Four Things To Do In The Year of Crazy

This year, as many of you know, has been a super tough year on my family.  We began homeschooling for the simple reason of wanting our children to have health in all its forms, and to choose a developmental educational method.  This year, health hit us all in the face over and over as one thing after another happened that involved a sick horse, sick extended family members, and accidents that required lots of follow-up appointments.  I gained a completely newfound  and amplified respect for mothers who homeschool through chronic illness of themselves or their children. The lack of rhythmicy was okay for a few months but honestly drove me (and my children) insane after the first few months.

I think if you homeschool long enough (my oldest at this writing is 16 and a half), at some point you may just hit a year like what we had.  Maybe it is illness or divorce or death or just one thing after another where the hits just keep coming.   In the midst of a year like that, what do you do?

Let Go.  I think the biggest thing I learned this year is to let go.  I thought I was letting go since my some of the children are older, but what I learned is that just by being physically here there is a lot I normally do and don’t think about it.  When I physically wasn’t present due to having to be in hospitals or meeting health care team members, they really had to step up. I always thought they were fairly independent and good at taking charge of household things, but I learned that they could pull it out without any supervision when they needed to. I also learned that I am still doing an awful lot that I probably need to just let go even when things are calmer.

I let go of things that normally  would bother me or seem like a big deal, extending down to end of year activities at this moment that in the past would seem stressful. I simply haven’t even been physically at home sometimes when my kids were.  I was out of state or out of town dealing with medical emergencies.  This year,  things such as end of year things that would normally be a bigger deal to get everything right and ready  are really no big deal  in the scheme of things.  To the things that normally would bother me in the scheme of dealing with teenagers, I asked myself, is it fatal?  Is it so unhealthful that I can’t stand it or is it something we will survive?  Can it be there with limits?  Let it go. Inner work is perhaps the biggest help here.  Pause and listen.

Find rhythm where you can.  In the beginning of some of these things, there was no rhythm.  We were needed  or I was needed at places daily in the middle of the day or the morning.  It didn’t feel like  much was happening as far as the academic end of school unless my students could do it on their own.  I set very small goals for schooling, and just felt that any little step was a step forward in our original plans.  It also helped that in general I plan less weeks and less days because I know life happens and I otherwise am too ambitious in what we should be covering.

What was comforting to me came from our unschooling friends.  I got remeinded that there is a lot to be learned in life in general and unschoolers go on to college or whatever their life plans are as well! I also took a very long-term view that everything we wanted to do, or at least most of it, would be covered by high school graduation!  As things would calm down, some rhythm would emerge.  Maybe it wasn’t a normal rhythm, but a rhythm nontheless.  Let go, and grab onto what you can regarding rhythm.  Listen when everyone is tired and says they cannot do one more appointment.  Find the spots of rest.  Don’t push through.

Do what you can.  We did get through blocks this year and math practice and reading practice for our little student and more.  We didn’t take field trips really, but things happened – just at a slower pace.  Waldorf homeschooling doesn’t mean covering 9 blocks a year.  It means sinkly deeply into what you are doing; that less is more; and that skills are being supported and emerging.  It also means total overall health.  All you can do is what you can do!

When it is all over, take time to rebuild.  We are looking forward to a summer of rejuvenation and a new year in the fall.

Many blessings,

Carrie

 

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The Original Waldorf Curriculum Is The Simplest

I think my ideal Waldorf curriculum for homeschoolers would stick closer to Steiner’s original indications from his educational lectures, especially the indications found in “Discussions With Teachers” and “Practical Advice to Teachers.”  What I love about these sources is that it breaks down the Waldorf curriculum so simply.  The Waldorf Schools have much more in the way of speciality staffing, and more children and more hours to fill than we do in homeschooling.  Therefore, I think we can stick to  the simplicity that Steiner laid out originally rather than trying to attempt all of the blocks that the schools bring in a year.

I personally feel we cannot do eurythmy at home but many instead substitute movement with verses and songs; I feel foreign languages are very difficult for most American homeschoolers unless they already happen to be bilingual; and music (flute in particular) can be hard even for the musically talented homeschoolers.  Many homeschoolers will sing with their children, but progression in music really comes with the community groups when children are old enough to be in a community orchestra, band, or choir.  I have come to the conclusion that these areas can be left aside until opportunities in the community present itself, and unless these areas come easy there are plenty of other things for homeschoolers who love Steiner’s indications to focus upon.

Ages 7-9 – Fairy Tales, Animal Stories, and Old Testament stories for drawing, writing from drawing, and then reading from writing.  Math.  Foreign languages (although this is terribly hard for the majority of homeschoolers unless they themselves are fluent in multiple languages); drawing; painting; modeling; music.  To these indications, I would add nature studies because homeschoolers do such a great job with that at home!

Ages 9-12 – Scenes from Ancient History, (4th),  Medieval History (5th), and Modern History (6th) (grades for the United States added by me; original indications by Steiner).  Grammar, the world of animals, the world of plants, geometry, physics, geography. Arthimetic, drawing, painting, music, foreign languages.

Ages 12+ – 15  Knowledge of the varying tribes and races of the world; knowledge of the people of the earth.  Grammmar, minerals, physics, chemistry, foreign language, history, geography, math, drawing, painting, music.

It sounds so simple laid out here like this, with long 6-8 week blocks to really sink into the material.

I think where homeschoolers get bogged down is in all the things the Waldorf Schools do, which we can never do at home, and in their own ideas of not being qualified to carry out an artistically-based curriculum.  It seems overwhelming, but really one must just try it.  The more you actually do it instead of think about it, the more things will come together. 🙂

I promise it is not that hard.  It can be simple.  I think we make it much harder than it is should be.  It shouldn’t be more difficult than other other methodology of homeschooling.  More insights from my re-reading of Steiner’s lectures to come.

Blessings,
Carrie

 

Begin With The Adult In Mind: The Principle-Centered Homeschool

Usually homeschooling begins with a basic question:  why do we want to homeschool?  Sometimes this is for academic reasons, for lifestyle reasons, for religious reasons, for reasons of attachment within the family being prioritized.  When a family decides to “try out homeschooling,” many times the next step is to “pick curriculum.”  Often, in order to pick curriculum one finds an attraction (or aversion) to a way of teaching. Sometimes families don’t know, and they have to spend a lot of time sorting through what is out there – classical, Thomas Jefferson, unschooling, Charlotte Mason, wildschooling, Montessori, on-line schooling, school at home (public school books), Waldorf, eclectic, secular or religious….  While I find most families generally end up in the eclectic camp over the years, or sometimes people have to pull across methodologies to find products that help them meet their children’s needs,  these attractions and aversions can be helpful into picking specific curriculum support in the beginning.

A thought I have had lately is that what may better serve the hunt for a  homeschooling methodology that fits is much like Stephen Covey says:  begin with the end in mind.  Begin with the biggest, broadest picture of the developing human being as an adult.  What kind of adult will your child be?  This is bigger than just supporting academics.  I started our homeschool journey with the general idea of supporting health in a way that coincided with developmental unfolding.   I choose Waldorf homeschooling as our means to this end in homeschooling, but there are different paths to health for different families.

Where this idea of “what will the adult be” impacts homeschooling to me is in  the day to day implementation of whatever homeschooling methodology one chooses.  So, in my  day to day implementation of Waldorf homeschooling, thinking of  “the end in mind” may make my Waldorf homeschool look differently than other Waldorf homeschools because I am specifically thinking about our family and the children in front of me.  What can I do today to support the health of my adult child tomorrow?  What do my spouse and I hope for that adult child?   My spouse has definite ideas, for sure!   So there begins the  principle-centered homeschool.  Here are my principles, and maybe it will stimulate you to make your own general list that is for your family and your children:

**I have a general picture in my head of an adult who has moved from the idea of belonging to God (our religious beliefs) and belonging to family, and then belonging to a community and then belonging to the world as a positive force.   And this is not just a feeling of belonging as a taking, but the idea that the adult will  act sensitively in their belonging in order to help others belong.  As an adult who knows themselves and their priorities and values , they can take care of themselves (physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually), and care for the environment  (local and world) and  other people, but can also receive and accept care.  Again, this is within a family, community, and world context.  We want them to  know that belonging is being part of something bigger than themselves and bigger than what they personally want, and about what is right and ethical and moral?  Self-control and self-denial is often part of it and not to be feared but to be embraced.

**An adult who can solve conflicts in a meaningful way, including using emotional intelligence  and empathy, listening skills, and boundaries for intimate relationships and in understanding other people.  An adult who respects the dignity of all human beings and who will work in a larger context for social change and supportive environmental change when injustices occur. We expect a high level of ethics, morality, and thinking about other people.   This is reinforced in our homeschooling, but also in our place of worship as the idea of supporting social justice is in our baptismal vows. Purpose and meaningful experiences are a huge part of building these skills.

**An adult who has a growth mindset and who can see the difference between stretching potential through hard work and perseverance but also the need to stop spinning wheels and try a different approach if something isn’t working well; the ability of discernment.

**An adult who understands play,  fun, spontaneity, movement, and joy for overall health and as part of being even-tempered.  This is an important balance to the first three areas I mentioned. 

So, in my homeschooling, I work hard to make our day-to day choices in  the curriculum reflect these ultimate principles through our shared family experiences on each child’s level.  These meaningful experiences is what it is all about, and cannot be contained in any curriculum book.

I would love hearing how other families think about what is important to them while homeschooling.

Blessings,
Carrie

 

 

Dyslexia + Waldorf

I wrote a post some time ago entitled,“Dyslexia, Dyscalculia, Dysgraphia and Waldorf Homeschooling”   regarding working with the dyslexic child within the Waldorf homeschooling curriculum.  This first post was much longer, and there is a lot of information about movement and visual therapy and other things on this blog.  This post, today, is sort of the quick and dirty in terms of how many parents homeschooling with Waldorf feel.  Remember that dyslexia covers a wide range, and that it can “bleed” over into handwriting or math, some people use different terms for that as I did in the post linked above, but some people just term it all under an umbrella called “dyslexia”

In the post above, I mentioned that most homeschooling parents end up using a more structured reading and/or spelling resource that is outside of Waldorf because these children NEED and HAVE to have explicit instruction.  And, I stand by the point that part of teaching IS to provide this explicit instruction to all children.  Yes, some children learn to write, read, and spell from making up summaries.  But I would venture to say that most children need more than that unless they are a good organic writer. Our oldest was a good organic writer and I have had to work much harder with our other two children.   Most of the Waldorf curriculums do talk about the whole language approach, summary writing, using a combination of phonics, word families, sight words, and spelling rules.  Not all curriculums go into much detail about how to do this, however.

So, the  parts of teaching a child with moderate to severe dyslexia, to me, means several things in these stages:

The “something isn’t quite right” stage.  This may mean going forward with the idea that you are teaching to dyslexia or learning challenges without having had formal testing, or this may be the stage where your child has been tested and you have an official diagnosis.  This may also be the stage where other therapies are involved, such as visual therapy for visual convergence insufficiency, or occupational therapy to help with handwriting.    Resources for Waldorf homeschoolers may also include Extra Lesson Work, Eurythmy, working with an anthroposophic doctor and more. This stage usually for Waldorf children  is anywhere between Grades 2-4.  Hopefully with more Waldorf homeschoolers aware, we can start catching dyslexia earlier and providing the most effective help.

Intervention for direct reading, writing, and spelling instruction.  Waldorf families often add mainstream products to their homeschooling day, which means they are doing separate programs on top of a Main Lesson.  This is hard, and because the timetable in which children with dyslexia unfold, this can be years of extra instruction on top of main lessons, which takes a lot of time. Sometimes dyslexia really affects things like drawing or modeling or painting if handwriting is also affected, in which case some Waldorf homeschoolers feel like their children are missing the “best parts” of Waldorf homeschooling. One thing I want to say here, is not that art instruction isn’t a goal of Waldorf Education, but the ultimate goal is art as a spiritual activity, so keep heart!    More on that in a later post!  Unlike many mainstream homeschooling methods, we probably aren’t reaching for assistive technologies right off the bat due to the younger age of our students and our strong belief in bringing in technology at a later time for overall development.  We may, however, as a family, use some audio resources, and we continue to read aloud a lot as a family.

Looking for accommodations.  There may be a point of some catch-up, but as the workload increases in sixth grade and up, many families are hunting for reasonable accommodations even as they continue to work on reading, writing, spelling, comprehension.  It typically takes a child with dyslexia a longer time to learn to type, even though typing is most people’s answer to slow handwriting in the dyslexic child.  This great post talks about some of the tools for dyslexia, some of the new technology out there, and how to adjust those typing programs to be more effective!

I am in the journey with you, and am currently hunting for technological accommodations to try out in preparation for eighth grade and high school!  Will let you all know what we love.

Blessings and love,
Carrie

The American Waldorf Homeschooling Curriculum

Those of you who have followed this blog for years know that when I could come up for air from the busy times of being in the trenches with my own three children I have been dreaming of what an American Waldorf homeschooling curriculum would look like.  There is a chart compiled by the esteemed David Mitchell that many schools and homeschoolers use entitled, “The Waldorf Curriculum:  An Overview for American Waldorf Teachers” with the sub-statement in large letters:  “These course descriptions present possibilities for the American teacher to expand upon.”  This is the place where many American Waldorf homeschoolers look, and it can be a good overview for those looking to familiarize themselves with some of the things Steiner said, and some of the traditions of the Waldorf School.

I have written before in these posts about some of the American impulses I can see or visualize in the Waldorf curriculum:

Extending Inigenous Cultures Throughout the Waldorf Curriculum (Specifically for the Americas!)

Extending Africa Through the Curriculum (one of my favorite posts, suggestions for extending African history and culture all the way through tenth grade!)

Designing Eighth Grade American History Blocks

High School American History

Third Grade Native American Block

The American Impulse in Waldorf Homeschooling  (from 2013, that is quite some time ago!  I have been thinking about this subject for a long time!)

I appreaciate those of you who ask questions, who ask about the curriculum.  Because, in case you haven’t noticed, Waldorf homeschooling isn’t really popular. Yes, wooden toys and handmaking and nature is popular.  The idea of being “Waldorf-inspired” is often popular for kindergarten through second grade, but drops dramatically after that. I know of very few middle school and high school Waldorf homeschoolers – they are spread out around the entire United States.  Waldorf homeschooling itself is fairly unpopular.  You never see a Waldorf curriculum provider at a state homeschooling conference!  It is often mentioned in homeschooling how-to books as one of the methodologies of homeschooling, but not much beyond that.

Homeschoolers are a fiercely independent lot, and they want to tease out what Rudolf Steiner really indicated and in what lecture (was it in the educational lectures, the general anthroposophy lectures?  where?) and how this actually fits the child in front of them in this day and age.   It is teacher-intenstive for parents who are stretched for time, and it is specialist-intensive from the school model with separate teachers for so many of the subjects that make up what homeschoolers see as the beauty of Waldorf education – foreign languages, games and eurythmy, handwork, orchestra and voice and band, drama.  All of these things are hard to come by at home and are negatives for most homeschooling parents trying to distinguish between methodologies of homeschooling.  Perhaps the traditions of the Waldorf School, in the large sense are a wonderful fit for every child, but in a small sense some of it is very difficult for the average homeschooler. Some Waldorf teachers have gone on to argue how Waldorf homeschooling shouldn’t really exist, because Steiner was laying out indications for a school setting and how this model is not possible for home for one child, let alone multiple children of different grades being taught at the same time.  But then, we also hear that the Waldorf Curriculum is living and breathing as well and is adaptable to different geographic locations around the world – so why would it not be adaptable to homeschooling?   It can all be quite confusing, especially to those unversed in the traditions of the school or who haven’t read Steiner.

I started homeschooling my children for HEALTH.  Nothing was more important to me than their spiritual, physical, mental, and emotional health.  I have always felt Waldorf was the best educational vehicle to meet this goal.  It has very specific indications for the developing child, who is seen as a holistic being and it  is taught through the model of head, hearts and feeling life, and hands and practical work.  The stories for each grade meet that child, and we tailor our stories and curriculum to our particular locality , our particular place in the world!  This is such a hard thing to put in any Waldorf curriculum!  A Waldorf curriculum writer is not going to know about my tiny location in the Southeast, our particular ethinic and cultural background as a family, our particular interests, our health challenges,  and what is around me regarding places of geographic, cultural, and historical interst!   There will not be enough resources in any homeschooling curriculum to bend to all of that, so I write my own  year after year.

However,  I would like to see Steiner’s original indications for a breathing curriculum outline for American homeschoolers to love and be attracted to.  Otherwise, the healing impulse of Waldorf Education is going to miss most of a generation of homeschoolers in a time when our children’s health is more threatened than ever before.  This seems a complete shame to me at a point when what I care most about is the health of my children’s generation. I have been asked by several readers to write some blocks for specific content areas for specific grades in order to meet some of the American needs of the curriculum and I am contemplating that. 

Stay tuned for more.

Many blessings,
carrie

 

The Human Being and Animal

This is a typical fourth grade block for Waldorf Schools, and it confuses many homeschooling parents!   I find it to be based in a deeply anthroposophic approach that transcends much more than zoology and takes some familiarity to really carry this approach.  I think the main assumptions of this block are very foreign to many people.  You can find the roots of this subject in Steiner’s lectures, particularly references sprinkled throughout “Discussions With Teachers.”  One thing Steiner says is that “...we should remain clear in our minds that a human being is really the whole animal kingdom.  The animal kingdom in its entirety is humankind.  You cannot, of course, present ideas of this kind to the children theoretically, and you certainly should not do so.”

So, we think about bringing this through example.  Steiner talks about  studying the animal world before the plant world, which Waldorf Schools typically do, and he talks about using cuttlefish, mouse, horse and a person as good examples.  He also talks about (in “Practical Advice to Teachers”, lecture 7), about relating all animals to the human being.  He advises animal study in third grade (which most Waldorf Schools and most homeschoolers don’t do), and then in the fourth grade  looking at the animal kingdom scientifically in its relationship to the human being, and then in fifth grade adding less familiar animals, and then moving the study into plants in the fifth grade, and more botany in sixth grade plus mineralogy in conjunction with geography.  Then one moves into physics, chemistry, and physiology of the human being and back into high school biologic sciences in grades 9-12.

So, the first place to start is to look at the human body.  What is the head like? What is the trunk like?  What makes human beings different than animals?  Eventually, through study, we find that what makes us different is our ability to be upright, which frees our hands to help and serve others.  Animals are wonderful, and very specialized!  Human beings are not so specialized, we are generalists.  We will never have the keen eyesight of the beautiful eagle, nor the incredible body that is so much a head and can do so many interesting things as an octopus, but instead in a way carry around these different aspects within ourselves and all the aspects of the specialized animals make up humankind.  We can look at different animals and see are they chiefly animals of a “head nature” or a “trunk nature” and look at different types of limbs…Charles Kovacs postulated in his book that human beings are the only true limb animals in a sense because our hands are then free to serve all of humanity.

I think the confusion comes in as some anthroposophic resources divide the animals by whether or not they are head, trunk, or limb animals OR through a look at the threefold nature of animals – are they mainly “ruled” by their metabolic/digestive system, such as a cow or bison; or by their  rhythmic system, like a dog, or by their nervous/thinking system?  Again, these are generally foreign ways to look at animals for those of us raised without a spiritual scientific look at the human being and the animal kingdom, so it takes some getting used to to decide if one or both of these approaches resonates.  I like to do both of these approaches in the first block of the Human Being and Animal. You can see how I do this in the notes of these blocks below.

After this introduction and tying in of the animal kingdom to the human being, we can then  move into a second block that shows all of the differen types of animals in perhaps a more traditional manner, but always keeping in mind sympathy and antipathy.   Where do different groups compare and where do they contrast?  This block usually contains a researched report as well.  So, one would cover birds, reptiles, amphibians, fish, insects, mammals, etc as suitable for a fourth grader.  For this block, I like to tie it into our state’s animals, such as our state reptile, our state fish, etc to further illustrate the local geography a fourth grader has been studying during this year.   I also like to include a few weeks study on ocean animals specifically because we live in a state that has a coastline, and this furthers our study of local geography.  You have the upper grades to get into more specific zoological considerations if you add a zoology block in seventh grade, study animals along with geography of the world, and then of course in high school  you will have the biological sciences throughout the high school years.

The art opportunities in these blocks are amazing!  You can paint, draw, model with clay, create dioramas and origami and more.   Speech work with amazing poems, tongue twisters, and riddles is also so much of this block!  Field trips are also a wonderful part of this block, and we can do many!  We have done farm, aquarium, zoo, animal rehabiliation center, vet all as field trips for this block.

My favorite resources for this block include:  “Drawing From The Book of Nature;”  “The Human Being and the Animal” by Charles Kovacs; the free files from Marsha Johnson at waldorfhomeeducators@yahoogroups.com,  many library books about the specific animals I have chosen to present, “Learning About The World Through Modeling” by Auer, “Painting and Drawing in the Waldorf Schools”, the Christopherus “The Human Being and Animal” booklet; and there are free resources in the East African training manual for Waldorf teachers and Waldorf Inspirations.

So, in practice, just as an example, the last time I did fourth grade my blocks were structured somewhat like this:

Block One, Week One – 

Poetry for the Creation in the World, (we are Episcopalian so we used a prayer from our Book of Common Prayer).  I usually have the student lay down on a large piece of butcher block paper and we trace each other and have everyone fill in their own bodies with crayons or pencils.    We take a good look at ourselves, and write down what are some of the things we can do?  What can our younger sibling do?  What can adults do?

We also do a picture of ourselves as a round head, a crescent-shaped body, and limbs that are raying out at the hands. This idea came from Marsha Johnson, Master Waldorf Teacher, in her free fourth grade files available within her Yahoo Group waldorfhomeeducators@yahoogroups.com and she has more details on the why’s and how’s of presenting this in her files.  Once the drawing is done in crayon, we paint over it in watercolor paints and it makes a beautiful resist painting.

We talk about our heads and how our head sits quietly even if we are running and jumping around, how the head is along for the ride taking in everything around us as we process the information that comes in through our senses.  There are some animals that act almost wholly like a human head.  The cuttlefish is a prime example of this as the cuttlefish hardly moves but has to take water in and squirt it out in order to propel himself, and the cuttlefish takes in what he sees with his large eyes, and even his skin changes color in response.  Snails are another great choice, and fun to model with a sea shell and beeswax.    We have also looked at the squid (great fun to paint!) and talked about giant squid.

Week Two –

For animals that seem especially adapted to their environment due to their trunk, we first looked at the seal. This animal is mainly found in the United States far away from our state, but most children love the idea of seals so it seems like a good place to start.  Seals are fun to draw, and there is a wonderful poem by Rudyard Kipling called, “Seal Lullaby”.  We also talked about the  Eastern Harvest Mouse, since that is more specific to our region (but not as exciting as a seal! LOL).

Finally, we looked at the different limbs of different animals and connected these animals with how the limbs are specialized for the environment the animal is in.  The mole is a wonderful example; one of my children did a report on elephants and her interest in the elephant stemmed from our discussion of the elephant’s limbs.  We compared the padded feet of the elephant to the hooves of horses as well, and drew horses. Finally, we can compare this to the human being who doesn’t have specialized hands for flying, digging, or swimming but instead we can use our hands to serve others and the world. This is beauty in the world, and we can create it with what our hands do.

Week Three –

You could end as above, (some families do and that’s fine!) , or move into a threefold look at the animals.  I usually use the American bison as an example of an animal associated with  metabolic/digestive  forces, and this can lead to great modeling, dioramas, and probably rabbit trails into geography as the first thoroughfares of North America were traces made by bison and deer in seasonal migration and between feeding grounds and salt licks.  Many of these routes were followed by Native Americans and then later by explorers and  settlers (see how this all fits together as a foundation for the upper grades? )  I also like to mention our National Park System; most Waldorf homeschoolers in America have camped and explored different National Parks so this idea of protecting and preserving our lands is an important American concept.

We can then look at a the discerning, thinking American Eagle (beautiful poetry), and the rhythmical system that the dog is so associated with.  Great opportunities for modeling and making dioramas!  Lastly, we can create the very iconic Waldorf picture of the human being with the animals representing these realms superimposed on the human being. If we, as human beings are not specialists or ruled by one particular area, then what do we have?  We are generalists, and we can look briefly at the development of the human being.  Many fourth grade children are astonished to know that adults are still developing too throughout the life span!  We receive gifts from the animal kingdom, and have relationships with the animals kingdom for food, domestication, pets, and more but our gift to the animals is our abilities in conservation, in our stewardship, in our ability to wonder and awe at the beautiful planet we live on! We can talk about concrete ways we can help the animals.

The second block, at least the way I do it, is very specific to our state.  I live in the Southeastern United States, so I picked our state and regional animals to represent general animal categories.  The richest biodiversity of reptiles and amphibians in the United States is concentrated in the Southeast, so I usually start there.  This is a great time to paint, and to look at these creatures closely.  Salamanders are a great study.  For reptiles, I usually look at the American Alligator as this is a keystone species ( a keystone species is a species that has a very large affect on its environment even though the abundance of the species may be small, and it supports other species in its habitat). I find keystone species to be good subjects for reports as well.  For reptiles, I also like looking at turtles and tortoises, (finding out the differences!), and if you are in a coastal state, the types of sea turtles.  This also incorporates a lot of discussion about geography.  For example, our state has barrier islands, which hosts a large number of sea turtle nests.

In the second week, we usually look at birds.  This is also a good time to look at the biographies of such greats as James Audoban or Tory Peterson.  We can get a good general look at birds, visit falconers, places that rehabilitate injured birds, go to birds of prey shows, and more.  We also take a close look at our state bird and look at water birds as well.

Week three  and four is generally mammals, which is a huge and diverse category ranging from moles to flying bats to whales to manatees to donkeys.  Again, I try to stick more local as I think this makes the most sense to a fourth grader.  The American marsupial the opossum is very interesting to study, and I think educational as many people carry about misconceptions about the opposum.  We also usually look at beavers as those are right outside our neighborhood, and coyotes and bobcats as those are also close. Primates I tend to save until our seventh grade geography studies, but also can be looked at.

For week five, because we are a coastal state, we look at our own coast and animals in the coast.  I usually start with ideas about waterways (which end in the ocean in our state). So, as we find out about the watersheds in our state, we find out about the bass family as that is common.  Then we look at oceans.  We read about Jacques Cousteau and Sylvia Earle, and learn about the different ocean zones.  Ninety percent of marine life lives in the sunlight zone, but some that live in that zone dive down into the twilight or midnight zone (Sperm whales are a great example!).  We talk about the hatchet fish, the lantern fish, bioluminescence and some of the animals that live in these deep zones.  We also talk about the ocean floor and the trenches, which is a great foundation for  geography and mineralogy in the sixth grade.

Lastly, sometime in May to go along with our gardening, we look carefully at insects.  Which insects are creatures of the dark, which ones are hard versus soft, what is the metamorphosis of the butterfly and other life cycles?  Which insects are social?  How do pollinators work and what kinds of pollinators can we offer as a family to our insect friends?

These are just some ideas from my experience.  I hope you and your student have a wonderful time in this block!

Blessings and love,
carrie

 

 

Growth Mindset + Waldorf Homeschooling

Waldorf homeschooling and Waldorf Education is amazing in that it teaches and guides children to be true “Renaissance People” – ones who can nurture themselves, humanity and the environment, provide compassion for others, explore all of the traditional arts and handicrafts, music, drama, academics and more.

Growth Mindset is the idea that individuals can develop their talents and their learning through hard work, good strategies,  repeated mistakes and growth from those mistakes, and input from others, as opposed to just “I was born smart” or “I was born dumb.”  This idea is one that is certainly trending in both education and in business. So,  I want to be very clear that to me all the talk about “growth mindset” as a growing educational trend in public schools has been in Waldorf Education all along through such things as  repeated attempts at mastery, repeated resilience to do and try things that are foreign, not just  doing the things that are comfortable, the use of a strong classroom organism to help an individual grow and more.

So where does the idea of growth mindset fit into Waldorf homeschooling?  Sometimes it is harder at home, I believe.  We may have a second grader comparing him or herself to much older siblings.  We may have children that seem unmotivated no matter how much vigor we bring to designing a lesson, and with no peer group to carry it along, it can be harder.  These are a few of the realities that homeschooling families face in the day to day of being in the trenches with our children as teachers and as parents.  However, we can certainly impart a growth mindset to our children and we can do this in accordance with the developmental features of Waldorf Education.

For those under the age of 9, we MODEL growth mindset for our children.  We look for times when we make mistakes and bring what we have learned that to the forefront as in incredible model.  We can use words to describe the process and the hard work of creating rather than focusing on the outcome, and we can use  brillant phrasing -short and concise- to help our children.  If you don’t know what to say, try the list here.  We don’t need to psychoanalyze what growth mindset is for our six-year-old, but we just do it in our actions and in the way we approach thing. We help find strategies that help our children be successful, and help them develop the skills to try again.  Ways to do that include not just “book work” but problem solving in outdoor play in a group of children and allowing plenty of time for free play and exploration.  If you absolutely MUST read books to your children about growth mindset, please let it be a little more sideways than what you would use with a ten-year-old.  I like books like “Flight School” by Lita Judge; “Whistle for Willie” by Ezra Jack Keats; “Brave Irene” by William Steig, “Extra Yarn” by Barrett, “the Dot” and “Ish” by Reynolds as examples of growth mindset that don’t hit you over the head but show the model of resilience and perseverance.

For those ages ten and up, I think you can start to delve a little deeper, especially for those children that are struggling in this area due to perfectionism or due to learning disabilities and who have already realized they are not quite where their friends are academically.  We still model, we still use the great words, but we work hard to help THEM develop their own strategies to be successful.  This is what they will need in the upper grades.  I like books like “Hana Hashimoto: Sixth Violin” by Uegaki and Leng  as an example of the hard work needed to shine.    I think it can be important for both of these groups of children to hear this.

For those twelve and up,  you can get a little more heady since they have more skills to see cause and effect readily.  “Your Fantastic, Elastic Brain” by Deak and Ackerly is a good place to start, and there are some wonderful resources for growth mindset for middle schoolers available on Teachers Pay Teachers.  I have used this ten lesson unit by Angela Watson with our upper middle and lower high schoolers.  Books for children this age include “Salt In His Shoes” by Dolores Jordan, “Nadia, The Girl Who Couldn’t Sit Still” by Karlin Gray, “A Splash of Red: The Life and Art of Horace Pippin,” and all the wonderful biographies we bring through history in the sixth through eighth grades as teachers.

For those past the 15/16 change and adults: They might enjoy Dweck’s “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success.” and some of the other books about growth mindset available in the business section.   If a teen this age is not motivated, sometimes a gentle push toward a class or experience might just change their whole life for the better. This is the part of parenting that is hard – knowing how much to push and how much to let go when older teens are on the cusp of adulthood.  However, sometimes even older teens need an objective eye to encourage them to go for something great and to get a chance to stretch their growth mindset wings.  It will serve them well later in adulthood.

How are you nurturing growth mindset in a developmentally appropriate way?

Blessings,
Carrie