school that has a lot of blacksmithing, basketry, etc that we could do over the summer. I cannot do it all and also bring my older children to activities, take care of myself, and take care of the house and cooking. And I don’t even have a job outside the home!
It can be a complete struggle to meet everyone’s needs. People want to know what homeschooling is “really ” like, and I think with any teacher-driven method of homeschooling in what I described above would ring true for many families with multiple older children where you cannot really combine main lessons. I understand why people drift to unschooling, or field trip/road trip schooling or something where you can combine more as opposed to Waldorf. I have zero judgement about that. I also understand why those who love Waldorf Education sometimes move to an area where they have a Waldorf school available.
Homeschooling this way is hard. It takes planning. It takes perseverance. It takes organization. It also takes realizing you cannot do it all and that we homeschool hopefully for things such as family love and togetherness, fostering strong bonds between siblings, giving our children unhurried childhoods, having time to travel and experience life, spending time with extended family – whatever your reasons for homeschooling are, that these reasons are even “bigger” than each and every day’s highs and lows If something about your homeschooling is bothering you, now is time to take stock and make changes.
Lots of love,