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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.

This week I have been taking Janka Fairy to swimming lessons at Kennedy Park in West Hartford.  The draw to go there is that the lessons are only 35 dollars for two weeks worth, and there is a sprinkler park right next to where The Fairy takes her lesson.  I can watch My little swimmer in the water, while the boys play in the sprinklers.

There are also a lot of local camps, run through the public schools, that come to the park.  Today, a large gaggle of them, dressed in matching green shirts descended on us while we played in the little adjoining playground.  They were accompanied by two counselors, women in their 40’s or 50’s.  These women were alternating talking on their cell phones, texting, and yelling at the kids to “hurry”, “get over here” and “stop that”.

Several of the boys were playing with my sons, treating them sweetly like little brothers, helping them on a swing or seesaw.  I began to chat with them and ask them about their camp.

Apparently, today (Thursday) is Field Trip Day.  On this particular day, their excursion was going to be to Hometown Buffet, then to a movie.  At summer camp.  Did I miss something?  I don’t remember camp ever being like this….spending time eating at restaurants and going to movies….  They also told me that they can “do basically whatever they want” at camp, and that they don’t really have any activities.  I am hoping this means they have free play, outside…but I have a feeling it might mean that they are just “basically” supervised while they are shuffled around to one controlled environment after another.

Their counselors weren’t engaging with them in any meaningful way, so the boys and I showed them how to make Fairy Houses.  We talked about how the fairies fly around every night looking for a place to rest their heads…and that it’s every child’s job to build houses for them wherever they can.  Even though at this park there was more garbage than leaves and sticks, we managed to forage some acorns, a few twigs and dead leaves to erect a small fairy house in the root of a large elm.  We even broke the “natural materials only” rule, and used a discarded bottle cap as a “sink”.  Perhaps urban fairies must make use of discarded garbage in their homes, as that seems to be a local resource.

People often ask me if, as a homeschooler, I am going to “use” the resources available at the public school…if I am going to follow their curriculums, keep my children “up to date” with what they do there, let my kids join their sports teams….  I think this question has it all backwards.  From now on, I am going to think about what we can give, as a homeschooling family, to children who are herded off into institutional “educational” settings.  Perhaps we are uniquely positioned to show these children how to look at their environments in a different and more magical and deep way…instead of as a mere destination for an “activity”.

I am going to hope for more circumstances where my children and I can share our way of life with others who would not otherwise experience it.  I am hoping that at least some of those children we met today will continue to build fairy houses wherever they go, and teach other children how to do the same.

I am completely obsessed with all things Plain.  I own “secret bonnets”, once hidden safely away in a drawer, now proudly worn by my five year old daughter.  I have white aprons for “Baking Days”.  I even own some near-cape dresses, made to my specifications by women who make Plain clothes for the great UNplain masses.

Religious dress has always fascinated me, in all of its incarnations.  Through my many turns in and out of various religious expressions, I have come to love the idea of dressing in a manner that says, “I belong to Something/Someone Else”.  I am a daughter of the King, and I want what I present to the world to be emblematic of that.

Here’s the trouble: as a girl who will sit and watch American Idol while wearing a bonnet and apron in secret, I have to be realistic about who I am inherently.  I am not Amish, and I am not called to being Plain in that beautiful historical Quaker Way.  Having a woman in a bonnet next to me at Meeting (it’s happened ONCE, and she was visiting from some fantasy Quaker land far, far away) is overwhelmingly wonderful.  But I will most likely never be that woman in the bonnet sitting next to you.  I do, however, have a distinct style that is borrowed heavily from Orthodox Judaism, anthroposophy, Mormons, Russian Orthodox, and a small sprinkling of Islam and Old Navy. I don’t think that it could rightly be considered Plain in the orthodox sense, but I approach it in a Quakerly way.  I allow G-d to speak to me about what He wants from me, and I follow H-s leadings, never fearing what he wants from me.  I want to be as authentically ME as He made me.

I first started thinking about my manner of dress long before my Quaker Days as an Evangelical, when I read an amazing book, called The Hidden Art of Homemaking by Edith Schaeffer.  Her husband is the creator of L’Abri in Switzerland.  In it, she speaks about how since we are made in the image of The Creator, it is our birthright as followers of G-d to be CREATIVE.  We can express “art” and “creation” even in the smallest details of our lives.  This includes how we dress.  See how G-d clothes the lillies!  At this time in my life, I was still wearing trends and very modern clothes, without a thought to thinking about if G-d would be pleased with what I wore.  I began to open my heart to seeing my dress as a way to express G-d in my life.  This is why I do not include only muted colours in My Plain.  I do wear colours and patterns, as He clothes H-s Creation.

I have to admit that I place modesty above Plainess.  I think in our present day culture, and this day and age…just to dress modestly is Plain in a sense.  Even children have a hard time finding modest clothes in a mainstream store.  I cover all of my parts.  I wear skirts and dresses….or at least a long tunic over pants.  It’s my personal conviction that when women wear pants, the eye goes STRAIGHT TO THE PANTS, no matter the figure of the woman or the cut of the garment.  So, the skirts-only thing isn’t about not dressing like a man, which G-d condemns…but a personal choice based on keeping private the parts of my body I would like to keep private.

So many Islamic “hijabi” blogs speak about how dressing modestly frees them as women from having to meet certain societal expectations.  They don’t have to look sexy, or thin or stylish.  Men (and women) can really look at them for who they are inside.  This idea speaks to me deeply, and has helped my move towards dressing modestly.  Shukr Online has long skirts that you absolutely CANNOT find in regular stores.  My “Islamic skirts” are one of my more recent favourite things to wear in the summer.

In the Mormon world, where adherents wear “temple garments” which cover them from knees to shoulders, there has begun a new and unique industry.  Women who wanted to be able to wear contemporary clothes from mainstream stores, but couldn’t find things modest enough to cover their garments created a line of “layering” shirts.  These jersey shirts come in a variety of cuts and lengths, and can be worn alone, or under mainstream clothes to make them more modest.  They have recently branched out in skirts, dresses and swimwear.  My two favourite Mormon clothes sites are:  http://www.shadeclothing.com  and http://www.layersclothing.com  I always wear these layering clothes, to cover a bustline, or under something sleeveless or see-through.

On to Judaism…my years in Orthodox and Messianic Judaism gave me a love for headcovering.  In Orthodox Judaism, the woman begins to cover upon marriage.  I see it as a wedding ring that you wear on your head.  To save your hair just for your husband is a beautiful and precious thing.  Many women wear sheitls (wigs), but the Modern Orthodox style is to wear a variety of tichels (scarves), bandanas, chaponnes, berets and doorags.  Because I also believe in the Messiah (and therefore the New Testament), I also take seriously 1Corinthians11 which tells women to cover their heads…”because of the angels” and as an outward sign of submission to our husbands, and therefore to Christ.  G-d has called me to cover, and I have recently taken it on more full-time.  I do let my hair hang down, but I always have something on my head….as a reminder.

My children are being educated (at least in large part) in Waldorf Education, which is based on anthroposophy.  In anthroposophical philosophy, there is a lot of importance placed on the “archetype”.  As teachers (which I am as a homeschooling mother), we are to present ourselves as much as possible as an archetype.  We can be the archetype of “Mother/Madonna”…working calmly with our hands, while we gently hum and escort our precious charges through transitions from one activity to the next.  We preserve the dreamy wonderland our our children’s lives by approaching them gently, completely open to them.  We want to “hold” them with the arms of our love and spirits.  The archetype of Mother provides a spiritually rich and warm domestic environment, where the children feel safe and at peace inside of themselves.  I feel this falls so much in line with Quakerism (but more on that in another post).  All kindergarten teachers in Waldorf Schools wear long skirts and aprons.  Some even wear kerchiefs on their heads.  They wear this “uniform” because it helps them to represent the ARCHETYPE.  It’s a mantle of Madonna.  So…even though as a mother to three little ones, I can in no way access this archetype with any great regularity…I find that dressing in this manner helps me a great deal.  On really stressful day, where I feel like I am going to pull my hair out and call my husband at work crying from him to come home, I may even “amp it up” with one of my secret bonnets and a prairie dress….all the while chanting “I’M ACCESSING THE ARCHETYPE, I’M ACCESSING THE ARCHETYPE”.

The Tall Man likes me in modern clothes, so I don’t wear the prairie dress and bonnets out.  G-d calls me through my Dear Husband as well, and I want to be sensitive to that.  I want to be the bride that is desirable to him, not just follow my own fantasies without care for the one who should mean more to me than myself.  So…I dress in modern clothes, in that they cannot be placed in a particular historical era.

My Plain also encompasses what materials things are made from.  As much as possible, I try to buy things used, or make things out of other used things.  I have a great jersey skirt I made from used t-shirts.  I make most of my children’s clothes in this way.  I use only natural materials, using the resources that G-d gave us in a responsible way.

Sometimes I become muddled and envious.  I want something that I see in a magazine, or I wish I could look like a good friend who does not stay up at night praying about what she should wear (oh, to be so unburdened….).  However, I bring these temptations to G-d, where they are levelled to the ground in H-s Great and Magnificent Presence.  I am willing to be on a journey with My Messiah on this one…and to watch H-m slowly unfold H-s will for me moment to moment.  I remain open to scratching all of these ideas and putting on a cape dress at any point…when He tells me to!  Until then, I will continue to pour over those great blogs of women who dress in a True Plain manner, while I sit in my Mormon shirt, Islamic skirt and Jewish doorag.

I’ll post some pictures soon, maybe a little gallery of examples for the curious folks out there…or maybe as inspiration to those who feel called to adopt a more “Plain” style of dress.  Ultimately, I know that PLAIN is not just about clothes, but it is an approach to life.  If I were to immediately say, “Forget it, I am throwing out all of these clothes, and I am only going to….(insert rules here)”, I would give up.  Trust me, I have done it.  I want to always look first to my heart, to see if I have sufficiently removed all of the obstacles and distractions that prevent me from hearing G-d’s Voice.  I desire first an uncluttered and Plain spirit, one that is singly devoted to G-d.  The clothes should reflect that, and hopefully give reason for people to wonder about why my heart swells with gratitude and love for H-m.

*caveat….I have never been a Mormon or a Muslim…after reading this post, I realize it looks like I really have been in a ton of religions!  🙂

When Janka Fairy was in ballet camp last week, the boys and I discovered JB Williams Park.  This 160 acre park on Niepsic Rd. looks unassuming from the parking lot.  However, when you start walking along the trail, you discover so much more.  Walk to the right, and you walk over shallow creeks on the way to a small fishing pond, stocked with trout and other such fish.  Also is a heavily shaded playground.  If you walk to the left along the trails up the hill into the woods, you come upon a beautiful little red clover “field” cut through with a babbling brook, just the size for wading. 

There was a town sponsored “camp” for 3 year olds up at the playground.  I had the boys at the creek, wading and splashing.  They were pulling leaves to float downstream as “boats”, and stepping on the skunk cabbage to make it “stinky”.  When it came time for pick up the campers, all the parents passed us by on their way.  So many of them smiled and made comments like, “oh, that’s so wonderful” “I remember doing that for entire summers when I was a kid” “that’s what you’re supposed to do in the summer” and “OOOO, looks like so much fun”.  I tried to be open and friendly with all of them, actually hoping to make some connections, as I know absolutely no one here yet. 

About five minutes later, camp was dismissed and the mass exodus began.  The comments from parents completely changed.  All of the children saw us in creek and thus began the “mommy, can I go in the water?”  “I want to do what those kids are doing”.  The parents all hurried by, only two of them saying that tomorrow they would bring their wellies so that they could go in after camp.  One father, obviously irritated, dragged his daughter (who was clad in shorts and crocs) across the little footbridge saying, “you don’t have the right shoes”.  Other parents were in a rush to get to another activity, “oh no, you have your tennis lesson now” …”mommy has an appointment”.  Some refused to look at me.

What happened to these parents…on the first pass of the bridge, they were reminiscent of their long-gone childhoods, smiling at the sight of two children just “hanging out”…on their return trip they turned into hurried, irritated grown-ups with much more important things to do.

I decided to return the next day, to see if some of the parents brought the kids boots.  This time, on the way to pick up the campers it was, “you guys again…are you going to start sleeping here too?”  “you guys are pretty hard core?” “I guess if it was good one day, might as well do it again?”.  The departure was even quicker and more curt….except for one mom, who stopped at the end of the bridge with three little children and one baby in a car seat, and opened her large sack.  Out of it she pulled three pairs of boots…..”thought we’d join you today, I’m glad to see you’re back”.

Picking Leaves to Float downstream as "boats".

Picking Leaves to Float downstream as "boats".

Splashing

Splashing

At the fishing pond, a short walk from the lower creek.  Second day at the park.  We brought our boats on ribbons.

At the fishing pond, a short walk from the lower creek. Second day at the park. We brought our boats on ribbons.

Who needs a playground and a summer camp?!

Who needs a playground and a summer camp?!

Here we are on a trip to the Audobon Society in South Glastonbury.  The inside is filled with caged birds and other small animals, including a parrot of some kind that says “Hello” and sings a mutilated musical scale, “La La La LA La La La”.  They offer a small table with some paper scraps and markers/crayons.  Also a big box of soft animal hand puppets…even a little carpeted stage.  I am thinking this will be a good rainy day/fridgid day destination.

The path down into the woods crosses a wading stream, only a few inches deep, very gentle and very wide.  The bugs attacked us upon entry into the woods, however.  So….next time we will bring our wellies for wading in the water, and bug spray to fend off the insects.

Pass the mini-bamboo grove, down the hill, and follow the path to the left, and it opens to a large clearing abutting a horse farm.  Apparently, sometime horses and riders can be seen jumping and cantering in the big ring, but we have yet to catch them.

At the entry to the path is a large mulberry tree, and a bit past that, a currant bush.  My little foragers noticed right away, and quickly stuffed their mouths full.

Call me officially mortified.

We went to visit a Quaker Friends Meeting on First Day.  I had heard that there might be some conservative members, and so went to make the connections.

Janka Fairy went to an “Inter-Generational Talk” with The Tall Man.  The woman sharing her particular path to Quakerism was an avowed Pagan Witch.  She explained to the children what this meant to her.  She then proceeded to have the children build a pagan altar, complete with incense, “blessed” water, and pentagrams.  She then taught them a spell, which they proceeded to cast.  She then had them stand really close to each other with their eyes closed so they could feel each others’ auras.  She explained that she can feel the auras of trees.

Right there…this is what I am talking about.  How can this even be considered fodder for children at a Quaker Meetinghouse….even a LIBERAL one?!  The whole point to Quakerism is that we don’t need any externals to access G-d or to make spiritual connections of any kind.  Quakerism holds within it one of the most beautiful traditions and Way of Life…why do we need to spend First Day having our children participate in something that is not Quaker, or at least remotely reminiscent?

There are times and places for “learning about” other cultures, spiritual paths, etc…  However, I do not believe that young children “learn about” anything….quite the contrary.  They are open at every level of their beings, and instead of “learning about”, they “fully absorb”.  I truly believe that the more clutter of any kind (and this includes spiritual clutter), causes a child to disintegrate within himself.  It causes confusion.  This is my secular argument.

My spiritual point of view is that witchcraft is harmful to the soul, and that G-d does not want us to participate in it.  I concede that this is MY point of view…but it was MY daughter in that room making a pagan altar in the spirit of witchcraft.  I am all for tolerance, and I would stand to the death to defend that woman’s right to follow the spiritual path of her choosing…but I wonder if the tolerance would be given to me and my “hard-lined conservative” views on the matter?

I did not take my children to a Pagan gathering, but a Quaker one.  I expected it to be a bit more liberal than my personal bent, but I wasn’t expecting that my child would be participating in something unrelated.

The Tall Man is way more polite than me.  I would have walked the Little Fairy out of there at the first mention of the subject matter.  Maybe it’s better that he was the one with her for that.  I am way too reactionary sometimes, and I admit it.

This whole experience has just made me realize how hungry I am for like-minded fellowship.  I hope that G-d will see fit to surround us with just that.

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