September Boom and Bust

September Boom and Bust

If you’re like most homeschoolers, you started your new homeschooling year well organized, with clear goals and with great enthusiasm. You had all your lessons well planned, with interesting and engaging projects to do to keep the work well rounded. You memorized a couple of stories, a song and three verses and felt on top of things. Your children were excited, well behaved and compliant. Chores got done, walks were taken, stories listened to and main lesson books begun. Lessons flowed and were punctuated by times for play and each day drew to a satisfactory conclusion.

That was Week One.

Week Two was similar… but it was a bit harder to get the day started. The children seemed a bit more restless, maybe a tad cranky. Somehow chores weren’t all done because somehow there wasn’t the time. Or other things seemed to take precedence. Only one walk happened because it rained. Or the baby needed to nurse all morning. Or the phone kept ringing and the guy from the gas company needed help finding the gas meter. Stories were listened to just as avidly (yes! – something went right!) but your second grader was not as keen to do her writing. Or presented a full agenda of demands on how exactly she wants to make her main lesson book. Listening carefully to her demands, wondering if one day she would become a union negotiator or a divorce lawyer, you fought down the feelings clogging your chest and stomach, refusing to concede to panic, cheerily assuring yourself that you must, after all, be flexible, that you are a homeschooler.

By Week Three you began to recognize a pattern whereby half the time you felt determined to stick to the curriculum at any cost and the other half of the time you either fantasized about becoming a n unschooler or catch yourself thinking that the public school down the road isn’t so bad after all. You haven’t had time to memorize any new stories and have forgotten two of the verses, Your children balk at the song they seemed to like so well when school began. You haven’t touched the reorder or a paint brush yet and feel overwhelmed by the idea of beginning handwork.
September Boom and Bust has hit!
Welcome my friend. Welcome to Real Homeschooling. Welcome to Real Life.
One of the dangers of the many beautiful blogs about Waldorf homeschooling that one can peruse is that….well, people do like to post about their successes and are rarely inclined to post photos of the dirty dishes piled in the kitchen or of the ripped out pages of the main lesson book that their tearful and furious third grader spewed across the living room. Everything can look perfect and everything can look so easy. And one can then so easily feel inadequate, forgetting that these seemingly Perfect Waldorf Homeschoolers are as imperfect as the rest of us.
And rest assured, it happens to every homeschooler. Even to ones who are real veterans, mothers (or fathers) who have faced down second graders who refuse to do any writing, toddlers who insist on having their own main lesson books, and children who equate playing the recorder to some bizarre form of torture with barely a murmur, with barely an eyebrow raised or an expletive suppressed. All of us – yup, me too – have had that horrible feeling that This Is Not Working and felt the temptation to succumb to despair and just give up. It’s that 3 in the morning feeling that everyone gets – “What was I thinking? What made me think I could homeschool? Have I ruined my children?!”
But we don’t give up. We soldier on. We figure it out, we find ways to renew ourselves, we adjust our expectations and we persevere. And it is precisely because of this, because we allow ourselves to feel how awful homeschooling can be and how inadequate we feel and yet overcome this wall, that we gift our children great life lessons. Through our striving, they experience that inner effort is required to work meaningfully in the world and that one does not simply give in and give up.
Of course, this is something that we, as adults, must do in our own inner sanctum, in the privacy of our own souls. We, hopefully, can get support from others (partners/spouses, friends and so on) but we do not share our struggles with our children. Boundaries can be blurred in homeschooling – one of the reasons that many Waldorf teachers used to be (and some few still are) against homeschooling. And with good reasons. A degree of objectivity needs to exists in the relationship between the teacher and students and though this must of course be filled with warmth and love, the parent does need to cultivate the ability to step aside from her role as mother and, on occasion, act differently, as teacher. Some Waldorf homeschool consultants have thus recommended that the teacher actually, literally, wear an item of clothing during her teaching times that acts as a cue that now she is Teacher and not Mommy. While I think that this is taking this too far and can fall into the equally problematic but opposing dilemma, that of trying to turn home into school, that the thinking behind this is sound. The trick, as always, is to tread that delicate middle way.
So we don’t tell our children that we are thinking of abandoning this main lesson because it just isn’t working. We don’t break down and start to cry or have a temper tantrum (though if either of those very human things do occur, we simply pull ourselves together, acknowledge that “Mommy was really sad but now I’m ok. Whewf! Crying can make me feel a lot better….let’s get the beeswax down and make some autumn leaves to decorate the Nature Table”). But we do let our children see that we are working to always make things better. The most precious lessons that arise during homeschooling are not all the songs learned and the pictures drawn – they are the lessons that teach our children what it means to be a human being. For surely that is the point, the reason why one educates a child.
Learning how to cope with our inner struggles and learning how to soldier on might mean that we say something like “Today we are going to spend the whole morning cleaning the house because we didn’t manage last week. Let’s see how many songs we can sing while we work”. Or we say “This week you aren’t going to write in your main lesson book. I would like you to just write on the board or on paper. Then next week, let’s see what might go into your book”. We look at a problem (chores aren’t getting done) and instead of agonizing about it or resolving to stay up until midnight cleaning the house alone(thus becoming tired and resentful and of no use to anyone) we find a creative and guilt-free way of addressing the lack. A child who is tearing up her main lesson book in frustration might need to take a break from being expected to write in her book. One learns to work sideways, something I myself learned to do as a youth worker working with disturbed children who were not responsive to a direct approach. Over the years, I found that by working sideways, one avoids so many of the “I to I” struggles one otherwise has with one’s child (I address this in detail in several of my audio downloads, such as the one on discipline).
The trick here, the way to get through September Bust, is to, first and foremost, look to ourselves. We need to feel good about what we are doing and feel we have the ability to carry on. A homeschooler who is sticking to the schedule and curriculum so tightly because she does not truly understand what she is meant to do or, conversely, a homeschooler who hasn’t got enough materials to
enable her to work with her child’s lessons in the right way needs to find the time to learn more about what she is doing so that she can then be free to be flexible. Such flexibility when educating one’s children can only come through knowledge. Knowledge and the inner serenity that allows one to face the inevitable problems one faces during homeschooling and not be overwhelmed or feel like giving up.
Rudolf Steiner said that to be a Waldorf teacher required three things: knowledge of anthroposophical child development; knowledge of the particular children standing before one; and commitment to unending personal development. These requirements are as important for Waldorf homeschoolers, I would say, as they are for teachers. And while the latter is vital for teachers – for anyone who works with other people, children or adults – unending personal development takes on a somewhat different urgency and character for homeschoolers. For while working in a circle of colleagues can bring all the challenges of dealing with other people, at least a Waldorf teacher always has someone to bounce ideas off of, someone who knows the children and has his own wealth of teaching advice to share. At home isolation can mean that one feels utterly alone in making decisions and teaching and even if one has a supportive spouse and perhaps a Waldorf co-op, at the end of the day, it’s just you and your child staring at each other across the dining room table, crayons and main lesson books spilling out between you.
Waldorf teachers – all truly sensitive teachers – also experience September Bust and periods of despair and burn out. But again, they have each other and, if they are lucky enough to teach at a school that is adequaly staffed, have the benefit of mentors to guide them. At home, September Bust can be so devastating because one can feel so alone. There’s no plan for September Bust in the schedule (not even in the Christopherus schedule!) and one can then feel that this is one’s own unique problem and one’s own fault. And though it may be one’s own fault that one is has not taken sufficient time to prepare (or made the effort to simplify if life demands less than perfect ideals of what Waldorf homeschooling should be) this problem is not, in any way, unique. Hopefully, that is something one can take solace from.
So what to do when September Bust occurs? Here are a few possibilities:
*   Recommit to homeschooling and not to the creation of a Waldorf school at home. Your family’s health and well being are top priority – and that means that although what results may not look like what is done at a Waldorf school, designing a doable form for your days and weeks together is what is most important. Once you and the children can breath, you can then tweak things as necessary.
*   Remember that no Waldorf teacher ever covers everything he or she wants to cover during the course of each grade. Being a really good teacher means being responsive to the needs of one’s class (remember Steiner’s requirements above) and thus having the flexibility and vision to be able to create meaningful experiences for the children from out of oneself. To do this properly, however, one does need to have a thorough understanding not only of those children as individuals, but of child development as well. And to have the inner strength and mindfulness to be able to carry this knowledge into action, means that one works unceasingly on one’s inner development – again,refer to Steiner’s requirements.
*   Be gentle on yourself. Mindful, conscious parenting is a courageous task and although its benefits are, of course, inestimable, that in no way reduces the sheer hard never-ending work that is required. And for those who take that extra step to homeschool – well, just double everything. Triple it – at least! – on bad days.
*   Find ways to renew yourself. You must have a break. You really must. Your time in the bath is just for you – it is not playtime for the whole gang. Sleep must mean sleep – or at least the drifting sleep that nursing in  a family bed can allow. And time with a girlfriend is just that – time for two adults to connect. It is not a time for play dates. Be creative and find ways to ensure that every week you have at least a couple hours to yourself, when you can reacquaint yourself with your body, your mind and your soul. And that goes for you AP parents as well (remember, modern Western AP practices often do not look like what they were originally based on, often to the detriment of parent and child).
*   When in doubt, go outside. Pack everyone into the car, drive into the woods or to the beach and play. Break the tension – yours and the children’s. Re-group and then take one or two steps to try to get back on task the next day. Do not, however, think that by taking a day off that you will then need to do EVERYTHING right the next day. Baby steps, baby steps.
Many blessings to you on your homeschool journey. Remember the mantra of every parent and every homeschooler – this too shall pass!

Posted on September 16, 2011 in General Homeschooling

  • Catherine Forest says:

    What a great post! I love it! So very, very timely for us… Oh I miss our conversations on the forum!

  • Yelena says:

    I am a first time homeschooler of a second-grader and this article was very helpful. I didn’t know there was September Boom and Bust, but now I know and I feel better about it 🙂

  • Sabrina says:

    Thanks Donna. You always keep things real! Bringing up the tity gritty of homeschooling and putting it in prespective. I will be printing this out and keeping it in my planner as a reminder.

  • Eliza says:

    Is there a resource you can suggest for learning more about child development from an anthropological perspective? I read this advice frequently, and it leaves me feeling a little lost. I’ve read numerous books and articles that speak about the 7-year development phases, the 6-year change, the 9-year change, but I get the feeling when I read posts about child development that there is more detailed (year to year) anthropological child development information that I have not yet found.
    Thank you!

  • Donna says:

    Yes, I miss those conversations, too, Catherine. Ah well – things do change!
    I’m glad this was helpful to you,Yelena and Sabrina. Putting it in your planner? LOL!
    If you are referring to what I wrote above, it’s “anthroposophical” not anthropological. Anthroposophy refers to the spiritual scientific method of understanding the world – including human development – brought to us by Rudolf Steiner. And Eliza, the list of books and articles is endless – my best suggestion is that you go to our website and comb through the various articles and other sources of information and get your teeth into anthroposophical child development. Our audio downloads and all of our curriculum materials are also helpful with this. And The Kingdom of Childhood, a series of lectures by Rudolf Steiner, is also very helpful – we sell this in our bookstore.

  • Eliza says:

    Thank you for your reply Donna. That was a typo on my part! Sorry for the confusion.

  • Mary Feiler says:

    Wow Donna,
    THAT was timely! Thanks for putting it into perspective, especially as an act of perseverence that is really a lesson in and of itself.
    Love ya,
    Mary (aka Canyonwren)

  • Ann Dolina says:

    It’s like you’ve been to our house! I’m just starting homeschooling my kindergartener and we started beautifully and now it’s well rather fallen apart. I appreciate the encouragement, especially about reading seemingly perfect Waldorf Homeschooling Blogs. I went to them for inspiration, but then just felt like I don’t measure up etc. Thanks for all the tips I will be trying them out!

  • Donna says:

    No problem Eliza!
    Hugs, Mary – lovely to “see you” here!
    It’s funny when people say what you said, Ann – but that’s the point, it really does happen to all of us and so it does feel like someone’s been in one’s home when they name something like this! By the way, Ann….since you are doing kindergarten, I do kind of wonder if perhaps you are overly structured? That is a common problem when one does kindergarten at home and models it after what is done at school (and of course, I am only guessing – it might be that you are doing no such thing – but if what I wrote resounds in you, then my suspicion is that you are forming things too tightly). It can help to remember that what is done in Waldorf kindergartens is modeled after what happens in the healthy home – and not the other way around!

  • Bri says:

    Thank you thank you thank you. Yes! That is us! Dirty dishes and all, and yes, those blogs make me feel well, sooooo inadequate. Memorize stories! Learn how to crochet! (yes, those guilty feelings at not having touched a paintbrush in, well, weeks.
    thank you for posting this. I need to hear that I am not alone.

  • Bri says:

    So what exactly do you do when no time apart from children is foreseeable in the near future? For now, I will just take a deep breath.

  • donna says:

    Yup – deep breath. And repeat. And repeat again. Remind yourself that this is the greatest training in personal development you can possibly get – no expensive life coach or guru or therapists can possibly lead one as far as unbroken time with young children can. And it’s also a way for you to discover your own authentic self, warts and bumps and ugly places and all. Lots of pain, to be sure – but ultimately, no greater reward is possible.
    And remember – this too shall pass. I now have no children at home. I can study, day dream, horseback ride, shower, eat or not eat as I will. And having gone through the horrors (and joys) of being a stay at home homeschooling mom for so many years, I really know myself and my needs, who I am and where I want to go next. I cannot tell you how empowering, liberating and exciting that is.

  • Basia Valva says:

    Donna and the rest of you ladies, all I can say is thank you. This post has been just what I needed. I just started homeschooling and went with other materials, putting it together myself and now am feeling my own warts bumps and ugly places in the full light of day. Thank you for reminding me that this is a journey and a process. In a real way, we are learning to be a family, the family we want to be, and that is no easy thing. Nothing more worth while. I was about to give up, but after reading this, I am ready to continue on, and let go of being a Waldorf school at home. I also probably should have ordered your books from the start. I will now, better late than never I suppose! Once again thank you, thank you, thank you!!!!

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