Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Life, Death, Love & Gratitude

Today I am overcome with an awe-inspiring experience of Gratitude. Last Sunday, a WISH family member made his passing -- a beloved father, husband and friend.

For the past two nights, his family held a vigil for him at their home -- in the 'old' way, the 'old' tradition. His body was laid out in a room that exuded the transcendent feeling of his spirit, so palpable at the time of transition. And rather than a funeral parlor, the home environment lent such a feeling of warmth, love and gratitude for all. Loved ones gathered in the living room and kitchen, sipping tea or eating snacks. Children played in the backyard where a beautiful creek ran down a small hill -- providing a gorgeous backdrop through the window of the room where our beloved made his transition . . . and where his friends and family could say their good-byes, offer spiritual readings, sing, chant, pray or meditate. Yes, there were tears. But there was also this amazing outpouring of love and gratitude -- even joy.

What a remarkable lesson for all present to witness -- and especially the children: death being embraced as a part of life -- rather than its antithesis.

This morning, our dear friend and her children will go through another transition as his physical body leaves their home to be cremated. In our extended WISH family, we are lighting candles in our own homes and offering prayers and meditation -- holding space for them.

Like so many, the death of a loved one ultimately brings me closer to, and more aware of, my spiritual path, beliefs and practices. Upon returning from the first night of vigil, I found that a friend, not knowing of this event, had synchronistically posted a quotation from the book that changed my life about five years ago, and broadened what I already considered a very broad spiritual perspective: The Disappearance of the Universe, a primer or "Cliff's Notes" for A Course in Miracles:

Death is symbolic of your illusory separation from God. What happens when someone you love appears to die? All of a sudden you're separate. You appear to lose them just like you appeared to lose God. But it's not true. You can't really lose them any more than you can lose God. You are inseparable. You cry when a body you love appears to die, but as the Course teaches you, it's really your experience of God and Heaven that you miss.

As I returned to this spiritual gem of a book, I found more inspiration:

You should look at the illusory death of your physical body as graduation day. It means you've gotten all you're supposed to get out of this particular, temporary classroom. The lessons have been learned! It should be a celebration. I assure you it will be a lot of fun. In most cases, if people knew what freedom from the body is like they wouldn't mourn the dead -- they'd be jealous.

God speed and many blessings to you, Doug. You will ever remain in the hearts of all those you touched and blessed with your presence. We are One.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Wrapping up the Year . . . Wrapping up Homeschooling?

How do you wrap up the year? How do you wrap up an entire 9 years of home education? How does this come to an end? Or does it?

Mentally, I have been preparing for this for well over a year. Noah has finished 8th grade and will be moving on to high school in the fall. It has been a big year: high school entrance exams, an interview, applications, etc. -- and this is just for high school -- not college!

And lots of soul searching, contemplation, inner reflection. Choosing high school over homeschooling was definitely a big decision. My husband and I and Noah had many conversations. But the theme that kept coming back to me again and again was the idea that opening and exposing Noah to other teachers, coaches, mentors is key to the next step in his growth. Since all of his brothers are "up and out" of the house, he is pretty much an only child at home. Yes, a parent can still lead a teen and do lots of research and find great resources, etc., etc., to point the student in some very positive directions. We just still felt that Jesuit High School was the best possible choice for Noah -- that this choice will make the biggest difference in his life for the long-term. Of course, having said all that, I am well aware that there are many homeschoolers who "try" high school . . . and then choose to homeschool again after a year or two. We will be taking everything one step at a time (or at least, one year at a time).

Next week, W.I.S.H. (Waldorf-Inspired Sacramento Homeschoolers) will hold its second "Eighth Grade Graduation" event. However, most of us have resistance to calling it a "graduation" event. We are still searching for a more apt term.

Because it is not necessarily about eighth grade -- or even about high school. (And of the five students participating in our little rite of passage ceremony, Noah is the only one who will be going to "regular" high school.) It is about this time in their lives when they are poised on a threshold. They are about to move into an amazing new phase of development.

According to Rudolf Steiner, some of the changes that are taking place include:

The emergence of abstract thinking

o The expression of the inner life of the soul

o Directing of the conscious will

o And an awakening of the forces of judgment, criticism and antipathy

In essence, young people of this age are beginning to experience the power of their own thinking (in new ways – compared to when they were younger and lived much more in the realm of imagination).

Many of us can probably remember that feeling of this awakening awareness -- the power of our minds. And yet, the intellectual capacities of the 14-year-old are not yet fully developed; that will come in time over the next 7-year cycle.

So this is what we are celebrating, recognizing, affirming: these amazing young people on their way to
becoming who it is they are to be. And we stand as a community -- surrounding them with our love and support; acknowledging them as individuals with unique capacities, skills, talents.

As well as exciting, all these changes can be a little (or a lot!) scary. As a community, this event shows them our support in their continued growth and development as they transition into this next phase. It truly is a remarkable time in their lives. I also see an aspect of this rite of passage as a ‘call’ to them to rise up to who it is they are and are becoming – to rise up and meet their new challenges, their new capacities . . with joy, enthusiasm and courage. And, I think it is important to say these things out loud—to acknowledge them—to “hold” them in the space of their friends, their family, their community.

So far, I am not teary-eyed. We'll see how I do next week. And then again in late August when Noah goes off to school. But again, I have been mentally preparing for this for quite some time. We've known for at least three years that Jesuit was a strong possibility. Last summer, Noah spent three weeks at their program for Junior High-aged boys -- so I got a taste of dropping him off and having him gone all day.

And what will I be doing while he is in school all day? Well, I joke a lot that I will continue to homeschool! I will continue running the program at Wholistic Learning Resources and have lined up more teachers and more classes -- expanding the program. I may also do a little substitute teaching and am lined up to teach some computer and business writing classes. I will be keeping busy . . . but definitely plan to work within the homeschooling world (and get to plenty of WISH park days to see all of our friends!). So although I may not change the name of my blog, I suppose I might have to change the descriptor a bit.

Home education has been an amazing journey. I think one of the greatest gifts is provides is TIME. Time for us to be together as a family. Time for Noah
to simply "be." Time for him to learn WHO he is from the INSIDE. To my mind, this self-knowledge is perhaps the most important thing any of us can learn. And what he has gained has provided him with the best possible foundation for the next step on his journey. As I write this, I am reminded of a quotation that a friend of mine recently posted from an author that both of us admire:
"The idea that children need to be around many other youngsters in order to be 'socialized' is perhaps the most dangerous and extravagant myth in education and child rearing today." -- Dr. Raymond Moore
I have learned much more than I ever dreamed I would when we tentatively dipped that first toe in nine years ago. Home education has been one of the greatest blessings of my life and I am so grateful that we chose this path.

Monday, May 09, 2011

RRYT Class Wrapping Up the Year

It has been a tremendous year of learning and growth for the RRYT Class. We just have two more class meetings scheduled.

We made it through most of our curriculum: The Lost Tools of Writing, and will be finishing up by the students adding the element of refutation to their essays. This is a powerful skill and so even though they will just begin to get a taste of using it, I am confident that it will help them to think and write more clearly in the years to come.

Tonight, I got to witness one of my students, my son, Noah, use the skills he has learned through the RRYT class in combination with public speaking. He ran for President of his 4-H Club and although he didn't get the position (he took a V.P. position instead), I couldn't be prouder him. He had a great attitude and did a very good job of putting his speech together.

He was able to identify the thesis ("I am the best candidate for President") and set up his proofs. In addition, he added in a refutation by acknowledging his other two opponents in a respectful manner while re-iterating himself as the best person for the job. He even had an amplification for the end of his speech. I taught him how to effectively use index cards and he is now sold on this method as it facilitated the process so well for him.

Although Noah will be attending high school next year and I will lose him as a student, I plan to teach the class again next year through Wholistic Learning Resources, and look forward to another great year of writing, thinking and learning with my students.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Trip to Ashland!

After much planning, changing of plans, refining plans, etc., etc., the RRYT group headed up to Ashland for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival on Wednesday, March 23. We had a good trip up with just a bit of snow/rain going over Mount Shasta.

After a quick tour of the hostel, we were warmly greeted by 7th grade students and their chaperones from the Waldorf School of Mendocino. It seemed within just minutes they had become fast friends . . . to the point that by the 8 pm show, they all wanted to sit together for the performance.

Julius Caesar was intense. I was a bit concerned for our youngest student who I realized had probably not seen such a dramatic performance with so much death and blood. However, after the show, she was so enthusiastic, asking questions and sharing how much she had enjoyed the show.

The next morning we experienced a bit of drama and tragedy when one of the students from the Waldorf School jumped off a bunk to land on a pencil. It went right through his foot! He was amazingly calm about this fact. He was scooted off to the Emergency Room and had to miss the Student Tour. Later that afternoon, he proudly showed all of the other students the pencil that the hospital staff had preserved for him in a plastic baggie.

At the School Tour, we learned about the history of the Festival, got to see the backstage areas, learned about the making of costumes, props and sets, and watched an amazing fast-speed video that showed everything the stage crew does to tear down and re-set the stage in between performances.

Thursday afternoon, we saw To Kill a Mockingbird. Having recently read the book, the general consensus from the students was that they liked this play even better than Julius Caesar. Of course, they were a bit disappointed that some of their favorites scenes from the book were not included. The role of Bob Ewell was played by a deaf actor. This was an interesting addition to the story, as his daughter, Mayella, was the on-stage interpreter of the signing that he did. After the show, we attended a special post-matinee discussion with the actor of this role, Howie Seago. We learned a lot about his experiences of being a deaf actor. He, too, wanted to know how we liked the play and the modification of the character. In the book, Bob Ewell is ignorant, uneducated, so even the sign language was adapted to that of someone who would not have had the benefit of attending a special school for the deaf to learn sign language.

On Friday, we saw a comedy: The Imaginary Invalid. This was a hilariousl comedy with many layers of humor -- some very appreciated by the students (much of the bathroom humor) -- and some that sailed right over their heads. As funny as the play was, underlying all of the humor was a message best described from Director Tracy Young's program notes: " . . . the play, for me, is really about how we choose to live. Do we choose to give in to sickness and sadness, or do we choose to carry on, to chose life?" So while taken by all of the humor, I had tears of joy in my eyes as the poignancy of the message was sealed by the play's finale.

The Oregon Shakespeare Festival sent us off with the lightness of comedy as we sped down the road intent on beating stormy weather.

But not only did we learn about the art of theatre while in Ashland, I'd like to think we learned a bit more about ourselves and about each other. I saw the students connecting with each other in new and meaningful ways. I saw them interacting with the other hostelers, learning about different people from different places. They learned to share space in the kitchen and the bathroom, to take turns, to clean up (washing dishes by hand was new for some of them!), and to be patient with each other.

It was an amazing trip and this summer I will be returning with my Women's Group to see a couple of more plays including The Imaginary Invalid again.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Recent WISH Celebration: Valentine's Day

Ciana organized an amazing Valentine's Celebration for the WISH families. In the pictures, she is telling a 'movement' story -- about WISH! It was so fun.

Even some of the big kids got involved. And many of the parents.

After the games, there was a Valentine exchange and then some snacks. Luckily, the weather was cooperative!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Mummers!

The Rookie Rhetoricians of the Year (students from the Lost Tools of Writing class) gave an amazing performance last Sunday night at the annual WISH Christmas Party to an audience of over 70 children and adults.

Last Fall, while perusing my materials for a possible Michaelmas Day script, I happened upon a book that I must have picked up at a yard sale or thrift store for about 10 cents. It's a children's book written in script form, but with enough prose in between that you could read it like a story book. You can find the book by Katherine Miller, here.

As a humorous play, it would not be appropriate for Michaelmas. However, I saw this as a great opportunity for our older WISH students to gift the younger ones at our annual Christmas Party. So I told them they had to "keep mum" about it in order for it to be a surprise at the party. Of course, they immediately took to the idea of keeping a special surprise secret from all of the other children and even their parents (well, sort of . . . I had to let them know a bit of what we were up to!).

And what a hit it was! The children were delighted! They laughed and laughed. And the spontaneous applause at particular key points was a pleasant surprise.

The class, which I used to refer to as "the writing class" and on this blog "The Lost Tools of Writing" (after the curriculum we are using) has chosen a new name: Rookie Rhetoricians of the Year. I asked them to come up with a name that included the word Rhetoric (now that they know the five canons of Rhetoric!) because I intend to continue practicing all five with them rather than just the three that apply to writing.

Engaging in the Mummers' Play seemed a fun way for them to practice the two canons of Rhetoric which apply to speaking: Memory and Delivery. They learned a lot, had a great time, and became more bonded as a class.

I am looking forward to 2011 with my RRYTers. We are all learning so much and having a great time.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

"Waldorf Homeschooling": Oxymoron? Or New Paradigm?

Is it possible to "do" Waldorf homeschooling? Or is Waldorf a term that only applies to schools?

Typically, we hear the word "Waldorf" in conjunction with schools. Members affiliated with
AWSNA have the right to use the term in their schools' names. Unaffiliated schools (typically public) must follow special rules regarding usage of the term. We may also think of the “first Waldorf school” in Stuttgart when we hear this term. Rudolf Steiner did develop this educational approach to be used in a classroom setting. And folks who have been around homeschooling for any length of time will often hear the comment that “the home is not a school.” I agree. At home, you are not going to get a classroom experience — no matter how beautifully lazured your walls are, how amazing your chalkboard drawing is, how “true to Waldorf” your lesson plans are, how well you have that fairy tale memorized, or any other particular element we tend to associate with Waldorf education. On the other hand, homeschooling offers many advantages that even the best Waldorf school cannot provide. Of course, there will always be trade-offs. Your local Waldorf school probably teaches Eurythmy and a foreign language — which you may or may not be able to provide.

Over the past several years, my approach has been not so much to imitate the Waldorf classroom, but rather to study Steiner directly, focusing on his indications regarding the developmental stages, and then striving to apply those concepts to the home learning environment in a practical manner. This helps one to get away from comparing one’s self to the local Waldorf school — typically a self-defeating endeavor, and yet commonly engaged in by those of us who have spent any time involved with Waldorf school
s. Apples cannot be compared with oranges; both are fruit and perhaps sweet, but will look, taste and feel different.

So is a new term desirable? Shall we call ourselves Steiner Stay-at-Homers? Anti-establishment Anthroposophical
home educators? Much too cumbersome! The term Waldorf is the most easily recognized, of course, and as long as we don't incorporate or form a board of directors, a loose use of the term amongst home educators will most likely be tolerated. In the strictest sense of the word, however, I don't like to use the term "Waldorf" since the application of Steiner's ideas to a school environment is not something for which I aim.

What many people do not realize is that Rudolf Steiner actually used the term "curriculum" in three different ways. He spoke of the "established curriculum,"
that which we would call the mainstream approach to education found in most public and private schools. He identified the "ideal curriculum" as that which is informed by a deep understanding -- in his case, an anthroposophical understanding -- of human development. And finally, he spoke to his teachers of what he called "our Waldorf curriculum." He explained that "our Waldorf curriculum" must always bear in mind the "ideal curriculum" while also recognizing the need to answer to the authorities in regard to the "established curriculum." Even in the early part of the 20th Century, Steiner had to contend with inspections by the German educational authorities. He was a practical man, recognizing that implementation of the "ideal curriculum" would not be tolerated by the establishment.

Many of us, especially those with a previous relationship to a Waldorf school, come to this method of homeschooling assuming that the class model is what we must imitate in order to "do Waldorf." However, by understanding Steiner's definition of the three curricula, I would posit that not only is this a false assumption but also one
that frequently causes undue stress, frustration and self-doubt. Of course, one can find many useful ideas within the traditional Waldorf classroom which may or may not be applicable to the home learning environment. But more valuable insights may be gained by studying Steiner's work, understanding the phases of human development (as well as the sub-phases and the needs of those phases), and most importantly, by closely observing his own children. Understanding how and why the Waldorf curriculum is designed to meet these developmental stages will also be helpful. Awareness of all of these can then be mindfully brought to your particular home life and the unique needs of your family.

For home educators, simply realizing that the curriculum of Waldorf schools — which are based on the first Waldorf school — are actually
founded on a compromise of what Steiner himself considered the "ideal," will hopefully bring a new sense of freedom to those on this path. Since many Waldorf home educators tend to hold themselves to the imagined standards of a Waldorf classroom, understanding the three curricula and the freedom they have to work within the realm of the "ideal curriculum," if they so choose, can provide a liberating shift in perspective.

Sources: Lecture Twelve, September 3, 1919, and Lecture Thirteen, September 4, 1919, Practical Advice to Teachers, Rudolf Steiner.

Sandi Russi has been home educating "Waldorf" style since 2002. She founded Waldorf-Inspired Sacramento Homeschoolers (W.I.S.H.) in 2003 and Wholistic Learning Resources in 2010. Sandi enjoys working with homeschoolers, presenting workshops, writing, and providing resources.

This article is copyright 2010 by Sandra Russi and should not be reproduced without written permission from the author.

2010 WISH Advent Spiral

Waldorf-Inspired Sacramento Homeschoolers (WISH) held its annual Advent Spiral Sunday, November 28, the first Sunday of Advent. There were about 55 people in attendance, with about 27 children walking the spiral. It was a pretty amazing experience to have that many children in the room . . . . and yet, so quiet and reverent was the mood.
The following verse, by Nancy Foster, was recited to help set the mood / tone of the event:

Deep Mid-Winter drawing near,
Darkness in our Garden here - -
One small flame yet bravely burns
To show a path which ever turns.

Earth, please bear us as we go,
Seeking Light to send a-glow:
Branches green and moss and fern,
Mark our path to trace each turn.
Brother animals, teach us too
To serve with patience as you do.

We walk with candle toward the Light
While Earth awaits with hope so bright:
In the Light which finds new birth
Love may spread o'er all the Earth.
Deep Mid-Winter drawing near - -
May Light arise in our Garden here.

We sang a simple song as the children walked the spiral, with the exception of the two teens who participated. We let them walk in silence, symbolic of their emerging independence.

It was a simple, profound event.

Some Advent Verses

Just pulled out an old publication that a friend gave me called Collected Poems for Class Teachers and Eurythmists. Here are some nice ones for the Advent Season.

ADVENT by Ann Ellerton

Now the twilight of the year
Comes, and Christmas draweth near.

See, across the Advent sky
How the clouds move quietly.

Earth is waiting, wrapt in sleep,
Waiting in a silence deep.

Birds are hid in bush and reed
Flowers are sleeping in their seed.

Through the woodland to and fro
silent-footed creatures go.

Hedgehog curled in prickly ball
Burrows 'neath the leaves that fall.

Man and beast and bird and flower
Waiting for the midnight hour
Waiting for the Christ-child's birth
Christ who made the heaven and earth.

Coming Towards Advent

Verses --
In darkest night
The earth shall be light
And gleam as a star --
You and I
I and you
We will give our light too --

When days are darkest
The earth enshrines
The seeds of Summer's birth
The spirit of man
Is a light that shines
Deep in the darkness of earth --

O radiant star of Bethlehem
Lead onward thro' the night
That we in winter's darkest days
May see thy guiding light.

Sun, moon and stars
Shining wide and far
Over land, over sea
Over you, over me.
For my soul's delight
Shine into my heart.