Monday, December 31, 2007

Waldorf Unschooling Through the Teen Years: Getting Started

A continuation in a series of essays on Waldorf Unschooling during the teen years.

I have come to believe that it is more than okay for siblings to be best friends. I have come to believe that it is more than okay for parents to enjoy their teen-aged children. I think homeschooling allows you to really get to know your children and they in turn get to know you. I think it gives you time together to learn the dance of life so that you find yourselves enjoying each other’s company. I think it gives your children the opportunity to really get to know each other and work through their differences because of the sheer volume of time they spend together. That doesn’t mean it will be all sweetness and light; indeed it means there will be anger and spats as well as laughter.

Despite the challenges over the years, there were many more positives. I think I learned as much as they were supposed to learn as we traveled the path together. One of the most important pieces of our children’s education was helping them come to know and understand how they learn. Each one of our children has unique strengths, weaknesses, approaches. We never knew where we stood with the next one just because we had lived through it with another before. It was as important to be spontaneous as it was to be prepared. It was imperative to remain flexible. It was imperative to keep talking. It was even more imperative to keep our sense of humor intact. When I could laugh at myself and with them throughout the day, the days went more smoothly for us all. We gave our children respectful direction as they moved into the high school years. Perhaps the single most important gift we gave them was to get out of their way and let them soar always knowing they could come back to the nest and regroup.

So, how did we do this thing called Waldorf homeschooling into the high school years? I want to highlight our hurrahs but not gloss over the difficulties because I believe that every family has a mix of both to navigate on their journey together.

When we realized we might be homeschooling into the high school years, one of the first things we did was purchase a copy of Grace Llewellyn’s Teenage Liberation Handbook. I read this cover to cover even before my children were teens. They knew it was available and when they were old enough to care, they were encouraged to read it themselves. This became a resource that we all used frequently to get inspiration and ideas during times of doubt.

We used the Waldorf curriculum chart to guide us on the journey. Every fall we would sit down and look at the Waldorf curriculum chart to determine goals for the coming year. As the children got older, they became more and more involved in this process until they were in charge of their own educational goals. John and I would continue to support, offer suggestions and guidance. Because we spent so much time together, we knew our children’s strengths, weaknesses, interests. Many times suggestions fell on deaf ears and that was okay. Sometimes those suggestions would lie dormant only to sprout later on as something quite different but more powerful for them. Over the years, we have remained their greatest champions acting as resources they became the directors of their own education.

One year, Jenn didn’t know what she wanted to study so she spent the summer going to the library every other week and randomly walking around the non-fiction section pulling down a book from various places until she had 10 books. Then she would bring them home and leaf through them. Some sparked her interest; others she barely glanced at. One week her selection included a book on baseball rules/regulations, various card games, traveling through Europe, antiques, famous science couples, world religions, model airplanes, buying a stereo system, statistics and the Hopi culture. This exploration became a learning experience in and of itself opening her world wider than it had been before.

Along with the Waldorf curriculum chart, I would peruse the internet and study the websites of Waldorf high schools. Many display their block schedule, curriculum outline and inspirational essays on adolescence. This gave me a good overview of the high school curriculum which gave me good ideas for my own approach. It was most helpful to see that each high school was diverse and had a flavor of its own. That helped me to feel freer to allow us to develop our own flavor of high school in our home setting. Some of my favorite websites included the Youth Initiative, Viroqua, WI (http://www.yihs.net), Chicago Waldorf School (http://www.chicagowaldorf.org), Austin Waldorf School (http://www.austinwaldorf.org), and Watershed High School, Minneapolis, MN (http://www.watershed.org). I am sure many of the other Waldorf high schools have wonderful websites but these were the ones most helpful to me.


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