What’s Working


I hinted in this post that our days look a lot different than they have in the past. And they do. Our school day is shorter, more focused and dare I say, less Waldorf. I have an “ideal” day which we are working toward: it includes free reading and art enrichment in the morning and then two main lessons. For now, however, we are “treading water” – preserving our relationships and focusing on the academic essentials. Here’s a look at what’s working:

Drawing: Vincent is methodically working through the book Mapping the World with ArtWe both love this curriculum! It uses a combination of background reading, freehand map drawing and numerous supplemental activities to teach geography and cartography. (There is a companion CD that demonstrates some of the drawing lessons, but I didn’t find this necessary.) Jude has spent his drawing time ploughing through Ed Emberley’s drawing books (again). This series is well-loved at our house and a must-have for the “What can I do?” shelf. I am compiling their drawings in a binder to show progress and also to remind me how much time they are spending at their desks (WITHOUT ME!) doing something very worthwhile.

Writing: I purchased Julie Bogart’s Brave Writer curriculum this summer and we are taking suggestions from The Writer’s Jungle and The Arrow to extend Vincent’s composition skills. While Friday Freewrites have been hit or miss, I’m trying to take a long view. I have also incorporated notebooking pages into Vincent’s main lessons, because main lesson books have never, ever worked for him. He has trouble orienting text and images on the page and having lines and a border/margin pre-defined helps him to concentrate on composition. We are using a variety of pages from this set and this one, specifically about explorers, is taking us through the entire semester.

Math: For the upper grades (starting in grade 5), I use the first semester of a new grade to reinforce skills from the previous year and wait to introduce new material until the second semester. Vincent is continuing to use the Key to series (focusing on Measurement and finishing Decimals and Percents) along with Jamie York’s free speed sheets. For some reason, he doesn’t like the MMM workbook, so we are still doing Old School Math for both mental and written practice. We will take a break from the subject in November and December will see our third and final geometric drawing block. This has been a favorite and we love using this curriculum from Melisa Nielsen. I am also hoping to sneak in a few lessons in constructing Platonic solids out of paper and clay while we listen to Christmas carols before the holidays.

Audio/Visual: I started incorporating a couple of documentaries into our blocks last year. We watched some real gems and had fabulous discussions over dinner, recapping what we watched for Tom. This year, I decided to make this a regular part of our homeschooling and we are subsequently enjoying “Filmstrip Friday.” About twice a month, we watch something from Netfilx, youtube or the library. I am doing a free 30-day trial of Discovery Education’s streaming, but don’t think I’ll cough up the $100 for the year. I am also using audiobooks almost exclusively for afternoon story time – thanks to audible.com and the library. I read to both boys almost every day for main lesson, and reading aloud in the afternoon was feeling overwhelming. Using audio books lets me just enjoy hearing the story along with them. I would like this to be a time for handwork as well, but that hasn’t happened yet.

Things to work on / Soliciting Advice, Suggestions, HELP!

Reading: This is really a post in and of itself, but suffice to say for now, neither of my boys read fiction on their own. They are both voracious readers, but it is exclusively non-fiction and magazines. I recently read The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller (thank you Alison) and she reminded me how important it is to dedicate time in the school day for free-reading. I want this time to be for fiction, but so far I am being met with big-time resistance. Like I said, I have a whole post in the works about this, but wanted to know if anyone else has this issue.

Math: Kara mentioned Teaching Textbooks and they look pretty enticing. Anyone have any experience with them??

Other: I want to add in some enrichment time in the mornings for both boys. Art appreciation, music appreciation OR nature journaling. Admittedly, at one point, I wanted to do all three – one a day, a la Charlotte Mason. However that is not realistic, so for now, I want to choose one. I found some great resources for nature journaling, but cannot seem to get the gumption to actually do it. I like the looks of this program for music appreciation. Our library has a couple of their cds, so I’m going to sample those first. Anybody have any other suggestions – especially for art appreciation??

14 thoughts on “What’s Working

  1. Hi Sheila,
    We have successfully used Teaching Textbooks. 3 of 4 kiddos did it and they seem to really like it. I like it because it is something they can do on their own (while I work with a different child) and, since math is not my strongest subject, I can hand that one over to someone more qualified. There is the lesson, practice and review if a concept isn’t sinking in.

    Treading water and breathing here, too. Hoping and praying lots of days that these efforts have been enough as I contemplate change.

    Love and light to you

  2. Thank you so much for sharing Sheila. Home schooling demands so much; it calls us to grow alongside our learning children who hold up the mirror to our strengths and imperfections with such gusto! Hearing about the logistics of your days is so helpful. It causes me to give pause about what’s working and what isn’t in our experience. You create space for reflection and you are gracefully navigating the shifting tides!

    • I love that metaphor of the mirror. It is so true!!

      I don’t know how gracefully I’m navigating over here. The trick about blogging is not to write while your in the middle of it. Well that’s how it works for me personally. Because I can tell you there was nothing graceful or grace-filled about our transition.

      Thank you for your kind words, Melissa.

  3. Hi Sheila,
    My ds has been reading since way before we started “schooling” him. He begged us to read “Swiss Family Robinson” to him (the original, unabridged version) and whilst I thought he was a bit young, I agreed. One night he picked me up on a word I changed and I said, “Are you reading this?” Yup. He had just turned 5. I didn’t teach him. We covered the letters in grade one so he could learn to write (lest anyone think we have it easy here, that has been a BIG struggle).
    So, you would think that a child who was reading along to something that complex at 5 would be tackling Dickens by age 10 but nope. Like your boys he reads non fiction and highly illustrated comedies (Andy Griffiths being his Dickens). I tried all kinds of wonderful books but if it didn’t have funny pictures or soundbites of information (or anything else they tell you to avoid in Waldorf circles) he wasn’t interested. In other words, it appears he likes “twaddle”. I have felt by turns concerned, worried, guilty, conflicted. But I just tried to remind myself that when I was his age, I only read comics.
    Then, two weeks ago, he had his 11th birthday. He was gifted a boxed set of Harry Potter. We had previously discussed the whole Harry Potter thing and agreed that he could read the first book at age 11 and then one each year after that, so that he grew up with Harry. I’ve heard the later books are very dark and more suited to a teen. I imagined, being small print and no pictures, that would not be a problem and that I would be reading book one to him. Two days after his birthday, when all the presents had been played with and he was struggling with the post-birthday blues (too much cake, too little sleep, nothing to look forward to anymore) he picked up book one. He started to read……
    Right now he is reading book 5. When each book ends I say, you have to wait for the next one. Then the begging starts.
    I feel concerned, worried, guilty, conflicted but I let him read anyway. It could be a big mistake (I haven’t read these books myself, I thought I’d be reading them to him), but it feels like we’ve finally got over some kind of block.
    It is quiet here. I’m not quite sure what to do with myself…..I started to think this day would never come. I don’t have any advice to give you really, other than – have you tried Harry Potter?

    • Glad, as always, to hear your experience Cathy. Both my boys were early readers too – self taught also.

      I LOVED Harry Potter and have been waiting patiently to read them with the boys. I waited until Vincent was 10 (3 years ago!!) but he wasn’t interested. I want to read the first one together this year (Jude is 9 1/2), but neither one wants to read it. I may just bulldoze them and have it be a family read aloud. We are driving to NJ for Thanksgiving and that could be a great car book.

      I love the image of your quiet house, with your son lost in Hogwarts. He may take a natural break after book 5 – I think that is where it turns dark (or darker). But maybe not. Please keep me posted. On Harry and other fiction waiting in the wings. Bleak House may be next!!

      • LOL! I did wonder if the fact I’d said he couldn’t read them until he was older helped because the only other “real” book he’s tried to read (but didn’t make it through) was The Lord of the Rings, which I also said he could have when he’s a teen. ……something forbidden….. He says he’s going to read The Hobbit next, but we’ve had that as a read-aloud so not quite the same. Now there’s huge pressure to find something to follow Harry Potter :-)

  4. I know I’m late to the party here, but there’s just so much in this post and I had to do some digging! First of all, as I read Steiner’s lectures to the first teachers, there really is NO “looking like Waldorf” to begin with, so you can’t be less Waldorf now! OK, well there is admittedly the rhythm of main lesson work; but even Steiner knew this would look different in each classroom. It’s Waldorf schools that are so homogeneous and make us feel like there is some particular way this is all supposed to “look.” Seriously.

    So glad you’re enjoying Mapping the World. I want to try that curriculum for myself! Brave Writer is nice to have around to help Moms generate writing activities. I also have appreciated her book lists. I think everyone with kids over age 12 should try notebooking! Lots of kids really like it and appreciate a break from the main lesson book routine or whatever routine you’ve had going. We used Teaching Textbooks here too, and also Right Start Math (very hands-on and Montessori-based) for middle school. Love the Maestro Classics recordings. They seem just right and are easy to use; local public libraries have many of them to borrow. Plus, we love going to the education concerts at our city’s orchestra; fun to match the recordings with concerts when that can work.

    Ok, now for reading. Not all kids are going to take to reading fiction for pleasure in a big way. When they do, we’re lucky! But I also think that once kids reach a certain age and aren’t picking up fiction on their own, it’s fine for us to “assign” a title. Maybe assign one book each season, or each block if they can handle it. Sometimes it helps to give kids a list of six books with a little description and they get to choose one. Or have a conversation (together) with your local librarian. If your’re already having them read say historical fiction that ties in with a particular block, that may be the best it gets! My boys way in was Harry Potter, too. But I don’t think my husband has ever picked up a novel to read for pleasure. Ever. Not in school; not as an adult. Sad but true! Another fun approach is to have a movie in mind (from a book) and require the book to be read first. Then have a big movie night party with pizza, popcorn, root beer floats or whatever! Yup, a whole post on this one!!! Hugs to you.

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