Another Favorite

Most of us have started our school year and things are for most part going smoothly. I wanted to share this post for the times when we need to let go of our ideals and follow our children. To see what Kelley’s been up to click here

A Flexible Approach to Waldorf

by Kelley Casey

There is so much I love about the Waldorf philosophy that I can get really excited about trying to create some sort of Waldorf ideal in our homeschool. I have had clear and specific ideas of what this would look like. I envisioned enthusiastic learners, wonderful stories and verses, cute little knitted creations, beautiful main lesson books full of artwork and writing, and lovely recorder music. Our real lives have unfolded a little differently than I imagined. As it turns out, my children do love a lot of what I love about Waldorf, but not all my children like music, not all have an interest in some of the main lesson blocks, no one (so far) loves yarn work and none of them want to produce the beautiful main lesson books I imagined. WHAT???? How can this be?

Well, I did have my moment of wanting to persist and insist (truthfully not just one moment, but several). Even when I won the battle, I had a kid on my hands that looked bored and was clearly not with me. So I told my perfectionistic, Waldorf-loving self to take a step back and reevaluate. Home education appealed to me because I understood that there is no one thing that works perfectly for all kids and above all else, I wanted my kids to maintain their curiosity and love of learning. Remember, the kids I imagined in our homeschool? They were enthusiastic learners! One of the biggest benefits of homeschooling is flexibility, so if flexibility is what it takes to encourage enthusiastic learning, I can do flexibility.

One shift I made was to realize that I love learning about the Waldorf approach to learning. Waldorf is my thing. That learning gives me a framework for working with my kids. When I say framework, I am referring to the important principles: main lesson blocks, keeping a rhythm, keeping a simple schedule, going deep with a few subjects rather than a shallow learning of many subjects, preserving early childhood, nurturing creativity, etc. This learning also gives me a variety of skills and techniques: puppet shows, songs, drawing, painting, knitting, sewing, reading recommendations, etc. In our homeschool, the principles are essential. If I can be flexible about the subject matter, skills and techniques I use in response to what I know about each of my kids, then they are engaged, enthusiastic learners, which is what I hoped for in the beginning.

Here are some examples of what this flexibility looks like in our homeschool:

• Main lesson books: All of my children love to write, draw, paint, and are generally enthusiastic about all kinds of creative projects. Yet they are also completely resistant to being asked to write, draw or paint anything related to our main lessons. So, I provide the materials for all manner of creative projects. I am available to work with a child who is writing or creating. I do my own writing and creating along with them if they wish, or if they don’t wish, they at least have awareness that writing and creating are things that I do for myself. The kids and I can all agree that their writings and creations are important, so we keep them in a binder. Anything too large or bulky for binders we take pictures of and keep a memory of them that way. We have a lovely remembrance of the things each child did, what they were capable of, and who they were at that time. These binders are inspired by the idea of main lesson books, but we have taken that idea and really made it our own.

• Main lesson blocks: What absolutely works about the main lesson block for our family is taking the time to really focus on one thing for as long as we want to and not feeling rushed to move on to the next thing on our list for that day, week, or month. However, sometimes a particular subject or book has not been a good fit for one of the kids or else that child has had some other passion that particular year that they are driven to pursue. In second grade, my son got excited about the Little House on the Prairie series. We spent hours snuggled in front of the fire (if you can believe it, six hours on one particular day) reading those books and we read the entire series. During that time he wanted to learn some prairie/cowboy songs and make recipes from Laura’s time. Then we decided to make the trip to DeSmet, SD to see where Laura and Almonzo lived and also to Independence, KS to see the little cabin and museum they have there. In fourth grade, my son was completely wild about Greek and Egyptian mythology and not even remotely interested in Norse mythology. So we read Rick Riordan’s books, we read the original myths, we dove into Greek and Egyptian history, we read a lot about mummies, and we watched documentaries about ancient Egypt. For fifth grade, he was completely over the Greeks and Egyptians but passionate about war machinery and war history. So he built models and read about the history of these machines. He watched documentaries about planes and submarines. We took trips to see these machines, tour them and learn their history. The framework of the main lesson block was still useful, but flexibility about subject matter and timing allowed for some unforgettable learning experiences.

• Creativity: In my pursuit of knowledge about the Waldorf philosophy, I have developed a completely different understanding of creativity. I grew up in a public school where music and art were a less important addition to the real business of schooling. I have come to see art, music and other forms of creativity as absolutely essential to learning. I often think of art and music off the top of my head, but there is also building, yarn work, needlework, cooking, design… many ways to create. So while I see creativity as absolutely essential and important, I have flexibility about what creativity looks like more specifically for each of our children. I have one child that does not care about singing or music, but is truly passionate about art and also enjoys building. I have one child who is willing to draw and paint, but loves to sing, dance, play piano, and bake and is talented at fashion design. My two littlest girls also love to sing, dance, bake and will spend hours at the kitchen table painting or crafting. So while no one likes yarn work and there is no recorder music at our house, I can see that creativity does have an important place in our lives.

Rigidity in applying Waldorf principles in the homeschool cancels out one of the main benefits of homeschooling: the ability to tailor education to the learner. I can (and have) gotten stuck at times wanting to “do Waldorf right”, whatever that means. I have to confess that I love to plan and I like it best when life is unfolding according to my plan. It is more than a little difficult for me to set aside a book that I have carefully chosen or a main lesson plan that I put time and energy into when it becomes clear to me that it has flopped. One of the biggest lessons for me in this homeschooling journey has been if I can live the principles and be flexible about the details, the most important aspects of the dream I had for us when we started take shape in our real life.

Bio: Kelley Casey is a wife and mother of four children, ages 4-10, who has been reading and learning about the Waldorf philosophy and home education since she began homeschooling her children in 2007. She enjoys living and learning with her family through reading, adventuring, traveling and doing a variety of things (cooking, yarn work, sewing, building, gardening, crafting, etc.) Kelley is also a part-time clinical social worker who provides home-study services to families pursuing private or agency adoption.

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