Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Waldorf and Unschooling

I realize I jumped right in posting, while some people are still trying to wrap their heads around the idea of combining Waldorf education and Unschooling.

I guess I could start by explaining how I got here. My first homeschooling mentor was an unschooler. I saw her bright, happy, successful children (hmmm...successful to me because they were bright and happy) and I began to consider unschooling, which I had never really heard of before meeting her. Granted, my children were 10 months and barely 2 years old at the time, so I hadn't done much research.

At the same time, as an attachment parent (natural parenting) I became exposed to Waldorf education. At first I was probably attracted to the simplicity of Waldorf, as well as the beauty of its arts-centered approach and natural materials. Waldorf methods really mesh well with natural living, although that wasn't the intention.

When it came time to actually begin "schooling" our children (an artificial construct as they have been learning since they were in the womb) DH and I had a nice talk and he just wasn't interested in unschooling. We'd been to a lecture by Sandra Dodd, and he was less than impressed. He needed a little structure to feel more comfortable with homeschooling.

Here is where our story veers into outerspace! We looked into and decided to try the ideas in The Well Trained Mind. After all, it seems exciting to give your children a classical education. The Trivium! Latin! It lasted less than 2 months. My boys were too young (I knew that, deep inside) and not interested. The 4YO flat out refused to do anything (good for him!) while the 5YO tried to please me but his heart wasn't in it, and after 8 weeks he said he "hated" phonics and I knew at that very moment that we had to stop.

We took 6 weeks off. I called it "unschooling" because deep at heart, I am an unschooler. I looked within and decided that if we had to use some structure, it would be Waldorf. Really, I would have liked to stop everything until fall 2005, but DH wanted us to be doing "something", so I decided to introduce the alphabet while I worked on laying the framework for a good daily/weekly/monthly/yearly rhythm.

I gathered up some resources from Christopherus Homeschool, and was lucky to find a older used copy of Oak Meadow Kindergarten. Using the Oak Meadow as a resource, we spent 5 months alternating between the uppercase alphabet and the qualities of numbers, doing about 30 minutes of formal instruction 3 times a week. We read fairy tales and drew lovely pictures. We also went on nature walks, cooked and baked, did wet-on-wet watercolor painting, sang songs and did fingerplays, kept house, and so much more.

(Disclaimer: Oak Meadow is not a Waldorf curriculum. It is watered-down Waldorf, designed to please public schools officials and states with strict homeschooling laws. Older editions are better than new ones. The only reason Oak Meadow worked for us us because I had read enough about Waldorf to see what Oak Meadow was doing wrong (In my mind). In the end, all I took from it was the fairy tales and pictures. I could not have been successful those 5 months without the resources I got from Christopherus, and everything I read on the internet.)

We took a break over summer. Because I do not completely agree with anthroposophism, several people suggested I take a look at Enki Education, which is another holistic method of education, without the anthroposophy. I actually ordered my materials in March, but there was delay after delay and by late August it was clear I wouldn't be getting any Enki resources. I started to panic, but since I had so many of Donna Simmon's books from Christopherus I decided to take a deep breath and order her newly released Grade 1 Syllabus.

(Side note: what I did get from Enki, I loved. If Enki had been a full program with resources, ready to go, I would have used it. The Enki philosophy still influenced our learning, even though I didn't use the methods or resources.)

I like Donna's materials. We have loved using the first grade syllabus; of course, I tweak it to make it fit us, but that is what homeschooling is all about. Whenever we have a nature block I go into unschooling mode and we just live and learn. Donna also runs an email list, Waldorf at Home, that is an invaluable source of inspiration from many homeschooling parents.

The unschooling part, that's our safety net. I never worry that my children aren't learning, even when we've taken 3 weeks off because of a bad tooth infection. When you watch children, when you give them room to play and explore, you realize that they really are "Learning All the Time." (I love John Holt!) And Waldorf combines with unschooling so effortlessly. A couple of months ago I introduced the Four Processes to my children, and then we let that block go to sleep. Two weeks ago my youngest started writing out subtraction problems on his own, asking me a few questions. He was really grasping it. I didn't tell him to wait 3 weeks until we start math again; I just let him have at it. An hour later he was satisfied and the subject has been dropped again. I am convinced that he got more from that hour than from any time I could have scheduled to "do" math. Many unschoolers speak of "strewing the path." For me, Waldorf is how I strew the path, and also provides the philosophy of why, when, and how to introduce various subjects.

Another unschooling idea I use is that I never force my children to do anything (although I proudly admit to NOT letting them do many things). I encourage them to draw in their main lesson books and to write a few words, but if they don't, I accept that. My 7YO is up for the challenge; my newly 6YO more often than not chooses to do something completely different. That's okay; he's a kindergartener and isn't in the stage that is ready for academics (though he is wicked good at mental math).

So that is how we got here. Day in, day out I plan to write about what we do, what we're learning, our main lessons, our activities, our time spent unschooling, and more about holistic education as we travel this path...

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