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
Water
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
Inspiration!

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!

MATERIALS

Walnuts halves
Knife
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)

INSTRUCTIONS

  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!

Inspiration!

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

Oak Meadow and Waldorf with gnomes

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.

What is Distance Learning?

Oak Meadow has been a resource for independent homeschooling families for 40 years, but did you know that Oak Meadow is also a distance learning school?

Distance Learning at Oak Meadow means that enrolled students (and parents) have an ongoing relationship with one or more experienced Oak Meadow teachers, who guide them through the year. On a regular basis, students are expected to submit academic work to their teacher, who provides feedback, evaluation, and support for their progress through the year’s lessons.

Most teachers and students do not meet in person, but they get to know each other well through letters, photos, emails, phone conversations, and video calls. Some families choose to travel to Oak Meadow’s yearly Open House, where they have the opportunity to meet with faculty and staff in person. Distance learning allows teachers to work easily with students around the world.

Oak Meadow students studying abroad in PeruOak Meadow encourages independent thinking through supported learning. Oak Meadow parents (and sometimes other caregivers) are essential in their role of home teacher. Success with Oak Meadow requires the loving involvement and support of a home teacher. Students may work independently according to their ability, while the home teacher is present and available to help support the student in his or her learning.

The home teacher is also the critical link between Oak Meadow teachers and their students, especially in the elementary grades. It is essential for parents to communicate well with the Oak Meadow teacher about the student’s needs throughout the year. With good communication that fosters a clear understanding of the student’s needs, Oak Meadow teachers can adapt curriculum and assignment expectations to better fit an individual student’s strengths and weaknesses.

It is the home teacher’s responsibility to maintain an ongoing connection with the Oak Meadow teacher and ensure that work is submitted on time. Home teachers work closely with their children to help them stay organized, understand their lessons, complete work within the expected time frame, and understand and incorporate their Oak Meadow teacher’s feedback.

In the elementary grades, students work with one teacher for all subjects, and it is often possible to remain with the same teacher for multiple years. In high school, Oak Meadow teachers specialize by subject but often collaborate to understand the most effective approach for students they have in common. Oak Meadow teachers get to know their students well through their interactions with the student, the parent, and Oak Meadow staff and faculty who have had interactions with the family.

Homeschool students reading on hawaii beachOak Meadow is an internationally accredited distance learning institution and provides full academic credit to enrolled students. We have a full-time registrar who ensures that all records are complete and meet current standards. Our students receive academic transcripts and can earn a high school diploma from Oak Meadow School. Thorough documentation of our rigorous program has helped many of our distance learning students make the transition to more traditional secondary and/or post-secondary schools.

In some areas, homeschoolers struggle to satisfy strict state requirements regarding the content and/or delivery of education. In more locales, enrollment in an accredited distance learning school is accepted as the educational equivalent of independent or private school enrollment, making it easier to file the necessary documentation for homeschooling. (Check with your local school district or Department of Education for more information on the requirements that apply to your situation.)

Oak Meadow’s faculty and staff meet regularly and work together to ensure that all enrolled families’ needs are being met as well as possible. Our enrolled high school students enjoy the benefits of our staff guidance counselor, Keri Arsenault, who is available for support services. We also have a college counseling program for students who are interested in pursuing post-secondary education.

The structure, connection, and support provided by Oak Meadow’s distance learning program make learning at home possible for some students and families who might not otherwise homeschool. Distance learning with Oak Meadow allows families to enjoy a highly-regarded, accredited education with the help of supportive teachers — at home or on the road.

Read!

As the winter approaches here in New England, I long for a good book to read while I sit by a warm fire. I like to read a real book. I like the feel of it in my hands. I like the way I can put it down anywhere and pick it up anytime I want. I like that I can put a favorite book mark on the last page I read, and I like that I can fall asleep holding it. Some people I know are using their devices to read books on. I do have one book on my phone that I read if I’m at a loss for something to do while I’m waiting, or riding the train or subway. For those of you that would like suggestions of books to read, I’ve found Bookworm 4 Kids to be a terrific site for suggestions. I subscribe to the monthly newsletter that describes new books each month. For those of you that would like to read a book on a device, try StarWalk Kids Media for free access to over 500 books from December 24-January 5.
By the way, I’m currently reading Fever 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson. It’s an amazing account of an historical event.
 

Finding the Right Fit: Part II

In our first blog post on finding the right fit, we looked at homeschooling styles to fit every type of family and learner. Now we’ll look at the many ways Oak Meadow can be part of your homeschooling journey, no matter where it takes you.

How does Oak Meadow curriculum fit into my family’s style of homeschooling?

Finding the right homeschooling style and curriculum to fit your family can be an adventure, a quest, or a confusing jumble (depending on how you look at it!). As children grow and family circumstances change, it’s not unusual to change how you homeschool.

“We love Oak Meadow! This our 5th year homeschooling. The first couple of years I tried all kinds of curricula, texts, teaching methods, etc. Nothing seemed to fit my kid’s learning style, my teaching style, or our lifestyle. Then we found Oak Meadow. It was like coming home!”

Whether you use traditional schooling methods, an eclectic approach, unschooling, or something in between, Oak Meadow curriculum can fit your homeschooling methods, allowing your teaching style to flex and adapt as your family’s needs change. Over the years, we’ve heard from many families about how they use Oak Meadow, and we’ve included their thoughts as well to help you imagine the possibilities.

“I wanted to share this with you. Our daughter has hated the idea of going to school for the last 3 years. The last time she was this excited was her 1st day of school and she has begged to stay home every day since. We have been working baby steps in getting her prepared for home schooling. Everything so far has been amazing. Thank you so much for providing such a great learning experience and more so a great life experience. I am overjoyed at the thought that our daughter will look back at her elementary years and love every second of it. And it all started with a box.”

Boxed curriculum: Oak Meadow curriculum gives you a full year of lesson plans for each subject (in 36 weekly lessons). Families love receiving their Oak Meadow boxes! We often hear stories about children diving into the box and wandering off to read the books long before they are assigned. Students who are working independently, which usually begins in earnest around 6th or 7th grade, often find it very satisfying to know in advance exactly what they will be studying, how many more lessons there are, which assignments will be covered in a particular week, etc. Oak Meadow’s K-8 curriculum is integrated, particularly in relation to English and social studies, which is another benefit of having a complete curriculum set rather than piecing things together from diverse sources.

“I have to tell you how excited we were to receive our 2nd grade curriculum. We opened it together. One of the twins took off with his reader and read and laughed his way through the afternoon… The other twin looked at the song book (from 1st grade) and asked if I knew any of the songs. Luckily, I remembered “Oh how lovely is the evening” from my first grade so many years ago. So he learned to sing it gleefully. When Dad came home, our son looked up  at the sky and noted, “Mom, it’s evening. Let’s sing our song.” So we did. We haven’t even formally begun schooling, and already our children love the curriculum. THIS is what learning should be.”

Eclectic homeschooling: For parents who enjoy the process of seeking out a unique mix of resources to create a customized homeschooling curriculum, Oak Meadow materials can be used in several ways. You can use specific coursebooks, such as 6th grade math or 8th grade civics, as the cornerstone for a particular subject, or you can use our materials to supplement another program. You can also use our grade overviews or high school course suggestions by grade (found in our catalog) as you plan your yearly studies. These resources can help you feel confident that your eclectic approach will be built on a well-rounded educational foundation.

“We have created an environment in our home which is “prepared,” everything has a component of learning and children naturally go toward what they are attracted and will learn by doing. Oak Meadow is wonderful in that it helps create wide open parameters without the pressure…”

Traditional schooling at home: For families who prefer a textbook and worksheet approach, Oak Meadow’s math books in grades 4-8 include worksheets with practice problems and answers in the back of the book for students to self-correct their practice sets. Test answers are included separately for the parent to use in grading the work. Beginning in grade 4, the curriculum is designed for the student to read and use independently (with parent support as needed). Our high school courses are also designed to be self-paced, and the science, math and social studies courses are textbook-based with an Oak Meadow course book that includes a full year of varied and engaging assignments to accompany the textbook readings.

“Oak Meadow is the most comprehensive curriculum there is. It provides structure and the flexibility to customize the program with plenty of room for creativity.”

Interest-led learning: Families who allow their child’s interests to guide the learning process can benefit from using a wide variety of research materials and resources to help them find imaginative ways to explore the topic at hand. Oak Meadow can be used to supplement interest-led learning and to spark ideas about new ways to work with the material. You will find dozens of social studies projects and science experiments about a wide variety of topics. You can view our English curriculum for recommended reading lists in conjunction with a particular social studies topic (5th grade for U.S. history, 6th grade for ancient civilizations, 7th grade for world history, and 8th grade for civics) and use our grammar books (such as Writing for 100 Days or The Elements of Style) for writing specifics. Math books can be kept on hand to explain concepts and provide practice, if needed (for instance, 4th grade math for long division and fractions, 6th grade math for decimals and percentages, or 8th grade math for variables and scientific notation).

“We do Oak Meadow and unschooling! We follow a slight routine for the morning and do Oak Meadow activities. In the afternoon we do whatever we feel like learning about (a chance to let the kids share their interests)… I don’t force anything either. If my kids are in [the mood for] a day for doing nothing but reading, we find a topic they like and read. Although I do have one mandatory day a week where they have to do one worksheet in each subject (reading/writing/math/arts). They call it worksheet day and have fun doing it.”

Roamschooling: Taking your learning on the road—or the high seas—can mean taking your books along, too, or learning from resources you find as you go. Today many people are connected to the internet no matter where they go, so it is easy to get online resources (including Oak Meadow’s K-12 curriculum online), but many still prefer a book when it comes to learning. Oak Meadow’s curriculum packages make it easy to have everything in one place, or you can choose to bring only those books that your student will need (such as math or novels), leaving the rest of the learning open-ended, based on where your travels take you.

“…the method makes so much sense to us, and our student is REALLY HAPPY! We are all very happy. We are so happy to have FINALLY found where we fit in. Turns out we fit in with Oak Meadow… You have made our real life (which is filled with trips to the Nature Center and just lots of time outside in general) fit into our teaching day, not separate from it.”

Unschooling: It may come as a surprise to learn that unschoolers often use books, even schoolbooks! The difference is that students can choose what, when and how they want to learn. Oak Meadow books are appealing to many students who are exploring their passions because our assignments are often creative, artistic and unique (just like many unschoolers are). Sharing curriculum books on subjects your unschooler is interested in can give your child another option in the wide world of learning that surrounds us all.

“The curriculum has meant everything to us. We have a positive view of life, our daughter feels empowered. The curriculum teaches her what she needs but keeps enough free time for her to “know herself.” She has become such a helpful member of our family regarding chores and a daily rhythm, and she is loved by friends at co-op, soccer, etc. We are so in love with Oak Meadow. It fits us perfectly.”

Whatever your approach, Oak Meadow curriculum invites customization—and encourages you to infuse the experience with your family’s own interests, ideas, and resources. Oak Meadow also provides wonderful supportive resources and inspiration for all our families that can enhance the overall learning experience. Find great ideas on our over 50 searchable boards on Pinterest, join our lively and encouraging community on our Facebook page, and subscribe to our free education journal, Living Education, for homeschooling information, advice, research, and inspiring ideas.

As you search for the right fit for your family, we’re here to help. And please let us know what homeschooling style works best for you and your family! We love to hear how families use our curriculum to support their home learning in whatever direction it takes them.

Finding the Right Fit: Part I

Homeschooling is all about finding the right fit: finding what works for each child, for the homeschooling parent, and for the family’s lifestyle and values. Luckily, homeschooling has gained mainstream popularity in the last decade and the resources for homeschoolers have exploded into a veritable feast of choices.

There are curriculum choices for every learning style, family value, and educational goal. Not only that, but there are so many amazing, experienced homeschoolers sharing their ideas and wisdom via websites, blogs, books, magazines, and journals that homeschooling in many ways is easier than ever before.

But how do you choose from all these fantastic options? How can you tell if a certain curriculum or homeschooling style will work for your family? How do you know if your child will respond well to a traditional approach, an eclectic style, or boxed curriculum? What’s the difference between interest-led learning, roamschooling, and unschooling? Starting out as a new homeschooler, it can all be more than a little bewildering and overwhelming.

Take a deep breath and relax. Here’s some help—a handy list of the basic styles of homeschooling, how each works, and who might like it best.

Boxed curriculum: Having all the lesson plans for each subject for a full year in one place can be the best way to help you feel comfortable about homeschooling and confident about your ability to do it well. Getting a full set of curriculum books doesn’t mean you can’t have any input or follow your child’s interests, though. It just means you have something to fall back on, and have a general plan to your days and weeks that reassures you that there won’t be any big gaps in your child’s education. It also makes it really easy for your child to see what needs to be done, and for you to organize your year-end reporting to the state. There are many different types of boxed curriculum, from religion-based to literature- or history-based to creative and integrated (like Oak Meadow). Boxed curriculum can include assignments that range from hands-on projects to worksheets and tests so the kind of student this approach works well for depends on what type of curriculum you choose. Using a boxed curriculum is a good fit for parents who are new to homeschooling and want everything planned out for them, or for those who would rather spend time enriching the homeschooling experience than creating it from scratch.

Eclectic homeschooling: A lot of veteran homeschoolers find themselves doing a bit of this and a bit of that, choosing from a wide variety of sources to help each child learn best. This eclectic style can work especially well in larger families because you will naturally acquire a great deal of curriculum over the years. You might find that a particular math program works very well for your family, and you like the science labs from a certain website. You might use literature to teach history, and find a writing program that appeals to you. In this way, you piece together a complete curriculum from an eclectic array of resources based on your child’s learning preferences and educational needs. The eclectic approach works very well for parents who are comfortable with a little more flexibility and who have the time, energy and willingness to seek out resources and design a comprehensive program from diverse materials.

Traditional schooling at home: While relatively few homeschoolers try to replicate a traditional classroom approach at home, there are many who use textbooks, workbooks, worksheets, and tests with great success. Textbooks usually present a topic in a well-organized, comprehensive way and many have accompanying workbooks with related assignments and fill-in-the-blank worksheets. You might want to forgo textbooks and use worksheets to accompany learning from other sources (such as literature, research books, and the internet). Having worksheets allows kids to be self-paced because skills are presented in a very organized progression, and you can easily grade the worksheets and see where more help is needed. Many kids, especially those who respond well to repetitive drills, find worksheets to be satisfying because they often focus on one skill at a time, and many parents like worksheets because they can have time to work one-to-one with a child while the others are busy on their own. Many families find that worksheets work particularly well for math since most students need a fair amount of repetition to build math skills. The traditional school approach works best for families who prefer a highly organized structure, and for students who can sit for a focused period of time and who learn best through written information and instructions.

Interest-led learning: Interest-led learning means allowing your child’s interests to guide the direction of the studies. The beauty of interest-led learning is that you can introduce core academic skills (such as grammar or fractions) in relation to topics that your child is naturally drawn to. Of course, this means more work for the parent but it’s not as hard as it sounds. As adults, we already understand how much something like math or good writing skills come in handy in daily life, so incorporating these elements into a project of your child’s making—say, a dinosaur stop-action film or a storyboard for a new video game—can be pretty seamless. You can use resources like math books or grammar books; in fact, you’ll probably find yourself acquiring a large selection of supplements and research books. Interest-led learning is a great fit for students who love to dive into a topic wholeheartedly and for parents who are in a position to support their child’s learning in imaginative ways.

Roamschooling: This word conjures up fantastic images of taking your learning out into the world, and that’s exactly what it is. Roamschooling is often a combination of interest-led learning and unschooling. At its core, it is simply learning by exploring the world. Your explorations don’t have to take you far, but often families travel across the country or around the world while roamschooling (sometimes this is called roadschooling). This style of homeschooling often works very well if the parents have jobs that require travel or if their work allows them to live anywhere. As you can imagine, the sky’s the limit with roamschooling and everyone does it differently. Many parents are most comfortable when they have a basic idea of the core academic skills they want their children to acquire along the way, and with a basic idea in mind, it’s relatively easy to supplement as needed to make sure all the bases are covered. Learning through travel adventures and/or community explorations offers educational opportunities that take kids far beyond the basics. Roamschooling is a great option for students who are naturally social, active and outgoing, and for parents who are comfortable with not knowing where the day will lead.

Unschooling: Unschooling, which seems to be gaining popularity, is the perfect antidote to school burnout. There is something very healing about letting children revert back to learning because they want to rather than because they have to. The unschooling approach allows children to learn by living and doing, and doesn’t require them to pass specific benchmarks or acquire certain skills. Of course, kids who are following their own interests and learning as they please often pick up most of the academic basics along the way. They might realize they need to know something about fractions and geometry if they are going to build a really sturdy treehouse, so they take the time to learn. Many unschoolers become excellent readers with extensive vocabularies. Some parents make sure there are books about math, grammar, history, etc. available but don’t assign required reading. Others assign a minimum of schoolwork to make sure the bases are covered, and let their children unschool the rest of the time. Unschooling works particularly well for self-motivated students who love to learn by doing, and for parents who trust that the learning process will unfold naturally if a child is given the time and space to explore life.

There are many more categories of homeschooling that could be added to this list but this gives you a good idea of the possibilities. Most families who homeschool for more than one year end up using a combination of these approaches as time goes by. Since children change as they grow, and family circumstances and opportunities change, it makes sense that our homeschooling will change over time, too.

As parents, we often get a good sense of what will or won’t work with our children, but sometimes we have to experiment with different homeschooling methods before we find the right fit. What works one year with one child might not work the next year with the next child (or even with the same child!). Don’t be afraid to try something new.

As your children get older, they can have a say in their education, too. Trust them. Trust yourself. Learning will happen—it’s as much a part of being human as breathing.

Your turn: If you are new to homeschooling, what style do you feel drawn towards? If you have been homeschooling for a while, what works well for your family? Has your homeschooling style evolved over the years?

See also Finding the Right Fit, Part II: How Oak Meadow curriculum can help you on your homeschooling adventure.

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