November 4, 2013

Looking for the Sweet Spot

The past week has been one of pretty intense reflection on our current school path.  We've done quite fine for ourselves so far, the kids are excelling in the areas that appear to matter most to the man and they're generally happy and growing and doing all of the things that kids are supposed to do.  Still, I've had some nagging whispers in my head that perhaps we need to make a shift for a while.  

I was talking to some moms in the park the other day about how scheduled we are or are not, and we started talking about the concept of alternating between intense work and recovery.  I don't think of this just as a daily up and down, but as an annual up and down as well.  We usually start off the year with intense focus in early fall and dial back down to recover for a time as the weather chills.Fall and Spring are full of energy, summer and winter slow down and reflect.  So isn't it only natural that our approach to education might completely change with those seasons, too?

I spent the week fully immersing myself in the deeper aspects of Waldorf, feeling like it might be the very thing we need rolling into the slower times.  Hannah Jane's perfectionism is starting to cause her some anxiety and that just breaks my heart.  She focuses on grades and grade levels no matter how much Joe and I tell her that grades really don't matter much (especially at her age).  Think of Carol from that old television show, Growing Pains.  Yup!  That's my little Hannah Jane.  I love that she wants to do well (it sure makes my job easier) but I also want to encourage her to slow down, to enjoy the ride, and to not be so focused on being perfect.  There's a lot more to life than efficiency and correctness. And then there is Hunter, who is excelling academically but his work is always illegible and simple instructions trip him up.  The other day I said to my friend, "I mean, what do you do with a kid who can do long division and multiply decimals, but has never written a five the right direction in his life?"  Waldorf's emphasis on the discovery process over the outcome might nurture my little over-achiever, and its agonizingly slow pace in teaching every most basic step in detail even in the most obvious of tasks might be exactly what Hunter needs.  And the mood and rhythm of Waldorf is quite in step with our natural family rhythm coming into the winter months.  Perhaps we're trivium by spring and fall, and Waldorf by winter and summer.  Why not?

I cannot give myself over completely to the Waldorf method because, well, a lot of it seems more like the stuff of sketch comedy than reality.  I've been listening to audio recordings of Steiner lectures all weekend, gearing up for today, and honestly, the idea that children under 7 view letters as tiny demons and mere exposure to them is soul damaging just, well, I can't go there.  And my kids work on their own academic timeline, so I can't very well pull Hannah Jane back to what a Waldorf kid would be doing in 4th grade. So I'm not going to step in and change what they study.  I'm just going to provide the means for them to study it more spiritually and joyfully. Our morning block will be full tilt Waldorf, and a little window before lunch will be saved for them to continue their traditional studies at their own pace, and then after lunch we're back to full Waldorf.  I hope it's good.  We're giving this schedule a trial month to see how we feel.  

Today we started our new "waldorfy" daily rhythm.  The morning went well, as we worked our way through our main lesson block.  The boys are on linear form drawing this week and Hannah Jane is on basic geometry.  We had a few hiccups with Hannah Jane being devastated that her circle wasn't perfect and that her tangents weren't all exact, but I anticipate that it will take her a good long while to mellow from her perfectionism.  I'm no longer going to allow her to erase a hole right through her paper because a single pencil stroke isn't just right.  We're focusing, for her, on acceptance of her best, whatever that best might be.

With Hunter, on the other hand, we're working on giving a little more focused effort.  So while I encouraged Hannah Jane to just move on and accept her sketch, I encouraged Hunter to do better.  "Is that line exactly the same size as that one?"  He nodded.  "Really?"  He nodded a little more emphatically.  "Because this is graph paper, so it makes it really easy to see that this line starts about 3 blocks below the other and ends about 4 blocks above.  Do you agree?"  He nodded again.  "So would you still say that these lines are the same length?"  Still he nods.  ?!?!?  "Hunter, we cannot work together on your development if you cannot accept when something isn't right and make an attempt to better it."

"But they are the same!  Permanent!"  He and Haven always say permanent when they don't intend to bend at all.  It's there word for and that's final!  And before you start thinking that maybe he really didn't know they weren't the same, let me just explain that Hunter will insist for hours that his name is Abe Lincoln if he thinks it will mean he doesn't have to redo sloppy work.  He knew.  And he thought he could outlast me and somehow eventually I would say, "Oh, you're right!  Why didn't I see it before?  Those 2 lines are the same length!"  But I didn't.  I told him that he could go take a break in the other room until he was ready to talk what is, instead of living in denial.  He didn't want to leave, so he finally said, "Fine!  I'll fix it."  And he did with no help from me.  I knew he could!

So clearly they need different things, but somehow, I think the Waldorf general feel is going to give them both what they need.  He needs to develop an eye for detail, and desire to create beauty rather than settle for sloppy and fast.  Waldorf methods will give him ample time to improve the aesthetics of his work.  Hannah Jane needs to learn to love the learning more than the feeling of being right.  The long, drawn out processes in Waldorf just might help her with that.  She LOVED how pretty her geometry was today, even when it wasn't perfect.  Much prettier and pleasing to the eye than anything she's ever done on Khan Academy or Teaching Textbooks.  And it felt like she was building an intimate relationship with the forms and their core characteristics rather than just generating numbers and measurements, which I think will serve her in the long run.

So, for a season, we're taking a little bit more Steiner inspiration in our home and leaving a little less.  In fact, I think the only thing we're leaving is the idea of what is and isn't age appropriate.  Everything else, we're pretty much a go on.  So, I'm off to hand work class!  


  1. You realize I'm a tad jealous that you get to explore Waldorf with your lovelies! I look forward to hearing more about your investigation of flow.

    1. Oh, Sweet One! I'm sad that we can't do it side by side with you and Sam! But not to worry! I'll share tons more pictures to add to your jealousy :P


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