Monday, September 24, 2012

The age of discovery

Sunburst and I have been enjoying reading about the age of discovery and the renaissance.  Normally this is a grade seven subject, but we're inevitably a bit behind schedule.  Six months to be exact.  With all the moves over the years, and the breadth and depth at which homeschooling allows us to study a subject, we will never truly be "on schedule" again.  And that's okay.  In fact, I prefer it this way rather than rushing ahead to the next thing.  It's one of the blessings of learning at home.

We are truly enamored with this new age of exploration, and Sunburst's abilities just keep expanding.  Every year I find myself amazed with her work, both as an artist and writer, and this year is no exception. She has really come into herself lately.  Her summaries and artwork are all done independently now, with only the smallest bit of advice from me from time to time.

Last spring I could see a glimpse of this coming, as I did very few drawings with her towards the end.  Now she feels completely confident to work alone.  It's a wondrous thing to watch.

For discovery, so far we have focused on Prince Henry the Navigator, Magellan, Columbus, and the conquistadors Pizarro, Almagro, and Cortez.  She has enjoyed writing about each and every one, and the illustrations in her main lesson book have been more map-centered.

Here's just a little taste of her work.  I love the caravels.

We've also been studying the renaissance painters, with an emphasis on Giotto, Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael, and Michaelangelo.  Though it takes an inordinate amount of time, it's a wonderful opportunity to try to copy work from the master artists.  I let her sift through their images and pick the ones that spoke to her.  So far she has attempted artwork from both da Vinci and Raphael.  Michaelangelo and Giotto are still yet to come.

And then what?  I don't know!  Architectural changes... or whatever catches our fancy.  It's the age of exploration and inspiration, after all.

Here is a taste of her work from the master artists, Leonardo and Raphael.

Her portrait drawing leaves me breathless.  I remember when we first started homeschooling and it was all we could do to manage the block crayon drawing.  If you would have asked me then if Sunburst's drawing would ever reach this level of wonder and skill, I would have laughed.  I would have hoped, surely, but honestly?  I would have said only in my wildest dreams... and yet, here we are.


  1. Her art is amazing. But then, she has had such a wonderful education - lucky girl!

  2. The drawings are beautiful, Sunburst! I hope I can draw as well when I get to grade 8....

    I have a question for you that has nothing to do with this post......A lot of the time I feel torn between wanting to give my child the freedom to follow his own schedule and interests and wanting to have a very strong rhythm and follow the Waldorf curriculum. I keep asking myself, would Steiner give the same advice now, and to homeschoolers too? I really don't think he would. So, as free-thinking folk who started off as wannabe unschoolers, and with 7 years and 3 children under your belt, how have you reconciled the agenda of the curriculum with the (different????) agendas of your children? I know that's a huge question to ask.....but I wonder if you have managed to find that balance that works for your family where you have made this method, this curriculum, your own. It certainly comes across that way to me when I read your blog, and it's very inspiring.

    1. Thank you, Cathy.

      That's a really good question, because the suggested curriculum is huge and time-consuming, especially when you get to grades 6 and up. And the children do have their own agendas that don't necessarily coincide with that. For us I think the key has been to keep the work exciting and joyous. And they take so much pride in their work, that they sort of urge themselves ever onwards-- it's like the spark continually ignites another spark.

      What also works for us is to really do a lot of work on Mondays when everyone is refreshed, and if we're successful, the week really flows well from there. The kids are motivated to do more, and yet the hard work seems to lead them towards their own individual endeavors. So it's a strange place between motivation and relaxed freedom-- does that make sense?

      We definitely don't spend all day long working though. Sunburst spends most of her mornings writing fiction during breakfast-- sometimes she'll take two hours to eat because she's so involved in her own world. Moonshine likes to do her thing in the afternoon-- whether its play music or jump rope or play with her dolls. Kitty Bill is almost always doing his thing, since at his age the formal learning is really such a small portion of the day. For as much work as they do, they still spend an awful lot of time playing. If they're playing well together, I can't bear to interrupt them. If they're arguing, then there is no better time for "school."

      I often wonder what Steiner would think of our homeschool approach to his work. I'm sure he would have all sorts of new ideas for us, since we aren't confined to a school room or schedule. For me, I can see why the work is important. I can see the shift in consciousness in my children, and it blows my mind. I'm sure they see it too, if only reflected in my amazement of them.

      So we work and play, almost like breathing-- in breath, out breath. And more often than not, the work is reflected in the play. I really pushed them hard today to get some work done, and then what did they do? The went off in the other room and played school!

  3. We are not just six months behind schedule, but more than a year! We never moved, but just bringing five children into the world has really slowed us down :). Jonathan is at the same point your daughter is at, but I don't know how to fit main lessons into his schedule right now. We are more working on developing good study skills during his first high school year and that is why we enrolled him. It is really working out well for him, but there is little time left. I do hope that we can take up some more history studies as he has gotten used to his new schedule.

    Wonderful work Sunburst! You can see your love for what you are doing!!

    1. Eva, I completely understand where you're coming from. This is the age when it gets really hard. Do we continue with the curriculum, or do we focus more on getting them ready for college and/or the world? In the UK system kids start on a path of examinations at age 14 that decides their entire futures, or so I'm told. At this point, I think Waldorf has given Sunburst a better foundational education than I received by 12th grade from a US public school, which is just crazy. And kind of sad.

      I haven't really made any definite decisions on what to do beyond this year, but I'm glad to hear that Jonathan is liking his coursework. The study skills are definitely needed for university, perhaps the most important skill of all.

      Anyway, it's nice to hear that you're behind, too-- we're in good company! And thank you so much for the sweet compliments for Sunburst.

  4. Sara, thank you for taking the time for such a thoughtful reply. The thing about the Waldorf curriculum is that it was it's depth that attracted me to Waldorf in the first place, that and the reverence for the work. Yet at the same time - now that it's me doing the teaching LOL - it's also rather intimidating. With experience perhaps you can look back and see what was important and what could have been dropped to make space for something else, but to me it often all seems so interesting and it's hard to leave things out.

    As I walk this path and learn from my experience (and a lot of mistakes along the way), I am always weighing up whether or not my agenda (ie the Waldorf curriculum and HOW we go about it) is really meeting my individual child. In so many ways it is, and for me as the teacher/parent it is so very interesting and stimulating and exciting and I think I would need that to feel motivated by the homeschooling myself. But I always have this inner turmoil about trusting my child to find his own way vs I know what's best for him, if that makes sense. I feel more comfortable with the idea of being a facilitator, which seems to fit more with an unschooling approach, than an authority, which is what Waldorf seems to be (at this stage). Yet I don't feel drawn to unschooling at all....

    Anyway, thank you for "listening" to my ramblings. I guess that continually questioning what I am doing goes with the territory of taking on this responsibility of home education.

    Thank you for the tip about working hard on Mondays. I will try that , it sounds like a really good idea.

    That's funny about playing school. That happens at my house too :o)

    1. Oh Cathy, if we're not second-guessing ourselves, I don't think we're doing it right. :) And that goes for everything-- homeschooling, parenting, and so on.

      For me, I think I lucked out by having a choleric first born, because she's ready to rise to any challenge. Then the others-- Moonshine is a phlegmatic/melancholic -- tend to get buoyed along by her enthusiasm. They see what Sunburst is doing, and they want to do it too. I don't know if it's sibling rivalry, or if they just accept that this is the path.

      One thing about the depth of Waldorf, I have to let you in on a little secret. When I toured some Waldorf schools in Switzerland I noticed that the actual work in the MLBs was scant. For their man/animal book, they had managed only three or four animals in the entire block. And from grades 5 and up, they had xeroxed copies pasted in here and there. That encouraged me, because from then on, I knew that whatever we do at home is good enough.

      The one thing we don't have is a place to sit and talk with other Waldorf home educators. I dream of a day when we could all get together in person and chat over a cup of tea, because these are all important questions. How do you tell if the work is meeting the child in a meaningful way? How do you know when to leave a subject for later and come back to it? How do you know when to back off educationally and just let the child be?

      I think I've finally reconciled my unschooling dreams to know that it doesn't matter what I lead the show with, the kids are drawn to their own paths regardless. Sometimes I think that the more firmly I lead, the more firmly they're drawn in this other direction. It's food for thought, anyway. xo

  5. That's a good point about the MLBs. I saw some first grade ones and I was surprised by all the outlining in the pictures, and again, not a lot of work documented. That's one of the hard things about homeschooling - the big question, are we doing it right? Is it good enough?

    Ah yes! A regular cup of tea and chat with others who share this experience. Sounds wonderful.

  6. I agree with Sarah! Then, too, I think all your kids do incredible work. :)


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