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?

Posted on April 11, 2019 in General Homeschooling, Waldorf Curriculum

  • Rae Berge says:

    Hi Donna,
    Very interesting post. From the perspective of a new homeschooling parent immersed in your grade 4 curriculum, thinking about years 7 and 8- please do your best at writing materials that are as rigorous and creative as the lower year materials, including work books, video training for the parent and schedule outlines . No, I cannot teach maths- but my husband is a scientist and can, with the guidance of the materials, though he is not a trained teacher. The answer may be in looking outwards , within our communities and seeking help from those who have the academic knowledge but not the pedagogical knowledge… and thus working as a parent- teacher- curriculum team to bring it to life, perhaps a neighbour, friend, family member could take on a challenging block and teach it. This has echoes of the original waldorf school teacher training, no..? I recall reading Steiner was asked who should teach the youngest children- and he suggested the gardener..? Is the way forward in increasingly specialised teachers or in learning the material together with our children? Because the alternatives are to go to a state school and completely miss out on the development of relationships and shared experiences with a wider circle of people. It may be that an additional reading/ study program for parents could be started in grade 6- an hour or two a week to brush up on some subjects for the years 7 and 8 curriculum, keeping us 6 months ahead of the student. Best regards, RB

  • Donna Simmons says:

    Hi Rae,
    I will definitely be offering webinars to parents…I know that you are in Australia and a challenge will be time zones–it is possible that webinars I offer could be in the middle of the night for you! They won’t be recorded so that could be an issue. Of course if a group of Australians got together and requested online webinars from me, that might be possible!

  • BB says:

    1,000 percent agree!!! Lovely post! Shining Mountain and the other 80+ Waldorf schools using Cyber Civics and other related information REFUSE to acknowledge this simple concept. Instead of being authentic and true to the pedagogy that makes an education Waldorf, their poor excuses of needing to “survive” or “keeping up with the rest of the world”, will be their downfall. Maybe they should focus on educating the parents/staff on why it’s so important to not have phones/computers at a young age. I firmly believe the torch of a true Waldorf education will be carried on in the future only by homeschoolers. Thank you, Donna, for writing this article and bringing attention to this epidemic.

  • Kerri says:

    Hi. We used your 4 grade curr. some this year. In trying to do local geography I got side tracked in that. I also did not know how to combine what I was already using. It is my first full year homeschooling. I have done public and private school which used home school curriculum with my older kids, but my youngest are twins and presented more school difficulties. I recently learned that apgar score at birth directly correlates with school problems years later. So we have ADHD, OCD, anxiety, dyslexia, dysgraphia and some other layers we have no name for yet. All that background to say twin#2 doc ordered 3 weeks of ANY screens . Behavior improved. Limited screens were alolowed back in, but a cross country trip to see their sister graduate from college ment time on DS games and tV in hotel rooms for several days. Back to the doc after the trip and he was terrible. Doc asked how many screens he had had and gave3 more weeks of no screens. The twins complied with no protests. But at the follow up, when we talked about the improvements, the doc said, almost casually, “ok, it will be at least a year, and then maybe 20 min of screens a week.” So that was 3 weeks ago. The doc conceited to let us finish our one one line class, but that is all. It is now harder to get him to comply with on screens because he thought he would get some time back when the initial time was over. Doctor said it is neurological and he needs absolutely no screens for at least one year. If I sent him back to public school she would write orders for such.(i do not see that happening.) eliminating all screens is more difficult than just stoping the video games! It is amazing to me how much screens are a part of out lives, even out and about. McD menus are now rotating screens, not a board! No family movie night. I know it is extreme, but she said he has eye movement issues and addictive behavior with screens that need a long break before we can fix them an have them back. I wonder about all the ADHD at schools and how the public school drive to ” make sure our kids at at top with technology” are related. The schools tell us we are depriving our kids if we don’t give then all ipads/ chrome books to use in class. At 3 grade my sons were required to write their one essay of the year in goggle doc and send to the teacher. ( I will not go into the privacy issues the district was having, but I was not comfortable with it.) I ran into twin #1 1st grade teacher last week. She has ipads for ever child. She said neg. behavior corrilated with increasses use and had 6 “clear the classroom” incidents in the past year. She has decide to not ues them next year and take a recess break out side every 45 min of sear work. “Let them fire me” she told meshe has been teaching for over 26 years! She told me read “Teach like Finland” and it has inspired her to rethink some things. Thanks for the work you do.

  • Donna Simmons says:

    Hi Kerri, Thanks for sharing–I am sure many parents will find this helpful!

  • Tara says:

    I am planning to homeschool my son for grade 4 next year as we will be living away for one year. The grade 4 math and grammar feels intimidating. I don’t play music or speak a second language. But I am an artist and a humanitarian who deeply understands the value of Waldorf Education. During this year away we will also be living with my husbands family. My husband is great at math and plays the piano. My father in law has an impeccable vegetable garden and my sister in law loves to knit. In short, my son will have many teachers! It might be his best year of learning yet! We must use the resourses around us. Find friends who have special skills who are willing to spend even an hour a week with your child. Learning takes all shapes and forms. Be creative!

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