Tea with Donna Question and Answers
The Transition from Kindergarten to the Grades
This is a really good question for homeschoolers to put some thought into. Although part of the point of the kindergarten years is to create healthy forms which can then be the basis upon which first grade is established, there is quite a difference between kindergarten and first grade. Whilst kindergarten’s main focus is on (or should be on I’d say) your life as a parent, pottering around, doing things (cleaning, taking a walk, gardening, making crafts, cooking) and including your child as far as possible in such activities, once ‘formal education’ begins, there really does need to be times for you and your child to sit down and have lessons.
Of paramount importance is creating rhythms in kindergarten which form the basis for first grade and beyond. Time to eat, time to take a walk, time to play, time to hear a story, time to clean up, and so on – with a bit of tweaking, this becomes your first grade rhythm. The more seamless this is, the more this is simply part of life, akin to breathing, the easier it will be for you and the less stressful it will be for your child. If your kindergarten years are based on giving a child choices (“what do you want to do now”), includes electronic or other media, or are without form, then transitioning into first grade will be tricky, to say the least. The more a child is hyped up and overactive, unable to settle comfortably into contented play or listening to a story, the harder creating doable first grade will be. And computerized play (sic), interacting with a child on the basis of choice, and lack of rhythm and form make a relaxed homeschool very, very difficult to achieve.
I strongly suggest that one peruse our selection of audio downloads for talks about early years, kindergarten at home and first grade for further help. Our free download on therapeutic Waldorf is a good place to start for those who are new and who might be wondering why we emphasis such things as rhythm so strongly.
Do bear in mind that the more children one has, the less homeschool will look like school and the more one will have to compromise on this and every other step on the way!
Strengthening the Will
Human beings are beings of thinking, of feeling and of willing. We need to think, consider and understand the world; we need to warm our thoughts with compassion and love; and we need to act in the world with clarity and purpose. Waldorf education seeks to foster qualities in the child so that as she nears adulthood, her capacities of thinking, feeling and willing are strengthened so that she can find her place in the world.
The will lives deep within the unconscious spheres of human activity. In the first seven years of life, the young child is full of incipient will – or perhaps better stated, full of unconscious willing. She wants to DO. This is very appropriate for little ones and indeed, we do them a disservice if we cut this willing phase short by addressing the child via the head or feeling. Therefore, with young children, the best way to be with them (including questions of discipline) is to DO. One does not appeal to the young child’s thinking or feeling when discipling her. One shows her better ways to be – or better yet, one sets up ones life so that forms and rhythms carry the child through the day and help her be will-focused as she should be.
There is much here that could be said about the relationship between thinking, feeling and willing in the developing child (one must never get the picture that somehow they are not connected! Rather, it is a question of emphasis in accordance with the natural laws of child development). But…I don’t have space in this short answer to properly address this fascinating subject.
When the child moves from the first phase of childhood (birth to age 7) to the next, her feeling life comes to the fore ( as characterized by the great swings between sympathy and antipathy one can see in children of this age – “I hate him!!”) and her will life starts to move more into the realm of consciousness. This might seem confusing – so the emphasize from age 7 – 14 is on feeling but not conscious feeling…..and the last stage was focused on unconscious willing….which now (increasingly, over many years) becomes conscious willing. (let’s forget about thinking for the moment – suffice to say that this needs long years of creative play, control of willing and warmth of feeling to develop to its highest potential).
At about age 9, when the child is going through the nine year change and becoming more aware of herself as an ‘I’, she becomes ripe for starting (starting!) to bring consciousness to her will. We can help the child strengthen her will by:
- ensuring she finishes projects she begins
- practices (a sport, instrument etc) every day or on an agreed schedule
- begins to learn to take responsibility for tasks around the house
- is challenged in her work not intellectually (not yet!!), but in terms of having to stretch herself to learn multiplication tables, create handwork projects, complete a form drawing she finds especially hard and so on.
The will lives in the physical being of the human being. Therefore the best ways to strengthen the will are via activities that use the physical body – handwork, woodwork, sculpture, gardening, building…..these are the very, very best projects for children from about 9 – 14 (and then in the teen years such projects become pedagogically important again for different though related reasons).
I should say quickly that one needs a great deal of sensitivity and a keen feel for balance when one works pedagogically in this way. It is very, very easy to overdo it! On the one hand one can easily slide into “oh, she’s worked hard today – what does it matter if she doesn’t finish her handwork project” and on the other hand one could become inflexible and authoritarian, demanding impossible goals. Neither of these options is viable in the long run and neither does a child any favours in terms of strengthening the will. One needs as always to find the middle way. One clue as to how to find that is to always seek to listen into and behind what a child says and does….to be able to read accurately when one needs perseverance (which can include tears or fits of anger) and when it really is ok to say to a child “that’s fine – let’s just leave that for now”. The road on which we walk our homeschool journey is never clear and can often be very narrow indeed.
I cannot recommend too highly the book, Learning about the World through Modeling which we sell in the Christopherus bookshop. This is absolutely one of the best investments in your child’s health and education that one can make – to buy this book and to use it regularly throughout your child’s school years.
I also strongly recommend the book, Will-developed Intelligence: Handwork and Practical Arts in the Waldorf School by David Mitchell and Patricia Livingston (who was my handwork teacher at my Waldorf school many, many years ago!) for more on this. Or Michael Howard’s amazing book, Educating the Will.
I don’t have much time to homeschool – how completely is your curriculum laid out?
If Waldorf education is anything, it is a living, creative way of meeting a child’s developmental needs. As each child is different and as each family (or class teacher) is different, then it is impossible to accurately reflect the riches of Waldorf education if one creates a curriculum which is too prescribed. The danger is that a parent is then just following a script and real problems can arise because no child will fit that script exactly! And then what to do!
At Christopherus we attempt to explain to a parent what subjects are approached when, why and how. Donna Simmons has been involved in one way or another with Waldorf education and anthroposophy (student, teacher, parent educator, homeschooler, consultant) for most of her 50+ years and so is in a very good position to help parents navigate the curriculum. Our materials are flexible, user-friendly and purposefully created so that they can be adapted to the myriad of different homeschooling situations. Increasingly, Waldorf teachers also use them in the classroom, finding them adaptable for group use. New teachers especially appreciate Donna’s explanations of why and how things are done – and how one can approach a lesson from many different angles.
Having said all that, we do provide daily schedules; goals for grades and main lessons; overall plans for main lesson blocks; and weekly schedules.
Lastly, homeschooling is a way of life that a family has chosen – and the homeschooling must fit the family’s needs and not the other way around. Thus for many families (where both parents work, where there is a single parent, where there are many children or a high needs child) what they create may look very different from what is written in any curriculum! But that is the joy and challenge of homeschooling and needs to be embraced fully.
How long do I need each day to homeschool/teach lessons?
This question, closely related to the one above, is (perhaps frustratingly for the questioner) akin to the question ‘how long is a piece of string’. The only answer to that can be ‘it depends’.” No two homeschools are alike – and here at Christopherus, we certainly do not expect that anyone – anyone! – will follow our curriculum guidance to the letter! No one can do all the lessons, all the projects, read all the books….and if one did, then one would be seriously compromising one’s own creative independence and probably one’s sleep! Donna is also quick to say that when she homeschooled her sons, what they did was nothing like what she sets out in the Christopherus curriculum! She had a farm to run in addition to raising the boys – and so running the farm was the cradle of most of the boys’ educations.
So…..any meaningful answer to this question has to be set in the context of each family’s situation – how many children there are; what their ages are; what other things need to be done each day (like milking goats and feeding pigs!); what local resources are available….and, most important of all, what one’s own vision of homeschooling is, combined with one’s knowledge of one’s children’s particular needs. And one’s own needs and abilities!
Again, do refer to our sample pages located on each grade package page to see how the flow of lessons is arranged.
My child is (handicapped, autistic, special needs, blind….) and Waldorf education seems to be just right for him. Will it be possible to homeschool him?
Many, many people come to homeschooling and to Waldorf education because of their child’s special challenges. As a method of education based on the development of the human being – every human being – Waldorf honours the distinct path that every person walks as he matures and grows. Whether a child will someday become a particle physicist or will succeed in writing his name at 40, because Waldorf helps the spiritual needs of each human being unfold, it has something for everyone. But…..that does not necessarily mean that homeschooling – or even attending a Waldorf school – is right for every individual.
Homeschooling is unending hard work, even at the best of times. The rewards are huge for the homeschooling family. But we must never kid ourselves in believing that it is right for everyone. Some children are better off in school, whether that be a Waldorf school or state school or some other school (though it could well be that the child is not ready for school when his peers march off to the classroom). There is no one answer for all children or families.
And of course this is so for special needs children as well. Many special needs children are homeschooled very successfully. But it is a disaster for others.
Over the years Donna has consulted with many families with special needs children and it seems that success (measured by general contentedness in the home) lies mainly on how much support the homeschooling parent has. If her spouse, extended family, friends and support workers (doctors, therapists, social workers etc) are behind her, then she stands a very good chance of succeeding. If she also knows clearly how to set boundaries and take care of herself, giving herself a break and being able to take time away from her child (some alone, some with her spouse), this also bodes well. Whether the child is an only child could also be a factor – many times a special needs child takes up so much time and energy in the family that any other children become an afterthought and this can be a very unhealthy situation – to say the least – for everyone.
Please listen to our free audio download on Therapeutic Waldorf to help in considering how one’s home environment can support a child with special needs (or any child really). From there, one can start to work out whether homeschooling is the right decision. And don’t forget – sometimes even only a year or two at home can make all the difference in a child – and family’s – life.
How might I homeschool my only child. I have a big family – can I homeschool using Waldorf?
Following on from the above question with reference to Waldorf being pertinent to the needs of every human being….coupled with the caveats that homeschooling is not necessarily for everyone…we come to the situations where a family has one child…or maybe five.
The big challenge with just one child is ensuring that she doesn’t become the centre of the universe and feel that everything in life revolves around her. Keeping the young single child focused on doing and refraining from precocious intellectual stimulation is a mighty task…but is doable if the parent understands why we take this approach in Waldorf and feels that this is as vital as Waldorf educators feel. As the years roll by, having only one child homeschooled can be challenging in that the child has no one else to bounce his ideas off, has only his own efforts in drawing, handwork and so on, to look at.
But….no one homeschools in isolation! Unless one lives on the top of a mountain with no neighbours for miles and miles, one will have opportunities to mix with other people. For all children this becomes important increasingly after the nine year change and it may well be that though one might not be able to mix with other Waldorf homeschoolers, one will surely find other families who share enough values that the children can play and perhaps engage in drama, music, games or other activities which need a group.
Lastly, as the child passes that special nine year hallmark, another area of life which can become especially important for an only child is service. Ensuring your only has opportunities to help at your house of worship, at perhaps an organic farm or in an old people’s home….meaningful service to others is a vital part of every child’s life, but perhaps especially so for an only child who does not get the regular opportunities to have to set her own needs aside for those of another as will happen regularly in a large family.
Regarding large families….well, it becomes a case of the more the merrier and an embracing of the fact that what is is. The younger ones will be exposed to material at an age that they wouldn’t in a Waldorf school; some children will go through periods where they seem to be neglected; everyone will be involved in everything at times…..in such situations what is important is that what is behind Waldorf education is thoroughly understood by the parent so that though it ain’t gonna look like Waldorf, it will be because she understands the needs of the developing human being.
The health of one’s homelife is perhaps most vital here and needs to become as much a part of life as brushing one’s teeth – when one has several children one needs to run a tight ship. Children thrive when they know what is what – they feel safe and it gives them something to push against (the fact that they push affirms that we are doing the right thing – it does not mean that we collapse!). This becomes all the more important when one has a large family – chaos, while fun for a time, is not nurturing to children. Or adults.
In both the above situations, accepting the destiny or karma of the only child or the child in a large family (and of course the karma of the special needs child as above) can help one move with grace through the child’s unfolding journey and be mindful that our task is never about fitting the child to Waldorf, but seeing how an understanding of Waldorf can serve the needs of the individual child.
Please refer to our early years guide and to our many audio downloads for help with these and related questions.