So.... I thought I'd give you all a few tips on planning for the next year (and all you Southern Hemisphere readers you'll just have to come back to this blog entry later in the year!). One of my main areas of work as a consultant has to do with planning, helping people think through what their upcoming year or semester might look like and visioning into what needs to be done to get there. Those of you who have my First Grade Syllabus can use the section in there as the basis for much of your planning.
I usually start people off by asking them to write out their vision of the upcoming year. I ask them to think about each child separately and to write down the main lessons and other lessons/activities for that year. I ask the parent to then think about goals for each child. Examples might be: A to learn all her multiplication tables; make sure there is more room in the schedule for singing; learn 3 pieces on the recorder; make sure at least one handwork project actually gets finished.
Then the parent needs to write down a list of qualities that each child might be challenged (indirectly) to work on in the upcoming year. This doesn't mean that the child will be asked to, for instance, make sure he is kinder to his little brother next year. (though it might). Rather, it might be that the parent decides that Billy needs to learn perseverance. The parent then needs to think through how she can provide opportunities not to grind the child into the dust in the effort to teach him to persevere - but to ensure that he is appropriately challenged (in handwork, writing, chores, music lessons) to learn to persevere.
Next the parent needs to look at the children together and the family as a whole to get a sense for the overall balance of the upcoming year. What are the needs of the different children and how might they be met? What are the needs of the family as a whole and how are those needs met? Where might compromises be necessary? Where might sacrifice be necessary? An example is a family with a lively outgoing 10 year old who wants to join every homeschooling field trip and activity possible. But... the 2 year old really suffers if she has to come to too many outings, ride in the car a lot and generally have her weekly schedule upset. It might well be that the 2 year old's needs are seen as more important - and that the parent knows that as she gets older, she will be able to adapt more easily. The 10 year old will have to make due with fewer activities which take him out of the home.
And in that situation, it might well be that the 10 year not only learns that family is important and one sometimes has to sacrifice ones own desires for the needs of another person, but that actually too many activities was feeding an imbalance in that child and really, he becomes more settled and grounded by a less hectic social life.
Back to planning....
So what lessons and activities can be done with both or all the children together? If you have a very large family, it might well be that a lot of homeschooling is done in shifts, with various children put together to play or do lessons together. Or an older one looks after the little ones - and so on. For sure, the larger your family the more flexible you have to be - and the less hung up on the purity of the curriculum and what "real" Waldorf might be. It might well be that the main organizing principle in a large family is "a large family in itself is the learning experience for these children" and what happens, happens. Because really, with a big family it seems to me there are two choices: boot camp or gentle chaos ( or frantic chaos but as that isn't healthy, it's not really a choice!). Either it's Parent as Sergeant or Parent as Helper. Parent as Teacher might not be really possible - at least in extended periods - in a large family.
When can you combine your children and teach them together? One thing that many homeschoolers find useful is to not teach their first grader recorder until her younger sibling is in first grade - then the two children are taught together at the same level. This can also work for handwork projects other than knitting - that really is a MUST for every first grader (but you can just continue with knitting in second grade if your other child is then a first grader - they both knit but do different projects). If you're very lucky (!!) you might also be able to do this with math and/or writing/reading. If your older one is "slower" in a skill like math and your younger one is faster, there will be many lessons which can be done together. Just do make sure that the younger one does not miss out on the active and imaginative stage of math and that the older one is, when appropriate, challenged to move from imaginative pictures to abstract thinking. Stick to the "soul lessons" which the story material meets at the different stages of the child's development - but be more flexible with when certain skills (like learning multiplication tables) are addressed or accomplished.
Sometimes it is possible to do a main lesson on different levels at the same time. Man and Animal, Building, Saints & Heroes and Geography main lessons come to mind. If, for instance, you have a fourth grader doing Man and Animal and you also have a first or second grader, you can let that younger child join in. She can also do a main lesson book and just focus on drawing and copying a word or two ((HORSE, EAGLE etc) or a sentence or two while you help your 10 year old write a report. During a geography block on US Geography (or whatever country you live in) all the children can listen to regional stories and go on field trips. The second grader can do some writing if she insists - the kindergartener can draw (and don't worry if she also wants to do some writing - it will probably pass - her natural imitative powers compel her to do what the older ones are doing). Just weave back and forth. And maybe when it's time for that second grader to do her own fifth grade block in geography you either find a different focus or revisit some of what you did earlier.
My Curriculum Overview can be very helpful for people to work out what lessons are done when in Waldorf schools and - most importantly - why. Then parents can figure out what the essence of of those lessons and be better able to adapt to family circumstances. And, as homeschooling is not school at home, one will have all sorts of things which will need to be allowed for - Grandma's month long visit; a move; a new baby; your child's passion for horses or ballet. You might decide to do a mini main lesson on horses or ballet - with the help of my Overview you can perhaps see what soul lessons are important for your child at her age and ensure that she gets them - even if her focus is on horses or ballet, neither of which show up in the Waldorf curriculum!!
There's so much more to say.... and this blog entry is getting too long. Let me just finish here by saying - make goals but ensure they are flexible. Process is usually far more important than goals when it comes to teaching and parenting - let the goals be guideposts but never let them bind you into a situation where one loses sight of a child's progress and, equally important, set-backs, over time.
And do consider getting in touch with me to talk through your plans and visions for the upcoming year! Go to the Consultations section of the Christopherus website for details of what I offer.