Friday, November 14, 2014

A Slow Week

This past week we took a slow week.  I was feeling under the weather and took the time to relax, regroup, and reflect.  We got out of our rhythm and it felt wasteful.  We also got a fair amount of snow, so between sickness and change in the weather we were rocked.  After a week of keeping it slow and trying to rest, I added our walk back in, we normally don't do a lot of academics on Fridays, so most of the remainder of the day was normal.  It felt so good, nurturing to the soul to get back into the missing rhythm and to set us up for a strong week next week.  I hope to continue to refine our rhythm so that even if something is off there is still a clear path to follow. 

Wednesday, October 22, 2014


One of the best things I have done for our homeschool is to work to develop a daily and weekly rhythm.  What is rhythm you may ask? Rhythm is having a pattern or an ebb and flow to your routine.  It is the opposite of chaos. Rhythm can work for all types of people from unschoolers, to families with infants, to executives. We all live with some kind of rhythm in our lives, but the trick is using it to make our lives better and easier. Rhythm can be daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly. Most of us follow a very similar yearly pattern that corresponds to the calendar or the seasons. We celebrate holidays, do Spring cleaning, etc. Everyday, you may wake up, exercise, shower, eat breakfast, etc.

Our current daily rhythm looks like this:
Wake up

Eat breakfast
Tidy up (boys make beds, get dressed, brush teeth)
Family walk
Circle Time
School Work
Daily chores
Free time, errands, or activities
Prepare dinner
Clean up
Family Walk
Bedtime routine

I began with the rhythm written down and posted so I can refer to it often, but we are going on our 7th week and I don't really need to look at it much.  I really like making lists and checking them off, so having it all written out works great for me.  If you are not type A or this just seems too daunting for you, just choose 3 things and do them everyday in the same order and once you have them down, choose the next 3 things, until you have your rhythm down.  The rhythm helps everyone know what is coming next and really helps my children be calm about the day and do things (like school work or tooth brushing) without giving attitude or defiance.  The only downside I can say is that whenever we have to abandon our rhythm for any reason (special events, guests, holidays, etc.) we get more of the old undesirable behavior (craziness, bouncing off walls, tantrums, meltdowns).  Since these behaviors happen so much less now it is much easier to respond gently and with understanding. When we fall off track for whatever reason, getting back into our rhythm feels so good.  It's like going on vacation: coming back to our rhythm feels like home.  It is good to be home.

How I brought a clear rhythm into our lives:  Start small! Most people wake and eat around the same time most days, use this as a starting point.  This was something I have always had, but had to be a little more strict with myself since having kids (no skipping breakfast or snacking through lunch).  Most parents have probably heard the benefits of a good bedtime routine.  We have had a regular bedtime routine since our oldest was about 2.5 years old (I recommend starting earlier!).  This was the first component to our family rhythm and has been adjusted many times as we added two more children.  The next thing we added in was family walks with a brief tidying up of the house before hand.  We added one in the morning to get ourselves going for the day and to expend some of the kids energy before having them sit for circle and school.  Simultaneously we added one in at night after dinner to get the last of the wiggles out before the bedtime routine. We practiced the walks and tidying up for two weeks before we even started school. Finally, we added in our circle time followed by school work. 

Sometimes we don't get out the door for our morning walk until just before lunch! Other times we just go so late that we miss our night time walk.  I try to focus on the parts that are the most important (eating and school) and just take things one step at a time.  This routine is what we always come back to and it works for us! 

A final note on developing rhythm: There is a component to Steiner's work that talks about 'breathing in' and 'breathing out' activities.  I am not very well versed on it, but the basics of this is focus should alternate between being inward (sitting type activities) and outward (movement or outside activities).  I try to take that into consideration for our rhythm and during our circle time I try to alternate between the two as well.       


Friday, October 10, 2014

Week 4-Reflections on Waldorf

I’d like to write a little about what I love about Waldorf and what I would like to bring into our homeschool program.  Right now I am loving how much I am learning about things I hadn’t given much thought to before.  I have long been a fan of simple living and minimalism.  I dislike clutter and hoarding things, but there is some aspect of Waldorf education that is very simple in nature.  Limiting toys, media exposure, and even books is encouraged.  I didn’t understand why one would ever limit books, but am discovering that too much information is just as detrimental as too many toys.  As an adult I can definitely relate to information overload and how it contributes to my overall sense of well-being.  What I would like to take from this is not that I have to have all things waldorf in my home, but to really look at how the things we have in our home affect us.

I have had a ‘teaching wall’ up in our house since H was about 3 years old.  It started out with pictures he drew and then I added a calendar and map and it eventually progressed into a full-fledged school room bulletin board complete with fun seasonal boarder.  He is almost 7 now and I know all the kids are rather fond of the posters of the human body and other charts that I have up, but I think it is time for these things to go.  One of the things I am learning more about as I explore Waldorf is the child taking the learning into their being.  That is the best way I can describe it right now.  It is not just learning the alphabet and math facts and that these letters make these sounds, but actually forming a relationship on a deeper level with learning concepts.  For example, each letter of the alphabet is taught with a story and beautiful illustration of the letter and words that start with that letter. So that when they see the letter M, they are not just seeing that letter, but it has become part of them through the story.  I’ll admit that I am just beginning to understand this concept  and am far from truly knowledgeable, but I can really see the value in this kind of learning.  So piece by piece I am removing the ‘meaningless’ letters and numbers and charts from our walls to make space for a deeper learning to take place.

Another thing that I am loving about Waldorf education is the concept of rhythm.  I have developed a family rhythm and we have been practicing for about 5 weeks now and it is wonderful.  Somehow all on their own the children have almost entirely given up on television since the rhythm doesn’t really have any space for it.  That is not to say that they do not have free time, but they have chosen to use their free time for play rather than passive television watching.  Though with Halloween and Christmas right around the corner (plus cold weather), I am interested to see how this plays out through the winter.  We do love to snuggle up and watch our holiday movies (on repeat).  The concept of rhythm is so great (both vast and wonderful) that I will definitely explore it in more detail in the future, but suffice to say it has been life altering and quite meaningful for us. 

The biggest struggle I am having with family life right now is struggling with living up to the Waldorf lifestyle.  It is so easy to get caught up in the thought that my homeschool needs this or that to be complete, especially when the few little things I have done have produced such great results.  It is important for me to remember baby steps and that there is not ONE way to do things.  Also important is to realize that Steiner developed his ideas nearly 100 years ago and while many of the aspects of Waldorf education are still valid and valuable, some things may not be as important or applicable as others.    

Not Back to School 2014

Well hello there, long time no see.  We have (finally) started our homeschool year after a September that started off with a ton of appointments and other 'life stuff'.  I feel so blessed that we were able to delay our beginning to a time that worked best for us.

To recap:  Last year was our first 'official' homeschool year since H was in Kindergarten, though I did purchase a preschool curriculum (that sat unused) for him the year before.  We used Math U See Primer, a workbook that I bought at Sam's Club, and BOB books.  I tried to do an unschool approach with lots of social activities, playdates, parkdays, etc., but unschooling just doesn't vibe with my teacher-y personality (part of my inner work, I suppose).  It was a great year and busy, but H often complained of the 'doing school' part when I had him sit down for BOB, workbook, and Math.  We eased up on the reading because it was becoming a battle and the last thing I wanted was for him to dislike reading.  I told him we would try something different this year.  However, Aaron and I agree that math is very important to us to do in a sequential manner and that we should not bounce around on math curriculum, so we have chosen Math U See for the long haul.

This year I was really looking at using the Oak Meadow curriculum which is very gentle and uses a lot of drawing, crafting, nature, and story-telling, at least that is my understanding of it.  I just couldn't get myself onboard with the price tag though, so I was on ebay trying to score a used copy and losing bid after bid.  It just wasn't meant to be I guess and to make a long story short, I got a slammin' deal on Waldorf Essentials lifetime membership and decided to go with that.  I also found a few wonderfully supportive facebook groups that have been an amazing source of inspiration and information on how to make the Waldorf experience at home. I think this program is EXACTLY what we need as a family.  It comes with a parent curriculum too and I feel so positive about working on myself in regard to mothering and teaching.  So, I have H using Waldorf Essentials first grade and Math U See and A is using Sonlight P4/5 (the aforementioned preschool curriculum I purchased for H and never used).  So let me tell you how it went!

One of the most valuable things I have seen in Waldorf is the concept of rhythm.  I actually started working on our family rhythm 2 weeks before school, trying to establish a routine that included regular clean-up times and walks and very little outside of the household routine.  This involved LOTS of planning and lists which I loved, but I suppose other personalities could do this without the lists/planning.  I could see already that this is going to be a very good thing for AJ who struggles with transitions and going out.        

So by the time we were finally ready to begin on Sept. 15 I would like to say our rhythm was pretty solid, but really the idea of how it should be was solid, we are still working on keeping our rhythm (at least the expectation is there).  We began our journey with a Rose Ceremony which I will describe in another post.  Then dove right into the programs.  By Wednesday H was asking to go back to our old program, but mostly I think he was struggling to adjust to the change in what 'school' looks like.  AJ is doing very well with his program and doing a great job with his drawings.  Though his week was not without struggles including walking away from circle time and complete disinterest in certain stories.

I am still working on developing our circle time.  One thing I read by the creator of Waldorf Essentials was that crafting the life we are striving for takes time and is a bit like painting where new ideas are continually painted, layer by layer, onto the canvas of family life.  This really resonated with me and so I am working on adding new elements a little at a time.  Overall I am very happy with our first week.  It was a struggle, but at the end of the week, we took lots of family walks, drew some beautiful pictures, and spent lots of time together.  Next week brings the fall equinox and we will be including some dragon activities in preparation for Michaelmas.  It is sure to be a fun-filled week!