Your Questions Answered

Through our monthly email newsletter, The Homeschool Journey, we now are asking people to submit a question which I will respond to in the  newsletter after I receive the question. So that more people can see this, I have decided to put the questions and answers here on my blog. Here is the first question, from LT:

I am in the throws of the early years, I have a four year old, a two year old and a five month old. I’ve read your guide The Journey Begins at Home,and it’s been SO helpful, but I feel like I’m going crazy. I want to not yell at my children, but it feels like they somehow under my nose create disaster after disaster, and I’m overwhelmed and sleep deprived keeping me from being able to have the stories to patiently and peacefully respond to them, and I’m hating how I’m acting(mom guilt x1000). What can I do? I can’t catch up on my housework, which adds another layer of struggle on my part, and I just want to quit yelling. Help???

Dear LT,

First of all, big hug coming to you! Does it help also if I say ‘been there, done that?’ How awful it is when one cannot stop oneself from screaming at the children–for me the real horror was when I heard my mother’s voice coming from me–a voice I had sworn I would never use! Try to learn to take a deep breath when you feel a scream coming on…and try to not beat yourself up if you fail.

Next–try to throw away the guilt. Acknowledge when you do something you regret, that you should not have done…but try as hard as you can to just let that go.

Keeping a journal can help–an honest one where you try to stand back form yourself, to gain some distance and thus some objectivity. Noting your trigger points can help. So this is not a place to vent (if necessary, that can be something else you do) but just a calm assessment of your parenting journey.

Now for the practical things…you mention the stories you feel you need to respond to your children’s behavior. Can I say right now that there is altogether too much telling of stories in some Waldorf circles?! It has been grabbed hold of by a number of people and it is sometimes waaay out of balance. Seems to me that might be true in your situation. And your children, to be frank, are too young for the therapeutic benefit of stories.People who have not been Waldorf kindergarten teachers may suggest all this story-telling for little ones–but by ‘little ones’ we mean more like 5 and 6 year olds. Before that, the therapeutic use of stories has little effect.

Your energy (what you can muster) should be primarily turned toward creating activities for your children to do and even more so, that they can join in what you are doing. Little ones live primarily through imitation and through activity–they should join you as much as possible when you do chores–‘here’ grab this end of the comforter–now wheeeee!!” and you all make it go up in the air a few times before it lands on the bed. They can take turns going under the comforter! Set up things so a little one has a tub in which to wash the knives and forks–think it through so the others are sensibly occupied while that happens so there is no disaster–perhaps the smallest is in a backpack on your back during that time. So it is not about a parent making herself crazy entertaining her children, making up things for them to do–it is about figuring out how to learn to live together, which means we all work together. This is absolutely the most fundamental task of a stay-at-home and especially homeschooling parent. Everything rests on this!

Try to think in terms of no division between your housework and homelife and what you do with your children–spread it out over the day–do not think in terms of efficiency and ‘getting things done’ in an adult-orientated way. Break tasks down so your children can join you–and the bonus is that after a while (and warning, it can take some time to put this into practice) they will play near you as they are settled and comforted by your happy, unrushed, unstressed working (that is the key point—that you are busy) presence. Keep to the same basic rhythms every day until things settle so much, until your children are carried by the predictability of routine before really changing anything. Change is anathema to a settled content little child.

Back to constant stories…not only is that exhausting to you, but, strangely, too many stories can be exhausting to little children. For a tiny one, stories are stimulating–especially if there are constant new stories. On the other hand, a few well chosen short stories, told at the same time perhaps every day–when we brush teeth or go to bed or go outside–settle children precisely because of the predictability.

So do think in terms of less is more; practical focused work; well held times with predictable things happening.

Oh–and sing, sing and sing (same songs!) while you work–this mops up as it were, excess verbiage which overstimulates (or self overstimulates) small children.

And here is our second question….

Please could you speak to falling behind.  In a classroom, if there is sickness or absence the class continues forward, but at home we tend to take the break then pick up where we left off.  In the early grades, a week or two here and there (illness tends to run through the whole family) a few times per year does not seem to matter too much, but by the time we reach the late middle grades it all adds up and we are about a year behind.  It feels impossible to skip blocks – learning is built upon prior learning – plus the temptation would be very strong to just skip the areas I myself am not confident in, or don’t feel particularly drawn to.  History might be an area to do more lightly, to just read some books whilst doing other blocks, but this is the subject we love the most and feels like a welcome break from all that science and math.  I know I’m not alone in this problem.  Does it really matter in the teen years to run behind the curriculum?

Hi Catherine,

One: be careful of thinking to much in terms of ‘learning is built upon prior learning. On one level this is very true–but it can be enormously helpful to think in terms of a Celtic knot–of introducing material, letting it go…and then picking it up again. And–this is key–if one has played one’s cards right, the child is not at the same point where he was when one left off. If education is truly holistic, then those seemingly unrelated things–including illness which is, after all, an opportunity for healing–help a child take steps forward in his learning. Does this mean he will know the dates of the Norman Conquest out of the ethers? No, of course not. But what is so vital is that a child learns to learn–and if real education is all about honoring the development of each child, then being behind just isn’t such an issue. A great thing about homeschooling is that by living an authentic life together with our children, then by that very deed, our children learn the lessons most important for life. Facts are all well and good–but they are very inconsequential when looking at the larger question of learning/growing into becoming a human being.

No one ever does all the work that is outlined in the Waldorf curriculum each year–and I can attest that this is true in Waldorf schools as well. Sometimes it is for a good reason–because a class went on a tangent ( a ‘learning experience’) that was relevant to the children and necessary at the time. Other times it is because of lack of discipline–a teacher slides his way through something like fifth grade Ancient Mythology which is so impossibly interesting he cannot work his way through the material in a timely fashion with his class! Or, in your example, a student is ‘behind’ because of illness.

So my advice is to not worry about it too much and to also really be a homeschooler–take a page out of the book of unschooling. For some subjects if you are behind–history is a good example–don’t do a main lesson. Get all the really good historical novels we suggest (for instance) and have your child read them in ‘not school’ time. Have conversations about, for instance, the development of the printing press and what that meant for people in Europe at the time…during dinner…or during a drive in the car. Use ‘school time’ for more focused main lessons

Cut a few corners–figure out what is most important for your child–and you will catch up!

Posted on March 15, 2019 in Uncategorized

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