Yesterday, this subject of simplifying came up on a Waldorf homeschooling Facebook discussion group. It struck a chord with me as I have been sitting down intermittently to make daily schedules for fall since May and I sat down to work on it again this week. I think I have made about 20 different schedules and none of them are completely satisfying and peaceful. None of the “rhythms” of the day have enough time and space for me… and I feel like when there is something I would love my little second grader to participate in, or just be, our high schooler has to be somewhere or needs more time for her lessons. The reality of three main lessons, multiple high school subjects that need to be run in tracks, a little second grader, a seventh grader who needs extra lessons in math and writing, and the need for time to run subjects and activities as a family and take care of my own health can hit hard. At this point, there just aren’t enough hours in the day!
This has been running through my mind all summer simply because our school year that just ended was a rough and challenging year. I felt completely burned out after 10 years of teaching, and I really thought the only way to fix it might be just to put everyone in school whether they wanted to go or were able to do well or not. Eveyone needed so much, and with the giant spread in ages in our household, what everyone needed was so different! What a recipe for exhaustion! Seriously!
This year, I am roaring back with some different ideas. I shared some of my general tips for simplifying Waldorf homeschooling on that Facebook group, and I will share some of them here plus some other ideas. I feel fortunate I didn’t really deal with a lot of burnout and feeling weighty about school until this year.
My best tips:
Depending upon your state laws, plan a shorter year. Plan 32- 34 weeks instead of 36 and that way if you get behind you won’t feel insane. Also, younger grades don’t need as many weeks of school as high schoolers do!
Depending upon your state laws, plan a three to four day school week with a day to just be at home or take a field trip. Again, younger grades don’t need a five day week.
So, overall if you have one grade and kindergarten aged children, please, please don’t overschedule and panic.
Part of simplifying is also thinking about the ESSENTIAL parts of what your children will need for the future. Part of simplifying is also thinking about the ESSENTIAL parts of what your children will need for the future. For example, if you have children in grades 3-5, I think you SHOULD be planning extra math lessons a week if it is not a math block. Children need not only procedural practice, but math experiences – Waldorf Education is really good at this with all the practical things we do, but I still feel as if many Waldorf homeschoolers could do a better job in math. Math also tends to be the blocks that get knocked down in number as children move up in the grades.
Schedule everyone to be on a math block together, a language arts block together, etc , so you don’t have to switch gears so much if that kind of thing bothers you. Could you schedule painting, modeling, seasonal crafts, etc all together?
What could you combine in blocks? This year I am starting the year with tales from Buddhism for our second grader; and the life of Buddha which will combine my seventh and tenth grader. Are there absolutely ANY places you can combine main lessons to save time? This, I think, could be the NUMBER ONE reason to involve a consultant in planning your year. A consultant who is very, very familiar with the curriculum might help you find those places.
What can you farm out? Is there a handwork teacher? A music teacher? A tutor? If there is and it is in your budget, that can be so helpful. I am not a great knitter, and I still can’t crochet. This is because I haven’t tried because honestly it is not a priority on top of everything else. It is okay to know your limits, and to look for outside teachers, other homeschooling parents, and community groups to help you. It is ideal if you can find Waldorf teachers in your area, but if not, I feel after the nine year change children can handle more of the non-Waldorfy teachers. Little yarn shops for knitting are probably fine for desperate parents with first and second graders. I would rather they learn to knit despite lack of Waldorf methodology! That is just realistic! We have been fortunate in our area to have a trained Waldorf handwork teacher who does work with homeschoolers. What a gift!
Foreign language – can you find a tutor? Can you leave it until high school? Can you keep exposing to the culture of the target language you want and then bring in the language?Honestly, this an area where most Waldorf homeschoolers struggle, especially if they live in rural areas. Foreign languages are so important, and in Waldorf Schools, students would be immersed in two languages, but this may or may not work at home. We used tutors and German School and everything else for years, but when it came down to it, middle school was a large gap with tutors or available language schools in our area and we are started over in eighth grade with Spanish I (high school level).
Chores – I find as children move up in the grades, they are not doing NEARLY enough work to help keep the house going. Homeschooling multiple children in grades 3 and up is a full-time job. You need help! I have a GIANT (takes up an entire door) chore chart. It is ugly and not Waldorfy looking at all. Everyone has at LEAST three chores a day on top of their own rooms, plus extra chores to pick from for pick a chore, morning habits to try to work on, and chores I will pay for. The harder part for middle schoolers and high schoolers, I think, is having consequences for when the chores are NOT done. If you are working a full time job by homeschooling multiple children all day, you need help with meals and cleaning.
Nature and play is really important to keep burnout at bay. However, I have found as my children hit high school, it is not as simple. Not because they still don’t enjoy getting outside and playing and hiking and all of that, but for us it is hard to get everyone together. It is so worth it to plan it in. I usually try to make Fridays a bigger day for outside play, but now my high schooler has some outside classes that causes a shortened day for all of us on other days and we need Fridays…it just becomes trickier. Worthy but trickier.
INNER WORK. There is nothing more important. The more you think, “Wow. This year is going to be so hard and so challenging and everyone has such different needs and I can’t possibly meet them all and ….” Well, then the year will be harder and more challenging. I heard a quote the other day from a really positive athlete and he was saying how he was mentally focusing to make that run or that season the best it could be, his best yet. I find this, for me, is an effective way to look at things. I am looking at this year with an attitude of how can I make this year the best for my family (in its wholeness and entirety) yet? Everyone will get what they need in the long run. You must have this attitude, I think, especially in homeschooling high school.
Please share with me your best simplifying tricks. We already take on so much homeschooling in this way, with Waldorf. All homeschooling is work for the parent, but Waldorf homeschooling is a different beast than just throwing a book and workbook at a child. I think we must learn to be easy on ourselves and set boundaries in order to have a healthy life.
Great post! We are fortunate to have a Waldorf school in our community which my children attend. I am an avid knitter and just realized I would enjoy teaching younger Waldorf homeschoolers how to knit. You’ve inspired me to contact our local homeschooling group to see if I can help. There are also some wonderful videos online if you are in a pinch (to learn yourself). I highly recommend http://www.knittinghelp.com
I appreciated your comment on that thread and love this post. I’m saving to refer to as I plan and ponder our upcoming year. Thank you for being real!
Thank you for this post Carrie. So many helpful tidbits. We have a rising second grader, kindergartener, and 20 month old. I’m curious about the chores for your rising second grader, who sounds very much like my little guy when you describe him. Maybe you have done a post on chores previously so I don’t want you to have to repeat yourself I just think it is such a helpful topic: the when’s and what’s of the whole endeavor.
You are amazing, Carrie! Rock star! Awesome! Please know that many of us out here around the world are lifting you up! Thank you for sharing about your challenges this past year. I, too, have been reflecting lately on what worked and what didn’t last year. I’m excited for next year!!!
From a “grass is greener” standpoint, as the mother of an only child, I am envious that you have two teenage assistants! Thank you for writing about chores! I’ve bumped into quite a lot of writing recently on Waldorf-y blogs about not making or forcing children to help…and this has not been about little ones, but about 8, 9, 10 year olds and older. I completely respect every parent’s right and responsibility to determine what is right for their child and their family culture. And I’m glad that those families are doing what makes them happy. I am also glad that you are writing about chores and expecting children to contribute to the work of the household and the family. I’m glad that parents who are doing Waldorf and want to have their children help and participate can see another perspective on chores.
For our family, we would never force our child in a mean way, but we do have age-appropriate expectations for working alongside us, and she also (age six) has a five minute daily chore which she does independently from me. All of our work as a family–in the house, in the garden, and in our family business–is done together with pride and joy, and we have a lot of fun. Our child is also given plenty of time to wander off and enter her own world of play.
I am so grateful that Waldorf provides the opportunity to schedule blocks according to each family’s unique circumstances. We live in an extremely northern and cold climate. We spend lots of time outside every day, regardless of the weather. However, when spring finally comes and the light returns, there is an intense need (internal and practical, in terms of gardening and gathering) to be outside ALL THE TIME. This year, I kept going with our academic year rhythm, and it was fine, mostly. But I was definitely working against the best needs of our family.
This coming year (first grade!), we are going to can our regular morning lesson beginning in mid-April, and just do science/nature for the last seven weeks of the academic year. We will spend most of our time just being and doing, but we’ll also do some nature drawings outside. At this time, we will also switch from handwork to outside projects–simple woodworking projects, painting fences, etc.
I wish for you much clarity and joy in your planning for next year. It must be so hard in an urban/suburban area to set realistic boundaries for extra activities and time in the car, since there are so many, many offerings. Stay strong!
Thank you, Chris, for your lovely and kind words. Yes, it is definitely the age factor that is confounding…that 15/16 year change is very different, and I think the year before teenagers can drive themselves (in an area with limited public transportation) is the worst in many ways. So many places they want to go, and having to wait on someone to bring them! LOL.
I feel as if I am roaring back, and I am excited about fall!
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Very honest and informative post!! I’m sure you are doing a great job!!