Late last month, Michael went up to a family reunion apart from us. There isn't room in our van for everyone...
He took the train and stayed with Aunt Diane in her apartment overlooking Central Park, meeting us on Long Island for the birthday party. He had an excellent time, hung out in museums by himself and then went back to my aunt's and learned a great deal about the world of art collection. When he returned home, he shared his pictures. Nicky, far from being bored, begged for more.
I had ample opportunity, over the course of two weeks between the New York trip and Michael's departure, to talk with him about his education before he left to begin a new chapter. He told me how he thinks in pictures. He mentioned how rhythmic he remembers his early childhood days being. We drew lots of pictures and took lots and lots of walks.He napped every day , well past his sixth birthday. We read hours of stories. We hung out at the creek behind our house. We baked a lot of bread. We both remember the pictures, the walks, the naps, the books, the creek, and the bread. Neither of us remembers "school" work.
I find it interesting that one of his constant companions from those days is now at the Savannah College of Art and Design. As toddlers, they used to quarrel over colors. Now, Michael plans to major in communications and art. His favorite high school buddy contributed her pictures to my book. She's on her way to Russia to train with the Kirov Ballet. Her mother was Michael's confirmation sponsor. And his art teacher. Art. It was woven into the fiber of the relationships of his childhood. One night, during the weeks of those intense conversations and intense packing, the last thing I said to my husband before I feel asleep was, "I wish he could be forever intently painting golden angels at our kitchen table."
I mentioned my comment to a kindred spirit as we were discussing plans for the coming year. Like me, she's been at this home education endeavor for a long time.And like me, she has come to the end of the chapter with older children. What we both have discovered is that we yearn for rhythm and beauty in our days with the children left at home. Is it possible, I wonder, for beauty to have a central place in planning an education? My friend thinks so. Michael thinks so. And, as I think out loud, my daughter thinks so.
Even if they aren't visual learners, most children think in pictures.They move from the concrete to the abstract by creating a picture of the concrete in their brains as the meaning of the abstract takes shape. Art bridges that transition and it transcends it.
In a bit of irony, I dusted off some old books and became acquainted with some new ones while I pondered the place of an art-inspired curriculum in my teaching past and in my future. I've linked those books in the sidebar. They are filled with thoughts and ideas of making art, nature, beauty central to the curriculum. Far from being superfluous fluff, creativity and enabling children to make some meaningful with their hands is important to their academic and spiritual growth. I think that I think in narrative, rather than in pictures, but my narrative is almost always full of visual description.Together, rich narrative (quality literature) and fine art are foundations of a rich education.
My first memory of an art-inspired curriculum is the result of a serendipitous collision of convenience and laziness. When I was in college, I lived in a sorority house across the street from an Episcopal church. In the basement of that church, was the very beginning of a Waldorf school. At the time, I was babysitting frequently for a beloved teacher's two children in a darling house in a neighboring town. I mentioned to her one day that I didn't have a car to drive to my practicum the following semester. She took me into her dining room, pointed to the gorgeous watercolors her sons had hung on the wall and told me to request that I teach in the Waldorf school her sons attended. The one that was right across the street from my sorority house.
I adored this teacher. She was the closest I ever came to hero worship. She taught me how to teach reading and she taught me how to create a unit study. She inspired me beyond words. And I loved her. If she thought I should teach there, I'd teach there. In hindsight, I wasted time. I learned about art-infused curriculum and I learned about the importance of play and imagination. But I was young and there are so many, many questions I didn't ask. I never questioned the "new age-ness" of Waldorf; it never occurred to me, particularly since we were in the basement of a church. I never once heard the term "anthroposophy." I just learned to love the smell of beeswax in my hands and the feel of watercolor in a fully-loaded brush. I tucked away a small, black and white copy of the Hearthsong catalog and literally kept it until I had an infant of my own (strange things in my hope chest). I finished my semester and moved on to other placements in conventional schools.
My early home education days naturally reflected the influence of my spring days in a Waldorf school and the influence of that beloved teacher. I didn't call it "Waldorf" and it wasn't. But it was infused with the light and color and warmth that characterizes Waldorf education. In the years since Michael's early childhood, there has been a proliferation of Waldorf-inspired materials. One book after another bursts with ideas. Some books require much sifting of new age thoughts and attitudes and, truthfully, I have little time or patience for those. But some just sing with the gentleness and respect for childhood that is inherently a truth shared by all good educators. I want to reclaim that rhythm and beauty this year. With a tired nod to efficiency, we've given too much time and attention to paper and #2 graphite pencils. My children need to paint and draw and sculpt and build and craft and read and listen and wonder at the glory of nature.
So, now what about those PLANS? Ah, the plans. There will be no plans this year like the carefully plotted plans of last year. This hasn't been a summer like last. And, if at this point of the summer, I become the caught up in intensive planning, I will run the risk of missing all of September in pursuit of committing the perfect plans to paper. That can't happen.
Instead, I'm focusing on rhythm and beauty--both created and natural. In establishing rhythm, my first focus is on faith. We will sing with the rhythm of the Church in our days, our weeks and our year. Daily, our lives are framed by prayer: morning offerings, daily rosary, noon Angelus, examination of conscience and evening prayer. We'll learn poetry for the season and memorize it together every day. We'll work on main lesson books appropriate for each age in a room filled with purposeful activity. We will draw and paint. Well sculpt with beeswax when we listen to stories. And we will set aside afternoons for play.
Each week, we will have a day for tea and a liturgical craft. Dawn reminded me that this was my idea, to teach the faith within the context of the liturgical year with teatime as my tableau. But she has taken what might have been my good idea and she has made it great. Nearly an entire year's worth of "tea and a craft" ideas are at By Sun and Candlelight for my planning pleasure. What a gift!
I've also said that there is likely nothing that can't be taught with a well-written picture book. One of the highlights of our year is the annual revisiting of Tomie de Paola for Advent and Christmas. We read and cook and craft and every year, we learn something new. Cay has taken the idea of picture books for the liturgical year to higher heights. And entire year's worth of plans already exist for teaching the faith within the context of the liturgical year through children's literature. We'll use Catholic Mosaic to its fullest this year.
Along with a liturgical tea and craft day, I'll plan a nature tea and craft day as well. We'll take nature walks and then we'll do some of the many activities in those books on the sidebar. God has granted us time to appreciate Him in nature. I plan to take that time this year and appreciate the gift it is.
The plans are sparse, I admit. But they are also clear and warm, much like they were when first I began to travel the home education journey. We didn't have the internet and so many voices competing for our attention. We didn't have the virtual quest for perfection that can be the world of blogging. We didn't have the clutter of too many good ideas. I had, instead, a stack of books, a pocket of crayons, some good paper, some colored pencils, some paint, some beeswax, a nearby park, and a pair of walking shoes. Worked for us! And I think it can again.
While I appreciate the beauty, the materials and some of the methods of Waldorf education, I am not a follower of Rudolf Steiner, his educational philosophy, or his religion. I am a practicing Catholic who is very clear in teaching the faith to her children. Please see this post for any further explanation of incorporating methods or materials that might also appear in Waldorf schools into your home. Take inspiration from what is good and what in in harmony with the true faith and leave the rest. If you can't discern, then leave it all alone.