Weeks One and Two of Fifth and Eighth Grade

Hard to believe we are finishing up the second week of school.  After eight years of homeschooling the grades, and I guess more  years if you count in the last kindergarten year, I have come to a few conclusions regarding scheduling that could be helpful to other parents:

1.  Schedule your school year and have your blocks cover LESS time than the weeks of school you have available.  For instance, if you have 35 weeks for school, plan blocks for 32  weeks.  This way, you can take advantage of being a homeschooler and go visit places around you, go to neighborhood farms, or whatever it is in your area that you would like to visit and do during the school year and  not feel guilty about “losing days”.  This is not as big an issue in grades 1-5, as these experiences work into the curriculum and there is less “bookwork”,   but I think it does become more of an issue in the upper grades.

2.  Schedule your starting date carefully.  For quite a while when my oldest was little, we always started after Labor Day.  Then I adjusted and started when the children in our neighborhood were starting .  This year, our start date was around then.  One child in the grades was enthusiastic to go back and the other child was decidedly not.  So, you may not make everyone happy, but I feel like this year we could have started a few weeks after we actually did.

Six Year Old Kindergarten – It is so much fun having a little kindergartner in the house!  We have worked with the stories of St. Herman of Alaska, St. Mary and this coming week St. Aidan as part of our family religious life.  We have had a very long circle with foot plays, fingerplays,, and songs based upon the them of the garden, especially sunflowers and insects.  I have taken the story of “Hans and the Beautiful Flower” and modified it for our season and geographic area and told it with silk marionettes, with wooden figures, and without props.   We have baked, painted, made seasonal crafts, and modeled with beeswax.  Kindergarteners,, at least mine, are such willing helpers around the house too, so all the cleaning and sweeping is part of our daily lives and tasks.  Our little guy is just naturally counting forwards and backwards as part of life, and picking out letters and sounds by himself.  So, I think when we get to first grade next fall it will be a fun year.  I already have an idea for a theme for first grade circulating in my head!  Other than that,  he is busy playing and being active.

Fifth Grade –  We started this year with a good, solid rhythm.  We have two opening verses, several tongue twisters and then math games with either bean bags, a ball or copper rods, along with a botany verse and sometimes a tie-in with grammar.  Then we normally review math, cursive writing and/or some spelling, and have a brief break for a read-aloud .  These past few weeks we have read Holling C. Holling’s “Tree in the Trail” and “Paddle to the Sea” and got acquainted  with maps of the United States… Then we have a little verse for  beginning our main lesson and we have been diving into botany.  Our first week of botany felt a little unsettled and rather lukewarm, but this second week focusing on fungi and moving into algae has been very good.  We had a mushroom hunt and  have been doing drawing, wet on wet painting, and clay modeling of mushrooms.  We have practiced quite a bit of shaded drawing.  Next week we have a field trip planned to a local garden, and I hope to keep things active the rest of this block.  I have more to say on this block since it is our second time through the material, and I hope to write a post on this topic. 

Eighth Grade – Our eighth grader was not ready to go back to school, so rather an unenthusiastic first week…although the work itself has been fine.  Our eighth grader really enjoys geometry and geometric constructions, but I am still really thinking about this Platonic Solids block.  One of the main pieces of this block that I learned in a workshop from our local Waldorf School is the transformation in clay from one Platonic Solid to another.  Both my daughter and I found this rather daunting and difficult.  Constructing these solids  through the construction of paper nets and making models was more successful, and I think working with dowels and  beeswax would be another way to approach this, although neither of these approaches has the fluidity of transforming one solid to another.  We tied each element into one of the elemental forces (air, wind, water, fire and finally the cosmic force) and into where it generally appears in nature, but it all still felt rather flat to me.  The resources we used  including “Making Math Meaningful”; “Mathematics in Nature, Space and Time” and the little book “Platonic Solids” by Sutton, plus my notes and experiences from the workshop I attended. We moved into Loci toward the end of this week – constructing curves from straight lines, such as the Parabola, etc.  “Making Math Meaningful” was helpful in this endeavor, although sometimes I find their instructions less than clear for non-mathematician me.

We have also been reviewing math, doing vocabulary, and reading “Across Five Aprils” and digging into literary analysis of this book.  We have also spent some extra time discussing some life skills – great conversation skills and personal finance.  I had grand plans to do World Geography for two afternoons a week to tie all the geography we have been doing since fifth grade together, but that hasn’t come together.  I will see if we can get that started next week.

We have been doing some handwork in the afternoons, and busy in general with horses, 4H, and swimming.

Hope you all have had a good start to your school year!

Blessings,

Carrie

Struggling With Preparing For Grade Five?

I am in the throes of watching another “drop-off” in Waldorf homeschooling.  This time around it is the eighth/ninth grade drop-off where many families chose not to homeschool anymore or choose more traditional academic routes.   It can be a lonely place to be, but yet in many ways this is reminiscent of the “drop-off” between fourth and fifth grade for many families (and in preparing for first grade before that!)  So, if you are sort of struggling to prepare for fifth grade, I would say you are in good company and  that it could possibly even be a natural part of the Waldorf homeschooling cycle for parents with children this age. I sometimes wonder if on a soul level we as parents are mirroring the “fractioning” off the fourth graders themselves are doing (remember fourth grade fractions and what that reflects in a class?!)

The reasons families have struggled is varied but seems to boil down into these categories:

Parenting:  Differing expectations of “protecting childhood” (much murkier than in the early years!)  now that the child has gone through the nine year change.  How much should the world really be opening up?

My caution:  Make sure the world is opening up in a nine/ten year old way, not a sixteen/seventeen year change way.  Ask parents who have teenagers if you are unsure!

The curriculum content:  Yup, I am going to say it out loudMany parents are uncomfortable regarding the amount of anthroposophy underlying the fifth grade curriculum.  Whether it is likening different plants to childhood development ( remember, anthroposophy relates to knowing the human being and how the world is a reflection within the human being) or the progression of Ancient Civilizations to reflect epochs and soul development, to the story of Manu and the Flood placing Manu in Atlantis, the content and the underlying pinnings can be challenging.

My suggestions:

  • Decide what is really authentic for you to bring as a homeschooling parent.  I personally do not use the story of Manu and the Flood beginning in Atlantis, for example, because it is not authentic and living for me.   I have had some conversations with friends  from India regarding these subjects and I want to feel comfortable presenting Ancient India in light of these conversations and thoughts.
  • Read some more and see with time and “settling” how things feel for you – which leads back to authenticity, but this time in a more objective and clarifying way then just dismissing things out of hand.  I don’t want to bury my head in the sand, and I do want to know what Steiner said about these things.  However, many of the things about Ancient Civilizations seem to be more in Steiner’s general writings, not the educational lectures.  The educational lectures talk a lot about Greece, for example.   It takes time to digest and to decide how deep one wants to read into these subjects.
  • Listen to veteran homeschooling mothers and what they discovered going through things.  Here is veteran Waldorf homeschooling mother Lauri Bolland’s take on botany. Well-worth reading!
  • Understand what Steiner said about the evolution of human consciousness.  Whether or not you agree with this is up to you, but again, food for thought.
  • Hang in there and breathe.  Sometimes the more you can be steady and bring things on a level you are comfortable with for your family, the next time around different things will click in different ways. Hold true to who you are and what your family culture is, and see how you can work with the curriculum as well.  To me, sixth and seventh grade are much more straightforward in a sense…

The academic side of the curriculum.  Some parents really leave Waldorf homeschooling behind because fifth grade is a big jump in content and in academic content.  If you feel pressured about where your child is and not feeling as if the curriculum is working for you in this arena, it is easy to think about abandoning it for another method of homeschooling that is either more traditionally academic or less academic.

My suggestion:  Remember, you are homeschooling this way for a reason. What drew you to it, how does it fit your child, be the teacher and get creative!

Tell me your stories about preparing for fifth grade.  Did you struggle?  How did it resolve?

Blessings,
Carrie

The Cost of Overscheduling Your Children

There was a very good post  recently over at “Becoming Minimalist” entitled “How To Slow Down Your Family’s Schedule” which did a great job in pointing out some of the problems with over-scheduling children in our world. I wrote a post some time ago about choosing time outside the home wisely.  In that article I mentioned several points, specifically in reference to the homeschooling community, where because children are not out at school all day, parents often feel the need to get their children out after homeschooling is done.  Here are a few of the discussion points:

  • I don’t think children under 12 need anything, although many parents of 11-12 year old girls have told me they felt their girls “needed something to do” whereas boys seemed to not care until age 14 or so.
  • Teens ages 13-15, somewhere in that time frame, really do seem to need something.  If you haven’t overloaded them with activities up until this point, then adding one or two activities may seem like enough to them.
  • Families with one child seem to vary on how they approach things – read the comments from the previous blog post.
  • Families with four or more children seem to pick activities where all children can participate at once, whereas families with one to three children seem to run around a lot more with the children all doing separate activities!
  • The DRIVER (parent) is often the one who is tired out!
  • Many parents noted they would love to stay home and have informal play with other children, but no children  are at  home in their neighborhood or they may live far out in the country and there are no children.  Children are interacting in structured activities these days, not in playing street games, tag and riding bikes like thirty years or so ago.

I think it could possibly take a full-on public health campaign in the United States to really change the perception of parents that there is value in UNSTRUCTURED play and to not sign their children up for every activity.  I am so glad to know so many of you are trendsetters and are pointing the way toward family being home!

If you want to pare down your schedule, here is a list of suggestions that other parents have told me works:

Discount activities that meet over the dinner hour.  Don’t be so willing to trade a structured, led by an adult outside your home for the benefits of the family dinner hour.  (and there are many benefits; there have been studies).

Let each child pick ONE thing per semester.  Many things now, at least in the United States, seem to run all year round, but see what you can find.

Delay the starting ages for doing activities outside the home.  “In our family, you get to pick an activity to do outside the home when you are “X” years old.”

Figure out when is YOUR day with your children if you are really busy with activities.  How many days do YOU need to be home to feel happy, to have the house the way you want it, etc.

You can try my method:  I put a big X over certain days of the week and do not allow myself to schedule anything on those days.  I have talked about this is in back posts.

Can you let go of guilt?  Every article, including the “Becoming Minimalist” post above, mentions how wonderful free, unstructured play with other children is, yet most parents say there are no children to play with!  Can you feel okay with your child playing by themselves or with their siblings for many days of the week?

The reality is that most homeschooling parents, at least most Waldorf or holistic homeschooling parents, do not want to be out every day and see the value in being home.  They see the value in space and time for development.

I think part of the problem is that most parents are working, and therefore no one is home and the child has to be somewhere.  Also, the ending time of school can vary and take away the down time of the afternoon.  For example, the middle school (grades 6-8) in my area get home around 5 PM, at which time they must eat and do homework.  So, part of this question I think becomes what do we do until economics – attitudes- amount of homework changes? A  tall social order!

Love to hear your thoughts and your thoughts on the “Becoming Minimalist” blog post.

Blessings,
Carrie

Which Waldorf Curriculum Should I Buy?

This topic comes up over and over again on Facebook groups, Yahoo Groups and in real life.  There is even a Facebook group devoted to sharing information about the different curriculums called “Waldorf Homeschool Curriculum Discussion”.

If you as a homeschooling mother have investigated Waldorf at all, then you probably realize that for the Early Years, under the age of 7, life and being home is the curriculum.  Play, meaningful work, rest, stories and songs and verses and being outside, along with seasonal activities IS the curriculum.   It is living and changing.  You don’t need to buy a curriculum for this, but if you feel you need verses, songs, or seasonal ideas, there are plenty of books, Pinterest boards and the like to demonstrate ideas.  You could also attend an open house if you have a Waldorf School near you and see a puppet show.  This is the time to develop your own skills, learn to be able to set a rhythm in your own home, and be a gentle leader in your own home if you plan to homeschool in the grades.  There is no “homeschooling” a four year or five year old in Waldorf!  You are living a beautiful life!  Life is the curriculum!

If you have investigated the Waldorf curriculum for the grades, you probably have seen there are certain subjects that Rudolf Steiner indicated as part of the development of the holistic human being by age, and there are some things built up in secondary pedagogy over these years as being done in certain grades.  You have to know enough to see how this curriculum can be adapted to your own unique geographical environment  (look at the manuals from the East African Waldorf teacher training curriculum and see how they adapt the curriculum for their country and continent) and most of all, to the unique child standing in front of you.  LOOK at the child right in front of you.  This is homeschooling, and homeschooling with Waldorf means you are a TEACHER.    It is not “child-led” but it is sensitive to the child based upon Rudolf Steiner’s view of development and how you, the teacher, brings it!

So this type of homeschooling takes work.    And that seems to scare many.   I  also feel many parents are interested in Waldorf Education because they perceive it as gentle (it is), child-led (it is not), nature-oriented (it is), easing into life in a more gentle way that is unhurried (it does, but then the other grades become VERY rigorous indeed).  The early years of play silks and wooden toys don’t last forever and wooden toys do not an early Waldorf childhood experience make.  Waldorf Education is about protection of the child, but it is also about bringing things at the right time developmentally and that does mean the world opens up, especially after the age of twelve.

The curriculums currently on the market include Celebrate the Rhythm of Life Living Curriculum Program,  Live Education, Waldorf Essentials, Earthschooling, Lavender’s Blue, individual offerings from Rick and Jennifer Tan at Syrendell and Marsha Johnson at her Yahoo Group waldorfhomeeducators@yahoogroups.com and her on-line store The Magic of Waldorf, and  Christopherus Homeschool Resources, Inc.   I am not really including  Enki and Oak Meadow as they were written by former Waldorf teachers; Enki is closest to Waldorf pedagogy our of the two, but each are there own distinct programs with their own scope and sequence.  So these are more “Waldorf-inspired”. Little Acorn Learning is aligned with Lifeways of North America, and is nature-based.  I don’t know of any other curriculum programs than these.   Also, please do not forget the myriad of resources available to Waldorf teachers that are also available to you through booksellers such as Rudolf Steiner College Bookstore or Waldorf Books. 

If you are not piecing together your own curriculum, (which I recommend you try to do, especially in the early grades when it is easier and you can get the hang of it), then you will have to sort through all of these options.  Most mothers I talk to say they would love to have enough money to purchase more than one curriculum because each one has its gems, its loveliness, and they like to combine pieces and resources.  In the upper grades, where there is much less in the way of curriculum to pick from, you will have to do this anyway. 

If you want to see my criteria regarding choosing curriculum, I suggest you look at this back post.  You can also look at this post about how to learn more about Waldorf Education and the suggestions there.    Look carefully at the credentials of the people writing the curriculum and how much they have extensively worked with children in real life . If you are writing a “Waldorf” curriculum and using that word – where is your training, Foundation Studies, workshops that helped train you in this method?  I think all of these things combined make a “curriculum” worth looking at.

Blessings,
Carrie

The Ten Kinds of Play

If one of the hallmarks of the early years through the teenaged years is play, it helps us as parents to know about the different kinds of play and what these look like.  In this way, we can help our children achieve healthy play if healthy play is difficult for them.

The number one thing to do to help encourage ALL of the kinds of play I am listing below includes turning off all screens – TV, computer, video games, etc.  Stop them cold turkey.  This is important for all small children as we offer a gesture of protection, but this is especially important if  your child is having trouble with creative play.  And start to schedule in large amounts of “unscheduled” time.  That sounds contradictory, scheduling in unscheduled time, but children of today are rushed from adult-led activity to adult-led activity.  They need time to just daydream and be – that is the genesis of being creative.

Here are some types of play:

  • Large Motor play – climbing, jumping, swinging,  crawling
  • Small Motor play – Fine motor play might include things such as sorting objects, stringing objects, bringing objects in and out,
  • Rules- based play – You see this a lot in pick –up games led by children.  I saw this this weekend at a 4-H event where I observed a  very large group of children ages 8-14 or so were playing kickball.  They figured out where the bases would be, what the foul line was, how far apart the bases should be after a few rounds, etc.  They were making the rules and changing the rules as they went along.  Children do not acquire this skill in adult-led youth sports.  Youth sports NEED to be balanced out by neighborhood pick-up games that are led by children working together.
  • Construction play – Building play.  We often think of building forts, ships or houses but I would also include older children building ramps for a skateboard or bike.  
  • Make-believe play – we see this often in kindergarten aged up children.  At first props may be needed, but older children, even ages 9-11 often have elaborate make-believe games with characters and scenarios.
  • Language play – Using words for play – telling stories, playing with words and rhymes, circle games and songs…..  This can overlap large motor play in the case of jump rope rhymes or hand clapping games.
  • Playing with art – Modeling, creating music, drawing, making posters and puppet shows are all examples of this kind of  play.
  • Sensory Play – playing with sand, mud, water, gathering natural objects that have different textures. 
  • Rough and tumble play – Animals do this too!  This is how children often learn body awareness and boundaries.  This kind of play often needs to be watched to make sure boundaries are set for how aggressive or how dominant a player becomes, but it is important for children to play like this.
  • Risk taking play – Play can and should involve risk.  You most likely will not find this on a conventional playground, but out in nature and even in childhood games.  In a childhood game, this is estimating risk – can I steal to that base? can I run fast enough to make it to “home” without being tagged?  In nature, this might be how high can I climb in this tree?  Will this branch in the tree or log across this stream support my body weight?  This is an important kind of play.  I think this type of play can easily morph in the later middle school and high school years into things that are active, involve an element of risk, but are generally a safe way to get risk-taking behavior out there.  For seventh and eighth graders and up, think about dirt biking through a Motorcycle Safety Awareness club, a tree obstacle course with ziplines, more strenuous hiking and camping, anything with animals such as horseback riding or dog training, rock climbing, skiing, etc.  Help children develop their own abilities to assess risk.  This is an important skill for life.

What kinds of play are your children doing? Can you think of a type of play that is not on this list?

Blessings,
Carrie

An Introduction to Waldorf Homeschooling

 

To me, there are five main areas which come together to compose a Waldorf homeschool:

The Inner Work and Inner Life of the Teacher – this is of paramount importance, and the basis and foundation of Waldorf homeschooling.  Who you are and where you are on your inner path and spiritual work  is more important than the subject you teach.  Your will, your rhythms, your outlook, your spiritual work, will determine far more for your child than anything else – especially in the world of homeschooling where you are both parent and teacher.

An Understanding of Childhood Developmental Phases – I write about childhood development extensively on this blog.  Suffice it to say the view in Waldorf Education is that the human being is a spiritual being and that we continue to change, develop and grow throughout our lifetime.

Temperament of the grades-aged child (and in the teen years, emotion and personality) – We need to recognize not only the temperaments associated with the various developmental stages, but also the temperament of  our own child and ourselves and how to bring balance to that within our homeschooling experiences.

An Understanding of the Curriculum and How to Adapt it to Your Child and Homeschool:  We can start with such things as Steiner’s lectures and the secondary literature of the pedagogy.  However, the time we live in, the local geography, customs, language, local festivals and cultural events are all points in which the learning experience starts within the child and the child’s world. So, therefore, we must be familiar with not only the curriculum, but also with our own child and our own observations and meditation as to what that child needs, and then how to have the curriculum fulfill the needs of the child.  Dogmatic story-art-summary rhythms are often not helpful in the home environment and there are many ways to bring the rhythms of Waldorf Education to the home.

An Ability to “DO”, rather than just read.  This includes not only the ability to hold a rhythm and be organized, but also the ability to learn new things for oneself both in the area of the arts and in academic subjects.  For example, few of us were taught geometry the way the curriculum is outlined, and one most be willing to take a subject, even a familiar subject and see how  to dig into it and look at it from a spiritual perspective and to view art as a spiritual activity.

Many blessings,
Carrie

Brief Notes on Homeschooling Fifth, Sixth, and Seventh Grade

 

I have recently been jotting down a notes regarding fifth, sixth and seventh grades.  These notes will probably only make sense if you are coming up to these grades and you are a Waldorf homeschooler. Smile  If you are planning for these grades, I hope these ideas are helpful.

 

Fifth Grade: Continue reading