How To Do It!

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

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

§ 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
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

Posted on July 13, 2005 in General Homeschooling

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