Reblog: Homeschool SOS

If you are panicking about school starting, if your rhythm is non-existent, if you haven’t planned one single thing for next year, if you have just made a last-minute decision to homeschool, take a breath. I promise you, this is a foolproof plan for getting started.

#1 Go for a walk in the morning. This is a great way to start the day. It gets everybody’s ya-yas out, and doing it every day after breakfast will begin to shape your rhythm. Just get outside. Don’t have it be a nature lesson or a historical walking tour. It’s fine if these things casually come up, but just get everyone out of the house and walking. Walk for as long as you can, building up to an hour if you have nothing else planned for the morning. When I first started walking with my boys, they were nice and tired when we came home. I gave them a snack, and found myself with some free time where I could do some planning. Usually I had a lot of ideas generated on the walk – getting them down on paper was a step in the right direction.

OK, after you’re walking consistently for about a week . . .

#2 Have afternoon storytime. I have written a lot about storytime. If you get a basket, put some really good books in it, and read to your children every afternoon, you are doing something great. Depending on the ages of your children, walking and reading could be enough.** Or perhaps, enough for a good long while, and then enough to build upon. If you are uncomfortable reading aloud, start with audio books. My advice is to go for the classics – these books have stood the test of time for a reason. You can take a look at our reading lists here.

There, if you are walking in the morning and having storytime in the afternoon, you have 2 anchor points during your day. Bonus points can be added if you have predictable mealtimes. Again if your children are little, especially if your oldest is under 7 or 8, relax. You’re doing enough** – or at least enough to buy yourself some time to get a solid plan together. However, if your children are older, and you want to do more . . .

#3 Do some math. I’m not talking about researching every math curriculum out there and spending a lot of money. Math can be baking. Math can be playing games. Math can be playing cards. Math can be skip counting, times tables with beanbags, baseball stats, football scores. I have some cheap and easy math ideas in this post and this post. The idea is just to begin introducing math into your homeschooling day. See how your children learn. See what they like. My favorite resource for beginning with Waldorf math is Melisa Nielsen’s math book. It is simple, yet thorough, and not expensive.

OK, you can feel good about getting some math in. And now, last but not least . . .

#4 Recite some poetry. This could be nursery rhymes, tongue twisters, seasonal verses. This could be simple songs. Interacting with language orally promotes literacy on so many levels. Check out a book of poetry from the library, and read it together. Pick a poem to memorize. If you really want to impress your kids, memorize “The Jabberwock” by Lewis Carroll and recite it to them one morning after your walk. Donna Simmons suggests this in her book Living Language, and it is a sure fire way to generate some enthusiasm around poetry.

Do these four things consistently for 3-4 days a week with your children, and you are really doing big things!! Add a baking day. Add a library day. You’re doing it. You’re homeschooling. You’re starting a rhythm. Congratulations!!

**Obviously you need to check the homeschooling regulations for your particular state, as they vary widely. However, my advice – no matter what rules need to be followed – would be to start slow and to start small. Build a solid foundation and move on from there.

More Thoughts – Year Three

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  • Rhythm Three years in, and rhythm has finally become something I don’t need to think about. Three years! I don’t mean this to discourage anyone, but rather to say that rhythm is something that takes time to get a handle on. I think we had a pretty good rhythm after our first year, but it was still something I was always thinking about and making Herculean shifts to change. Now, it is really something unconscious and ingrained in me and in my boys. This doesn’t mean we didn’t get off track at times, but returning to rhythm is accomplished with tiny adjustments.
  • Curriculum I am convinced there is no perfect curriculum out there, and that this is a good thing. I had an inkling this was the case last year, but now I can say with confidence – for me – this is true. I cobbled together our year with a variety of resources. Mostly I used the individual block guides from Christopherus. I also like Melisa Nielsen’s grade and block podcasts. Alison Manzer has a bunch of great block outlines that she gives out at Taproot (Are you registered yet?!x) And Jean Miller’s planner has an excellent (and not overwhelming!) list of resources/spines for every block, grades 1-8. Because I have a better grounding in the underlying pedagogy and overall structure of Waldorf education, I have felt more confident in going to the library and finding those resources that may not be stamped “Waldorf” but are nonetheless appropriate, interesting and best of all free!
  • Art There was much improvement in all artistic media this year: drawing, painting and modeling. I pushed myself to do four chalkboard drawings this year, which felt like a big breakthrough and a good investment of my time because I kept them up for an entire month each. (I have a small chalkboard that I use especially for these drawings.) Toward the end of the year, I felt more freedom in letting both boys draw from their imagination thanks to Rainbow Rosenbloom. When I heard him speak in Atlanta in March, he advocated letting the children close their eyes and describe what they see when they imagine the story. By letting them draw what arises, you are truly letting them develop an inner picture consciousness. This radically changed my thinking, because the prevailing theory seems to be the children MUST copy what you have drawn exactly.
  • Music At the end of last year, I had decided not to continue penny whistle lessons for a variety of idiotic reasons. (Admitting them would border on TMI about my very small mind and my huge amount of personal baggage (see yesterday’s post) . . . ahem.) Let’s just say Tom encouraged me to give it another try, and I am so glad we did. Beth changed the format from a group lesson to private lessons and that made a huge difference. I also let myself off the hook in feeling like I needed to learn and play right along with them. By the end of the year, both boys were practicing formally for about 10 minutes a day. They would also casually pick up their whistles at other times as well. The amount of music they have memorized this year is unbelievable. Jude has really developed a love for Irish music, and Vincent is transitioning from playing by a number system to slowly beginning to read music. Without a doubt, this has been the area of biggest strides this year: in perseverance, in artistry, in general enjoyment and in deepening relationship. Honestly, none of this would be possible without the magical Miss Beth. We are blessed.
  • Handwork We continue to plug along at handwork, but it was hit or miss this year (again). I think maybe handwork is seasonal in nature: hot and heavy in the fall and winter, not so much in the spring and summer. Jude learned to knit and made a bunch of green squares that I still need to find something to do with. Vincent’s stitches are beautifully even and I hope to further his skills this coming year. In a last-ditch effort to inspire my boys to pick up their needles this past month, I made two simple penny whistle cases. It didn’t work, but there is always next year. I have made the decision to stick with knitting as our handwork focus for next year for a variety of reasons. One is simplicity (I don’t know how to crochet and I am again letting myself off the hook of learning one more thing.) The other is to keep the boys using both hands for mid-line issues. Vincent needs all the help he can get in this area, and knitting is an easy way to sneak it in.
  • Extras We made main lesson books for the first time ever. We celebrated Michaelmas. We rolled candles for Candlemas. We attended a wide array of performances: puppet shows, plays, ballets, a piano concert, professional storytelling, sing alongs. Honestly I was shocked by how much both boys enjoyed these cultural events. Our repertoire of songs, verses, poems and stories continues to expand and I am amazed by how much we can sing, recite, quote and remember. This journey with Waldorf brings me to my knees when I think of all it has brought into our home and into our hearts.

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Want to see what we read during storytime this year? Click the image below.

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Layering It In – Year Three

Last summer, I collaged the little notebook above to record my intentions and goals for the boys and me. ‘Fly’ is not a word that usually resonates with me, but for some reason it jumped out and made me claim it. I’m so glad I did, as it resulted in giving us our most formal year ever, yet paradoxically, one in which I’ve felt the most creative freedom. Getting to this place was not easy, and this year has been one long lesson in letting go and struggling to fly. Recently, I came across this little gem of a sentence: “The basic prerequisite of flight is the feathered wing: light, strong and flexible . . . ” Yes! If I could summarize the core of my inner work this past year, it would be to cultivate lightness, strength and flexibility.

Unfortunately this process was neither pretty nor effortless nor linear. First and foremost, I had to acknowledge and release all that was weighing me down in regard to homeschooling with Waldorf inspired methods. Some of this was old personal stuff, some of it was advice and impressions I received when I first came to Waldorf, and some of it had absolutely nothing to do with me, but rather was the echo of other people’s voices inside my own head. Once I could look at all this stuff, I realized I had created an absolute (and unattainable!) ideal in my head of what homeschooling with Waldorf should look like. If I could make myself stay in this uncomfortable place a bit longer, I also realized such an ideal was paralyzing me and prohibiting me from engaging with what was actually unfolding right in front of me. To fall back on cliché, I was letting the perfect be the enemy of the good.

I walked miles and miles around the hay fields of my house, replaying in my mind the countless ways this ideal was holding me back. I sat for hours and hours on my back porch, staring at the cows on the hillside, convincing myself things could look a lot different if I could just shift my thinking and simply delight in what is. Finally, finally, I noticed a change. My heart was lighter. My resolve was stronger. And my thoughts were much more flexible. There is no way I could have done this alone. Consulting with Jean Miller in February, seeing Rainbow Rosenbloom in March, being in session with my spiritual director every month and last, but definitely not least, talking to Andrea every day helped me to look at all this crap and get passed it. I also want to thank you (yes, you) for showing up and being witness to my efforts to expand the idea of what Waldorf homeschooling can look like. Your comments, your support and your friendship have made this a journey of true companionship. Thank you.

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This post got a little unwieldy, so expect my thoughts on rhythm, curriculum, art, etc. tomorrow. Click the images below if you want to read what Year 1 and Year 2 looked liked.

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The Path to Now

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This post is a part of Waldorf Wednesday. See all the links here.

My mother and I have had an ongoing conversation about spirals for more than half my life. We talk about the image of a spiral representing something you come up against again and again, but with every repeated encounter, your perspective changes. I’ve never asked my mother if she sees the spiral getting bigger or smaller (both would be valid), but in my mind, the spiral definitely gets bigger. The wider I picture the circling lines, the easier it is for me to see what is at the center.

I was reminded of this image after returning home from the Peach Cobblers’ Curriculum Fair in Atlanta. Hearing Rainbow Rosenbloom speak about homeschooling with Waldorf inspired methods simultaneously (and somewhat paradoxically) broadened my vision and sharpened my focus. I don’t think I could overstate the impact of his words, however trying to convey exactly what I took away from his presentations has proven difficult. I’ve been sitting with it for a week and a half and words are just beginning to form coherent and cohesive thoughts. One day last week in an effort to not stare at a blank screen, I scrolled through some old posts I had written. Certain parts of those posts formed a progression of thought and let me discern a path: a path to where I find myself now.

It is all still slightly jumbled in my head, but below you will find those excerpts I have come to see as points on this spiraling and expanding journey of homeschooling with Waldorf. (If you want to read the entire post, click the photo or the caption.)

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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.

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Returning home from Taproot, I realized if I wanted to homeschool with Waldorf in any meaningful way, I needed to do some serious reading and some serious inner work. For me, this was not going to happen online. So I dropped out of all the yahoo groups, cleaned out a bunch of stuff I didn’t need, and began to follow 3 rules I was given at Taproot.

  1. Know the child in front of you.
  2. Ask the angels for help.
  3. Be aware of the world around you.

I don’t know if these dicta are direct from Steiner or a distillation from his lectures, all I know is they shifted the center of my universe and connected me to all that is essential: my children, the heavens and the earth. The rest is really just fluff. Big Lesson.

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I also love the stories, the art, the methodical progression of the curriculum and the emphasis on beauty and reverence. I have seen first-hand the healing possible with this kind of education. I think it is holy and true and right.

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Silencing that inner critic has let me see our days holistically, with a renewed sense of appreciation for what it is we are trying to do here everyday. Extending this kinder and broader vision to both my boys and myself has also become part of my inner work practice: envisioning one another with a sense of wholeness; gently doing the best we can with all the knowledge we have right now. Not easy, but ultimately I think, a worthy spiritual practice.

See bigger. Go deeper. Do Less.

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Homeschooling and homemaking feed my soul. They remind me of who I always was and help me to become more of who I want to be.

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2013 curriculum fair flyer

Hopefully, I will have some words for you about this soon. If you want to read about Carrie’s experience at the Curriculum Fair, click here to visit her post “What are we doing??” on The Parenting Passageway.

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Layering It In – Year Two

This post is a part of Waldorf Wednesday. See all the links here.

The summer between year one and year two was definitely a transition time. I remember doing a lot of planning: tons of reading of many different resources yielding lots of plans in my mind. Unfortunately, all of this energy and supposed preparation did not translate into what we were going to be doing every day. I did have an idea of how I wanted the blocks laid out for grade 4 and some things I wanted to do for kindergarten. I totally over-planned our first block, slightly planned the next block, had a vague idea of what we were going to do through December, but had absolutely nothing planned for the rest of the year. Hence, much of this year was constructed by last-minute planning on Sunday night or the weekend before a new block began.

I was not as hapless or as overwhelmed as the year before, but I still was nowhere where I wanted to be. I started this blog about halfway through this second year of Waldorf homeschooling and it helped me to process our days differently. For me, writing helps to clarify my thoughts and distill events down to their essential nature. Writing also helps me to get quiet. I like to write in the early morning, when no one else is awake. This time of silence in the morning is ripe for reflection and I am able to put things in perspective in a way I am not able to do at any other point in the day. All of this enabled me to be more centered, more present and more open. Here is a glimpse of year two.

  • Rhythm  Our rhythm was hit or miss this year. We were past the point of where I had to write everything out, but there were definitely extended periods of arrhythmia. My problem with rhythm during year two was that unless we were doing school, I didn’t know how to keep it going. Melisa Nielsen talks a lot about this: how you need to hold the space. At this point, I could just not get my head around that concept. Looking at it from a distance, rhythm was still something I was willfully trying to impose on our day. It wasn’t something I had absorbed fully or practiced consistently. Like year one, there were days I was too tight and then there were days I was too loose. I could definitely see progress in this area, but I still had a lot of inner work to do around this issue.
  • Curriculum I agonized only slightly less this year over specific curriculum choices. I purchased the grade 4 syllabus from Christopherus, but resold most of it. I kept the grade 4 math book (which I highly recommend, we have continued to use it during the beginning of grade 5) and the human being and animal guide. I was still clinging to the idea that the right curriculum would solve all my problems, but I was becoming less and less sure of this notion’s validity. One big insight I had during the latter part of the year was to see both blocks and main lessons as much more expansive, flexible and fluid than I had been viewing them before. Until about the middle of this year, I thought main lesson equalled making a main lesson book and that all extra activities (novels, baking, field trips) had to be accomplished during the time set aside for that specific block. This rigidity forced me to both cram things in and also leave things out. When I could relax a little and allow myself some creative thinking, our year began to flow much better. Our US Geography block was one of our most laid back (it was also our last formal block of the year), but it was also the most memorable. We started it in May and continued it informally throughout the summer.
  • Art This year I chose to focus on wet-on-wet watercolor painting. I painted by myself several times over the summer and also during the year. (I was still using hopelessly diluted paints, but at least I was gaining experience in technique.) Vincent did several paintings throughout the year, but in all honestly I was not good about incorporating art into our main lessons. I felt like I was forcing a lot of the more creative elements of our lesson. I also felt that I was absolutely NOT doing them correctly. This pressure did not serve any of us, but it took me awhile to realize it was even there and then to rid myself of some Waldorf standard I had created in my head. We didn’t do modeling, form drawing or drawing with any kind of consistency or regularity.
  • Music While Tom was still trying to find that elusive “MUSIC” drawer in the schoolroom, I went ahead and signed the boys up for group lessons with a penny whistle teacher in town. We started late in the year, and I tried to incorporate practicing during our already much-too-long circle time. For some reason, I felt like I had to learn the songs and play with them. This worked for about a month. At this point, neither one of the boys wanted to practice (during circle or at any other time either.) A power struggle ensued, and then became a moot point because lessons ended for the school year. Honestly, I was writing off any hope of music lessons, penny whistle or any other instrument for that matter. I am not musical by nature and just didn’t see this as a battle worth fighting. (Here is a little foreshadowing: penny whistle would be one of my greatest personal lessons and homeschooling successes of year three! Stay tuned!) One bright spot we did have with music this year was during our US Geography block. I checked out a few cds of American folk songs and patriotic marches from the library. I played them during main lesson time and we would all sing along. We all enjoyed this so much, the boys started requesting the songs in the car and throughout the summer.
  • Handwork We started the year off with finger knitting. Even though I knew how to knit with needles, finger knitting had eluded me. I finally mastered this fun little process by watching Melisa’s finger knitting video included with TFW. We made a bunch of chains that we used to decorate our Christmas tree. We also worked on embroidery this year, completing a fabric map of the United States. Vincent and I both really took to embroidery. We worked on the map during main lesson time and also in the afternoons. This project helped me to see how handwork could be incorporated as a natural part of our daily rhythm. It wasn’t yet, but I got a glimpse. No one did any knitting this year.
  • Extras We incorporated circle time into our day. It was great in the beginning, but then got too long and complicated. Vincent started to balk at doing the songs and verses toward the middle of the year, and I tried to force him to participate. That was not a fun way to start the day. We did poetic recitation and memorization every month. We also started afternoon story time. This was by far my biggest achievement of the year. We did not have much success with making main lesson books. Truth be told, I was completely intimidated by them. I didn’t do any chalk board drawings, and I was still reading rather than telling the stories.