Planning: Here and Now

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The planning posts on this blog are by far the most popular. If they help someone get organized and make sense of their homeschool year, that’s great. However, my personal planning looks very different these days. For one, I’m not spending very much time doing it this year. My program for certification in spiritual direction goes into high gear in September, and that is taking precedent as far as my time and attention. And as much as they would love it, I’m not giving the boys free rein. I will be combining our learning (4th and 8th grades), streamlining how we do things and yes, even doing math on the computer. It’s a brand new day! And honestly, I’ve never felt more at ease.

Here is an overview of what homeschooling will look like at our house next year.

  • Math: Vincent used Teaching Textbooks for math last year and that is what saved us when we were shipwrecked. The lessons are short, thorough and fun. He will be finishing Math 7 this semester and then begin Pre-Algebra somewhere around December or January. Jude will also be doing TT; Math 4 for him.
  • Science: Vincent will be reading the textbook and completing the corresponding workbook of Joy Hakim’s Story of Science. The first volume, “Aristotle Leads the Way” is mostly a review of how we have done science in the past (largely through biography and a historical progression of thought). Jude will be studying animals, primarily through art/nature journalling. Actually, I’m planning for the three of us to do this together and will detail my ideas in a separate post.
  • History: Both my boys love history. Up until this point, Vincent has studied world history chronologically. This year, I have decided to focus solely on American history, using Joy Hakim’s series, A History of US. (Yes Joy Hakim is my new BFF.) My plan is for all of us to listen to one volume per month via audiobook. (The entire series is available at Audible and I purchased the actual books from thriftbooks.com. If you don’t know this site, you should. And if you want a coupon, give me your email in the comments. I won’t publish it on the blog, but will email you privately.) Vincent will be doing some combination of note booking, timelines, maps and extra reading. I picked up a few of Anne Rinaldi’s I am America books at a library sale this summer and think they will be a great resource. Jude will be following along, and his reading will be focused on the “American Girl” series. (Mothers of Boys: don’t let the marketing fool you. These are great books – both the fiction and the non-fiction.) Jude will also be studying the local history of our home state of North Carolina, mostly through stories and geography.
  • Language Arts: Vincent will continue with some parts of the BraveWriter curriculum, most especially The Arrow. He will also be working with the Editor in Chief series from Critical Thinking Company. Jude will be working on spelling (please let this be the year it clicks!!) and handwriting through a daily notebook. I have never done anything like this before, but saw this one and it looked like a great idea with some modifications.
  • Art: I have wanted to do an art history program for the last couple of years, and this summer found exactly what I wanted at one of my favorite places to shop for curriculum: the Salvation Army. (I’m not even kidding.) I found a series of high quality coffee table books called Great Museums of the WorldEach volume profiles an individual museum (Uffizi, The Louvre, The Tate, The Rikjsmuseum, etc) with architectural information, historical facts and of course wonderful photographs of their permanent collections. My plan is very, very casual: put a different book in the living room every month or so with a pad of post-its to mark our favorite pieces. I’m hoping it will become part of our family’s discussion around the dinner table.
  • Story Time: Story time continues to be an anchor in our day. We have several series that we read every year and always look forward to the new installment: Harry Potter (Book 2), Anne of Green Gables (Book 4 or 5; can’t remember), Little House (Book 4), Swallows and Amazons (Book 5 or 6) Story of the World (Book 3). I’m sure there will be plenty of animal and American fiction, and maybe even a reprise of one of our favorite books ever. I only use audiobooks now, but this is an idea of how we got started.
  • Filmstrip Friday: We have been watching a variety of documentaries on Fridays for about a year and half now and it is consistently the highlight of our week. I am not a movie person and neither are my boys, so this was a real surprise. We have watched some real gems on a variety of subjects, but our favorite – hands down – has been The National Parks by Ken Burns. It took us 3 months to watch the whole thing, and we loved every minute. It even inspired our trip to Yellowstone next month . . . which is why we are starting school so early this year. August 3 is our first day!

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.

Handwork and Giveaway

I love the handwork aspect of the Waldorf curriculum, but up until recently, it wasn’t a big part of our daily homeschooling rhythm. When I first came to Waldorf, I learned how to knit, taught Vincent (then a third grader), promptly accumulated a lot of yarn, and that was the end of the story. I would pick up my knitting every once in a while; Vincent would pick his up even less frequently. I do like the idea of knitting. I really love the idea of thinking being “mental knitting”. But really, I don’t actually like to knit.

When we started our US Geography block last May, I pulled out a fabric map I purchased awhile ago. I had grand plans of embroidering the map, making it into a quilt and recording our travels with French knots. I am good with ideas – follow through is a different story. I have wanted to learn how to embroider for years, and thanks to my propensity toward accumulating art and handwork supplies at yard sales and Goodwill, I had lots of embroidery floss, hoops and even a pair of cute little embroidery scissors all ready for the project. This time, however, things were different. I taught myself the running stitch, taught Vincent and away we went – embroidering our way across the USA. The whole thing took us about a month, and it was a great way to end the school year.

I plan to do more embroidery with Vincent this year – we have all those patterns from Sarah Jane Studios to work on. I do need to come to terms with knitting though, as it is a big part of grade 1. I am interested to see how Jude will take to handwork. He does like to finger knit, and I think if I make the time to do it, he will be just fine.

Now for the giveaway: One of the recurring search terms that lead people to my blog is “US fabric map”. If you are local to the Asheville area, I purchased mine at Foam and Fabric. If you are not local, I’ve seen it at JoAnn’s Fabric. Both stores also carry a fabric world map made by the same company (Fabric Traditions). However if you are feeling lucky today, leave a comment and I will send one US fabric map to a US reader and one world map to an international reader. Please tell me if you are a US or an international reader in your comment. If you are so inspired, please also indicate in your comment what you would like to see more of during the upcoming school year here at Sure as the World. This will not influence your chances of winning, however, as a number will be chosen at random. I will close comments at 6am Monday, August 27. Good luck.

Looking Back: My Grade 4 Goals

In this post, I talked about my goals for Vincent this past year. I also have goals specific to homeschooling that I make for myself as well. We have just completed our second full year of homeschooling with Waldorf-inspired methods, and I can honestly say it does get easier and is finally starting to feel effortless. Now, please don’t misunderstand, I am not saying it is a cakewalk everyday and that my skills in modeling, chalkboard drawing, form drawing, wet-on-wet watercolor painting, block crayon drawing, penny whistle playing, singing and all the other things I have forgotten to mention are anywhere near where I would like them to be. BUT I have stopped feeling as though I am trying to communicate in a foreign language when it comes to the Waldorf way of homeschooling. (Oh, I forgot foreign language in the previous list!). Our daily rhythm feels solid. Teaching and learning via blocks feels right. Handwork in the afternoon feels natural.

And here’s the thing – I never thought I would be here. Never, ever, ever! But here I am – with still so much more striving to do. Below are the areas I worked on this past year.

  • Depth over breadth – less is more! I made this goal both for Vincent and for myself. I remember laying out our first block, which was to be local geography. The amount of notes I have for studying the state of North Carolina is staggering and I realized it would take us all year to do everything. So I started dialing it back. “Maybe we would just study the western part of the state.” “Maybe just our county.” “Maybe just Asheville.” “Maybe just our tiny town of Alexander.” I finally settled on studying our house, the land we could see from our house and how our town was connected to Asheville. We did two projects during this block. One was a map to scale of our house, the other was a birds-eye-view map of our “neighborhood”. That’s it. That’s all we studied for 5 weeks of local geography. And it was perfect.
  • One great resource rather than 15 good ones. Oh, the endless resources. Do you do this too? Please say yes. I like nothing better than to comb the shelves at the library looking for possible resources for a block. I check out books by the bagful. Subsequently, I overwhelm myself and we don’t get to a fraction of them. Jean Miller, who I met at Taproot Farm this past summer, gave some great advice in this area. Her advice was to literally count the number days you have scheduled for main lesson per block. We do school 4 days a week, and I like to keep my blocks to about a month, so I’m looking at about 16 days per main lesson. How much can I realistically accomplish in 16 days? Seeing our lessons this way really helped me to narrow down my resource cache.
  • Finish!!! Don’t just let things drift off. Have a definite starting and ending point. When I was reviewing our experience in third grade, this was the area I felt to be the weakest. I was really good at starting a block, okay toward the middle, but the endings were just awful. Blocks would just drift off: there was no sense of accomplishment, no review, and no definitive ending point. One way I remedied this in grade 4 was to have the boys and I present the block to my husband when we finished. We would do our circle for him, recite the poems we memorized, show the work/projects we worked on and just share what we had done for the last month. Of course he knew what we were working on, and would hear things throughout the month, but he really never saw what we did everyday. This was great for everyone. I also planned our blocks with a definite beginning, middle and end, with the final day having a scheduled review time built in. Ending our blocks in this way made it easier to begin the next one.

I am just beginning to think about the areas I personally want to work on for next year. Stay tuned.

Plans for June

It’s June and the hay has been cut, raked, rowed, baled and put up in the barns.

Mentally, I finish school around Memorial Day, and keep June as an overflow, wrap-up, testing month. Our days are looser, but there are things we need to accomplish and I find continuing our school rhythm allows us to do this. Here is what we are up to this month.

Vincent: 10 years old, fourth grader Vincent will be finishing up his embroidered map and quilt of the US. He lacks embroidering 2 states, needs to pick out a backing fabric and learn French knots. This project will take up most of our school time, as I don’t want this to linger into the summer. And although I included a lot of animal study in with our recent US Geography block, we never did a second formal Man and Animal block. I do have some animal-themed novels on our read-aloud shelf that came from a list of recommendations in Donna Simmons’ Christopherus Unit Study: The Human Being and The Animal World. Three I checked out of the library are Lassie Come Home by Eric Knight, The Good Dog by Avi and The Story of Doctor Doolittle by Hugh Lofting. Maybe these will be read this month.

We are required by the state of North Carolina to administer an annual test beginning at age 8. I order a California Achievement Test (CAT) from this company. My stringent standards for choosing this test and this company are two: cheap and easy. The scores are not reported to any state or local office, and are more of a bureaucratic hoop to jump through. I do like having some sort of objective assessment of Vincent’s core knowledge and where he places as far as grade level goes, but honestly, the scores confirm what I already know to be his strengths and weaknesses.

Jude: 6 years old, kindergartener Jude will continue to keep his days full of outside time, usually with a ball in hand. I plan to continue this emphasis on play well into grade 1. I am currently planning only 1 day of formal main lesson for him next year. I hope to begin the week by telling a Grimm’s fairy tale during circle, reviewing/retelling it the next day during circle and having a formal artistic activity based on the tale the third day.

Sheila: 42 year old person in charge of all of this: While Vincent’s work is winding down, June and July are busy for me, as these two months are devoted to serious planning for next year. I have purchased almost all my resources and supplies for next year – although I am sure there will be one or two more orders placed at some point before Labor Day. My planning starts by literally clearing the space. I clean out our school room, rearrange the furniture, check supplies, shelve old resources, review the year’s work and try to start with as little clutter as possible. I am still trying to determine our weekly and daily rhythms for next year. Expect lots of planning posts in the coming weeks.

**I had this post all ready to go with our plans for June, and then I listened to Kim John Payne being interviewed by Donna Ashton during the Waldorf Global Expo this past weekend. He is the genius (and I do not use that word lightly) behind the Simplicity Parenting movement. I decided to register for his new online course, The Soul of Discipline. It begins June 19, and looks like it is going to be fantastic.

Oh, and we are going to Boston for work (my husband)/play (me and the boys) this month. Any recommendations? What are you up to this month?