... or, Is Waldorf (or Enki) Education Still What We Need?
When we started our home education journey T-Guy had just completed his second trip around the sun, while J-Baby was close to completing his first. In other words, the boys were young. Life Learning (aka unschooling) is what appealed to me most at that time; I liked the idea of children learning through living and delving into subjects as their own interests inspired them. I knew some successful life learners and it seemed to be working out well for everyone. Of course, that path didn't end up being 100% right for us as a family, and so we turned to Waldorf and Enki.
Our long foray into holistic education has been wonderful and was the right choice for the elementary years, but as I sit and contemplate planning another year of Waldorf-guided studies I find myself thinking that this really isn't how I envisioned our later home learning years. My goal has always been to raise children who could figure out how to learn what they want to know, not to continue to spoon-feed them information that I have chosen. Now, Waldorf doesn't have to equal spoon-feeding, certainly, but reading the various Live Education guides it sort of seems like it does, and there is no doubt that Waldorf education is teacher-driven. As I contemplate reading very long passages out loud to them I wonder why they learned to read (just kidding, but barely). Not that there aren't times that we enjoy reading out loud, but as a method of introducing material it gets old fast. I have never really wanted to recreate a Waldorf school here in our home. Okay, that might not exactly true: there have been moments where I wanted to recreate an Enki or Waldorf school in my home. With me as the teacher. And a handful of students. Not all of them my children. But that is fantasy, not reality.
We have attempted to give our boys a glorious childhood. They are everything I think children should be: healthy, curious, open, kind, loving, helpful, imaginative, connected to their bodies, and more. Just the other day (um, month) J-Baby (days away from being 12) happily joined in make-believe play with two younger friends, coming up with a makeshift oven for them to bake cookies in. Then the boys watched a couple episodes of their (current) favorite science program. Later in the afternoon they walked to the park and tossed a football around with a friend. That evening they helped Papa set up our new generator and practiced baseball skills. We ate dinner together, sitting around the table with not an electronic device in sight. They climbed into bed and sank into new books borrowed from the library. They have a really great life.
I can't help but feel now that a transition must happen, one where they take the responsibility for their learning. Already, their interests are quite different, with T-Guy focusing on the humanities while J-Baby concentrates on science and technology. Each time I teach a block I have one child far more interested than the other (at least it flip flops). Plus, it seems inevitable that the child who loves the block subject already knows most of what I am presenting, just from their own reading and researching.
How many times can this happen before I acknowledge the frying pan smacking me upside the head? I know their strengths and weaknesses and yet I continue to pour time and effort into introducing new material to them, except it often isn't new at all. They don't need an Introduction to Physics block (a subject they have tackled with Papa several times using multiple kits), they need to practice math skills. They don't need to revisit Medieval History, the need to expand their writing skills. They are really good at finding new information for themselves; they need me to help them with skills.
I am radically rethinking next Fall's grade 7 plan: I'd be lying if I said I wasn't considering ditching the Waldorf method altogether. We need a skills year more than we need anything else. I know that I can trust them to be curious and continue to learn about history and science on their own. I know that they will read literature, listen to classical music, explore the great outdoors, use their bodies, and more. What they can't do for themselves right now is figure out how to write a good five paragraph essay or put the Pythagorean Theorem into practical use (they've known what it is since they were little).
I think they are old enough that I can ask them: What do you want to learn this year? What are your goals for your education? What are your goals for your future? What skills do you think you need?
For example, I know that T-Guy has been contemplating trying to get into the local charter school for high school, in part because he thinks he may want to play sports and in part because several of his homeschooling friends will be there. I don't know if this is the best choice for him, but I do know that I should do my best to help him qualify to enter the school, which will require that he complete algebra in 8th grade. Since we've been working a year behind according to the public schools, we are only now completing grade 6. Math doesn't interest him and I haven't really pushed it. But he is going to have to push himself if the charter school is truly something he wants.
J-Baby doesn't think he wants to go to the charter school. He is highly interested in music, science, and technology and I think it is probably time to loosen some of our technology rules so that he has time to explore programming. At his age Papa was building his first computer with his own father, and that early interest in computers led to a mostly satisfying, successful career that supports this family in a comfortable manner. I'm rather glad that my ILs didn't say No Computer For You!
This doesn't have to equal the end of Waldorf Living, if there truly is such a thing. In many ways to me it is living simply, in tune with our children, honoring who and where they are. It seeks connection - to each other, to nature, to our community. It is living lightly, with fewer things. It is growing food and/or sourcing it locally, choosing the most humane food options we can afford, and not wasting the food we do grow and buy. It is sitting down for real meals we cooked from real food, not boxes and packages full of unpronounceable ingredients. It is using less, buying less, buying used, recycling, choosing not to buy bottled water, choosing to wash dishes rather than buying disposable, choosing cloth napkins and cleaning rags over paper, and doing everything we can to be good stewards of the earth.
As time passed after I started this post T-Guy came to me and told me that he doesn't want to work a grade behind any longer; he is of an age where the kids define themselves by their grade and he wants to be in the correct grade for his age. I have no problem with this and we looked at some of the options and he decided that he would like to use Oak Meadow for 8th grade. Now, I don't have the best track record with OM because I was forever trying to make it more Waldorf, but I am willing to give it another try, especially as the plan is for T-Guy to take on the responsibility for choosing and completing his assignments.
The other thing I am willing to try is allowing J-Baby to work up a grade now that he is more mature and developmentally able to stretch himself a bit. He looked at OM7 and didn't think it would be very challenging plus he hated the book list. So effectively we are skipping 7th grade, although we've already covered the history and science and we're actually going to do 7th grade math as that isn't something we think they are capable of skipping.