Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Our Advent Spiral

W.I.S.H. (Waldorf-inspired Sacramento Homeschoolers) celebrated its 7th Annual Advent Spiral this past Sunday, December 6 at the
Sacramento Yoga Center. Here are a few pictures from our event.

Setting up the spiral. 3-5 Adults and/or 'big kids' are needed. Someone needs to collect the boughs; get some big sheets or painters' drop cloths to cover the floor (for easy clean-up). Carved wooden animals and/or large shells, crystals, etc., add a nice touch. Get some golden stars from your local craft store to put along the path where the children will set the candles. A large stump in the middle is nice for the center candle.

We moved the yoga mats, etc., out of the corner to make it a bit more aesthetically pleasing.

These "after pictures" were taken after all the children and their parents had left. You don't want cameras flashing at such an event!

Below is a close-up of one of the animals that 2 children chose to put their candles near. Someone will need to purchase enough apples and white candles for the event. The 4" 'emergency' candles sold at hardware and drug stores work well. Just carve enough out of the core section to hold the candle tightly.

Here is a beautiful large shell. This child didn't quite get the apple on the star. The stars help to collect any dripping wax. Try to place them near the beautiful shells, crystals and animals so that when the room lights up they can be seen!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Advent coming soon!

My favorite of all the Waldorf-type festivals is Advent! (We call them Waldorf . . . but they are definitely NOT just Waldorf festivals -- mostly European, yes!)

Maybe it is so special to me because I will never forget the way my oldest son placed his candle on the star on the floor and had to actually then touch the star for himself before retracing his steps out of the spiral. . . such a sweet, poignant moment.

Indeed, observing the way our children approach and walk the Spiral can allow us to “see” them in ways we may not typically notice. With the appropriate mood set in the room, it is a sacred time where our inner faculties of observing our children are heightened.

I was told many years ago that the Advent Spiral is symbolic of our path in life, our journey. We go to the center to get the Light and that Light serves us on our path. This is also symbolic of going into the dark time of the year and receiving the light to take us through the dark times (inwardly and outwardly!). Of course, none of this is discussed with the children – we just let it “be” with them and let them receive all of this symbolically or even archetypically, letting it work on the inner recesses of their minds/souls.

If you have a little community, I strongly encourage you to create an Advent Spiral event. And if you are in an isolated area, you can still do this just with your own family. Our first year homeschooling, we made a very small spiral and just our family walked it. It was very special and memorable.

The time of Advent begins 4 Sundays before Christmas Day. So the first Sunday of Advent is typically the Sunday after Thanksgiving. Creating a simple Advent Wreath for your home can help you and your family to stay centered in the spirit of the season. Each Sunday a new candle is lit so that by the time the 4th Sunday comes all 4 candles are burning -- at different heights, typically. You can say this little verse with your children, adding on one verse each week with the additional candle:

The first light of Advent is the light of stones.
Stones that live in crystals, seashells, and bones.

The second light of Advent is the light of plants;
Plants that reach up to the sun and in the breezes dance.

The third light of Advent is the light of beasts;
Swimming, flying, leaping, running . . . the greatest to the least.

The fourth light of Advent is the light of Man;
The light of hope that we may learn to love and understand.

Sometimes we don't always light the candles every night . . . but Sundays we are sure to -- adding the next candle. You can also add little stones, plants (or just the greenery) and little animal figures corresponding to the verse for each week.

Here is a bit more background information from Rudolf Steiner:

Thursday, September 03, 2009

WISH Pentathlon 2008

Ok, so I am a bit late in getting all this posting done! But I figure there are a number of folks out there who might like to know just HOW a Waldorf-inspired homeschool group CAN do a Pentathlon -- and include EVERYONE -- not just the 5th grade!

First, we set up a training schedule -- 1x per week for about 3 months or so. You have to have at least 1 adult to lead this who has had some training. In our case, I had the training at the "Art of Teaching Grade 5," at Rudolf Steiner College (with Edmund Knighton) during the preceding summer. It helped SO much that the instructor e-mailed a lovely, HUGE packet of info so we would not forget all that we had learned!

The children (and their parents) MUST commit to the training. There are a number of safety issues involved and proper training is paramount.

Younger children who want to participate? This is tricky. In Waldorf schools (and most schools), age segregation is such a "norm," that many do not think outside of that box. In home education, however, everything is 'out of the box'! Some folks come to Waldorf after a long foundation of home education which tends to value family and doing things together over any designated curriculum. We had one family with an older girl (about 12) and a very active and enthusiastic younger brother (about 9). In this case, the family was not supportive of the sister participating without her younger brother who very much wanted to participate. So we agreed that he could do so if he went to all the training, etc. He did great and was really quite capable, even with the more challenging events like the discus!

Another boy about the same age wanted to participate as well. He did not make it to the initial trainings for the discus or the Greek wrestling, and it was impossible to 'catch him up,' so he did not participate in those events.

As we got closer to the date, we recruited 2 parents of younger children and 1 whose daughter had returned to school, to be our judges: the gods! Below is pictured Zeus, to his right, his "wife" Hera, and to his left, Aphrodite. These also arrived to the Games with their cherubs in tow -- dressed for the occasion. In addition, anyone with younger children was invited to have them dress as cherubs, too.

Again, my handouts from Edmund Knighton proved to be invaluable in training the judges! The handouts included all the information on exactly WHAT to look for in the judging of each event. I think I somehow made score sheets for them as well -- I don't exactly remember! Also, a key part of the judging is to award not only the fastest or the one who threw the furthest, but also the athlete who demonstrated the most BEAUTY and GRACE in each event.

Here are the athletes relaxing before the games with plates of grapes and nuts for nourishment.

The athletes listen to Zeus's address before the games begin.

We borrowed discuses (disci?) from a nearby school teacher. If you can get at least 2.

Getting ready to throw. This event takes a lot of practice and you have to break it down into several steps.

Watching it fly. The mom in the background was one of the ones who helped with the training. She and I did most of the measuring, etc., and then reported to the judges. You don't want your judges to have to run around measuring. Just let them watch for the beauty and grace. They will record the numbers as you tell them.

You can have the kids make their own javelins (or buy them but they can be quite expensive). We found very nice dowels at Home Depot. The children carved the points and sanded them down. You can experiment with adding a weight if you'd like, although I think we ended up NOT using the weights. Pieces of copper tubing might work. You can use some felt if they are too loose and maybe a glue gun.

"Draw back & aim."
"Fire when ready!"

The Greek wrestling was definitely the highlight of our Games! We designed an elaborate Tournament schedule, where each person was matched with every other person for Round 1. (It was truly a mathematical feat for me!) But do whatever works for your group.

The circles that you see on the grass we made from flour! It looks like that chalk dust they use on baseball fields, but flour works well, too! We used the flour anywhere we needed lines on the grass.

Always shake your opponent's hand before beginning!

Recruit one or two parents to be the time keepers. I don't remember how long each round was -- maybe 30-60 seconds. For the semi- finals and final rounds, they were longer.

Hardly anyone stepped out of the ring (an automatic loss), so the judges had to really focus on form and beauty to determine who made it to the semi- and final rounds. Lots of girls did!

Location: find a park with lots of green grass. We also looked for one with a big sand pit. In this case, it was a sand volleyball court. This is great for the running long jump. You want them to land in sand! (The sand pit was also a great place for the younger children to play if they got tired of watching the big kids at the different events. I brought some buckets and shovels to keep them busy.)

The mom on the left did the measuring. The dad on the right raked (or swept?) the sand smooth after each jumper.

Little kids! ALL children love to run and jump, so we allowed all of them to participate (even without training! it's something they just DO anyhow, right?) in these 2 events. It helped them to feel included and part of the festivities.

At the end, we had an awards ceremony. You can find lots of interesting things for medals at your local craft supply store.

Oh, the athletes wore white t-shirts and light colored shorts. One family had a great idea of slipping a piece of string or yarn through each sleeve and up through the neck and tying it; it shirred up the sleeves and made it look very "Greek."

Of course, we finished off with a fabulous Greek Feast (potluck!). We continued the day into the afternoon with lots of fun relay races for all of the children, some with water balloons and a fun water balloon fight.

Some pictures of 5th Grade India Block

For many years, we attended Ananda Church of Self-Realization, based on the teachings of Paramhansa Yogananda, so this block was very, very special to me and I drew much of my inspiration for it from all that I had learned at Ananda. Our family still feels a very deep and meaningful connection to Ananda -- sort of a second home to us -- but we are attending a unity church closer to home with a very good program from middle and high school-aged children right now.

I mixed this block with a fair amount from Live Education as well; they truly seem to capture the essence of Ancient India with their lesson plans.

"Hymn to Brahma" -- often chanted at the beginning of a Kirtan ('singing to God') with beautiful music.

"O God Beautiful" -- one of our favorite chants and so easy to relate to!

A story from the life of Krishna.

The Yuga Cycle. This is covered in Live Ed in usual manner that it is taught. However, I chose to use the interpretation of Swami Sri Yukteswar as the basis of our understanding of the Yuga Cycle. My son LOVED this lesson and was fascinated by it.

We also wrote the Gayatri Mantra in Sanskrit; it is hard to see, but if you click on it, you'll get a much better look (as with all the other photos).

WISH Camping Trip -- June 2009: Mount Tamalpais

This year, we chose a campsite fairly close to Sacramento: Mount Tamalpais. It was nice because it was close to the beach. One day, we took the 'big kids' on a fairly long hike. We didn't make it to the waterfall that meets the ocean, but we did get to the lake. Just as it began to rain, one at a time they got ready to swim. Luckily, it only rained for a few minutes! But what a great experience.

At dinner time, we had potlucks preceded by a circle and food blessing.

One of my favorite things about homeschooling is seeing the older and younger children play together -- they learn SO much by being able to mix with different ages.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

"Non"-Waldorf Resource: IEW

For the past year or so, we have been using I.E.W.'s (Institute for Excellence in Writing) program to support our home education endeavors.

IEW's program is great for "Waldorfers" or others who want to use their own source material. In fact, IEW strongly suggests you use your own material. It is a writing program that is based on imitation -- sounds a bit like Waldorf, right?

So for instance, we studied Roman times last year (6th grade). I read to my son from Kovacs' book. Then, I would go to and find something along the lines of what we were reading about -- this was the "source" text that my son would use for the writing via IEW's methods. IEW recommends that the source piece be slightly below your child's reading level.

The program begins by teaching how to do a 'key word outline.' From there, different stylistic techniques are introduced, such as using -ly words and strong verbs.

From the IEW perspective, this program can be started as early as 2nd grade and used all the way up to high school. However, from a Waldorf, developmental, Moore or just customized homeschooling perspective, I would have to say it just depends on your particular child. We did not begin this until 6th grade. Some may be ready at 4th or 5th grade, but I wouldn't really think before 3rd grade.

This year, we moved on to Medieval Times and I did purchase the Medieval Book from IEW. The themed books are very nice saving you the time of finding a source text. All of the IEW stylistic techniques are integrated into the program.

For more info, go to At first, the range of products may be a bit overwhelming. However, it is recommended that you start with the Teaching Writing: Structure and Style. This is designed for the teacher to view/learn. They have a student program as well, but I did not purchase it as I knew I wanted to use my own source text from our Waldorf-themed studies. They do, however, have a number of theme-based books (such as the Medieval one) that dovetail nicely with Waldorf curriculum themes.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Update/Dealing with Challenging Times

Overall, 6th grade is going well. I am finding that the format we are using this year is supporting us well, especially since it has been a challenging year for us. Like so many others across the country, we have had our share of financial difficulties and stressors! Happy to say, however, that we seem to be over the bulk of those challenges although there is more work to do.

For others out there going through stressful times, I encourage you to find ways to simplify your schedule, your life, your home education. Do NOT give up! Our children learn SO much from us by watching us go through challenging times and seeing how we cope with it. These are the REAL lessons that will stick with them through their entire lives.

Waldorf ideas have definitely been a blessing to us. However, with the more intense academics of Grade 6, moving toward a more Charlotte Mason-style of scheduling has eased the burden tremendously. Also, using supportive materials like the writing program from IEW has lightened the load. We also ended up dropping Making Math Meaningful (the Waldorf Middle School math curriculum) and switched to Math-U-See, just about completing the Epsilon book. This was a lot of review for my son, but also a firm "grounding" in some basics. Having just switched back to MMM, we will most likely complete the year using both programs, moving to Zeta of MUS as a support when more direct instruction is needed. Again, easing the workload for mom has been key! MUS has a wonderful instructor via DVD which has been a tremendous help.