4 Questions (we should all be asking on behalf of our children)

 

Crafting the rhythm of our children's days and school year can start to feel daunting when we consider all the various options available to our families.

Several years ago it became urgently important that we find a way to distill our planning process down to focusing on the things we considered MOST important. We want to share with you the 4 guiding questions that were the result of our reflections. Brian and I ask ourselves these questions when making decisions for our children, in regards to schooling and at home.

Whether you are new to Waldorf(ish) education, planning your next homeschool curriculum, or looking to make a course correction when you feel like you may have wandered off track, these gems can serve as guideposts. They come out of our successes as well as our failures.

 

Simple. Useable. Right now.

 

The 4 questions:

(I encourage you to take your time reading these. Really savor Each. Word. Perhaps keep a piece of paper nearby to write down your immediate responses & thoughts.)

 

1. Does this (activity, toy or program, etc.) encourage creative thinking? Thinking that is permeated with imagination, flexibility, and focus?

2. Does this experience help foster my child’s emotional intelligence? Is it helping my child develop empathy, and building their self esteem?

3. Is this (activity, toy or program, etc.) promoting my child’s physical vitality, stamina and perseverance?

4. Is this (activity, toy or program) helping to nurture a spiritual depth within my child? One born out of an appreciation and responsibility for the earth, their work and for their fellow human beings?

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Bonus Gem:

This piece, written by longtime class teacher, Steven Sagarin, is such a perfect compliment to this process of reflection:

“What is Waldorf Education” 

(Pro-Tip)

Read his article in chunks, accompanied by good chocolate. Give yourself time to go about your day and let each section sink in before reading the next.

**Essentially, we believe that a Waldorf education can take a variety of forms and still be PERFECT.**

According to each teachers individuality, outer forms of teaching may vary enormously in the different classes, and yet the fundamental qualities are retained...in a Waldorf school outer forms do not follow set patterns, so that it is quite possible for one teacher to teach his class of 9 year olds well, while another who takes a completely different line, can be an equally good teacher...and as long as the teacher feels in harmony with the underlying principals, and with the methods employed, he must be given freedom in his work instead of being tied to fixed standards.
— Rudolf Steiner
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We'd love to hear your thoughts!

All love,

Robyn

 

What is Form Drawing?

"The child’s capacity to develop an integrated sense for spatial orientation – upwards, downwards; left, right; center, periphery – is supported in the practice of form drawing."

Creative Form Drawing with children aged 6-10 years, Workbook 1

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I will freely admit to anyone that knows what Form Drawing is that I was terrified to bring it into a home school environment. What, exactly, was encoded in those mysterious lines and shapes? What esoteric wisdom did I need to attain before I could try to impart this practice to my son? Like most things I fear, the answers were not as complicated as I originally thought. 

Form drawing, it turns out, is a brilliant way to work with one’s senses...senses being of great importance in a Waldorf education. Paper and pencil serve as a lantern, illuminating our inner selves, the forms creating a blueprint of our inner (and outer) orientation.

 

" Rudolf Steiner, in his many lectures on this subject, speaks of twelve senses. Added to the usual five, there is a human sense for rhythm, warmth, balance, movement and so on..."

The Incarnating Child, pg. 73

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Beginning in first grade and extending throughout her time at a Waldorf school, a student engages in drawing exercises that range from very simple to very complex, according to her grade and various topics of study. Straight and curved lines form the foundation for letters in 1stgrade, for Celtic knots in 4th and Geometry in middle school. Over and over, drawing both imparts knowledge and folds it back into oneself. 

 

"Straight lines and curves are the starting points for form drawing. This begins with the discovery that the line is a path along which one can move. Children should experience the characteristic difference between straight lines and curves through drawing them, after having explored their character through whole bodily movement in space."

- The Tasks and Content of the Steiner-Waldorf Curriculum, p.137

 

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Much can be ascertained about the Form Drawer from this kind of work, and the analytical angle is an important one. There is, however, another important aspect of Form Drawing that should not be overlooked: it’s a lot of fun. As soon as I embraced Form Drawing as the journey itself (instead of a perfect form being the destination), our weekly work became something to look forward to.

 

Don't forget to practice!

Forms can and should be returned to time and again for a variety of reasons that will become clear to you as you study, draw, reflect, and repeat. Remember that they are not about achieving anything in particular. Think of them as a friendly guide. 

Form Drawing is a deep ocean that one could spend an entire lifetime learning to navigate. Don’t let this stop you from jumping in. Buy a book, look up #formdrawing on social media and reach out to people whose ideas are of interest to you, but most importantly pick up a pencil, chalk, stick or block crayon, suspend your judgment, and encourage your child to do the same. 

This radical act of trust in the power of art to teach and transform is the lynch pin of Waldorf Education.


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Cristina Havel lives in Southern California where she and her husband have worked together for nearly 2 decades. They homeschool their son using the Waldorf pedagogy as a guide and believe in the transformative powers of art and nature.

 

 

More from Cristina:

More Than Meets the Eye: The Role of Art in Waldorf Education

Transitioning Your Child Into Summer

New course line-up!

We've finalized our course offerings for our next school year! Individual info pages for each one will be available soon on our website. For those who, like us, get a little twitchy with all the waiting, here's what we know for certain .....

 

Geometry  

 Photo credit: Jessica Richardson

Photo credit: Jessica Richardson

Brian is teaming up with fellow Waldorf teacher, Caitlin Amajor, for this G5-8 series! We have a FAQ page here, where you can learn more about this artistic, inspired program. Registration opens on July 15th! Courses begin on Sept. 3rd. There is also a link to a new free lesson on the FAQ page. 

 

 

Grade One wet-on-wet painting

Waldorf teacher Amanda Mercer has been busy creating a beautifully supportive program for the Waldorfish community! This video series will guide parents & teachers on a journey through each primary color via wet-on-wet painting techniques & original verses. G2 and G3 courses are in the pipeline as well, although release dates for these are not set yet. The G1 course is OPEN for enrollment! Learn more about it, here!

 Photo credit: Amanda Mercer

Photo credit: Amanda Mercer

 

Weekly Art (Anthology)  

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For the 2018/2019 school year we are pulling together our favorite lessons from the first two sessions of this program! This collection will be perfect for families who have not participated in WA previously. As in prior sessions, the lessons will post x1 per week, and Brian & I will be actively involved in the classroom. Registration will open July 15th, the course will begin August 10th. (see updated info, here!)

 

Festival Art  

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We're teaming up with storyteller Sara Logan for this new course! 10 original/adapted stories paired with art lessons to carry your family through the full circle of a festival year!! This course is ideal for families who have previously participated in the Weekly Art program, or those looking for less frequent art lessons than offered in our other programs. NOTEthis program will initially only be available to WA students currently enrolled in the '17-18 session. It will become available to the whole community in time for the '18 Advent season!

 

As always, send us your thoughts + questions by emailing us at support@waldorfish.com

All our best to you from the garden,

~Robyn (& Brian nearby) Wolfe

 

Staying True to Steiner: Honoring the interplay between routine and variety.

At the crack of dawn on a recent Sunday morning, my husband and I -- and our 9-year-old son -- piled sleepily into our car in Los Angeles and started driving across the Sonoran desert to watch a baseball game in Arizona. About 3 hours later, we crossed into our neighboring state and made note of the meandering border between us: the Colorado River, glistening gold and blue.

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After experiencing some highs and lows (low: the Dodgers lost; high: the acquisition of a game ball) we drove 5 hours home. On the same day.

Why would we do that, you might ask? Well, there are two answers to that question.

One is, we had to work on Monday.

The second is, we are a homeschooling family.

We follow the Steiner tradition of education, and in his words: “the children are the curriculum” (Tasks and Content of the Steiner-Waldorf Curriculum, pp. 15).

I take that to mean that our children and their interests, abilities, and experience of the world cannot and should not be segregated. In order for our son to truly get a feel for distance and time, we felt that it was important for him to see the expansive desert for himself and experience it by day and by night. Our hope when he is a father, is that he too will be inclined to make sacrifices for his children, and do things that they will remember for the rest of their lives, even if they are tiring and inconvenient for him. Love is action, and education encompasses not only knowledge but character-building.


I was clear about the fact that school was not going to be happening on Monday morning after a 18-hour day on Sunday. However when we did return to our school work, I had a good idea of what I wanted him to explore.


"A variety of ways and means are needed to bring vital skills and useful knowledge to young people so that they feel inspired by and invested in learning: education is a process through which culture becomes personalized, and in becoming personalized, culture is also changed and re-charged." (Tasks and Content, pp. 14)
 

The first involved his love of the Japanese language and his favorite baseball player, Dodgers pitcher Kenta Maeda. I printed out a screenshot I’d taken from Maeda’s Instagram story on game day and my son got to work translating his message. Maeda, born in Osaka, writes almost exclusively in his native language. The abbreviated nature of Instagram Stories made it a suitably brief passage for translation.

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"...heart, head, and hands [form] the primary educational paradigm at a Waldorf school. Rather than focus the educational work solely around the objective of acquiring knowledge, creating a meaningful learning process itself becomes the focus." -- Jack Petrash, Understanding Waldorf Education: Teaching From The Inside Out, pg. 24

The second thing I asked of him, after we studied the southwestern United States in our atlas, was to record a blind contour drawing of the Colorado River in his Geography main lesson book, then write in landmarks on either side of the border. It was interesting to watch him decide what to include, and moving to see him join the great human endeavor of understanding ourselves and our places by putting pencil (and in this case, a beeswax block crayon) to paper.

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Routine is essential, but so is variety. Check the boxes, but think outside the box. None of the activities described above were directives found in a pre-packaged Waldorf curriculum (not that I do not love and make use of several, I do!), but I believe that they are aligned with Steiner’s ideas about education.

Steiner emphasized a creative framework above all else. No matter what your sources, have fun and trust yourself!

(photo credits: Cristina Havel)


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Cristina Havel lives in Southern California where she and her husband have worked together for nearly 2 decades. They homeschool their son using the Waldorf pedagogy as a guide and believe in the transformative powers of art and nature.

Pedagogical Stories: Start with the Stories in Your Bones

 

I come from a family of storytellers, though if you asked them, they might not own it.

The stories shared around my grandmother’s living room, in the front seat of my mother’s car, at restaurant dinners with my dad, these stories have shaped my identity and my sense of belonging. The stories don’t always have a clear point or moral. Sometimes, they don’t even have a plot. Each one, though, for good or bad, has been deeply instructive for me as a growing and developing human being — and don’t forget, we are growing and changing for the entirety of our time on earth!

All of these stories, if told when there was a desire to teach me something, or to pass on a particular piece of wisdom, could have been pedagogical stories. These stories, which my family members knew as they knew their own breath, have become part of my own legacy of stories, and are woven into my very bones and being.


Prefer to listen to an audio recording of this post? You can do that, here:


When you begin to delve into the deep soil of waldorf pedagogical storytelling, it can be overwhelming.

 

My advice, is to start with what you know in your bones. Start with your own life. Your life is a source of stories that are both unique and universal. They are unique, in that they are your own, and no other human being in the course of history has your biography or destiny. They are universal, in that we, as human beings on a path of development towards our fullest expression of selfhood, take a common journey between birth and death. This journey may lead us into dark forests or underground caves, and while we may never find ourselves living in a palace at the end of it, the union of “[our] avocation and [our] vocation, as [our] two eyes make one in sight,” as Robert Frost wrote, is the real happily ever after that fairytales offer.

Family enjoying time by the river and self-made campfire

 

To start telling pedagogical stories, you must listen.

 

Listen to your child, or to the children around you, and try to understand what they’re going through. Hear their concerns, their desires, their clamor for attention. Then, respond with something from your own life. In the US, it’s common for my friends and me to bond by sharing stories with one another — “Oh, that happened to you? Here’s what happened to me that was similar…” — not as a way of one-upping each other, but as a way of saying, “I’ve been there, too.” You can do that same thing for your child. It can be hard, even painful, to excavate some of the darker places in our memories. Don’t feel you have to bare your soul right away. It wouldn’t be appropriate in most cases, and it’s not going to meet the child’s needs.

Here are a couple of concrete examples: your child had a rough day at school. She was trying to help a friend who was upset, and the teacher noticed her talking and called her out in front of the rest of the class. When she tells you this, what do you want her to know? Perhaps you want her to know that you understand how important it is to help someone else, even when it could get you into trouble, so you share the story of a time you did that. Maybe you want her to gain the courage to talk to the teacher tomorrow about what happened. You could share a story about a time you had to be brave.

 

There’s no need to tell your child what you want them to get out of the story.

 

Rather, you can ask them about it — What do you think I learned from that? How do you think my mom felt when she heard that? Try adding sensory details to your story — what did it look like, sound like, smell like, in your 3rd grade classroom? Paint a picture with your words, and then let it dissolve. Let your child decide what to do with the story. She will take the action she’s ready to take.

Perhaps you notice that your children have been leaving their toys or sports equipment in the yard where it could be damaged by the rain, or by a pet, or could even be stolen. You might remember how you left your tennis racquet on the back steps and your dad stepped on it and bent the frame. He was okay, and you were kind of able to straighten out the racquet, but it was never quite the same after that.

Now, this is the hard part for me, when there is a specific behavior I want to see change: resist the urge to say, “And that, dear children, is why you must go pick up all the baseball bats, soccer balls, and rhythmic gymnastic apparatus from the yard RIGHT NOW!”

Rather, tell the story during a time that isn’t cleanup time, and talk about the story with your children without trying to lead them to a particular behavior. Then, when it’s time to clean up the next day, or the next week, you might say, “Gosh, I know I was really sad when that tennis racquet got bent out of shape. I really don’t want you to have to go through that.” Keep your tone earnest and matter-of-fact.

It’s not a cure-all. And to be honest, what’s even more important than their capability to influence and instruct, is that these stories help you to create a connection.

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My favorites from my mom’s childhood, were the ones that involved her sisters or cousins, and the trouble they got into. Especially as I moved through the nine-year change and into early adolescence, these stories were a way to understand my mom as a fallible, good-hearted person, able to laugh at her mistakes and learn from them. I loved, and still do, hearing the story of how grandma was too short to reach the pedals on the big 1930s car, so she and a friend learned to drive together, one steering, and one working the pedals. Their license had both their names on it! I learned creativity and resourcefulness from that one. My family, as far as I know, weren’t on a mission to teach me those things through those stories, but their choice to tell those stories spoke volumes to me about what we, as a family, valued and stood for.

The stories you share don’t have to have a particular goal or value in mind that you want to pass on to your kids. Sometimes, you might not even know why a particular story springs to mind, and it might be just the one they most need to hear right then. And then, sometimes your stories will fall flat. That’s just the way it is. Keep trying, keep telling, but also keep listening. The story that failed, might be needed later; and in the failing you might figure out which story you wish you had told instead. You can still tell it. Please do.

You can share memories that are more recent, too! If your child has a misunderstanding with a friend, you can share about a misunderstanding you’ve had, even just the other day. No need to get into too much detail or too many adult reflections — “I was really mad, because I thought she’d said something mean about me to our friend. I had heard something from another friend, and I was sad and hurt. When I asked her about it, she explained the whole conversation, and it was actually about something else. I was really glad I asked, even though it was hard.”

The stories we choose to share communicate so much about our values and our own perceptions of life. By passing them on to our children, we are giving them a gift from a past more distant than they can touch themselves, one that can carry them forward into the future with courage and a sense of belonging. Right now, those are two things of which our world is in dire need, so let’s start small, and really listen and share with the people around us, no matter how big or small they are.

~Sara



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Sara Renee Logan has been telling stories to anyone who would listen since she was seven. Many years as a Waldorf teacher allowed her to tell stories about everything from Baba Yaga's hut on chicken legs, to the water cycle, to the life of Joan of Arc.   She continues to share her love of storytelling and stories with audiences of all ages, specializing in bringing the wild beauty of folktales to young and old. Sara has a home on the web at sarareneelogan.com where she shares stories of her life, tips, and ideas for parents and other storytellers.  Sara offers coaching services and the Story/Reading process of story-based biography exploration that guides seekers to look deeply into their own life stories through the lens of traditional tales.  Sara shares her life with her partner, Melanie, their son, and an unreasonable family of pets. 

What are Pedagogical Stories?

For millennia, cultures around the world have used stories to teach and to heal. Jesus’ parables
are an example that many people know. Others may be more familiar with Jataka tales, stories
of the Buddha’s incarnations. Still others have learned from the stories of Anansi, of Coyote, of
Nanabouzhoo.

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Why have our elders and teachers chosen stories as the best way to teach and to illustrate so many lessons that cannot be taught solely through direct experience? Why not just say, “Treat the poor kindly,” or, “Don’t trust someone unless you see what they value?” or, “Honor those who came before you?” Those are important things to say, but they aren’t enough. They aren’t
enough, because we are storytelling creatures, and we construct meaning through images, experience, and emotional connection.


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Waldorf teachers will talk about “pedagogical stories” as if that is a term in common use.

 

What the heck is a pedagogical story? It sounds either weird and esoteric, like you need years of schooling to understand it, or else like something horribly distasteful, like castor oil or whatever food you were told as a child was good for you, that tasted like feet.

 

It’s neither. A pedagogical story is a story that leads. Pedagogy means “leading a child” or “teaching,” so these are stories we share with children in order to teach something specific.


That teaching can be something like, “people don’t like it when you hit them,” or “don’t leave
your shoes in the middle of the floor for me to trip over,” or it can be a support for times of
struggle or change.


The questions I hear most frequently about pedagogical stories are, “How is a story going to
help?” and, “How on earth can I come up with a story about THIS?”

 

My quick answers are as follows:


• A story is going to help in a number of ways. First, when you take the time to tell a story, to tell it out loud, without a book, without a script, you are giving a gift of time. This in and of itself is healing. It says to the person or people hearing the story, I am with you, here, now.


• A story is going to help YOU, the adult, because it will allow you the space to step back and see the situation from another perspective. When I told my class stories about my (imaginary) friend Janet and her class at Whispering Winds Waldorf in Walla Walla, Washington (also imaginary), and all the problems they were having, it gave me the chance to find humor and
lightheartedness in the challenges my students were facing and creating.


• Another way a story helps, is by giving the listener the freedom to take in the message of the
story as deeply as they are ready. That might not be very deeply at all, and that has to be okay.
It might also reach them on a profound level whose effects will not be fully appreciable until
adulthood. And, of course, it can be both of these at once.

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How do you come up with a story?

There are so many, many answers to this question. One easy way, is to go and get Susan Perrow’s wonderful book, Healing Stories for Challenging Behavior (Hawthorne Press, 2008). Susan’s work with parents, teachers, and counselors in South Africa, Kenya, New Zealand, Australia, and other countries has fed into this jewel of a book, which gives many, many story examples as well as instructions and inspirations for creating and telling stories.

As an introduction and overview, this is necessarily brief and cursory. There is so much more to be said.

In my next article, I’ll talk specifically about how we can use our own lives as a source
for stories, and how reconnecting with family stories can yield a wealth of material for guiding
and teaching the children in our lives.

~Sara

 

More from Sara:

Why Storytelling? 

Getting Started with Storytelling.


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Sara Renee Logan has been telling stories to anyone who would listen since she was seven. Many years as a Waldorf teacher allowed her to tell stories about everything from Baba Yaga's hut on chicken legs, to the water cycle, to the life of Joan of Arc.   She continues to share her love of storytelling and stories with audiences of all ages, specializing in bringing the wild beauty of folktales to young and old. Sara has a home on the web at sarareneelogan.com where she shares stories of her life, tips, and ideas for parents and other storytellers.  Sara offers coaching services and the Story/Reading process of story-based biography exploration that guides seekers to look deeply into their own life stories through the lens of traditional tales.  Sara shares her life with her partner, Melanie, their son, and an unreasonable family of pets.