Waldorf as a way of life

Today we visited the Sophia Mundi Steiner School Spring Fair. I’ve been past the school plenty of times on the way to Collingwood Children’s Farm but this was the first time I have been inside. I took one step into the Prep and Grade One classrooms and just felt I was at home! I had such a resounding sense of surety that Waldorf education is the way to go…it wasn’t just that, I feel like it is a vocation. It’s not just a methodology for teaching my children, I want our lives to be infused by it…like Islam it is a way of life.

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I realised that in all these years of being attracted to Steiner, I have never actually been to a school. I’ve read about Waldorf, I’ve attempted to create a Waldorf influenced homeschool but I’ve never actually been out there and seen how it works in the world. The beauty of it almost brings me to (good) tears.

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Of course it is about more than lovely wooden toys and soft colours and handmade things, there’s an energy to these spaces and an energy to the people I encountered. It’s a wholesome, enriching way that brings children through and into the world softly and in a gentle, subtle way draws them towards becoming full beings. It’s everything that I long for my children and all children. I came away wondering why aren’t ALL schools like this? Why can people not see the difference between this and mainstream education?

We have many hurdles as a family to overcome. We are fighting the Technobeast. I wish we could just get rid of it all, it’s as much my struggle as it is my children’s. I’m telling myself bit, by bit. Softly, softly.

Lili was in awe of the classroom spaces. I think it really helped her to be able to see Waldorf outside our own home. She begged me to please let her go to this school! It isn’t possible but it IS possible to immerse ourselves in our Waldorf homeschool. I feel inspired.

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Our Homeschooling Journey

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I didn’t know that homeschooling was an option when I was a child, it was fairly unheard of where I grew up. It wasn’t until my oldest child was soon to start school that I started to look into it properly. I knew that I preferred alternative models of education and so I had started to search for schools based on the kind of pedagogy that I liked such as Montessori, Reggio Emilia and Steiner schools. But we didn’t live near any of these schools and many of them had fees that were outside our budget so I started wondering if our children could learn using these methods at home.

I started to talk to a few people whom I knew were homeschooling, I borrowed books and within a short period of time I realised I was fairly ideologically opposed to the school system. I read John Taylor Gatto and started to really doubt that I could comfortably put my children into school. I looked into homeschooling requirements in my State and I registered us for homeschooling. But my partner wasn’t convinced and when I fell pregnant with my fourth child just months before my daughter was due to start Prep I lost confidence and decided she needed to go to school.

I enrolled her in a nearby State primary school and it certainly wasn’t bad and my daughter loved her first year. I stopped thinking about homeschooling because it seemed to be going so well. But I still experienced a gnawing concern over where I would send my children for high school, the State high schools in my area being totally dismal.

When my oldest son started Prep I decided it was better to transfer them to a private school that continued through to Year Twelve. And this turned out to be a terrible decision as it didn’t work out at all well for my son. After a period of attempting to persevere with it we withdrew both children and the following year they went to the local state school. By then we had moved to another area and it was a much larger school. By midway through the year my son no longer wanted to go and I was struggling to get him out the door in the morning. I had continued reading about homeschooling and I felt so uninspired to continue pushing him to attend an environment that to me just didn’t encourage a real love for learning. By then I had convinced my partner that we should try homeschooling and so finally four years after I had wanted to do it the first time, we began.

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I still didn’t have much confidence so when I heard of a nearby homeschooling co op we joined and this is how we homeschooled the first year. Three days a week we attended with several other families. It was very involved and I found it difficult to balance my parental commitment with my housekeeping tasks but it was a great first step into schooling outside the school system.

I then decided to continue on my own.

I had noticed a stark difference in my children’s behaviour, they were much calmer and much less hyperactive. One of the key benefits of homeschooling was making our own schedule and spending time together. The kids attended taekwondo classes.

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I had investigated curriculums and decided to invest in materials from Oak Meadow, an online School in America that is Steiner influenced. I was also quite drawn to the Unschooling philosophy but not so sure about pursuing something so unstructured.
Over time I also discovered Charlotte Mason and I found the idea of Unit Studies really helpful for homeschooling multiple children. I realised that I am too eclectic to follow any one method by itself. It is this freedom and flexibility that I love about homeschooling. We follow what we find inspiring.

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Our journey is still only really just beginning. Homeschooling is an ongoing adventure.

Egg Carton Prints

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Making egg carton prints is a really easy and cheap activity for a rainy day.
It really is as simple as

Cut. Dip. Print!

Materials Needed

Egg Cartons
Acrylic Paint
Brushes
Plastic palates
Watercolour paper

Keep your egg cartons and then you can chop them into smaller pieces.

Make a mixture of acrylic paint and water that is the right consistency to stick and to not be too thick and then simply dip the egg cartons in the mixture and then print onto watercolour paper.

It may take a few efforts to get a distinct image but this overlaying is part of the fun.

 

Wet on wet watercolours

It is 42 degree’s Celsius today so we are all bunkered down in the house with blinds down and curtains closed. I forgot to water the tomato plants this morning and I am praying that they survive the day.

It seemed a good time to have a go at making wet on wet watercolours. Whilst we started off with the subtle and blended Waldorf technique we ended up just playing with the materials however we wanted. Lili in particular loved it and spent at least two hours swirling paint around.

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Homeschooling once more

Earlier in the year my youngest son started asking me if he could homeschool again next year. I said ‘probably, we’ll see’ and he left it at that, from time to time reminding me what he wanted. But then his more forceful older brother decided that school had lost all it’s appeal and he must start homeschooling again immediately.

There really was no reason to refuse, other than perhaps my sanity. So within a week they were withdrawn from school. Over the next few months we were preoccupied with life. We moved house so time was spent packing, moving and unpacking. Then almost as soon as we had unpacked it was time for Ramadan and our usual schedule was overtaken. I had discovered I am pregnant so much time was spent sleeping and feeling sick. I wasn’t worried about the lack of our ‘doing school’ because after over a year back in an institutional setting I really felt that they needed some time to deschool.

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My daughters had started a new school in our new (old) location, we have moved back to a previous house. And whilst my eldest settled in wonderfully my littlest simply did not want to go. And there seemed little point in forcing her especially as her older brothers were at home with me. So now I have three homeschooling children again.

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I am still finding my feet and making decisions about how to approach it, juggling different perspectives and ideals and working out what will work best for us. I have some quite conflicting notions about how we should be doing things and it is mainly a contest between Waldorf and Unschooling so at the moment I am taking it day by day.

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I love the Waldorf philosophy and I would love to be able to put it into practise but it is increasingly difficult when I already have children who are used to using technology. I think there is probably a lot of value in delaying the use of computers and screens until older stages in child development but our existing reality is that we haven’t done that. I started looking into Waldorf when my oldest child was around four years old (she is now twelve) so I could have taken that route but our family has had so many challenges, those kinds of decisions were just pushed to the wayside.
Our environment also has a significant impact, the children have have grown up with a social norm that is far different from the way I would have liked to see things develop.

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When we were homeschooling previously I bought iPads for the children and now we also have laptops. It is difficult for me to envisage heavily restricting their usage and yet I feel very torn about what to do. Realistically I don’t think my oldest son will respond to any kind of heavily structured curriculum. Unschooling works for him but because of my own institutionalised learning experience I have hesitations in surrendering to it completely. If we were on the road I would have far less worries, if I knew there was a constantly evolving landscape of experiences then providing that kind of freedom would not be a concern. When we were travelling in Morocco I realised how wonderfully unschooling would work in that context. But we are living in the suburbs, our life does not vary a lot from day to day. I have enormous reservations about the whole notion of unrestricted technology use as I think these mediums are highly addictive and it can just be like falling down a vortex. At the same time I notice how these technologies can be used productively. So it is all about balance and I guess we are at that point in which we are trying to find the right balance for our family.

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It is likely that Zeph will do mostly unschooling and I may work from my Waldorf curriculum with the younger children. Nothing will be ‘pure’ and I imagine it will change from week to week.

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I also let my little daughter self-lead in terms of formal language skills despite the Waldorf curriculum being much slower. She has been at school learning letters but even before then she had a natural interest in learning to write and continually practises by herself.

Because we have homeschooled before I am not allowing myself to stress out about approach, I know it will fall together slowly. I have seen and experienced the benefits of homeschooling so I don’t have that fear that often consumes first time homeschoolers. We have the best scenario really, the children have been to school so they know exactly how it is and they know they prefer to be at home. It is a little different for us this time around since we are not doing any tutoring but I actually prefer the freedom this gives us day to day, not being tied to an outside structure.

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I could allow myself to feel overloaded, I am still not feeling very well and dealing with almost constant nausea even though I am now in my second trimester of pregnancy. We have a fair amount of stressors beyond our control impacting our family right now so I don’t want homeschooling to add to that. Instead I want it to be an enjoyable experience.

At the moment I feel like going on plenty of excursions and just letting the kids play and explore. We visited an adventure playground in Kinglake last week and then after a picnic and filling up on cakes from the Flying Tarts Cafe we went on a huge drive through Flowerdale and Strath Creek towards Broadford and back to Melbourne.

I love that we are now on the edge of the city again and it’s not far to the country. Yet my fear of windy mountainous roads is a bit of an obstacle. Going over the mountain towards Kinglake is a terrifying drive for me, my hands were sweating so much I felt like they were going to slip off the steering wheel! It is strange since I grew up in the country and spent my life on similar roads but I guess I was never behind the wheel!

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