Friday, January 22, 2010

Waldorf, Home Education and Learning to Work Independently

Today my son is working independently -- and I am very pleased! I can fold laundry, pay bills, make phone calls and whatever other household tasks I need to accomplish without feeling like I am interrupting the flow of our schoolwork.

But it wasn't always like this! I think for many of us, starting out with the idea of pursuing a Waldorf-based home education for our children, we can often be led down a path of more dependence rather than less. Why? Because so many of us (and more so with those who were previously involved with Waldorf schools --like myself!) begin this path striving to very closely emulate what goes on in the Waldorf classroom. Waldorf is a rather teacher-intensive approach to education; the teacher does a LOT of prep work in order to bring the subject matter to the students in a lively, imaginative manner.

However, when coupled with the home ed environment, especially with a single child, the student usually has a lot more access to his or her teacher. Over the years, this can turn into an overly dependent situation. In contrast, in a Waldorf classroom, the students typically have a fair amount of time to work independently; the student: teacher ratio simply will not allow for that type of easy and constant access to the teacher.

Seeing this coming, over the last year or two, I began looking for ways to move my child away from me as the constant in his education. So for instance, in 6th grade, I let Noah start with a computer program for Spanish. He has been using Rosetta Stone, a well-known good program.

Noah also wanted to learn to type. Now I am a firm believer in the student being able and comfortable with handwriting, but looking forward, I could see the practicality of him being able to type his papers by the time he gets to high school. (Even his best friend who is at our local Waldorf high school has the option of typing his papers.) So we agreed that he would still continue with handwriting, some copywork and some running forms to keep his hands in that approach as well. (I'm also a firm believer that if kids ARE going to use the computer, they should know how to type -- not just hunt and peck.)

Then since I wanted to be sure that his math was aligned with state standards (again, looking ahead to high school -- whether he ends up public, private or still at home), we went ahead and signed up for the ALEKS program. It is completely self-paced and standards-aligned. Noah can also see his progress on a daily basis and choose what area of mathematics he wants to work on for the day.

Science is an area that is not really my strength and we found another program with which Noah can work independently called Intermediate Science by Experiential Education. It is very complete with all the kits needed for the experiments, a Student Log book where the student questions and learns to write lab reports with a very middle-school appropriate set-up, and a Teacher's Manual. And yes, it comes with a CD-Rom with instructions to lead him through the concepts, activities and experiments.

We still do lots of reading, history, literature, writing and more together. He also reads literature and biographies on his own. Overall, I am very pleased with his progression to becoming a more independent learner as he prepares for high school.

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