The Late-Awakened Heart

So I’m reading The Heart of Learning and love it, but I’m also left with a feeling of failure. I feel like I failed my 9 and 5 year olds. My 1.5 year old, too, but I still have time with her. Anyone ever feel like this?

Can you relate?
On your way to a heart-centered approach to learning, has the journey has been long and complicated? Have you have spent years trying different approaches to parenting and/or education before finding one that really feels right? Have the many twists and turns left you, and perhaps your children, feeling frustrated and exhausted?

Photo Credit: Yoko Hirano
(Oak Meadow Archives)

Start by giving yourself credit for where you are and how you’ve gotten there! You’ve worked hard to navigate the complicated path of parenting. You’ve followed your heart to the place where you are now. Your children benefit from your courage when you open your family to new possibilities. You are not failing — you are succeeding!
It’s never too late to adapt your parenting style in response to new ideas and inspiration. Even partway through childhood, your child continues to benefit from your growing confidence and experience. Parenting skills evolve over time. When your first child arrived, you had no choice but to learn on your feet. Maybe later you had other children whose needs were nothing like your first, which meant you needed to develop new tools.
You tried whatever came to you along the way. Perhaps you followed the model of other parents, the suggestions of relatives, or the advice of professionals. Or maybe you stayed with what felt familiar and made choices similar to those your own parents made. You made use of the resources you had and made the most of whatever was available at the time.
Photo Credit: Lacey Grim
(Oak Meadow Archives)

Maybe those approaches worked, at least for awhile, or maybe they taught you that your child needed something else. Or maybe your instincts were tugging at you to take a different path from the start. Every parent has had the experiences of making a choice that turned out to be less than perfect. Every child is unique, and it can take several tries to figure out how best to meet a particular child’s needs during a particular phase or circumstance.
Even when you’ve discovered an approach that feels like the perfect fit, you may have mixed feelings about switching gears – and your child might, too. Here are some suggestions for navigating this transition:
Explain the changes. One of the most valuable things we can do for our children is to model what it means to be a lifelong learner. If you are making a change that your child will notice and wonder about, affirm their experience and share your reasons for moving in a new direction. If you feel regret that your older children did not benefit sooner from such a shift, acknowledge this, but also make sure they know you tried your best given the information and support you had at the time. Let them know that everyone can learn from their experiences.
Include your child in the process. If a big change is in the works, such as a switch from public school to home learning, ask your children what matters to them. Give their input careful consideration and let them know that their opinions and insights are important to you. Do your best to foster and maintain connection with your children, especially if your earlier approach was less connection-oriented.
Photo Credit: Litteken Family
(Oak Meadow Archives)

Take good care of yourself and one another. Remember that significant transitions can be stressful even when the result will be positive and healthy. Find ways to create and maintain balance for yourself and your children. Spending time in nature can be restorative and healing for the whole family. Finding and following a rhythm in your days and weeks can help keep everyone grounded, especially when new adventures are beginning. Stay present with your child; you are on this journey together.
Take time to feel. If you need to grieve the way things might have been, give yourself (and your child) space for that important process. Be gentle with yourself and allow the transformation in your life the time it deserves.
Acknowledge growth. Your journey will not be like anyone else’s – embrace its unique lessons and gifts.
Remember that the heart is at the center of the parenting journey. It awakens to new ideas in its own time. You can trust that your heart is leading you well. You can do this!

Choosing a New Path

by Sandra Hanson

It’s that time of year again (at least for us Northerners) – the leaves are turning, the mornings and evenings are crisp and cool, and the bounty that the earth has provided us with is being brought in. Fall is upon us, and with it, millions of children around the world will be returning to school this week.

Photo credit: The Bartlett family. (Oak Meadow archives.)
Photo credit: The Bartlett family.
(Oak Meadow archives.)

We officially started our 2015-2016 homeschool year on Monday, September 7th. Now, I admit that we did actually try to start back the first week of August. I figured we would start early and then take a week off with my husband at the end of August. But…quite frankly, it just didn’t happen. The call to enjoy the lazy summer days was too strong – and not just for the children! I also made a last minute change to our curriculum plans, so I spent the time getting new resources in place.
We dabbled in Oak Meadow last year, but I admit – I gave up on it then. It wasn’t that I didn’t enjoy the approach – the Waldorf philosophy of education (and lifestyle) truly appeals to my heart, with the focus on simplicity, the beauty of nature, the creative arts, and the spiritual elements all around us, and the belief that education is about so much more than the approach of teaching to the test and memorizing facts that mainstream education has become. That education is about the entire child, the whole being – a trinity, if you will – made up of first and foremost the heart, then the hands and head.
However, in the early years, Waldorf education does appear to “lag” behind mainstream, North American public schools. In typical Waldorf schools, true education does not start until grade 1, which is age 7 – a full year behind what is considered normal today. That’s right – that means that they do not teach children to read until age 7. (Quite shocking when most schools, and even homeschoolers, today are teaching children as young as 4 and 5 to read.) Grammar and spelling aren’t introduced until grade 3. In math, telling time, money, weights and measurements also are not introduced until grade 3; fractions not until grade 4. Instead, the early years are spent allowing the children to truly develop intimate knowledge of the four processes: +, -, x, and /, the very foundation of all the math they will do later in life.
 Photo credit: The Manning family. (Oak Meadow archives.)
Photo credit: The Manning family.
(Oak Meadow archives.)

Having just spent the previous three years pursuing a very traditional workbook-based, academic approach to education, Oak Meadow was a polar opposite to what we had been doing. All I could see was how it was “behind” the public schools. I was also still very much struggling with the idea that we had to keep up with our son’s publicly schooled peers. I felt like I had to “prove” that our counter-cultural choice was working. And so I gave up on Oak Meadow and went back to our traditional workbook approach, though I admit it just felt lacking to me.
So why the delay? A mantra common among Waldorf homeschoolers is: “Just because a child can do something, doesn’t mean they should.” Oak Meadow does not believe in filling children full of empty education. Any child can (and will) memorize rote math facts, the days and weeks, and memorize a clock. But memorization does not equal understanding, nor the ability to apply that knowledge to one’s own life in a truly meaningful way. Instead, they believe in waiting until a child has the mental and emotional capacity to make real connections with the material that they are learning, which is something that is rarely truly possible in the younger years.
Likewise, yes, many children can be taught to read at a young age. However, often they are merely memorizing words, without truly understanding the enormous process of what they’re doing. Also, when taught too young, it can make the process longer and harder than it would have been if the child had been allowed to wait until they were truly ready. It has been proven time and again, through numerous studies, that children who are exposed to academics earlier in life show absolutely no gain, and, in fact, are often farther behind, than students who do not start academics until later in life. One only has to look at the Finland education system to see the truth behind this.
Because Waldorf education waits until a child is truly emotionally and mentally ready for learning, children often learn faster. Therefore, by the later years (middle school) Waldorf education has “caught up” and typically surpassed mainstream education in the “big” areas of Language Arts and Mathematics. Also, one has to look at the richness of a Waldorf inspired education. Compared to mainstream schools where arts are being cut due to funding, and to allow more time on the three R’s so they can bring up ratings, Waldorf education puts great emphasis on the arts. Oak Meadow teaches children art & music appreciation and history, theory and application as they learn to do watercolor paintings,
 Photo credit: Cindie Young (Oak Meadow archives.)
Photo credit: Cindie Young
(Oak Meadow archives.)

form drawing, crayon and pencil drawings, and more. Children start learning to play a recorder in grade 1. They study dramatic arts, cooking and handicrafts such as woodworking, clay modeling, knitting, crocheting, weaving, and much more.
Thankfully, this summer, I finally reached the place where I knew that I could truly step outside of the box once and for all. I knew what I wanted for my son’s education, and it wasn’t pushing academics and rote memorization. What I wanted was for my son to be a child – to explore his world, to see the connection between his heart and head, and to develop a love of learning – true learning. Not just repeating facts, but learning to discern on his own how something applies to his life. I wanted him surrounded by the arts – and not just busy work crafts, but true arts and handicrafts.
And so, I made the decision to put my son back into Oak Meadow – and what’s more, to put him in grade 2. After all, in the traditional Waldorf schools, an 8 year old child is actually supposed to be in grade 2. Could my son handle the academic workload of grade 3? Yes. But, why should I push him ahead and load him down with more, just because our culture wants to push academics earlier and earlier?
In keeping him at his emotionally appropriate level, I am allowing him time to be immersed in stories of nature and animals – things he loves. I am allowing him to develop an enjoyment of writing, without the pressure of trying to learn the mechanics of grammar and spelling. I am allowing him to fine-tune his skills of observation about the natural world, and to learn about themes such as interdependence, natural rhythms and classification – skills that will be essential in science down the road.
Photo credit: Melissa Lewis. (Oak Meadow archives.)
Photo credit: Melissa Lewis.
(Oak Meadow archives.)

For Social Studies, instead of getting buried in historical facts, he’ll learn fables and fairy tales from around the world and how they speak of universal issues that a child can understand. Later, we’ll expand on those fables and fairy tales to explore the cultures and learn about simple economic issues such as bartering, community resources, and learning about making choices with money. He’ll learn about the values of honesty and kindness through fables and tall tales, and stories of simple heroes. He’ll learn about things he can understand, relate to, and apply to his own life.
And so, my son may not be following the same path as his peers. He may not know that 1/2 + 1/4 = 3/4 this year, or be writing lengthy epistles. And I am finally, honestly, okay with that. Instead, I think he will be on a better path, one that is more suited to his  needs, that will allow him to develop true understanding as he is ready. He will not be in a race for facts and memorization; instead, he will embark on the journey of discovery.

Sandra Hanson is a newspaper columnist and freelance writer. You can follow her blog exploring “life, homesteading, motherhood, parenting, homeschooling, and special needs” at
This article originally appeared in longer form at Reprinted with the author’s permission.