… aka ‘I write a meandering tome about my thoughts on home educating my children this academic year’.
It’s the new ‘academic year’ and with two children of compulsory education age and a new baby (although I do also have two teenagers in college – English use of the word), I’ve decided to take a bit of a new approach. Whilst I know that many, many (Waldorf-inspired/Waldorf/Steiner) home-educating families manage to do separate Main Lessons, I just don’t want to (rather than “cannot”) do that. What these stressful past few years has taught me is that what I cannot do is: everything. It is a matter of prioritising and for my sanity (and health) something has to give.
I (and we) have had very many changes these past few years with my ex leaving and us all having to get used to a different way of living; working outside the home which led to my younger children going to school for a short period (although I had never wanted this and indeed my children didn’t either which is what led to me de-registering them again); two house moves; finally getting a diagnosis (and explanation) for the various physical difficulties I’ve had for many years (I’ve been back and forth to the hospital for over a decade); meeting John and us moving in together and of course Anna being born. Also in that time I’ve had my eldest son move out and my second son move down to his father to do his exams and attend 6th form. And all that is before considering how stressful life had been for years before (and yes, it had made me ill).
Over the summer I had been working on a Plan for the 2012/2013 academic year. It was shaping up to be a lovely plan. I’m a lover of lists and a lover of plans – I like plotting everything out on a spreadsheet (you can’t beat a good spreadsheet) and typing up more comprehensive plans to correspond to the spreadsheet.
However, at the same time I have also been doing a lot of thinking – call it meditating if you will, although it isn’t what I think of as meditating (I’m not really much good at that level of concentration) – about childhood, family life and home-education and what I want for and from all of these things for me, for my children, for us, as a family. I’ve also been reflecting on my experience of home education over the years – how fraught and under pressure I’ve felt at times; that neither myself or my eldest children have been supported in home-edding and the impact that that had on our experience; and crucially, how different things are now and what that may mean for the future.
I’ve been reflecting on what has been enjoyed? What elements have I found to successful? What do I (and my children) look forward to in a day? A week? A season? A year?
And I made a list, well, I made a couple of lists (and like The Plan, they were lovely lists) and naturally The Lists informed The Plan.
The more I looked at The Plan, the more it seemed to eat into The Lists.
I thought long and hard about this (because really these thoughts are a progression of other thoughts that I’ve had for a while. Indeed I spent quite some early hours of the morning thinking about it and eventually I decided to junk The Plan.
I know some families say the better planned they are the smoother things run, but if I’m really, really honest I find something approaching the opposite, the better planned I am, the more I feel under pressure and really, why, after the past few years, do I want to put myself under any more pressure?
Well, I’m still working on some of the finer points of the answer to that, but in the meantime I still have children for whom I have a responsibility.
I may have junked The Plan, but I haven’t junked The Rhythm – or rather I have junked the rhythm I planned with The Plan and have gone for the path of least resistance through the day to become the new Rhythm (which in truth isn’t really very different from the old one, rather it’s more what happens naturally with little effort on my part).
It looks a little something like this (and I’m not going to put in times because they are variable) and if it looks familiar, well, I do say that I’m Waldorf-inspired for a reason and I may not agree with everything, but I do think that Steiner (amongst others) was on to a good thing with rhythm and the use of recall/review.
In the morning:
- We get up, get dressed, washed, etc.
- We make breakfast – typically Nin and/or Ted make it themselves- I’ve always encouraged them to help in the kitchen from an early age and this is the natural progression of that as both are more than capable of making porridge; scrambled eggs; pancakes or waffles; chopping veg for a frittata or fruit for a smoothie; or putting together granola and yoghurt. I have to admit that quite often I’ll use this time to catch up on e-mails, etc, typically whilst feeding Anna.
- We wash up. If I do it, Nin and Ted entertain Anna. If they do it, well, I’m still catching up with those e-mails and (probably) feeding Anna (she really likes her milk!)
- We do other assorted quick chores, e.g: putting on and hanging out washing.
- Circle Time – our version – which is a collection of songs and verses (some that we have used for years now, some that change with the months and/or seasons), dancing and movement and mental maths exercises (see Maths).
- We move on from Circle Time into recapping what we did on the previous day (or ‘session’). There’ll be some written maths problems in there somewhere, probably.
- We may build upon what was done previously – typically this will mean a story of some sort, or perhaps talk about something new.
- John tends to get home sometime during this period and I use his baby-holding skills to get a few more chores done (like meal prep for dinner if it’s going in the crockpot) – typically children will still be drawing and/or writing at this point and then we have a break whilst I have a cup of tea and a chat with John.
- We may play games, or chat, or look at a book or whatever appeals.
In the afternoon:
- Lunch and children-run-madly-about-in-the-garden time
- Walk – when I am able to which isn’t necessarily every day. I think if we were to do this in the morning I wouldn’t be of much use for the rest of the day. If we don’t get out for a walk I may read to them, or we just get on with some Handwork/Crafts/Art, or we play games. We chat about Things. Or do more drawing and writing. We do Stuff (I’m good with the technical terms ;-). Sometimes we bake cake. I’ll also listen to Nin read.
- Nin and Ted typically go out to play when their friends have finished school. This appears to involve a lot of shouting and shrieking and swords (well, atleast as far as Ted is concerned). At this point the laptop is again my friend. John also gets up at around this time (for a few hours) and I’ll again take advantage of his baby-holding skills to prepare dinner (if it isn’t a crockpot dinner).
- Dinner, quiet play time and bed.
Written down like that it actually looks rather a lot, but for me there are some key things about above that are different from The Plan:
- I’m not trying to do separate Main Lessons with the children.
- I’m not planning ANY Main Lessons with the children.
- If the day doesn’t quite go like the above, then there’s no need to worry because we’re not keeping to a specific time frame so it doesn’t matter, we just keep on plodding along.
As most of the rhythm is what we do for the majority of the week anyway, even in holidays – and chances are on a holiday I’m still reading or telling a story or two at some point; children are drawing, painting or modelling; Nin will write a story and so on and so forth – so the above really is the path of least resistance.
Rather than plan very specific Main Lesson Blocks, I am using the over-arching themes of the Waldorf Grade 3 Year: Farming and Gardening; Shelter; Textiles; and the Old Testament (and other stories from the Jewish culture) as ‘jumping off points’. Old Testament [etc] stories can be told or read throughout the year, gardening is something we do anyway and I will look for opportunities to weave in things like Farming, Shelter and Textiles as and when it appears to be appropriate. Around this the children may have other ideas. There are only three lessons that I actively want to do with the children and these are under the subjects of Maths and English Language and Literacy, the three lessons being: The Quality of Numbers, Letter Introduction and The Introduction of Nouns, Verbs, Adjectives and Adverbs. Once introduced, these lessons will be continually built upon through much of everything else we learn.
In a further departure from the Waldorf educational approach, Ted will work at his level within these over-arching themes, although I will use selected Grimm’s tales for exploring the quality of numbers (for example) and will continue to tell stories of nature (as would be recognised in a Waldorf grade 1) when out and about, or exploring various local animals [etc].
There are more details under the specific ‘subject’ tabs about ideas I’ve had here and resources we are likely to use (that I haven’t finished yet!) and many of these sources may well have a ‘Waldorf’ bent to them.
My plan now, such as it is, is that rather than ‘blocks’ (aside from the Introduction of Letters and a separate Introduction of Numbers) we will instead weave in and out of subjects using the above themes as vehicles for them. This is partly because (whilst putting together The Plan) I noted how useful, for example, the book of Genesis (a typical book for Waldorf Grade 3, covering the Creation; Adam and Eve; and Noah) is for introducing not only nouns, verbs, etc (through the story of the Creation and Adam and Eve’s naming of the animals) but also elements of measurement (Noah), but that to split these up into Main Lesson blocks impacted on other following blocks (as did other timings). I looked at examples of how the blocks were set out in various packaged curriculum and Waldorf schools and it just didn’t speak to me. Every time I looked at The Plan I kept thinking, “Wouldn’t it be better if…”
So I’m going for ‘if’ and we’ll see who it goes.
I’ve still got a calender (of course) and there are some things where it makes sense to look at them around a certain date, e.g. lambs are born around a certain time and therefore it makes sense to visit a farm around that time to see the new lambs and also that this would be a natural jumping off point to discuss the role of sheep within farming – for fibre and meat. Later on the year this would follow on to shearing (and well, you get the idea). I just felt it wasn’t right for us to, for example, do a Main Lesson block on textiles altogether, when we could do more hands-on experiences through the year and keep building upon what was learnt before.
And then there’s the festivals – and well, they just keep on coming around (to everything there is a season).
So there still is a plan that has become the New Plan – it’s just that this one isn’t spreadsheeted and broken down into sub-pages in Word. This Plan is more organic. It starts with some basics (Letters and Numbers) and then leaves us to it. I have some wonderful books (to reference and tell stories from) and some ideas and some goals – it never hurts to have goals for the year – and well, we’ll see where that takes us.
I will be listing what we are doing this ‘academic year’ under ‘Subject’ tabs on the top bar (that I’m still working on), however, this is solely for simplification because we don’t necessarily do separate subjects here, but rather seek to integrate them as part of a whole, not just during a structured lesson time, but also as part of everyday life – which in essence education should be – LIFE! But, hey, for ease of finding certain things here I’ve gone for a more list-like approach on the various top tabs (and there are the various labels).
If you’re looking for more ‘strict’ Steiner/Waldorf links and resources, I have a list of General ‘Waldorf’ Home Education Resources
linked to from the right-hand menu (although typically much of the books and links I list will be in keeping with a more ‘pure’ Waldorf approach to home education).