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

How is Waldorf Homeschooling Different Than School?

I think there are significant ways that Waldorf homeschooling is different than a school.  Here are a few of the ways I think it can be very different:

  1. I think at home we tend to read aloud more.  We may tell stories for the main lesson, but I think in general we also have read-alouds going more frequently and in the upper grades (5th or 6th through 8th) we most likely are getting stacks of books out of the library on different subjects we are studying. I found this especially true this year in eighth grade.
  2. Your Waldorf homeschool may look differently, but I have talked to so many Waldorf homeschooling families over the years, and have come to the conclusion that because we are the ONLY one teaching, there is essentially the main lesson period (s) and (depending) a handwork period or a foreign language period. With multiple children needing multiple main lesson periods, (even with combining grades), that might be all the time in a day we have.   Some mothers seem to hit their max at two separate main lesson periods a day, some can do three separate main lesson periods, but I have not talked to ANY families running more than three separate main lesson times – so if you have three or more children, you may really need to get creative!  I think this is also true when you are combining main lesson blocks with academic subjects that need to run all year for homeschooling high school.
  3. We have to be more creative than a school about combining things,  simply because we are working across grade levels and ages.  We discover this whether it is main lessons combining children closer together in age or doing some studies that everyone can participate on in some level, or (gasp!) using Old Testament Stories for all the first through third graders and knowing it will speak most strongly to the third grader in the bunch, but that great stories are great stories!  Some examples of the above spring to mind: botany and Man and Animal blocks also come to mind as ones that everyone can participate in on some level; we can also combine things of a similar vein such as Ancient Mythologies (5th grade) with  fables of 2nd grade, or when homeschooling children only one year apart in school, we can come up with how we place blocks at the beginning or ending of a school year based on the age and developmental needs of the two children in front of us who need to be combined.   We can also look deeply at the developmental indications and see what different streams meet these needs.  For example, if you covered Roman History in sixth grade as a developmental part of bringing order out of chaos, and you have a fifth grader entering sixth grade in the fall the following year, perhaps you will cover the feudal system of Japan as a similar way of getting at this development soul level.  There are many creative ways to approach the developmental needs of the child.
  4.  Some things we just have to let go because we are not in a school setting. For example, in many families I have talked to around the country and world, many students transition from recorder/diatonic flute to some sort of instrument they can play in a community setting after third or fourth grade.   Some families have decided that foreign languages are going to have to wait until middle school or later when more community-based classes are available.  In the beginning of homeschooling, it is often very hard to think of making such choices and we want our Waldorf homeschooling experience to look like a Waldorf School.   However, what happens often when we let some things go is that we discover and place our families’ priorities first, whether this is that we all require and have to have hours of movement a day, or we have a spiritual or religious life that requires daily excursions to a place of worship, or we discover we value traveling.  These things all matter and can be explored in the context of homeschooling.
  5.  We homeschool to be out in life, not in a separate building for a school day.  We must be home in order to Waldorf homeschool, but days of hiking and field trips and such are things are so very fundamental to the homeschooling experience.  As homeschoolers, we may have the ability to participate in these things  more frequently than in a school setting,  and especially as our children enter the years past the nine year change, we should be able to place our rhythms around some of  this.

Tell me how you think Waldorf homeschooling differs from a school setting!  I would love to hear from you!

Blessings,
Carrie

Helping Children With AD/HD with Writing and Math

These are a few tips that parents have shared with me regarding helping older children and teens with ADD/ADHD cope with writing and math in a classroom environment or at home with homework and ends our series of posts regarding children with AD/HD . I hope you have enjoyed this series as much as I have.   Our children with AD/HD are beautiful, and will succeed in having lives that are as wonderful and gifted as they are.  These strategies are ones parents found of use as they walked this journey, and are meant to support and encourage.

Writing:

Children with AD/HD may have the following challenges with writing:  organization, poor memory (ie, cannot access long term memory for correct spelling, grammar, punctuation, capitalization along with trying to remember what they are writing about and what should come next), laborious handwriting (many prefer printing as cursive requires more memory than printing), unsophisticated ideas in writing,  and written language problems such as very brief sentences for grade level.

Ways to improve this may  include:  writing one to two sentences daily, and then working on how to construct a paragraph in separate parts.  Only after these two steps can one hope to work on lengthening assignments to one brief paragraph and then trying to increase the sophistication of ideas and words used.  Polishing grammar and spelling is the very last step. You can write with your student.  Teach sequencing in writing (first, second, next, last, then, finally, before, after, etc).

Math:

Common math difficulties include weak math computation,  and the inability to have basic math facts automated which hinders quickly retrieving information so problems cannot be completed quickly.  However, students may learn math concepts as easily as other students.  Algebra is often very, very challenging for a teenager with ADD/ADHD, as well as word problems,and long division .

Ways to improve this include:  putting a sample math problem on the board and numbering the steps and leaving it up throughout the math class, providing visual cueing for common math facts, providing copies of important math facts, using graph paper for place value instruction and to keep columns aligned, developing mnemonics for long division, and using math games.

Memory:

Working memory tends to be weaker and impacts speed regulation and retention of information in the classroom.

Strategies for Improving Memory – includes using mnemonics, using color to highlight facts, using a multisensory approach, using visual aids on blackboard or on wall that will remain there throughout teaching.

I would add to all of these that memory  and academic skills improve with movement.  Teaching through movement can be an important step that is often not as addressed in traditional teaching environments.

Specific to a Waldorf Environment:  Waldorf Education does so many things “right” in regards to children with these sorts of learning challenges and works to develop the whole child.  Work in the physical body and with the arts improves the academic outlook immensely!

One thing I feel that is improving in Waldorf Schools, and certainly in the homeschool environment can be followed up on when one deems it necessary,  is that need to identify challenges head-on and get help.  Many of these past posts (this is the fifth one in this series)have identified professionals who can help – from anthroposophic doctors to neuropsychologists to executive functioning coaches to  any number  of holistic supports.  But the intervention is important.  I was reading through Fenner and Rivers’ “Waldorf Education:  A Family Guide” and  there was an article in there entitled, “To Tutor or Not To Tutor:  When Your Child Needs Help” by Anne Jurika that could be very helpful reading for Waldorf families dealing with this question.  Her point on page 127: “Sometimes children have a slower pace of development and do catch up with their peers by around Third Grade.  However, much of the time, in my observation, those who experience difficulty in the First Grade are still experiencing it in the upper grades, where it has become a problem on many levels – academic, social, and emotional….While it is important not to overreact, it is important also to investigate the problem as soon as possible with the class teacher through close observation and evaluation, with advice from knowledgeable people.”

Please share with me the ideas that have helped your children directly with academic challenges.  I would love to hear what worked for your child and promoted success over the rougher spots.

Blessings,
Carrie

 

 

Weeks 31-33 Waldorf Homeschooling

Some weeks have gone by since last posting in this series.  It has been a busy time of year with our children’s dear grandfather celebrating his 80th birthday, our middle child fracturing her arm, and end of the year performances and banquets. In the midst we have celebrated the Feast of Ascension, Ascensiontide, May Day, Mother’s Day,  and today is Whitsun, the Feast of Pentecost.

Kindergarten:  During these past weeks, we have been living life together making bone broth, baking, walking and hiking, wet on wet painting, modeling,  and preparing little things for the festivals.  Our circle time included an adventure circle modeled after Peter Rabbit’s garden adventures, finger plays about birds and bunnies,  and this week included songs and finger plays about doves for Whitsun.  We were immersed in the story of “Forgetful Sammy” from the book “All Year Round” but we have now moved into a story from the Summer Wynstones book simply titled, “Whitsun Story”.  Our major project this week was a garland of doves made from watercolor paper and singing!    I also made a tiny jar of woolen white birds on little sticks to decorate our nature table.

Fifth Grade:  We finished our Canada/Metric System block and moved into the totality of North American geography.  Before this, our read alouds involved  books about Canada and also Hawaii, but now we are moving into a different part of North American geography with a little book called, “Salsa Stories”.  I began this block with an expansive look at North America and the  United States, all the major mountain ranges, rivers, deserts, and lakes.  Then we went to Alaska, and from there we jumped across the continent to the Northeastern United States and spent time there on the land, on logging and whaling and the Erie Canal.  So, we have done mainly singing, painting,  and drawing this time around. I had plans for modeling but that is difficult with one arm casted, so I am saving those ideas for now.  We have discussed the District of Columbia, and Washington DC, which we have visited, talked about George Washington and Mount Vernon and tied the flora of the region in the early days of Colonial America to the early Presidents and their role in a primarily agrarian country that was different than England.  We looked briefly at the Appalachian Mountains through literature and now are looking at life in a southern plantation, the life of Sequoyah, and then into the Mississippi River and the wonderful Western United States.

Every day we are reviewing provinces, capitols, and geographic features from our Canada block, reviewing the states and capitols, the mountain ranges and deserts, etc, locating things on a map and making all of this as physically active as possible.  We have been using extra books for reading aloud and also the “Stories Where We Live” series.  For skill development, we are working on a state report, which I modified from A Waldorf Journey’s ebook about this block, which was my biggest inspiration for this block.  Author  Meredith is a wonderful,  actively teaching Waldorf teacher, and I love all her little guides.  I also garnered inspiration from a book of poetry called, “My America:  A Poetry Atlas of the United States.”

We are also continuing to work on math and spelling daily.

Eighth Grade: We finished up our American History block, including the War on Terror, the Age of Digitality, and the challenges we face ahead as one humanity.  Our daughter drew a very gorgeous title page and everything is done! Yay!

For Oceanography and Meteorology, we moved from the very first marine scientists, who were explorers.  We looked at the explorers of Easter Island,  and the development of civilization on that island and then the life of Captain James Cook.  From there, we moved into the science of the oceans – what is an ocean?  what is oceanography?  how do our oceans change?  We looked at the biographies of Alfred Wegener and Hess, and the Theory of Plate Tectonics and the layers of the Earth.    We went through all the landforms of the ocean floor and what ocean life is like in different zones of the ocean and around different landforms.  We also looked at the biography of oceanography Sylvia Earle and looked closely at the Marine Sanctuary off the coast of our state – Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary. From the hydrosphere,  we moved into the Atmosphere.  We discovered the layers of the atmosphere and their characteristics, what clouds are, the types of clouds, winds and then we moved into extreme weather – thunderstorms, tornadoes, and hurricanes.  We spent one whole morning drawing clouds with pastels and our eighth grader created a very beautiful main lesson book for this block.

This week we have moved into our “Peacemakers Block”.  My main inspiration for this can be found over at Waldorf Inspirations’ website.  We have so far looked back at Harriet Tubman and Sojurner Truth (and their meeting!), the women’s suffrage movement in the United States and around the world, and Gandhi.  This week we will be moving into more in-depth about the Civil Rights Movement, which we have studied quite a bit both in our American History block and also just in our local field trips as we live near Atlanta.  I would like to compare Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X (I read his book this past summer!) and look at our local leaders – John Lewis and Andrew Jackson Young.

We have also been working on math almost daily, brushing up on geometry, algebra basics, and some business math.  Next year we will be tackling Algebra I, so it is coming together!  In World Geography, we will be taking the next three weeks or so to finish up Europe and then that is done as well.  Yay!

Our eighth grader is working on finishing a Waldorf doll she is making, and our fifth grader will be working on finishing her set of fingerless gloves she is knitting in the round once her cast comes off.  Our little guy is not in first grade but he tries to knit and has been working on what he calls a scarf, but what i think we will try to encourage to be a block we can turn into a pouch or little animal over the summer and the first part of first grade in the fall.

Homeschool Planning:  I am ready to start again.  I have most of sixth grade planned, but with some (many? LOL) presentations to write and also quite a bit about skill development to consider since our soon to be sixth grader needs quite a bit of  repetition to remember foundational things.  I have planned out a lot of high school biology and have really mixed in a good deal of Goethean science to it, so I am quite happy with how that is shaping up.  I have a few blocks of ninth grade planned, and then I have the rest of ninth and first to plan.

One of my considerations is time for planning.  As my children have gotten older, they are ready to go and do more and are not as content to just be home running around in the sprinklers or something while I plan.  Nor is my husband content to lose me every night to planning after they go to bed.  I think my solution is going to be to plan every morning for an hour and  a half as part of our rhythm to summer (early), to plan at night when my husband is traveling, and then to plan several “Saturdays at the library” where I just go and leave the house and plan .  That is harder because it is hard to drag stuff for three grades for planning, but I think so long as it is all on the schedule for the summer, it will happen.

Self-care:  I have been working out most days.  I get up at 5:40 and go to the gym or use workout videos.  I also have been walking at night if my husband is home and not traveling.  This has been wonderful for me.  I also have joined the “KonMari in the Waldorf Home” Facebook group and have going through the house.  This is something I do every summer to get us ready for the new school year, but this year I have gotten a  jump on it and even started the school room switch of books by grade.

I would absolutely love to hear what you are finishing up, what grades you are preparing for next school year, and what you are working on in your home.  Please share!

Lots of sunshine love,

Carrie

 

 

Ways to Strengthen Executive Functioning

This is the fourth post in our series about children with ADD/ADHD and supporting our children.  These posts are meant to stimulate your own interest in research and dialogue with your child’s individual educational and health care provider teams, and also to link where I can to current research and current practice in this area, because this can be important in dealing with more mainstream educational and medical models .

Today, we are exploring executive functioning and what this term really means, and how we may strengthen it.  Executive functioning generally refers to a set of cognitive processes that develops and changes over the course of a lifetime of an individual and includes things such as attentional control, inhibitory control, working memory and flexibility in thinking, as well as reasoning, problem solving, and planning ahead.  This is shaped by physical growth and changes in the brain as well as by life experiences.  We often see difficulties with executive functioning in both people with ADD/ADHD, and also in people with addictions.

The sort of normal course of development of these cognitive actions takes place over the lifespan, often in spurts, with growth being particularly marked at the ages of 7-12 months, ages 3-5, ages 8-10 with a spurt around 12 of “goal directed” activities, throughout adolescence with a peak at around age 15 for increased attention to task and an increase in working memory, and then a peak in executive functioning skills in the 20s.  Declines are usually noted around age 70, although I suspect this might be changing with longer life spans.

There are many facets to executive functioning, but here are some varying ideas for areas related to executive functions with possible ways to help your child.  Take what works for you, and use these ideas as possibilities to talk about with your child’s health care and/or educational team.

Working Memory and Recall:  -One study found some teens with ADHD have the working memory of a seven-year old due to executive functioning deficits.  Working memory and recall affects holding facts in your memory and being able to retain them long enough to work with those facts, sequencing of information and getting organized and down on paper, memorizing facts.

  • Possible ways to help:  teaching your older children how to visualize things in their mind’s eye (ages 10 plus, I would say); have your child teach you because in order to teach you will remember things better; play games that teach visual memory (ages 6 plus); make up categories to help remember things; connect emotions and senses to teaching methods (and visualizing)

Activation and alertness – Difficulty in activation of a task, staying alert throughout a task to complete it, finishing work – this can stretch over variability in school work during the day and over the week.  Some days are better than others.

  • Possible ways to help:  make to do lists; make projects by breaking bigger projects down; give clear instructions; hold a steady rhythm;  manage sleep problems through a sleep specialist or clinic; use as graphic organizer; write ideas down in clusters; use manipulatives since physical activity leads to a higher level of mental alertness; use a timer or chime to indicate it is time to start work; if student is drifting off take a “brain break” with Brain Gym type activities or tap on the desk; fidgeting and chewing gum holds real value for increased alertness

Complex problem solving and difficulties with time management – Students with ADD/ADHD may experience trouble with these areas in learning, especially during the teen years as they need to write, memorize, comprehend reading,do algebra, be organized for deadlines for projects and homework with increased time awareness and planning ahead for the future.

  • Possible ways to help:  allow enough time for activities and schedule backwards from due dates or times when you have to be somewhere; practice estimating time; block off time for homework if in traditional school or in homeschooling may need scheduled block of time to finish projects; use weekly or monthly planners; use a master calendar on wall;  work during peak energy times for your child;

Control of Emotions – low tolerance for frustration, emotional blow-ups.  This included difficultly internalizing behavior and difficulty using “self talk” to guide behavior; also usually difficulty in learning from past behavior so misbehavior is often repeated; diminished self-awareness; difficulty inhibiting speech or behavior

  • Possible ways to help:  keep track of when blow-ups happen – many times they are around transitions or when there is a personal crisis (in teens this can especially be true); if a child is on medication it can be when the medication wears off and this would need to be addressed with your child’s health care team; teach your child to go and cool off (easier said than done, I know); help your child learn to recognize internal feelings of anger, rage, frustration and have a plan  in place for when those feelings occur – some schools are using a chart with a gauge of frustration to try to teach children with poor emotional control that not every situation demands the same level of frustration or response and then teach cooling off techniques – breathing, exercise, meditation

Please share with me your best strategies for helping executive challenges.  There are executive functioning specialists who do nothing but work with children and teens with these challenges; perhaps if you have a child with these challenges that is struggling there could be hope in an individualized plan from one of these professionals as well.

Many blessings,

Carrie

 

 

 

 

These Are A Few of My Favorite Things: May

Here’s a branch of snowy May,

A branch the fairies gave me.

Who would like to dance today, 

With a branch the fairies gave me?

Dance away, dance away,

Holding high the branch of May.

-from Spring: A Collection of Poems, Songs and Stories for young children by Wynstones Press

I love May, in all her green and blooming glory.  Down here in the South, the weather can be quite warm and the pools are opening for the season.  It is the end of the school year, and everything is bursting with vitality!

This month we are celebrating:

May 1 – May Day; also the Feast of St. Philip and St. James

May 2, 3, and 4 – Rogation Days

May 5 – The Feast of Ascension

May 8- Mother’s Day

May 15 – Whitsun; The Feast of Pentecost

May 19 – The Feast of St. Dunstan

May 20 – The Feast of St. Alcuin

May 30- Memorial Day (and our wedding anniversary!)

May 31- The Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary

These are a few of my favorite things for small children:

  • Hiking on The Feast of Ascension, watching clouds
  • Making Pentecost crafts
  • Gathering for May Day and dancing around a May Pole!
  • Making crafts for Memorial Day, Memorial Day parades
  • Pedal toys – trikes and bikes! Have your own Memorial Day parade

These are a few of my favorite things for grades-aged children:

  • All of the above, plus
  • Following Screen Free Week May 2-8
  • Swimming and miniature golf
  • Playing in the water and sand
  • Observing all the dragonflies, bees, and butterflies
  • Calming rituals for rest times and the end of the day.  I strongly believe that children ages 8-13 still need earlier bedtimes and I work very hard to make that happen. Calming rituals and rhythm are soothing for sleep!

These are a few of my favorite things for teens:

  • All of the above, including screen free week
  • Spring cleaning and spring decorating of the home, gardening tasks
  • Spring cooking, making special treats for The Feast of Ascension and Memorial Day
  • Planning surprise May Day baskets for neighbors, and doing things to serve others.
  • Picnics at the lake
  • Later night walks in the warm air – great time to talk after the smaller children have gone to bed

These are a few of my favorite things for myself:

  • Celebrating our family with family meetings and family game night.
  • Celebrating our marriage with a night out.
  • Vigorously moving 5 to 6 days a week, whether that is through yoga, hiking, at the gym, or whatever I choose.
  • Drinking lots of water and herbal teas.
  • Going through the “You Are Loved” Bible Study by Sally Clarkson and Angela Perritt.  I am really enjoying it.

These are a few of my favorite things for homeschool planning:

I haven’t planned too much yet and am finding it hard to get back on track. My plan right now is to spend several afternoons this month at the library and see if I can write up some of the missing presentations for sixth grade and then that grade will be done, along with finishing up soe plans for ninth grade biology.  Then I will start to start write for first grade. I have an idea for a quality of number/first math processes block and am still searching for just the right idea for presenting the letters.

Hope you are doing some celebrating this month.  Please share your May plans!

Many blessings,
Carrie

Celebrating The Feast of Ascension With Children

The Feast of Ascension is such a beautiful festival.  In the Western calendar, Ascension Day is coming on Thursday, May 8. This used to be a day of sabbatical in many places in Europe, where processions through a town or village went forth with a banner depicting a lion trampling the devil was at the head of this procession, and the procession stopped throughout the village to view little medieval pageants. It also used to be a day for Divine Liturgy, where the Paschal Candle was extinguished, perhaps a statue or picture of Christ was raised (sometimes elaborately through a hole in the ceiling with ropes!) and the mass of parishioners were showered with rose petals and flowers, which symbolized the gifts which the ascended Christ bestowed upon the Church.

Much of this no longer takes place.  Many Anglican Communion churches now celebrate Divine Liturgy for the Feast of Ascension on the Sunday after the feast, and the Paschal Candle is extinguished on The Feast of Pentecost.

 

For the day of the Feast, those who are religious can attend Divine Liturgy and read the Gospel story about the Ascension of Jesus.   We can ponder the mystical nature of the whole of the Church.   This can still be a beautiful sabbatical day of hiking to a hill or mountaintop and looking for clouds in the shape of lambs, which is traditional.

Clouds are a theme in Ascension, and the clouds, according to the authors of “All Year Round”, can link us to the “stream of blessings which united heaven and earth”.  The section on Ascension also talks about “between the common ground of our daily life and the vaulted heights of our ideals, the longings of our heart swell like summer clouds.”  These are lovely thoughts to ponder as we re-fresh and re-new our souls on this special day, and the nine days following The Feast of Ascension in order to prepare for Whitsun (Pentecost) – the renewal found in this festival makes room and space in us to receive the gifts our Creator has bestowed upon us, and to ponder how we can use these gifts in truth to serve all of humanity.

Many Blessings,

Carrie