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

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?

(Up to date as of 2/4/2017)

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 (and this is just a list; I am not endorsing any particular curriculum since different things work for different families)  include Celebrate the Rhythm of Life Living Curriculum Program,  Live Education, Waldorf Essentials, Earthschooling, 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 out 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.  There are several websites with free information, including Waldorf Inspirations.  Jean Miller’s website Waldorf-Inspired Learning and  Meredith over at A Waldorf Journey have some products available depending upon block/topic. 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.  There may be other resources I missed or didn’t include, but I think these represent the majority of the curriculums that are out there that cover grades 1-8 in some capacity.

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

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

Blessings,
Carrie

The Ten Kinds of Play

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

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

Here are some types of play:

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

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

Blessings,
Carrie

Third Grade Old Testament Stories

There always seems to be some kind of controversy on the Waldorf Facebook groups or Waldorf Yahoo Groups regarding the stories of the Old Testament in third grade.  Some curriculums refer to this block as “Stories of the Hebrew People”.  Some go as far as to try to make the third grade a “Hebrew Year” to go along with this.

I think the title “Stories of the Hebrew People” may be done just  to emphasize that Steiner saw the place of the Judaic stream within Western Civilization as a profound shift of the consciousness of humanity. It was a time when humanity turned inward.  We can look at Moses and the Burning Bush and see how God was in the bush, loudly speaking to Moses, and how the Old Testament prophet Elijah found God not in the earthquake, not in the fire, but in the “still, small voice” after the fire.  In Steiner’s view, this represented a shift from a group consciousness carried by the Patriarchs to a more individualized consciousness.  There are other ideas Steiner had to be examined regarding Creation and the concept  of time within the Jewish psyche of this time that he felt was important.  These may be the details that speak unconsciously to the nine-year-old in an important way.

I think this block can be challenging for some families because despite what anyone says regarding the fact that this is part of the soul development of a nine year old in the  nine year old change that needs to hear stories about separation, loss and redemption; despite the fact that these stories are important literary and foundational references within Western Civilizations, it inevitably brings up for many homeschooling parents things associated with  religion.  It is especially hard when there are associations for parents with negative religious experiences, even if this is not supposed to be a religious main lesson!  In this day and age, however,   I would not expect less examination.  And because in homeschooling each home is like a world onto itself, and because whilst homeschooling is alternative and Waldorf homeschooling may truly be the alternative of the alternative, I think it often makes the diversity of opinions even greater.

Teachers in the school setting  have to work and struggle with the material as well, but in a classroom one may have an entire class of children from different spiritual and religious experiences there and that perhaps reminds the teacher of the archetypal journey of human consciousness of these stories, whereas at home, there is one parent (usually) leading the block with whatever background  and experiences the parent brings.  In some ways I think this makes it harder!  Some religious homeschooling parents (and there are Christian and Jewish families who use Waldorf homeschooling as their educational model!)  struggle because as part of their religion, these “stories” are not just “stories” but full of meaning, wonder and promise within their religious life; however  the goal of this block is not to have these stories associated with religion but with the development of humanity. As a Christian in the home environment, I know I look at the  Old Testament as not just part of the consciousness of humanity shifting, but through a lens of redemptive love found in the New Testament.  So that can be not so much a struggle, but a particular background to deal with.   Some parents struggle due to past negative experiences.  As I said before, this block is  not in any way meant to be a religious main lesson.  You can see more on this in the Christopherus post  on this subject here and also a small mention of this in this post over at Math By Hand.

I don’t know as there is any other answer than for us as teachers, as homeschooling parents,  to do the work.  I have known some homeschooling families that never really came to a place to bring these stories; I don’t think that can be nor should be forced.  The blocks need to flow out of who the teacher is.  It is worth it to look at this and see why it doesn’t flow, and see different points of view, but at the end of the day, all you can do as a teacher is bring what you think would work best for the soul development of the child in front of you and what is in your own inner work.  People ask for recommendations for “substitutions” for this block but I don’t know as there is any really.  You can certainly bring in more of the Native cultures from your area as tied in with the practicalities of the third grade curriculum; some families do creation stories from around the world but I am not certain that that really gets at the heart of why Steiner considered these stories important for children of this age.  It doesn’t mean that doing a block of Creation stories is wrong, I just don’t know as it is a substitute for what Steiner seemed to have intended…..

I don’t have the answers, but just a few thoughts to share on a situation that often challenges the homeschooling parent.

Blessings,
Carrie

An Introduction to Waldorf Homeschooling

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Many blessings,
Carrie

Third Grade Resources

 

I have written quite a few posts about Waldorf homeschooling in third grade.  Each time I teach third grade, it varies depending upon the child.  With our first child, it was more of a year centered around the Old Testament stories.  With our second child, we centered our year more around Native American studies and farming.  Whatever you decide as you observe where your child is and what direction within third grade to focus on, I wanted to share some of our favorite resources from over the years.

 

Farming and Gardening – Continue reading