Friday, November 03, 2006

Balancing Unschooling and Waldorf

Big Mama asked me a really great question about how I balance Unschooling and Waldorf. Actually it's quite simple, really.

What we do is use unschooling (child interest) as our foundation where-upon all things rest/build. Last October Sunburst asked for something "more school-like" and I turned to Waldorf Ed and presented her a lesson. She loved it and wanted more, and that's how we got here. She still wants more and LOVES the stories, so we're still using Waldorf as a guide.

So far almost everything that I've offered up to her she has latched onto and wanted to see through to the end, though again I think it's that idea of school and authority. She loves to play school and have the idea of school. And I think she craves the authority of having someone else come up with the ideas. I have no doubts that her varied interests, if pursued, would give her a full education. But I think she really needs/wants to share the load of responsibility there. By handing the reins to me, she's free to sit back and learn. It's a lot of work to constantly run the show and be in it!

If one of my lessons hits a brick wall, I would have to really examine if it was lack of interest or poor presentation. I'd probably ask her. I think we're close to that brick wall with this tree stuff we're doing... probably because it comes less from me and my creative process and more from a book, so we've shelved it for now. I've asked her if she wanted to work on it, and she's told me, "No. Not right now." It's easy to tell when something just doesn't excite her.

I also use her interests to guide lessons. For our letter stories last year, one of the main characters was a girl that had similar interests to Sunburst, and Sunburst really latched onto her. I weaved that same character into our Intro to Numbers lesson, our introduction to the flute, in presenting the four operations, and into the math stories for grade two. Sunburst is currently into horses, so our current maths lesson is rife with horse-work. I've noticed that if it engages her heart, her current interests, then everything else just falls into place.

We don't have a set school time. It's really something impossible with an infant in the house. Kitty Bill's needs seem to trump everyone else's right now. Usually during his naptime I'll suggest we do school, and most of the time she's into it. Sometimes she'll ask to finish what she's doing first. Or do it tomorrow.

The handwork comes naturally, so I don't have to push that. It's monkey-see, monkey-do around here. I do have to instigate music lesson time, and she loves it, but it's not usually something she remembers she loves until she does it. Again, I try to tie the music in with her interests. A flute song will come from a story or it will be a song we've been singing in the morning. And oftentimes if I pick up the flute and play, she instinctively HAS to grab hers out and play with me. It's contagious.

Also there are times when I plan a lesson, and she likes it, but has a different idea of how it should work or what she wants to draw or what should happen in the story. So I try not to be too attached to my own ideas. Her ideas and needs are important, and I often seek them out. She helps name story characters all the time or will guide the plot with a simple question. And if she asks for a story, like more fairy tales when we've clearly moved onto something else, I will oblige her and work it in. That's probably not so different than what most homeschooling parents do. It's all about making it work and making it fun.

For the last two weeks there has been little impetus to do school, so I haven't pushed it. Sunburst has had her nose in a few books, and she's been content just to spend her time reading or outside raking leaves or playing with the neighbor's dog. And I'm okay with that. We also had the Biography Fair, Halloween to prepare for, and she came down with a fever two days ago, so there were no lessons. At least prepared lessons. I'm sure she's learning something, even if it's just what the warning signs of a concussion are-- we spent last night in the emergency room with Kitty Bill who inadvertently climbed up the bunkbed ladder and plummeted onto his head!

Even when we're not "doing school," there is this very Waldorf-inspired presence in everything we do, probably from all the books and information that I've digested over the last few years. I really think Unschooling and Waldorf can mix remarkably well --at least that's our experience right now. It may not always work like this as Sunburst changes and grows and wants less authority. But for now she wants school-time, and how can I say no to that? It's an open door. An opportunity, and I would be a fool to let it slip by.


  1. Hi, I love your post! I linked to it on my blog. I don't know how to do the link thing here at your site.

    Anyway, I am doing things very similiarly with my 7 yo.

  2. I love this post. We've just finished first grade in Waldorf home school and I'm really seeing the need to add a little more child-led learning & let go of the reins a bit. When we let go of formal lessons this year there was such a living quality to my son's learning and our lives. Schooling was exciting for us both. My son does enjoy the formal lessons though as well. Right now I'm trying to figure out how it all works together. Thanks for the inspiration!



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