Sunday, September 30, 2007

Planning ahead

Despite the illnesses, we had a really outstanding couple of weeks here doing the back to school thing. We're easing into it, and magically, after hitting a road bump or two, things are falling right into place.

One of the best things I did was to borrow Aleisha's fantastic weekly schedule visual. Have you seen hers? I love the idea that the kid(s) help create it, thereby owning it to an extent. And displaying it helps keep everyone on track. --I borrowed from it liberally, because she has things laid out so well.

I also borrowed some organizational finesse from Spinneretta, of The Jacobite Rose. She's got the best planner idea I've seen yet! And using downloads from Spinneretta herself and Donna Young, I've now got a working planner. Emphasis on working. Yes, I'm actually able to plan stuff, keep it in one place, and follow through. I've added a handwritten sheet for Goals (both emotional and educational) for my girls, and I'm good to go. I'm trying to write in pencil on those weekly sheets, so that I can erase anything we don't get done, and then move the item to the next day. What I'm left with is a record of what has actually happened, rather than what I intended to happen. I'm really loving it, and I think the nice thing about the planner is that it's something tangible that I can look at the night before and see what I need to prepare/do/think about in order to be fully present the next day.

I usually get so caught up in my own needs after my three kids go to bed that I forget to think about tomorrow. I get so bent on trying to get that dose of time for myself, no matter how minuscule it may be some nights, that I find myself often walking into the next day ill-prepared.

I've been reading such provoking books lately, perhaps the most so is Eugene Schwartz's lectures Rhythms and Turning Points in the Life of the Child. In the first lecture he says such incredibly smart things that, had I been underlining, the book would have looked ridiculous when I was through. One of those incredible things he says is parallel to something we learned with our exploration of Rosh Hashana-- that the new day starts at sundown. He says if you prepare for the lesson the night before, if you think about/meditate on the children in your care, you then take all of that with you into your sleep where you meet in spirit form with the children, have a "cosmic main lesson," and receive guidance, not only from higher spirits but from the children as well.

I've heard this sort of stuff many times over the years, and while I believe in this spirit world he refers to, it has been awhile since I really made an ongoing, conscious effort to sit with the lessons and my thoughts at night. It's so easy to slide into the place of meeting my own immediate needs, rather than looking ahead to tomorrow. But Schwartz reminds me that the proof is in the pudding, so to speak. That this nightly preparation has such measurable effects, that it works and can be proven.

He says:
"Think of a main lesson that went especially well, one that you can look back on... you could look back on it and not only say, "Well, that was good. They really learned something" but you feel your inner being is somewhat transformed. You feel as though you and the children were speaking together, your hearts were beating as one, you were breathing as one. Something happened. Then look back on it and I'm certain that you will find two things occurred. One is that some point you practically threw your main lesson plan out the window and started to teach something rather different. It was still in that subject but quite changed and metamorphosed from what you imagined. And most likely the reason you did it that way was because a child asked a question... it was as though they were feeding you what you needed to say. It was coming out of their being and as they heard you speak what was on their soul, they smiled and said, "Ah" or grew more and more enthusiastic."

My inner being transformed? Our hearts beating as one? Breathing as one?

All this for planning ahead? Count me in!

Gratitude and more

I'm coming up for air after several days of small children with stomach flu. I could go on to regale you with horror stories involving toddlers and diarrhea, but I fear I've already said too much.

During those dark days, I was also regaled with the kindest words from so many of you-- in the comments, on your blogs, in emails... and I just wanted to tell you all from the bottom of my heart that I am deeply and truly touched. Thank you. :-)

A few people have asked me now if I would share more of our homeschooling stories, or even to write up some kind of homeschooling book. I am so flattered and humbled by that request. I will definitely try to share more of our lessons, both past and present. The idea of being able to share and exchange ideas with other like-minded homeschoolers was the sole inspiration for this blog. I felt like I was finding so much inspiration out there--on lists and on the now defunct Wonder Homeschool site-- that I wanted to give something back.

To me, homeschooling my children starts with the heart. Not only does my heart have to be in the right place, my stories and lessons and entire approach have to meet my children on a level that will engage their hearts first and foremost. To do that, the lessons have to come from my heart. And that, folks, isn't something that presently feels right to put a price on. At least to me, though I don't expect everyone to share my Dobbleresque values.
I don't want to sell anything, buy anything, or process anything as a career. I don't want to sell anything bought or processed, or buy anything sold or processed, or process anything sold, bought, or processed, or repair anything sold, bought, or processed. You know, as a career, I don't want to do that.
--Lloyd Dobbler (John Cusack) from Say Anything

Homeschooling is big business. People are marketing all kinds of curriculum and materials and their own blogs, even, as if every word held monetary value. It worries me that something originating from one's heart has the potential to spiral into something completely different when you attach a price tag to it. It doesn't always happen this way, but I've been around long enough to witness the Ahrimanic forces take root even with Waldorf homeschooling.

But I'm flattered by the asking, really, and I'll do my best to keep sharing what we come up with over here-- whether it's original stuff or regurgitated and/or morphed standard Waldorf fare. And I hope you all will do the same, so we can grow together on this journey. It's a tough path we've chosen-- to educate our children in such an expressive, artistic, reverential way. To give of ourselves so much! By sharing freely, we can lighten the load for one another.

And for those of you who doubt your own abilities, Barbara Dewey (the original Waldorf homeschooling guru) said something very powerful at her conference this summer that has stuck with me. Surely she said and modeled a lot of lovely things, but this one bit was particularly key to the whole experience of homeschooling.

She said, and I'm paraphrasing, that there are no Waldorf experts. Even trained and certified Waldorf teachers are not experts; they will never know everything. To do this job you must be an "enthusiastic, creative amateur. We're all always becoming."

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Beautiful handmade toys

Spinneretta, of the lovely The Jacobite Rose, has done a wonderful job hosting the Beauty of Toymaking Fair for September.

Go see, and revel in the beauty of handmade toys!

Monday, September 24, 2007

Something wicked this way comes...

I'm not sure what direction the internet is taking, but this weekend I saw some pretty worrisome things. And I'm not sure that I like it.

First up, Google books. Have you been there? Originally I saw a list of Autumnal book links, and went to check them out. Old, lovely books. In their entirety, and available for free download. Well, that's exciting, I thought, since they are obviously way out of print. Well then I went to update my sidebar book list, and went Googling around for a link to the wonderful book by Reg Down that we're reading, The Festival of Stones, and there it was. On Google books!

This book was published in 2005. And it's there. A huge, whopping portion of it. And why? Well, apparently the publisher has given Google the go-ahead to list it online. You can't download it, but there's a heck of a lot of it there. Really! Doesn't that just seem more than a teensy bit wrong to you? I wonder what Reg Down thinks about this. Or if he even knows?! And what's more, I wonder how many other books that are still in print are listed. And I wonder how this affects the authors of said books, because don't they get paid a portion of book sales? Surely it's a very small portion, but a portion nonetheless.

And are people thinking... Why buy the cow if you can get the milk for free?


Second up, Big Brother I was clicking through a host of blogs and on more than one occasion I clicked on someone's page and WAH! There was MY name in some little Amazon advertisement box. It said, "Hi Sara..." One of these blogs I had never even been to before. Ever. And it really freaked me out.

So I investigated it a little bit further, and it turns out that those little boxes are part of a program called the Amazon Honor System. People put them on their sites to solicit monetary donations, which are paid directly through your Amazon account. And who doesn't have an Amazon account? It knew my name because I have an account, and the little box recognized me just like Amazon recognizes me when I go to their site. I don't even have to log in... somehow it knows. Which is bad enough, right? But then I realized that Amazon can track me... and my movements on the web, or at least on any page that has an Amazon donations box. It's all a little too big brothery for me.

Amazon said it's not tracking people, at least not for now... there probably aren't enough little donation boxes out there yet to make it worthwhile. But give it a month or a year, and who knows? They may change their minds... Wired magazine had a very convincing article about this.

I don't want to be tracked. I don't want to see my name on websites across the globe. I don't want to see recent books splayed out online. That's what a library is for, am I right? I want to have to get out of my chair, walk a few blocks to the library, search through the shelves, and plop my little card down on the counter. And only then do I want to hear someone say my name... because they know me. As they should, since I come in every week.

I'm constantly amazed by the wonder and horror of the internet. My world is ever growing smaller, and in one sense that's great because I have found such community and friendship online. Inspiration and hope and empathy. It's the price of this double-edged connectedness that I wonder about. How much privacy and personal freedom can I wager? And do I really have a choice?

Friday, September 21, 2007

L'shanah tovah

Last week the kids and I celebrated Rosh Hashana*, the Jewish New Year. We're not Jewish, but it correlated with the school story I'm telling, so I went with it. Originally I was thinking it would be a nice way to include/introduce spiritual customs and rituals that we're not familiar with. You know the drill-- increase cultural literacy: eat the food, speak the language, tell a story. But it turned out to be a much deeper experience than that.

In our school story, our main character Clara had just arrived at her grandmother's house. Upon rising her first morning there, she spied some children from her window. They were hurrying along (to synagogue,) but upon seeing her they called out, "L'shanah tovah"-- wishing her a good year. Of course she wanted to go play with them, but her grandmother told her the kids would be in synagogue most of the day... which left it wide open for a discussion of Rosh Hashana itself, including the 100 notes sounded from the ram's horn, or shofar, during synagogue.

Now, you're a homeschooler and you could potentially use this as a maths lesson-- 100 notes sounded off from a horn, or flute, or what have you. Would that be some sort of blasphemy? I wondered about that. Could one potentially blast those notes and still preserve some sort of religious/cultural respect? We tried, but frankly there's something mildy amusing that happens when you get beyond thirty or forty and then begin to lose count. The point of the notes, it is believed, is that they issue a call to repentance. And depending on how you look at it, laughter itself is a very cleansing activity. On the other, I suppose it gives us something to repent about.

Terrible, I know. But I love the idea of a holiday of repentance. Everyone gets a chance at a clean slate. If you suck, you make amends. And you get ten days to do it. There's a very clear parameter there which is very appealing. I mean, who among us doesn't need to make amends for something?

So we ate of the food, we said the greeting, we pretended the shofar, and then we took a walk at a nearby creek. I handed them each some bread crumbs and told them how in our school story Clara went for a walk with her grandmother on Rosh Hashana. And her grandmother, though not Jewish either, said that sometimes there is a great wisdom in other people's customs. And then she began the practice of casting off her sins, or misdeeds, into the flowing water of the creek. This practice is known as Tashlikh, and the quality of this experience just sent a great hush over us as we walked along and did our own casting off.

I don't know what my kids were thinking about when they were emptying their pockets, surely they don't have many misdeeds at their ages... but me at my age? Goodness. It's good to think about these things-- a mandatory introspection. I really did stop and assess my behavior and attitudes and how it compares to the person I want to be. The parent I want to be. Am I doing my best? Am I living up to my full potential? Why am I falling short of that? What can I do differently?

Yeah, I know. All that in a piece of bread.

There's something about the sound and energy of rushing water that I've always found to be very cleansing. As soon as I read about the practice of Tashlikh, I thought, "those Jewish people are smart!" I mean it! Remember the last time you walked on the beach-- the sound of the water rushing in and receding. It does something to a person. There's some energetic shift, a lightening, that you can't help but feel. I remember as a little girl going up in the Chiricahua mountains and standing near a rushing stream and feeling like I was witnessing some kind of magic happening. I felt so light and free and connected.

It happened again when my dad died three years ago and I was experiencing such a state of complete loss and anguish. His loss was deeply crushing, and the excruciating emotional months that followed his death-- the funeral, the family gatherings, the wading through the material pieces of his life-- completely overwhelmed me. I remember wondering how I would ever overcome these feelings. And then another family member died, and the emotional charge was just unfathomable.

We packed the kids in the car and we drove to the beach, and it was the best thing we could have done. I walked along the water's edge and felt the ache in my heart begin to ease. So we spent a lot of time near flowing water for the next few months... hiking along creeks, canoeing in the river-- they all had that same effect. I don't know if it's a tonal healing, the sound of the water, or if it's something far more encompassing than that. All I know is that I've felt it work.

The practice of "letting go" is known and practiced by many different religions. You've heard people say, "Let go, and let God." Even with Zen and Buddhism, there is this idea that you shouldn't be attached to things, you should let them go. So you meditate to clear your mind, to achieve "nothingness"-- emptying out all that internal chatter, the desires and regrets and what have you, which is the way to enlightment. Enlighten. To make lighter. To ease. To rise.

As the kids and I walked alongside the creek on Rosh Hashana, there was a definite lightening of our pockets as we tossed our bread crumbs into the water. Though it was a truly meaningful experience for me, I wasn't sure if the kids really got the point of it. It's such an inner experience, this holiday of repentance, despite the tangibility of the activity of Taklish-- releasing the the bread into the water. As it turned out, my children surprised me. They were fairly quiet and focused, even after they ran out of bread. They, too, were reluctant to return home again.

Moonshine, my five-year-old, turned to me and with great earnest asked if we could do this again. "Do what, toss bread into the water?" I asked her.

"No," she said. "Celebrate Rosh Hashana. Every year."

Sometimes there is a great wisdom in other people's customs.

*Everything I learned about Rosh Hashana and the Days of Awe I got from Judaism 101-- here and here.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007


About a month ago I had a birthday. I'm now fully ensconced in my mid-thirties, if you must know. And it's okay, this birthday stuff. After all, there is cake... and who can turn down a good cake? Plus I get presents! We're not really all that different from our kids, are we? I like presents just as much as they do. And it's even better when the present is actually something you like. And will use.

I'm not usually one to brag, but this year I got the best present ever. And no, I don't mean the shiny earrings, though they were quite nice, too. I'm talking about this lovely thing here:

It looks like a banana, you say? Well, yes. But when you peel it open, it's a whole different kind of thing. It's a game called Bananagrams. This banana holds 144 letter tiles so that you can build your own Scrabbley kind of word set-up. It's genius, actually. Rather than playing off another person's words, you play off your own. The object is to use all your letters first... and in order to do that you can change them and move them around as needed, rather than just adding onto them or leaving them stagnant as you do in Scrabble. It doesn't have to be a winners/losers scenario either... you can play nice. And you can play solo. And you can play several rounds a night for days on end.

I think I just let out my inner-Scrabble-geek.

But ah, well. My family knows me well enough to understand how much fun I would have with this game. And the best part is that they are enjoying it, too. Sunburst can also play along at her own spelling level, and although admittedly they have each taken to giving me a large handicap, it's fun for everyone. And whether she realizes it or not, it's homeschooling, too.

And the cake? It was carrot. And pretty good, too, even if it did nearly singe my hair while I was trying to blow all those flaming candles out. Next year? Fewer candles!

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

A bit of nature

I've had the worst luck with nature tables over the years. If I have them down low they manage to get destroyed by the babies, toddlers, and cats in my life. If I have them up high, well, they get sorely neglected.

With the onset of Autumn, and tying in with our "new beginnings" theme, I'm trying it out again. Old table, new location. So far it has survived 10 days. I think that's a record in this house.

I still can't believe the leaves are starting to change already!

Friday, September 14, 2007

Beginning anew - fall lessons

It seems to have become Fall weather overnight. The leaves are changing and dropping in our yard, and the mornings are chill. It's amazing. And lovely. And alas, undeniably time for school.

We started up Tuesday morning with a lengthy, fun circle out in the yard around a pile of leaves. Of course this involved jumping into the pile of leaves during our rowdier 'falling down' songs, but truly, it was great fun! During our closing song our three voices blended and rose up so beautifully that I almost cried. Afterwards I hugged them tightly, showered them with kisses, and welcomed them into a new year of school-- into 3rd grade and Kindergarten.*

Sunburst was feeling a bit unsure of what 3rd grade held for her. "Are we still going to do stories?" She asked, longingly.

So it was then I knew we had to jump right in. I started simply, as I drew her (and Moonshine) along into the overarching story for the year. Again, we're back to our school story, The Adventures of Clara, the wise man's daughter. She's off to stay with her Cherokee grandmother and make friends with the neighboring Jewish family. While she's gone, a good friend and her family will take up residence in Clara's home...

I told this part of the story over a picnic lunch at the park, and when we arrived back at our own home, we entered the house with 'new' eyes. If a family was coming to stay in our house, what would they see? What should we clean up?

Barbara Dewey suggested at her conference last month that we get our houses in order before we begin our homeschool year. It's a great idea, but I haven't been able to make much headway with all the things going on. So that's what we did, we cleaned up. Together. And it was fun because it was part of the story.

When we felt satisfied, we went to the table and drafted a letter to the friend who was coming to stay in Clara's house. Sunburst offered up her ideas (play with my toys, feed my cat) and I wrote them up into a proper letter on the chalkboard for her to copy down into her new main lesson book. Moonshine wanted to do something too, so she drew a picture for Clara to leave with her letter.

Then Clara traveled along to her grandmother's house, arriving after sunset on Rosh Hashana. Her first day of the new adventure -- the start of the Jewish New Year.

Seeing that time correlation in the story made me take a deep breath in. I was so worried that I wouldn't be able to make this year work-- to mesh together all the themes and make it exciting and wondrous. Really, it was stressing me out! So I went to sleep and asked for some guidance. I woke up with no answers, but then this story just fell out of my mouth and seemed to click. New beginnings, a perfect theme for the Waldorf 3rd grade year. Creation stories, Old Testament stories (like Noah), farming (planting the seeds), shelters... it's all about beginning anew.

And thus we began. Welcome to our year!

*The grades placement actually means a lot to them. I never figured it would as homeschoolers, but now that they have a street full of public school children to play with, they are paying much more attention to what grade they are in as sort of a rite of passage. It helps them know they are striving along, climbing that ladder to maturity.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Summer's last hurrah!

All the kids on our street have been back in school for three weeks or so, but not us. No sir! We haven't even begun to head in that direction yet. We've been much too busy.

This was our last hurrah of the summer. Camping, canoing, grandparents, miniature golf, knitting, and goose poop? Hmm, I guess you had to be there.

Sunburst spent most of her time manning the canoe solo-- totally her choice. This was a first for her, and she's a fine boatman, er boatperson.

Moonshine, by contrast, was all about the fishing. She spent many, many hours happily catching all manner of seaweed. And bringing them to me, each and every time. It was great... until she caught her sister.

Kitty Bill came down with a cantankerous cold but still managed to go out on the canoe, chase geese, and play a dangerous 18 holes of mini-golf.

And Einstein? Me? We sat around enjoying the view and doing some really important stuff. Like nothing. It was a nice way to end a long, hot, and busy summer.

Nature always wins

Just when you think the bugs can't get any crazier, nature steps it up a notch.

This Hickory Horned Devil had all our kids entranced at our last homeschool park day meet-up. First of all, let me say HUGE caterpillar. Enormous! It's the size of a large hot dog. It comes with all the bells and whistles-- large suctiony feet, horns a'plenty, and that alienesque aqua-blue body hue just can't be beat. Later on it will metamorphose into a Royal or Regal Moth. Big caterpillar. Big moth.

Nature. Whew!

**Big thanks to my friend E. for actually having a camera along and letting me share this picture with you.**

Friday, September 07, 2007

Happily Ever After

It's a big day at our house. Einstein and I are celebrating our TENTH wedding anniversary. Complete with sick kids and their many spewing orifices.

But it's the thought that counts, right?

Go ahead and Simpsonize yourself. You know you want to!
Related Posts with Thumbnails
Site Meter