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Celebrating Michaelmas

The seasons are shifting.

For some of us the relief of fall is on the horizon. For others, the arrival of spring has been long awaited.

Last week I noticed that I was craving soup. Like, CRAVING. Never mind that it's still in the mid 90's where we live. For Brian, this seasonal shifting means a trip to our local foothills and his beloved Apple Hill (insert images of apple cider, apple donuts, etc, etc, here). Of course, we're a few weeks ahead of ourselves still, but....it's coming. Can you smell it?

Michaelmas is approaching as well. This brings to mind the year that Brian almost (almost) had our kids believing that he saw a Michaelmas dragon sale going up in the parking lot of a local chain store near us. Think Christmas tree lot, but with dragons of assorted temperaments, colors and sizes. Thankfully our kids (mostly) appreciate our sense of humor. So far anyway.

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Here are two pieces that we love for this time of year.

"Modern parenting seems to dictate that we should protect our children from the bogey and even from knowledge of its existence. But “it is in the world already.” Children know the terrors that lurk under the bed, in the dark, and in the whispers of grownups. 

With fairy tales and golden capes and wooden swords and songs, we stop lying to them. When we show them the monsters and evil hiding in the stories, and help them shape their weapons, when we give them the words to “conquer fear and wrath,” we validate what they already know – that there are dragons." 

On Dragons and Making Swords... read the full piece here



No matter which hemisphere you call home, this piece also offers many ideas for consideration. 

"As a Waldorf-inspired homeschooler, you have no doubt noticed that a healthy festival life is one of the anchors around which Waldorf Education is organized. These rituals and festivals have traditionally contributed to the stability of communities of the past, and now brick-and-mortar schools of current time. They create an opportunity to relate to the seasons, and to each other.

What then, does this mean for those of us who have chosen to leave a local Waldorf school, or, to never attend one at all? What meaning do these festivals, or feast days as they are traditionally called, have when they are practiced in much smaller group settings without institutional support, or even at home within individual families?" 

In Praise of Balance: A Healthy Festival Life ... read the full piece here

Additionally, take a look at our Michaelmas Pinterest board for plenty of ideas, tutorials and resources.

All our best to you,

Robyn & Brian Wolfe


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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

 

 

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.

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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.

 


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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


Related content:


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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.