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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:

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

Since its inception, Oak Meadow has been heavily influenced by the educational approach known as Waldorf. In 1973, I entered the Waldorf Teacher Training program at the Waldorf Institute of Adelphi University in Garden City, New York. The year I spent in training as a Waldorf teacher was one of the most transformative experiences of my life, and it profoundly affected my view of education. When Oak Meadow began as a day school, I taught a class for three years using Waldorf principles and curriculum, and in 1978-79 I taught the First Grade class at the Garden City Waldorf School. The following year, Bonnie and I started the Oak Meadow homeschooling program, and I wrote the Oak Meadow curriculum for grades 1-3 based upon my experience in the Waldorf School.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. How does Oak Meadow differ from Waldorf? To understand this, we have to first understand something about Waldorf education itself.

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, the 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 workers in his factory. Working with a small group of teachers, Steiner developed an unique approach to education that emphasizes the developmental stages of children, reaffirms the role of the teacher, and integrates the arts into every aspect of the curriculum. The Waldorf School in Stuttgart became a great success, and Waldorf education, as it became known, rapidly spread to other countries throughout the world.

Many of the adaptations Oak Meadow has made from Waldorf 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, however, let’s look at the basic ideas of Waldorf education as it is practiced in over 600 schools throughout the world.

The Child as a Spiritual Being

Although they are not directly associated with any specific religious organization, Waldorf schools recognize the essential divinity within each human being and seek to instill within the child a sense of wonder and reverence for the divine purpose that expresses itself through all creation. They accomplish this through fairy tales, legends, and myths that reveal the divine pattern, through music, art, and dance that open the heart to the beauty of creation, and through the reverence that the teacher brings to the learning process itself.

The Threefold Nature of the Child

Steiner viewed human beings as consisting of three spheres of activity—the head, the heart, and the will—that manifest 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 of a child’s being. 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 reverence and action.

The Developmental Stages of Childhood

The threefold nature of the child manifests through consistent developmental stages, and education is most effective when it approaches the child through the attributes of each developmental stage. These stages are not based upon arbitrary theoretical concepts, but upon observable phenomena in a child’s life. According to Dr. Steiner, The first stage begins at birth and continues to the change of teeth, and during this stage the will, expressing itself through physical growth and movement, is the predominant force in the child’s life. The second stage begins at the change of teeth and 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 child begins to explore the world of thought and become an independent human being.


The Waldorf curriculum reflects the principles stated above, providing nourishment for the child’s spiritual needs, addressing the threefold nature, 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. From one Waldorf school to another, regardless of location, the curriculum is consistent, providing a cohesive sense of community from one school to another.

Oak Meadow Adaptations

Although we fully agree with the fundamental Waldorf principles presented above, we have adapted some of the approaches to better meet the needs of parents and children in a homeschooling context. The primary changes we have made in the Waldorf approach have centered around adaptations in the curriculum. Some of these changes were prompted by homeschooling parents, while others were prompted by public school officials.

Changing the Curriculum for Grades 4-12

First, we have modified the scope and sequence of the curriculum for grades 4-12 to make it more acceptable to public school officials, while retaining the emphasis upon experiential and artistic activities that are inherent in the Waldorf curriculum. These curriculum changes were made during the 1980s, when many public school officials were prosecuting homeschoolers in court. The mood at that time among public school officials was so litigious that we felt it was in the best interests of Oak Meadow parents for us to make the curriculum as acceptable to public schools as possible, so that parents could spend their time teaching their children at home instead of battling school systems in court. As a result of these changes, the Oak Meadow curriculum became widely accepted by public school officials at a time when most homeschooling curricula were being rejected.

Teaching the Alphabet and Numbers in Kindergarten

One of the changes that we made, teaching the alphabet and numbers in Kindergarten, has sparked considerable debate among Waldorf advocates because of its move toward early learning. Our decision to do this was not based, however, upon a belief that children should learn earlier, but upon the recognition that children already are learning earlier without any help from their parents, due to the influence of television and the predominance of printed information in our culture. The Oak Meadow Kindergarten curriculum arose, at the request of many homeschooling parents, several years after we had written the First through Third Grade curricula. Their children had already learned the alphabet and numbers on their own from watching television, billboards, and street signs and they were now asking their parents to teach them how to read. These parents wanted a curriculum that would enable them to bring to their children a deeper understanding of the letters and numbers, but since the children were five years old, their parents didn’t want to start the children in our First Grade curriculum, which was more advanced, so we developed the Kindergarten curriculum to give children an age-appropriate context for learning the alphabet and numbers.

Eliminating Grimm’s Folk Tales

This is more of a philosophical matter, and we struggled with this issue for many years before we made these changes. Grimm’s folk tales, the source of many of the so-called “fairy tales” (Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Snow White) that are well-known throughout the western world (and later popularized by Walt Disney), are an important part of the first grade curriculum in Waldorf Schools. They are used to introduce the letters of the alphabet in the first grade, because they not only contain many vivid images that help children remember the alphabet, but also profound archetypal and moral teachings that speak directly to the soul of the child of that age. Unfortunately, however, many of these stories also contain frightful images (fattening children to eat them), engender damaging beliefs about parental attitudes (leaving children in a forest to die because parents couldn’t afford to feed them), and create narrow stereotypical portrayals (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 (see Bruno Bettleheim’s The Uses of Enchantment for an analysis) they have been retained in the stories and passed down from generation to generation.

Waldorf Schools see these stories (and rightly so, I think) as embodying strong images of the struggle between good and evil (and the ultimate triumph of good) that children of first-grade age find very meaningful, so we used them initially for those same reasons. After several years, however, we found that more and more parents were returning the book of Grimm’s folk tales that they received with their curriculum, saying that they couldn’t read these stories to their children because they found them to be too frightening and that they caused their children to be scared and confused about their parents for weeks after reading them.

After struggling with this for several years (and when the return rate on Grimm’s folk tales approached 50%), we finally decided that we couldn’t continue to include this in our curriculum any longer, so we created our own book of fairy tales (some adapted from Grimm’s and some created anew) and eliminated Grimm’s from the Oak Meadow curriculum.

Eliminating Christian Stories

The Waldorf curriculum consistently 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, are studied in the second grade, and the stories of the Old Testament of the Bible are 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. Although many parents were teaching their children at home specifically to provide them with moral instruction they were not receiving in public schools, parents were very clear about what kind of moral teachings they wanted to provide their children. 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 all of the elements that had specific Christian references.

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 beyond the change of teeth. They feel that the proper development of the child’s individuality requires someone other than the parent to act as the primary teacher. Although there may be teachers that provide nurturing environments for some children, this is simply not the case in most areas of the world, so parents have stepped in to prevent their children from being harmed by the very teachers that should be nurturing and strengthening them. It is for this very reason that homeschooling has arisen, and we support this development in education.

Second, traditional Waldorf schools are emphatic about not teaching children to read before the change of teeth. Although we agree in principle that teaching early reading is detrimental to the child’s development, 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 influence of our culture and the increased availability of printed information, many children are learning to read on their own at an earlier age than they did in previous generations. When this impulse to read comes from the natural curiosity and awareness of the child, we have found that this does not cause problems as long as it is balanced by artistic and physical activities. When the early impulse to read arises from the pressure of parents who are attempting to accelerate their child’s growth, however, this can cause problems in the child’s balanced development.

Third, Waldorf schools discourage computer use, because they feel that using computers extensively tends to overdevelop the head faculties and inhibit the development of the heart and the will. At Oak Meadow, we recognize the detrimental effects of computers, but we believe they will play an ever-increasing role in our lives, 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 children under ages 9 or 10 to use computers at all (aside from occasional use with parents), because it takes children away from outdoor physical activities that are very important for their balanced growth. After that stage, however, we feel that children can 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 school such as Oak Meadow, where students often live thousands of miles away from their teachers, we feel that computers offer a distinct advantage by providing the opportunity for improved communications among parents, teachers, and students.

As you can see, there are some differences between Oak Meadow and Waldorf, but there are also many perspectives we share. Although we recognize the benefits of Waldorf education, we know that most communities in the world do not yet have access to this creative and healing approach to education. We feel 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.

Teacher Appreciation Week!

The mediocre teacher tells.

The good teacher explains.

The superior teacher demonstrates.

The great teacher inspires.

William Arthur Ward

This week, May 6 through May 12, is Teacher Appreciation Week, and I would like to show my deepest gratitude for the very important role all of you are performing. Whether you are the main home teacher, a co-teacher, or a provisional teacher, you need to be acknowledged, honored and thanked. You are sharing an amazing gift with your children/students!
Parenting and teaching children may be two of the hardest jobs ever experienced. It’s not always easy to share knowledge with enthusiasm. It’s not always easy to provide guidance with inspiration. It can be difficult to promote self-confidence when we may not be feeling completely confident in ourselves. It can truly be challenging to instill the love of learning and to offer wisdom while helping to prepare children for living to their fullest potential.
Journeys are never completely easy. We will be challenged with hard times and frustrating moments. However, amid the challenges, we will also experience those shining moments of complete joy and satisfaction. If we approach our teaching skills by developing a quality relationship with our students, then we will be approaching our teaching as a positive, transformative journey for all who are involved.

Photo Credit: Joyner Family

Not only do we need to honor our role as teachers, we also need to honor our children, for children can be our greatest teachers. They allow us the opportunity for personal growth. Children help us to remember our dutiful role in continuously providing the best and offering the most we can in every learning moment. We need to find that crucial balance between a loving heart and a determined mind. Being the best teacher is not the goal, because we are all humanly imperfect and incapable of such a title. However, if we strive to do the best we can, then we are being the best teacher possible in that moment. This striving is a strong testimony to the Oak Meadow’s educational philosophy of the process vs. the goal.
In all my years of teaching and guiding students, I have discovered that the most important lessons we can instill in our children is the joy of learning, the balance of life, and to never give up just because it’s hard.
I was recently reading through Oak Meadow’s guidebook, The Heart of Learningwritten by Oak Meadow’s founder, Lawrence Williams. It offers such amazing insight, inspiration and guidance. If you haven’t read it lately, I highly recommend perusing it. If you don’t own a copy of the revised and updated 40th Anniversary edition, it is available through the Oak Meadow Bookstore.

I didn’t think I wanted to homeschool at first…

Editor’s Note: This is a guest post from Amy Tudor. You can follow her homeschooling adventures on Instagram at amy.tudor and find her articles in Taproot magazine. We’re thrilled to have her share her homeschooling story.

Homeschooling never appealed to me. We live in a remote Vermont forest with very few other children nearby. My oldest spent her early years surrounded by grown-ups and I was looking forward to her having regular contact with other children.  But when we started her in preschool, her interest tapered off within the first few months. We repeated this the next year and the next for kindergarten.
As social creatures we humans often employ tactics, communications and power struggles in an attempt to have our needs met.  Unhealthy dynamics never, ever, escaped the notice of my oldest. Somewhere between three and five, she outlawed sarcasm, seeing the anger and cruelty it masks.  At eight, she cut the word weird from the family vocabulary, observing how people used it to isolate one person from a group. I can still picture her in the car, shrugging her shoulders to her friend in the backseat and offering a “well, everybody is different” reply after hearing a story about a ‘weird’ child.  Because of her sensitive nature, groups of people are very challenging for her to be part of.

Our homeschooling journey began with confusion and fear (on my part). There was so much to learn and even the process of registering in Vermont was overwhelmingly confusing. The home study office at the Department of Education confused me the most telling me to be much more thorough than I had to be. Experienced families offered nuggets of wisdom through various homeschooling Facebook groups. Because once you see the relief and joy on your child’s face, the struggles in your own heart quiet down.
The first technique we tried (that didn’t work) was school-at-home, that is, following the traditional school model of doing certain things at certain times, whether or not the children are interested in it.  I see new families quit at this point in the process because they can’t get their children to ‘do school.’ This frustration always makes me think of us grown-ups preparing our taxes. How many of us enjoy following such mind-numbing directions from the powerful Internal Revenue Service like “Add line 41 to 13.  If this number is less than $24,000 then skip to line 300“ and so on. Demanding that my child read chapter three and master skip counting on a set date feels like the same sort of external motivation that I don’t want to pass on to my children.

Many experienced homeschooling families will advise beginning with a few months (or more) of deschooling, especially if your child has been in traditional school for more than a few years.  Deschooling is the process of letting your children get back in touch with their own natural daily rhythms and rediscovering what sparks their own curiosity. If you didn’t have to be at school at a certain time, what time would your children naturally wake? When are they most hungry? When is their mind most active? What time of the day do they need to recharge?
Our night owl goes to bed at the same time every night, but can wake anywhere from 7 am to 9:30 am.   Teaching our children to place rest high on the priority list was lost in traditional school. When an idea sparks, she can work on self-directed projects on her own timeline. One day she spent seven hours setting-up and photographing the life stories of her doll families.  If one must break real life down into measurable learning, I observed art (photography, setting the scenes), social studies (adoption and family dynamics), storytelling (suspense, proper order of events), health (babies being born, arm injuries, physical activities), and science (tsunamis, blizzards, air temperatures) all rolled into one. In traditional kindergarten, the activities moved along so fast, it was common to hear her describe her school projects by saying “and I didn’t have time to finish that.”
Packaged curricula can be a good place to start for new families, because so many families are frightened that their children will miss some crucial benchmark and will never succeed.  Start there if you must but then try to remember that other people set those benchmarks (and then let them go, if you can). Children are individuals and learn different skills when they’re ready.  One of the things I now love most about homeschooling is the freedom.
Once your home environment is relaxed enough, you’ll know what to ‘teach’ your child because they will ask you questions about what they don’t understand.  In our house, if we parents don’t know, we write it on the chalkboard and our ‘schooling’ is usually researching it together at the library or by asking someone who knows.  Right now, we’re trying to figure out exactly how oysters filter water.

This year, our child-led model has resulted in knowing that cavemen ate nettles and other greens (because the children doubted that greens are really necessary in their diets). We studied how the Eiffel tower was built and what rare fish lived in the lakes of Tanzania. Our forestry studies have touched upon beech blight and the emerald ash borer.  And so much more. This learning-style is such a way-of-life for us that our youngest has picked up the habit. When big sister decided to make a lapbook on porcupines, our youngest was three. Without prompting, little sister decided to check out library books on bobcats for her first lapbook. Typical subjects like reading and writing are a by-product of their own curiosity.
I recently remembered that I had ordered the preschool books from Oak Meadow when my oldest was two years old.  The Heart of Learning remains one of the most influential parenting books I have ever read as it presents a way of guiding children that resonated very deeply.
I didn’t think I wanted to homeschool at first, but now that we’re over the beginning stages, it turns out my learning was just as important as theirs. And seeing their parents adapt to the unexpected teaches them to do the same. I am so glad we took the leap of faith and are pursuing an unconventional education for our children.

Happy Birthday Earth Day!

Happy Earth Day to you!

The “green things growing” whisper me
Of many an earth-old mystery
–Eben Eugene Rexford

Earth Day is an annual event celebrated on or near April 22nd. This special day was created and first celebrated forty-eight years ago in 1970. It was founded by Wisconsin’s U.S. Senator, Gaylord Nelson, who strongly believed in the need to support environmental protection and to provide environmental awareness. offers eight simple ways to celebrate Earth Day with your children:
1) Read a nature-inspired book.
2) Up-cycle trash into an eco-friendly craft by creating a craft from recycled material.
3) Take a family hike or bike ride.
4) Build a bird feeder and feed the birds.
5) Open your windows to the fresh spring air and listen to the sounds of nature.
6) Get outside, pick up trash, go on a scavenger hike, or plant some flowers.
7) Cook with local produce and grow your own vegetable garden.
8) Conduct a science experiment that teaches about the greenhouse effect.

Photo Credit: Leslie Daniels

Celebrating Earth Day is a beautiful way to demonstrate your love for the planet. Remember to make every day Earth Day, and teach your children the values in recycling, reusing, and reducing. Practicing the three R’s of the environment helps to restore and replenish this beautiful world in which we live. No matter what the ages of your children might be, loving and protecting the planet  is one of the most important lessons we can teach to them. Oak Meadow offers nature-inspired art and craft projects in the book, Oak Meadow Crafts for the Early Grades, such as the “Leaf Print Tiles”.
I’d like to leave you with a story that offers inspiration to me. It is called “Being Green“. This is a lesson in conservation that we all need.
Checking out at the store, the young cashier suggested to the much older woman that she should bring her own grocery bags because plastic bags weren’t good for the environment.
The woman apologized and explained, “We didn’t have this ‘green thing’ back in my earlier days.”
The young clerk responded, “That’s our problem today. Your generation did not care enough to save our environment for future generations.”
She was right — our generation didn’t have the ‘green thing’ in its day.
Back then, we returned milk bottles, soda bottles and beer bottles to the store. The store sent them back to the plant to be washed and sterilized and refilled, so it could use the same bottles over and over.
So they really were recycled.
But we didn’t have the “green thing” back in our day.
Grocery stores bagged our groceries in brown paper bags, that we reused for numerous things, most memorable besides household garbage bags, was the use of brown paper bags as book covers for our schoolbooks. This was to ensure that public property, (the books provided for our use by the school) was not defaced by our scribbling. Then we were able to personalize our books on the brown paper bags.
But too bad we didn’t do the “green thing” back then.
We walked up stairs, because we didn’t have an escalator in every store and office building. We walked to the grocery store and didn’t climb into a 300-horsepower machine every time we had to go two blocks.
But she was right. We didn’t have the “green thing” in our day.
Back then, we washed the baby’s diapers because we didn’t have the throwaway kind. We dried clothes on a line, not in an energy-gobbling machine burning up 220 volts — wind and solar power really did dry our clothes back in our early days. Kids got hand-me-down clothes from their brothers or sisters, not always brand-new clothing.
But that young lady is right; we didn’t have the “green thing” back in our day.
Back then, we had one TV, or radio, in the house — not a TV in every room. And the TV had a small screen the size of a handkerchief (remember them?), not a screen the size of the state of Montana . In the kitchen, we blended and stirred by hand because we didn’t have electric machines to do everything for us. When we packaged a fragile item to send in the mail, we used wadded up old newspapers to cushion it, not Styrofoam or plastic bubble wrap. Back then, we didn’t fire up an engine and burn gasoline just to cut the lawn. We used a push mower that ran on human power. We exercised by working so we didn’t need to go to a health club to run on treadmills that operate on electricity.
But she’s right; we didn’t have the “green thing” back then.
We drank from a fountain when we were thirsty instead of using a cup or a plastic bottle every time we had a drink of water. We refilled writing pens with ink instead of buying a new pen, and we replaced the razor blades in a razor instead of throwing away the whole razor just because the blade got dull.
But we didn’t have the “green thing” back then.
Back then, people took the streetcar or a bus and kids rode their bikes to school or walked instead of turning their moms into a 24-hour taxi service in the family’s $45,000 SUV or van, which cost what a whole house did before the “green thing.” We had one electrical outlet in a room, not an entire bank of sockets to power a dozen appliances. And we didn’t need a computerized gadget to receive a signal beamed from satellites 23,000 miles out in space in order to find the nearest burger joint.
But isn’t it sad the current generation laments how wasteful we old folks were just because we didn’t have the “green thing” back then?
sacramentoearthday_dana gray

Indoor and Outdoor Nature Looms

Outdoor Nature Loom wrapped around a tree
Outdoor Nature Loom

These looms are the perfect way to connect nature and art, and a lovely nature craft to celebrate Earth Day! Earth Day is a day that was created to promote awareness and appreciation for the Earth’s environment and occurs each year on the 22nd of April. It is the largest, most celebrated environmental event worldwide! Earth day was established by Gaylord Nelson in 1970 (we’ll be posting more about it on Sunday!).
indoor nature loom on wall
Indoor Nature Loom

“Our goal is not just an environment of clean air and water and scenic beauty. The objective is an environment of decency, quality and mutual respect for all other human beings and all other living creatures.”  Gaylord Nelson

Supplies gathered including kite string and sticks

-Sticks for loom base
-String, yarn, twine, rope, cable, fiber, anything you can use as a cord. We used kite string.
-Nature hunt items- flowers, twigs, grasses, bamboo, stems, leaves etc.
nature loom set-up outside
1.) Make your loom.
I had my boys go out and hunt for sticks. Once we had a good pile of sticks, I showed them how lash them together. I had them twist and turn our kite string around and around two sticks to make them perpendicular. My children are a little younger so I explained that we would be making the letter L with the sticks.  This was much easier for my 7 year old, it was a bit frustrating for my younger son so I made one for him while he was happily playing around us while we made our L shapes.
Once we had two L shapes I told my son we were going to connect them to make a square shape. He connected the two L’s and made a square. You can make your loom any shape you prefer, any shape works!! We ended up making another one with a curved stick we found. We tied on in the middle, my son held it up while I wrapped and wrapped string around until we thought it was perfect. (see pictures)
nature loom example
Once you have your shape, tie a piece of string to one of the corners. Make sure to give yourself enough string to make plenty of loops for your loom. You will then wrap around and around the square to get your loom ready for weaving.  (A tip to keep the string from sliding is to wrap it around the stick twice before moving on to the next line. We didn’t do this and our strings were not anchored and would slide around, but still worked great!) When you are happy with how it looks tie it off onto one of the sticks to anchor.  I let my son do this independently so it is not perfectly straight or very taut but it doesn’t have to be, as long as you have a way to weave in and out it will work. I love how his turned out and he was so proud of it. I was worried it wasn’t going to be taut enough for the treasures to stay put but it all worked out.  I was there to lend a hand if he needed it. I did have to help a bit with tying them off and holding the base while he wrapped but he did great!
Your loom is ready for the next step!
nature treasures ready to weave
Nature hunt!! Go outside and play, collecting treasures as you go.  We collected bamboo, big leaves, little leaves, flowers, twigs, grasses, shells, feathers, rocks anything that caught their eyes.  While we were nature hunting we also picked up trash. It still amazes me that people litter?? I just don’t get it and I don’t think I ever will.   We make it a point to pick up trash every time we go to a park and I encourage you to do the same. It only takes a couple minutes and you leave the environment better off than when you arrived, it feels good.  Just make sure to wash those hands when you are done!
the weaving process
Once you have your items start weaving them throughout your loom.  The results are wonderful. We made a couple looms and once I was done taking pictures I hung them outside so that we can continue to weave in treasures as we find them.
outdoor nature loom
I have seen these looms a couple of times and always was a little intimidated by them but don’t be.  We made the looms one day and did our nature hunt the next day. My sons couldn’t wait to put in their treasures!
indoor nature loom
Happy Earth Day, Everyone!

Planting Seeds

Those of us in the Northern Hemisphere are heading into spring and many of us are looking forward to growing vegetables in our own summer gardens. In my state we have a Cooperative Extension Service that provides lots of information and offers activities about farming in my area. With snow still on the ground, I’m dreaming of planting my garden. Since I’m in the city, I’m planning to start small this year with a few tomato plants in big pots, and some spinach and onions in a small bed. I look forward to my tiny harvest of spaghetti sauce!

We know that human activity does pollute the environment and that it can cause climate changes. Reducing greenhouse gas emissions is one way of helping to limit climate change. We also now know that driving a car is a major cause of climate change as the car emissions release carbon dioxide into our atmosphere. One way greenhouse gas emissions can be reduced is by growing one’s own food so that driving to market doesn’t happen so often. So, planting seeds is a great start to reducing the pollution of our planet!
Photo from Pixaby

Wishful thinking doesn’t make my garden grow, so first I have to buy some seeds and soil. Since my growing season is so short, I have to start my plants indoors. Many of you using the Oak Meadow science curriculum are planting seeds, recording their growth, and also exploring and reporting on different types of soils. This website from the Smithsonian National Museum of History is awesome: Dig It! The Secrets of Soil. I compost vegetable and fruit matter so I have some good soil to start with. I’ll also purchase some organic soil from a local landscape supplier to mix in. You may have studied the plant kingdom in the Oak Meadow 6th grade science curriculum and learned the difference between gymnosperms and angiosperms. I’ll be planting some angiosperms! My south facing windows will be a perfect place for starting my plants.

This student found a good spot outside to start the seeds!

If you are planting your own garden, and when you have a break from your farming, here’s a fun game to play to maintain a sustainable farm that grows healthy crops and reduces emissions! You might also enjoy reading Thor Hanson’s book The Triumph of Seeds. Visit his website to learn more about this. 
What are you planting? What are some ways that you help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in your community?