Caveat: I wrote this over a year ago, specifics and rhythms have changed as my children have grown and matured and our lives change. Perhaps I will do an update….A Working Life:

On my bookshelf, a row of familiar books show their broken spines and disintegrating covers. They reveal their frequent use, probably the most read books in my collection. My guess is that it is the most-read collection of books in many homes, homeschooling or not. Laura Ingalls Wilder gave us the most wonderful gift in her writing: a picture of a family life lived in real, palpable and functional work. I am talking about the kind of work that was central and integral to daily survival. This work was not an afterthought to the day, it wasn’t relegated to “chore time”. Nor was its components listed on a chart, complete with rewards and consequences given based on its accomplishment.

This work WAS their life, not a component of it. Woven into daily work was family relationship, community identity, spirituality, sense of “self”, communion with environment and nature, and “education”. In this modern age, these components of self are rudely ripped from each other into separate compartments, leaving us constantly seeking “wholeness” and peace. I could not imagine a childhood classic written today from the perspective of modern mainstream life (or even a Waldorf homeschooling life) that could convey such nourishing and holistic concepts. Can you imagine it?! Perhaps titles like:
“BY THE SLIDING GLASS DOORS OF TRADER JOE’S”
“AT THE PORTAL OF THE YAHOO HOMESCHOOLING GROUP”
“LITTLE SCHOOL IN A 500 DOLLAR CURRICULUM”
“THESE HAPPY GOLDEN MOM’S NIGHTS OUT”
“HIDING IN THE CORNER FROM PLASTIC TOYS AND VIDEO GAMES AT THE COUSINS’ HOUSE”
Maybe some chapters:
“MAMA HUNG THE CHORE CHART”
“FINGERKNITTING WITH SCRATCHY WOOL YARN”
“WHAT DVD’S I CHOSE FOR MY ALOTTED SECRET SCREEN TIME”
“A PLAYDATE AT THE PARK”
“GAMES I PLAYED IN THE CAR”
“NEW HANNA ANDERSSON LEGGINGS AND PLAYDRESS”
“WOOLIES FROM NORWAY FOR CHRISTMAS”

Perhaps I am just cynical, and I certainly often feel that perhaps I was born in the wrong era. However, I think that this longing for real work, and a return to a life lived wholly, not in parts, is universal….especially to us homeschooling mamas. The problem that we face, as children of the 70’s and 80’s now raising children of our own, is that most of us were never taught to work in this way. In fact, our particular definitions of “work”, “education”, “pleasure vs. leisure” and “survival” are so far removed from how these concepts were defined in Laura Ingalls’ time that we don’t even know how to approach life in this way, especially with our children.
When I was growing up, my most important “work” was my “education”. I put these words in quotes because going to school was not “work” that lent itself towards survival and unity of the family and community…and “education” was about a mental and intellectual gathering of facts and skills, not the development of my whole being (body, mind and soul). I was rarely required to do physical or domestic work, as my time was mostly devoted to school and extra-curricular activities. Yes, sometimes I had to sweep a kitchen floor. I was in charge of my own laundry by the time I was 12. However, I had no picture of how an entire household was run and organized. My parents did this work all the while encouraging me “to focus on your education so you can be something more than a housewife or maid”. The daily mundane work required of a family home was considered to be the work of the grown-ups, and relegated to a part of the day allotted to “unfortunately necessary work”. It was seen as a side-effect to life, not life itself. Domestic and physical work was something we had to get through to get to the “real stuff” of life. We were raised to believe that the MORE we focused on our intellectual acuity or “education”, the less of this nasty daily mundane work we would have to worry about when we grew up. A sign of being totally successful was one where we could have others do this gritty day to day household stuff so we could focus on our careers and our passions.
Flash forward to when we all started getting married and having babies. We held our children in our arms, looked into their eyes, and decided that we didn’t want to send them off to school. We all chose something different, we knew (and we still know) that we wanted our children to have an experience of their own lives that is deeper, more home centered and less compartmentalized than what we experienced. Many of us brought our childhood fantasies of a Little House on the Prairie life to our young families. However, because of our lack of “training”, and our culturally skewed views on “work” and “education”, we find ourselves fatigued in our daily life and at constant odds between our ideals and our realities.

I make no pretense here. I do not want to put forward an image that I have it all figured out; and anyone who knows me in real life can attest to the fact that my house is often out of control and messy. I often allow the necessary tasks in front of me pile up while I spend precious hours on a blog or nose deep in a novel. However, through grappling with this subject, I have been able to redefine life and work in a functional way. My children work very hard compared to their contemporaries, and I recently calculated that they spend more literal hours a day engaged in domestic and physical work than in any other single activity.
On so many parenting and homeschooling sites, we see questions like “how do I GET my children to do chores”? Often there are many answers that involve the typical manipulations we perform with children, “getting” them to eat vegetables, clean their rooms and “share” their things. We have tried every chart and reward and punishment system. I have even seen parents make complete clowns of themselves creating elaborate “fun” stories and scenarios that make the chore or undesired request “enjoyable”. So many parents think that if a child expresses displeasure in a task that there is somehow something “wrong”. A child that refuses to work, share or eat vegetables is called “strong-willed”. A child that wilts with a broom in his hand makes us feel as though we have not properly filled him up with the right nourishing stories or foods. Before we try and manipulate our children’s behavior with the application of our own will…let us realize that children wilting at work is the sign of a WEAK will.
Children often do not know how to say “no” to themselves and their own whim of emotion (sound familiar?….I experience this myself faced with a laundry pile that is taller than my 6 year old). Sometimes washing dishes does not feel good, it is not fun. We know this as grown-ups, and perhaps our generation of homemakers feels this more than our forebears for whom work was an assumption of life. So we look in the eyes of little Johnny or Joan, wet with tears over an intense desire to not put the blocks back in the basket, and think “I need to figure out another WAY to GET them to WANT to do their chores”. Hence the cycle of manipulations and struggles and bad feelings and throwing up our hands and just doing it ourselves to get to the other side of chores to the important real stuff of grimm’s fairy tales, pentatonic flute lessons, beeswax modeling and circle songs.

We need to step back from our preconceived notions of work and priorities of family life, and instead of asking “how do I get them to do their chores”, we should ask “how can I re-center my priorities around daily work and elevate these tasks so that they become the most important cornerstone of all facets of our life”? That is what the first part of this essay has been about. Once we redefine, re-center and reevaluate our assumptions, we can get to the how-to. If we don’t first do the philosophical readjustments, anything we try or do will be another materialistic scaffold that will eventually make us feel imprisoned. I offer now a picture of what I have done in my own home that seems to be working, at least for now….not as a “method” but an example of one family’s WAY and CULTURE of home life. I also freely admit that this is a picture of us on our very BEST days…and that many days are nothing close to this ideal. You will certainly create your own ways and means through your own journey in redefining your relationship with work.

I no longer consider myself as completely responsible for the home and housework. I may be the shift manager, or lead homemaker, but all of us in the family are responsible for the running of the home. My daughter, now actively in that 9 year change, craves responsibility. She is responsible for breakfast, and makes toast, oatmeal or pancakes every morning without my supervision. I have even trained her to make coffee in the press and bring me a cup in bed. Yes, I am admitting this to you! (you might vacillate between horror and jealousy on this point) She is such an early riser, and quite frankly, I need an extra hour most mornings….so this works for us. We have a notebook where she writes a letter to me every night, talking about things she is thinking about, and asking about the next day. She leaves it next to the bathtub for me. When I am filling my nightly bath, I write back to her. I write to her loving thoughts, and also give her responsibilities for the next day that she needs to attend to. I give her ownership over that first hour of the morning, and often by the time I have risen for the day, she has already accomplished much household work. This simple early morning breakfast is not eaten until everyone is dressed and beds made. I am not afraid of them starving because they don’t want to make a bed. And they won’t die from eating cold oatmeal through tear stained eyes after finally relenting to making their bed.

After this first part of the morning, we head up to the barns to do the barn chores. Sometimes I send the kids up on their own to do them while I prepare for the homeschooling or other portion of the day. My husband and I have spent many hours teaching the children how to do these chores, by working alongside with them, then eventually giving them the GREAT PRIVILEGE of doing these tasks all by themselves. We often spend hours up in the barns. Besides the watering, feeding and mucking that needs to be done, we spend time hugging the goats. We pet the horses and take them on walks around the paddock and pastures. The kids will get lost in a puddle, using gravel and sand to build a tributary where they float a bark and leaf boat. We strike a balance between the necessary work and the freedom of experiencing our environment. I make sure that most of our commitments are home-based, not outside of the home, so that we don’t have to quickly push through our chores to get to our co-op, playdate or class. Chores and deep unstructured time in play become one in a way that is impossible in an overly structured and scheduled life. I remember in the Little House books, Laura and Mary would play alongside the work being done, seamlessly moving in and out…the work and the play were ONE. This is just “what we are doing”….not “something we have to do”.

If the barn chores take 30 minutes or 3 hours, we then move on to the “BIG BREAKFAST”. This is a hearty meal, and a grounding time before we move on to studies/homeschool. We all stand together in front of our icon corner (we are Russian Orthodox) and say our morning prayers. We sit on the living room floor, and the children color and draw, or do handwork as I read to them from the Prologue, the lives of the Saints, and stories about whatever feast day is upcoming on our religious calendar. I send Bella, our 9 year daughter, off to play with Meir (just turned 6) outside or elsewhere so I can have a solid 30-45 minutes to read Jude (7) his Grimm’s fairy tales and work on his main lesson book). At this point, Bella and Meir have had enough of each other, and I send the boys off to the pond to look for frogs, or to do some activity in another room. I set Bella up with what I need her reading that day, work on a celtic knot, have her retell me a story from the previous day, work on our times tables. She has become much more independent in the past year with her schoolwork….and I have let go some of my fantasies of my children being able to have a “waldorf classroom” experience here at home. She basically does everything herself, and my role is less of a teacher and more of a guide and mentor.

Meir helps me make lunch while the older two work on whatever they are working on. He loves to cook, and while we are doing that, we will often sing, tell stories, have a chat. When we are done eating, the children clean their spots. Meir wipes the table, Jude moves the chairs and sweeps under the table, Bella does the dishes. If the kitchen is still dirty from the morning, we wipe the counters and clean the floors. Nothing else happens until all of this is done.

The children go to a quiet time, everyone alone in their own space. We are not allowed to interrupt each other, and if they come down to ask “when is it over” or because they can’t wait to talk to me about something, I send them back and add on another 5 minutes to the quiet time, no exceptions. It is rarely perfect, but after years of doing it this way, they can all reasonably be alone without need of outside stimulation…and I get a good hour of decompression.

As soon as quiet time is over, they have to “clean up their quiets”…..so if they took out toys, cut up paper, made a mess of any kind, they can’t come out of quiet until their space is clean and set back to “zero”. At this point, I usually ask them to do some housework, depending on the day and need. If there is a snack, there will be NO SNACK until this work is done. Sometimes we are taking clothing off a line, putting clothes away, weeding in the garden, reorganizing the book or school shelves, or perhaps finally putting away all the random stuff on the “messy counter”. Snack is served, and the afternoon is then spent in freedom. I usually have something that I am working on, depending on the season and need. I could be working on dinner, sewing, canning food, working in the garden, reading a book, sitting and being lazy, etc….and they will come in and out of my world and theirs.

Before dinner, everyone is required to go to “their rooms” and make sure everything is as it should be. Every child has two rooms of the house (not their bedrooms) that they are completely responsible for. I have taken the time to show them where everything goes, how to clean it top to bottom, and what it should look like when everything is in order. Some days all their room needs is a quick straighten. Other days it requires dusting, sweeping, mopping and even washing the woodwork. Many times one of the children will come out of their appointed room crying, “but I didn’t make that mess in there!!!”. It doesn’t matter. They are responsible for that room, and part of that responsibility is going to be cleaning up messes they didn’t make. We are a family, and we take care of and serve each other. We are not just a bunch of individuals thrown together by genetics and a shared last name……only responsible for our own singular welfare.

There have been times when a child has sat sulking in their room refusing to clean up someone else’s mess, but the next thing (dinner in most cases) will NOT happen until this is done. I assure you no one has starved in my home, and after doing it this way for long enough, I rarely if ever meet resistance. On the contrary, my children meet most work with joy and gladness. Bella sings constantly while working, and the boys often create imaginary scenes for themselves that incorporate their tasks. I didn’t accomplish this by convincing them, manipulating them, bribing them, punishing them, or trying to make “everything fun” for them. I just made it a reality. Work is a reality that moves our day from one thing to the next, and the day doesn’t move unless it is done.

On top of this “reality”, I have also given my children the responsibility and privilege of being able to take full ownership over their appointed rooms. They are allowed to decorate it, and request moving furniture arrangements if possible and reasonable. I will often find an arrangement of pebbles, feathers and silks on a windowsill, or a mason jar filled with flowering weeds on a shelf. The children take pride in their spaces. It is not just their “chore” that they have to “do”. They are integral and important homemakers. I need them, and what they do is necessary to the unity and survival of our family. Not only do they help clean, they help create the environment and beautify our home.

Another question that is often asked on parenting groups is “what chores are appropriate for my – year old?” We will see a suggestion of a good list: “my two year old can put silverware away, help make their bed, put their clothes on a hook, etc…” “my 10 year old can do his laundry, clean the bathroom, and clean his room.” These suggestions are good, but I think that we often greatly underestimate what our children are capable of. Would you be shocked to know that I taught my daughter to make coffee at age three and also let her use a sharp knife? Now at 9, she drives a small tractor to mow the lawn, and can cook an entire elaborate meal. My 7 year old can lead a horse to pasture and wrangle a sheep. Both of the boys have been splitting firewood with real hatchets for two years. They are able to do these things because they are always beside my husband and I as we work. Since work is not relegated to the least important part of the day, their experience of these tasks become the most important part of each day. In Farmer Boy, Almanzo rose in pride when he was given two small calves and yoke for his birthday. When work is elevated to such a central part of life, children crave it as most other children crave the latest toy or video game. When my husband bought my five year old his first hatchet, he was overjoyed….not because it was “fun” but because now he could “help chop firewood”. He knows himself to be important to the functioning of our home.

We need to be careful of chore LISTS, as if we can just check things off and know that we are done. The list creates a “work as separate” attitude as opposed to just being part of our existence. I do not need a list “breathe, drink water, eat” to check off every day. My body tells me I need these things, and I respond accordingly. When we redefine work in this new (yet old) way, it becomes as necessary and natural as these other bodily functions, yet it touches more than our bodies. It strengthens our wills, elevates our souls and refreshes our spirits. It is in this creation of a culture of work that we find our Way. Once we have done this, we no longer need to ask “how do I get my kids to do their chores” or “what chores should I expect of my children”. And you know what? Your house might actually be a little cleaner and more organized too, leaving you with more room to finally take that pottery class, or have your mom’s night out. And your children will be well-equipped to deeply apply themselves to whatever comes their way in life, no matter how difficult or “unpleasant” it may feel. Let’s not let our fixation on natural toys, main lesson books, and particular pedagogies get in the way of this most simple and nourishing of all aspects of life. You don’t need to order it from Germany, it doesn’t cost hundreds of dollars, and it can be done right now…..not after you have mastered anthroposophical child development theory or the telling of a story without actually reading it from a book. I dare even suggest that if you get this part of life in order, there will be much more room for these wonderful Waldorf “things” and activities. Blessings on your homemaking!!

PS: Please remind me of all of this when you hear me complain about housework and overwhelm!!

I wasn’t going to host a co-op this year, but an amazing opportunity presented itself!  Ken Kilb, a recent graduate from the Waldorf teacher training program at Alkion Center in Ghent, NY contacted me wanting to volunteer his time as a Main Lesson teacher for a homeschool co-op.  Between the two of us, we think that we can organize a nice grades co-op, and have a kindy program going on for younger siblings.  This would be mostly for grades 1-5, and we would do the typical main lesson block rotation as at a Waldorf School.  Blocks would be math, language arts, nature study, putting on a play, form drawing (freehand geometry), etc….  we would also do lots of projects, circle games and songs, farm chores every morning and share a lunch.
 
This would be hosted at my home and farm (Pownal, VT) Tuesdays and Wednesdays from 8:30-12:30ish with optional and occasional Mondays.  If you are interested in a Waldorf experience for your children, this would basically cover it for you…and Ken would give suggestions for things to do during the rest of the week should you want to make this your central “curriculum”.
 
This is such a great opportunity to have a Waldorf teacher willing to donate his time just because he “wants to help start a Waldorf co-op and help homeschoolers”.  He is a single guy, so we could probably repay him in premade dinners and baked goods for his regular work week.  He works as an RN in Albany.  He has lived in several anthroposophical communities, including Fellowship in NY for four years.
 
Anyway, if anyone is interested, or if you would like to know more about Waldorf education, please contact me at asylumwaldorf@gmail.com
 
I am trying to just see who is interested, but we will start meeting at least informally next Tuesday to get acquainted as a group
 
Rebecca

I know so many of you don’t live anywhere near us in Vermont, but I thought I would share our other blog….this is where we post our homeschooling programs. ALso you can see pictures of our property, etc… I just posted two classes for the fall.
http://www.quarryhillfarm.wordpress.com

and…if you are in the tristate (NY, MA, VT) area or even NH…you might be close enough to visit!

So….here is a follow-up I wrote, which I will share here….remember, this is a post from a yahoo group so those are the “questions” I am referring to…..

I want to apologize in advance that I am not the best on yahoo groups with
checking in and giving quick answers/having a conversation. I tend to wait
until something I am really passionate about, then write an essay. I am
really more of a “hey, here’s my phone number…want to chat over a glass
of wine (tea for some others) after the kids are in bed?!”
Seriously….that is how I started to talking to (name here) lol. And
unfortunately, I am not on facebook….after being on it for quite a while,
I realized it was one of those things that kind of sucked my time and
attention and didn’t enhance my homelife, or my good feelings about
others…..;-) I attempt here in one place to answer all the different
questions that came up in response to my Oak Meadow post, and a couple of
other posts.

Last night, Carrie http://www.theparentingpassageway.com reminded me in an email that this “Waldorf Way” and
developing it in the home, etc….is a slow process. Often the deeper I
get into it, the more I realize I DON’T know. That’s why I won’t even
pretend to put myself off as any kind of expert on Anthroposphy. I would,
however, suggest getting the blue and pink Kindergarten books. You can get
them at Bob and Nancy’s.

http://www.waldorfbooks.com/teaching-resources/kindergarten-nursury/early-childh\

ood-resources/inspiring-ideas
scroll down on this page, one is blue, one is pink lol. They are
collections of AWSNA articles that go much deeper into the Kindergarten and
its anthroposophical underpinnings (or it is written from that
perspective).That is a very good START. I also know that there are places
where you can listen to Steiner’s books and lectures read aloud in English
if you don’t have much time to read actual things on paper. It would be
near impossible to have a quick workshop on it. However, there are some
basic things to understand like the threefold nature of man, etc…so you
can understand more of the why’s and wherefores of his child development
theory. (actually human development theory….those 7 year cycles of
development continue on…and it would behoove you to know which one you
are in!!….I am in the “Sun” years.) Sometimes in Waldorf circles, you
will hear things like “he is still in the ether”, or “too fast to
incarnate”….and you need to understand what they mean by this, and what
it means for what is important for each child. I mean, why wouldn’t we
want our child to incarnate quickly…..our culture says quicker is better!

As far as “what to do”, I would suggest starting with what you already
have. I too have a kindergartener with two in the grades. I am not always
going to be able to prevent my youngest from loftier
concepts/words/activities than what he is “ready” for. We have cousins, we
have guests with older children come to our house….we have friends that
don’t have a single wooden toy in their house. Add on top of this, I am a
very choleric individual who has a super loud voice, a penchant for
sticking her foot in her mouth, acting like a stand-up comedian all the
time and an addiction to intellectual stimulation. I was a theater major in
college, and a singer….a powerful belter to be exact. When I would go
to a parent child class, and hear the sweet singong voice of the
teacher…”CHILLLLLLLL-dren!!!! WHOO-hoooooooo! All little birdies come
back to nest!”….I immediately felt that without having my vocal chords
removed, I would be unable to provide for my children that particular
Waldorf environment….that just by nature I would be incapable. Could my
children go into cryo-freeze until they were in middle school, where I felt
my particular “gifts” could be more useful and less “harmful”?

I made an amazing friend, whose daughter had been in a Waldorf nursery with
mine, and we both pulled them to homeschool. We started meeting once a
week, and I was amazed that there could be someone louder and
more FILL-UP-THE-ROOM than I. Seriously, she made me feel like a quiet
dormouse….and her demeanor with her children was often sarcastic and
quick, and her gestures over the top. She explained to me it was being a
“Russian Jew, child of immigrants”…..perhaps that might have some
cultural truth to it, but I knew better, it was just her temperament! Her
children weren’t fading under her great presence, they were bright eyed,
grounded and capable of deep deep uninterrupted play…….that sign we are
all looking for (in answer to “what to observe”?) to know that our children
are “doing well”. She threw a birthday party for her daughter, and read a
birthday story while her daughter sat in a throne with a crown on….read
it off of paper, with a huge dramatic flourish…completely unlike the
angelic slightly monotone voice of the practiced Waldorf story teller. It
didn’t matter….her daughter and all the rest sat in rapt attention…and
my children from that time on begged me to tell their stories (I thought I
had before…but they remembered this one!). SHe just approached these
activities without hesitation, without shame, without trying to put on a
“waldorf” façade, imitating what she saw in a classroom. She was fully
present, and dove straight into the moment she was in.

Thank God for this friend! She gave me permission to realize that “quiet”
in my home (and certainly hers) would have a different decibel level that
others. When I have had other children here for co-op, many of them who
come from naturally quiet mothers, have physically shirked from me the
first few times I spoke to them with such authority and vigor. I look at
them and have to remember, “oh right, quiet is actually really quiet in
other peoples homes and I am probably freaking this poor kid out”.

In a waldorf kindergarten, the teacher is meant to be an archetype of
“Mother” (that is one reason why even male K teacher wear an apron). Now,
as homeschoolers, we are ACTUALLY mother, and can never fully embody the
archetype because we have full relationships with our children, that
include our human temperments etc…. We are like
frontiersmen/women…..what does “waldorf” or anthroposophical theory
actually LOOK like growing from the soil of my own individual home and
family? We have the great privilege of creating and discovering this
together! The moment we by rote apply a material system of waldorf on
ourselves, we will never make it to the Promised Land!

So, I say all this in response to….”I have older children, public school
children, etc….how do I still preserve my child’s innocence and keep them
out of intellectual activity”? You can’t entirely. But you can be sure
that when you are there with your kindy child….that you are fully present,
that you carve out some relatively quiet time for him every day where you
leave him alone. Or you let him follow you in your tasks with a song on
your lips and very little verbal direction. And if a little one “wants” to
read and learn letters…let them, but if they come to you asking for you
to “teach them to read” tell them firmly and lovingly, “no, now is not your
time…..you will begin that after you have had seven springs!!!!” Your
child does not know what they are asking for. We don’t want to serve the
devil “want” in our children, assuming that just because they want
something or are interested in it it is somehow the best thing for them. A
lot of children, without guidance and through imitation and play, will
indeed teach themselves to read before the first grade. But if they do
this entirely on their own, that is one thing….if we as parents take
their playful imitation of reading and writing as a need to “start them
learning to read because they want to”….we begin to awaken their
intellects in a way that we don’t want to. My 9 year old didn’t read until
she was 8 and a few months. She jumped from sound recognition to reading
chapter books in the period of a few weeks. Many of her homeschooling
peers, who have been doing “reading” work since a very young age because
“they wanted to” are already burnt out, and equate all things reading and
writing for school as “work” and a task they just have to push through to
get to the more fun stuff.

So……I think that the following questions might help you make a clear
idea of a day for you in your own home:
-What tasks do I need to do every day? (make bed, brush hair, cook, laundry)
-what moments to have throughout the day/week/month to be able to quiet
down and carve out a non-intellectual sanctuary for my K child? (hint,
those moments might be found in the above tasks)
-how can I begin taking the “things” I have learned from waldorf into these
moments that already exist….(ie, a washing the laundry song? singing
folk songs while walking around the block? Giving my child a knife and
having them cut the zucchini?)
-which moments are the MOST troublesome to me regarding what my child is
exposed to? How can I try to dial it down just one notch for them in those
moments? (ie, teenager can only watch tv/play video games in his room or
in family room with door shut….hence the joke of the “tv in the closet”
at waldorf schools….making sure that the kids spend at least one hour
outside when you visit the cousins, etc….)
-put on an apron when you are working in the home! And research “why
waldorf teachers wear aprons”

Once you start trying to enrich what you have, instead of scrapping
everything that makes your family and home your family and home, and
replacing it with a “beautiful waldorf curriculum” you will start to see
fruit….ENRICH what is already there! You could really take the MOST
mundane day at home and turn it into a magical journey for your child with
a little enrichment It is this approach, and only this approach, that
brings peace to the whole family, and doesn’t colour your waldorf path with
frustration, bad feelings and even possible divisions between your family
and others (like the in-laws). I promise…..the more you live this life,
as the children get older, the in-laws and friends start to see that
something is “different” and won’t be so critical of your strange ways.

Anyway, there is my big huge ramble of a bunch of thoughts…..I really
want to write a blog post called “Leave Your Children Alone”, as I think
sometimes this is the key to a lot of our questions….perhaps after the
kids are in bed lol. Right now, I am completely ignoring them! Time to go
make sure the kids did the barn chores!!

WOW! I guess I am resurrecting ye old blog! On a yahoo group (editing to say that Carrie of Parenting Passageway asked me…her well-known and expansive blog is here: http://www.theparentingpassageway.com), I was asked to repost something I wrote there….about Waldorf homeschool curriculums and “what to do” every day with little kids. So…I post it here, perhaps this blog is taking a more homeschooling route instead of my inner spiritual ramblings…so here it is:

I wanted to first chime in on Oak Meadow…it is definitely not Waldorf, although slightly influenced by it. I too suggest it to non-waldorf-y homeschoolers that are looking for a more hands-on (less workbook, less school at home) style curriculum.

ANother major difference besides the early introduction to intellectual activity…is that they don’t do unit studies/blocks in the way that waldorf does. All subjects are done all the time, like in a mainstream school. Oak Meadow was in part (I believe) designed to take waldorf “style” (materialistically) and structure it in a way that followed a mainstream school’s academic schedule.

There are two words that we confuse a lot I think…or interchange when we shouldn’t….Waldorf and Anthroposophical. The Waldorf schools were created based on Steiner’s teaching of anthroposophy and childhood development. They were also created to meet the need of urban children whose parents were working in a factory. Here we are decades later, and we have waldorf schools, which also meet the particular needs of their communities. They are filled with classrooms that have multiple same-aged children, and are also lead by teachers who generally consider themselves to be anthroposophical in philosophy (which at the center puts the teacher’s own inner work at the front of the line). In a Waldorf Kindergarten, there is usually a lead teacher that holds the room energetically, leads the circle, etc…and a teacher’s assistant who often attends to the “chores” of the room, setting up the bread dough, cleaning making sure the soup is ready, etc… and they are all managing a group of 12-20 kindy aged children who are generally in similar stages of development, interest/way of play, etc…

We CANNOT emulate a Waldorf school classroom in our home, in no way, shape or form…..except in materialistic way (ie, having the right toys, singing the right songs, even lazuring our walls in a pretty peach colour). When we get focused heavily on this outward and materialistic part of “waldorf”, we are throwing out the “anthroposophy”, and making ourselves generally miserable. It is from here we end up with the frustrations and questions like “but my child doesn’t like to fingerknit….how will I ever get him to do handwork?!” or “My five year old hides under the table during circle and refuses to sing in front of others!” (that’s one that I wrote).

Back to Oak Meadow…I would venture to say that even the more “authentic” curriculums (ie, Christopherus and Live Ed) can be “not Waldorf” when approached in a materialistic way. When we take a step back and look to Steiner’s teachings and the underlying philosophy to “why” fairy tales, circle songs, etc… we begin to be able to dig deep into the culture of our home, and our individual souls….and create an authentic holistic approach to “education”, “home” and our day to day lives.

I realize this sounds all very nebulous…and the question still exists….”but what do I DO every day?” It is exactly that question that led me to have Oak Meadow K when I had a four year old, 2 year old and barely one year old. I quickly realized it wasn’t for us, then switched to Live Ed (and shamelessly I will tell you I have tried MANY other curriculums as well)….but anytime I approached the curriculum as a curriculum, as opposed to a guide….I made myself completely nuts, and lived in constant frustration that I wasn;t able to do it all.

We CAN’T do it all…..and stay away from any “system” that tells you that you can if you just “a, b, c or d”….and then sells you a way to do it!!!! That is why I love and support what Lisa is doing here (www.thewonderofchildhood.com)….she is giving all the great resources and basic scaffolding to enrich your life, NOT mold it.

Your home is already a “waldorf kindergarten” the moment you put your personal inner work at the forefront, deeply observe your children, make a quiet life and do everything you can to preserve their innocence…and not awaken their intellects too early. It isn’t the toys, the curriculum, the finger plays, etc….those are just wonderful things that ENRICH a Waldorf home, not make it. It is a philopophy and a Path, not a THING. Your personal home and culture should be the soil in which your “kindergarten” is planted.

I wish that I had relaxed more when all I had was littles….and not worried so much about how to fill my days and structure them in the most perfect way….to be sure that my children hear all the right stories, did all the right handwork, etc… My 9 year old just read “Little Women” and “Anne of Green Gables”, and she obsessively writes poems about fairies and nature…..and I can’t ever remember actually teaching her to read lol….AND I was never ever perfect in following a curriculum. The kids get there on their own, and sometimes when we think we need more, that is actually a sign that what we really need is LESS….to slow down and see what wonderful moments we can make out of the most mundane.

The Cost
Morris West
It costs so much to be a full human being that there are very few who have the enlightenment or the courage to pay the price. One has to abandon altogether the search for security and reach out to the risk of living with both arms open. One has to embrace the world like a lover. One has to accept pain as a condition of existence.

Here is a new blog I started, organizing our new homeschooling endeavor! We are starting a Living Arts Enrichment program for homeschoolers!
http://www.quarryhillfarm.wordpress.com
Simplifying and focusing has really helped us envision this, and hopefully our new home will become a vibrant place for families and homeschoolers!

Some sort of weight has lifted from me this past week.  A dark cloud no longer looming, or insert some other metaphor here to imagine the rolling away of darkness and the lightness of something new.  Fresh air, I can finally breathe properly, I am not thinking about all those THINGS I was always THINKING.  Well, maybe thinking is wrong…more like chewing, ruminating, and rolling in.  With the FB gone, and now the constant email checking…I am seeing things differently, more clearly.  Time seems to move more organically, not dictated by the machinations of some device.

I’ve been reading two books that are extremely inspirational to me in this move towards simplicity and authentic living.  First, “The Last American Man” by Elizabeth Gilbert.  http://www.elizabethgilbert.com/thelastamericanman.htm  Granted, Eustace Conway lives in a teepee, and eats roadkill…I don’t know if I would want to go that far, but his way of life, and his passion for getting people reconnected with nature is awe inspiring.

Also, I finally bought a copy of “In Celebration of Simplicity” by Penelope Wilcock.   http://www.amazon.com/Celebration-Simplicity-Penelope-Wilcock/dp/1854249126

I have been obsessing over her blog ( http://kindredofthequietway.blogspot.com/) for a few years now, and now was able to read this lovely little book of hers.  Really, I would have to reprint her book here to share all the amazing quotes…and that’s certainly not kosher.  But I have gleaned so much wisdom from this little book.  One of the quotes she puts on the side was so affirming of what I have been thinking and moving into:

“Everyone who winds life round a core of machinery – physical machinery or social machinery, lie schools and institutions and global corporations – is affected profoundly, and comes inexorably, I believe, to be a servomechanism of the machinery he or she excessively associates with.”  -John Taylor Gatto

I don’t think I realized how much being tied to my computer and iPhone was creating irritation in me.  I was irritated with my children, I was consistently making them wait while I “just finished” this email…it’s IMPORTANT!!!…I’m getting you kids some sheep, I have to look up how to take care of the goats, paying a bill, making arrangements for YOU to have some friends over, blah, blah….  This multi-tasking with a machine at my side turned me into a bit of a Borg.  Armed with a “Smart Phone”in my pocket, I morphed into a part human, part machine; not realizing how much of my attention and communication was being compartmentalized into that little device.  When someone (read, one of my children) would come and demand that I short circuit my connection with it, you better believe I had to fight the rising irritation.  I was already so overstimulated by that fast mode of communication, my brain racing alongside, that the simple act of my child needing me to turn to them became the burden.  I had to try and fit them into the sticky web of my over-cluttered etheric life.  Well, as you can imagine, this didn’t work.  My children and I have been a bit at odds with each other.  I am imagining that this is often when people send their children to school and myriad activities, because “I need my time”.  I don’t buy that.  I want “my time” to be “our time”, a shared life lived alongside one another.  Sure, it’s nice to have the glass of wine with a girlfriend without children around, and I don’t plan to stop doing that any time soon.  However, those are treats.  I don’t need their constant companionship with me siphoned through devices and screens while I am actually living the REAL stuff of life.

So, this week, the sheep and the chickens arrived.  So many well-meaning people have said to me “wow, slow down, you don’t need the whole farm at once!!”, but I am finding that having these animals creates a natural rhythm to our days that without them is hard to muster.  We HAVE to get up and feed/water them all in the morning.  After dinner, we all go as a family, and reverse order the process.  Early morning, and then early evening, are such peaceful times to be outside, especially in such a beautiful and quiet place as this.  It’s hard to want to go and check out on the computer after using your body to take care of your animals, your children and husband by your side.  Sleeping is easier, eating feels better.  Wow, environment really does make a difference.  Living in the suburbs of our CT ranch house, it was hard to make such a natural rhythm occur.  It was easier to avoid it if needed.  I could stay in pajamas until 10am.  Here, I would embarassed to be seen in a tshirt and underwear walking out to the barns, so I get dressed.  Coffee comes after movement and work now, and it tastes better.  I don’t need 2-3 cups throughout the morning.  Children are a joy outside helping with chores first thing in the morning, whereas an early morning with paper and coffee sitting in a comfy chair turns them into Great Interruptors.  Once we;ve spent the morning in communal work, they actually want nothing to do with me while I have a short morning to myself.  We are all fed first thing by this common life.  The animals, the barns, the pasture have given that to us.  Giving up the email and facebook have begun the clearing process so we can actually walk in it.

Here is “Ferdinand’s Chick”…he loves it because it has a tuft of hair on its head.  He laughs everytime he sees it.  I told him to hope it’s not a rooster, because if it is…it will likely end up on our table…

Here is Sweet William, a mini Nubian whether.  He stops when anyone comes near because he loves to be hugged.  Really.

These are the Nigerian Dwarf kids, Hitty and Little Lucien.  We’ve been feeding them a lot by hand, so they are getting more and more used to us.

Ah, the sheep.  Having only been a theoretical farmer until now, I had always thought the sheep would be more gentle.  I had visions of them sitting in my lap, coming to petted, etc…but these 4 sheep aren’t having any of it.  Only one will cautiously eat from my hand.  When we got them, The Tall Man didn’t back the van into the gates of the barn like the former owners told us to do.  He thought he was a sheep whisperer, and they would just follow him.  Well…they ran a quarter mile down the road, and we had to literally lasso them and wrangle them back to the barn.  That was also the last time I dealt with animals in flip flops.  Really bad footwear choice.  Now, I prefer the goats…..but the sheep will be great for their fiber, and their grass eating/manure making skills.

We got 14 three week old chicks, boys and girls…one of them is obviously a bantam hen, it is teeny tiny compared to all the others.  Already we have named it Columbine, and that little chicken better be a girl, because it’s the only one right now not in danger of being the food eventually…

Ferdinand took my iPhone one morning when I was looking, and took some pictures.  I am surprised at what he captured and how.  Maybe he has some aptitude…Here are his best shots, which I am calling Wall Street Journal and Antique Children’s Shoes on Floor:

OOO…I just noticed on this larger screen, that Ferdinand’s little feet are in the shadows, mirroring the shoes.  I need to find a photo contest for him!

One night last week, The Tall Man came home wanting to try the authentic Fish and Chips Shop in Bennington.  So, we went, and thoroughly enjoyed our meal and time together.  In the corner of the restaurant in an old English phone booth.  The iconic red kind.  No longer a phone inside, I actually had this conversation with my children. “What is that big box?”  “Well, when Momma was little, people only had phones in their homes, we didn’t have the kind that come with us wherever we go, so if you were out and needed to call someone, you would use the phone in one of these boxes…”  My children are really VERY sheltered, I don’t think they know that video games exist, they don’t know commercials, etc…but man, do they know cell phones.  Also at this restaurant, they had a few shelves of Australian/English treats that we can’t find here.  I left happy with a jar of vegemite, oh, soooooo happy.

We had a surprise outing this week.  We had to drive something over to our landlord’s house in Arlington, and we ended up taking a stop at the Lincoln House and Hildene Farms.  I am going to be spending a lot of time there so I can study their cutting garden.  The back yard of the mansion is a small hedge-lined cutting garden.  I would love to do something similar next year, and then sell the flowers at Market.  However, my aesthetic would be a little less “formed”…

Lastly, The Tall Man and I have for the first time in a long time (ever, maybe?) been talking together excitedly about our new life, all the things we want to do, and our plans for our future.  He’s always gone along with my crazy schemes, eating my bread made from freshly ground flour, proudly announing we are homeschoolers…  But, he still had a few reservations, “I just want them to be a part of team sports” or “as long as they go to college”.  This would require a much longer post, for another time maybe, but I am not wishing either team sports or college on my children.  Call me crazy, but it’s true.  I say all the time, I would rather “graduate” an 18 year old from my homeschool with only 6th grade math, but an unquenchable love of learning, an understanding of how to make their own food, and to be good, honest people who love G-d and don’t get wrapped up into the trappings of this consumerist and materialistic world.  Now, the chances of my kids having only 6th grade math are slim with with their engineer father, but you get the point.  All of a sudden, my husband has his eyes open, we have finally come too a place of complete agreement, and a shared vision for how we want to raise our children, and what kind of grown-ups we want them to be. 

One of the things we were remarking on just last night was that we feel this is the first time in our 13 years of marriage that we have actually had REAL community.  All within a week, we had myriad neighbours come to help us, and offer help.   The farmer from Mighty Food Farm ( http://mightyfoodfarm.com/ ), on the same property as us, loaned us a chicken coop to use until we could build our own, so we could have laying hens.  She also basically GAVE us 14 chicks, and will help us learn to slaughter some when the time comes.  The local handyman, a 32 year old Western MA boy (my favourite kind of boy, which is why I married one…) who lives off the grid down the road loaned us his brooding box for the chicks.  We met a wonderful family, who own Longview Lambs ( http://www.longviewlambs.com/ ), just down the road.  Although the husband is an ER physician by trade, they raise lamb for meat, and have a meat CSA.  The husband came to help us with our sheep fencing, and brought a roll of his own fence to set up for us, until we could get our own.  While he was helping set it up, the wife called me and invited us to dinner.  We went, and met their two children, and they made for us a feast of leg of lamb “from the last of last year’s lambs”.  We drank wine, had a wonderful time of touring their pastures.  Lots of talk of doing a homeschool-y waldorf-y circle type thing in the fall.  Talks of sharing a pig to raise and ultimately put in the freezer.  Already friends, it’s amazing.  We are invited to a party at the house next door the Saturday, the one where we’ve been invited to swim whenever we want.  We will never starve, never be without help, and it seems we will have real relationships, all of us tied in directly to this community, none of us commuters. 

Lastly, for my un-Plain and un-simple side of me…I finally went and dyed the gray hair I was growing out “just to see”.  I’ve never made it past chin length with the gray before freaking out…didn’t make it there this time.  Hair is still long, so the long gray roots were making me feel old, drab…a terrible vain thing I hold onto.  But, I needed some light coloured hair to go with my farmer tan!

I’ve been thinking a lot about how much I let into my life that doesn’t serve it…or that I can’t use to serve others/G-d/my family, etc…  For me, the most clutter comes in electronically.  Even the daily, no hourly, pull to check my email is very strong.  When my husband is at home, and I have access to his laptop, I often have it set up in the kitchen, or wherever I am working.  I am constantly listening for the beep that lets me know a new Facebook IM has arrived, I look for new mail on my email account, I have podcasts blasting; taking my mind away from what is in front of me.  I’ve mentioned this before, but I do acknowledge there is some use and benefit in all of these modes of communication.  However, I struggle with its use, and wonder what life would be like without these constant pings, beeps and electronically delivered information and communication.  I am an information junkie. I can never read enough, listen to enough, discover enough new thoughts, or bits of information.

So, a few days ago I dropped my facebook, today I dropped email.  I put all of my yahoo homeschool groups on “web only”, and wrote the following “out of office” automatic reply:

This is an automated response….
I am taking an electronic communication sabbatical!  If you would like
to reach me, please call my cell: xxx-xxx-xxxx, or Matthew’s cell:
xxx-xxx-xxxx.  Or, please send us a snail mail, my children will write
back to you, I promise!
The Dragon Family at Quarry Hill Farm
320 Quarry Hill Rd.
Pownal, VT 05261

Blessings!
Rebecca

I went to visit my very dear friend yesterday, who is a member of the 12 Tribes.  The 12 Tribes are a group of Messianic-style Believers, who live in community (http://www.twelvetribes.com/).  The work and live together in a variety of different industries such as delis, print shops, shoe stores, natural soap makers, teas and farms.  Their culture and way of life is vibrant, beautiful, and imbued with meaning.  They really get a huge bad rap for being a “cult”, but I don’t put much stock into these labels.  I myself have been accused of being “unstable” or “brainwashed” because I chose to live outside of the “norm”, so I know that the accusations and insults hurled at them must be much worse.  It takes courage, fortitude and a free-thinking mind to cast your lot into a new way of life, a whole community, to the abandonment of everything you once knew.  I have a lot of admiration for these people, as I do for my friends in the Bruderhof, my other favourite modern day spiritual community.  I don’t understand why people are so bristled when others chose to live a different kind of life.  Someone needs to be the person that can cast his lot in with others, to have no posessions unto himself, to put others above his own comfort and well-being.  Thank G-d for these people.  I wish I were so brave and willing to let go of the things that still keep me in my own world, on the throne of my own castle.

I crave and look forward to my time with my friends in these communities.  There is a refreshing of spirit that occurs when I am there, a repurposing of my life.  When I am there, I don’t miss my computer, or the sound of a vibrating cell phone.  I don’t miss the podcasts in the background of everything.  When I am there, I am content to hear the voices of others, the clanking of pots in the kitchen, the children laughing and running, the vibration of my own thoughts, now much slowed down to the quieter life around me.  Instead of a day of responding to emails, texts and IM’s, a day of staring at and interacting with screens and focusing the ear on sounds coming from machines, their days are filled only with the sounds of each other and their shared life.  Their music is created together, they need each other to sing and dance in unison.  The smells and sounds coming from the kitchen are in tandem with the sound of a sewing machine.  The voices of children mingle with men laughing and poking fun at one another.  When they hear each others voices, they turn, and look into each others’ eyes, at each other’s  faces.  All of their interactions are whole, not “delivered via device” piece by piece.

In dropping facebook, and now dropping email (well, as much as I can…I still need a valid email account to buy and sell nowadays, it seems….isn’t that a bit frightening), I can hear the well-meaning objections.  “But you NEED email nowadays, that’s how everyone stays in touch/passes on information, etc…”  “Facebook can really suck your time, but it’s how my family and friends get to see pictures of my kids”.  Yes, these are all “good” and valid reasons.  There are a lot of things we CAN do on facebook and a computer that you would not be able to do otherwise (this blog for starters), but that doesn’t mean that we SHOULD be doing them.  There is so much STUFF, so much information, so much stimulation and input from all sides in our generation.  It would be impossible to stay on top of all of it, to let it all in without serious soul damage.  When I visit my friends who live a TRUE simple life, it makes me wonder how much I just accept into my life because it’s part of the spirit of this age.  I have been asking myself questions like,

-If I could never get online again to order from Amazon, or to read articles about any particular subject, would the books I already have, and what I could get from the library be enough?

-If I never saw another fabulous etsy item that I want to try and duplicate, never saw another craft blog, would what is already in my mind, and my own creativity be enough to keep making new things?  Likewise, if I never saw another TV show on my computer, would my “fashion sense” remain the same, or would I still be the same old me 20 years from now?

-If I shut down email, and require that people call me or write me a letter if they want to speak with me, would I lose contact with a large percentage of my friends and family?  Would I still get the invites to homeschool gatherings, parties, etc….?

-What would happen to my relationships with my children, with my husband, if I lived a non-electronic communication life?  Would we connect in deeper ways?  Would have more satisfaction with my daily life?

-What would happen to my ability to hear “that of G-d” or the small quiet voice if I spent my time in whole tangible things that relate to the life in front of me, lived in “community” with those around me (namely, my husband and children)?

So, I am going to try it, a baby step towards potentially shutting all of it off at some point.  Today was my first day without looking at email, and I actually was able to make some bloomers for the kids.  A long overdue project, that really only took about 30 minutes.  I made bloomers from tshirt sleeves:

For now…I am keeping the blog.  I only have one or two real life friends who even know that it exists, and my plan is to use it as a journal/keepsake by printing it out occasionally.  Another downside of our modern age…I don’t think I own even a handful of printed photos of my children, they are all electronic files floating out there in the ether.  This gives me a medium to “scrapbook” without having to sit down with shapey hole punches and stickers…but I remain open to considering a time without computer at all, at least for a while.

I’m not certain exactly what day I am on of my “30 Day Cultivating Life” Adventure…but this is how it should be I think…the “program” becomes just a way of life.  I was struck with a great wave of gratitude the other day, as I looked around me, and then revisited last week’s blog posts.  Everything I am surrounded with is beautiful.  I have within arm’s reach, or walking distance, all the things and “ways” I have valued and longed for since becoming a mother.  It seems I have not been forsaken after all.  All the forsaking seems to be self-inflicted; a long-practiced habit inherited from my mother, who most likely got it from hers.  G-d has given myself and my family a New Land, a New Inheritance, and a New Way.  It’s up to me to embrace it, even though it is hard, and requires much sacrifice.  I have so many idolatrous cords binding me to things that help me retain my self-defeating ways.  I was having visions of cutting them, burning them, crushing their hooks beneath my feet last night.  I crave freedom, and above that the joy and peace to be able to walk in it.  Finally, I am walking in that direction.

These past days, I have been focusing on staying present when the children are acting childish.  I have also been trying to think “big picture” instead of “immediate annoyance” when I come across a surprise situation.  During quiet time, when I thought they were all in their rooms with books, I came out to find Little Crazy Matas, in his underwear in the pantry.  He had filled several cups, glasses and jars with water, and was banging them with a spoon.  When I asked him what he was doing he said, “playing the water xylophone”.  I decided to let him continue instead of telling him the usual, “don’t you know it’s quiet time….I didn’t say you could do that!  Pour all that out now!”

Our access to local food here is amazing.  It’s time to pull out Animal Vegetable Miracle again.  We could certainly eat only food from a 100 mile radius, heck, from a 25 mile radius is my guess.  There is even local olives and olive oil.  Haven’t found the wine yet, but there has to be.  I am sure there is at least some good local beer…  At our CSA this week were chiboogi beets, pink and white on the inside.  Also in the CSA room, we buy locally baked sourdough bread..which we served with fresh mozz, local basil and tomatoes.

We found swim noodles at the dollar store, and the kids have been making a collection of lumber at the swimming hole.  They use it for “boats” and making bridges, etc…  They put the noodles under a large board, and were actually able to float on it.  No more swimming hole for me, however, until there is some rain.  The water is low, and it makes it seem a bit rank.  Can’t take the city out of the girl sometimes…after a childhood and adoloescence swimming in pools and being on swimteams, I do get a bit skeeved swimming with the fish.  But the children don’t mind, so I keep it to myself.

In terms of pushing through the hard stuff to get to something better….I finally unpacked, cleaned and organized the playroom.  It’s in a three season porch, so in a few months we will have to move it.  For now, it’s lovely, with large screened windows.  It almost feels like being outside on a breezy day.  The view is gorgeous, of the lower pond, and the farms in the distance.

This may sound strange, but I have a serious problem with libraries.  Don’t get me started on what gets passed as children’s books nowadays, not to mention the fact that at many libraries there are massive computer terminals loaded with “educational games” for the children to play.  I’ve seen countless toddlers sitting in front of those screens managing a mouse, clicking at whatever the machine is prompting them to.  In Glastonbury, we had two tiny libraries, one in an 1800’s Meetinghouse, the other in an 1820 schoolhouse.  Neither had computers, both still used card catalogues.  We were often the only ones in there, as most parents brought their children to the large main branch, with its classrooms and interactive story hours.  Our story hour was old school; a woman with a stack of books, reading them outloud until the hour was up.  Anyway, we went to the Bennington Library today, and discovered a very lovely children’s room.  It had a wooden dollhouse, a canopied area with pillows for quiet reading, and stations for drawing and stamping, etc…  Very low key, very much our speed.  And…they have a great little green space in front with a climbing tree.

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