While on a trip to Adelaide visiting family I had the thought of writing about my homeschooling journey thus far. I’ve been homeschooling for about five years now and it has certainly been an ever developing and growing journey. As I look back at how I originally began with Elki not long after we moved to Tasmania it’s hard to believe we are the same homeschooling family.
I began (pretty shakily) homeschooling Elki when he was six years old after deciding to take this path when we moved here from Adelaide. In Adelaide Elki had attended the Hills Montessori School since he was three years old, beginning in the preschool. So, naturally I decided to continue with the Montessori curricula at home. I have heard many people put Montessori and Steiner education in the same basket but from my experience they are incredibly different!
I embraced Montessori very enthusiastically and prepared a lot of the materials used in the curriculum myself. My understanding and interpretation of Montessori is to provide the child with a very organized and prepared environment from which they can independently choose work that interests them, at their own speed, whilst also presenting them with periodic, prepared lessons. The Montessori environment is very academically rich, and in preschool very practical and hands on. I set about trying to create this environment for Elki, originally in our very small home but then eventually in our shed as I recognized the lack of room for all the materials I was preparing!
Academic learning begins very early in Montessori with the teaching of the alphabet and reading, and mathematics beginning in preschool at the age of three. Elki, of course had completed his preschool years, so I continued his learning of reading, including phonics, word families, digraphs, consonant blends, and sight words, and maths, incorporating hands on practical methods like using the golden beads and other Montessori materials.
Over the following three years I introduced Elki to a variety of subjects including geography, botany, history, art, zoology…….I also included daily rhythms which to this day I incorporate into our days (although somewhat differently) such as, morning and afternoon verses, songs, and poetry, and celebrated Elki’s birthdays with a Montessori ritual. I also presented to Elki the first three of what in Montessori is called the Five Great lessons, which are The Beginning, The Time line of life, The Coming of Humans, The History of Writing, and The History of Numbers.
When Anusha was of preschool age I began preparing a part of the school room for her too, with many hands on activities which in Montessori are grouped into areas such as, Practical Life, Sensorial (the precursor to Maths), Language, and Art.
Now how did I go from Montessori to Waldorf?
Well, during the third year two things began to happen. I was beginning to become unhappy with Montessori, and gradually was becoming more and more interested in Waldorf and natural learning. In a way I think the Montessori curriculum fed the part of me that always wants things to be just right! I am not like this about everything but there are particular things that if I don’t do properly I feel that I don’t want to do them at all. As Montessori uses a lot of specifically prepared and specialty materials I felt that if I couldn’t make or buy these materials and provide Elki and Anusha with the prepared environment with these materials that I wasn’t doing it properly and would end up feeling like it wasn’t good enough. I also found that if I didn’t have the right materials I didn’t know how to approach the lessons. For me there was no room for imagination, interpretation, and creativity.
Another problem was the enormous amount of time it took to make the materials. We could not afford to buy many ready-made materials and I began to feel that all the time I was spending preparing could be much better spent with the children! And the most telling indication of all was of course from the children. I began to see that Elki was not learning and enjoying his lessons like he previously had, and I could see that the time and energy I was putting in was not resulting in nourishing, learning experiences for him. Anusha was mostly enjoying the preschool work but it was obvious that she was not taking in my attempts to teach her the alphabet. She would quickly become bored with the materials on the shelf (even though I changed them regularly) because they had such specific uses and outcomes.
I was hitting a wall but at the same time I began to see a way around it…..
What originally drew me to Waldorf was the art and craft, natural toys, and fairy tales. It just seemed so beautiful and enriching and as I began to learn more about the early age imaginative play, incorporating art into lessons, the main lessons involving stories, the use of the whole body, the way the grades spoke to the age and development of children, and so importantly, creating rhythm and form throughout each day, I knew this was what the children and I needed.
So, after about three years of following a Montessori curriculum we changed to Waldorf education. I talked to the children about our change and they became really excited about our new way of homeschooling. We took a bit of a break from formal lessons and I changed our school room environment into one that I hoped would be supportive and nourishing for the children and would for Anusha in particular, encourage creative play and imagination. Elki loved the change and immediately took to it, I knew that it was right for him and I could see that the early academic teaching of Montessori had sometimes, in the past, caused me to expect too much from him.
Anusha loved the new room but did struggle a bit at first as she was used to having materials with very specific uses on the shelf. But we worked together on this, and gradually she became used to it and my decision to completely stop teaching her the alphabet and numbers until she was older was a decision that I am so glad I made!
Even though I had found a philosophy and way of homeschooling I felt much more connected to we still continue to constantly grow and develop what is truly right for us. I am still striving for our natural rhythm and I think we will always travel down an ever-winding path that finds the right way for us as the children and I, and our family as a whole, continues to grow together. I know I am a more relaxed homeschooling mum than I was a few years ago, even a year ago, as I continually learn what works for us, and my confidence in my own abilities to see that and act on it grows.
The last major development I made to our homeschooling life was about a year ago when I decided to stop using our separate school room in the shed and incorporate our daily lessons and rhythm back into our home. This is a decision I am really happy I made. Learning through Waldorf does not require the space that Montessori does and our days now flow with a more natural rhythm as the children’s lessons are a part of the whole day of housework, meals, and play. This is the main thing I still hope to develop, improving on our rhythm and forms around the day so they flow in an even more natural way.