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

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

Teens and Behavior: Is It All Just Hormones?

The short answer is no, not entirely.  I have been reading the wonderful, accessible book “The Teenaged Brain” by Frances E. Jensen, MD and Amy Ellis Nutt.  When we look at a teenager from a neurophysiology perspective sees more than just  hormones at work.  Some of the main points I took away from the first few chapters in this book regarding adolescent and young adult physiology follows:

Yes, hormones do rise.  The concentration of hormones does change; however the levels of hormones are not any different than the levels found in young adults.  So, if hormone levels are not any different than young adults, than what is the neurophysiologic challenge adolescents are facing that seems to make them more impulsive, more emotional than many  young adults?   (Although judging by some of the idiocy we are seeing on college campuses as of late, I guess this could be argued! LOL)

Part of the challenge is the way the brain is responding and  trying to regulate hormones  that have been previously dormant.  The brain is changing, and the  receptors in the brain and the neurotransmitters that go with these changes is profound.  Sex hormones are especially active in the limbic system, which is the emotional center of the brain.

Adolescents have an ability to reason that is as sharp as an adult’s reasoning, which is why an adolescent can perform well on standardized testing, for example.  Memory and the ability to learn new information is at an all-time high.   However, reasoning often seems to fall short in real life, for example,  a teenager’s perception of risk often falls far short of the reality of risk.  Why is this?

Part of this stems from the maturation pattern of the brain and part of it stems from the fact that a teenager’s brain gets more of a sense of reward than an adult brain because of the increased amount of dopamine that is released. 

The brain matures from the back to the front, and the parietal lobes mature late and the  frontal lobes are the last area to mature.  This is important because the parietal lobes help regulate being able to switch between tasks and help the frontal lobes to focus .  The frontal lobes help send inhibiting messages to the reward centers of the brain – but they are not fully developed and develop last.  They also function in prospective memory – the ability to hold in your mind the intention to perform a certain action at a certain time in the future.  (This skill is almost physiologically stagnant in children ages 10-14, so please don’t just expect them to remember!)Also, the prefrontal cortex that processes negative information, doesn’t work as well in teenagers’ brains.

When we crave what the brain perceives on a physiologic level as a “reward” and we get  a dopamine rush, the teenaged brain is less equipped to deal with shutting the dopamine reward of risky behavior down because of the less developed brain physiology.  Remember, the teenaged brain is about 80 percent mature and teens are hypersensitive from the standpoint of brain physiology to dopamine rewards.  The teenaged brain also releases more dopamine in response to a potential “reward” situation so it can be particularly difficult for a teen to resist situations, especially if negative consequences are never experienced, or if negative consequences are experienced, they are less likely to learn from the situation because they do not process negative information in the same way as a mature adult.  Therefore,  they are more likely to keep repeating the behavior.   This can help explain, for example, things such as addiction in teenagers is more strongly “stuck” in an adolescent’s brain and risk and reward system.

Based upon the above, we know the adolescents consistently disregard risks associated with sexual activity, alcohol, drug use.  We can add to this mixture a society that has devalued sexual activity and the peer role in risk-taking behavior.  Social isolation for girls and a lack of extra-curricular activities for boys increased risk-taking behavior (page 113).  This has nothing to do with the physiology of the brain per se, but we know environment and physiology always mix.    Mood and emotions also can be of profound importance in decision-making moments in teens as well.   

Lots of food for thought in this book.  I highly recommend this as a great read to help you understand and parent your teenager!

Blessings,
Carrie

Homeschooling Middle School: Socialization and the Future

Several mothers of middle schooled homeschooled children whom I have spoken to recently (with children ranging from almost 13 to 14 and a half), have said that their children have asked for either classes with a peer group or expressed an interest in someday attending school.  My own older daughter recently told me she would like a Latin class in a group of peers, which I thought was interesting timing on the heels of some of the conversation between myself and other parents.

This question  has also given many of us  as parents a small wondering pause.  Many of the parents who have planned to homeschool through high school are wondering if the pull towards peers is going to become stronger and stronger and will our teens be happy homeschooling high school or will they want to do something different?  And then there is always that delicate balance of how much does a child get to decide for themselves what course their education is going to take during the teen years?  Much like many children do not have a choice whether or not to attend school, many homeschoolers feel a traditional academic school is not a good fit for their family, even in high school.  These are the delicate issues that must be grappled with.

And I think this wanting to be  in a peer group for classes and learning also points to a different piece – being with peers socially.  My daughter told me the other day that she loves homeschooling and wouldn’t change a thing about it, but she does wish she could see her friends more during the week.

Because there is a big change that happens in middle school homeschooling, I think.  Continue reading