Choosing a New Path

by Sandra Hanson

It’s that time of year again (at least for us Northerners) – the leaves are turning, the mornings and evenings are crisp and cool, and the bounty that the earth has provided us with is being brought in. Fall is upon us, and with it, millions of children around the world will be returning to school this week.

Photo credit: The Bartlett family. (Oak Meadow archives.)
Photo credit: The Bartlett family.
(Oak Meadow archives.)

We officially started our 2015-2016 homeschool year on Monday, September 7th. Now, I admit that we did actually try to start back the first week of August. I figured we would start early and then take a week off with my husband at the end of August. But…quite frankly, it just didn’t happen. The call to enjoy the lazy summer days was too strong – and not just for the children! I also made a last minute change to our curriculum plans, so I spent the time getting new resources in place.

We dabbled in Oak Meadow last year, but I admit – I gave up on it then. It wasn’t that I didn’t enjoy the approach – the Waldorf philosophy of education (and lifestyle) truly appeals to my heart, with the focus on simplicity, the beauty of nature, the creative arts, and the spiritual elements all around us, and the belief that education is about so much more than the approach of teaching to the test and memorizing facts that mainstream education has become. That education is about the entire child, the whole being – a trinity, if you will – made up of first and foremost the heart, then the hands and head.

However, in the early years, Waldorf education does appear to “lag” behind mainstream, North American public schools. In typical Waldorf schools, true education does not start until grade 1, which is age 7 – a full year behind what is considered normal today. That’s right – that means that they do not teach children to read until age 7. (Quite shocking when most schools, and even homeschoolers, today are teaching children as young as 4 and 5 to read.) Grammar and spelling aren’t introduced until grade 3. In math, telling time, money, weights and measurements also are not introduced until grade 3; fractions not until grade 4. Instead, the early years are spent allowing the children to truly develop intimate knowledge of the four processes: +, -, x, and /, the very foundation of all the math they will do later in life.

 Photo credit: The Manning family. (Oak Meadow archives.)
Photo credit: The Manning family.
(Oak Meadow archives.)

Having just spent the previous three years pursuing a very traditional workbook-based, academic approach to education, Oak Meadow was a polar opposite to what we had been doing. All I could see was how it was “behind” the public schools. I was also still very much struggling with the idea that we had to keep up with our son’s publicly schooled peers. I felt like I had to “prove” that our counter-cultural choice was working. And so I gave up on Oak Meadow and went back to our traditional workbook approach, though I admit it just felt lacking to me.

So why the delay? A mantra common among Waldorf homeschoolers is: “Just because a child can do something, doesn’t mean they should.” Oak Meadow does not believe in filling children full of empty education. Any child can (and will) memorize rote math facts, the days and weeks, and memorize a clock. But memorization does not equal understanding, nor the ability to apply that knowledge to one’s own life in a truly meaningful way. Instead, they believe in waiting until a child has the mental and emotional capacity to make real connections with the material that they are learning, which is something that is rarely truly possible in the younger years.

Likewise, yes, many children can be taught to read at a young age. However, often they are merely memorizing words, without truly understanding the enormous process of what they’re doing. Also, when taught too young, it can make the process longer and harder than it would have been if the child had been allowed to wait until they were truly ready. It has been proven time and again, through numerous studies, that children who are exposed to academics earlier in life show absolutely no gain, and, in fact, are often farther behind, than students who do not start academics until later in life. One only has to look at the Finland education system to see the truth behind this.

Because Waldorf education waits until a child is truly emotionally and mentally ready for learning, children often learn faster. Therefore, by the later years (middle school) Waldorf education has “caught up” and typically surpassed mainstream education in the “big” areas of Language Arts and Mathematics. Also, one has to look at the richness of a Waldorf inspired education. Compared to mainstream schools where arts are being cut due to funding, and to allow more time on the three R’s so they can bring up ratings, Waldorf education puts great emphasis on the arts. Oak Meadow teaches children art & music appreciation and history, theory and application as they learn to do watercolor paintings,

 Photo credit: Cindie Young (Oak Meadow archives.)
Photo credit: Cindie Young
(Oak Meadow archives.)

form drawing, crayon and pencil drawings, and more. Children start learning to play a recorder in grade 1. They study dramatic arts, cooking and handicrafts such as woodworking, clay modeling, knitting, crocheting, weaving, and much more.

Thankfully, this summer, I finally reached the place where I knew that I could truly step outside of the box once and for all. I knew what I wanted for my son’s education, and it wasn’t pushing academics and rote memorization. What I wanted was for my son to be a child – to explore his world, to see the connection between his heart and head, and to develop a love of learning – true learning. Not just repeating facts, but learning to discern on his own how something applies to his life. I wanted him surrounded by the arts – and not just busy work crafts, but true arts and handicrafts.

And so, I made the decision to put my son back into Oak Meadow – and what’s more, to put him in grade 2. After all, in the traditional Waldorf schools, an 8 year old child is actually supposed to be in grade 2. Could my son handle the academic workload of grade 3? Yes. But, why should I push him ahead and load him down with more, just because our culture wants to push academics earlier and earlier?

In keeping him at his emotionally appropriate level, I am allowing him time to be immersed in stories of nature and animals – things he loves. I am allowing him to develop an enjoyment of writing, without the pressure of trying to learn the mechanics of grammar and spelling. I am allowing him to fine-tune his skills of observation about the natural world, and to learn about themes such as interdependence, natural rhythms and classification – skills that will be essential in science down the road.

Photo credit: Melissa Lewis. (Oak Meadow archives.)
Photo credit: Melissa Lewis.
(Oak Meadow archives.)

For Social Studies, instead of getting buried in historical facts, he’ll learn fables and fairy tales from around the world and how they speak of universal issues that a child can understand. Later, we’ll expand on those fables and fairy tales to explore the cultures and learn about simple economic issues such as bartering, community resources, and learning about making choices with money. He’ll learn about the values of honesty and kindness through fables and tall tales, and stories of simple heroes. He’ll learn about things he can understand, relate to, and apply to his own life.

And so, my son may not be following the same path as his peers. He may not know that 1/2 + 1/4 = 3/4 this year, or be writing lengthy epistles. And I am finally, honestly, okay with that. Instead, I think he will be on a better path, one that is more suited to his  needs, that will allow him to develop true understanding as he is ready. He will not be in a race for facts and memorization; instead, he will embark on the journey of discovery.


Sandra Hanson is a newspaper columnist and freelance writer. You can follow her blog exploring “life, homesteading, motherhood, parenting, homeschooling, and special needs” at  www.mycrazyeclecticlife.wordpress.com.

This article originally appeared in longer form at https://mycrazyeclecticlife.wordpress.com/2015/09/07/choosing-a-new-path/. Reprinted with the author’s permission.

What's new, Gooru?

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary has a definition of the word “Guru” as “a teacher or guide that you trust, or a person who has a lot of experience in or knowledge about a particular subject.”

Knowing that definition, it’s easy to see why the GOORU group chose their name! They are definitely knowledgeable in the subject of all that is Google!

The Gooru Icon
The Gooru Logo

At Oak Meadow, the 7th and 8th grade students may obtain an Oak Meadow Gmail address to submit lesson work, chat with other Oak Meadow students, or communicate with their teacher. Many students have never done that before and simply don’t know how to begin. Maybe you are new to Gmail and are anxious to find out about it and all that Google has to offer. 

Take a look and learn some basics about Gmail and also some tips and tricks you may not already know! Watch the Youtube video tutorials at Gooru Google Training Guide

International Day of Peace

Imagine all the people living life in peace. – John Lennon

Each year on September 21, the International Day of Peace is observed around the world. This year’s theme is “Partnerships for Peace – Dignity for All”.  Such a celebration reminds us of the value in quietude and tranquility, and it provides us with a perfect opportunity to find peace within ourselves and to share peace with others. How can we partner up and do this with our children? Here are some meaningful, yet simple, ways to become active in discovering the dimensions of peace and peace building from a local and global perspective:

1childExplore a Natural Setting – Perhaps you and your child can start the day with a peaceful walk in a natural setting. You can sit quietly, meditate and reflect, or just listen to the sounds in nature. If a natural setting is inaccessible, then include yoga exercises, sing a song, or recite a poem about peace during circle time.

 

Share in an Arts & Crafts Project – Encourage your child to create a picture or a poster that represents the meaning of peace. The artwork could include decorated doves, an olive branch, a peace sign, or hands that are held together. Include peaceful music in the background during the project.

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Create a Banner or Mural – The mural or banner could portray images and/or words showing what peace represents. It could even include a personal phrase or poetry composition about peace. When it is finished, hang the artful expression in your child’s bedroom or in your classroom.

 

Discuss Diversity & Cultural Awareness – You might like to discuss the diversity of different people within your family or community, and then make comparisons of this diversity to people around the world. Help your child gain a healthy perspective on the differences, yet focus more on the similarities we share with others.

Play Games – Incorporate non-competitive or cooperative games in your day.

1dalailama_1Learn About World Leaders of Peace – Talk about leaders of peace, integrate stories, and have your child think about ways to contribute to peaceful relations among people. Make a plan to do something for someone else that would bring peace to their heart and peace to their minds.

 

 

Most importantly, inspire your children with peace.

Think it. Say it. Do it.

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Hilary’s Second Day of First Grade…

As many of us begin the new school year, we often reflect on the success (and the bumps) of the first few days/weeks. Some home teachers like to journal their thoughts as a keepsake of these special “first” days schooling their children. K-8 Oak Meadow teacher, Michelle Menegaz, did this on the second day of her daughter’s first grade school year. I hope her sharing inspires you to create your own journal or blog. 1mmenegaz

We had an impromptu Michaelmas (Michael and the Dragon battling in the heavens) celebration when rainy weather cancelled our wonderful homeschool first grade “crossing the bridge” celebration. Sigh. I need to tell you that very little of what I describe next was pre-planned. I had only thought ahead that the clothesline was straight and she could walk under it and that we would do some forms in her practice books. I think the spirit of the day just took over…

So, the next day on Michaelmas, only day 2 of school for us, my 6 and a half year old daughter and I played dragons under the clothesline as I hung up a few things. The concept in play was “the curve and the line.” She either walked a straight line under the clothesline or ran from one end to the other in a big curve – depending on whether the “dragon” (ME!) was sleeping with a straight tail or a curved tail. I used my arm as a tail in mime. If it was curved, it meant the dragon was spewing fire and she had to run in a big curve to avoid it. If it was straight, she could just walk under the line.

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Then we discovered that the pusher poles for the line, made from saplings, were actually dragon pencils (!) and we drew our lines and curves on the dirt driveway, despite the gravel.
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1111picNext we ran up to the young orchard pretending a bigger dragon was in pursuit, climbed a tree or two and checked out the different leaves of the different fruit trees. Mama dragon then told her the secret of Dragon Hill, crowned on top with the sapling arch we made for last year’s home school celebration. The secret was that if a dragon marches forcefully and in a very, very straight line right up the steep hill to the arch and goes through it, on the other side the dragon will be able to fly down the hill in large graceful curves…which is just what we did. (See the little dragon under the orange leafed tree with her wings spread wide?)

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Then homeward to practice form drawing, collecting beautiful bits of autumn color on our way. The curves were dragons (in green crayon) and the lines were their roars. Hilary had a slightly hard time bringing the bottom of the curve around enough so I told her that some of these little baby dragons like to sleep with their nose and tail pressed right up against a log. I put my finger at the end of the paper for the log and she drew the curve from the top of my finger around and down to the bottom of it. She looks proud but a bit afraid those dragonettes might bite!
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Next we made some only moderately successful gluten-free dragon bread following the story linked with Michael in the book, All Year Round by Ann Druitt, Christine Fynes-Clinton, and Marije Rowling. Then, we went off to a riding lesson while a dear friend baked the bread at her house. During the waiting parts of the bread-making, Hilary made a beeswax dragon that lived under the bouquet of colored leaves next to the beeswax votive candle we had burning.

After the great riding lesson, (all about balance by the way), 1111111picwe met one more friend and headed up the big hill with the incredible view down the valley to make and fly kites and eat dragon bread – at least the parts the dog didn’t get into! 4 kids and three mamas. I followed instructions for a sled kite but I must say it just didn’t work well. I think homemade kites have to be very exact to fly right. The cheap boughten one with the smiling sun on it went up in an instant as they ran squealing down the hill pulling it aloft. I have never seen such pure glee, arms thrust into the air, mid-leap…laughter, adventure, trial and error, run-back-uphill-panting-and-do-it-again delight!

We stayed till dusk and raindrops began to fall, then headed home for grilled cheese dinner and a late bedtime; but what a day!

I realized that our dear wee first graders had indeed stood at the hilltop viewing the road before them, raced on ahead alone, faced a challenge and were headed over that bridge to their next journey of childhood. This was exactly what we had been trying to plan for a formal celebration, which is turns out we didn’t even need!

May the spirit move us always in such simple yet deep ways…

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12 Advantages of Homeschooling

Photo credit: Alice Potchen. (Oak Meadow archives.)
Photo credit: Alice Potchen.
(Oak Meadow archives.)

1. Witnessing your children’s excitement about learning is a privilege and a joy.

2. Learning new things together as a family benefits everyone and sets a good example for children.

 

Photo credit: The Lugo family. (Oak Meadow archives.)
Photo credit: The Lugo family.
(Oak Meadow archives.)

 

3. A flexible schedule makes it possible to pursue activities and passions easily.

4. Individual needs and priorities get top focus.

5. Changing a child’s education plan is as simple as switching gears; there are no institutional hoops to jump through.

6. Sensitive children can be nurtured in a way that honors their need for attachment.

7. Home affords abundant opportunities for unstructured learning and learning through play.

Photo credit: The Witman family. (Oak Meadow archives.)
Photo credit: The Henderson family.
(Oak Meadow archives.)

8. There is no limit on personal enrichment (fine arts, physical activity, personal growth…)

9. Home learning is holistically integrated with all aspects of life.

10. Being available to visit prime attractions during the off season makes adventuring easier.

11. Sleep can be based on the body’s natural rhythms, instead of the school bus schedule.

12. Socializing regularly with people of all ages, instead of just same-aged peers, helps homeschoolers become socially confident, articulate, and well-rounded.

When Your Homeschooler Misses School

The summer is ending and the school year beginning for those who are headed back to school. You’ve spent the summer cementing your decision not to send your child back to school this fall — or perhaps ever.

You’ve read everything you could get your hands on about homeschooling; you have chosen materials and curriculum; you have soothed the concerns of family and friends even while feeling a bit unsure yourself. You don’t know how the details will play out, but you are convinced that homeschooling will be a better option for your child.

child-schoolbus-CreativeCommons
photo credit: Waiting for the school bus via photopin (license)

Your child’s friends and neighbors are sporting shiny new backpacks and heading to the bus stop to wait for the big yellow school bus. They have new sneakers, new desk supplies, and a lunch packed in a fancy container. They are bubbling over with excitement and anticipation as they head back to school.

As they walk by, your child is still in pajamas, rubbing sleep out of his or her eyes. Breakfast seems mundane. It feels like any other old day at home. What day is today again? As the school-bound children get on the bus, it suddenly hits. Today is the first day of school, and your child is not headed there.

“I wish I could get on that bus and go to school with all my friends!”

What now?

Homeschooling is a big transition for both you and your child. Your child may grieve the loss of many aspects of the school experience. You might even be surprised at the things that he or she misses most. Even if school was a bad or mixed experience, there may be a sense of loss before the “new normal” is established.

Make it a point to ask your child what he or she is missing, and allow him or her the process of grieving and letting go.

If your child is feeling sad and missing school, here are some things to consider as you make the transition to homeschooling.

  • Structure. In school, each day is typically heavily structured and predictable. Some children thrive on less structure (and that is one reason some parents choose to homeschool), but others have a deep need for solid daily structure to feel secure and function well. Pay close attention to your child’s individual needs, and consider whether they might need more or less structure in their homeschool day. Don’t be afraid to go through some trial and error to find the rhythm that works best for your child.
  • Photo credit: Chandang Tsering. (Oak Meadow archives.)
    Photo credit: Chandang Tsering.
    (Oak Meadow archives.)

    Social network. School is full of same-aged peers, and your child may be missing that regular social stimulation. Be proactive in reaching out to create a new social network of homeschoolers and other community members. Many homeschoolers gather at local parks for active outdoor play that looks and feels a bit like recess.

  • Lunch. Some children really like having a packed lunch, and the foods you might put in a lunch bag might be different than those you’d make for consumption at home. Engage your child in coming up with a weekly lunch menu, and if it’s important to your child, let him or her “pack a lunch” each morning.
  • Supplies. School-bound students end the summer armed with a pile of brand-new school supplies, often purchased to satisfy a list provided by the school. Does your child miss having new notebooks, pens, etc.? Good news! School supplies are often clearanced right after the start of school. New supplies can be exciting for homeschoolers, too.
  • Teachers. Your child may miss having adult mentors around who are not his or her parents. Foster your child’s relationship with adults who are willing to take on a mentoring role, even if it is as simple informally helping a neighbor out regularly. Some organizations, such as scouts, provide a more formal opportunity for a child to interact with a mentor who is not a teacher.
  • Adventure. Riding the school bus can feel like a big adventure for younger children. Older students enjoy field trips, special assemblies, and other school-sponsored activities. Weave some adventure into your homeschooling plans. If you live out in the country, visit the city and ride a public bus. Many museums, historical sites, and arts organizations allow homeschoolers the same privileges as school groups, so be sure to call in advance and let them know you are homeschoolers.
  • Responsibility. At school, when parents are absent, students may feel more grown-up and responsible. At home with Mom or Dad around, old patterns might reign. If your children seem to be resisting your involvement, try giving them more autonomy. Ask them what they’d like to be in charge of, and give them the opportunity to try.
Photo credit: Kara Maynard. (Oak Meadow archives.)
Photo credit: Kara Maynard.
(Oak Meadow archives.)

Transitions take time, and the transition from school to homeschool can feel like a really big deal to both you and your child. Take it as gently and slowly as you need to. Find some ways to mark the transition and ensure that the next few weeks are especially fun and enjoyable for both of you.

If after this year you decide to homeschool for next year as well, chances are good that your child will have embraced it and will be looking forward to it. And when the school bus goes by on the first day of school next year, you might well hear your child say:

“I’m so glad I don’t have to go to school today!”