This is the first in a series of three posts that will attempt to chronicle – as best as I can remember – how I switched from basically unschooling to homeschooling with Waldorf-inspired methods. (Truth be told: I did have a brief fling with The Well Trained Mind in the middle there.) I hope these recollections offer a realistic view of a transition that was not easy or smooth but was, ultimately, successful. In the beginning, I felt like I was treading water in the deep end of the pool, desperately trying to keep my head above water. I was vulnerable, scared and thought about quitting many times. I can honestly say, homeschooling with Waldorf has been one of the hardest things I have ever done, yet it continues to expand my understanding, express my deepest desires and exhort my better angels. For me, it has been a path to living more fully engaged in my parenting, my spirituality and my everyday life.
When I first came to Waldorf, I kept coming across the phrase “layer it in.” It was being given as advice to build a solid foundation – don’t do too much at once, and add in something new every year. I didn’t find this easy to follow. At the time, I had the mindset that I had to make up for all that we had missed. This thinking led to absolute overload, with me vacillating between over-functioning (trying to do everything) and under-functioning (doing a whole bunch of nothing). Below, I have outlined several areas specific to homeschooling with Waldorf-inspired methods and what each one looked like in our home that particular year. Brace yourself: year one was not pretty, but it was a start.
- Rhythm Rhythm was something I desperately wanted, but could not get a handle on. Some days I was too rigid; some days I was too lax. There was no seamless flow from one activity to the next. There was no gentle in-breathing/out-breathing. Our days resembled my very short stint with yoga: lots gasping, panting and herky-jerky movements. During both experiences I remember thinking,”This is X@#$%X hard! When do I get to relax??!!xx” I quit yoga after about six weeks, but for some reason I stuck with trying to get a rhythm going. Two things happened in January of that year that helped me to finally craft a little, bitty, baby rhythm. Carrie published this post on The Parenting Passageway, and I had a telephone consultation with Melisa Nielsen. (You can read more about my beginnings with rhythm in this early post.)
- Curriculum I remember agonizing over specific curriculum choices. I thought that if I just chose the right one, everything would be grand. I finally purchased grade 3 and the math book from A Little Garden Flower/Waldorf Essentials. I also became a member of Earthschooling/The Bearth Institute. I also haunted the Christopherus website. I think we did 3 blocks that year: math (going back to the beginning and teaching it whole to parts with Melisa’s math book), Farmer Boy (which was actually more of a unit study, but I am counting it anyway) and Old Testament stories (I robotically read these stories in May because I had put them off all year long.) We did do a lot of the practical work associated with grade 3: cooking, building and gardening/farming. These were integrated into our daily life and not really stressed as being a part of school per se.
- Art I dabbled with all the art forms that first year, not doing any of them well or with any kind of consistency. Lucky for us, Vincent was attending a Waldorf enrichment class for homeschoolers one day a week. The focus was on stories, art and games. He was receiving instruction in drawing, painting and modeling from a wonderful man who has since gone on to teach at the Waldorf school in town. At this point in time, Vincent’s skills were better than mine.
- Music I purchased Jodie Mesler’s Home Music Making program at a Waldorf curriculum fair in Atlanta. I gave the task of teaching it to my husband, who is definitely the musical one in our marriage. After twenty years of wedded bliss, I can tell you that my husband is a bit of a procrastinator (insert eye roll here). About every six weeks, he would ask me “Where is that penny whistle thing you bought?” Every time I would tell him it was in the drawer marked “MUSIC” in the schoolroom. Let’s just say, the silence was deafening.
- Handwork I learned how to knit, and subsequently taught Vincent. I accumulated a lot of yarn and knitted a rather short scarf (or perhaps a long potholder) that year. Vincent would knit in fits and starts, but we never really settled to the notion of doing handwork.
- Extras We didn’t celebrate any festivals. We made no main lesson books. There was no circle time. No verses. No songs. No poetic recitation. I did not tell one story that whole first year. We did toss around our beanbags, and Vincent learned both skip counting and his multiplication tables this way. I made some math gnomes. We dyed some yarn with natural dyes. I was on the computer a lot: reading blogs, participating in several online yahoo groups and just doing general research about all things Waldorf. I did have a big breakthrough in the summer between our first and second years. You can read about that experience in this post.
*** Read about our second year with Waldorf by clicking the image below.