“We have to provide the favourable conditions where, through our agency, children can educate themselves according to their own destinies.” – Rudolf Steiner
This week I talked about my old planning process and how I have come up with a new one for myself which I talked a little bit about yesterday, outlining the “Head” part of my planning – wrapping my brain around our schedule this year, how our family rhythms have changed, and how to accommodate for my own personal rhythm in the day.
This next part has been the trickiest part. Planning with my heart. Opening my heart to who my children are RIGHT NOW and what they need from me and I am not talking about academics. What is the state of their soul? Their own hearts? What are they struggling with? What can I celebrate and encourage?
(The week before our “school” started. We did our normal market day, slow and easy, while the rest of the ‘hood had their first day of school.)
Here are some highlights about the next steps in my planning process:
1. I am focusing on monthly goals for my children as opposed to a to-do list.
As I reflected on each child in late August, I spent time writing down where they were at developmentally, who they were as individuals, their strengths, where I perceived there to be challenges with behaviour and any other issues. I used a couple of resources to help me out:Rhythms of Learning : What Waldorf Education Offers Children, Parents & Teachers (Vista Series, V. 4) The Educational Tasks and Content of the Steiner Waldorf Curriculum
For the month of September, I have specific non-academic goals for each child.
For example, #1, the 16 year old, has questions about current events: What is behind the hostility in the middle east? Why is there still such racial tension in the U.S.? Why is the African continent in such discord? And she just doesn’t want the easy answer. Frankly, I don’t have one and as much as I would like to tell her to go visit our trusty friend, Google, I know that she deserves more than that. She is so unsettled and there is a real need to understand this. A real need to connect with history on a grand scale. As I started to plan a history block for her, I found myself having to travel further and further back in time. Instead of 20th century history, which is where I thought we would begin when addressing her questions, I decided to go with Ancient History. We began our lessons with a discussion on “civilization.” What does it mean to be ‘civilized’ as opposed to ‘barbaric’? This led to a very interesting conversation. What were the factors that led to humankind to create civilization? What does a civilization need to be a civilization? It was a great first week as we talked about the ascent of humankind.
But that was my goal for her this month: to shed some light on to our beginnings as a group, the whole of humanity, and to appreciate our collective triumphs and failures. She is currently working on an assignment studying creation myths of different cultures and comparing what was happening during those periods, looking for similarities in the way these cultures perceived the world outwardly and inwardly. I wanted to centre her in a place of being part of a “whole” as we ventured into ancient history and have a glimpse of the changing consciousness through time.
For another child, we have a geography block this month. But it’s so much more than just learning compass points and names of places. Her goal is to “feel the earth” again – to return from summer mode and feel grounded and feel spatially aware of her surroundings, beginning at home. How do I deliver the material to fulfill this need within? We ended up starting with a form drawing story about the Earth. I told her a story about a little stream that turned into a large river over time, carving the Earth. We talked about geography and how it literally means “earth writing.” The earth itself has its story to tell us and we share this story through our own history of humanity as we have mapped and explored it. My job this month is to deliver material to her in order for her to feel a connection with space itself and then connect her to the land around us. We will be mapping our favourite outdoor places this month, drawing the land from different viewpoints, and return each month to see how the land has changed. She will write about what she feels and sees during this mapping process. We spend the afternoons reading some Old Testament stories that really work well with her spirit – she feels buoyant and optimistic each and every time which settles her after exploring outward in the morning.
You might be asking, HOW DO YOU KNOW WHAT THEY NEED? I trust myself. Trust yourself. You do too. You see them everyday. Just write down what you see and patterns will emerge. It will become clear as days go by. Listen to their questions. Observe their behaviour with others – yourself, their other parent, their siblings, their friends, acquaintances, strangers. When they are in a good space, ask them questions about how they feel about certain things like their interests and fears. Look at how they walk, talk, eat, sleep. Write it all down. Then sleep on it for awhile. Ask the universe, God, a higher being, the air in front of you, your best friend, or whatever and whomever you are comfortable with, just as long as you ask:
“What does insert child’s name need?”
“How can I provide it?”
I know it may sound crazy. But it works. The answers come in dreams, in opportunities, in conversations with others, in an email, in a book. Just be open and willing to listen for it. This isn’t a race. There is no time limit to this exercise. In fact, it’s pretty much an ongoing exercise.
2. I believe that education is a living and breathing art and it has the capacity to heal.
For each child, I have these goals. I weave our main lesson blocks in and around these goals. Although I am still using the Waldorf curriculum as a guide to what content is developmentally appropriate for each grade, I am not bound to a delivery method. I am approaching each child with a theme in mind that has inspired me to be creative with how I teach what to whom. I am using Roberto Trostli’s themes from Rhythms of Learning that are his chapter titles for each developmental age:
My 16 year old: “The Quest for Self”
My 11 year old: “Cause and Consequence”
My 9 year old: “Self and World”
My 7 year old: “Whole to Part”
My almost 5 year old: “Imagination and Play” (Not in book but is implied)
Keeping these themes in mind this year, I can devise activities and assignments within the subject that best fit these themes for my children and their specific goals for the month.
It is not a science. It is an art form. I’m not sure that I could do this for a child other than my own simply because my children are with me all day and every day and they are the ones that motivate me to keep striving. It is about stretching myself creatively and imaginatively. It is about letting my heart touch their heart. It comes down to this: How can I make this world be and feel as beautiful as possible? Paraphrasing Steiner’s lecture on “Gratitude, Love, and Duty”: How can I cultivate gratitude, awaken love, and develop a sense of duty to caring for the earth and others?
Yes, there will be math. Yes, there will be grammar lessons and writing exercises. Yes, there will be science experiments. And even comparative essays. But this will be part of the daily schedule, a practice portion of our day. But the rest will be filled with activities that speak to them, that challenge them where they need to be challenged, that settle them, that will awaken them and that will try to give them what they need right now.
Each month is different. Because they are different and they change. I can’t say what the goals for October are yet because September isn’t over. I might still need to work on the same goals next month with our next lesson block. This brings out the artist in me. I can see the picture of the child forming in my mind and my palette of colours changes. The media I use to form this picture changes. My canvas can seem so solid some days and other days it feels as flimsy as a tissue paper. This is a living artwork which eventually will transition to the kids holding their own paintbrush and being their own sculptor.
Now this seems perfect and sounds fantastic. But there have been bumps in the road, epic disasters, and unexpected successes which I will detail tomorrow in the “Hands” portion of my planning process.
How do I put this into practice? Does this really work or is this too much to keep up? How is this working for my family right now as I attempt to follow through on my plans? Do I just wing it and hope for the best?
I’d love to hear your thoughts on your planning process and how that’s working out for you now!