It’s hard to believe that ten years have passed since Christopherus Homeschool Resources came into being. Ten years ago I was living with my family on a hobby farm in northern Wisconsin, milking goats and hosting homeschool groups. Ten years ago my sons were 3rd and 5th graders, schooled at home. Ten years ago I was patching together homeschooling resources, mainly using conventional materials and drawing on my own experience as a Waldorf teacher. Ten years ago I was meeting with a group of Minnesota homeschoolers who seemed to be tying themselves into knots trying to create mini Waldorf schools at home, using a beautiful and inspirational but not entirely homeschool-savvy curriculum…
And it is from this that Christopherus sprang – from my own, and others, homeschooling experiences. I can pin it down to a day, one I clearly remember. I had been ill and was lying on the couch, leafing through a conventional homeschooling resources catalogue. Appalled by the mediocrity that was on offer, I kept muttering to myself, ‘I can do better than that; My goodness – look at that...I can do better than that'. ‘Hey’, I realized, ‘I really CAN do better than that!’
I was already teaching writing classes to local homeschooled youngsters and had decided to branch out and do this via snail-mail and email. This program, YoungWriters, had some success. I worked with a number of children but eventually realized that I simply could not get past the lack of face-to-face relationships with my students. Too much of my teaching is based on the relationship formed – and when I later taught in a Waldorf-flavored high school, I realized that nothing is more important in teaching that the relationship between student and teacher. How else can a teacher gauge when to push and when to let go? How else can she know how to pitch a lesson, what context – both in terms of previous lessons and the child’s personal life – to draw from? And how can trust be built, that trust that enables an unwilling student to take a risk and undertake an assignment because he knows that it is important to his teacher – even if he can’t (yet) see its importance himself. And so, I as much as I enjoyed the YoungWriters program, I started to move in a different direction.
Thanks to the gift of a computer from my folks – before that we had been a TV and computer-free family (though we continued to keep the children away from the computer until they were in their teens) - I had been on Kytka’s list (hands up all of you old Kytka’s veterans!) and then the fabulous WE-HS (Waldorf Education Home School) yahoo group. Eventually, I needed to create my own list (just as Melisa Neilson later split from me) which was a great success and eventually had over 4,500 members from all over the world.
I then began to write curriculum materials, spurned on my requests from people on my yahoo group and from homeschoolers who began to consult with me. Drawing from my (then) 20+ years of both teaching and homeschooling experience, I created a series of books for the Wadorf homeschooler. From Nature Stories to Natural Science was our first title and the first book we sold – to a woman in Northfield MN who later hosted a conference with me.
Conferences soon took off. The first was in Houston TX, hosted by a friend who used to work at NASA. Because of her connections, I took my then 12 year old son, Gabriel, who was interested in space flight. After the conference my friend took us on a tour of NASA, which was great though the real highlight for Gabriel was the non-stop 2-day monopoly game he played with my friends’ sons during the conference itself! Coming from a family where board games were taken up with great sighs of martyrdom by all but Gabriel, this was as close as heaven as my boy could get!
Other conferences followed – I keynoted at Rahima Baldwin’s conferences in CA and CO; and over the years I spoke in MI, IN, TX (several times), GA, WI, IL and more. My last conference was in June 2011 – a week-long Christopherus conference in Chicago. It was brilliant, really wonderful. But conferences are not so big any longer – between the availability of so much on the internet (though so much is also very dubious) and the impact of the economic downturn, few of us really do conferences any longer. However, in recent months, I have been speaking on child development and the 12 senses here in the UK . This has been so well received that Christopherus is considering a conference in at our home base in Viroqua, WI this summer.
Back to the story at hand: In 2008 my family moved to Viroqua WI, a town with a Waldorf school and a Waldorf high school initiative. My youngest son attended the former for a couple of months and both sons went to the latter for a couple of years. I taught part time at the high school and also taught high school classes in my home, especially when my youngest boy came back to homeschooling.
During these years the most significant Christopherus development was the creation of our curriculum. Originally, we poo-pooed the idea of a ‘set curriculum’, having one foot in the so-called ‘Waldorf unschooling’ camp. But, because of persistent and strenuous requests for a curriculum and because I worked out how to create such a thing which was flexible and adaptable, the Christopherus curriculum was born. At the same time, my foot in the unschooling camp became uncomfortable as I learned more and more about the therapeutic basis of Waldorf education – and as I studied not only how my own sons grew, but how children I knew over the years matured (we offer an audio download on Waldorf Education and Unschooling in which some of you might be interested).
Another important part of the ‘Viroqua years’ was the Waldorf at Home online forum. This was an intimate group of homeschoolers who were able, largely because of the way I held and nurtured the group, to talk in meaningful and deep ways about homeschooling, parenting and self development. And my efforts were made possible only because of the wonderful support I got from a brilliant group of women. May I pause for a moment and thank – once again – Lisa Marshall, Barbara Benson (hi Barbara – I know you’re reading this!), Karen Petz, Serina Lopez, Carrie Dendtler and Catherine Forest. My love and gratitude continues to flow to you all and I am filled with warm fuzzy feelings when I think back to our time together on the forum!
Of course, the other hugely significant change to Christopherus (and the reason I am able to be sitting here in Scotland writing this) was the personnel change that took place. My husband, Paul Newton, who had turned what I had written into books, run the website, created our accounting system, sent out orders and did all the thousands of jobs required of a home business, went off to become a priest of the Christian Community. And in his place came Leigh Anders - friend, neighbor, comrade-parent-of-teens and all around amazing person.
Leigh remains in Viroqua, where she steers the helm of Christopherus, keeping it going. No – more than just keeping it going. She is now in a position where she has initiatives and ideas which, over the years, will mean that CHR has some new directions and new possibilities.
Leigh is assisted in her work by her eldest daughter, Nora. You can think of Nora when you open up any packages you receive from us as it is her job to process orders and get them to people in a timely way. And if you have our 4th and/or 5th grade curriculum, you will see examples of Nora’s early work sprinkled throughout!
And so, dear readers, that is the brief history of Christopherus. We're ten years old! Imagine that! And what is most wonderful to me is the fact that a good number of you have been with us since the early days. Your children have grown up with us. What a humbling experience that has been for me – and for Paul and Leigh – as, year after year, we would see some of the same names coming back for more books from us. And of course, from time to time some of you have written comments on this blog – what a joy it is for me to read your names. ‘Oh I remember her ’ ‘Can her son really be 13 now? – but she just bought the second grade curriculum for him…Was that so long ago!?!’ ‘Yes, that’s a familiar name – I even remember her face from the conference in…’ And so on.
I would encourage any of you who would like to share your Christopherus stories with us to please, please do so – in recognition of our 10 years of service to the Waldorf homeschooling community, wouldn’t it be fun and inspiring to read the stories of ‘old timers’? And you newbies, full of fresh enthusiasm, are most welcome to also join in! So write your stories here in the comments or send them to the office - firstname.lastname@example.org - and we will find a good place to put them on the website. Photos of children or art projects of anything relevant would be brilliant!
To start off our tenth year, we're giving away ten copies of our very first publication, From Nature Stories to Natural Science. This book is a Waldorf homeschooling essential for both families using a Christopherus full curriculum package or those pulling together their own resources for a DYI approach. To enter a random drawing for From Nature Stories to Natural Science simply post a comment below. The drawing will be held on January 31st.
Here's to ten years!