Friday, January 4, 2008

Waldorf Unschooling Through the Teen Years: A Glimpse Into Our Days

(This is the third essay in a series of essays on Waldorf Unschooling through the teen years.)

Our days/weeks/years had an underlying structure based on the outside activities that the children were involved in. Always we had the in-breath, out-breath during a given day and through the week. There would be times throughout the day when we would all come together, times when we were far flung each doing our own thing and times when just John or I were one-on-one with one of them. When our oldest was about 17, we instituted a "breakfast with mom" date. Once a month, I would go out to breakfast alone with each one of them. These were treasured times and I only wish we had started that practice earlier!

We are a reading family and read aloud to them many books long before they started to read on their own. Even after all three children could read on their own we continued the tradition of a "family read". Each of us would read on our own a particular number of pages of a particular book. Then on a designated night of the week, we would discuss our readings at the supper table. It was difficult to pick a book we all could/would read given the age and interest differences but we worked hard at it. For years, John would read aloud in the living room every evening. This would include something from a non-fiction book, anything from philosophy, theology, math or physics as well as a fiction, like the Lord of the Rings Trilogy. It wasn’t mandatory that they come and sit in the living room and listen. And, they were all able to read on their own by that time so they could have read the enticing fiction to themselves if they had chosen. He would just announce what he was about, when he would be starting and all three were welcome to join him. There was never a time when even one of them missed. They wanted to spend time with their Dad; they wanted to hear the fiction book; and truth be told, they wanted to converse about the non-fiction read as well. Over several weeks he read Numbers by Isaac Asimov which led them to making an abacus together and coming to understand how the four processes worked on that apparatus. Often, Sarah would be coloring or drawing, Jenn would be doing latch-hook or other handwork and Josh would be drawing.

I think a bulk of their learning happened during the many conversations we have had over the years. We had conversations about everything imaginable. We covered a lot of varied topics, some quite deeply. Driving to/from lessons and outside classes was a great way to talk with them about their day, their interests, their hopes and dreams. My daughters would be very talkative especially after a late night play or orchestra practice. This was often when they would open up about the tougher issues of life. Our discussions usually started because someone was bubbling over with thoughts about something they had just read or experienced. Then we would meander all over the place as all five of us joined in with our own interests, thoughts, ideas. When our children were in their early teens, we as parents would get the all rolling on these discussions. Sometimes we would ask questions about what they were reading: who was your favorite character, where did the story take place, how does this compare to another book by this same author? But these questions arose out of our genuine interest in what our children had to say and not as a quiz. Sometimes we would share what we were reading or had heard about on the radio. As our children got older, more and more they were the starters of these conversations.

We filled their environment with things we valued and hoped they would come to appreciate. They were surrounded by books and they saw both John and I reading voraciously to ourselves, to them and to each other. They were surrounded by good art and handwork materials. I am most drawn to the fiber arts and I shared that love extensively with my children. John is a computer scientist and a deep thinker. He would share his interests that ranged from cryptography to science fiction, from aikido to cartoons. We shared our interests with them and eagerly their interests as well. We went to many performances of live drama, comedy, musicals, symphonies and all kinds of dance. We traveled to areas near and far as often as their activity schedule would allow. We frequented museums, nature centers, art galleries, science center, etc. We were eclectic in our approach, using those resources that best matched our children’s needs and interests. When Jenn preferred workbooks and textbooks we willingly bought them. When Sarah preferred tape books that is what we provided. I tried to think outside the box through most of our homeschooling years. I learned early on that I could lead them to a main lesson but I couldn’t make them learn. So I stopped doing main lesson blocks but kept their environment and days filled with enticing things to do. We followed their lead with all this but we were ever mindful of their strengths and weaknesses.

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