Oak Meadow 5-8 Newsletter, Spring 2019

Curriculum Activity: Make a Labyrinth

When studying ancient civilizations in Oak Meadow Grade 6, students have the chance to create a labyrinth like the one in the story of Theseus and the Minotaur. Follow the directions below for a classical, three-circuit labyrinth, or check out this video if you want to try a more complex five-circuit labyrinth. (Click on image below to download PDF.)

make a labyrinth instructions

Tips for Getting Through to the End of the “School” Year

For those homeschoolers who follow the traditional U.S. school calendar, integrate some extra fun activities to keep everyone (including you, moms and dads) moving forward.

  • Schedule extra museum trips, picnics, outdoor explorations, or field trips to spice up curricular/book work.
  • If you’re following a curriculum lesson planner, don’t be afraid to skip assignments if you feel the skill has been learned. Look for ways to combine or integrate lessons from different subjects into one project. Create a mural, make a video or slide show, put on a presentation or play, host a read-aloud; or create a model, timeline, or diagram as alternatives to written lesson assignments.
  • Know when to push through lessons and when to let go. Observe your students and yourself for interest and energy levels, and signs of stress or feeling overwhelmed. Don’t worry about getting to everything. Take a break and start up anew later–even next year!
  • Reflect on what is working well and plan to implement those methods for the rest of the year.
  • Sort through school supplies, books, clothing. Spring cleaning often give us more energy and brain power! For a fun family activity, have a tag sale and let the kids keep some of the proceeds.
  • Last but not least, don’t forget to sleep and relax, eat healthy, exercise, and spend as much time outdoors as you can.

Oak Meadow K-4 Newsletter, Spring 2019

Our favorite books for your favorite little people
Curriculum activity from Healthy Living from the Start: People Who Help
Cursive is alive and well!
What is a main lesson book?
It’s Spring! Build a bird nest supply box

Three young children reading on floorOur favorite books for your favorite little people

Here’s a list of favorites for kindergartners, from Oak Meadow K-4 teachers. Keep handy for your next trip to the library or used book store.

  • Milly Molly Mandy stories, by Joyce Lankester Brisley. There really is something magical about this story of a little girl and her family doing very normal things in an old English village from a time long ago.
  • Twig, by Elizabeth Orton Jones. Another one with plenty of adventure that starts off seeming to be in the most nothing-ever-happens-here kind of place.
  • The Borrowers, by Mary Norton. If you want a lengthier, rollicking read-aloud adventure, and your child can stay focused through complex story lines, then this is a treat and a half.
  • Our Animal Friends at Maple Hill Farm, by Alice and Martin Provensen. Very understated humor and delightful drawings accompany tales of real animals living with a real family in a real and imperfect old farmhouse. This is just one of many the Provensens wrote.
  • LMNOP and All the Letters A to Z,  by Howard R. Schrager. This book looks at the poetic nature of letters with beautiful block beeswax crayon drawings.
  • On Beyond Zebra? by Dr. Seuss. This rhyming picture book introduces 20 new letters after Z. Seuss, of course, created zany creatures that are spelled with the new letters.
  • Fairies From A to Z, by Adrienne Keith. The drawings are colorful and delightful, and the book is formatted in poetry style. This book includes special “fairy words” for each letter that are found along the borders of the pages.
  • The Gruffalo, by Julia Donaldson. The whole series by Donaldson features great rhyme schemes so younger kids who aren’t quite reading can “read” along. The author does an excellent job featuring female characters in different roles.

Other favorites:
My Father’s Dragon, by Ruth Stiles Gannet (series)
Jenny Linsky and the Cat Club, by Esther Averill (series)
Tumtum and Nutmeg, by Emily Bearn (series)
Children of the Forest, Elsa Beskow (Waldorf-inspired)

stock image of emergency personnelCurriculum activity from Healthy Living from the Start: People Who Help

Oak Meadow’s health curriculum for K-3 provides a sequential guide through the grades to help families explore topics relevant to their child’s growth and development. Chapters include nutrition, the growing body, hygiene, community, emotions, and safety. Here are activities to try from Lesson 11: People Who Help.

Kindergarten: Police officers
The goal is to help your child appreciate the important work of police officers and to feel comfortable around them. Have your child greet an officer and introduce him- or herself. Prepare some questions:

  • How long have you been a police officer?
  • How long did you study and train for the job?
  • What do you like best about your job?

Afterward, have your child draw a card of thanks for the officer’s good work and deliver it to the local police department.

Grade 1: Firefighters
As with the activity in kindergarten, the goal is to help your child understand the vital work of firefighters. If possible, arrange for your child to meet a firefighter and have some questions ready:

  • How did you train to become a firefighter?
  • What safety gear do you wear when you fight a fire?
  • What equipment is stowed on the firetruck and what is it for?

Again, ask your child to draw a card of appreciation and hand deliver to the fire station.

Grade 2: Paramedics
In this activity, your child pretends to be an EMT (emergency medical technician) or paramedic. You are the victim, putting yourself in all sorts of imaginary difficulties; for example, you’re trapped in a car that has flipped or you’ve suffered a broken ankle while hiking. Next, have your child simulate the rescue protocol using a few supplies to add realism.

  • Check for breathing and control bleeding.
  • Check for injuries and immobilize them.
  • Transport injured person to the ambulance and radio in a report to the ER doctors.

Grade 3: Hospital staff
The hospital can seem a confusing, frightening place, but a visit to a hospital lobby can help your child appreciate the large number of health care providers involved in the smooth operation of a hospital and patient care. Find a comfortable spot to sit and watch the comings and goings.

  • Point out the different people who work there and describe what they do.
  • Observe the different styles of uniforms: scrubs, lab coats, volunteer jackets or vests.
  • Discuss the purposes of the various wings or departments of the hospital.

Cursive is alive and well!

boy at desk writingAs a result of the rise of technology and the need for keyboarding skills, the Common Core Standards for education (launched in 2009) omitted training in cursive handwriting, and cursive all but disappeared from curricula across the country. Thankfully, the practice of cursive is making a comeback, and states are gradually reintroducing the requirement.

For homeschoolers, including cursive in the curriculum may come as naturally as including woodworking, knitting, and other handcrafts. Oak Meadow introduces instruction in cursive handwriting in third grade, tying it to lessons in poetry, ancient cultures, and arts and crafts. At this age, children demonstrate a new interest in careful work; learning cursive can fuel this and provide a practice to build on, often opening up pathways to new explorations and disciplines in writing and the arts. There is a certain physicality to writing in cursive that appeals to children and connects to the tactile, sensory experience of reading print books rather than electronic screens: the hand moving across the page to make continuous strokes of interconnected letters, the balance and melodic timbre of the spacing, the individual flourish and artistry left behind.

What is a main lesson book?

a page from a main lesson bookYour young student is learning to write, read, observe, and draw! What is the best way to record all this wonderful creativity and growth? Following Waldorf education tradition, Oak Meadow suggests using main lesson books (MLB) to capture your student’s work. Throughout the year, the main lesson book fills with the student’s drawings and writing. It is used as a learning tool as well as documentation of the student’s work. The creation of a main lesson book nurtures qualities of thoughtfulness, intention, perseverance, and creativity. It becomes a showcase of the student’s work as well as a cherished keepsake. Click here to learn more about how to use main lesson books and to see actual pages created by Oak Meadow students.

It’s Spring! Build a bird nest supply box

They’re so so busy at this time of year, our beautiful feathery friends. Give them a hand with this bird nest supply box, from Oak Meadow Craft for the Early Grades. Click on the illustration to download and print instructions.

drawing of homemade bird nest supply box

Oak Meadow High School Newsletter, Winter 2019

Creating a homeschooling portfolio: tools for documenting work
All learning counts, and you can document that!
Discussion as an assessment tool
A clean and tidy study space = a happy, productive you
You’ve got this! (inspirational flyer)

Creating a homeschooling portfolio: tools for documenting work

Oak Meadow homeschooling plannersA homeschooling portfolio is a record of your student’s learning. The content of the portfolio depends on the purpose and who it is for.  Possible audiences are: you (for your own teaching purposes); a supervising teacher your student is working with; your school district or state; a college or transfer school admission team. What does the portfolio contain?

  1. Record of student work (quantity and scope): What was covered in a particular time period?
  2. Documentation of progress (quality): How are the student’s skills developing?
  3. Evidence of mastery (proof): Which skills and knowledge are consistently demonstrated?

Click here to download Tools for Documenting Work, a guide to help you create an effective homeschooling portfolio.

Oak Meadow citizen scientist students
Oak Meadow students collecting samples in the field.

All learning counts, and you can document that!

One beauty of homeschooling is the freedom to explore all sorts of learning experiences, and student interests and passions should be documented along with academic achievements in your homeschooling portfolio. Oak Meadow’s accredited distance school awards credit to enrolled students for many types of academic and life experiences. Here are examples to get you thinking as you and your student map out a high school academic plan.

  • At Oak Meadow we encourage students to participate in a wide variety of extracurricular activities for credit through our Life Experience Elective Credit program. Read about our LEEC program (under “Signature Programs”) and check out the application form to see how we evaluate a student’s experience.
  • Oak Meadow High School Science Teacher Julia West routinely encourages her students to get involved in citizen science activities. For ideas, read her article.
  • Oak Meadow has a long referred students to Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Talented Youth online program (CTYOnline). Take a look at the rigorous Advanced Placement, computer science, and technology courses they offer for gifted and talented high school students.
  • Many enrolled Oak Meadow students have had fantastic travel experiences and earned Oak Meadow credit through study-away travel programs. One of our favorite partners is Gogi Abroad.
  • Dual enrollment is a great way for high school students to try college-level study or to dive into a specialized topic that may not be available through homeschool curriculum providers. We recently discovered Cornell University’s online course, Ornithology: Comprehensive Bird Biology for budding ornithologists. Explore offerings at your local community college or others that offer online courses.
Parent and teen having a discussion
Photo by Mael Balland on Unsplash

Discussion as an assessment tool

If your student is getting overwhelmed or just fed up with lots of writing assignments, consider choosing occasional assignments for discussion instead of writing. This discussion can be a debate (if there are two sides to it), an oral report, a teach-the-parent tutorial, or just a conversation. It can be recorded (audio or video) and reviewed together, or the parent can write a short summary and evaluation of the project for the student’s portfolio. Using discussion as an assessment tool brings learning achievements to life.

A clean and tidy study space = a happy, productive you

photo of a clean study spaceA messy study space does not inspire organization or workflow, so keeping the desk area clean and tidy is important. Here are some ways to spiff up before you get down to work.

A vinegar mix to shine your computer screen
Computer screens, especially with the touch-screen technology we have today, get fingerprints, food splatters, and dust that we don’t notice until the light hits it just right. Most computer screens can be cleaned with simple water. If that doesn’t do the trick, add some vinegar to the mixture.

¼ cup white vinegar
¼ cup distilled or boiled and thoroughly cooled water

Clean routine: It’s important to start with a computer screen that is cool, so power off and unplug your computer or laptop before cleaning. Mix the white vinegar and water together in a small bowl and, using a lightly textured cloth, clean the screen in a left-to-right, top-to-bottom motion, being sure to get the edges well. Let the screen dry completely before plugging in or turning on the computer.

A scrub to make your keyboard shine
The computer itself, including the keyboard and mouse, is likely just as dirty, if not dirtier, than your screen was, so why not clean both while you’re at it? Don’t spend money on compressed air, which also contains toxic chemicals. We’ll add a little alcohol to this mixture to really get some of the keyboard and mouse germs gone, and if there’s a texture to your computer facing, it will get into those crevices nicely, too. If you’ve already made the computer screen cleaning mixture, simply add the 2 tablespoons of rubbing alcohol and proceed to clean the rest of the computer.

¼ cup vinegar
¼ cup distilled or boiled and cooled water
2 tablespoons rubbing alcohol

Clean routine: Mix well in a small bowl. Again, only clean your computer or laptop when it is cool and unplugged.

  • Exterior of computer: Dip the edge of a clean rag in the mixture and clean well. If your computer surface has a grain to it, wipe with the grain.
  • Keyboard: Unplug or turn off your keyboard if necessary. Let it cool completely before proceeding. A straightened-out paper clip can be inserted around the base of each letter to get any lint buildup free. Then use a cotton swab dipped in cleaning solution to get around, between, and behind each key. Clean the rest of the keyboard with a rag dipped in cleaning solution. Let dry thoroughly before using.
  • Mouse: This mixture works for touchpads built into laptops and external handheld mouses. Be sure to unplug or turn off any external mouses and let them cool before cleaning. Use the paper clip and cotton swab dipped in the solution method to clean your mouse. Let dry thoroughly before using.

Control cord clutter
Cords are a breeding ground for messes, crumbs, and dirt, as well as a tripping hazard. While you’re tackling the tangle of cords, consider getting a smart power strip that doesn’t send any power to machines that are turned off. It’s a simple way to save money and energy. Untangle and UNPLUG all cords before cleaning them.

  1. Vacuum the area where the cords are, as they always seem to have dust bunnies, tissues, torn paper bits and dried plant leaves among them.
  2. Mix up a small dish of warm water with a drop of castile soap. Use a rag dipped lightly into the mixture to slide along cords. Be sure to get into the middle groove of cords. Do not clean the metal prongs with ANY water at all; only wipe with a dry cloth.
  3. Use recycled plastic bread ties (the flat kind that slip on) to label cords. Write in permanent marker on each tab, or use different colored ones, to know which cord at the power strip belongs to which machine on the desk.

Excerpted from: The Modern Organic Home: 100+ DIY Cleaning Products, Organization Tips, and Household Hacks

You’ve got this!

You’re more than halfway through the year! Print this flyer to hang in your study space when you need reminders to get you through your homeschooling days.

printable homeschool inspiration
Click on image to download.



Oak Meadow 5-8 Newsletter, Winter 2019

Thoughts on teaching writing
Earth Science: Make a terrarium
Motivating middle schoolers
Decluttering: It’s all the rage!

Thoughts on teaching writing

In addition to being a teacher for Oak Meadow, Lesley Arnold also works as a youth librarian. Being both a teacher (for over 40 years) and a children’s book librarian allows her to combine her love of children with her love of books.

Leslie Daniels has been an Oak Meadow teacher for over 30 years. She also created a program that offers educational activities to groups of homeschooled students, guiding children and their families toward the joy of discovery.

Lesley, you teach many middle school students. What are some of the most fun aspects of teaching writing to middle schoolers?

Lesley Arnold OM K8 teacher
Lesley Arnold

Lesley A: Middle schoolers that really love to write improve quickly even with the smallest amount of help. That’s the most fun for me—seeing the improvement and great strides a student can make.

What are some of the greatest challenges in teaching writing to 5th-8th graders?

Lesley A: I think the biggest challenge is getting a student to understand that writing is a process that takes years to get “good” at. From 5th to 8th grade is a long time and each year the student improves. My hope is that students, and their parents, learn that this is a practice time! Just like soccer or painting or playing an instrument, the writing skills need practice and will get better with time.

Many parents complain that their once highly-motivated children become complacent or disengaged in middle school. Can you talk a little about how writing can be used as a tool to help motivate students and sustain engagement?

Leslie Daniels OM K8 teacher
Leslie Daniels

Lesley A: The Oak Meadow curriculum offers many different kinds of opportunities for diverse types of writing and projects. With variety, flexibility, and creativity in different assignments, a student will be able to find something to be engaged in.

Leslie D: I’ve also found that having students do interesting assignments, like writing a dialogue between historical figures or writing the journal of a child who lives in prehistoric times, really sparks their imagination. They start to run with the idea, and suddenly it doesn’t feel like work anymore. Keeping a journal, writing poetry or song lyrics, or writing comic books or graphic novels are also great ways to revive an interest in writing.

What are some of the most important habits to instill in this age group, especially as they approach the high school years?

Lesley A: Note-taking, outline, first draft, second draft, final draft! The whole process should be a comfortable habit. I recommend spending time with reworking a rough draft. Read it out loud to check for punctuation and grammar errors. Then go over it again for spelling. Then again for content. Then read through it again and put in adjectives or adverbs that would add more detail to the sentences. I think that once a student can be comfortable and confident with reworking the rough draft, the final draft is easy!

In your experience, what are some of the most common writing challenges for children who are struggling with writing? What are some tips parents can use to help their children overcome each of these challenges?

OM student written poemLesley A: Most kids will say, “I don’t know what to write.” I like to tell students, “Write what you see!” Writing is like painting with words. If you have an image in your mind, you can create it in words. If you can’t get started, then paint it, draw it, find a photograph, or talk about it and the writing will be much easier. For example, if you are going to write about a tree, what type of tree do you picture in your mind? Describe it so that others can “see” it too! There’s a great book for students that describes this process really well: Show, Don’t tell! Secrets of Writing by Josephine Nobisso. The writing process takes time. Some kids need to spend a lot of time just jotting down ideas, or doodling, or walking around before they begin writing. Some need to spend a lot of time taking notes or correcting a first draft. Let each part of the process take its own time.

Are there any homeschooling strategies for teaching writing that you would caution parents not to pursue?

Lesley A: I have complete trust that when the tears start to flow or anger erupts, parents will sense that they are pursuing the wrong teaching strategy!

Leslie D: Good point! Don’t be afraid to try something new, or to let it go for a while and then revisit it a few days or weeks later. There’s no reason to push or rush.

Earth Science: Make a terrarium

The Oak Meadow Grade 7 Earth Science curriculum includes a chapter on the Earth’s water cycle, or hydrologic cycle. Students of any age can create a terrarium to observe the distinct phases of the water cycle: precipitation, evaporation, transpiration, condensation. While gardens lie dormant over the winter, it’s also a fun way to play in the dirt. Click here to download the instructions, straight from our Earth Science Lab Manual. (Image credit: Leighanne Sturgis)

Motivating middle schoolers

Middle schoolers—there’s so much to love about kids in this age group, but they’re not always the easiest bunch! As your child’s home teacher, you have the difficult position of being both parent and educator to a child who is quickly gaining independence and assertiveness. As former middle-school teacher and editor of Cult of Pedagogy Jennifer Gonzalez says: “One word could never quite capture the ridiculous, smelly, stubborn, fragile beauty of them all.”

Click here for some tips on how to connect with and motivate your middle schooler.

Decluttering: It’s all the rage!

Well, for parents, maybe. But wait! Now it seems teens are getting into the act, too. There are lots of articles out there for parents, such as How to Get Your Grumpy Middle-Schooler to Help at Home, but have you heard about the KonMari method of decluttering that’s gone viral on social media? Now the “celebrity of tidying,” Marie Kondo, has published a manga comic that seems to be motivating some teens to start neatening their endless piles of stuff. You can read about the phenomenon here, then head over to Oak Meadow’s Pinterest board: Getting Organized for some visual tips and ideas.

And just for fun…

Messy Room by Shel Silverstein

Whosever room this is should be ashamed!
His underwear is hanging on the lamp.
His raincoat is there in the overstuffed chair,
And the chair is becoming quite mucky and damp.
His workbook is wedged in the window,
His sweater’s been thrown on the floor.
His scarf and one ski are beneath the TV,
And his pants have been carelessly hung on the door.
His books are all jammed in the closet,
His vest has been left in the hall.
A lizard named Ed is asleep in his bed,
And his smelly old sock has been stuck to the wall.
Whosever room this is should be ashamed!
Donald or Robert or Willie or–
Huh? You say it’s mine? Oh, dear,
I knew it looked familiar!

Oak Meadow K-4 Newsletter, Winter 2018

Outdoor activity for winter: Make a colorful ice fort
Waldorf-inspired tip: The transformative power of storytelling
Curriculum activity: DYI puppet stage
Five ways to keep your balance in the midst of a busy life (printable PDF)
Holiday recipe: Pavlova!

Outdoor activity for winter: Build a colorful ice fort

In Vermont, where the Oak Meadow headquarters is located, outdoor activities don’t end when the weather turns cold and snowy! Here’s one way to make the best of shivery temperatures. Using colored ice blocks, build a colorful ice fort for a fun and beautiful outdoor play structure. This works best if you can freeze the water outside because you’ll be able to make more ice blocks at once.

OM student with colorful ice block fort
Photo credit: Main family

What you need

½ gallon paper milk or juice cartons
Food coloring
Freezer or freezing temperature outdoors

What to do
Rinse out the containers and fill them with water.
Put a few drops of food coloring in each one.
Allow to freeze. Once frozen, tear off the carton.
Stack the blocks to create a fort, igloo, or any other structure or sculpture.
If snow is available, use it as mortar between the blocks for sturdier construction.

Waldorf-inspired tip: The transformative power of storytelling

Waldorf style drawing of fox and turtle
Image credit: @wildspruce.waldorf

Fairy tales and other traditional stories are an essential part of childhood development, which is why they have lived on for centuries as a rich oral tradition and have remained in the Oak Meadow curriculum. Oral storytelling is a flexible art that allows stories to be adapted to the audience. Many stories that we know from our childhoods were adapted from stories our parents heard as children. In the same tradition, we encourage parents to tell the stories in their own words rather than reading them verbatim. This lets each parent make changes that reflect their own values and life situation. This is the true spirit of oral storytelling.

Telling the stories aloud with no pictures accompanying the story helps children develop listening skills as well as the ability to create the images in their minds. Repeatedly retelling the story allows opportunities for children to join in telling the story, which enhances the personal images and allows them to focus on story elements that have personal relevance. The home teacher can also incorporate into the stories nature, family members, friends, and neighbors as a way of making them more personal and meaningful. The underlying themes of a good story are never gender- or race-based, but embody archetypes that are part of the human experience. Changing superficial elements of a story to make it more relatable will not affect the archetypes of the Nurturer, Leader, Jokester, Hero, Mentor, Innocent, or Villain. Retelling stories, drawing pictures, acting out the stories, putting on puppet presentations, or creating dioramas offer opportunities for children to absorb and reflect the underlying themes.

Another tip for telling an archetypal story is to verbally share without too much of an emotional tone—especially the emotions in the home teacher’s voice that might instill fear, anger, resentment, etc. As an adult with a rich history and varied experiences, you will respond to the archetypes in a story very differently than a child will. Telling the story without adding layers of your own emotional expression of the story events will allow your child to filter it through a childlike lens.

It’s also invaluable to allow children to absorb the story without interruption, both during the storytelling and afterwards. Talking with a child about every little detail of a story is an established habit for many adults. In fact, it’s practically a cultural norm now for children to be asked to talk about their feelings, impressions, and opinions. This may originate from the belief that we need to encourage children to be more aware and continually teach and quiz them to “make them smart.” It might stem from the efforts to treat the child as an equal voice in the family to build self-esteem and confidence. When a parent is conditioned to “discuss” a fairy tale’s disturbing images with children, this focus on specific elements unnaturally emphasizes details over underlying themes. Discussing the tales afterwards only brings an adult perspective and awareness to story elements and prevents children from developing and using their own filters, based on their developmental stage. Letting the story rest in the child’s mind and heart, and then asking for the child’s interpretation of the story the next day will be of greater benefit.

Curriculum activity: DIY puppet theater

homemade children's puppet stage
Photo credit: artbarblog.com

Making a puppet stage is very simple. There are many different methods. Here are five ideas to get your imagination working (from Oak Meadow Crafts for the Early Grades).

Idea #1
What you need: 
Large cardboard box (appliance boxes are great!), towel or fabric for curtain, dowel
What to do
1. Cut away one side of a large cardboard box. The is so the child can climb inside.
2. Cut a large square in the opposite side.
3. Drape a towel over the opening to be removed when the play begins. Or attach a dowel to the box which can support two light pieces of fabric. Draw open like curtains.
4. Your child can crouch inside the box (perhaps with the box elevated on a table) and present the puppet show from inside.

Idea #2
What you need: 
Small table or card table
What to do
1. Turn the small table on its side (a card table on its side with bottom legs open to support it works well).
2. Your child (or you!) can hide behind it and display the puppets over the top. If you have a couch that is easily moved away from a wall, it works too, giving your child a private space from which to display the puppets.

Idea #3
What you need: 
Curtain, dowel, or curtain rod
What to do
1. Make a special curtain, or use one you already have.
2. Attach it to a sturdy dowel. A tension rod (the type used for many shower or window curtains) would also work well.
3. Hang the curtain between two supports, such as hooks driven into either side of a doorway.

Idea #4
What you need: 
Curtain or beach towels, tension rod
What to do
1. Put a tension rod across the bathtub, at a height that would conceal your child sitting in the tub.
2. Make a special curtain or simply hang two beach towels over the rod.
3. Your child can use the bathtub as her backstage area, and present her puppet play from there.

Idea #5
What you need: 
Cloth for curtain
What to do
1. For an outdoor puppet play, a cloth draped over the porch railing can serve as a curtain, separating the puppeteer on the porch from an audience sitting on the lawn.

Five ways to keep your balance in the midst of a busy life

As a home teacher, seeking balance is essential, and it’s an ongoing process. If we’re out of balance and we try to teach our children, we diminish our effectiveness as teachers. We might miss the subtle cues in the learning process that enable us to be good teachers, or we might cause our children to become more imbalanced also, which reduces their ability to learn effectively. Click here or on the image to download our free printable with inspirational tips to help you maintain a sense of balance in the midst of your busy, messy, wonderful homeschooling life.

Holiday recipe: Pavlova!

illustration of pavlova dessert
Image credit: Onno Knuvers

Our southern hemisphere families who are enjoying summer weather won’t be building ice block forts this holiday season, but many in Australia and New Zealand will be constructing a puffy pavlova, a celebratory dessert of crisp meringue filled with whipped cream and fruit. Even the tiniest hands can help spread the meringue and add the fruit decoration. Click here for the recipe (PDF).

Oak Meadow High School Newsletter, Fall 2018

Super tools for homework success
Tending to your teen
Love your study space
Bonus post: Hot chocolate recipes

girl using laptop and flowersSuper tools for homework success

Your high school coursework provides plenty of opportunities to do online research, and you are encouraged to find videos, images, and articles about any of the topics you find interesting. When you do online research, avoid drawing conclusions before you’ve checked the information for reliability. Here are some tips: Evaluating Online Sources (PDF)

Note-taking is all about how your own unique brain processes information. Here are some techniques recommended by Oak Meadow’s high school teachers, along with a reminder that there is no single best method for how to study, but there can be a study skill that turns out to be the best method for you: How to Take Good Notes (PDF)

Tending to your teen: Thoughts from an Oak Meadow educational counselor (and mom to two teens)

As the holiday season, cooler weather, and mid-term blahs approach, it’s a good time to check in with your teen.

giant-bubble-funFirst, help your teen meet the important physical needs: sufficient sleep, healthy nourishment, regular exercise.

  • Getting plenty of sleep is critical for teenagers, whose naturally changing circadian rhythm wreaks havoc with normal habits during a time when life is stressful enough. One of the joys of homeschooling is the freedom to sleep in, but it’s still a good idea to keep an eye on your teen’s bedtime routines.
  • It’s growth spurt time! Your teen’s developing body requires more calories and a careful balance of nutrients. Check out these great tip sheets on teen nutrition here and here.
  • Your teen may need to be reminded that exercise isn’t just good for the body; it’s also important for their mental health and brain power! Here’s a teen-focused article about the value of exercise.

Next, keep an eye out for symptoms of stress, and use these tried-and-true techniques to help mitigate it: Listen as much as you lecture. Pick your battles and try not to sweat the small stuff. Don’t take the eye roll, the push back, or the snippy remark personally.

Finally, there’s nothing like scheduling a family outing or field trip to a special new place to bring back the wonder of childhood and the warmth of the family embrace. Think unusual, eye-popping, larger-than-life, fantastical, playful such as: an art, science, or living history museum; a zoo, aquarium, or botanical garden; a factory, hall of fame, or state capital tour; a live play or symphony; a national park or other natural wonder; or even an amusement theme park.

Love your study space: check out these decorating hacksgiant wall mounted scrabble board

If your teen’s study space is feeling a little meh, check out our new Pinterest board filled with teen-focused DIY projects and study room inspiration. We’re particularly fond of the giant Scrabble tiles, an easy project with endless possibilities. If you’re feeling extra ambitious, you and your daughter or son could try making your own version of the giant wall-mounted Scrabble game that is currently selling for $12,000! Get some ideas and inspiration here.

Hot chocolate recipes for all!

Click on the image for hot chocolate recipes, one traditional, one dairy-free. Enjoy!

illustration of cup of hot cocoa

Oak Meadow 5-8 Newsletter, Fall 2018

10 ways to foster independence and autonomy in learning
Time management tips for students (PDF)
An awesome reading list for 7th and 8th graders
Easy crock-pot applesauce recipe
Why, oh why, did I decide to homeschool?

10 ways to foster independence and autonomy in learning

Homeschooler working on their Homeschooling workHomeschooling parents often ask how they can help their children learn to work independently. Independence is a skill that grows slowly and needs to be nurtured over time. Students need opportunities to repeatedly practice and gain confidence in their capabilities. They also need to know they can trust that an adult will be ready and available for support when they need it. Here are 12 ways parents and teachers can foster independence in children.

  1. Have your children help plan how to set up their homeschool space. “How would you like to organize your space? You know yourself well; what would work best for you?”
    Let them pick out their own supplies. “What do you need? What do you like?”
  2. Give them control over what they will learn. “What would you like to study? What are you interested in learning more about?” Help them understand educational requirements and encourage them to come up with ways to meet them.
  3. Help them develop the range of possible options. Listen when they have suggestions. “What other possibilities could we consider? Can you think of anything else?”
  4. Support different ways of demonstrating knowledge. Brainstorm possibilities with the student, let them choose, and then hold them accountable for their choices. “How would you like to share what you’ve learned?”
  5. Encourage them to use a planner or calendar. Provide one (here’s Oak Meadow’s Student Planner) and show them how to use it. “You’re very capable. Let me show you how you can remind yourself what needs to be done.”
  6. Keep the schedule flexible. Let them tell you what they would like to do when. “What do you need to accomplish today? How will you make sure those things get done before tomorrow?”
  7. Encourage them to play outdoors. Playing on their own can help foster a sense of independence in children. “Go play outside! I know you can keep yourself occupied. It’s fun to be independent. If you need my support, you can ask.”
  8. Let the student define their own goals. Don’t demand perfection. Ask questions like, “What standards do you have for yourself?” “How accurate do you think this needs to be?” and “Are you satisfied with your progress?”
  9. Guide them; don’t direct them. Don’t tell them how to do things. “I trust you to figure that out on your own. Let me know if you need help.” Ask open-ended questions. Listen attentively to the answers they offer. “What do you make of this? What are your thoughts?”
  10. Let them learn from their attempts. Don’t correct them right away. Ask them, “How did things go? Could you make it better somehow? What do you think?”

An awesome reading list for 7th and 8th graders

brown girl dreaming, Jacqeline WoodsonOak Meadow teachers recently revised the required grade 7 and 8 English reading lists for students who enroll in our distance learning school. A year of thoughtful research and discussion went into their final choices, and we’d like share the results with all middle schoolers.

Grade 7

A Single ShardA broken piece of pottery sets events in motion as an orphan struggles to pay off his debt to a master potter. This finely crafted novel brings 12th-century Korea and these indelible characters to life. —School Library Journal

Aleutian Sparrow: This YA novel re-creates Cook’s momentous voyage through the eyes of this remarkable boy, creating a fictional journal filled with fierce hurricanes, warring natives, and disease, as Nick discovers new lands, incredible creatures, and lifelong friends. —Amazon

Brown Girl Dreaming: The author cherishes her memories and shares them with a graceful lyricism; her lovingly wrought vignettes of country and city streets will linger long after the page is turned. For every dreaming girl (and boy) with a pencil in hand (or keyboard) and a story to share. — Kirkus Reviews

Catherine, Called Birdy: This unusual book provides an insider’s look at the life of Birdy, 14, the daughter of a minor English nobleman. The year is 1290 and the vehicle for storytelling is the girl’s witty, irreverent diary. —School Library Journal

Code Talker: A Novel About the Navajo Marines of World War Two: Readers who choose the book for the attraction of Navajo code talking and the heat of battle will come away with more than they ever expected to find. —Booklist

Counting on Grace: Vividly portrays mill life and four characters who resist its deadening effects. . . . Solid research and lively writing. —Kirkus Reviews

Esperanza Rising: The author’s style is engaging, her characters appealing, and her story is one that–though a deep-rooted part of the history of California, the Depression, and thus the nation–is little heard in children’s fiction. —Kirkus Reviews

Out of the Dust: This intimate novel, written in stanza form, poetically conveys the heat, dust and wind of Oklahoma. With each meticulously arranged entry the author paints a vivid picture of her heroine’s emotions. —Publishers Weekly

Poetry Speaks Who I Am: This volume of verse is aimed at teenagers and is, not surprisingly, full of strong emotion… It’s a standout collection, packaged with a CD of the poems read aloud, many by the poets themselves. —The New York Times

Shelf Life: Stories by the BookIn this collection assembled to benefit literacy, Gary Paulsen brings together 10 stories by fine writers for young people, with books playing a central role in some stories, and a tangential role in others. —Booklist

leave this song behind, teen poetry at its bestGrade 8

A Wrinkle in Time: A coming of age fantasy story that sympathizes with typical teen girl awkwardness and insecurity, highlighting courage, resourcefulness and the importance of famiyl ties as key to overcoming them. ―The New York Post

Baseball in April: A fine collection of stories that offers a different cultural perspective about feelings common to all teenagers. The author writes well and with tremendous insight into the process of growing up. —The Boston Globe

Criss Cross: Part love story, part coming-of-age tale, this book artfully expresses universal emotions of adolescence. —Publishers Weekly

Echo: A grand narrative that examines the power of music to inspire beauty in a world overrun with fear and intolerance, it’s worth every moment of readers’ time. —Kirkus Reviews

The Giver: Wrought with admirable skill–the emptiness and menace underlying this Utopia emerge step by inexorable step: a richly provocative novel. —Kirkus Reviews

Leave This Song Behind: Teen Poetry at Its Best: This collection features the best poetry submitted by those writers to Teen Ink over the last five years.The pieces in this book were chosen because they were so powerful that they stood out from the rest. —Amazon

Moon Over Manifest: Alternately set between World War I and The Great Depression, the story is sometimes laugh-out-loud funny, and sometimes poignantly sad, but page after page, it is hard to put down. —Children’s Literature

Hey kids! Use your math, kitchen, and culinary skills to make this easy crock-pot applesauce recipe

Heimage of apple on twigre in Vermont the perfect fall family trip to the orchard usually results in an overflowing bag of fresh apples. It’s also a perfect time to practice knife skills and creativity in the kitchen with this sweet and spicy crock-pot applesauce. We like to use a mix of tart and sweet apples for a great flavor balance, then add your choice of spices to make it your own creation.
Get your recipe HERE (PDF).

Why, oh why, did I decide to homeschool?

Not every day is a smooth day. Here’s a little printable to hang in a handy place when you need a reminder of what it’s all for. Click on image to download.

WhyWeHomeschool flyer

Oak Meadow K-4 Newsletter, Fall 2018

Outdoor activity for autumn
Circle Time: Starting your homeschooling day with purpose
Curriculum activity: Gnome math
OM educational counselor tip: Aligning expectations with reality

Outdoor activity for autumn: Make a walnut boat

Walnut BoatAt Oak Meadow, we’re in favor of any activity that gets us outside to explore and enjoy nature. While there is no end to the amazing crafts you and your child can make from natural materials, there is a particular sort of delight that comes from making your own toys. Here we share a sweet, simple handmade toy that uses easy-to-find materials, most of which you can collect on a nature walk. Afterward, find a spot by a stream or puddle to sail your Walnut Boat. Or make a whole fleet and have sailboat races. To paraphrase the Water Rat from Kenneth’s Grahame’s classic story, The Wind in the Willows, there is nothing quite so much fun as messing about with boats. Bon voyage!


Walnuts halves
Beeswax or some old crayons
Glass jar
Sticks, broken or cut into 4-inch lengths (these will be the masts)
Large leaf, one for each sail
Hole puncher
Optional: small candle (such as a birthday candle)


  1. Put crayons into the glass jar, and melt in the microwave or in boiling water until the wax is liquid. Carefully fill the empty walnut shells with melted wax. Let it cool slightly (until it is the consistency of peanut butter).
  2. Insert a stick into the semi-hard wax. Once the wax cools completely, the mast will hold snugly.
  3. To make the sails, punch two holes through a leaf and thread your sail through the mast.
  4. Now your boat is ready to sail! Place the boat into a puddle, stream, or tub of water and gently blow on the sail.
  5. Also try this! Substitute the wooden mast and sail for a small candle (such as a birthday candle). Affix the candle into the center of the walnut shell as you would the mast, light it, and push it off into the water at dusk! Beautiful!

Circle Time: Starting your homeschooling day with purpose

Starting the day with circle time helps focus everyone’s energy after the busy morning routine and brings you and your child together, as a team, ready for the day’s work. Even if the circle consists of just you and your child, it can become an important part of the day. Try these tips for circle time success.

Engage the senses: Use a small bell, table chime, or musical instrument to signal the start of circle time with a sound. Singing gets everyone breathing deeply (great for waking up the brain!) and fingerplays or movement activities engage the senses of touch, sight, and sound. The rhythmic actions of singing, movement, verses, and laughter get the group energy moving in harmony.

Repeat verses, songs, and fingerplays throughout the month: Repetition gives you the chance to play! Instead of constantly learning new words and songs, repeating favorites lets you and your child play with the tempo, add movement, and get goofy. Sing “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad” fast, then slow; loud, then soft; in a mouse voice and in an elephant voice; in a whisper, then a shout. Act it out (don’t forget the banjo playing!) and see how many ways you can fiddle with it. Try a different way each day.

Keep the format simple and predictable: To keep your circle time special, choose a structure and stick with it so you and your child know what to expect. You might open circle with a bell sound, sing a song, do a movement game or fingerplay, talk about the plan for the day, and then end with a verse. Keep circle time short so that everyone looks forward to the next day’s circle time, when the fun will continue.

Here are some circle time resources you might like:  Oak Meadow Circle Time Songs CD and A Child’s Seasonal Treasury

circle time cd coverA childs seasonal treasury cover

Curriculum activity: Gnome math

Oak Meadow math uses stories to introduce math concepts such as the four processes, and little gnomes take on the personality of each process. Plus likes to stuff his pockets full of jewels while Minus gives away jewels to help others. Times collects two times, five times, ten times as much as all the others, and Divide shares everything equally. The math gnome stories (found in our Grade 1 Resource Book) are meant as a jumping off point for you and your child to create stories of your own.

In “The Elf King Asks for Help,” the Gnome King receives a letter from the King of the Elves:

Dear Gnome King,

I am writing to ask for your help. Every year my elves have to keep count of the nuts that fall so we can divide them equally among all the little animals. But this year so many nuts are falling that my elves are having trouble counting them all. Soon the nuts will spoil and the animals will not have food to eat for the winter. Do you have any gnomes who know how to count? Please send them to help us!

Your Friend,
Elf King


Of course, the four gnomes were very happy to help the elves. Minus helped the elves find the lost nuts. (8 minus 5 is 3 nuts.)

math gnomes addition


Times found 3 times as many lost nuts. (3 times 3 is 9 nuts.)

math gnomes times

Divide gave 3 squirrels 6 nuts. Each squirrel had 2 nuts. (6 divided by 3 is 2 nuts.)

math gnomes divide

You can make your own math gnomes or purchase the Oak Meadow gnomes, who have been busy throughout the year (as you can see in their videos on our YouTube channel!).

Aligning expectations with reality

Homeschooling is a process of constant revisiting and adjustment. Don’t be afraid to do some trial-and-error to find what works best for you and your child. If you try a particular approach and it feels overwhelming, adjust your expectations and try again. Ask other parents what works for them. Ask your children for their input. You may be surprised at their thoughtful responses!

Phone counseling through our Homeschool Support program is available for those who would like experienced guided help creating a homeschooling rhythm too: Keep your expectations realistic and trust that you can do this!


Here’s a little printable poster to hang in your homeschool space for when you need an extra dose of inspiration.

Oak Meadow and Waldorf

by Lawrence Williams, EdD, Oak Meadow president and co-founder

Click to view a PDF version of this article

Since its inception, Oak Meadow has been strongly influenced by Waldorf education. In 1973, I spent a year training as a Waldorf teacher, and it was one of the most transformative experiences of my life. When Oak Meadow began as a day school, I taught a class for three years using Waldorf principles and curriculum, and then I taught the first grade class at Garden City Waldorf School. The following year, my wife Bonnie and I started the Oak Meadow homeschooling program, and I wrote the Oak Meadow curriculum for grades 1–3 based upon my experiences with Waldorf education.

Over the years, however, Oak Meadow has adapted the Waldorf approach to meet the needs of homeschoolers, and this has caused some confusion among parents who are familiar with Waldorf. Is Oak Meadow a Waldorf curriculum? How does Oak Meadow differ from Waldorf?  Many of the adaptations Oak Meadow has made were driven by pragmatic needs rather than philosophical issues, but in a few areas we do diverge from the traditional Waldorf philosophy. Before we explore those areas of divergence, let’s look at the basic ideas of Waldorf education as it is practiced throughout the world.

Waldorf Philosophy

Waldorf education is an approach to learning developed by Rudolf Steiner, an Austrian philosopher-scientist whose unique perspective contributed to a wide variety of fields, including medicine, agriculture, arts, architecture, religion, and education. Dr. Steiner became involved in K-12 education in 1919 at the request of Emil Molt, the owner of the Waldorf-Astoria cigarette factory in Stuttgart, Germany, who wanted Steiner to develop a school for the children of the factory workers. Working with a small group of teachers, Steiner developed a unique approach to education that emphasized the developmental stages of childhood, emphasized the role of the teacher, and integrated the arts into every aspect of the curriculum. The Waldorf School in Stuttgart became a great success, and Waldorf education rapidly spread to other countries throughout the world.

Perhaps one of the most unique aspects of the Waldorf philosophy is that it recognizes the essential spiritual nature within each human being. Although Waldorf schools are not directly associated with any specific religious organization, this spiritual element is an integral part of Waldorf pedagogy. This element is incorporated through the use of fairy tales, legends, and myths that speak to the divine spark within all humanity; through music, art, and dance that open the heart to the beauty of creation; and through the loving respect that the teacher brings to the learning process itself. Waldorf education seeks to instill within students a sense of wonder and reverence for all creation.

homeschool family looking at view from on top a mountain

The Developmental Stages of Childhood

Steiner viewed human beings as consisting of three spheres of activity — the head, the heart, and the will — which are expressed through thoughts, feelings, and physical actions. To educate children to be complete and balanced human beings, we must attend to the needs of all three aspects. From the Waldorf perspective, attaining knowledge is one purpose of the learning process, but just as important — and perhaps even more important — is to educate the heart and the will of the child, so that knowledge is joined with compassion and action.

This threefold nature of the child is mirrored in the developmental stages of childhood, and education is most effective when it approaches the child through the attributes of each developmental stage. These stages are based on observable phenomena in a child’s life. According to Steiner, the first stage begins at birth and continues until about age 6 or 7, when the child’s permanent teeth begin to emerge (called the “change of teeth” in Waldorf circles). During this stage the will, expressing itself through physical growth and movement, is the predominant force in the child’s life. The second stage progresses through the onset of puberty, with the focus upon the child’s emotional nature. In the third stage, the faculty of thinking predominates, and the teen begins to explore the world of thought and become an independent human being.

The Waldorf curriculum reflects these principles, honoring the child’s spiritual nature, addressing the three spheres of activity, and cooperating with the developmental cycles. The curriculum follows a progression that reflects the child’s growing awareness through the developmental stages, immersing the child in a rich musical and artistic tapestry that provides ample opportunity to develop all aspects of the child’s being.

Oak Meadow Adaptations For A Waldorf Homeschool Curriculum

Oak Meadow curriculum has slowly adapted over the years in order to better meet the needs of parents and children in a homeschooling context. Some of these changes were prompted by homeschooling parents, while others were prompted by state requirements and standards.

Modifying Scope and Sequence

First, we modified the scope and sequence of the curriculum to align it more closely with public schools. This made it easier for students to transition between public school and homeschooling. It also made it easier for parents to satisfy state requirements for homeschooling. At the same time, we retained the emphasis on experiential and artistic activities that are inherent in Waldorf education.

Introducing Letters and Numbers in Kindergarten

Student reading on beachAnother change was to begin teaching the alphabet and numbers in kindergarten rather than waiting until first grade. This decision was based on the recognition that children already were learning on their own from television, billboards, and street signs, and they were asking their parents to teach them how to read. Families wanted a curriculum that would enable them to bring to their children a deeper understanding of the letters and numbers without pushing them into first grade too early. We developed the kindergarten curriculum to give children an age-appropriate context for learning the alphabet and numbers.

Eliminating Christian Stories

The Waldorf curriculum emphasizes the value of fairy tales, myths, fables, and legends in teaching children moral principles. In this context, the Christian saints, such as St. Francis and St. Christopher, were studied in the second grade, and the stories of the Old Testament of the Bible were presented in the third grade. The intention in each of these cases is not to indoctrinate children in Christian teachings, but to provide inspiration and moral guidance through the medium of storytelling.

We followed this sequence in the first Oak Meadow curriculum, but we soon realized that homeschooling parents had very different ideas about the role of curriculum in their lives. Some parents were open to reading to their children stories about saints or stories from the Old Testament, but most parents felt we were trying to force specific religious teachings upon them, and they resented this intrusion into their lives. After considering this position for a few years, we decided that it was not our role to provide children with moral teachings that were identified with a specific religion, and we eliminated from the Oak Meadow curriculum stories that had specific Christian references.

Removing Original Grimm’s Fairy Tales

Another significant change that was made was to eliminate the traditional tales from the Brothers Grimm, which play a prominent role in traditional Waldorf education. The Grimm stories are the source of many popular fairy tales such as Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, and Snow White. In Waldorf schools, these traditional stories are used to introduce the letters of the alphabet because they not only contain many vivid images that help children remember the alphabet, but they also impart profound archetypal and moral teachings that speak directly to the soul of the child of that age. However, many of these stories contain frightful images (such as fattening children to eat them), engender damaging beliefs about parental attitudes (such as leaving children in a forest to die because parents couldn’t afford to feed them), and create narrow stereotypical portrayals (such as wicked stepmothers who abuse children).

These elements of the stories were presumably originally intended to scare children and keep them from misbehaving, but, because they also contain deep universal symbolism, they have been passed down from generation to generation. (If you are interested in learning more about fairy tales, see Bruno Bettleheim’s The Uses of Enchantment for an in-depth analysis.)

The decision to remove these stories from the Oak Meadow curriculum was made after receiving feedback from parents saying that they couldn’t read the stories to their children because they found them to be too frightening. We wanted to continue to offer stories that embodied clear images of the struggle between good and evil, and portrayed the ultimate triumph of good—concepts that young children find very meaningful. So, as an alternative, we created a collection of stories adapted from Grimm and other traditional sources.

Philosophical Differences

In addition to the changes we have made in the Waldorf curriculum, there are a few areas in which we have philosophical differences, not with the Waldorf principles themselves, but with the way in which these principles are applied in the current educational and cultural environment.

First, although Waldorf schools recognize that parents serve as valuable role models and teachers for their children when they are young, they traditionally believe that parents should not serve as the primary teachers of their children after students enter first grade. We believe that every parent should have the right to homeschool their children and that, for many families, homeschooling provides the very best educational option.

Second, traditional Waldorf schools are emphatic about not teaching children to read before first grade. Although we agree teaching reading to a child before they are developmentally ready can be detrimental, we feel that there is an important difference in whether the impetus to read comes from the child or from the parent. Due to the inundation of media and printed information in our culture, many children are learning to read on their own at an earlier age than they did in previous generations. When the early impulse to read arises from the pressure of parents who are attempting to accelerate their child’s growth, this can cause problems in the child’s balanced development. However, when this impulse to read comes from the natural curiosity and awareness of the child, we have found that it does not cause problems as long as it is balanced by artistic and physical activities.

Third, Waldorf schools discourage computer use because they feel that using computers tends to overemphasize the mental faculties (head) and inhibit the development of emotional intelligence (heart) and physical body (will). At Oak Meadow, we recognize that computers and technology play an ever-increasing role in the world, so we need to integrate them into our children’s lives in a manner that respects the developmental cycles of a child’s growth. We don’t encourage computer use in the early grades at all (aside from occasional use with parents) because it takes children away from creative expression and outdoor physical activities that are very important for their balanced growth. However, as children enters into the middle years (around age 10 or grade 4), it is more appropriate for children to begin using computers occasionally as tools in the learning process, with the time spent on computers allowed to increase gradually as they get older. In a distance-learning school such as Oak Meadow, where students often live thousands of miles away from their teachers, computers offer a distinct advantage by providing the opportunity for improved communications among parents, teachers, and students.

The Best of Both Worlds

As you can see, there are some differences between Oak Meadow and Waldorf, but there are also many perspectives we share.  As in Waldorf schools, Oak Meadow students learn to knit, crochet, play the recorder, and create geometric form drawings to help them develop fine motor skills, pattern recognition, a sense of symmetry and sequencing, and other foundational skills essential for academic success. Throughout the grades, artistic expression is integrated into all academic topics. The child’s unique expression of self is honored and nurtured.

While we recognize the benefits of a traditional Waldorf education, we believe that Oak Meadow provides a unique service by adapting the Waldorf principles to the realm of homeschooling and making this rich educational experience available to families around the world.