Dyslexia, Dyscalculia, Dysgraphia And Waldorf Homeschooling

There are often posts about children who have dyslexia, dyscalculia, and dysgraphia on the Waldorf homeschooling facebook groups.  One of our children was diagnosed with all three of these some years ago,  so I have some experience with dealing with this in combination with Waldorf homeschooling. I say “some experience” simply because one child does not a generalization make!  In speaking with other parents whose children also have dyslexia, I find the symptoms of dyslexia, dyscalculia, and dysgraphia play out very differently from child to child, so one must be super careful.  What works for one child with dyslexia may or may not work for another child.

However, I would like to share some general tips from my experience:

  1. Consider testing.  It typically is not the be all and end all in terms of being a shocker as to what it going on, but if your  older child does need accommodation for testing or wants to transfer into a school setting for middle or high school, testing is really important.  Testing usually also leads to suggestions for therapy or concentrations for remedial work/tutoring to focus on, which actually can be helpful. It can also help pinpoint things such as is working memory deficits or slow processing part of the picture, which can be helpful to know in teaching.
  2. Waldorf Education, with its experiential foundation, movement focus, and whole language development is great for all children, including those with dyslexia.  However, as children get older, don’t be afraid to incorporate products geared toward children with dyslexia.  We started with  “All About Spelling,” which seems to work well for some dyslexic children. We started it in fifth grade after a year of visual therapy  that took up part of third and fourth grade, but in looking back, I think we should have used some of these things earlier than we did. Our family was mainly searching for math and spelling help, since reading and comprehension were strengths,  but  some children really need an Orton-Gillingham based product such as “All About Reading” or  “Logic of English” for reading.  For dyscalculia, I recommend Ronit Bird’s work, which is based in games and  number flexibility and fits into Waldorf metholodolgy nicely.  She has a lovely You Tube Channel, where you can see some of the games in action.  For working specifically on how to write in the upper grades, I have had recommendations for “Writing Skills” by Diana Hanbury King.  I think there is supposed to be three books, but I can only find one book published so far, and although Book One says grade 4 or something like that, I wouldn’t be worried about working through it with a middle schooler. Hopefully the other books will come out!
  3. Don’t be afraid to adjust the response required from the new content, especially as the amount of content increases in grades five and up.  For example, children with dysgraphia will generally also have trouble with drawing pictures or other artistic responses such as modeling or painting, they may have difficulty free hand maps which is typically part of the middle school curriculum,  and obviously the physical act of writing summaries.  The physical difficulties in writing also impedes the flow of writing,  which can be fixed with the use of technology for typing, but some dyslexic students have  a really hard time with ordering and developing ideas and need a lot of work there.   For the upper grades, I typically require less written work than I did for my student without dyslexia.  Sometimes I modify things completely to eliminate much of the writing or drawing for some blocks.   For example, for some of the mineralogy work in sixth grade, we did more of a cut and paste approach to make a lapbook as a response or instead of making freehand maps that were detailed, we worked together to be able to draw the map or we skipped map making. I find it important to alternate work like this with blocks that require writing or artistic work. Because normally writing and artistic work takes these children a much longer time, these strategies are important in Waldorf homeschooling.
  4. However, in the same token, don’t neglect a path of improvement of academic  and artistic capacities in terms of writing summaries and artistic work in Waldorf Education. Don’t completely give up!  In general,  from my own experience and in speaking with other Waldorf homeschooling parents of children with dyslexia, you can expect the path of improvement to be very slow to nearly nonexistant in grades 1-3 . Some children in grades 1-3 have incredible behavioral issues associated with school, and it can be really discouraging as a homeschooling parent.  Our first three years in the grades was really rough, but if you stick with it,  you will get through it!  There usually is  some upswing at the end of third grade or over the summer between third and fourth grade and then heading into grades 4-6  even more progress (some parents report incredible changes, but other parents say it is still slow going).  In fifth through seventh grade I think there can be a sense of whilst things are much better from the starting point, “there is no catching up”  because in these grades one often sees the gap widen even further from what public school children and children without dyslexia are doing.  It can be difficult not to compare or wonder how the high school years will go. The balance of pushing, accomodations, and letting things blossom is a delicate combination and often a difficult juggle for the homeschooling parent handling this for the first time.
  5. Know when to start accommodations.  We started typing for our child in the spring semester of sixth grade (typically in a Waldorf School setting typing might be in eighth or ninth grade);  some families may start earlier.  The plan typically is the typing or technology as a response for main lesson material the following year or next semester, much the way one starts out teaching cursive and expects to see it in a main lesson book later.   Many parents of middle school students also end up investigating voice to text programs and how to record lectures in place of note-taking and so forth.  This will be very important for high school work.
  6. Consistently consider movement, vision, and therapeutic support.  We only have one eurythmist in our entire state, so curative eurythmy is not an option for us, but this might be for many of you.  The Waldorf Education books “Extra Lesson” and “Take Time” have many wonderful ideas and support.  Visual therapy can be helpful for some children if that is available, and I think movement and crossing midline in general is important.  Some children with dyslexia seem to resist movement and midline crossing, even in the middle school grades, so I think it is an important part of their education to consider what movement options are available.
  7. Get support for yourself.  There are days when I truly worry about what my child will do in a world where writing is required for nearly everything, and just need to talk to another parent who understands.  I know some parents who accept their child having dyslexia really in stride, especially if it is mild and easy to make accommodations, but some homeschooling parents really struggle as parents and teachers, especially in the early grades when one is just figuring out what is going on.   It can also be hard to be surrounded by a sea of homeschoolers on- line and in real life who are gifted and multiple grades ahead and doing college work at age 12 – you know the drill!  There is a huge push in the homeschooling world for dual enrollment, CLEP test, etc so for the older students with dyslexia it can be a bit daunting.   It is wonderful when other parents see and acknowledge the important gifts that your child brings, and of course, dyslexia and the like doesn’t define a person, but it does make us worried as parents – will they be able to do their own personal finances? What will they do for a job?  These are things that are hard for parents of children without dyslexia  to  really understand.  So find a like-minded soul or two that you can talk to on the really bad days.  There are also Facebook groups for homeschooling children with dyslexia as well.

I don’t think Waldorf Education in general does a good  job in discussing how to develop academic skills for  children with differing abilities in the upper grades.   This is also an issue not highly discussed in the Waldorf homeschooling community; all those beautiful pictures and blogs and Pinterest photos in the Waldorf world don’t tend to show the achingly hard work that goes into teaching children who learn differently.  Yet, Waldorf Education calls us to look at the child in front of us and respond to that child.  That is the very heart of Waldorf Education.  So be brave and full of courage!  You are doing the right things for your child!

Blessings and love,
Carrie

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Discussions With Teachers: Discussion Three And Four

There are just certain written works or lectures that Waldorf teachers and Waldorf homeschooling parents re-read each summer before school starts.  For me, I usually choose between “Discussions With Teachers”, “Practical Advice to Teachers” or “Human Values in Education” (all by Rudolf Steiner). This year, I have decided to go through the lectures found in Rudolf Steiner’s “Discussion With Teachers” and to just share my notes as I go along with all of you.

So, Discussion Three  begins with questions about storytelling according to temperament. Steiner remarked, for example, that sanguines need to hear pauses in a story because their attention wander, and melancholics need emphatic details.  He then goes on to answer discussions about form drawing according to temperament; forms moving outward for the choleric, contrasting colors for the sanguine, starting from a circle and drawing inward for a phelgmatic child.    Steiner also talks about how to describe things so they are of interest to phlegmatic children, using the example of a horse, and in taking the description of the horse again,  telling it to involve the choleric children.  He also says something interesting at the end of the discussion about the importance of  developing the social will of the class, and how it is important to develop “social instincts.” Much of what is done in Waldorf classrooms is to connect the class together in a social way of community, and I often wonder what Steiner’s indications would have been for homeschooling in the day and age that we and our children are facing!

Discussion Four is primarily about math, so for those of you feeling lost in teaching math, I think this is a terrific lecture to read!  It begins with talking about introducing fractions, and moves on to whether or not a child who slouches has more difficulty understanding spatial and geometric forms, but then quickly gets into the heart of teaching the four processes according to temperament.

For example, Steiner talks about how to introduce adding.  He assumes that the children can count (so those of you with six year old kindergarteners, work on jumping rope rhymes with counting in them!) and talks about proceeding from the sum. If a child counts a number of objects, the total amount is the sum.  Then one can divide the objects into little piles, and all together those piles equal 27.  One immediately begins working with flexibility with numbers as a teacher in math.  Phlegmatics do best with this sort of working from the sum, whereas choleric children enjoy adding all the piles together to get the sum.  The melancholic children work well with subtraction, and then the sanguine can reverse this (ie, if I take 5 away from 8, I have 3 left).   He allows that the reverse temperaments should be doing the mathematical procedures in reverse.  Adding is related to the phlegmatic temperament, subtraction to the melancholic, multiplying to the sanguine, and dividing to the choleric.   He talks about going from plane geometry to solid geometry.  Form drawing with examples is further discussed, and storytelling for phlegmatic children, and how to use an element of surprise for the sanguine children.

One of the last things Steiner talks about in this discussion is the imbalances of the temperaments and how “if the melancholic temperament becomes abnormal and does not remain within the boundaries of the soul, but rather encroaches on the body, then insanity arises.”  He goes on to discuss the same with all the different temperaments, and also how to deal with exclusionary behavior, and how punishing children is never the answer.  “The aftereffect is not good,” said Steiner.

Discussion Five talks even more about the temperaments, so please come back for that discussion.  As teachers and homeschooling parents, it is so good that we re-read these lectures every year and bring them to life within us for the health of our children.

Many blessings,
Carrie

 

 

What Are Waldorf Grades 6-8 About Anyway?

In the Waldorf School, there is often a sharp drop-off at sixth grade (the twelve year change), and then again as children enter high school in grade nine, as many parents switch to different forms of education.  This is also happens in Waldorf homeschooling. I know very few people who are Waldorf homeschooling grades 6-8 in the manner in which they homeschooled grades 1-5.  For many homeschoolers, this coincides with an uptick in outside activities of their children with just not enough time to plan or implement something lengthy, the want/need for children to do something more independently, or simply a dissatisfaction with the middle school curriculum as it is often said the true “thinking” part of Waldorf Education begins in high school.

I personally think it may be more of a daunting teaching problem rather than anything else.  I found this interesting quote regarding a more esoteric view of the human being  from  January 2002, Volume 7 #1: Did Rudolf Steiner Want a Seven-Grade Elementary School Configuration? – Waldorf Library in discussing whether or not a teacher should be with a class for all eight classes:

Waldorf education is not only about educating but about “awakening” the children. If a teacher does not possess the powers of awakening a certain age group, should one not accept that and instead work with the principle of specialization?

I think this problem of “awakening” children sometimes is daunting not only for teachers in a Waldorf School setting (who really might be better served by being with early years children) and who don’t want to awaken older children, but also for homeschool teachers as well…if we don’t awaken children by throwing facts and judgment at their heads, then how do we awaken them in the middle school grades?   How do we teach?  As the days with older children grow busier and more out of the home, these grades are not spoken about nearly enough compared to first and second grade, at least in the homeschool world. How do we get sixth through eighth graders ready for high school?  Still, though, in my observation of my own children and in looking at other children from even non-Waldorf families and what those children are ASKING to study during those years, the Waldorf curriculum meets those needs in a lovely way.

I found this interesting quote regarding a more esoteric view of the human being  from  this article:

The four upper grades deal with the same aspects of the human being in reverse order. In the fifth grade, the great individuals of Ancient History stand as a polarity to the Norse Myths, because they both deal with the human ego. The sixth grade topic of Romans, especially Roman law, is polar to the Hebrew Law because law shapes the astral. The seventh grade topic of Age of Discovery is polar to the topic of animal fables; both are connected to the life of people/ animals or to the etheric in general. The eighth grade topic of cultural history is polar to the archetypes found in Fairy tales of the first grade, because both describe the nature of human archetype thus representing the physical body level of the curriculum. A teacher who masters such interrelationships has mastered the content, form, and organic wholeness of the entire curriculum, and is thereby able to give the children the sense that all the subjects are interconnected and taught for a purpose.

Steiner did give indications of what to bring in these upper grades and it all culminates beautifully in the high school curriculum, where tenth grade is back into Ancient History, eleventh grade is back into Medieval and Renaissance topics, and twelfth grade is back into modern scenes.  A beautiful balance of the working of the will (cultural geography), working with the heart (history and literature), and working with clarity of thinking (math and sciences) permeates all grades.

I urge you to think about how the curriculum that served your children so well in the younger years serves them even better in the upper grades and high school.  I see children in the middle school years who are asking about the exact topics that the curriculum provides! It doesn’t change just because a child is past 12 or even past the 15/16 change.  The curriculum meets the child in front of you.

Many blessings,

Carrie

Rhythm Is Peace

Rhythm can sound like that elusive thing.  Sure, other families can have a rhythm and routine to their day, but it seems so unattainable, some parents say.  Yet most parents I know desperately WANT a rhythm and routine in their household.  They want things to run peaceably and they know rhythm is a key to that; it is indeed a key to the functioning of the human body!  Just imagine if our heart decided to beat irregularly or our lungs just decided to not breath for a few minutes. Rhythm is the well spring of life, for the body and the soul.

The top five reasons some mothers have told me they just cannot get a rhythm for their family going, even though they want to:

  1. “I hate rigidity” – A rhythm can be flexible; it can have a flow to it without times attached to it. Rhythm actually helps you be MORE flexible because what is essential to getting done will get done and you will have more time for sponaneous helping of neighbors and for having fun!
  2. “I am unorganized” – All the more reason to have a rhythm; rhythm is a great collector of the soul. A rhythm will help you and your family feel safe, secure, and grounded.
  3. “I am so stressed out” – Rhythm helps take away much of your stress because it acts as an aid to rest and sleep, an aid to gentle discipline, an aid to getting the essential things done, and an aid to helping you take care of yourself.
  4. “I can’t get a rhythm until X, Y,Z changes” – Rhythm is for where you are right here and right now!  Things may not be perfect in your life or in your home environment, but having a rhythm come first can be a big help in taking baby steps toward other goals because you can build time toward these goals in your rhythm.
  5. “I am always behind and can’t get ahead”- Rhythm is a great help in order to break things up into small bits and pieces that feel mother-sized, rather than overwhelming.

I find an easy place to start is often with rising times and going to bed times, and then build rhythm from there.  Some families find it easier to start with meal times.  Whatever the case, you can start small and tailor it to your own family.  Baby steps!

May this be the season of rhythm and renewal for you!

Blessings,
Carrie

Rest As A Task For The Waldorf Homeschooling Parent

There is an interesting article entitled, “Sleep As A Task Of Waldorf Education,” by Peter Loebell available here. If we view sleep as an essential component not only of education, but as a way to gain inspiration and intuition from the spiritual realms, how much more vital is sleep and rest for the homeschooling parent who is not only parenting 24/7 but teaching multiple main lesson blocks to children of different ages?

The three ways this article discusses engaging children in the curriculum in order for it to carry positively applies to us as teachers as well.  The three conditions are:

  1.  Use of creative tasks that require symmetry and sense that the child, (or we), want to “finish.”  This implies, that we, as teachers, should be finding time for our own artistic pursuits – music (singing and instrumental), form drawing, drawing, painting, sculpture, movement, and having an impulse to finish things.    The article mentions: “The active urge to finish incomplete forms stimulates the body of formative energy to pulsate further during sleep. The child has, through this, the tendency to finish what was begun so that through the night a permanent ability can be attained from the practiced activity.”
  2. Engaging both the physical body and the life-forces of the body through an outer activity such as eurythmy.  We often don’t have eurythmy at home, but we do have physical activities as part of rhythm, and we do have use of the word and gesture through poetry with movement.  These things can be carried into sleep and help form the next day’s energy.
  3. Lastly, we teach ourselves when we are preparing for a lesson and we carry this into how we present things to our children. ” If we do not stimulate the children to their own physical activity during a lesson, then there is a third aspect to consider. We must stimulate the deliberate, understanding perception of the children when we teach from a phenomenological science experiment or describe a historical event in such a manner that they direct their full attention to the lesson content so that they are constantly coming to conclusions.”  This is also why we often have a day that invokes “feeling” work (artistic work in a Main Lesson) and another day for the formation of concepts, the academic work.  The work we do with our children can inherently be restful to ourselves so long as we are not rushed.  If we have many children who need main lessons, we combine as much as possible, and then we can also choose to offer  main lessons three to four days a week so we have no more than 2-3 main lessons on a day.  Many mothers say they cannot teach more than two main lessons; I personally know many mothers, including myself, who have to teach three main lessons.  It is doable, but only with rest as a priority.  I do not think teaching more than three main lessons would be doable for anyone; and many could not teach three separate lessons, so combining down to two lessons would be the best way to do this if possible. If you would like ideas about combining main lesson blocks for grades, please email me at admin@theparentingpassageway.com

Joy, creativity, learning, and rest are all interwoven.  We chose to bring the artistic component into our own inner work and lives in order to become better teachers and better human beings.

Blessings,
Carrie

First Grade (Little-Talked About) Resources

I wrote a post some time ago, in 2010, about first grade resources.  That was seven years ago!  I did first grade for the third time last year, and have a few updated notes to add.

First of all, I suggest you take all questions regarding, “What curriculum should I use?” to the Waldorf Homeschool Curriculum Discussion Facebook group.  There are so very many back posts comparing all the major curriculums and what resonated with people (or what didn’t).  Curriculum, to me, is very , very tricky.  What appeals to one person will not at all appeal to another.  My advice, as always, is to look at curriculums in person if that is at all possible, and look to further your own knowledge of Waldorf Education through in-person  workshops and trainings.  My very simple three requirements for Waldorf curriculum can be found here.

But today I would like to mention a few very helpful  resources that are often over-looked for first grade (I am not in any way shape or form affiliated with these products; I just like them):

  1. “Waldorf Teachers’ Companion to Poems and Speech Exercises for Grades I and II” by John Cyril Miles of Promethean Press.  I have the fourth edition, and it is 141 pages of lovely speech exercises, tongue twisters, and then poems divided by categories:  morning, evening, the seasons (Michaelmas, Fall, Halloween and Martinmas, Advent and Winter Solstice, Spring and Summer), animals and plants, nursery rhymes, fable poems, elementals, people, number poems, miscellany, prayers, story poems.  The last two sections are finger exercises and riddles.  My only wish would be that it included jump roping  rhymes and clapping games, but overall a really thorough resource to carry you through two grades.  You can look at it here , along with other selections.
  2. “Spelling By Hand”  by Jeremy Harrmann.  I hope to write a complete review of this book. It is new to the market, and I think quite good for its 55 paged-size.  There are sections in this book about alliteration in grade one, the spelling of regular words in grades one and two, rhyming and hand spelling in order to make gestures part of the spelling of words, CVC words, finger spelling, the use of writing in grades one and two.  There are also learning objectives for grade one (essentially, such this as the children are able to rhyme and alliterate, they are able to properly spell CVC words, during independent writing they try to break words down phonetically even if they don’t spell them correclty, and that when the children encounter unknown words when reading they try to sound them out phonetically).   I would say these goals could easily extend into grade two for some children (two out of my three have been/are in this category going into section grade where these skills are still emerging), but there are also goals listed for second grade as well. There are many ideas for spelling word games,  and there are spelling word lists of rhyming fun, regular words (CVC or consonant-vowel-consonant words in English), consonant blend words, and then moving into CCVC, CCVCC,silent E words (words ending in long e, a-e words, e-e words, i-e words, o-e words, u-e words), consonant blend words, common vowel pattern words, tenses, common error words, and then “sophisticated errors”, ending with common prefixes and suffixes.   It is a very reasonable price, and I suggest it be on your shelf to help you grasp not only the sequencing of spelling from grades 1-8, but how to bring this is in an experiential way that makes it “Waldorf”. From Waldorf Publications here
  3. The resources available through Lemon Tree Press by Waldorf Master Teacher Howard Schrager.  This includes a variety of wonderful math stories that don’t involve gnomes; the book LMNOP and more. For a full discussion of these materials, head to the Waldorf Homeschool Curriculum Discussion page.
  4. For those of you with first and second graders mixed with having early year children in the house, I recommend Celebrate the Rhythm of Life  by Master Early Years Teacher Lisa Boisvert MacKenzie, who is on the Board of Directors for Lifeways of North America, is on the Waldorf Early Childhood Association of North America task board for birth through three, is a Simplicity Parenting Coach, and more.  Her monthly e-program is a reasonable cost, and will help you with rhythm and festivals.

Please share your favorite off-the-beaten path resources for first grade!

Blessings,
Carrie