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

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Friday, August 13, 2010

The Beauty of Creating in Waldorf Education

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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,

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

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Friday, April 23, 2010

Earthschooling on Amtrak

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Tuesday, April 13, 2010

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Tuesday, March 16, 2010

5 New Shows on

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Friday, February 19, 2010

The Rhythm of Learning

"Life in its entirety is like a plant. The plant contains not only what it offers to external life; it also holds a future state within its hidden depths. One who has before him a plant only just in leaf, knows very well that after some time there will be flowers and fruit also on the leaf-bearing stem. In its hidden depths the plant already contains the flowers and fruit in embryo; yet by mere investigation of what the plant now offers to external vision, how should one ever tell what these new organs will look like? This can only be told by one who has learnt to know the very nature and being of the plant." - From The Education of the Child, Ruldolph Steiner.

In modern textbook education many subjects are taught one page or one chapter at a time. The teacher will set aside a couple hours to teach the children "how to do division" and then will assign problems and continue to assign problems with progressive difficulty. Or, a teacher may explain what the subjunctive is and then have children practice marking these in sentences. No matter what the subject, the rhythm is often standard - teach the subject, practice the problems, answer some questions, and students who don't understand get the lower grade.

What is missing in this method (and I call it a method rather than attaching it to a certain place of education or name of an educational philosophy because you can find this method in many different systems) is an understanding of the quote above. People bloom like plants. Children bloom like plants and blooming is not something that happens so instantaneously. One cannot touch a rose bud, chant a little and it will open. One must slowly coax it out into the sunlight with a little water, some gentle breeze, rays of sun and most importantly - time.

When a child is given this time to really get to know a subject and become comfortable with it the fear related to that subject will vanish and they will truly learn instead of just "learning enough" to get by and go on with the next subject. This means that as a teacher we must be patient.

The most important part of teaching is not always what the child is taught but how and when they are taught. The teacher first presents the material in a gentle way. The children are not expected to fully understand or be able to mimic the process at this point. In this stage the children are simply expected to "encounter" the material. The children are then given a day to reflect on this encounter either consciously and/or subconsciously (during sleep). This process typically takes one day but it could take more if you are teaching at home and have more freedom with time. If your child needs more than one day with this stage, consider giving them more time. Sometimes I may even go through all the stages with my child and if they still are not easily grasping the subject I will set it aside and come back to it again in a week or a month. Miracles often happen during that week or month!

From this encounter comes experience. The second day the child is asked to participate in the learning process either through verses, painting, drawing, copying from the board, movement or other tasks. However, there is still no pressure on them to actually completely understand the material or to be able to "spit it out" again onto a worksheet or during a test. This stage may last a few days. There may be stories, paintings, movement, and many other experiences related to this concept.

Finally, when it is the right time for the class (as I said before, teaching at home you have more freedom with this time-line) the experience naturally crystallizes into the concept itself. You will find that some children will "suddenly" understand the concept and will be able to explain it and complete tasks. Their "buds" in this topic have bloomed.

Other students may need more time. In this case you should give them more time. To force a bud to bloom before its time can result in the petals being ripped apart, and falling to the ground. It is often hard to recover this bud and create a whole and beautiful flower from it later. One can force the child to finish the worksheets and projects and "half-understand" the concepts but their flower will be filled with petals that are glued onto the stem, always falling off and having to be put back on...and some petals may be missing. This "flower" may hate the subject for the rest of their lives or develop a fear of performing in that subject that will prevent them from growing in other areas. Or, they may simply not feel an affinity to the subject and will find it undesirable the rest of their lives. This could be why some children grow up and don't enjoy reading books, writing letters to friends, or doing anything related to math.

Perception, feeling, idea - these are the three steps in the genuine learning process that prepares the intellect for the abstract and conceptual thinking that will become possible later in adolescence.

When I think of this in terms of rhythm I think of the first method being akin to a marching band. There is a strict drum rhythm and everyone needs to keep the beat - ONE-two-three, ONE-two-three, ONE-two-three. When I think about the rhythm of Waldorf education I think more of the rhythm of a river...flowing instead of beating, with one idea flowing into another flowing into another and so on...until it reaches the ocean of adolescence.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Environmentally Responsible Valentine's Day

For Valentine's Day Sofi and I "adopted" a Koala on behalf of her friends, printed out a picture of "him" hugging a tree and made thank you cards for all of her friends.

Other years we have knitted flowers from local yarn and used sticks from the backyard as "stems" or created felt mice from hearts folded in half with knitted tails. There is always something creative you can do for holidays! And here are some good reasons to be creative...

From The Organic Consumers Union

Tis that time of year when more than 20 million Americans are buying sweets and flowers for their loved ones on Valentine's Day. Unfortunately, these tokens of love aren't as sweet or pure as they may appear. Over 40 percent of the world's conventional chocolate (i.e. non-organic and non-Fair Trade) comes from Africa's Ivory Coast, where the International Labor Organization and US State Department have reported widespread instances of child slavery. Meanwhile, commercial flowers, most of which are produced in countries such as Colombia, are the most toxic and heavily sprayed agricultural crops on Earth. In order for you to deliver your bouquet to your beauty, poorly paid workers in Third World countries put in up to 18 hour work days for poverty wages during peak flower buying times such as Valentine's Day. But don't let the bad news squelch your Valentine's plans. Show your love by choosing Fair Trade and organic flowers and chocolate for your Valentine's Day gifts. Check out OCA's Buying Guide, watch an entertaining flash movie and take action against the 5 major chocolate and flower corporations:

Friday, February 5, 2010

Perfect Book for 8th/9th Grade Waldorf

I'm always on the lookout for interesting books I can use in home education. I'm pretty "picky" so new ones don't come along very often. My requirements are - they need to be interesting enough to capture the attention of a teenager (I have 13 and 15), they need to have enough information that I can justify taking my time away from something else to stop and share this book with my children, they need to fit into the natural progression of our Waldorf curriculum (see Waldorf 101 for a list of specific topics by grade) and it needs to cover more than just one topic. I am a great believer that educational topics span more than one category. You can't just study "American History" without "World History" and you can't study "Math" without art, design, architecture and so many other things. The last great book we shared was "The Physician" - it was an amazing historical fiction spanning the genres of medical history, European history and Middle Eastern and Asian history. And now I have discovered another gem - it is called "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks" and I can't put it down.

In this book, a science journalist, tells the story of an African-American woman who's cells became one of the most important scientific discoveries of the last century. When I purchased the book I expected to read about how the cells had been discovered and how they managed to get the cells from her and perhaps what made her different from other people. I love reading about medical history so that is what I was expecting. I would have been pleased if it was mildly interesting and a quick read.

I was not expected to be so enraptured by the story that I could not put the book down. And on top of that this book contains a hunk of history that is often hard to teach to children. To make it even more perfect - it covers so many topics that are covered in the 8th grade Waldorf year - we are going to read it together even though my eldest is in 9th grade now.

Some highlights of this book:

* The author describes how cells work in a way that makes all scientific text books on the subject appear overly verbose (what a surprise lol ;) Her descriptions could encourage most anyone to get excited about cells.

* Her descriptions of African American history are refreshing - a new story - and told from a completely different point of view that the usual "required reading". Most required reading from this genre is written from an activist point of view or with the obvious purpose of creating awareness and/or sympathy. This story is written for the simple and honest reason of telling the story of a woman whose cells changed the world. Her history is only part of that story, which makes it all the more real and compelling.

* Other topics touched upon in the book are: agriculture, American History, medical history and more. And in each genre her descriptions are entertaining as well as highly educational. She has a gift for teaching in the most natural, organic way.

* The topic of how pap smears were invented and the history of cancer research was fascinating to me.

If you plan on reading this book with your older children please let us know so we can exchange ideas, thoughts and perhaps even extra reading or lesson extensions.

Note that the book is for older children as it does mention an early marriage, performing medical tests for pap smears, the cervix, diseases like syphilis and other more adult topics. There is nothing graphic, of course, it is all very scientific, but the topics come up naturally and kids will ask questions - so be prepared.

Here is another review of the book - I find it so interesting how every review of this book is so different: Boston Globe Review

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Cabin Fever and Mid-Year Blues Cure

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Monday, January 18, 2010

Waldorf & Parenting Conference April in CA!

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Friday, January 8, 2010

Waldorf and Television?

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Friday, January 1, 2010

Woodworking - A Pet Running Pen - Easy/Moderate

Free Woodworking Project - Animal Running Pen
Ages 5-16
For more projects see the e-book "Woodworking with Kids" at:
or the video "Woodworking with Kids" at:

Sunii and I finally finished the bunny running pen! We plan to let the bunnies enjoy the outdoors in the spring (with supervision) and we have been letting them out together once a day since we made it. They really like it! The instructions below are complete. Be sure to read them all before you start because some steps look easier than they are but if you don't use the "tips to make it easier" some steps could take you a half hour instead of 5 minutes. Seriously - we tried it :)

We also plan on using this for our rats to run around in and we plan on expanding it to 6 panels sometime soon.

Small Animal Running Pen

1. Purchase supplies or scavenge for supplies:

16 wood strips - all the same height and width (ours were 3')
Screening for screen doors (amount depends on your project - we needed two rolls of 3' high screening)
Hinges - 6
Screws for hinges (even if they come with screws - you will see why later)
Nails (depending on how thick your wood strips are - we needed smaller nails)

2. Get out/borrow or purchase the following tools:

Staple Gun & Staples
Saw (if you need to trim wood strips - we didn't - we had the guy at Menards do it for us ;)
Small bit for drill
Large heavy hammer
Scissors (to cut screening)
Measuring Tape

3. Lay out wood in square shape. Nail them together on all four sides. TIP: Be sure to use a large heavy hammer - your work will go faster and will be more accurate. TIP#2 - Be sure to hold the hammer correctly - at the end. The trick to hammering quickly and accurately is a heavy hammer and holding it at the end. You can even talk about hammer physics with your older child: Do this to all 16 panels - you will then have four wood squares.

5. Measure the screening to fit the square exactly

6. Lay the wood squares down and staple the screening to the squares.

7. When you are done with all the squares add the hinges to both sides of one panel.

8. Attach squares to either side of the panel by attaching the other end of the hinges to each panel. Be sure all the panels fold in the same direction as you are attaching the hinges. Use a drill to do this. TIP: Pre-drill each hole before you drill or screw the screws in - it will make the project go faster. TIP #2: Use screws for wood that you purchase separately. The screws that "come with" the hinges are never very good and take about 5 times as long to drill into the wood. Make sure you have good screws!

9. You will now have the gates attached on all but two sides. You can attach hooks to these and tie them shut with string, you can attach velcro to them or you can just put them against each other or a wall - it depends on how clever your pets are, how hard they will try to nudge their way out and/or how much supervision they will have. We used some eyelet hooks and some string (see picture).