Saturday, December 29, 2007

Waldorf Unschooling Through the Teen Years: Introduction

Over the next several days, I plan to share a glimpse of how we approached Waldorf Unschooling with our teens. This series of essays was originally published in its entirety on the Wonder Homeschool website.

We started homeschooling our three children in the summer of 1993. At the time, Sarah, our oldest, had just finished the second grade, Jenn, our middle, had just finished kindergarten in a Waldorf school and, Josh, our youngest, had just turned two years old. Now in the winter of 2006, two have officially graduated from our homeschool, Roots and Wings Academy, going on to other educational endeavors. Sarah at 23 yrs is now in the middle of her third year of the four year program to become an eurythmist at Eurythmy Spring Valley. Jenn at 21 yrs is in the middle of her junior year at the University of Missouri, Columbia, majoring in Women and Gender Studies and a member in good standing of the Honors College. Josh at 16 yrs is now a junior in high school in our home setting already looking to the future having successfully jumped that first college hurdle, the PSAT. The journey of these past 15 yrs has been one of immense joy as well as intense challenge as we have navigated their education through moves, deaths, and other transitions. When we started homeschooling in 1993, we took one day at a time; as we continued through the years there came to be little doubt that we would homeschool with them through their high school years.

As we moved into the teen years, the thing I grappled with the most was the fact that I had never seen a Waldorf high school in action. I "knew" how to do Waldorf in the home in the early years. I had watched it being done and while we quickly veered from doing Waldorf school at home, I still had a sense of what Waldorf schooling meant. As we moved into the high school years, it was more important for us to live from an Anthroposophic impulse which provided an underlying essence of Waldorf to our children’s education. We kept the theme "head, heart and hands" uppermost in our minds and used that as a guide. Perhaps that was a simplistic way to look at things but for me, it helped if I could look over the week or month or year and say "yes, we touched on all of those aspects and didn’t just focus on the head."

While the five of us were in this together, I was the driving force behind our homeschooling journey being at home with the three children through the years while their father was the major breadwinner (though very involved in their education). It helped very much for me to solidify my own educational philosophy. The "why" was as important as the "what" and from these two the "how" flowed. For instance, if I wanted my child to learn a musical instrument, I would ask myself "why"? As the children got older we helped them ask these same questions so they could come to understand their educational goals and would know how to more effectively reach them.

The early teen years are a time of introspection even as they yearn to be part of the crowd. When something distances you more from the crowd (i.e. not attending school) it is easy to think that you are even worse off than your peers who seem to be surrounded by friends. But to quote from the Teenage Liberation Handbook (Grace Llewellyn) "Few people emerge from school’s obsessive popularity and conformity contest without scars." In his keynote address at the 1999 Sacramento Waldorf Education and Home Schooling Conference, Thom Schaefer notes: "The teen years bring huge polarities. They live with opposites. Progress is made between a balance of these polarities. Teens want constant activity but they need lots of sleep. Teens crave intensity but they need routine. Teens want to affect the world but they need to deepen themselves. Teens need to belong to a group but want to be alone. Teens need to be needed but they need to be able to ask for help." These were the guiding principles for us as we navigated our way through the teen years of homeschooling.

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