We talked a while ago about what holistic education is and how this mindset governs the curriculum choices we make in our homeschool. But what does it all mean on a practical level? How do you do holistic homeschooling? There are many different models out there that could be considered holistic. Looking at a few of them can help wrap your head around the concept and give you some concrete steps to making this work in your home.
You may find one method that really speaks to you. Or you could even pick and choose bits from each of the methods to create something uniquely your own. A truly eclectic holistic homeschool. There is no right or wrong here.
Perhaps you recall my mentioning that we combine elements of the Waldorf and Charlotte Mason approaches in our homeschool (perhaps with a sprinkling of forest school and delight-driven learning. Just for good measure 😉 ). But who was Rudolf Steiner and what is his method?
Rudolf Steiner was an Austrian philosopher. Living 1861-1925 he was a contemporary of Charlotte Mason, another key holistic educator. Steiner is a little different to most educational theorists in that he based his recommendations on anthroposophy, something he referred to as ‘spiritual science’. He believed that he could truly understand the world and human nature due to a combination of religion, mysticism and clairvoyance. This philosophy is what lead him, along with others, to develop biodynamic farming, anthroposophical medicine as well as the Waldorf Method for education.
Steiner’s recommendations on education centre around the idea that children develop in a particular way at a particular time. Each age is especially receptive to stories of a certain nature because the child’s development is thought to correspond to an age in human history. For instance, a child of 6 or 7 is still in a dreamy (prehistory) state so they need a diet of fairytales. A child in second grade is coming into themself so needs to be given examples of the good in humans, such as in saint and hero stories. And on it goes as the child grows.
Now a lot of us aren’t all that into the anthroposophy behind the method, but are still drawn to many elements of Waldorf education. These are ideas that we can all implement into our homeschools. Some people like to add these elements into their homelife even if they have chosen to go the public school route instead.
Rhythm: Rhythm gives your days a sense of flow. It is the heartbeat that brings the days to life. Rhythm let’s you and your children know what’s coming next without the sense of rushing to get through things. It’s not just our days that have rhythm. Our weeks and our year have rhythm too. Weekly rhythm helps us to feel balanced and makes sure that we can cover everything in a week that is important to us. Everything from formal lessons, to baking, to relaxing in the garden is given equal importance and finds space in our rhythm.
Festivals: There is a lot of importance placed on the celebration of festivals. Festivals lend a magical quality to life. They bring the spiritual into the rhythm of our year. They are occasions to look forward to, prepare eagerly for, and to share joyously with family and friends. On a practical level, festivals help children to understand the passage of time, and connect them to the seasons and to nature.
Verses: Waldorf is well-known for having a verse for everything. There are verses for waking, for eating, for sleeping. There are verses for the start and end of our daily activities. Verses help bring a little magic to otherwise mundane moments of our days, and also serve to ease our children through transitions in our day.
Learning Through the Lively Arts: Drama, Drawing, Painting, Movement, Speech, Music, Modelling. All of these are included in lessons in Waldorf education. No stuffy textbooks here. Children are given the opportunity to learn and express their learning in a variety of different ways, to really live into the lesson- Mind, Body and Spirit.
Block Teaching: Topics are brought to the children for a period of (usually) 4-6 weeks to give them a chance to really immerse themselves in what they are learning. This is what is termed main lessons. Think intensive and economical teaching and learning. For 1-2 hours each school day, lessons are centred around a topic and a theme. It could be an English block focusing on grammar using fables. Or a maths block exploring place value using hero stories. The point is to really give children time to live into the material.
A final word. Steiner himself asked teachers to create a unique curriculum for the individual children before them. That there is your free pass to do Waldorf your way!