Friday, June 29, 2012

Creating a Homeschool Curriculum from Scratch, Part 1

My first step in creating our kindergarten year for Jetta will be to begin to formulate a plan and work on the curriculum.  Curriculum simply refers to what skills, topics, and themes are covered in your year, whether that be the alphabet and numbers 1-20 or Shakespeare.  There are layers to curricula that can be delved into more deeply,  and you can read about those here.  For my purposes, I'm starting with, basically, a list of what I want to cover.  How I cover it will be addressed after this list is formulated.  And depending on what kind of homeschooling  you are doing, you may not even want a list.  Part of my inner experience is a need for knowing where I'm going, so even if I don't pull this list out and check it off as we go (I probably won't) it will give me a sense of direction and a sense of being on track.

Since I am in the state of Texas, I will start with TEKS (Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills).  This is an annoyingly long and wordy listing of essential skills and knowledge that the public school teachers in Texas have to address in each grade level.  When I taught seventh grade, it was like Greek to me.  My training had been way back in the day and had dealt with Essential Elements.  Yes, I understand the language and intent, but looking at it feels redundant and overwhelming all at the same time.  Nonetheless, it's what I will measure against for whether we have covered what needs to be covered according to the public school, and will give me an opportunity to disagree with the state of Texas and discard what I don't feel is appropriate.  If you're in Texas, or just feeling like checking it out, you can see the TEKS for kindergarten and all other grades here.  While these are very detailed, it is the details that might encourage a more thoughtful teaching experience for me and learning experience for the girls.  And the cool thing about it is that it gives me the golden key to what would be taught in a public school classroom.  It takes away the mystery and opens the door for me to choose to give Jetta a "public school education" at home.  But who says I'm choosing that?

My next stop will be Oak Meadow.  Oak Meadow is the most popular Waldorf-based home education curriculum available, is relatively inexpensive (though it is in the hundreds of dollars) and keeps things pretty simple.  If I were inclined to indulge in buying curriculum, this would be the one I purchased.  Since that's not what we're doing, I still go this page and refer to their kindergarten overview.  This prints out nicely and will be "the other end of the specturm" for me, the contrast to the TEKS that grounds my process.  Oak Meadow is not traditional Waldorf education in that they do introduce letters and reading a little earlier, but they are still much more relaxed (for good reason, to be discussed in a later post) about introducing reading so early.

In the process of searching for curricula and checklists, I also found these great options.  Here is one public school that has created their own checklist for parents.  It's longer than some, but detailed enough to give a full sense of what needs to be covered.  I also found this checklist at really groovy blog called Glitterful Felt Stories.  And finally, here is this worksheet for checking minimum skills at the end of your kindergarten year.  It's particularly abrupt and not my preference, but convenient and very "printable."

Other methods for knowing what to cover is to simply stop by any book store or big box department store and check out their workbooks.  This might not give you a checklist, but for very inexpensively you can have a worksheet for the necessary skills and something that could stand alone as your entire curriculum if you needed it to.  My preference is to have more hands-on activities that create a passion for what is being learned and for pleasure in the process.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

An Element of Honesty

There was a whole lot of craziness in the process of teaching public school.  The demands on teachers are enormous and the demands on students are just as hefty.  I remember seeing the intense exhaustion that my mother would have from the hours put in as a teacher and I am enjoying seeing the elation my oldest sister has at being free from the job of wrangling 30 or so kids everyday.  While it will be different with my own children, there will, no doubt, be some craziness at times while homeschooling them.  And I am determined to find a flow that will accommodate our natures and envigorate the process.

I've started the process of dreaming.  I'm dreaming of the ideal, dreaming of just what will make everything work for us.  And no, it doesn't involve street speed or high doses of caffeine.  I finished my collage this morning and, as I mentioned in the previous blog, the things we need less of and the things we need more of were not quite as extensive a list as I anticipated.  They had become bigger in my mind, exaggerated, and once I put them on paper in front of me I could seem them for what they were.  But I really want to be honest with myself about it all so I can take the bull by the horns and make it all work.

Things I need less of:

1.  worry
2.  internet
3.  sugar
4.  grains and starch
5.  people who don't approve of me wanting to homeschool the girls

Things the girls need less of:

1.  TV
2.  late nights
3.  obsessive worrying from their mother about whether it will all work out

The weight of worry that I had over this made these things feel like the list would be much longer, in the dozens.  Putting this into visual framework really lifted the burden for me and allowed me to see just how simple it is at this point.  Basically, what we need less of is tv and internet.

Let me elaborate a little:  we don't watch television programming, don't pay for cable, and don't sit around watching tv all day, but there is this point in the day when I need a break-- I needed a break about four years ago and that just hasn't really happened.  So I turn on movies for them and escape into a cyber existence in order to find a sense of self.  This isn't entirely evil, but it's not what is best for all of us. 

And oh, yeah, lets not forget sugar and grains.  Yeah, I definitely need less of those.  They cloud my judgment and increase my slothfulness, so that needs to be tackled too.

Now for things we need more of:

1.  real life activities both inside the house and outside the house
2.  fun!  face to face time!
3.  a more consistent connection to nature
4.  a more predictable connection to being nurtured-- and being nurtured more by extended family
5.  intuition
6.  hiking, library, play, crafts, books, expression, dancing, rhythms!

What we really need is time together in the morning, a little independence just after lunch, activities  through the afternoon, and an earlier bedtime.

A couple of potential issues that have been brought up over the past week or so from friends and sisters are:

1.  if Jetta starts kindergarten in school, she won't have to deal with that "first year" experience later (you know, when we fail at homeschooling)
2.  how will I get time for myself if I am always with my kids?

While my sarcastic comment about failing at homeschooling is noted, I am taking these concerns genuinely.  I want to put it on the table and address it.  But it's not really all that complicated.  If, for any reason, the girls have to or choose to enter public school later, then I'm hoping I'll have prepared them for that.  Summer camps seem like a great place to encourage being comfortable in an independent (from me) group experience, but they'll be visiting playgroups and library storytime weekly as well.  And the most obvious way to find time for myself is to get our daily schedule (and bedtimes) a little more structured.  We cosleep, so the girls tend to wake up with me in the morning.  What I need is for them to have an earlier bedtime than me.  A couple hours a day to enjoy my time would do wonders.  And if I need more than that (I'm sure I will), then we can always work around my husband's schedule.

Next stop:  the big picture plan, gathering information from all sources to formulate a checklist of skills that need to be addressed.

Beginning the Plan

With my husband at work for the Summer Solstice, the kids and I spent the day doing creative things.  This is really beneficial for us.  It brings us all together at the table, it gets us away from the television and computer, and fills the long days, in this case, the longest day.

I have started the process of sorting out in my mind what we will need more of and less of if we homeschool the girls.  As my sister has stated a few times, I worry and research over things more than anyone she knows.  Part of that worry and research is about the time it takes me to convince myself of something.  My energy is a blend of water (Pisces sun, Scorpio rising) and earth (Taurus moon) and I am EASILY stuck in the mud.  I don't mean I'm boring, a real stick-in-the-mud.  I mean that I get stuck and can't move from one place to the next in order to make decisions, become productive, etc.  It's emotional and energetic and while I am waiting for my system to catch up, mind has to do something!

So I have done a collage to visualize the things I think we need.  What has surprised me is that the list was much shorter than I anticipated.  These things got bigger and more powerful in my mind while I couldn't see them in front of me, but now that I've put them on paper and given it space it seems like it is much more manageable.  And in wanting this to be something that validated my desire for creating a sustainable plan for my family, I gave space to the positive results we will get by choosing to wildschool our girls, and by choosing to make certain compromises in order to do it.

Taking the positive results that I can expect and giving them as much space, or more, than the things I think we need to change was pretty powerful for me.  That part of my brain that only translates information through symbols is really benefiting from that.  There is a part of me that has been separated from that over the last few years, just because life has taken a different path, and I'm intensely grateful to be remembering what a valuable tool this is.

(In the next blog, I'll address how I my plan is evolving and how you can shape your own plan as a first time homeschooler.)

Monday, June 18, 2012

Fit for Failure

This summer is proving that it will be worthy of any transformation theme.  I am working hard at getting my mind straight, quieting fears and listening to my intuition about what is right for the path ahead.  Part of this process involves the detailed weighing of pros and cons about homeschooling.  I am having to peel back the layers of others' ideas that remain stuck in my head, argue against them, and then toss them aside. 

I know there are thousands and thousands of kids who are homeschooled each and every day without issue, but being that we are standing on the edge of a cliff and the drop will be the impact on my child, I want to make sure I have what it takes to make it what it should be.  So much of the school environment was about failure for me, so I'm thinking a lot about that.  I have decided I need to hold up some of that failure and look at it for what it really was. 

I failed (and for many of these, continue to fail) at the following things in public school.

1.  I failed at LINEAR THINKING.

2.  I failed at CONFORMITY.

3.  I failed at CONTEMPORARY ideals of BEAUTY, so I also failed at DATING, DANCES, AND HOMECOMING.

4.  I failed at STAYING IN THE LOOP.

5.  Okay, I failed at GEOMETRY my sophomore year, but that was really more about the task of homework than anything else.

6.  I failed at respecting ARBITRARY RULES.


I think it's time to own some of the things I excelled and that did not quite fit with the public school format.

1.  I excelled at DREAMING.

2.  I excelled at USING MY IMAGINATION.

3.  I excelled at BEING DIFFERENT.

4.  I excelled at WANTING MORE.


6.  Yes, sometimes I excelled at extra-curricular activities, like BASKETBALL and THEATRE.

7.  I excelled at LEARNING VERY LITTLE, and still managing to get the same degree everyone else got.

If given the opportunity to excel in whatever they choose, I wonder what would stir the hearts of my daughters?

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Wildschooling for Wild Spirits!

Wildschooling. Waldorf meets shamanism, art meets hiking, dance meets the four elements. Wildschooling: Schooling that promotes the wild spirit, that encourages the stirring of the inner fires and creative expression beyond water colors and beeswax. Wildschooling: Schooling that not only encourages the eruption of the unbound inner self, but also nurtures it, coaxes it, and teaches it to be bold and brave when facing both the mundane and mystical worlds.

Nature and her inherent wildness is what I look to when I need comfort and a sense of deep connection to the world. And as much as modern advancements have made life "easier," all that advancement seems to make it harder to find ourselves. As we make the commitment to homeschool Jetta and Jade, I know, in my intuitive core, that showing them the way to their inner experience must be a part of what we do. Helping them grow into a commitment to their inner, untamed nature is paramount.

I love Waldorf education. I love the natural materials (though not the cost) and I love the creativity that is used to foster every child's spirit and every child's ability to learn. There is so much about Waldorf homeschooling that feels right for us, but there are also things that just don't click. Modifying a Waldorf curriculum would be easy enough and I have most certainly considered that, but I'm egocentric enough to want something to be tailored to my idealized wants and needs, tailored to who my little wild ones are now and who they will become.

While my background in education is not extensive, it is something that I have known I would return to. I come from a family of teachers and teaching is part of our divine role with the community. My sister, now a retired first grade and kindergarten teacher, will be helping me shape our first year of homeschooling a kindergartner and preschooler and I will attempt to translate some of the traditional demands of public education, lots of nature and creativity from Waldorf, and my desire to have a truly Earth-based curriculum, into something that can at least be a start. With every step, I will share my progress and our efforts, and I hope you'll let me know how I'm doing.