This blog by children's book author Melissa Wiley originally appeared at ClubMom.com. All posts and comments have been moved here, to this archive. Comments are still open, so feel free to chime in. For new posts, please visit www.melissawiley.com.
I've been so immersed in my Waldorf books this week as prep for this series of posts that I haven't had any time to read blogs all week, and now I see what I've been missing. I love this passage by Willa:
There will be slow days, thorny days, miraculous days. But if you are
there, they will be good days. They will balance themselves out in the
long run. You will see what needs to be done, and do it.
is an art more than a science. Knowledge helps make the art better, but
it is not the art itself. The art is in actually living like a
homeschooler, in season and out, trying to do your best but keeping an
openness to the not so good days. Learning from them but not letting
them ruin what you ARE doing.
That's just what I was getting at yesterday with my lists of what we did and didn't do in the course of the day. Charlotte Mason talked about narration as a technique for discovering what a student actually knows about a subject, as opposed to various testing strategies that in effect show what the student doesn't know. She wasn't writing from a self-esteem-boosting, "focus on the positive" standpoint; she talks about the subject in a very pragmatic manner, suggesting that the positive information (what the student knows) is far more useful for both student and teacher than a paper full of wrong answers, because in looking at what the student remembers about a subject well enough to narrate it, we see how the student connects with the knowledge, forms a relationship with it.
I think the principle applies perfectly to how a homeschooling mother might assess the "success" of a day of learning. It's all too easy to get hung up on the deficits, the weaknesses, the miles yet to go. But that information is really only useful insofar as it relates to the somewhat arbitrary timetables slapped on skill sets and knowledge categories by external parties.
More useful, in my opinion, is a good look at what the children do know, what they have connected with, because this view gives me the opportunity to strew the path with books or experiences that might expand the connection even further.
I think this also keeps me looking at who my children really are instead of viewing them as sort of shadowy figures behind a superimposed amalgam of the accomplishments, habits, and knowledge I would like them to possess.
On the topic of rhythm, Jeanne Faulconer has shared an excellent article she published in the Virginia Home Education Association newsletter a while back.
Despite not being able to figure it all out, I continue to try to hit any homeschooling challenges with my rhythm hammer. A lot of times, it works. I can attempt to organize our time with attention to rhythm, and I can counsel myself to be patient with a child who learns in a "two-steps-forward, one-step-back" rhythm. And when the cobwebs mount in our brains I can walk my boys down to the river to catch crayfish and skip rocks. Even if I ultimately have to use another tool to resolve a particular homeschooling challenge, considering rhythm gives me insight and helps me generate alternatives and potential solutions.
The other day I included Donna Simmons's kindergarten book in my list of favorite Waldorf resources, and talking about it made me want to re-read it, so that's how I spent my Sunday afternoon. I mention that because this book is worth recommending twice. You know, I really think this is the best resource I've seen for working with children under seven—even better (I can hardly believe I'm going to say this) than Charlotte Mason's Home Education, because Donna's book speaks directly to challenges facing 21st-century parents, such as television, computers, toys, and playgroups. Even if you aren't interested in Waldorf or Waldorf-inspired education, even if you aren't (as I am not) an anthroposophist, Kindergarten with Your Three- to Six-Year-Old offers a tremendous wealth of insight and practical suggestions.
The title might seem a puzzler to those of us who come from a mainstream background, where kindergarten is for five-year-olds. A Waldorf kindergarten brings together children from a wider age range and aims to present a very different experience from the phonics-scissors-glue scenario that you might find in most schools. In working with Waldorf ideas in a family setting, Donna Simmons looks at the broad picture of a young child's day, week, year, and that's where I see the usefulness of her book to people outside the Waldorf umbrella. She discusses family rhythms, mealtimes, discipline, electronic media, sibling relationships, handwork, painting, household chores, nature walks, storytelling, singing, movement games, handwork, drawing, modeling, play, bedtime routines, and (believe it or not) more. What Donna presents in this book is a portrait of early childhood as a rich, unhurried, joyful, imaginative, affectionate time of life, with the child held close in the heart of the family but not being placed in a contrived or overly child-centered situation.
So you see this is not a kindergarten curriculum per se, but rather a discussion of the needs of the very young child and how these needs can be beautifully, wholly, lovingly met at home. Donna is matter-of-fact about the challenges that face modern families, including the challenge many homeschoolers face in juggling the needs of a large family and making sure the youngest children don't get lost in the shuffle.
Also quite useful are Donna's audio downloads on early-childhood topics; I have listened to her Pre-K and Kindergarten talks, her Discipline and Sleep talks, and the wonderful "Talking Pictorially" download, which is the first place I've heard someone articulate a truth that I (like most mothers probably) discovered quite by accident when my oldest was a toddler—that you can get a little kid to do almost anything if you turn it into a story. Okay, that's not how Donna describes it, but it's what I learned myself through trial and error. Child doesn't want to put on coat? Mother says, "Honey, put on your coat NOW" and wham, the power struggle commences. Child doesn't want to put on coat and Coat starts to flap arms, crying out "Oh, pleeeeease put me on! I want to hug you!" and wham, child is laughing hysterically and holding out eager arms to poor lonely Coat. Donna calls this technique "Talking Pictorially" and discusses how much more effective a means of communication it is with young children than overly intellectual reasoning, or stern commands, or, you know, desperate pleading.
I'm tickled that Lilting House was voted this year's "Best Unschooling or Eclectic Homeschooling Blog" in the Homeschool Blog Awards. The superb blogger Theresa of Lapaz Farm Home Learning ran me a close race, and I want to extend hearty congratulations to her and to all my fellow nominees. I have really enjoyed exploring your blogs. Some of you have been on my Bloglines list for a long time, and others were new to me during this competition. I want to make sure all my readers get a chance to visit these fabulous blogs! Here's the whole pool of nominees:
Congratulations to all of you, and thanks for all you bring to the home-educating community. We are all richer for your efforts.
I think it would be great if next year there is a distinct category for unschooling. The perspective of full-fledged unschoolers is unique and valuable, and I would very much like to see you folks spotlighted.
Monday morning, early. Wonderboy and I are off to speech therapy in a few minutes. His sessions have been going wonderfully well, and he is now regularly saying B and P sounds. This is huge progress; two months ago his only consonants were M, hard G, K, N, and an occasional H (as in "Huh moni!"—that's "Good morning" to you conventionally annunciating types).
He loves Miss Tammie, the speech therapist, and our fun half-hours in her room, playing games, singing (okay, listening to Miss Tammie sing), putting the buh buh baby and the puh puh popcorn on the buh buh bus, and the puh puh puppy goes in the buh buh box.
His astonishing and rapid progress is due in large part, I believe, to Tammie's use of something called "Visual Phonics." This language development program is actually new to Tammie, and we are more or less learning it together. The concept is truly brilliant. In Visual Phonics, a hand sign is assigned to every single sound. It's like taking the sign language alphabet (with which Wonderboy is already quite familiar, though he does not sign it himself yet—when he was two, his favorite way to fall asleep was to watch my hand while I signed and sang the ABCs) one step further.
For example, there a sign for the B sound (buh). You use the ASL sign for B, a flat hand, fingers together and pointing up, thumb folded over the palm, and you hold that handshape up by your mouth, moving the B away from your lips as you say "Buh."
Not all the Visual Phonics signs are based on the ASL alphabet; the P has your fingers sort of exploding away from your lips. Really, it hardly matters WHAT the signs are; the brilliant innovation was in attaching signs to these small units of sound. There are signs for every speech sound, including consonant blends and all the vowel sounds, including diphthongs.
Wonderboy GETS sign language; he knows how to connect a sign to a spoken word to a thing or idea. He clicked with the concept of buh and puh immediately, just as soon as we turned the sounds into Real Things for him by giving them signs.
I missed a chance to go to a Visual Phonics training session last month, but I'll share more about the program as I learn about it. It is primarily intended to help kids struggling with reading, but Gallaudet and other institutions have recognized its immense value in both reading and speech instruction for deaf/hard-of-hearing kids. I imagine Visual Phonics is going to be a big part of our lives these next few years, first in helping my boy learn to speak English, and later in helping him learn to read.
Buh buh brilliant. Also, buh buh bye—I've got to run or we'll be late!
So I'm in the middle of writing all these reviews—actually, reflections is a much better word—about Donna Simmons's audio downloads, plus I've got other posts in my head springing from points addressed in earlier posts and comments this week, and each paragraph wants to blossom out into its own entire post, because there is So Much to Talk About. I realized I've had a lot of this discussion on a simmer for the past six months or more, but what with the move and all, I haven't had time to dive into it.
Time, time, time, it always comes down to that.
Anyway, while I'm working on my reflections and whatnot (see, I don't even have time to find sensible words), I thought I'd throw out a question for discussion. What's your preference (or your children's preference, and the answer may differ by child):
• total-immersion learning, where you dive deep into one subject and sort of live and breathe it through different media & activities for a good long chunk of time (methods like Waldorf, unit studies, rabbit trailing come to mind, as well as the natural tendencies of life in many unschooling households)
• slow-and-steady progression through particular books, in several subjects simultaneously (a la Charlotte Mason, classical ed, most school programs, etc)
or (as we do here)
• a combination of the two, shifting methods over time according to seasons, life changes, or kids' needs?
The posts on these pages originally appeared at The Lilting House, my ClubMom blog about home education, fun learning resources, and special needs children.
When I decided it was time to wrap up my work at ClubMom, I moved all the Lilting House posts and comments to this archive. Comments are still open, so feel free to chime in on any post that interests you. I love to hear what my readers have to say!
These days I am doing all my new posting (including on many Lilting House topics) at my primary blog, Here in the Bonny Glen. There you will find posts about my books, other people's books, my family, home education, and many other topics.