Homeschoolers First and Foremost!
I am coming to the end of creating our new (summer 2019) sixth grade curriculum and a few things have happened recently which have helped me recommit to homeschooling as homeschooling–as opposed to trying to create Waldorf school at home.
One of the most important things that has happened recently is two conversations I have had with two teachers who serve the Waldorf homeschooling community. Both are people I respect very highly.
Part of our conversation focused on the growing phenomena of computer use in Waldorf schools from 5th grade (yes–you read that right–5th grade!) as well as their own work with parents and increasingly, children, via online classes.
There are quite a number of articles written by me on this blog about the harm done by media use to children. There is simply no pedagogical reason whatsoever for their use. Having said that, there might be reasons an individual family allows their child to use the computer and even the internet but that is a matter of individual circumstances–just as Christopherus firmly advocates that the best place for young children is in the home with their mother or father (or other long-term committed adult who is part of the family), so of course it is necessary at times for little ones to go to pre-school or even day care. There is a world of difference between saying ‘hey–day care/preschool is just as good as Mommy/Daddy-care’ and ‘let’s provide the best day care we can for those who absolutely need it and unfortunately cannot care for their young children at home.’
And so yes, though Christopherus strongly advocates no computer until high school (or at the end of 8th grade if a child is off to school in the Fall), we certainly understand that there may be situations where this is not possible.
What is key here is the therapeutic basis of education–and as I make abundantly clear in our newly updated (2018) Joyful Movement. the use of computers is contra-indicated–especially–ESPECIALLY!–for children with any kind of sensory, learning, attention or behavioral issues.
Back to the Waldorf schools–well, I could go on all day about the compromises Waldorf schools have had to make to survive (and one could certainly question what such ‘survival’ might mean and entail). It must be such a terrible problem for teachers when half their class have iphones and are on the internet. So they compromise by teaching ‘how to use the internet safely’ from as young as 5th grade.
I can kinda get that (when I’m feeling generous)…but what really gets me is when a school, like Shining Mountain here in this article, make out that this is an accepted and just Jim-dandy part of Waldorf pedagogy which (again, if I’m feeling generous) I would say is a mistake. There is, point blank, no therapeutic basis for the use of computers and the internet for children who are in their second phase (7–14) of life. There is absolutely no basis for this in child development. And if one is really going to push it, one would also say (as I am saying–not feeling so generous now) that it runs counter to an anthroposohical understanding of what the human being is and strives to be and needs during childhood.
So let’s forget about the schools for a moment…
Back to our Waldorf curriculum providers,what became clear to me during our conversations was that they, as Waldorf teachers, want to bring to children exactly what they have brought to their children in the classroom, as far as is possible. They both of course wish they could teach parents and children in person–but homeschoolers live everywhere! And so they consider the use of online classes.
I chewed on this for a couple of days after our conversations. As I said at the beginning of this blog post, I am writing a sixth grade curriculum right now and am figuring out further offerings for 7th and 8th grade. And here’s one of the challenges: what if the parent is really bad at math or at writing (let’s just stick with those two subjects). How can I create materials that are deep enough and clear enough so that the parent can really work with their sixth (7th, 8th) grader? This is not such an issue in the lower grades at all! But now, with more complex math and with more involved writing projects, it can be a problem.
And for my colleagues, the solution is to try to teach the children themselves–and that has to be via a screen.
For Christopherus? Well, our response to this problem is to recommit to being homeschoolers, first and foremost. And what that means is to celebrate the act of homeschooling in and of itself. I am an anthroposophist and I work deeply with the therapeutic basis of Waldorf education in my Christopherus materials. But, because I used to homeschool and because I value homeschooling as such (even when it looks pretty funky) then there has to come a point where we say ‘Just do your best. It is not going to look like a Waldorf school and as one gets to the middle grades and beyond, you’ll just have to see where you need to take a different route.’ The needs of the child come first–thus no computer use. The needs of the child come first–and one way to meet those needs (a very good way!) is through homeschooling. And when we homeschool we make compromises–but not those which run counter to a child’s developmental needs, as far as is possible.
And this means that as a parent, one has to let go of some of the school-based ideals of Waldorf education. No parent can teach algebra, Goethean science, essay-writing, poetry and all the other subjects equally well. But every parent can do their best, let their children experience the uprightness of adults who know their boundaries and limitations and who can creatively seek alternatives or help…and who in the process, strengthen their family lives and the integrity of their homeschooling family culture. The compromise therefore lives in being able to sometimes say ‘this is good enough’ not in saying ‘we need expertise therefore we use computer classes for children.’
Christopherus has the mission to try to help in this process as much as possible. Our middle grades science materials explain what is done in a Waldorf classroom but then take a very different course of suggested action appropriate to the homeschooling situation (which is why, for instance, our astronomy materials are for a year of astronomy, not a 3-week main lesson!). We give guidance and assistance so you can help your child improve his writing (and maybe yours will improve as well!). As a former Waldorf teacher AND homeschooling mom (and editor and proof reader and author), I am well-placed to offer such guidance.
But bottom line? Homeschoolers first and foremost. And that means some things are just a bit funky, a bit weak, a bit loose. And that’s just fine–because the act of homeschooling in and of itself is an act of independence, free-thinking and creativity. What better example could one possibly want for one’s children?