Sunday, July 20, 2014

Curriculum Review and Give Away: Lavender's Blue Homeschool Kindergarten Curriculum


***All opinions in the post are my own and are without compensation.  I'm just sharing the joy I found through this curriculum :) ***

A year ago, I made the best homeschooling decision I have ever made.

I switched to Waldorf from a more classical approach.

And I didn't know what I was doing.

At all.

After spending time on some of the Waldorf facebook groups, I felt like I needed to buy so many things to make our new lifestyle a reality. I felt overwhelmed by the "must dos" and "do nots" I was seeing all over the computer screen, I thought that maybe this wasn't going to work.

But after digging through the superficial blogs and facebook posts, I found a blog that really resonated with me.

One of the very first things I read about homeschooling the Waldorf way that made me feel confident that it was a path I could take was this blog post, written by Kelly from Lavender's Blue Homeschool.

It centered around music and movement in the kindergarten years, one of the things I was aching to add back in to our lives after a very stressful classical year.

After spending the night reading through every. single. blog post Kelly had written, I knew not only that Waldorf was the way I wanted to go, but that I really wanted to try her Kindergarten curriculum.

My main concern though, was my rising first grader and my newly four year old.  Would I be able to use the kindergarten curriculum with both of them?  After many emails back and forth with Kelly, where she answered all of my million questions with warmth and understanding, I knew that this was the curriculum for me.

Kelly's Kindergarten Curriculum is a four season curriculum, with each season lasting 12 weeks. Each season starts with a general introduction to building a Waldorf - inspired homeschool and life style.  I knew right away that Kelly was a great fit for my family when I read this, just five pages in:

"Teaching kindergarten is more about creating a healthy home life than anything else,
and the essentials will express themselves differently for every family. They don’t lend
themselves to a structured curriculum - they will come from the heart and soul, culture
and traditions of your own unique family. The goal is not to be some kind of clone of
what you think a Waldorf family looks like or what you see at the local Waldorf fair, the
dreamy online toy catalogue, or the gorgeous blogs and books that you read.
I will give you ideas to think about, but then you can rely on your heart and intuition to
decide what works best for your family and helps your child thrive. You will learn this
by doing it, living it, always observing your child, and adjusting as you go.
"
                                                                                                           ~ Kelly Erhman

I immediately felt that this was something I could do, and something that I could tailor to meet the needs of my family, and not make our family meet the needs of a curriculum (although I didn't need to change anything at all to meet our families needs!).



Kelly gives an introduction to all the major aspects of a Waldorf kindergarten, taking you through the how-tos of things like beeswax modeling, water colour painting, telling stories, and handwork. Her explanations are simple and easy to follow, and really leave you feeling like you can do it. Most importantly, Kelly focuses on how to create a joyful and magical kindergarten experience, by building the home life and creating a strong base that will carry you through early childhood and beyond.


The curriculum focuses first and foremost on creating a rhythm in your home and centers around circles that are full of beautiful folk tales, songs, painting and modeling, finger plays and hand crafts that are seasonal, but secular. What I really loved about the circles is they are something that has grown in to a tradition for our family.  My children eagerly anticipate the stories each week and spend the whole week re-enacting them and singing the songs from circle.

My concerns about blending kindergarten and first grade were unfounded.

My first grader enjoyed the circles and activities just as much as my kindergartener, and the curriculum has taught me how to carry a circle so well that I feel confident I will be able to continue for all the upper grades as well. The weekly painting and modeling activities have all been hits with my children and the hand crafts have gently built my children's ability to the point where they often pull out supplies and make things on their own. The hand crafts have also become a special way for my children to create a home made gift for the ones they love.

What I gained more than anything else was an understanding of Waldorf beyond the pretty toys, gnomes and Elsa Beskow books.  Kelly's curriculum gave me the base that I needed to build a strong rhythm for my family, a home life that centers around calm and joy, and a mindset that sees the wonders of early childhood and embraces it.  The ongoing support I receive from Kelly has been invaluable and it got me through those first weeks of transition and through any time that I have felt like I needed help getting back on track.

I have recommended Kelly's Kindergarten Curriculum to many of my friends, and now I have shared with you the joy it has brought to our family!

I am especially excited to announce that Kelly has worked hard and long all year long to put that same care and gentle guidance in to a grade one curriculum!

To celebrate the launch, I an honoured to host a giveaway, my first here on the blog.

The giveaway is for a complete kindergarten OR first grade curriculum!  You get to choose :)

All you need to do is leave a comment below about why you think a Lavender's Blue Homeschool curriculum would be a good fit for your family.

This giveaway will run from Sunday July 20th to Wednesday July 23rd, 2014. A person will be chosen at random and announced here on the blog on Wednesday evening, 8:00pm ET.

Please note: Anonymous posts will be disregarded, so make sure to put your first name and last initial!

Kelly is also offering a great discount on her first grade curriculum.  Until Thursday, July 24th, enter the coupon code YES and receive 50% the purchase of the first grade curriculum!  A great deal! Click the button below for more information on the first grade curriculum :)
http://lavendersbluehomeschool.com/first-grade-curriculum/


Cheers!

Marina









Thursday, July 17, 2014

Weekly Rhythm


(This is the second post in a series of posts about rhythm.  You can find the first one here )

"How do you find time to clean your house?"

That is one of the most frequent questions I get and see floating around the internet when it comes to homeschooling.

Being in the house every day, it does tend to get a tad messy.  I once had a friend say that nice thing about working all day and having the kids in school is they don't have time to make the house messy.  Good point!

So, when we are spending the day homeschooling and living in our houses, how do we find the time to clean? 

This is where Waldorf is my saving grace.  One of the first things Waldorf stresses is for wee ones to take part in many of the housekeeping chores that take place each day.

Steiner encouraged parents and teachers to let children fold socks, sweep the floor, wash dishes, etc.  All these things help children develop a sense of awareness over their body and how it works.  It provides them with purposeful movement and different sensory experiences, and it shows them that they are a valuable part of the home environment and that they have something to contribute as well. I know from my own experience that doing chores and being given that responsibility has really helped build my children's self esteem.

Also, I find when my house is scattered and messy, my brain is scattered and messy.  And if mine is scattered and messy, I can only imagine how my littles feel. 

But where do we find the time? 

To keep your clutter and dust bunnies from taking over the house, you need to fit it in to your daily rhythm, by creating a weekly rhythm.

A weekly rhythm is made up of things that don't need to be done daily, but find a place in your lives at least once a week.  For my family, a weekly rhythm is two fold:  homeschooling and homekeeping. 

Our homekeeping rhythm goes like this:

Monday - clean bedrooms, change sheets, vaccum bedrooms

Tuesday - clean dining room and living room

Wednesday - clean bathroom

Thursday - clean office

Friday - Sunday there are no specific cleaning chores to do.

Now, with all that written out, I do need to say that I do some laundry every night, because the electricity is cheaper.  And I also have daily chores that get done to help with upkeep. These include tidying in the kitchen after each meal, wiping down the bathroom before I go to bed, and because we have a dog, I vacuum the first floor each day.  These are a part of our daily rhythm.

Both the children help with chores each day. They put away clothes, they scrub the bath during their bath time, they actually fight over who gets to scrub the toilet or wash the floors (I kid you not), and they are both responsible for keeping their toys in their proper spot and helping me when things need to be organized a bit.  They have been a part of chores from the beginning and take pride in the responsibility.

But doesn't it take longer?  Don't they sometimes do things not quite right?  

Yes.  It typically takes longer.  And yes, there will be streaks on the bathroom mirror and random dust bunnies that didn't get caught, but those can be quietly and quickly fixed, and those are lessons in themselves.

Gentle reminders and cleaning tips are well received in this house because of the gentle way they are given.  For example: "Oops, one dust bunny was hiding out under the tv stand.  You know how I get those guys?  I switch to the arm instead of using the wheel.  Here, try it!" And that's that.

And because we stay on top of things on a weekly basis, it typically only takes about a half hour in the afternoon to get everything done that needs doing on that day (we only have about 1100 square feet of space total) leaving lots of time for all the other things we'd rather be doing.

In order for this to work we also have "tidy as we go" and "everything has a place (except for that pile of papers I've been shifting for the last four years)" as mottos that we TRY to live by.

And have no fear, if you were to come by any random day, you'd be greeted by a dining table full of books and crayons and a living room with swords and lego and playmobil scattered.  BUT, it will get cleaned and tidied and when we wake in the morning, we start with a fresh slate.

I'm all about the fresh slate :)

Our weekly homeschooling rhythm is totally different, and very fluid.  It is totally focused on experiences for the kids, and while we try and do these things on the specific days, it doesn't mean they aren't done on other days as well.  It is just that these are things the children picked that they really enjoyed doing and wanted to make sure there was time for them each week.

Monday is bake day

Tuesday they are at a nature program

Wednesday is art or music

Thursday is typically a walk to a library or board/card game playing

Friday we are typically on a hike.

The weekends are family time and while we still follow a pretty typical daily rhythm, we don't have anything scheduled for each weekend.

It is important to remember that you can not have a solid weekly rhythm unless your daily rhythm is solid.  I hear of so many parents struggling with rhythm because they try and do everything all at once.

Start small.

Start daily and work up to the bigger stuff.

The mess will still be there in the morning.

I promise.

Marina




Monday, July 7, 2014

Things have changed...

I have really noticed a change in the kids since starting our Waldorf / Charlotte Mason journey.  This has been especially prominent during our trips up north or to the nearest wooded area. 

Here is how they are changing:

1.  Long trips in the car no longer require DVD players or Leap Pads. 

I know.  I KNOW.  Most people in the Waldorf / Charlotte Mason community have already jumped on the no media lifestyle thing.  I have not.  And up until now, the DVD player was a pleasant way to keep the kids entertained on those traffic filled trips up north. 

But something has changed this year. 

The DVD players are still on, but the kids aren't paying any attention.  Instead they are looking out the windows again, noticing what is around them, chattering endlessly about the animals, rattling fact after fact they have picked up from read alouds, and calling out the shapes they see in the clouds.  And they also aren't bickering, but creating games and laughing and enjoying their time together. 



(On a side note, I wouldn't be totally truthful if I said I was 100% thrilled with this development.  Don't get me wrong, I know how wonderful it is.  I KNOW this is better than having them stare at a screen for two hours with earphones on their heads.  But those two hours used to be my time with my husband, where we were able to have a conversation without the kids really interrupting.  I know this is better, but I crave those hours again to have much needed quiet time with my husband.)

2. Nature is no longer scary

This last year we have really been out in nature.  A lot.  And it has really changed the way my kids see all the creepy crawlies out and about on our journey.  Last year, this would have never happened:

Touching a fuzzy caterpillar? No problem!

Holding a small hopper?  Yay!! (big hoppers are equally exciting, and just as snuggly, but I have yet to get a picture of one because I never seem to get to my camera fast enough.  The big guys are a lot less patient than the little ones.)
Fishing with this huge, body the size of a quarter, creepy crawly hanging out on the dock??  They didn't even bat an eye.


Now, I will admit that if any creepy crawly gets in to the house, there is still some nervousness and need for removal.  Though my son has proudly said that spiders don't bother him anymore unless they are bigger than a dime.  Progress, people, progress.


3. We can be in nature, and enjoy nature. 



There is no grumbling about being cold, hot, bored, tired or not seeing anything.

We can even now sit quietly and draw or paint what we see.  THIS is a miracle in my books, because there is nothing I love better than to attempt to sketch out something I see in nature.

4.  Mama doesn't freak out at the creepy crawlies or random jumpers and sliders that cross our path.

I'm not running to be the first to pick it up, but I'm also not running in the opposite direction. 

Progress people, progress. 

Instead of freaking out I calmly look at their find and we talk about it.  Frogs, turtles, caterpillars and beetles I'm good with handling.  I haven't made it to garden snakes yet, and I'm pretty sure you'll never see me picking up a spider. 

I also have adopted a new reaction to bugs in the house or bunkie.  It goes something like this:

"Hello buggy.  You stay over there, I'll stay over here, nobody gets hurt.  You violate the terms of this agreement and I get the bug catcher."
(something I still hate doing because of the close proximity needed to catch the darn buggers)

This method has worked surprisingly well. I seem to have a knack for communicating with bugs.

And most importantly, the fifth and most wonderful change I have noticed:

5. We NOTICE things now that we never paid attention to before.  

We hear the birds chirping, even when we are in the house, and can now easily identify all the major backyard birds we've encountered.  New bird sounds?  That is like a treasure hunt.  We grab the binoculars, our bird books and our bird app and try and piece it together until we have figured out what type of bird it is.  

Just yesterday during our main lesson, Alexander froze and turned his head toward the window.  He had heard the first of the cicada bugs.  Now he looks for skins on all the trees hoping to see where they are drying their wings. 

Over the weekend they noticed a difference in the pile of leaves way off in a corner of our garden.  There was a very small hole on top of the pile, and after waiting for a long long time, they saw the nose of a little chipmunk poking out. 

The list is endless, and so is the excitement they feel when they discover something new.  

If nothing at all measurable ever comes out of homeschooling my kids, if this whole thing totally flops right in my face, I will know that one thing worked and was worth this crazy journey. 

My kids have a connection with the earth, and if we continue to foster its growth, will never be broken and will always shape who they are and the decisions they make.

And that makes me one happy mama.

Cheers!

Marina



Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Creating Rhythm





When we were first introduced to Waldorf philosophy I was drawn to its focus on nature.  The celebration of of the seasons and really getting in touch with the cycles of the earth.  

Since my daughter's birth, we have been ruled by the moon.  She has always been affected by the full moon, something I didn't notice until she was about a year old.  There were always three days of the month where she was just inconsolable and when I finally put it together, it changed the way I viewed those days.  I prepared for them. I embraced them. And to this day, I plan accordingly. 

I have an app.  Seriously.  We need this level of preparation. 

One of the lovely side effects of adopting a Waldorf inspired homeschool is that it reminds me how connected we ALL are to the earth, and how realizing this can bring a sense of calm to the home.

We found our sense of calm through creating rhythm.  Rhythm is one of those key phrases you hear thrown around when people talk about Waldorf lifestyle, one that many struggle with creating.  There are three main types of rhythm, daily, weekly and seasonal and some people, like those of us that are ruled by moon cycles, also follow a monthly rhythm.

I have found that the key to creating a daily rhythm is to create a strong core.


To find what the core of your rhythm is, just watch your family for a few days.  What are the main points of your day?  What are things that happen every day around the same time?  Make note of how every one behaves, how they feel emotionally and physically. Is After observing your family for a few days you should have a good feel of how everyone functions throughout the day, what the pivotal moments are that create the core of every day. If you don't feel you have a strong understanding of the ebb and flow of your day after a few days, just stick with it for a few more.

Remember though, you are looking for patterns only.  You are not looking for the same thing to happen at the same time each day.  You are only looking for similarities across a few days.

Once you have found the similarities, these will be your anchors. These will be the events that feed your rhythm throughout the day, provide the transition from one event to the next.

I will use my rhythm as an example.   When I followed our days, three distinct patterns appeared.  Food, dog walks and afternoons.  Our days are anchored by our meals.  they need to happen at around the same time each day or the kids start to fall apart.  Our dog also needs to be walked twice a day, morning and evening.  And afternoons in the summer equal heat, which translated in to kids that were over heated and cranky by the end of outdoor play time. 

I used these anchors to create our rhythm, using the dog walks as transition times (in the morning it transitioned us to circle time, in the evening to our evening gardening), meal times as anchor points, and the afternoon heat as something to avoid that wasn't working in our days.  We switched around some things in the morning so that we would have lots of outdoor time in the morning, and moved our main lessons to the afternoon after everyone has had their lunch.

I did this observation in the summer.  For winter, our rhythm changes slightly and I will talk about that in a different post.  Right now lets focus on daily. 



Here is what our rhythm looks like right now.
  • Wake, eat, get dressed
  • Walk dog
  • Circle
  • Outdoor time
  • Lunch
  • Main Lessons
  • Free play time
  • Handwork/art/baking (weekly activities typically go here)
  • Outdoor time
  • Tidy
  • Dinner
  • Reading
  • Dog Walk
  • Gardening / outdoor time
  • Read aloud and snack
  • Bedtime Routine

The one thing I really want to stress is there are no times associated with rhythm.  Rhythm is all about transitioning from one activity to another calmly, not because it is time to do so, but because the activity or event in complete and it is time to move on to the next.  It isn't about ushering in one activity after the other for the sake of doing things and checking them off a list, it is about mindfully choosing events in your life and letting their predictability guide your days. 

Things change, new and exciting things happen.  But the wonderful thing about a rhythm is you can pick up where you need to.  You are not a slave to the clock.  Last minute afternoon play date?  That's great!  Pick up after dinner.  Quick run to the store needed in the morning?  No worries, just pick up the next thing you want to do and go with it.  Away for a weeks vacation?  Wonderful!  Bring your rhythm, or parts of it, with you, or drop the rhythm and get back to it when the holiday is over.

Just make sure that your anchor points are strong and you can always get back to your core rhythm.  It takes commitment, yes.  It isn't something that builds itself and it does take work to find one that works and then stick to it. But the most important thing is to find what makes your family run smoothly and calmly and focus on those events that keep you smiling instead of hassled.

And most importantly, don't stress over it.  It takes some people longer than others to find their rhythm.  You will find yours.

I promise.

Cheers!

Marina



Sunday, June 22, 2014

Summer Solstice


 We had our first summer solstice celebration yesterday.  We have always talked about the first day of summer, but never have we immersed ourselves in the longest day of the year.  One thing we have fully adopted from the Waldorf philosophy is living in the seasons and really letting them guide our activities. 

To celebrate the solstice, the kids and I sat down and brainstormed some ideas.  We had my nephews over for the weekend, so the kids decided first and foremost, they would be playing outside for most of the day to make the most of all the daylight. 

The second idea was make glass lanterns with tissue paper.  The kids wanted to have candles burning after sunset to keep the "sun fire awake a little longer". 

Our lanterns

My idea was to make paper boats and float candles in the kiddie pool.  We have been doing a lot of paper folding lately, and this provided the perfect opportunity to put our creations to use.

Our fleet
 After a full day of playing outside, we ate a meal that included the first fruits of our vegetable garden (lettuce with chives and a parsley and basil salad dressing) that we purposely waited to harvest on this day. Then we went out to create some art with rocks around our lanterns.  Truth be told, I think I had more fun than the kids did.  My little man has asked to do this over again as he felt he didn't spend enough time creating his rock art.  The call of his cousins, who finished quite quickly, was too much. 

Working to create some rock art

And then we waited for the sun to fall.  We played outside for a bit longer and then enjoyed a movie with some treats.  Finally it was time!  We went out and each child lit their lantern and then they walked through the garden.  There was an air of reverence between them, their voices hushed as they quietly discussed the patterns they made and the fun they had on the longest day.


They also spun the boats around the pool by creating a whirl in the center with their hands (science, check!)

After they had enough, they went in to get ready for bed and I stayed outside to take a couple more pictures.  After a few minutes I realized the house was dark but for a small glow coming from the living room.  The kids had shut all the lights and when I listened I could hear them telling a train story (when one person starts the story and other add to it).  It was lovely to hear their chatterings as I soaked up some much needed peace in the back yard (five kids is a loud undertaking!)



And now that it is all over, I am SOOOOOOOO excited that we are falling back in to darkness!  I am by far a lover of fall and winter and am excited to be returning to shorter days and longer nights.  Our rhythm just seems to flow so much better without all this dang sunlight ;)

I hope you all enjoyed your Summer Solstice!

Cheers,
Marina

Thursday, June 19, 2014

A Year in Review and a bucket list.

One of the MANY things I love about homeschooling is the ability to slow down and catch a breath when it is needed. Last week we had one of those days. 

At ten in the morning we were still in jammies, curled up in the living room, each one of us doing our own thing.

I was working my way through a book about learning to draw.

Little man was drawing plans for his next Minecraft creation.

Little lady was playing with her sticker book.

It was lovely that we didn't need to go anywhere. We were basking in the emptiness of the day ahead.

About twenty minutes later, my little man declared it the start of summer.  "We have no more classes now until the fall.  This is what I want to do all summer."

Well okay then.  I asked him if he enjoyed his classes this year and we dove in to a long discussion about all the things he loved, and didn't like so much, this year.

On his like list:
  • Woodworking
  • Garden Class 
  • Minecraft
  • chalkboard math
  • circle time with singing and poems
  • learning to read, 
  • copy work, 
  • hiking
  • (field) trips with friends, 
  • writing out the grocery list, 
  • baking, 
  • planting the garden, 
  • drawing maps while we walk around the neighbourhood

On his didn't like list:
  • Boring trips, 
  • writing stories

I'm really happy that he feels he had such a successful year. We tried some different things this year, with a focus on hands on activities and LOTS of outdoor time, based on his feedback about homeschooling last year. I really feel that made the difference this year.  Most of what we did was right from his suggestions last year.

He then created a list of all the things he would like to do in the coming months.  A bucket list, so to speak.  He was really excited about creating this list, and has since added some things and written it all out so he can cross things off as we do them.

On his to do list:
  • garden class again
  • more woodworking, 
  • make a Minecraft book, 
  • learn how to make a Lego Movie, 
  • read more so he can read his big pirate chapter book all by himself,
  • learn to bake muffins on his own, 
  • take a survival class, 
  • be a pioneer for a week (this one should be interesting for all of us),
  • practice printing because, and I quote, "I want to write so many words but my fingers aren't strong enough and my brain doesn't know enough words on its own.",
  • play in a creek, 
  • learn to skip stones, 
  • go to SportBall classes.

A pretty thorough list if you ask me, covering lots of different areas of his life.  It looks like we have fun times ahead of us!


My little lady added some things of her own:
  • more painting and crafts
  • make puppets
  • make an Elsa dress

I'll be using this list of activities as we map out our next few months, making sure to continue to incorporate our outdoor time and hands on activities.  The rhythm we have established over the last year has become the one thing that ground us, allowing us the freedom to add new activities and the security of knowing that certain things will always be a part of our day.   It centers us and helps us through the hairy times.

And I'm sure there will be some hairy times to come!  Especially if we all have to be pioneers for a week!!

Cheers!
Marina

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Lesson Learned

Well look at that.

A whole "school year" has come and gone since my last blog post.

I was busy with the business of homeschooling.  And when I wasn't busy with the business of homeschooling, I was pursuing my own interests which kept me away from the blog.

We had a very successful year, although our learning isn't completed.  We are what some people call year long home learners without a summer break.

What we really are is a family that learns together all the time.

I've been reading many blogs the last few days, many of them focusing on what the mamas have learned since they began the homeschooling journey. So I thought I would take a moment and do the same.

So many things have gone well since we started homeschooling two years ago.  A few things haven't meshed well with us.  And some things we never got around to doing.

Two things that really work well were our focus on Waldorf and Charlotte Mason styles of education, and continuing to focus on bringing more cheer and calm to our family through stories and song.

The biggest thing I learned this year was that perfection is over rated. I'm a planner by nature, but waiting to start doing something until all the pieces fell in to place was draining my energy and halting our discoveries.

So I let go of the elaborate plans and now, when we find an interest, we just go with it.

I let go of some of the control, and surprisingly enough, feel more in control of our lives.

Before, I was always chasing the dream of creating the perfect situation to learn something.

But the perfect situation to learn something is when nothing is perfect.

The perfect situation to learn something is when the spark has been lit and we follow its light to see where it takes us.

Sometimes it leads us exactly where I thought it would.

But more often than not, it leads us on a wonderful adventure we could have never anticipated.



That was a great lesson to learn.

Cheers,
Marina