This article first appeared in the Homeschool Journey newsletter, October 2004 (and much has changed in our family since then!)
My original topic for this month’s newsletter was something quite different than what you are about to read – I was going to base this newsletter on a talk I gave in a Virginia workshop on the anthroposophical roots of Waldorf education (and which I will, at some point, write about). However, recent questions and discussions on our Yahoo discussion list as well as questions from people I met with at workshops and consultations in California, have prompted me to write about something quite different.
Namely... HOW TO DO IT! How to actually figure out some of the nuts and bolts everydayness of living with children, educating them and simultaneously running a household. So... just for fun and, hopefully, as a source of inspiration to you all (but not as a set model to follow) I will tell you all how I do it (or, at least, a small part of it).
Now, first of all, I have to let you all know that not only do Paul (my husband) and I run Christopherus and our farm together (which is, incidentally, not very big or overwhelming) but we homeschool together as well. During these past few hectic weeks – and over the next few weeks while I finish my Fall season of traveling around giving workshops – he has been Chief Homeschooler. He put both our sons, a 7th grader and a 5th grader, together for an economics block. He’s been reading to them from Robert L. Heilbronner’s The Worldly Philosophers and they discuss this together. Then they’ve worked on business math, such as percentages, mainly within the context of pretending to set up a record store (guess whose idea that was!). They’ve discussed and problem solved issues around budgets, planning, stock, taxes, profits, loss, advertising, ethical questions involved with being an employer, etc... and done much of the math involved in such work.
Economics is usually taught as part of the 6th Grade math curriculum in Waldorf schools. But, as our older son is a bit ‘behind’ in math and the younger one is a bit ‘ahead’, it made sense to combine them. This somewhat diminishes their experience of the timeliness of the 6th Grade curriculum for 12 year-olds, but as most of their work does follow Waldorf indications, we feel there is little to be lost in veering from the curriculum when necessary, when a sensible compromise serves our family’s needs.
Herein lies what I believe to be the secret of successfully working with Waldorf at home: remembering at all times that the decision to homeschool is all about family and to trust that if this decision is indeed the right one, then a way forward with one’s children’s education will be found. And, further, that this way forward will necessarily include compromise, flexibility, adaptation and a pragmatic attitude toward sanity! Trotting between several children stationed at intervals around the house, bringing a separate Main Lesson to each of them, is a good way to burn out real fast. I know people who have tried this – and I have seen the results.
Anyway, back to us... So, in addition to his stints as Homeschooling Parent, Paul’s weekly contribution to our homeschool is to teach recorder, piano, to lead jaunts around the lake on bicycle after breakfast every morning and to keep us singing. He also supervises the boys’ German lessons. He is not proficient in German so, this year, he and the boys are all working (separately) on the computer with the Rosetta Stone language software. The boys work on the computer for about 30 minutes 3 times a week. While not comparable to Waldorf school language learning this program does also take a ‘full immersion’ approach. They have also sung together in German and read Grimms fairy tales.
My role as Homeschooling Mom includes Planning, Negotiating and Implementing – I try to avoid Nagging, Forcing or Forgetting. I also, of course, do most of the teaching.
Here’s how I figure out a yearly plan for my sons – I’ll base it on what I planned for this year. I do most of this work during the summer as I look at the upcoming academic year.
This year I have, as I mentioned, a 5th grader and a 7th grader. I write down the usual Waldorf Main Lessons for these grades: botany, ancient mythologies, Greek myths, Greek history, geography of the US (or whatever one’s country is) and math (fractions and intro to geometry) for the 5th grader; and physics, history (the Age of Exploration, the Age of Discovery and the Industrial Revolution), human physiology, chemistry, astronomy and math (such as geometric proofs). Then I think about other lessons the boys will be doing: German, music, language arts, practice math, handwork and art.
Looking at this list, I figure out where to combine the boys and where to keep them separate. I think about what art projects and crafts, what practical activities and projects will bring their lessons to life. I think about goals: Gabriel (5th grader) is finally beginning to write with confidence (composition that is) so we need to now turn our attention to spelling, punctuation and capitalization a bit more purposefully. Now that he is no longer fearful or reluctant to write a story or report, we will hone some skills. This kind of goal will run through all the various subjects we study.
The main goal with Daniel is for him to become proficient in fast calculation – he knows his way around the basic math operations but he is not fast enough, not (dare I say it) automatic in his responses to math problems, whether written or oral. In order to progress into higher math he must get over this hurdle. So we will work on short, lively and fast drills on pretty much a daily basis – flash cards, timed drills, mental math – and lots of fast-paced games will surely help.
There are obviously many other things I think about too – but this article would become another book if I listed them all! Suffice to say, one wants to also address one’s children’s particular interests (Daniel is writing a political newspaper with some friends so much of his language arts work is focused on this), needs (Gabriel needs help in actually completing some of the projects he starts on and not just forgetting about them when the going gets tough) and goals (as mentioned).
Here is what our normal schedule looks like at the moment:
§ 7:00 Get up – Paul and Daniel do some cleaning and prepare breakfast; Donna and Gabriel do chores in the barn.
§ 7.45 Breakfast followed by Paul and boys riding bikes while Donna checks e-mails
§ 8:30 Two days a week we all sing together: we are presently working on a 4-part piece by the 16th Century composer Thomas Tallis – so far we’ve managed 2 parts! Three days a week Paul and the boys play recorder while I clean or cook.
§ 9:00 Paul in the office while I read aloud to Daniel and Gabriel. We are just about to start Secret of the Andes by Ann Nolan.
§ 9:30 Daniel works on human physiology assignments which I’ve written out for him in a notebook. He reads, draws pictures, studies vocabulary, colors in a Gray’s Anatomy coloring book or copies over corrected written work from the day before. Meanwhile, Gabriel and I work on botany together. I read to him, we explore plants outside, talk, draw and do whatever else we need to do together.
§ 10:15 We switch – Daniel and I work together on physiology while Gabriel works alone on botany.
§ 11:00 Snack
§ 11:30 Depending on the day, activities vary. Possibilities include: both boys working on some pages of math problems; one boy doing German while I work on English or math with the other; one boy practicing piano or guitar while the other reads; both boys doing form drawing or painting with me.
§ 12:00 Similar to the above, but focused on things that need longer time: this is when Daniel and I might look over some of his writing together and discuss how it might improve or progress; and any work left over from the morning, especially if it is something like a complex picture or a report which needs reworking, might receive attention now. I keep an eye on their ‘free reading’ and occasionally require them to read certain books – at the moment Gabriel is reading The Case of the Baker Street Irregular by Robert Peckham and Daniel is reading The Summer of My German Soldier by Bette Green. Sometimes I give them assignments having to do with these books (rarely book reports as I find book reports are a good way to destroy interest in books). I weigh this against how much other writing they are currently doing: if they have lots of writing on their Main Lessons I require little additional writing from them. Instead, we talk about the books – something we all enjoy.
§ 1:00 Lunch and free time
§ 2:00 Usually German alternating with piano (Gabriel) or guitar (Daniel). Work outside with Paul (harvesting, spreading compost on the garden or other such jobs); handwork (sewing recorder cases at the moment; hopefully knitting socks with 4 needles in upcoming weeks) or crafts (we’re about to start carving wooden candleholders and making things for Christmas presents).
Additional activities include swimming lessons and an art class. And, of course, there are always things to do around the farm. Most afternoons are the time I do “Christopherus work” and Paul keeps things ticking over with the boys and the household.
As for laundry and cleaning and cooking, it’s a matter of either me doing things while they’re busy with their lessons or us doing things together. Saturday morning is usually (but not always!) cleaning time – as our family is home together so much, specific family time is less of an absolute need. When the roads freeze up (not long from now in Northwestern Wisconsin!) bike riding will become a half hour of cleaning and the house will hopefully look a lot better than it does at the moment!
So you can see that in many ways I have it pretty easy – my boys are very independent in much of their school work, they are (pretty much) compliant when it comes to household and other chores and my husband is at home. There are several comments I need to make about this.
1) My sons know how to work independently because, from earliest days, they needed to do so. I have always had work other than my own family work to do. Although thee is no way I could have had a business like Christopherus when they were little (believe it or not Christopherus is not even 18 months old!), we were always in communities where I worked with either developmentally disabled adults or with groups of children. For the most part, I simply combined this work with my children – at other times they needed to play or “find something to do” while I was busy. So now they are quite used to reading, writing or drawing or doing whatever alone. I really think this is an essential ability to inculcate in our children from very early on. One must be able to say “You sit here and look at these books while I work with your brother” to young children, perhaps even as young as 4 or 5. Take it slow, take it one step at a time and be creative. Don’t use the TV or videos (you might regret doing this later on when it becomes a crutch you can’t cope without) but insist that they develop the ability to be alone, even if, at first, it’s for no more than 10 minutes per day.
2) If one keeps the focus on the fact that homeschooling is about family, not merely a collection of individuals, then one can relax into it and find its benefits – not just in academics and learning skills, but in such things as sharing, cooperation, being together and helping one another. So, when everything goes wrong and the schedule goes out the window, one can remember that the simple act of creating a family life together is so important, especially in our society, that one can feel confident that this in itself is one of the most important things for your child to experience and learn. Don’t worry, the schedule will still be there when you are ready to face it again – and maybe by taking a break from it you will gain insight into how to actually make it work.
This newsletter is getting ridiculously long, so I’m going
to stop now. There is much more to be said – and, of course, I address more
ways of HOW TO DO IT in The Christopherus
Waldorf Curriculum Overview for Homeschoolers. Those of you who have other
ways of figuring it all out or questions about this are welcome to air your
comments on the Waldorf at Home
Yahoo discussion group [not to mention this brand-new blog!] where there is always a lot of interest in topics like