Dia de los Muertos

Photo by Sara Molina

This post and the photos come from Sara Molina, our Spanish teacher, who splits her time between Vermont and Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. Thanks, Sara, for introducing us to this wonderful and colorful cultural celebration of our ancestors!

Skulls, death, skeletons: these items often inspire fear, or at least negative feelings. But in Mexico, and many other countries that celebrate the Day of the Dead, it is quite the opposite. ‘Día de los Muertos’ is a colorful holiday of joy and festivities based around honoring the lives of loved ones who have died. This is a time to celebrate and remember these loved ones through parties, dinners, altars, and parades.

This celebration has a history of thousands of years, starting with a month-long holiday in the time of the Aztecs and then evolving to be celebrated on Nov. 1 and 2 with the arrival of Catholicism.  November 1 is generally for celebrating infants and children who have passed and November 2 is to honor adults. Offerings play a large role, where the deceased are honored with their favorite foods, drinks, pictures of them, and other colorful decorations. Celebrations are often held in cemeteries, at the graved of loved ones, with music, food, and drink. As opposed to the somber tone often felt at cemeteries in the U.S., the feeling is festive and happy at these Day of the Dead cemetery celebrations.

 

Papel Picado in Mexico
Painted skulls and altars in Mexico
Evening Festivities for Dia de los Muertos in Mexico

Skulls and skeletons are an integral part of the Day of the Dead. The Catrina is the main skeleton seen, she is elegantly dressed and was created in the early 20th century by an artist aiming to poke fun at the high society ladies of the time.  Some of the Catrina creations are stunning, with elaborate face painting and gorgeous and colorful costumes.  Another fun tradition that just began last year in Mexico City, was a Day of the Dead parade. This was modeled after the Day of the Dead parade in the recent James Bond movie, ‘Spectre’.  The opening scene features an impressive parade in Mexico City, and some leaders in the city decided to make it a reality this Day of the Dead.

Feel like getting into the Day of the Dead Spirit? Create an altar or offering (ofrenda) for a loved one (pets too!) who has passed. Include flowers, their favorite foods or drinks, music, symbols of activities they enjoyed, pictures of them etc.

Or if cooking is more appealing, create the traditional Día de los Muertos dish: pan de muertos (bread of the dead).  This is a basic sweet roll that is often molded into various shapes: angels, animals, or of course on this holiday – skeletons!

And if you’re a crafty person, try making a traditional decoration of this time: Papel Picado. This colorful paper is cut with patterns, and hung around the altar, and all over streets during this time.

Regardless of our level of celenration of the holiday, pausing for a moment to fondly remember loved ones no longer with us can bring a smile to our faces.

Additional Resources:

National Geographic site about Day of the Dead (good for general Day of the Dead info and activities. A clean and well organized site)

BBC documentary about Day of the Dead in Mexico (a 20ish minute documentary, one of the better ones I’ve seen about Day of the Dead)

Recipe for Pan de Muertos

Directions and Template for Papel Picado

Mexico City Day of the Dead parade video

On Poetry

by Antony Yaeger, Oak Meadow teacher

Photo Credit: Szmodis Family
(Oak Meadow Archives)

Having studied poetry with amazing teachers in my life, and having honed my own craft at Sarah Lawrence College, it is a joyful and enriching experience to teach poetry at Oak Meadow. What makes poetry so unique is something discussed in our poetry course: Poetry is a universal art form that can be found in all aspects of human life and can hold within it elements of all other art-forms. Poetry is not bound solely to the page. The famous phrase “poetry in motion” is a purpose of graceful fluidity, such that moves with tactful elegance throughout. Abstract, yet direct and completely beautiful to all 5 senses. We live with poetry every single day, even if we don’t have time to pick up a book.

To find poetry in the world, we often look to nature. To try to create an essence or impression of nature in art, we often turn to poetry. In my teaching, I try to teach in a way that takes into account my student’s developing mind as well as their heart, blending the two with their imagination. Poetry is one perfect way to do this. Each student brings their own unique perspective to analyzing a poem and their own special voice to the crafting of their own poems. Poems can be successful in any number of ways, but calling on the senses of our readers is crucial.

Photo Credit: Starkus Family
(Oak Meadow Archives)

What makes poetry even more incredible is that the reader is welcome to read between the lines, to string together their own meanings and ideas, to bring their own working palette of comprehension to the experience of reading. I feel this way with my students in this distance learning course and in the monthly poetry workshops we have created together. In these workshops, students celebrate their classmates’ poems and give them the gift of constructive feedback. It is amazing to see how perceptive each student becomes, how kind and selfless they are in making another poet’s poem better.

Poetry exists around us all, and you can read into that statement all that you want! For it’s not simply an abstract or ambiguous thought, but a truth waiting for us all to discover.

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Antony Yaeger received his undergraduate degree in Poetry and Theatre from Sarah Lawrence College in New York, and his Masters of Science in Education and Waldorf Education from Sunbridge College, New York. Antony spent four years at the East Bay Waldorf High School in Berkeley, CA teaching poetry, photography, literature, and directing school plays. In 2009, Antony graduated once again from Sarah Lawrence College, this time earning a Masters Degree in poetry and creative writing. He encourages students to use writing as a tool for self-exploration and to gain clarity and perspective on world events by examining issues from new angles. 

For more information on enrolling in Oak Meadow’s semester-long high school Poetry course with Antony Yaeger, click here.

For more information on purchasing Word: The Poet’s Voice curriculum for independent use, click here (on sale for the month of April 2017 in honor of National Poetry Month!)

Planning for Success: Using a Weekly Planner to Find the Rhythm in Your Homeschooling Life

by DeeDee Hughes, Director of Curriculum Development at Oak Meadow

How many times have you planned your day in your head, only to forget half of what you wanted to do? Or maybe, like me, you make lists—leaving notes here and there all over the house—and then lose track of the lists. Or maybe you have your list but you lose track of the time. For whatever reason, you just simply can’t seem to get it all done. That pile of tasks that seemed doable early in the morning looks like an impossible uphill climb by lunch time and morphs into Mt. Everest by dinner time. Sigh. Another day slips by with a vague feeling of incompletion.

Photo Credit: Cindy Wallach
(Oak Meadow Archives)

When you add homeschooling to the daily mix, the to-do list just grows longer while the pressure to do it all expands until it fills your little corner of the universe. As you juggle science experiments, spelling lists, math practice, research reports, art projects, and all the rest, the responsibility to get it all done can wear you down. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed.

Sometimes even just opening up a curriculum book can feel daunting. If you like to have everything organized and planned in advance, it’s exciting to see all your upcoming lessons in one place. You might tell yourself, “It’s all right here. This is all we have to do!” On the other hand, the little voice in your head might panic at the thought of how much work lies ahead: “We have to do all of this??”  Or perhaps you prefer spontaneity and like to create your own learning path. If so, a curriculum book can feel like a big, scary reminder of all you might be leaving out or forgetting to do while you are off on your spontaneous adventures.

At some point, most homeschoolers wonder, “How can I get it all done?”

Let the planner do the remembering

Photo Credit: Witman Family
(Oak Meadow Archives)

No matter which end of the organized/spontaneous spectrum you identify with, you can find support and a sense of ease by using a weekly planner. Once you get in the habit of spending a bit of time each week planning and setting a schedule, the weight of all that responsibility is lightened. You don’t have to worry about forgetting something important because you’ve already made a plan to include everything you want to get done.

Naturally, despite your best planning, life will intervene with its wonderfully chaotic beauty, and some things will fall by the wayside, but that’s okay. Here’s the real attraction in using a planner: anything you don’t get to in a particular week is simply moved to the top of the list for the following week. No need to feel a sense of failure or guilt or judgement—just turn over a fresh page and write it down again. Voilá!

Making the planner work for you

So what’s the best way to use a planner? That will vary with each person, but here are some tips for getting the most out of your planner.

  1. Begin by getting a sense of the week’s goals. Look over what you would like to accomplish in the coming week in each subject. If you are using a curriculum that is designed in a weekly lesson format, this is pretty easy (for instance, you want to do lesson 5 in each subject this week). If you aren’t working with a weekly format curriculum or you are using many sources, make a list of next steps for each subject.
  2. Prioritize the assignments, activities, and projects for the week. Write down the top priority tasks first, dividing them up according to subject and spacing them over the days of the week. By putting the high priority tasks at the top of the list, they are most likely to get done. Let’s say there’s a book report in English that must be done this week because your student will be beginning a new book next week. The book report will go at the top of the list for English and be scheduled early in the week. This gives some wiggle room if it takes longer than expected. The book report will get done before the grammar exercises or spelling quiz. That’s not to say spelling and grammar aren’t important—they are—but the book report will get done first to make sure it is completed before moving onto the next book.
  3. Use the planner to chunk up larger projects into smaller tasks. Maybe an animal research paper is on the science list this week. Day 1 can be for locating research materials; Day 2 can be for reading research and taking notes; Day 3 is for organizing the notes and creating a detailed outline with topic sentences for each main idea; Day 4 is for the rough draft; and Day 5 is for revising, editing, and proofing the final version of the report. Each of these tasks will take about the same amount of time, making a big, daunting project suddenly feel doable.
  4. Let your planner help you take an unscheduled day off or take advantage of an unexpected opportunity. If something comes up, or if you and your kids just really need a day without expectations, go for it! That’s one of the greatest joys and benefits of homeschooling. Your planner makes it easy for you to go off and enjoy yourselves, and then get back on track afterwards. Everything is still there. You haven’t “forgotten” anything; you just shift the tasks over one day. Who cares which days you homeschool and which ones are free days? Do what you can in the days remaining; any leftover tasks are moved to the top of the list for the following week.
  5. If you are homeschooling more than one child, use colored pens to easily track each student’s study plan. This lets you see at a glance who will be doing what on a particular day. Seeing everyone’s schedule at once helps you coordinate weekly goals so that visits to the library, nature walks, or one-on-one time with your children all fit together.
Photo Credit: Brandie Lujan
(Oak Meadow Archives)

More reasons to love your planner

Feel free to enlist your children’s help in creating the weekly plan. In fact, it’s a good idea. Not only does it give them a sense of ownership and encourage autonomy, it teaches students time management skills. They learn to become aware of how much time is needed for certain activities. They can be involved in breaking tasks into smaller increments, prioritizing what needs doing, and (here’s the fun part) checking off items as each task is completed.

Photo Credit: Oak Meadow.

The planner can be a great tool for long range planning. Let’s say you are doing a project on decomposition, and your student has just buried a variety of items in the back yard which will decompose at different rates. In six weeks, your student is supposed to dig them up and observe what happened. Flip forward six weeks in your planner and jot down a note. Now it’s out of your head and you don’t have to think about it until it’s time to dig up the rotting mess (er…I mean, the partially decomposed items).

Finally, you can use the weekly planner to have a strategy session at the beginning of each week. Depending on the ages of your children, you can do this after you’ve already created the schedule for the week, or this strategy session can be when the schedule is created. Going over the schedule at the start of the week helps everyone involved know the game plan and start the week with purpose.

Using a planner doesn’t have to be another dreaded thing you have to find time to do. Once you get comfortable and find a pattern that works for you, the planner will help you prepare for success so you have more free time to enjoy your homeschooling life.

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DeeDee Hughes is the Director of Curriculum Development for Oak Meadow, a distance learning school and publisher of homeschooling curriculum for grades K-12. Oak Meadow offers two planners: a planner for homeschooling parents and a student planner, both of which feature 40 double-page weekly schedules and are not date specific, so they can be started anytime. The Oak Meadow Homeschool Parent Planner includes teaching tips and inspiration from Oak Meadow teachers and learning targets by grades for K-4. The Oak Meadow Student Planner contains handy resources for students such as parts of speech, how to cite sources, and U.S./metric conversion charts, as well as learning targets by subject.

This article originally appeared as a guest post at Only Passionate Curiosity.

Exploring Ornithology: A Week on Hog Island

by Fianna Wilde, senior at Oak Meadow School

During this past summer, my sister Blythe and I attended a week-long teen birding camp on Hog Island, Maine. The Hog Island Camp, run by the National Audubon Society, is now in its 80th year of existence.

Photo Credit: Fianna Wilde
(Oak Meadow Archives)

Having applied for and received scholarships to attend, we joined 22 other teens to learn about everything from bird banding to seabird restoration. In the sport of birding there are few young people, so spending time with other fledgling birders was particularly special.

Not only was this our first camp away from home, it was also our first time birding on the East Coast. Other campers were endlessly helpful with identification, and everyone was so willing to share their knowledge.

Photo Credit: Fianna Wilde
(Oak Meadow Archives)

We designed an advanced study project (ASP) through Oak Meadow about our explorations in ornithology, and our trip to Hog Island was a part of that adventure. Being able to pursue my dreams and incorporate them into my high school experience is one of the reasons I find Oak Meadow extremely special.

A Day on Hog Island…

4:00 a.m. Get up and out of bed, having awoken long before, unable to sleep because of the excitement of unknown birds singing and the lobster boats motoring around checking pots.

4:30 a.m. Out the door and down the creaky wooden stairs of Crow’s Nest cabin to meet up for a bird walk or thrush banding with Scott Weidensaul (program director) and a few other souls.

7:00 a.m. Breakfast, finally!

Photo Credit: Fianna Wilde
(Oak Meadow Archives)

The weather held, and we motored out aboard Snowgoose III on an all day trip to Eastern Egg Rock. Common tern chicks hatching, Atlantic puffins feeding, and painting the five research interns’ shelter on the island while being dive bombed by a tern parent are memories I will never forget.  

12:00 p.m. Lunch  

Off to a bird banding workshop, or an intro to recording bird song, or drawing with the resident artist.

6:00 p.m. A delicious dinner.

7:30 p.m. Nightly presentation by someone highly regarded in his or her field; tonight it was Stephen Kress, author of Project Puffin and director of the Sea Bird Restoration Program that brought puffins back to Eastern Egg Rock.   

Photo Credit: Fianna Wilde
(Oak Meadow Archives)

Then teen campers known as the Corvids met to discuss the day, do activities, and enjoy bonding time.

Bed? Not quite.

Owling with Josh Potter (teen camp leader), moon and star gazing, and then journaling time.

10:30 p.m. Heather (teen camp leader) singing and playing her guitar as the campers fell asleep, to do it all again tomorrow. Paradise!    

Hog Island, Maine is an incredible place with remarkable people. The National Audubon Society camp I attended, Coastal Marine Bird Studies for Teens, would be an excellent camp for teens with a strong interest in birds, hands-on learning and a love of nature. Hog Island hosts camps for those interested in other aspects of birds, including drawing and photography or a wish to learn more about nature. Explore the Hog Island website (http://hogisland.audubon.org) to find out more.

Photo Credit: Fianna Wilde
(Oak Meadow Archives)

______________________________________________________________

Author Fianna Wilde is a senior at Oak Meadow High School. “Since I can remember, I have loved all aspects of nature. My sister Blythe, also a senior at Oak Meadow, and I used to have lunch with all of the bugs we found around our yard. Two years ago my family moved to Morro Bay, California, and that is where my love of birds took flight. From then on, birding evolved from a pastime to a passion. “

Note to Former Self: What I wish I’d known before our two decades of homeschooling

by June M. Schulte

When we began homeschooling in 1982, our eldest was just over seven years old, the legal age for school in Vermont. Although we were doing a lot with our children – reading aloud, making crafts, singing, dancing and so on – we weren’t quite sure which things might count as education and what was needed that we didn’t even know about. The day we received word from the State that we were okay to homeschool, our five children were ages 7¼, 5¾, 4, 2, and 10 days old. John Holt spoke to homeschoolers nearby that week, and we were encouraged by his words about the natural way children learn by doing.

Photo Credit: June M. Schulte (Oak Meadow Archives)
Photo Credit: June M. Schulte
(Oak Meadow Archives)

We had searched for a good curriculum to use, and felt the one which best matched our view was offered by Oak Meadow School. Based on exchanges with cofounders Bonnie and Lawrence Williams, our eldest was placed in second grade and our daughter in first. We also bought the kindergarten curriculum to guide the younger children and, in truth, to reassure us in case our eldest had missed something important. We felt ready and excited.

Execution of the curriculum was another story altogether. Our fifth child was a newborn and a robust 10lb-er; however, he also startled very easily and had rapid respirations for his first two weeks. In years to come, we would discover he had attention inconsistencies, but in those first months of homeschooling, it translated into needing to keep the household relatively quiet (in Winter) so the baby wasn’t over-stimulated. Also, as a nursing mother, I had a series of breast infections not easily quelled with antibiotics, as we eventually discovered there were two germs involved, not one. It was a challenge!

Photo Credit: June M. Schulte (Oak Meadow Archives)
Photo Credit: June M. Schulte
(Oak Meadow Archives)

By the time we were sending our first quarter report and samples to Oak Meadow, I was quite concerned, as it seemed to me we had failed miserably. I felt that the most academic thing we had done all season was make a leaf mobile!  We had also written a poem about the season, read aloud, sung songs (things that can be done with a babe in arms), and played a lot. But there were few lessons of any kind. At least I had kept a journal of what learning I noticed, and sent it along. I braced myself for the response from Oak Meadow.

What came was a beautifully encouraging letter from Bonnie Williams herself, highlighting the many learning opportunities she found evident in my journal. Being a mother of four, she had read between the lines. She noted that my older children had learned that babies come first, to make their own sandwiches, and to help one another. She assured me that there would yet be plenty of time to accomplish the paperwork in the curriculum and recommended we simply stay with it.

We did, and I am so grateful for that. Bonnie was right. By the end of the year, we had completed the lessons in the curriculum, and our State Certified Teacher (who later opened a Waldorf school) confirmed it, giving me the greatest sense of accomplishment and peace!

Photo Credit: June M. Schulte (Oak Meadow Archives)
Photo Credit: June M. Schulte
(Oak Meadow Archives)

Our children are now ages 41½ , 40, 38, 36, and 34. They all made the Dean’s List their first semester of college, graduated, and have been gainfully employed since. They are not social misfits. In fact, our eldest is a company manager, 5th-degree black belt and international TaekwonDo referee, dad, and co-owner of a horse farm with his spouse. Our daughter graduated Magna Cum Laude with a B.S. in Mathematics and is a partner in a worldwide firm, a mom, and owner of a large house in Maine. Our third child has a Ph.D. and is a wildlife biologist who headed up shorebird recovery in the Gulf of Mexico in the wake of the BP oil spill; he is a dad, town selectman, marathon runner, and 3rd-degree black belt who teaches TaekwonDo. Our fourth child has a degree in Computer Science, works in customer support, and founded a non-profit focused on sustainability that grows food for food shelves. Our youngest has a degree in Networking and Website Development and makes websites for a good living; he is a dad, records local bands to get their music out to the public, and owns a house with his spouse.

Moreover, they are happy. They care about the world, the nation, and their local communities. They play with their children and are good friends. The many fears we had in those early days (and along the way) have been allayed. Our six grandchildren, currently age 10 years to 10 months, are intelligent, funny, sweet people.

Photo Credit: June M. Schulte (Oak Meadow Archives)
Photo Credit: June M. Schulte
(Oak Meadow Archives)

I wish I could have known at the outset how it would be now. But, really, we just had to take it one day (sometimes one hour!) at a time. I’d say keeping a journal was the most important work I contributed, because it not only recorded the moments for which there was no paperwork, but it helped me notice and appreciate their slow and wonderful flourishing. On the tough days (and there were many), it was sanity-producing to read back over the last month’s journal and know for sure that we were making progress. It was what I drew from to create our end of year reports.

Note to former self:  If a child is loved deeply, is given good resources, great art materials, lots of trips to libraries, field trips when possible, hands-on exploration, and heaps of fun, they cannot help but thrive. The curriculum itself is secondary. There is no way we can give a child all the knowledge they will need in life. So we need to teach them, largely by example and conversation, to mull and articulate, to explore, discover, invent, and create; give them the tools for doing their own research, creating their own art, writing their stories, and living as caring citizens. Give your heart to it and don’t second-guess yourself too much. If something isn’t right, trust that you’ll recognise that. Turn a deaf ear to naysayers and listen to other homeschoolers who share your philosophy. Have a small group of homeschoolers you can get together with or at least some homeschooling pen pals (for you as well as the children). You are all going to be just fine.

Photo Credit: June M. Schulte (Oak Meadow Archives)
Photo Credit: June M. Schulte
(Oak Meadow Archives)


June Schulte completed her college degree as an off-campus student while homeschooling her children. She applied for and was granted the maximum three semesters of Life Learning credits from Goddard College (known for its progressive approach), earning a B.A. in Home Education and Religious Studies. She then completed a three year Diocesan Study Program as well as some seminary studies. A lifelong contemplative, June also completed the two year Shalem Spiritual Guidance Program, and for 20 years has been meeting with people who are seeking spiritual guidance. Guidance seems to be most of what homeschooling was about for June, and she feels that her children taught her more than she taught them. June and her husband, Bill, have been married 42 years so far, and are the delighted Grammie and Grandad of four granddaughters and two grandsons. As the Irish saying goes, “Children are the Rainbow of Life; Grandchildren are the Pot of Gold!”

My Journey with Oak Meadow

by Lucy Enge, Oak Meadow high school student

Photo Credit: Chris Enge (Oak Meadow Archives)
Photo Credit: Chris Enge
(Oak Meadow Archives)

My journey with Oak Meadow began in the fall when I was almost six. My parents had decided to homeschool me (for kindergarten) using Oak Meadow’s curriculum; they liked the Waldorf influence. And we continued our journey with OM homeschooling through the eighth grade! It has been ten years now, I am almost sixteen, and I am about to start my second year enrolled in Oak Meadow’s high school program as a tenth grader.

During my eighth grade year, when my parents and I were deciding about what to do for high school, we knew that I (and my mom, too) loved homeschooling. However, as my mom had worked in college admission for years, she thought it was important for me to look at and consider all of my options before deciding what to do for high school, in hopes that I would avoid second guessing my choice later.

Photo Credit: Ruby Enge (Oak Meadow Archives)
Photo Credit: Ruby Enge
(Oak Meadow Archives)

So, we created a list of the possibilities: homeschooling (using OM independently), enrollment in OM’s distance learning school, two magnet schools, a parochial high school, and two nationally acclaimed private schools. My mom wanted me to see it all! Then, we explored each option/school further. We researched online, attended some open houses, took tours, and participated in shadow days.

Separately, my mom, my dad, and I created a list of pros and cons for each option/school. My parents did not share their lists with me as we looked so that my final decision was truly mine. But, they certainly did listen to all I said about each option as I sorted things out in my mind! Finally, after hours and hours of “work,” I narrowed it down to three: homeschooling, enrolling in OM, and the parochial high school. After another shadow day, I eliminated the parochial high school.

Photo Credit: Lucy Enge (Oak Meadow Archives)
Photo Credit: Lucy Enge
(Oak Meadow Archives)

We discussed continuing to homeschool as we had since kindergarten, but, after a lot of talking together, we decided that enrolling in Oak Meadow would be the best for me and my high school journey. It would require me to be accountable to other teachers (outside of my mom), provide me with a rigorous curriculum and an accredited transcript, and also give me a flexible schedule and the freedom that homeschooling had allowed me in the past – the perfect bridge (for me) between homeschooling grade school and attending college.

And so I enrolled! Starting with our first conversation with Rachel, my education counselor, we were warmly welcomed to Oak Meadow and well guided in what courses to enroll in. For my ninth grade year, I took Algebra I, Environmental Science, French I, Introduction to Literature and Composition, and World Geography. Once I began my courses, I felt myself being positively challenged, enjoying everything (well, except, rewriting an essay, but from that, I know I became a better writer), and truly flourishing!

Photo Credit: Julia West (Oak Meadow Archives)
Photo Credit: Julia West
(Oak Meadow Archives)

My teachers, Antony, Jacquelyn, Julia, Lydia, and Marnie (I love you all!), are amazing and are everything I (and my parents!) wished for and more. They have pushed, encouraged, and inspired me. Whenever I have a question, they are happy to answer and do so timely, and their comments on my lessons are constructive and helpful.

With their assistance, I have also created projects for myself that let me explore a particular topic that relates to the material that I am studying: I have written poetry; painted watercolors; read books; cooked meals from Peruvian cuisine, to a Jewish Shabbat dinner, to vegetarian sushi; made a Malaysian kite; studied children’s literature; and watched many documentaries. Truly, I could not have imagined a better first year of high school!

Photo Credit: Ruby Enge (Oak Meadow Archives)
Photo Credit: Ruby Enge
(Oak Meadow Archives)

When I look back at myself a year ago (before ninth grade) and at my early ninth grade work, I see that I have come a long way. I am more confident and poised, I know myself (my values and my beliefs) more clearly, I am a much stronger writer, and I have gained a lot of new knowledge. Oak Meadow is not for everyone – it is hard, in a good way, and you have to want to learn and be an active part of your education! – but it certainly has been right for me. I love Oak Meadow and could not be happier with my high school choice! 

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Lucy Enge lives in a small Connecticut river town with her family. Her interests include (in no particular order) reading; classical music; baking/cooking; old television shows; poetry; walking/hiking/biking; sewing/knitting; watercolor painting; (almost) all things Peruvian, British, and French; and traveling. She also enjoys living simply; eating local, organic food; and going to charity shops and estate sales.

A World of Thanks: The Gift of Homeschooling

by Morgan Wiebke, homeschooling parent

I’ve been a parent for almost ten years now and a homeschool mom for going on three. If you had asked me four years ago whether I would ever homeschool my children, I probably would have laughed out loud. I mean, only weird people homeschool, right? The people who can’t function in society, or are bullied and are not safe in a traditional setting, or [insert any number of scenarios that would never apply to MY family].

Photo Credit: Morgan Wiebke (Oak Meadow Archives)
Photo Credit: Morgan Wiebke
(Oak Meadow Archives)

It wasn’t until my oldest son was actually in public school that we started to doubt the system. He is a smart kid, a really smart kid, who also happens to deal with Sensory Processing Disorder. We didn’t really think that mattered too much, as he’s been in therapy his whole life and was thriving in school. Until he wasn’t anymore.

He developed anxiety and was increasingly overwhelmed with the simplest of tasks. He was quick to tears and always tired. His school work was still perfect, though; he was at the top of his class, so it wasn’t a surprise at all when his teacher told us he had tested 3-5 grade levels ahead of his peers. We were thrilled! What parent wouldn’t be?

But then we realized, if he’s already so far ahead, what exactly will he be doing in school this year? His teacher said there wasn’t really anything she could do with him; he’d just be filling a seat. We approached his teachers and the administration about ways we could work together to help him grow and thrive, but we were unequivocally shut down. He no longer fit into the neat little boxes that they require kids to fit into, and not a single person within the school system was willing to help my son.

Photo Credit: Morgan Wiebke (Oak Meadow Archives)
Photo Credit: Morgan Wiebke
(Oak Meadow Archives)

When my husband and I sat down and really thought about that, along with our son’s newly developed anxiety and personality changes, we decided to take matters into our own hands. Several friends of ours were homeschooling, and we loved their kids. We spent months researching what this change would mean for our family.

I was terrified, as the only homeschooling families we knew were religious, and we are very much not a religious family. Were we going to have to compromise our ideals in order to do this? Was I going to have to spend money on curriculum that I’d have to edit out most of the things we didn’t believe? I was increasingly overwhelmed and wondered if we’d made a mistake.

Because I had researched the importance of “deschooling,” I knew I had some time to decide. We had two full months of letting our son explore things he was interested in and spending time as a family reconnecting. Time was running out, though, so I sat down and scoured numerous homeschool pages on Facebook and stumbled across Oak Meadow. I immediately went to the website, where the word “secular” jumped out at me. Hey, we’re on to something here…

Photo Credit: Morgan Wiebke (Oak Meadow Archives)
Photo Credit: Morgan Wiebke
(Oak Meadow Archives)

I kept reading, and it felt like a light went on over my head. Oak Meadow’s educational philosophy felt just right. It was nature based, with a relaxed approach to academics in the early years, a strong focus on emotional growth as well as academic, hands-on learning, and plenty of arts and crafts. This was literally everything I had been looking for, and here it was, all packaged up in a complete open-and-go syllabus.

I requested a copy of the curriculum guide immediately. The day it arrived, I handed it directly to my husband and told him our search was over. He agreed to give it a try, and I ordered the second grade curriculum the same day. We couldn’t wait to get started. I registered my new homeschool with the state; we lived in South Carolina at the time, so I followed protocol to keep things legal.

Our first day was spectacular. My son fell in love with the animal stories. He was excited about creating his Main Lesson Book and worked diligently without complaint. We began to see changes in him, changes we had been waiting his whole life to see.

Photo Credit: Morgan Wiebke (Oak Meadow Archives)
Photo Credit: Morgan Wiebke
(Oak Meadow Archives)

Our little boy who was born afraid of textures and getting dirty was outside digging in the woods, bringing us the worms he’d found and the caterpillars he spotted climbing the trees. He woke up well rested every morning – when his body was ready to wake up and not when an alarm clock told him it was time. He spent endless hours outside, exploring, and taking notes in the nature journal he asked me to make for him. The anxiety disappeared, his confidence soared, and for the first time ever, I felt like he would have the opportunity to grow into the well-rounded and happy boy he was born to be.

When we saw how incredible Oak Meadow was and how life changing this curriculum could be, we knew immediately that his younger brother would love it just as much. We had already decided to “hold him back” a year because he has a late summer birthday. We finished kindergarten this past spring, and it was one of the most magical years we’ve ever had. He was six when we started, and even though he “knew” just about everything that was covered, we had seen the possibilities for growth beyond what can be measured with lists and bullet points.

Photo Credit: Morgan Wiebke (Oak Meadow Archives)
Photo Credit: Morgan Wiebke
(Oak Meadow Archives)

And we were right. He was enthusiastic about his lessons every single day and eager for what came next. We scoured nature for letters and shapes, had scavenger hunts, and painted in the creek. We read stories in the shade of the trees outside, then relaxed in the grass and spied the clouds for anything recognizable. Our year was inspiring, building confidence in a way nothing else had up to that point, and a deep love for learning was instilled.

Our family has grown closer since we decided to homeschool, and we have numerous plans this year to connect with the lessons like never before. We plan to travel out west as we study westward expansion and have half a dozen trips to landmarks throughout our state planned for our state project.

We’re gearing up to start first and fourth grades in a couple weeks, and this begins our third year with Oak Meadow. We couldn’t be happier! We are thankful every single day that a curriculum as inspiring and wonderful as this one exists and that we are fortunate enough to make it happen.

We are extremely excited to see what this year holds and can’t wait to share our journey with other Oak Meadow families along the way!

____________________________

Morgan Wiebke is a mom to three homeschoolers, ages 9, 7, and 3. Morgan says, “We LOVE to travel (that was very high on our list of benefits to homeschooling). I’m very crafty and enjoy all things related to creating something from nothing. I sew, embroider, draw, paint, DIY house projects and pretty much anything else you can think of. We recently relocated from the Carolinas to Delaware and are very excited to explore and learn about a new part of the country.”

 

Summer “Days Off” DO Count!

by Deb Velto, K8 Program Director, Oak Meadow School

Summer is a time for rest and rejuvenation, and a time when our schedules often switch from education to relaxation, as families embark on vacations and other fun activities. Some parents wonder if taking a break from academics will cause a gap in their child’s learning. Going on an adventure, whether it’s a local day trip or a week-long vacation, is full of healthy, unstructured opportunities to practice existing skills and build new ones in an informal and fun context. Here are some ways to encourage continued learning while you’re enjoying summer adventures.

Plan it

Photo Credit: Cindie Young (Oak Meadow Archives)
Photo Credit: Cindie Young
(Oak Meadow Archives)

Where will you go on your adventure? Why does this place feel important to your family to visit? How will you get there, what will you do when you are there, and what will it cost? Do some research to find out some interesting facts about your destination. Learn about its history and cultural significance. Together, find out about its natural resources or key features of the local landscape, and then have each family member choose one thing to see or do. Even if you can’t do everything, getting the whole family involved in the planning stages lets children flex important brain muscles. What can you learn about this place before you go that will help you appreciate it more when you are there,

Get ready for it

Give children the opportunity to get ready for the trip on their own. What will they bring? How will they pack? If these skills are already a habit for them, perhaps they could help get a younger sibling ready with the items they need, or help gather the items that the family will need as a whole. Involve your child with making shopping or packing lists. Is any special equipment needed on your adventure? If you are going away for several days or more, how do you prepare your home before such a trip?

Map it

Photo Credit: The Moreland Family (Oak Meadow Archives)
Photo Credit: The Moreland Family
(Oak Meadow Archives)

Use an atlas or other map to plan your trip. Where will you stop for breaks? How long will it take? What cities or towns will you drive through? Are there places of interest that you would like to see? Make a copy of the map and trace your route with a marker or highlighter. Depending on the size of your family, you might need two or three maps. If your child asks, “Are we there yet?” ask them instead, “Where are we now? How far do we have yet to go?”

 

Talk about it

Many students today are lacking practice with oral communication. The availability of email and texting has reduced the frequency that people communicate through speaking. Days off provide a great opportunity to talk with each other. Travel by car, train, airplane, or boat offers endless hours to talk about plans, experiences, memories, literature, goals, and life in general. Once you arrive at your destination, encourage your children to ask questions. They may enjoy calling up a grandparent or friend and tell them all about your trip once you get home.

Pay for it

Vacations can be a perfect time to practice money skills, when the moment comes to buy food or souvenirs on your journey. Have a younger child practice making change or counting money at a store. Older children might be encouraged to budget a larger amount of money ahead of time for the whole trip and make choices about what they purchase. Offer them the opportunity to interact with the cashier on behalf of the family, growing confidence and social skills while practicing math.

Write about it

Create a family trip journal! Get a blank sketch book to pass around during your travels. It can be a great way to pass the time in the car or pull it out for some relaxed down time once you get where you are going. Draw pictures, tape in small artifacts, and write about your trip together. You will end up with a great keepsake from your trip!

Photograph it

Photo Credit: Adam Hall (Oak Meadow Archives)
Photo Credit: Adam Hall
(Oak Meadow Archives)

Bring a camera along to document your experiences. Print the pictures once you get home and create a memory book, or add them to your family trip journal. Arrange the pictures chronologically and write captions so you won’t forget the details. Such books are treasures and can be used as a prompt to tell the story of the day over and over. Older children might enjoy making a slideshow or photo montage of the trip.

Collect it

Vacations can be fun times to collect natural materials or artifacts that might not be available at other times of the year. Bring home some shells, pretty stones, or sea glass from the beach, or some flowers from a hike that can be pressed in your journal. Then, in the winter, pull out these summer reminders to help create holiday gifts or use for other crafts and art projects.

Remember it

Practice storytelling and memory recall skills by bringing out mementos to show friends and family once you are home again. Use your family trip journal or photo memory book to remind you of fun stories that are worth telling and retelling.

Summer is a welcome break for everyone, and it can also be a time for learning opportunities hidden within a great adventure. So don’t worry that your “break” will lead to a loss of learning, but instead embrace the chance to watch your child grow through the free-spirited atmosphere that summer provides.

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.

Learning and the Natural World

“Learning and the Natural World”
excerpted from The Heart of Learning by Lawrence Williams, EdD

Earth and sky, woods and fields, lakes and rivers, the mountain and the sea, are excellent schoolmasters, and teach some of us more than we can ever learn from books.  ~ John Lubbock

There is something very magical about being outside.

When I was young, a child’s connection to the natural world was not something that needed special attention. It was…well, natural. Kids played outside all the live-long day, as much as possible, in all kinds of weather. Then came the TV generation of the 1960s and 70s, and parents were often reminding kids to “Go outside and play!” Being outside was still an integral part of growing up for most children, however, even urban dwellers.

As a child, when you were outside, your curiosity ruled your actions. Your play was self-directed and engaged. Playing outside meant using all your senses. It probably meant meeting up with your friends and running around. It meant using your imagination and, hopefully, getting really dirty.

Nature’s Classroom

The lessons that nature has to teach us are never ending. Being immersed in the natural flow of plant and animal life cycles, weather patterns, seasons, and the intricate dance connecting everything helps us find our own balance in the flow of life. It’s not surprising that children who play outside are healthier mentally, emotionally, and physically. Human beings have spent nearly the entirety of our existence outside. Our connection to the natural world is so profound that when we are deprived of it, it’s no surprise that we don’t fare so well.

Getting Back to Nature, Plain and Simple

If your child hasn’t spent much time outdoors, be prepared to start small. The crack in the sidewalk is always a good place to start. Collecting sticks and building a little teepee is another simple way to get a child who is timid outdoors to start getting his hands dirty. Collecting rocks, shells, nuts, or just about anything will appeal to most children, and it’s just a small step from there to building and decorating a tiny, magical fairy house or woodland dwelling.

Here are a few more tips for bringing the outdoors into your day:

  • Go outside early in the day.
  • Eat snacks or meals outside.
  • Devote a section of your yard to dirt or sand play.
  • Plant a bean teepee large enough to play inside.
  • Make a living fort by trimming the bottom branches from bushes enough to make a crawl space.
  • Make a row or circle of stumps (burying them in the ground partway makes them more stable).
  • Make a mud pit.
  • Create sculptures from natural materials.

Here’s a list of great materials to collect or make available:

  • rocks
  • dirt or sand pile
  • branches, sticks, and logs
  • seeds and seed pods
  • pinecones and nuts
  • leaves and bark
  • driftwood, shells, and seaweed
  • flowers and long stalks of grass
  • feathers

Child-Led Discovery

Sometimes it is tempting to become a bit too involved in a child’s outdoor play. There is something irresistibly appealing about a sand pile or a fairy house. However, just as it was important not to let our own creative process take precedence over our child’s, it is important to allow children the time and space to explore on their own. This self-directed, unstructured play often yields the richest rewards. Be mindful of your child’s process instead of trying to guide it in one direction of another. Let children make their own discoveries, and allow them to make their own mistakes. Just because they aren’t doing something in the most efficient manner doesn’t mean it’s not right. We all learn from experience, and faster is not always better.

The most encouraging thing you can do is express interest in your child’s play without intruding. Be available to show genuine awe or intrigue when a new discovery or creation is shared with you, but refrain from questioning, judging, critiquing, or praising. Even praise can change a child’s play — the focus may shift to doing things that will please you rather than letting the play evolve organically from the child’s creative impulse. Outdoor play has a naturally expansive element, and the use of praise to help maintain creative tension (as we talked about in the last chapter) is not necessary.

Be playful and curious, be interested and excited, but above all, respect the rich inner life of the child’s play. There is something very peaceful about creating a nature scene or just exploring the natural environment. Don’t force the conversation. Sometimes it isn’t possible or helpful to talk about a creative experience. Connecting with nature can be a very personal experience, and one that builds intricate and complex ways of understanding the world. By attuning to your child’s attitude, you will probably be able to easily feel when it is right to just let things be.

While educators (homeschooling parents and professionals alike) are perpetually open to the teachable moment, unstructured outdoor play is often a good time to let the teachable moment pass without comment. Trust that the learning process is in full sail without your guidance. There will be another time to give suggestions, instructions, information, and to ask leading questions. For now, just enjoy the beauty of nature’s classroom.