Frequently Asked Questions answered by Donna Simmons of Christopherus Homeschool Resources
- How Do I Find Out More About Homeschooling?
- How Do I Find Out More About Waldorf Education?
- How Do I Find Out More About Waldorf Homeschooling?
- Should I do Waldorf Teacher Training if I intend to Waldorf Homeschool?
- How Does Christopherus Differ From What is Offered in Waldorf Schools?
- I am Christian/Muslim/Pagan/Jewish – Is Waldorf and/or Christopherus Compatible with My Religion?
- My Child Went to Public School – He’s a Year Out of Sync with Your Curriculum – What Should I Do?
- I Have a Large Family – How Can I Do Waldorf at Home?!
- Help! I’m Artistically-Challenged: Can I Still Do Waldorf?
- Where are we headed? Can I do Waldorf high school at home?
- I don’t have much time to homeschool – how completely is your curriculum laid out?
- How Long do I need each day to homeschool/teach lessons?
- 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?
- How might I homeschool my only child. I have a big family – can I homeschool using Waldorf?
How do I find out more about homeschooling
The first place to start is the Internet. Ann Zeise’s rather cluttered and frantic website is quite helpful if you don’t allow yourself to get lost on it! www.homeschooling.gomilpitas.com
After that, We strongly recommend that you track down and join your state-wide secular homeschooling organization. This is your lifeline for navigating state requirements, meeting flesh and blood homeschooled children, finding out which local museums and such are friendly to homeschoolers… and much more.
The degree of organization and accessibility of such groups varies enormously from state to state. Here in Wisconsin, our group is called the Wisconsin Parents Association and not only publishes a very useful book giving the basics of homeschooling information and outlining the legal requirements in our state, but also acts as a watchdog on all legislation in Madison which could erode our rights as parents and homeschoolers.
Obviously, if you are outside the US, you’ll need to find equivalent groups in your country or area.
Next…. A few books to read. We highly recommend anything written by Raymond and Dorothy Moore, ex-public school teachers turned homeschooling advocates way back in the ‘80s when homeschooling was very new. Now deceased, their wonderful work is carried on by the Moore Foundation which publishes books and also research on the neurological development of children. Their findings point consistently to the “better late than early” approach favored by Waldorf – and even more strongly favored by us here at Christopherus! The Moore’s research points to about 9 as an optimal time to teach writing and reading – our work also confirms that many children, especially boys, are not ready to do much if any writing or reading before this. Interestingly enough, our observations also point to the fact that if pushed early, 9 is about the age when many children (again, especially boys) stop reading and writing with any interest and start to become known as “not interested in reading.”
Caffi Cohen and Mary Griffith have also written a number of interesting homeschooling books from an unschoolers perspective. And of course, everyone needs to read at least one book by that Grandaddy of the unschooling movement, John Holt, if they have any notion to homeschool!
Then, to help you orientate yourself between unschooling and Waldorf (especially if you come from an attachment parenting background), you might like to listen to our audio download on Waldorf and Unschooling which explains the significant philosophical and practical differences between these two approaches.
How Do I Find Out More About Waldorf Education?
How Do I Find Out More About Waldorf Homeschooling?
You’re in the right place! Christopherus Homeschool Resources is one of the main Waldorf homeschooling resources in the world! Have a good look round our website – by reading our blog entries on numerous aspects of Waldorf parenting and education; by reading our articles; by carefully perusing our Bookstore and pages devoted to subjects like Early Years and Middle Years, you’ll be able to get a good feel for the ins and outs of Waldorf homeschooling.
Do sign up for our free monthly e-mail newsletter, The Homeschool Journey: you’ll be able to keep up with the latest news about publications and be notified about any interesting blog entries, articles, additions to the website, etc.
Should I do Waldorf Teacher Training if I intend to Waldorf Homeschool?
All Waldorf teacher training courses are designed for teachers in the classroom and the pedagogy and methodology is for those who need to work with groups of children. At home one needs an entirely different set of skills – or the ability to translate the classroom experience into the home setting. The dynamics of standing before a group of 24 children of one age is entirely different than the interaction between a parent and one or two children sat round the dining room table!
As part of our consulting work, we have spent considerable time and energy untangling and de-stressing Waldorf teachers who are trying to bring their knowledge to the home situation! We have also had, on many occasions, to encourage and support homeschooling parents who have joined normal Waldorf Teacher Training courses and who have found what was taught to be overwhelming and of little use in their homes.
One of the main features of all our materials, whether individual books or the full curriculum, is that all are full of advice on how to take from the Waldorf curriculum and adapt to the home situation. Whether one is talking about imitation, the temperaments, recall and the three day rhythm, or creating main lesson books, at home we must do things rather differently than at school! Christopherus is firmly rooted in the work of Rudolf Steiner, his ideas on the development of the whole human being – and thus we work with the Waldorf curriculum and pedagogy. But there are many places we differ significantly because of our experience and knowledge of homeschooling – and, perhaps, of the changing needs of children of the new millennium.
Please Note: Whilst we do not think that teacher training is a good idea for homeschooling parents, we heartily recommend that parents avail themselves of workshops and lectures offered by Waldorf teachers or others who can help teach skills, broaden knowledge and help a parent on her own road to self development and healthy parenting.
How Does Christopherus Differ From What is Offered in Waldorf Schools?
We firmly believe that trying to create a little Waldorf school at home does not work. Christopherus materials are for homeschoolers first and foremost. We feel passionately that homeschooling is the best option for many children – that Waldorf education is wonderful but that not all Waldorf schools work for all children. Or are an option for financial or logistical reasons. We are the only Waldorf curriculum providers with the unique distinction of being grounded in anthroposophy, in practical teaching in Waldorf schools (and being taught as a student!), and in the experience of homeschooling our sons for most of their lives. Our passion is for helping parents create nurturing homes, the foundation for healthy human relationships and thus healthy communities.
We feel we have succeeded in creating resources that are firmly rooted in the Waldorf tradition – in the curriculum, teaching methods and thus anthroposophical understanding of the human being. Rudolf Steiner spoke many times of three necessary conditions for becoming a Waldorf teacher – to have an understanding of the developing human being based in anthroposophy; to have an understanding of the individual children that stand before him or her; and to be willing to work on one’s own path of self development.
Our materials are flexible, inspiring and doable. We set out plans and progressions based on the Waldorf curriculum – we explain to parents why such and such is done and then, critically, we help parents understand how they might approach that subject at home. We are always mindful of the reality of homelife – the ill child, the crying baby, the toddler who wants to have her own main lesson book, and we provide ideas to work with and embrace such features of family life and be able to homeschool with them – not despite them.
We encourage parents to experiment and find what works for them – to penetrate the Waldorf curriculum and pedagogy and then to change and adapt as best fits their family’s needs. Some parents will go on to study anthroposophy and find a relationship to it – others have no interest in anthroposophy but feel that Waldorf suits their children. Either approach works equally well with Christopherus materials.
I am Christian/Muslim/Pagan/Jewish – Is Waldorf and/or Christopherus Compatible with My Religion?
The short answer is Yes – probably! We encourage all those who use our materials to adapt them to their own needs and this applies to any religious/spiritual content as much as anything else. Whilst we cannot be all things to all people, we do make an effort to be inclusive of different traditions: see, for example, our consciously multi-cultural Saints and Heroes book.
I have a couple of articles on the Homeschool Journey blog that you might find useful:
- Anthroposophy, Religion and Waldorf
- Another useful article is this one by master Waldorf teacher, William Ward: “Is Waldorf Christian?”
And here is what K from the UK has to say:
“I find Christopherus resources to complement the rhythms and motions intrinsic to my faith. Donna supports the spiritual work of ‘being’ with one’s children, and whilst the anthroposophical elements of the curriculum are not entirely congruent with Muslim beliefs of eternity, the emphasis on rhythm and consciousness is in keeping with Islam’s honouring of the roles of both Mother and teacher. There is a Muslim tradition that the first seven years should be for play, the next seven for teaching, and then to follow: be with one’s children as friends. The academic rigours of the later Waldorf years are strengthened by the early foundations of play and imagination. Every culture can be revived by a return to oral tradition, and each one of us can benefit from the mindfulness and creativity that Donna expresses. When I go to her resources I never fail to find acceptance and support for the balance we have to find in our lives and a renewal of the wonderful joy in homeschooling.”
Back to the questions
My Child Went to Public School – He’s a Year Out of Sync with Your Curriculum – What Should I Do?
Generally speaking, if the child is in kindergarten or 1st grade, one shouldn’t hesitate to do another kindergarten year or repeat 1st grade. Waldorf education is not just about acquisition of skills or a series of set outcomes – it is about the health and integrity of the developing human being. And the entire curriculum is based on the real developmental changes that occur at each year – thus if your child is a year off, the curriculum will never quite meet her at her stage of development and thus she might not benefit as deeply from her experience with Waldorf.
Thus a child who already knows her alphabet or can read but is only 6 ½ or 7 years old should still be starting as a 1st grader. Waldorf is about educating the whole child – her emotional, physical and spiritual development are no less important than her intellectual development. The curriculum is carefully crafted to speak to the journey that each human soul takes on its path – and skills such as being able to add or read are just one tiny part. Indeed, it might also be that a child who has acquired such skills early needs to be slowed down. She might need to focus more on play, puppetry, drawing, painting, and handwork to support her motor and neurological development and to ensure that her thinking capacities are creative and flexible and not merely linear.
And because the Waldorf curriculum truly does speak to the needs of the child, the child who already knows her alphabet is never bored or frustrated by hearing the first grade stories which introduce the archetypal sounds and symbols which unlock the mystery of written language. No child this young should know the meaning of the word “bored” – life should still be full of wonder and exploration, each day a joyful adventure. Unfortunately, early learning experiences, peer pressure, the media or a stressful early life can create children who are “bored” or even cynical. If your child already knows how to be bored, you have a lot of work cut out for you to help her rediscover the awe of everyday life! But in the end it will be worth it as you help her heal and reconnect to the joy of discovery.
The slow approach in the first years of Waldorf education is designed precisely so that academic excellence is possible later – and not at the expense of the child’s emotional, physical or spiritual health. So don’t worry about another year of kindergarten or redoing 1st grade. The stories will help your child deepen the knowledge he already has and the artistic and movement based learning will help him ground what he has already learned. If you feel what you are doing is right and do not approach your “extra year” with trepidation or insecurity, then your child will be fine. We have met scores of homeschoolers grateful for that extra or repeated year – we have never met any who regretted the decision.
However… this can be tricky with older children, especially if the child views this change in grade as being “demoted” and thus shameful. In such a case you could simply carry on with the grade level he is used to but actually use material from an earlier grade which he has missed.
Or you could simply say that you are now doing things differently and that you and he have missed many wonderful lessons – and thus need to take a break from grades. Then eventually readjust the grade level of your child.
Another variation on this idea is to have a “pause year” for an older child. This works especially well between 8th and 9th grade when you can simply say to your child that he needs a year to catch his breath and focus both on his own interests and features from the Waldorf curriculum. This is a year to consolidate knowledge, to try new things and to catch up on anything missed or skimped. However, it goes without saying that this will only work if the young teen is completely on board – by this age homeschooling is no longer focused on what you bring your child – it is a partnership.
Something to think about when deciding whether to take a pause year or repeat a grade is this: will your child be better off going to college or into the workforce at just over 17 or closer to 19?
Please visit our Early Years page for more on first grade readiness.
I Have a Large Family – How Can I Do Waldorf at Home?!
Compromise, compromise, compromise – and take a deep breath! The rule of thumb is, I would say, that the larger your family, the more you’ll have to let go and the less what you come up with might look like Waldorf. By 4 children and beyond, I would say that the main focus would be on the joyful realities of having a large family – and accepting that the family dynamics themselves will be what carry and nurture many of the important lessons your children need to learn.
For example, the 9 year change is an important hallmark in Waldorf education, a time recognized for the first whisperings of separation of the child from his parents, of growing independence and sense of self. These changes are met by the Waldorf curriculum in a year that is largely focused on practical work (see our third grade curriculum overview).
In the large family, this could be the year that the 9 year old takes on more responsibility in the family – caring for pets, the yard, younger siblings…. Learning to cook an entire meal once or twice a week, learning practical and helpful skills such as mending or putting up shelves or fixing toys – the possibilities are endless. And the point is that such practical family arts are exactly what is called for by the essence of the Waldorf curriculum.
There is just no way that you will be able to do 4, 5, 7 or more separate main lessons for your children (even 3 is pushing it and parents of only 2 – like us – also combine from time to time)! You will need to combine main lessons; rely on older children to look after young ones and to occasionally teach them; focus on the homelife as the vehicle for many of your lessons (cooking, cleaning, yard work); not worry if one or more children hear the same stories over and over again; and, in the end, trust that the constellation of your family will indeed provide ample opportunities for the right and healthy lessons that each of your children need.
Our suggestion is that you consider purchasing some of our basic books: Kindergarten With Your 3 to 6 Year Old; Joyful Movement; Form Drawing; the Waldorf Curriculum Overview for Homeschoolers; and From Nature Stories to Natural Science. These books are the ones that will help you understand the broad sweep of Waldorf education and are full of practical advice to help you navigate bringing Waldorf into your home.
Based on our consulting work with numerous large families these following areas are the most important:
- Focus on healthy rhythms and a workable schedule
- Leave the home as little as possible
- Do not run things on the pace of your eldest children
- Minimize media exposure (including computer)
- Do what works!
Help! I’m Artistically-Challenged: Can I Still Do Waldorf?
Yes you can! Rudolf Steiner never said that a Waldorf teacher must be an artist – but he did insist that we teach artistically. Everyone has some creative ability in there somewhere: an important part of one’s self-development as a parent and homeschool teacher may well be uncovering that creative impulse and gently taking steps toward it.
And so we encourage parents to first find what they can do. Whether it’s baking a cake, arranging a vase of flowers, planting a garden or embroidering a dish towel, everyone can do something! Focus on your abilities and interests first and teach what you can to your child. And go from there.
Our drawing book could be one helpful step in taking this further. Have a look at the Homeschoolers’ Work section to see what other parents and children have done. Our curriculum materials, starting with second grade, give a lot of step-by-step instructions in drawing, painting and modeling. Our First Grade Syllabus has somewhat less – but do remember that 1st grade painting and drawing are very simple, more about color, mood and gesture than accuracy of figures.
Over the years, as you progress with our curriculum materials, we will offer plenty of instruction and encouragement for you to share creative and artistic forays with your child and to rekindle – or discover – artistic enthusiasm in yourself!
Where are we headed? Can I do Waldorf high school at home?
It is extremely difficult to come anywhere near the very specialized an in-depth content of the Waldorf high school curriculum at home. However, as we are homeschoolers first and foremost, we do not seek to create school at home. We need to compromise but always seek excellence and we need to utilize what is available in our community, whether that might be an apprenticeship at a local newspaper or veterinarian’s office; role in a community play or orchestra; courses at a local public high school or community college; classes with local artists, crafts people or those with skills in calculus, chemistry or Latin!
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 in each of our publications.
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 is closely related to the one above – and perhaps frustratingly for the questioner – is a bit of a ‘how long is a piece of strong’ question….in other words, the only true answer is ‘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, the 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 for each year’s curriculum to get a feel for what is included. Our many audio downloads can help you understand the depths of the Waldorf curriculum so you can make it your own.
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 recording on Therapeutic Waldorf (near the bottom of the linked page) 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 neighbors 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.