How Is Sixth Grade Planning Coming Along?

(Just a brief and gentle reminder, this post is copyrighted.  If you want to use something from this post in a public way, PLEASE link to it or credit my work in some way.  There have been a lot of moms on Facebook and in Yahoo groups asking for plans for Main Lessons for these upper grades, but yet many of us with experience are reluctatant to share in any truly organized fashion as it becomes fodder that someone else’s uses and charges in their own work without any attribution for the original work.  Just a thought!)

Grades sixth through eight are my favorite grades to teach, so I wanted to share some of our plans as we foray as a family into our second time in sixth grade.  Here are a few of my notes by block:

We are starting the year with Astronomy.  As part of this block we are looking at how the First Peoples of the Americas saw various cosmic phenomenon, how we recognize the cosmos and earth inside of our own bodies, how to understand the rising and setting of the sun in relation to the axis of the earth, the affects of the moon on the earth, the circumpolar stars, comets, meteors, the planets in our solar system,  our solar address in the universe, and some biographies of great astronomers.   We will be working on memorizing about 70 lines of poetry this block, writing from diction, reviewing the metric system as well as an introduction to scientific notation along with wet felting, drawing with pastels and pencils and crayon resists and painting. (3 weeks)

Next we are going to move into the earthly realm and study Mineralogy.  For this block we will be learning poetry, expressing linear equations graphically, and reviewing the geographic zones of our state.  We will be looking at the layers of the earth and an introduction to plate tectonics and the types of movement of plates, and how our state’s landscape was shaped, which was mainly through erosion and a network of streams that cross our state.  We will be looking at mountain building and the four types of mountains, volcanoes, types of rocks and the rock cycle and the types of rocks found in the geographic regions in our states. We have a lot of granite and monadnocks in our state, so that is a special type of rock for us to focus on, along with kaolin.  Our state is the leading producer of kaolin in the United States.  We will look at a walk through time and  fossils, but the fossils of our state especially.  Lastly, we look at coal and oil and a discussion on fracking and sustainable resources. So many wonderful projects and field trips are in this block!  (4 weeks)

In European Geography,  the geography necessary to understand Roman History will be introduced  and more European geography will be worked into Roman and Medieval History.  In the stand-alone portion of European Geography, I  will introduce the European continent, the regions of Europe, and tie back into our Ancient Civilization studies by looking briefly at the Ancient River civilizations along the Danube River. I choose this river because it greatly influenced the Roman Empire and because I wanted to tie back into Ancient Studies.  I want to talk about the very first peoples of Europe of the Varna area (modern day Bulgaria) and then trace the Danube.  Then we will move into the geography of Italy.  In the course of our history studies, we will look at the other parts of Europe and European geography as well.  I hope to focus on modeling during this block. (2 weeks)

In Roman History, my plan is to begin with an introduction to the three phases of the Roman Empire.  When we move into Rome as a Republic, we will see how Rome was organized similarily to the way the United States is organized, the growth of the Roman Army, the plebeians and patricians, the slave trade, the making of Roman law,  and a soldier’s life and the Roman fort.  Then we will move into Carthage and the story of Hannibal, the battles against Greece, the ideals of Roman citizens, slave uprisings, especially Spartacus, the rise of Julius Caesar and his assassination, Caesar Augustus,  Mark Anthony and Cleopatra.  The last part of our block will be the life of Jesus of Nazareth, His miracles and  parables about the Kingdom of God, the historic Jesus, the Ancient Church and Paul the Apostle along with the symbols of early Christianity, and the decline of the Roman Empire, Emperor Constantine and the first of the desert hermits.  Our last week will look at a comparison of the Roman Empire and the Han Dynasty in China – the origins of the Han Dynasty, the acheivements of the Han Dynasty, the Sack of Chan’gan, the decline of the Dynasty and its legacy.  This continues our study of China from Fifth Grade.  The Empire of Askum, the Queen of Sheba, and King Ezana will end our block.  One of the main features of this block outside of the artistic work (mainly charcoal drawing, black and white drawing, mosaics and clay) will be training like a Roman soldier, complete with Roman marches and other forms of Roman training, and making and playing Roman games and writing compositions and more dictation.  (6 weeks)

In Medieval History, we will begin with the Byzantine Empire, iconoclasm, Byzantine society and move into Gregory the Great.  I will start to paint a picture of how life in Western Europe became isolated as roads and cities decayed.  Feudalism and monasteries will play a large role in this block,the code of chivalry, the castle, the role of women and children and the peasant and the life at a manor will all be investigated.  We will also look at what is happening in the Americas during this time with the Ancient Puebolans of the United States, and the Maya. The Maya will be studied more in-depth in seventh grade, but I felt it good to introduce here.  Then we will move into an entire week of study on not just Muhammed, but Islam itself, complete with Islamic Geometry, Islamic poetry, and the achievements made in this time period as the scholars of the Muslim world improved upon the knowlege of Ancient Babylon, Greece, Rome, Persia, India and Egypt – especially in optics and the life of Al-Hasan Ibn al-Haytham (which also ties in well to physics).    Charlemagne, the Vikings, William the Conqueror, Eleanor of Aquitaine,  King Richard the Lionheart and Saladdin will be studied. Lastly, we will end with the story of St. Francis of Assisi. I have notes for the Kingdom of Zimbabwe the Mali Empire, Sundiata and Mansa Musa, the Songhai Empire, and the gold for salt trade,  but if we get behind I normally do a very extensive block on Africa in seventh grade and could integrate those notes there.  If we have time, I would also  love to spend a week on Feudal Japan. The structure of Japanese Medieval Society and the Samurai, the growth of Zen Buddhism, would all be wonderful for this grade, along with a study of the haiku and Basho the poet.   I have this planned out, but will have to see how far we get.  (8 weeks total; I may split out Medieval Africa and Japan)

In Business Math, I am planning to use this block to brush up on decimals, work on percentages and look at how we start to use formulas in preparation for our algebra block in Seventh Grade, this history of money and different systems of money and how they were used historically.  We are going to look at American money and also the buffalo nickel as a piece of American history and American art.  We will look at how we earn money, how taxes work, how banks work.  We will work with budgets, tips, commissions, and calculating simple and compound interest.  We will end with the ideas surrounding philanthropy and investment.   We will be painting and drawing during this block, along with some field trips and large scale charts to keep track of things we discuss (3 weeks).  In Geometry, which I hope to run in weekly lessons instead of one long block, we will focus on Islamic geometric forms along with forms from nature.

Physics will encompass acoustics, darkness and light, heat, and magnetism.  I have 3 weeks set aside for this block to encompass lab reports, main lesson book drawings, and experiments. This is one of my favorite blocks from the first time we went through sixth grade, and to me encompasses the qualities of development of this age, so I am looking forward to this.

Lastly, I want to finish with a zoology block. Torin Finser’s book “Towards Creative Teaching” had a small section that I am working off of for my little animal lover.  I am sure this block will be the highlight of the year, and I am still planning this. The number of weeks will depend upon how much time we have left in the school year, but hopefully we wil have 2-3 weeks to delve more into the animal world, which we will pick up again in our Africa and Latin American Geography blocks in seventh grade.

Can’t wait to hear your plans!

Blessings,
Carrie

A Guest Post: Main Lesson Structure

Main Lesson Structure – A Guest Post by Meredith Floyd-Preston from A Waldorf Journey

(Thanks so much to Meredith Floyd-Preston from A Waldorf Journey for sharing with us her thoughts about the structure of main lesson. Meredith is a long-time Waldorf teacher and the host of a brand new Waldorf podcast that you can find on her blog or on iTunes. Please make sure you check out the link at the bottom of the post for a free offer for Parenting Passageway readers. Thank you, dear Meredith, for being in this space today. – Carrie)

Rudolf Steiner, the founder of Waldorf Education, is often said to have indicated that all of the learning a child needs to experience in a day can happen in the first two hours of the morning. Anything outside of that precious, sacred two hour main lesson is bonus, enrichment content.

Now, I’m not sure how my subject teacher colleagues would feel about this statement, but for those of us who teach main lesson, it could bring a little anxiety and some big questions.

  • How can I make sure that I am making the most of those two hours every day?
  • What are all of the things that need to fit into that time block?
  • What activities and experiences will ensure that my students are primed and ready to receive and engage with my lessons?

I’ve spent my 10 years as a class teacher trying to answer these questions and I’ve come to a few conclusions about how to structure main lesson to make the most of it. Thanks to some great mentoring and a lot of trial and error experience, I feel like I’ve settled in on a rhythm that works really well for me and my students.

Here’s what it comes down to …

  • Warm Up and Wake Up
  • Review and Deepen
  • The New and Exciting Content
  • Write, Draw and Beautify Bookwork

Warm-Up

During the warm up, your task is to get your students ready to engage with the lesson that is to come. When they first begin the day, your students are facing many barriers to engaging with the lesson. If you teach at a school, your students are coming from different parts of town, houses, family dynamics and morning commute situations. One goal of the warm-up is get all of these different students coming from their varied circumstances all onboard the same ship, ready to set sail into the morning’s lesson.

There are many different ways to think about this warm-up, but it helps me to think about the 3-fold nature of the human being and the activities that will wake up my students’ heads, hearts and hands. Here are some examples.

  • Hands – rhythmic movement activities, relay races, jumprope, a morning walk, obstacle courses, outdoor play
  • Heart – social interaction time, singing, recorder-playing, poetry
  • Head – quick thinking work, mental math, memorization quizzes, times table work, beanbag parts of speech game

Review

Often the review comes in the form of a discussion about the previous day’s material. The idea of the review is to refresh the material from the day before to see how it has grown and changed in the students’ sleep life. You know those little epiphanies you have when you wake up in the morning after sleeping on something that happened the day before? That happens for your students, too. Coming back to the material from the day before is how you can make use of and solidify the ideas that came in the new content from the day before.

Most teachers look for ways to spice up this daily review so students don’t become tired of the idea of reliving content from the day before. Reviewing the content with dramatic reenactments, specific questions, pop quizzes, creative drawings, or poetry-writing are all ways you can make the review a little more interesting than just orally rehashing the story from the day before.

One other suggestion – I have found it useful to save a little nugget of new information to share during the review. I’ve noticed that when I casually mention some additional detail from the story that I didn’t share the day before, a little spark of interest lights up in my students and they’re much more engaged than they were before.

Though the traditional model positions the review right after the warm-up, many teachers are now experimenting with doing the review after the new content when possible. The idea here is that the new content is the part of the lesson that the students are most engaged and interested in. It is the reason they come to school and it is the part of the lesson that they most look forward to. If we can bring that to them earlier in our lesson we’ll have more engaged and interested students.

New Content

As mentioned above, from a certain perspective, the new content is what the lesson is all about. This is the curriculum material that you put your heart and soul into preparing and it is what your students most look forward to. In the lower grades it is often the story content that inspires the imagination of your students. In the upper grades it is the new thinking content that your students’ intellectual minds grapple with.

Whatever the age of your student, this content is a gift that is given directly from teacher to student, without the interference of a textbook or other reference material. Take the time to learn the content and make it your own, so you can deliver it to your students in a living way.

Traditionally, the new content is delivered at the end of main lesson, and I can imagine this model working well in 1st or 2nd grade. But any older than that, I recommend bringing the new content as soon as it realistically makes sense. If the new material doesn’t need the lead-in of the review, you can even bring it right after the warm-up. There have certainly been times when my excitement about the new content has inspired me to bring it to my students right away

Bookwork

During the bookwork portion of the main lesson, the students take the material they have learned and put it into crystallized form. They bring the rich imaginative experience of the content into final physical form. In the upper grades, it can be a very satisfying experience to live into the content one more time in this very will-oriented way. Younger students appreciate the opportunity to engage with the content in a more tangible, active way.

I encourage you to think creatively about these four parts of the main lesson. With an understanding of the purpose behind each component, you can freely craft lessons that guide your students through the process best. You can imagine each component making up one half hour of your morning lesson, but use your powers of observation to determine if that structure makes sense for your students. Generally, younger students need a longer warm-up, older students need more new content time. Observe your students and plan accordingly.

I’m all about encouraging and empowering teachers and homeschooling parents to craft lessons that speak specifically to their own students. There is no secret sauce when it comes to Waldorf Education. As long as you understand child development and observe your students, you have everything you need to create your own lessons.

To help teachers and parents feel confident about planning their own curriculum, I have created a free 3-part video series about planning curriculum. To receive a link to the first free video, head over to my blog and subscribe using the form in sidebar. You’ll receive a link to the first video, as well as my Ultimate Guide to Chalkboard Drawing.

I hope these little videos, along with Carrie’s fantastic posts here at Parenting Passageway, can inspire you to create a Waldorf curriculum that is uniquely suited to your individual students.

About Meredith

Meredith Floyd-Preston is a mother of 3 teenagers and a trained and experienced Waldorf class teacher who blogs about her experience at A Waldorf Journey. Her new podcast A Waldorf Journey Podcast is a resource for supporting teachers and homeschooling parents with their teaching.

More About Planning Sixth Grade Roman and Medieval History

I wrote a post here about planning Roman History; I also have at least three back posts regarding Roman History in Waldorf Sixth Grade homeschooling from the first time I went through this grade (with the rare addition of pictures of artwork as well!) so if you use the search engine box those should come up.

I just finished  planning my Medieval History block and it came to me that there are just things I do when planning that I don’t really think about but might be of interest to those of you planning.  I talked about hte most important part, the knowing WHY we are teaching this at this time to a twelve year old from the standpoint of childhood development (Steiner’s indications) in the post I linked to above.  I also mention in this post setting objectives and gathering resources.

However, one thing I always do automatically as well is to use  a time line to get a big picture of that time period (and to refresh my own memory if it has been awhile!)  This helps me get an order in my mind.  I can also use the timeline big picture to get an idea of the big personalities and the big events that  lead to that invigorating picture of contrast for the child.  Polarities, or contrasts, often help us all see the period of time and help the child find wonder. And, whilst a timeline doesn’t help you flesh out the “this is how people lived day to day”, it does help you establish a consciousness of the people of this period.  This changing consicousness of people is what defines history in the Waldorf curriculum.

It also helps you do something a little specific to homeschooling:  it helps you find and hone in on things of interest dependent upon your child’s personality.  For children who are more scientifically oriented, starting with Greece and Rome, for example,  I might use a timeline to look at technological and scientific advances and I would follow that through all the grades. Or for another child perhaps it is following food or navigation or something else.  These things wouldn’t be the whole block , of course, but the point of homeschooling is to throw ideas and projects that really pique interest our children and still highlight the developmental theme of that block.

The other thing a timeline does is to help you see what is happening in other parts of the world at the same time as your block.  Some homeschooling parents get really frustrated with the history part of the Waldorf curriculum as it follows the stream of development that Steiner saw as archetypal for the development of Western Civilization and the development that becomes recapitulated in the inner life of the child’s soul development.  You can understand more about this if you read An Outline of Esoteric Science and understand how Steiner saw the evolution of the world and epochs of time.

However, please do remember that a variety of cultures are studied in the Waldorf Curriculum and that we as homeschooling parents always have the opportunity to bring to use the beauty of the curriculum as a beacon for our children regarding our own heritage and our own place in the world .   If you think about it, this is why the kindergarten and early grades start with the home, the local area and work outwards.     Fifth grade covers a variety of  world cultures and most homeschooling parents I know also put Ancient China and Ancient Africa in that grade.  Ancient Africa, as a neighbor of Egypt and the cradle of humanity, certainly deserves to be in this grade and  I like to put the Kingdom of Axum, Queen of Sheba and King Ezana in  sixth grade.  In my history blocks, I also am careful to put in at least one main lesson or outside reading of “what is happening around the world”.  I certainly don’t want to take away from the stream of development that led to the consciousness of the human being in Western Civilization.  This to me, would defeat the point of the Waldorf curriculum that I believe meets my child’s developmental needs.

However, to make a general note on upper grades curriculum planning,  I think we  MUST  be very careful in this day and age to make sure the curriculum is not eurocentric and adjusted for  where one lives (and where one is from).  Some Waldorf teachers around the world are doing this.  For example, those Eastern Africa Waldorf training manuals (for example, here is the Grade 3 Training Manual)   always do a great job about pointing out how to adapt the curriculum for a particular region.  I think there are many ideas to be gleamed to see how Waldorf teachers in Oceania, Asia, Latin America, and Africa are doing things.  Also, in homeschooling,  as I mentioned above, family matters as well – picking up the lines from the parts of the world where your family is from could be gratifying.  In our case,  our family is mainly of European descent, but when we get up to more individualized world events in Europe, I try to include the countries where we are from (our children have lines going back to eight different countries).

World cultures are also followed from the beginning of the grades through fairy tales, myth and legend and so on, so I also include Native Americans/First People in every grade from kindergarten on, and I include Africa in some way from kindergarten on.  I include Asian and Latin American fairy tales and stories in all  the early grades and then from fifth grade onward, include those regions in history as well to provide a complete picture of the world and dynamic contrast. For Roman History, for example, I put in correlations to the Han Dynasty in China and we can compare and contrast how these two Empires were similar and different.   If you did Ancient China in Fifth Grade, this is a natural progression.  For Medival History, I put in  the wonderful biographies of Sundiata, Musa Mali,  and one can at least mention the Ancient Puebloans of our country if one is American, or the Mayan Civilization (which I tend to cover in detail in seventh grade) and look at the Japanese feudal period.   Great Zimbabwe and the Kingdom of Zimbabwe would also be appropriate in this time period.  Seventh grade always includes a lot of African and Latin American geography along with stories of the great civilizations there, so sixth grade can be the time to plant seeds. Eighth grade obviously includes the geography and history of Oceania and the entire modern world, and my Down Under readers will certainly be finding out what is going on in their part of the world during the times of the Roman Empire and the Medieval Ages .

The other thing I always do  automatically besides think of timelines and biographies  is to look for food, dress, music, poetry, and games that will tie in.  I don’t talk too much about that on this blog but it is always in my planning.

Just a few more thoughts, take what resonates with you.  It is your homeschooling, and you are the expert for your family. If you have are a Waldorf homeschooler, you have a beautiful and developmentally appropriate framework.

Blessings,

Carrie

Planning Sixth Grade Roman History

Sixth grade Roman History is one of those mainstay blocks in Waldorf Schools.  Usually both Roman History and Medieval History are covered in the sixth grade in a school setting, but I have seen that not always occur in the homeschool environment.  With this block, like ALL the history blocks in grades 6-8, I think it is really important to think about WHY  you are doing WHAT you are doing. Waldorf History in these grades is a more a symptomatic approach to a particular time period and HOW that time period and the consciousness of these people, usually exemplified by biographies, fits in with the development of the child.  We often juxtapose polar opposite historical figures for even greater impact.  Examples  in Roman History might be the contrast between Augustus Caesar and Nero, for example.  You will have judgment calls to make as to what to include and how much to include for each block of history.   That is your right as the teacher.

So this week I have spent most of my week researching and typing away to create a Roman History block…this is my second time planning Roman History, for two very, very different children and I knew much more about Roman History from going through it the first time.  I have a whole stack of resources I am pulling from including “When the World Was Rome” by Brooks and Walworth; “Roman Lives” by Harrer (not super used); Kovacs’ “Ancient Rome” which I can’t really recommend  – I like the story tone, but it is inaccurate on so many levels and really functions more at an overview level than anything in detailed narrative; “Famous Men of Ancient Rome” by Haaren and Poland which is also not very detailed; “Peril and Peace” by the Withrows (Christian Resource); “Classical Kids” by Carlson for some minor ideas; Foster’s “Augustus Caesar’s World”; “Roman Fort” by MacDonald and Wood; “City” by Macauley: “Our Little Roman Cousin of Long Ago” by Cowles; a National Geographic “special issue” from 2015 on “The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire” (I like to know what is current); and “Attila the Hun” by Ingram.  Plus I have looked at all the major Waldorf curriculum providers out there and varying history/ancient history websites.  This could be overwhelming to have this many resources, but I suggest you at least basic check fact your main resource against something.  Not everything will agree, but accuracy is important. For example, there are varying opinions on Nero and the Burning of Rome and whether or not the early Christians actually met in the catacombs or not.   If I had to pick a few resources for the teacher, I would suggest “When the World Was Rome”, the National Geographic issue, and the Internet.

My basic structure is always to figure out  our objectives – what do we want to walk away with?;  and then academic objectives for my child and artistic objectives. I think about hands-on projects.  The child I am designing this for finds writing and  hands-on projects exhausting, so I have to balance all of this with what we are doing in other blocks during the school year.   I always pick a read-aloud for our block (one or sometimes two).  I usually come up with a vocabulary list for each week as well (and to me, spelling and vocabulary are two different things.  Often what mothers seem to be pulling from blocks on the advice of well-meaning Waldorf teachers is vocabulary, not spelling, but that is another post I guess).

Each day for us follows a similar pattern of movement (so in this case, perhaps Movement for Childhood exercises or Brain Gym movements and Roman marching); Opening Verse, the Latin Phrase of the Day, Poetry, review of Math or tying in of Math to the Main Lesson as I can and the main lesson review from the day before.  Then we move into whatever work needs to be done and new material.

I am happy about my block this year, but readily admit it took hours to plan.  It has been slow going in planning sixth grade overall and I also have first to plan and quite a bit of ninth grade blocks (ninth grade biology is at least for the most part done other than my lectures that I am going to present).

Hope your planning is coming along!  Please share what you are working on and help other planning mothers out with wonderful ideas and tips…

Blessings,
Carrie

Waldorf Homeschool Planning: Hands, Heart and Head

It is that time of year in the Northern Hemisphere!  School here in the Deep South is ending this week for most of the public schools, and we are coming to a close fairly soon as well.  This year our oldest will be heading into homeschool high school in the fall, and we will also have sixth and first graders starting anew!  These  important transitions are all the more reason to get organized over the summer.  I find myself following essentially the same sorts of rhythms ever year and  it really seems to fall into a hands, heart, and head pattern:

Hands – I start packing up the books for each year into bins and start getting out the books for the upcoming grades ( I have so many books by grade that I essentially only keep the grades we are doing out and the seasonal books and the rest go into the garage).  I organize the bookshelves and the school room supplies and see what we need to purchase in terms of art supplies and science supplies.  I also see what might need to be made for the first grade stories for our littlest member.

Heart – I sit down with my planner and figure out approximate start and end times for the school year and vacations; how many weeks of school I think we will do (which is usually 34-36 to fit things in); and I remember  and remind myself “what” our family’s goals for education are; I go through my Pinterest boards for homeschooling planning and make note of things that stir my soul for this year; I observe where the children really are in all spheres of development.  Over the years, I have made so many of those “divide a piece of paper into 12 blocks” – where you  write down your festival days, in our case Feast Days of Saints, seasonal qualities for where we live – that I don’t really have to do that anymore, but I do go through my seasonal Pinterest boards and see what we might like to make or do or use to celebrate by month and write it down.

Head – This is the most time-consuming part.  This is where the rubber meets the road and I start to lay out blocks – what blocks will I teach, in what order, how long will the blocks be, what resources will I use (which could be a post in and of itself!), what will each block contain and I write it all up day by day.  This part will take me most of the summer, even having been through first grade twice before and sixth grade once before. I include not only the block work itself, but opening verses, poetry and movement and other notes.

I also think hard about the daily rhythm at this point.  How many teaching periods each day or per week can I reasonably handle and not feel crazy?  Where can I combine?  What do I need to let go of and what do we really, really need as a family to be happy together?   I am finding the older my first child becomes, things are shifting in my family.  All the family in the children have very different needs right now, and I have different needs than before as I approach the last half of my fortieth decade of life.

Lastly, I make a schedule for myself for summer planning.  When will I plan exactly?  That part is really important because the follow-through has to be there.

Would love to hear what you are planning for fall!

Blessings,

Carrie

Adjusting to Middle School

In the United States, many eleven and twelve year olds are off to grades sixth through eighth at a separate school from elementary school.  This is called middle school, and children in grade six and their parents have told me over and over that this is such a big adjustment for them. 

I  had dinner with four little sixth grade girls the other night who attend three separate schools in different counties.   I asked them what made middle school so different.  They responded, “Well, having a locker!” Switching classes from teacher to teacher is also quite different than being with one teacher as is the case in most elementary schools.

Forgetfulness and lack of organization is the main thing parents seem to complain about.  That, and the amount of homework their middle schooler has!  The first year (sixth grade) seems to be the absolute hardest adjustment for most families.

Some helpful suggestions include helping your child have ONE place to write down all assignment and due dates – a master list or a master calendar.  The parent also keeps a calendar at home as well with important dates and when things are due to help along.  Having a consistent time and place to do homework is very important as well – rhythm and routine is everything.  The hours that a middle schooler has to spend at home may be quite short, considering that in many areas of the United States the middle schoolers go to school later but also come home later, like 4:45 or 5 P.M., and they are likely to be tired, so efficiency with homework is key.

The other thing that parents have shared with me is that they really had to look at the amount of time they were investing in outside activities because homework really needed to come first.  The homework only increases throughout the high school years, so this evaluation is a good  yearly practice to get into.    I know high schoolers in my neighborhood who are routinely spending almost all of their day on Sunday doing homework in  order to get ready for the school week, plus doing homework every night during the week, especially if they are in AP classes or in “gifted” classes.   Forming good habits in the middle school years is important for the future!

I would love to hear from you if your child has transitioned into middle school.  What advice would you have for other parents beginning the sixth grade year to make it a smoother year?

Many blessings,
Carrie

Talking About Alcohol and Drug Addiction

Those of you who have followed this blog for some time and have read my back posts on healthy sexuality, know that I am one for just layering in conversations about things over time.  For example, I feel fortunate that over the years I have been involved in breastfeeding counseling and have always worked with families and new babies.  Because of this, we have had many conversations around this very practical life experience, seen up close and personal and discussed what new babies and new parents need.  Now that our oldest daughter is a teenager, it has been easy to layer in candid conversations about healthy sexuality as we go. And, I think in order to talk about healthy sexuality, we need to talk about ourselves, how we perceive ourselves, and about addiction and the use of alcohol and drugs. 

The conversations doesn’t mean nothing will ever happen.  There are  absolutely no guarantees in raising children into adulthood; all you can do is be open and warm and provide information and share experiences.  People often act as if homeschooling is protective; I don’t view homeschooling that way.  Homeschoolers are open to the same sorts of things that go on everywhere. Homeschoolers live life just like everyone else. 

If you have experienced alcohol or drug addiction, or grew up with that, of course you will want to think ahead regarding how much you want to share and at what age you want your children to be to share it…But it is great to start thinking about that when your children are small (and on the flip side, it is never too late to have the conversation).  You may save your child’s life and your child’s family.  Addictions break families.

Addiction issues run in my family and I have been very upfront in layering in conversations over the years about the results of addiction to alcohol and drugs.   You can read a little about the role of genetics in addiction  here.   I want my older children to know the real risks of alcohol and drug addiction  just as they should know about the other medical  and mental health issues that people in our family have experienced.  I view alcohol and drug addiction as a medical problem, not something to be hid and not talked about. 

Something that  has also really prompted my conversation with my older children  as well is the information to be found in the book, “A Neuroscientist’s Survival Guide to Raising Adolescents and Young Adults” by Jensen, MD.    One thing the author points out is that “teenagers get addicted to every substance faster than adults, and once addicted have much greater difficulty ridding themselves of the habit – and not just in their teen years but throughout the rest of their lives.” (page 117).  In other words, because teenaged brains are neuroanatomically primed for learning and are more “plastic”, they are also more prone to addictions than a mature adult.

I am sure I have mentioned this book  before on my blog because I love it, so please do look it up.   Here are a few interesting comments from that book regarding tobacco and alcohol:

Tobacco

  • Sleep deprivation in teens can lead to increased cigarette use. 
  • Cigarette smoking can “cause a variety of cognitive and behavioral problems, including attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and memory loss, and it has been associated with lower IQ in smoking teenagers.” (page 115). 
  • A single cigarette has more than four thousand chemicals and substances in it. 
  • Ninety percent of smokers begin before the age of eighteen. 
  • The more teens smoke, the more the pre-frontal cortex of the brain is affected, and poor decision-making occurs.  Some studies show that after just a few cigarettes, the adolescent brain begins to create new nicotine receptors – essentially remodeling itself so it is harder to stop smoking.

Alcohol

  • When teens drink alcohol, they tend to drink four or five drinks in one session.  The definition of binge drinking  is considered when one consumes more than four or five drinks in a two hour period.  Studies show that binge drinking typically begins around the age of thirteen and then peaks between ages eighteen to twenty-two. 
  • The teenaged brain has less GABA receptors than the adult brain and handles some of the sedative aspects of drinking better than adults – which unfortunately means greater physiological tolerance of drinking which can result in an incentive to drink more.  Because drinking is social, and because studies have shown that teens frequently underestimate the amount of alcohol those around them are drinking, the combination can be deadly.
  • There are also terrible long-term consequences to alcohol in the teenaged brain, including attention deficit,  depression, memory problems, and reduction in goal-oriented behavior.  The damage is actually worse for girls’ brains than boys’.  Alcohol abuse shrinks the size of the hippocampus and also blocks the glutamate receptors the brain needs to build new synapses.     The hippocampus is where short-term memories are turned into long-term memories.  Many teens and young adults experience blackouts when they drink; young women may be at greater risk for memory impairment from alcohol.  Researchers are not totally sure why this may be yet.  
  • Children and adolescents who begin drinking before the age of 15 are four times more likely to  develop alcohol dependence later in life than those who begin drinking at the legal drinking age of twenty –one (United States).

I don’t really have the room here to go into the neuroanatomic changes caused by marijuana, Ecstasy, cocaine and other drugs on the adolescent brain, but I just leave this post with a reminder of the  general signs of drug abuse:  withdrawal, dramatic changes in appetite or sleeping habits, excess irritability, lack of personal hygiene, speech that is too rapid or too slow, bloodshot eyes, consistent cough, irregularities in the eye pupils or eye movements, change in group of friends. 

Keep watchful, and please talk to your children. Conversations about these topics should be natural, normal,warm, open,  and layered in over time with your children.  Always keep in mind that the biology of the brain of a teenager makes addiction much more difficult than even in adults.   These conversations – sexuality, addiction, dealing with stress, challenges such as depression and anxiety or other difficult behaviors that many times actually begin in adolescence –  deserve loving, kind parental conversations, action, boundaries, connections in the community, assistance.  These topics are really just part of being human and adolescents deserve our time and attention to be there for these challenges.  There are many things we can shy away from as parents, or  areas where we don’t feel we excel, but these topics deserve our attempt.

Blessings,
Carrie