In my last post about homeschooling, I talked about the Waldorf approach to education and why it has worked so well with Indigo’s learning style. The Christopherus homeschooling curriculum excites me. I am truly passionate about it. And it is no understatement to say the overall philosophy has revolutionized our home life. The emphasis on rhythm and structuring our days with an in-breath/out-breath flow works beautifully. So in a sense, a Waldorf approach is embedded in our family life.
Another way we apply Waldorf philosophy in our family is by asking our children to do chores alongside of us. The kids do chores with me for about 30 minutes every day in addition to their after dinner kitchen duties. Waldorf is considered child-inclusive but neither parent-centered nor child-centered. It heavily emphasizes creativity while maintaining a peaceful sense of order. So, yes, a child can and should work on a craft. Creativity plays a central role in Waldorf education. But no, the young child does not have free access to the entire art supply closet, flitting from one craft to the next, never completing any of it and making one gigantic mess. Yes, there is imaginative play, but then yes, we all clean it up afterward. And no, we don't eat food all over the house, because we only eat food at the table. And that's that.
Does that sound hardcore? Well, as Dan likes to say, we have five children and without boundaries things quickly spiral downward into Lord of the Flies territory. So having these boundaries in place help to maintain a peaceful space for learning and keep things running smoothly around here. Of course, the older children have many more freedoms than the younger ones and that is part of Waldorf education, too.
Most of the ideas within Waldorf pedagogy speak to me, although some of the more esoteric parts are a little woo/out there for me, so I just disregard them. However, the artsy side of Waldorf does not resonate with Jude. In Waldorf curriculum the child is drawing or painting and doing handwork like knitting, beeswax or clay modeling almost every day. Art is not really Jude's thing right now. Therefore, he has been resistant to doing a complete Waldorf curriculum.
And that's okay. There is an ancient rabbinic proverb which goes something like, "If your child was made to be a baker, don't ask him to be a doctor." Jude loves Legos, music, and reading and I love Jude exactly as he is.
Jude has a lot of grit and loves to be challenged so we designed a custom curriculum for 4th grade, picking programs that fit his learning style and gave him the challenge he was looking for.
As with Indigo, we use Singapore Math for math. I am very happy with Singapore Math. We use the US Edition Textbooks and Workbooks, the mental math Exercises from the Instructor's Guides and the Singapore Intensives. Both of my kids have scored in the 93rd+ percentiles in math on their standardized tests two years in a row because of Singapore Math. This was a significant improvement from their test scores when they attended a parochial school, which used Saxon Math. Singapore Math is a big commitment from a time perspective but we feel it's worth it.
Jude also completed a (free) How to Learn Math : For Students course through Stanford University. The professor emphasized that there is no such thing as 'math people'. Everyone can learn math. It's a matter of practice and learning in a way that makes sense to you. Many, many people have stories of being told they were bad at math, when in fact they were not. Dan and I both have our own stories like that! So we really want our children to have confidence in this area and right now they do.
As a base curriculum we used Oak Meadow (4th grade). Jude used Oak Meadow for Science, Social Studies, Art, and Language Arts. He enjoyed the eight novels assigned through their language arts curriculum as well as the various assignments associated with the books. He also did a lot of free reading including the three books in the Lord of the Rings Series plus the Hobbit.
OM Social Studies focused primarily on our state this year, first exploring Native American history and then settlers. They tried to engage the kids by having them build models of a Native American village but Jude wasn't really into that. I didn't feel Oak Meadow was as hands on this year. There were a lot of reports to write. To me, the Native American and settlers units seemed to drag on and I felt he could have learned at least as much in a lot less time by going to a Texas history museum, instead of doing all of the research reports.
That said, Jude said he liked doing Oak Meadow and wants to do it again next year. I like that Oak Meadow is written to the student (starting in 4th grade). It seeks to give the student autonomy and teach them self-directed learning and Jude did an excellent job with this. OM 5th grade curriculum appeals to me more than their 4th grade curriculum did.
For Grammar, we used Michael Clay Thompson's series of books: Grammar Town, Caesar's English, Paragraph Town, Building Poems, and Practice Town. We loved the first three books. Caesar's English is a Latin-based approach, which involves studying and memorizing Latin stems, as well as learning classic and academic vocabulary. Michael Clay Thompson's poetry books are very in-depth, going into poetic meter (iambic, trochee) and I felt 4th grade was a little young for that. I think at this age poetry should still be fun and not so technical. The grammar practice sections also got extremely technical, but overall it was great. I learned a lot, too! We plan to take a year off of MCT's books next year and pick them back up again when Jude is in 6th grade, from there on alternating them every other year. That way he can wrap them up around the time he's taking his ACTs or SATs.
A couple of other supplementary programs we used were Spelling City with spelling lists from K12 Reader. We also used the monthly Magic School Bus science kits which I got for 50% off through Educents. Those have been a big hit.
We're a Christian family so we incorporate some faith based elements to our home life as well. This year Jude, Indigo and I memorized Hebrews 11-12:3 which fit in nicely with Indigo's saints unit in her curriculum. After dinner as a family, we worked through study guides based on videos developed by a Hebrew scholar/PhD from UW-Madison. Right now we are reading through the Hebrew proverbs. Jude and Indigo also voluntarily jumped in with Sophie and me in our Bible in a year undertaking, though the kids are following an abbreviated plan.
For outside activities, Jude attended a weekly afternoon playgroup (excuse me, Park Day as they tell me 'playgroup' is "too babyish"). :) Jude sang in our city's children's chorus. He also takes piano lessons. He has developed a strong interest in piano and often practices for an hour or more each day. This year he received a musical achievement award, given to only a few students in the music studio.
We have a lot of balls up the air. One thing that was tremendously helpful was implementing a checklist system. I got that idea here. (I have needed a lot of guidance to get to the place where we are now, because I am not a naturally organized person... at all.) It went up on our refrigerator every day, helping me keep my finger on the pulse of what needed to be done. It also set very clear expectations for the kids. I wrote a new list each week and then made copies on our printer for each day of the week. This idea was a lifesaver!
Jude's fourth grade year was great. I loved growing in my relationship with him, our own relationship changing as he's growing up. He's a deep thinker and a compassionate soul. I love being around to hear what's on his heart. He's also a great big brother to his siblings. They are so lucky to have him.
Homeschooling is hard work. We tried to lighten the load a bit by having a babysitter help out with some of the driving as well as with homework a couple of hours a week. Still, nearly every waking moment of my day was scheduled, especially with Dan's long hours and heavy work load at his job. I'm grateful for his hard work and provision for our family so that homeschooling is possible for us. And I am grateful that I was able to teach my children at home this year, albeit by the end, I felt very tired and felt stretched paper thin. (Just keeping it real, folks.) :) However, for most of the year, I wished for a couple more hours in each day to really slow down and take it all in, as it was so rich and so beautiful.