Thursday, September 23, 2010

Follower Alert - New BLOG address

This BLOG will remain as an archive. All new posts will be at the new BLOG HERE

There is a link back to this BLOG from the new BLOG so if you ever need to look up past posts you can.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Early Childhood Training Seminars FINALLY Online

Dear Members,

After the past few tele-seminars that Donna has hosted we've all been bugging her about when the next series will be. I was excited to find out this morning that she has planned a new series. I've been hearing bits and pieces about it but didn't realize the scope of it until she finally unveiled the final project. All I can say is "WOW". I thought she was going to hold a few seminars that would inspire us like last time but this time she's taken on an entire "virtual conference/class". This is the first time I've seen anything near to an "Early Childhood Training" class online.

She's calling the program "Essential Elements of Early Childhood" and speakers in the series include Rahima Baldwin, Lisa Boisvert MacKenzie, Danielle Epifani and Christine Natale.

I wish this class/conference/seminar series would have been available when my kids were little. I would have jumped at the chance to study online instead of all those hours I spent driving. You can even try the first class/session for free at: http://thewaldorfconnection.com/dap/a/?a=61

The first call included:

1. What is play? - with Lisa Boisvert MacKenzie
2. The 4 Senses in Early Childhood Development - with Danielle Epifani
3. The Importance of a Mother's Voice - with Christine Natale

And that is just one call. I am eager to see what else she has in store for us if that is just the sample.

To attend the class is free but you do need to sign up. I suspect the system has a limited number of participants (I know these online seminars can only hold so many people eventually) so be sure to sign up early.

You can link directly to the sign up page at:
http://thewaldorfconnection.com/dap/a/?a=61

Blessings & Health,
Kristie

Friday, August 13, 2010

The Beauty of Creating in Waldorf Education

When I was in grade school I read a story about a boy who created a computer to do his math homework. He was caught in the act of “cheating” but was not punished because the math teacher and principal of the school pointed out to him that he actually learned more by having to figure out the math enough that he could give the instructions to the computer to do it. I remember thinking how lucky he was to have enjoyed doing his work so much. I envied him for being able to create something and receive credit instead of having to do endless worksheet after worksheet. I was so tired of worksheets and found them so uninspiring! I remember telling one of my teachers, "why do I have to do another worksheet (on the topic at hand). I already know the topic." It made complete logical sense to me. The teacher, however, thought I was being "sassy" LOL ;)

Another moment in my educational history I remember is when I discovered an amazing book with pictures and illustrations about the history of numbers. I was so excited about the topic that I checked it out from the library and looked through it. I was disappointed, though. I found that it was interesting and well laid-out, but something was missing. I couldn't quite put my finger on it at the time. It was pretty to look at and I know they did everything possible to capture the reader's imagination but something did not connect with me completely.

Years later, after teaching and creating lesson plans using the Waldorf method I realize what it was that was missing and I connected these two stories. I was not allowed to be part of the creative process in each of these situations. Simply put, there is no number of creative worksheets (like word-finds to help you learn spelling or vocabulary), pictures, pop-up scenes, little envelopes to open and fake-letters to read that can substitute for that amazing feeling you get from creating something. And there is no better way to learn than to create while you are learning.

When I read the book I learned a bit but when I created lesson plans for my own children and had to go through each part of history and write and explore each number system and explain it to my own children using words, diagrams and my own way of looking at it – that is when it really became part to who I was. I was able to memorize countries in Europe for a test but it wasn't until I was 17 an had to figure out which train to take from one country to another that the map really sunk into my memory.

Remember this as you “teach” these lessons to your children. If you just read through the lesson plans you have they may look “boring”. If you read the lesson plans to your children they will quickly lose interest. Some ways that your child can get involved are:

1. Teaching another child or younger sibling

(see Sofi do this at www.Earthsessions.us - scroll down to the video section)
2. Creating an instruction manual or book on the topic
3. Creating their Main Lesson Book
(see: http://thebearthinstitute.memberlodge.com/Default.aspx?pageId=653578) for ideas.
5. Traveling somewhere
(see the sixth video down the page at: http://thebearthinstitute.memberlodge.com/Default.aspx?pageId=655566)
7. Creating a song or story about the topic.
(see: http://thebearthinstitute.memberlodge.com/Default.aspx?pageId=655566) for ideas.
9. Play acting the story or topic.
(see: http://thebearthinstitute.memberlodge.com/Default.aspx?pageId=653221) for ideas.
What ways do you have of keeping your children part of the creative process? List your ideas in the comments section below...

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Saving Time Tip: Dish Tag


With Earthschooling, a business to run, more than ten pets, three kids and a home to keep going, I am always looking for ways to be more efficient and get things done with less stress.

"Dish Tag" has helped me so much I wanted to share it with all of you to perhaps help your homeschool days go more smoothly, too.

I wish I could take credit for this but this brilliant and fun idea came from my 15-year-old daughter who got tired of the dishes never being done on time. She thought up a game to make it fun, create good-will between us all (instead of nagging and complaining) and that is actually effective in getting the dishes done quickly on a daily basis. I was amazed at how quickly things "turned around" in our house after just three days using her idea. We were no longer upset at each other - we were actually laughing and making jokes about dishes and having fun. Doing the dishes became a game instead of a hated task and best of all, the dishes are most always DONE and I'm not the one doing them most of the time.

This is the "dishes game":

1. Post a list of the people participating on the fridge (see picture)
2. Put a marker (magnet) next to the person who's "turn" it is.
3. When that person "does the dishes" they move the marker to the next person.
4. When the next person "does the dishes" they move the marker to the person after them and so on...

The game is to see how fast you can move the marker. If you are clever you will check the fridge a few times a day to see if it is your turn and will quickly do the two cups and a bowl that are by the sink so you can move the marker to the next person. The next person may see a glass there, wash that and move it to the next person and so on. If you are clever and alert you never have more than a few dishes - even after a big meal. The funny part comes when someone gets "stuck" with more than a few. Like the time I went to bed early and said I would "do them in the morning" and ended up getting stuck with two days worth! Or the time we all quickly went through our turns and it ended up with Mosi again. She had thought she was so clever to do two cups and a fork and move the marker but it rotated back to her too quickly and she ended up with the dinner dishes.

The only rule is that you can't create one dish just so you can do it and move the marker. And if there is a dinner party or guests we usually help each other out.

Try it. We are having a lot of fun and the dishes are getting done finally without stressing me out!

Blessings & Health,
Kristie
www.Earthschooling.com

Friday, July 30, 2010

Lesson Planning - A Dozen Tips

This month has been all about lesson planning for us. I've been spending hours every day putting the finishing touches on the 4th, 5th and 6th grade Earthschooling curriculum for this coming year, planning our coming year and listening to everyone talk about lesson preparation and planning. With this in mind I'd like to share some tips to make your planning process easier:

1. Don't Over-plan: When planning lessons you don't need to plan out worksheets and step-by-step instructions. Lesson planning should be like storytelling or like giving a speech. In both of these cases the speaker/storyteller has an idea of what they want to convey but they let the mood and the audience carry the actual process. Have you ever heard someone read a speech directly from their notes? And then heard another public speaker share an idea while speaking and responding to you directly? Which was more inspiring and fun? In which situation did you feel more connected with the speaker and involved in the topic? Now, imagine your children feel the same way.

As a teacher you need to be responsive like that storyteller or public speaker. You need to be able to adapt your lessons to the audience mood, abilities, interests and energy. Make sure you have a general idea and outline of what you want to do, but also make sure you don't over-plan.

For example, if you are telling a story to a Kindergarten student, you simply need to get out the story, set up the characters on the table (wooden figures or stones, scarves, shells and clay or wax to represent some or all characters), highlight the main points and then tell the story in your own words. For an older child you simply need to highlight some of the main points of the story (this is done for you in many of the Earthschooling lessons) and, once again, tell the story in your own words.

2. Don't worry about getting the words exactly right in the story. Don't memorize the story. As the stories get more complex you can choose to insert passages from the original (chosen passages are highlighted in the Earthschooling lesson plans) and combine this with your telling.

You will get more skilled at this very quickly. The first few stories may take you an hour to plan. However, after some time you could simply read through the story once and tell it the next day. When you tell stories or teach the lesson put the emphasis on what questions the child has, what interests them about the story or lesson and how they relate to the story or lesson. This will help "round out" your lesson, require less planning time and allow more understanding and interest in the lesson. For example, when I told the biography of Avicenna to my children I talked about each highlighted part of his life. However, I would stop each few sentences and "ad lib" the lesson with them. For example, when it says "Avicenna was home-schooled by his father and learned math from the grocers" I talked about what it must be like for his busy father to manage his lessons and had my children imagine that I sent them down to the corner store to learn math. We talked about how this would be hard to do today because of all the cash registers.

3. Plan a 10 minute lesson for each hour of teaching. If you spend hours planning for a lesson you will often not use 80% of what you planned because children are naturally curious, want to ask questions and want to interact with you. Children also take more time to complete tasks than we imagine. If the lesson is done in a careful, interactive and creative way the ten minute lesson you planned could easily turn into an hour. Even if this seems uncomfortable in the beginning - try it for a week or two and try to get used to it. It will make your life much easier in the future if you can learn this skill. A good lesson, like a good newspaper article, should be able to distill what you want to teach in a short period of time. Remember what your High School speech and language instructor always told you - "Be concise and not verbose". An interesting lesson filled with about ten scattered minute of well-presented and explored facts is much more effective and memorable than an hour information-packed lesson.

4. Don't be afraid to look things up. Every teacher will tell you that planning is essential. However, a lot of parents and teachers create stress for themselves because they feel the need to know everything in great depth and detail before they teach it. As a homeschooling parent this is often impossible as you may not have gone through years of training as a teacher and you are most likely teaching numerous subjects to multiple grades - a task far above what any Waldorf or public school teacher is doing. You need to respect the great task you have taken on and realize that you will most likely need to look some things up and sometimes this will happen during a lesson. Doing this in front of your child teaches them: The skills of research, humility and the ability to always learn new things and not say "I already know that", a thirst for knowledge and a respect for the resources available to us in this age of information.

5. Plan more than lessons. Don't plan your week solid with lessons you are leading. This creates a stagnant feeling in "the classroom" and is very stressful for you. Even in Waldorf schools the teacher has a break and is able to hand off the class to a handiwork teacher or language teacher from time to time. Make sure you plan in plenty of time for rest, silent reading or picture books, free play, house chores (this is a fantastic learning experience which I've discussed in another article), walks, field trips and completion of old projects. Once you have allowed for all of these aspects of the day you will find that your week really has very little planning involved. Some weeks I only have three hours of actual lessons where I am teaching the child directly. We are all programmed to think we need to plan something from 8am to 3pm. However, keep in mind that even at a local school they "waste" hours taking roll, having recess, eating lunch, filling out forms, handing out work, listening to daily announcements, moving from class to class, completing worksheets and waiting for teachers to start the next lesson. Also remind yourself that the reason you are homeschooling is so you CAN be more creative and responsive. If you are like me, you may have to post this on your wall for the first few months of homeschooling.

6. Use outside resources. Make sure you plan, at least once a week, to visit a local place that relates to a lesson you are giving that week. Even if you have been there before. We visited the local Mexican grocer the week we learned some Spanish words for food items. We visited some of the bridges in town the week we studied Roman architecture and visited a friend who breeds dogs the week we started our animal science unit. We also use the local zoo, science center and Living History farms, local festivals and museums. However, often, it is the everyday places that can provide the best learning experiences. And using these everyday places helps the kids open their eyes to the wonder around them.

7. Use your children as resources. Even the youngest child can plan a lesson. Block off some time each week for each child to give a lesson of some sort. If you have multiple children this can turn out beautifully as the older ones can then teach some of the lessons to the younger ones and the younger ones feel very proud giving a "lesson" to their older siblings. Even if that lesson is telling a story with some puppets. Teaching is actually the best way to learn something so these "student teaching" moments are essential to the child's learning experience.

8. Start with one lesson. Are you intimidated into starting or don't know where to start? Choose just one thing for the week to plan and take it from there. Before you plan this first lesson you won't be able to imagine planning more. However, by the time you are done planning it you will have ten more ideas in your head.

9. Take an hour or two on Saturday or Sunday AFTERNOON. Take an hour or two on Sunday to look over the week, briefly outline your goals and what you want to teach and skim through the stories and lessons. This will make a big difference. If you have a curriculum this is probably all the planning you will need all week (this is all I need since I have my curriculum written already) but even if you don't this hour or two done at a rested time of the week when you don't have the pressure of a lesson looming so close, can equal tens of hours of planning during the week. This brief, focused time of planning is much more effective than many short sessions of "last minute" planning.

10. Honor Simplicity. Teaching in the Waldorf method is not the easiest way to teach. It involves becoming familiar with a lot of stories you may not know, handiwork you may never have been exposed to and more art in first grade than you may have done your entire school career. A lot of parents are intimidated by this process and decide not to continue with Waldorf because of this. However, what we all need to remember is that not all teachers are artists, not all the Main Lesson Books look like the ones people post online and it is the process that is most important - not the quantity or sophistication of the lesson. So, for example, if you are teaching a lesson about a Saint Francis you don't need to paint an elaborate picture of St. Francis standing with the birds. You could paint just a bird, or even just the sky where the birds fly. If you need to teach a lesson about Roman history and are not prepared you can, from time to time, READ the lesson instead of telling it. Then, after you read it, you can tell some parts again, talk about the story again or do a "story play".

11. Don't get buried in over-information. If you are using the Earthschooling curriculum keep in mind that there are a lot of extras on the website. If you are using multiple curricula or another curriculum and belong to multiple groups and lists remember that you CAN actually have too much information! Follow the simple schedule given with each Earthschooling curriculum (or create your own if you are using a different curriculum) instead of getting drawn in by the "magic" of all the options out there. You will only end up using about 20% of what you have on your shelves, in your curricula and in your in-box. That is OK. As long as you have a schedule and the goals for the year (also found in the Earthschooling curriculum) you know that you are at least getting through the basics and any extras are optional but should not be stressful. Don't stress about not completing that awesome craft you saw on the Yahoogroups or telling that amazing story from India you saw next to the story you chose for the week. You don't really need all those extras and you can always save them for the summer, the weekend or a rainy day. In fact, that's a good way to help you feel less stressed and guilty for not using "that awesome lesson". Keep a notebook especially for those "lost lessons I wished I had time for" and get out that notebook in the summer or in a pinch when you need inspiration for the day or find yourself without enough planned for the day!

12. Save money and balance your budget by purchasing curriculum.
We tend to forget how valuable our time is. How many times have you ordered out for pizza or eaten out because you were so busy planning lessons you could not cook? This cost adds up quickly. Within a month or two you could have paid for a curriculum or two. In some cases this may even effect your budget directly. An Earthschooling curriculum represents an average of 180-250 hours of planning or more. What money could you earn starting an ETSY shop, doing some part-time work or putting in more hours at your job if you didn't have those 180-250 hours lost? Probably much more than $85.00!

The first year of homeschooling I started the year thinking homeschooling would be "free" and ended the year having spent hundreds of dollars on books. The second year I was ready to purchase some supplies and books "up front" but then realized later I was missing some items and ended up spending another couple hundred as the year progressed. On top of this I spent at least ten hours a week looking for the right song, verse or lesson. I spent more hours trying to re-learn some things I had forgotten since childhood.

In a curriculum like Earthschooling you purchase a year of curriculum for only $85.00 and have everything you need to teach with all year. You do not need to purchase any additional books, stories, verses, MP3s, teaching guides or anything. The lessons and teacher's guides contain explanations about how to teach them and instructions on how things work. If you decide to purchase anything that year it is optional so it is a lot less stressful on the budget knowing that, if you have a rough spot during the year your child's education will not have to suffer.

In addition, all the planning has been done for you. There are even charts that tell you when to teach each subject, what time of day to teach it and where to find the lessons. All you need to do is take an hour or two on the weekend to fill in a few personal details, take about 15-30 minutes per day to look over the stories and lessons and then enjoy! I have heard from a lot of Earthschooling members that they are happy to finally be able to enjoy teaching instead of spending so many hours planning. I know I am!

If you've made it to the bottom of this article I have a surprise for you which I am not announcing to the group or anywhere else ;) When you purchase any curriculum from Earthschooling this week (offer ends August 7th) I will send you a $10.00 instant refund. This means you can purchase curriculum for only $75.00 this week ;)

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Sofi Audition Tape One

I think we have another singer in the family ;)

Friday, April 30, 2010

A Question is a Gem & Magpies Too


One thing I have learned in 15 years of earthschooling my children is that a question is a gem. However, I didn't always feel that way. As a young mother with an incessantly questioning child I often wondered if she would ever be quiet so I could hear my own thoughts ;)

In some teachers I see that in their eagerness to teach the child they are often discarding questions as one would discard a gray pebble when looking for pretty rocks. We sometimes think the pretty rocks are all the events and lessons we have planned and although we realize the great value a question can have, "too many" questions can seem like interruptions.

Over the years, however, I have come to see that although there are pebbles among the pretty rocks of inspiring and beautiful lessons, that questions are more often the gems - something valuable beyond a pebble or a pretty rock.

It is through these questions that we connect with the world around us and learn with our heart and soul as well as our mind.

This weekend, while Sofi and I were at the Waldorf in the Home Conference we saw a charming bird near the school. It had a sense of humor and looked rather rascally. We asked what the bird was but could not find out. Later, on the train home we looked up the bird online and found out that we had seen a Magpie. Neither of us had seen one before so we pursued our curiosity about this funny creature and enjoyed learning about him. We also found a lovely story about a Magpie that I would like to share with you:

The Magpie's Nest

ONCE on a time all the birds came to the jolly magpie and asked her to teach them how to build nests, for the magpie was the cleverest of all of them at building. She put them all around her and began to show them how to do it. First she took some mud and made a round cake with it.

"Oh, that's how it's done," said the thrush; and away it flew, and that is how thrushes build their nests.

Then the magpie took some twigs and arranged them around in the mud.

"Now I know all about it," said the blackbird, and off he flew; and that's how the blackbirds make their nests to this very day.

Then the magpie put another layer of mud over the twigs.

"Oh, that's quite obvious," said the wise owl, and away he flew; and owls have never made better nests since.

After this the magpie took some twigs and twined them around the outside.

"The very thing!" said the sparrow, and off he went; so sparrows make rather slovenly nests to this day.

Well, then the Magpie took some feathers and stuff and lined the nest very comfortably with it.

"That suits me," cried the starling, and off he flew; and very comfortable nests have starlings.

So it went on, every bird taking away some knowledge of how to build nests, but none of them waiting to the end. Meanwhile the magpie went on working and working without looking up till the only bird that remained was the turtle-dove, and that hadn't paid any attention all along, but only kept on saying: "Take two, Taffy, take two-o-o-o."

At last the Magpie heard this just as she was putting a twig across. So she said: " One is enough."

But the turtle-dove kept on saying: " Take two, Taffy, take two-o-o-o."

Then the Magpie grew angry and said: " One is enough, I tell you."

Still the turtle-dove cried: "Take two, Taffy, take two-o-o-o."

At last, and at last, the Magpie looked up and saw nobody near her but the turtle-dove, and then she grew very angry and refused to teach any more.

And that is why all the birds build their nests in different ways up to this day. Each one made off, you see, as soon as he thought he had learned the magpie's secret, and each is perfectly contented with his own way.