We celebrated a lovely quiet Christmas in 2015, sharing our Christmas Eve with dear friends and relaxing on Christmas Day in the heat that gripped our little island home. New Year’s Eve was shared with the same lovely friends, enjoying some botanical infusions I’d made from that long awaited book ‘Wild Cocktails‘ which is a collection of recipes from Lottie Muir and her rooftop bar in London – Midnight Apothecary. It was so much fun to spend the days between Christmas and New Year’s infusing various spirits with produce from our gardens and making all kinds of fruit and herbal syrups in preparation for New Year’s Eve Cocktails and Mocktails.
Our family then enjoyed a few weeks of taking in all the deliciousness of our Southern Summer. I immersed into planning land for a week to put together the first block for our 2016 school year. I am so inspired by the Oak Meadow program for Grade 2. We loved both the Kindergarten and Grade 1 program so I was looking forward to seeing what the Grade 2 program had in store for Chilli this year.
I always like to start our year on Plough Monday. It’s a nice time for Papa to resume his work for the year and symbolically I think it’s a lovely time to return to our school work as well. Summer is still in it’s height here at the moment, but I try to balance some enjoyment of the outdoor delights amongst the resuming of our school year. This year, inspired by a friend on the Facebook Oak Meadow Southern Hemisphere Community Group, I have decided to work a 3 week on – 1 week off rhythm for our schooling. Before I can relax into Advent and the Festive season, I always need to have what I call our ‘skeleton plan’ worked out for the year ahead. I use the Waldorf Essentials Ultimate Planner and with the monthly sheets, I go through and map out our year. Starting with Festivals, birthdays and times I know we will need to take holidays from school – I can then mark out our year with school blocks. I also wanted to finish up at the beginning of Advent this year. Last year we were still schooling through the beginning of Advent and I found it all too much for myself and the children. There were some important culmination and rounding out lessons for Grade 1 that I felt were important to finish with Chilli and subsequently it meant Advent activities got missed and the time was rather busy.
Starting at this time of year, we are able to work our new 3 on – 1 off rhythm and still finish up at the beginning of Advent. We will have the odd 4 week block in amongst the year but I really think the shorter ‘bursts’ of school will be nourishing for us all. When new Mums ask after a rhythm for early childhood in the home, I often suggest to sit back and just look at the rhythm that you see naturally emerging in the home through your days. After I heard of this idea mid last year, it was interesting, because as I watched the cycle that was in our home in regards to school, I really saw that this 3 on – 1 off was really what was naturally happening, or needing to happen, anyway. To keep myself fresh and inspired in the lessons and at my best to present the material as well as keeping both the children fresh for their school time as well as allowing Marlin and Chilli to have a nice balance of free time, I see that this 3 on – 1 off rhythm is what was ultimately happening if we didn’t try to ‘push through’ on a 10 or 12 week term program – which was exhausting everyone. By the end of these longer stints I really found that we were often just ‘going through the motions’ with little enthusiasm or enjoyment. Everyone was tired and unmotivated and just needed some ‘breathing out’ time. When we would do a few weeks of school and take just a short break, we would return to our work refreshed and inspired again. Even with the benefit and convenience of doing school at home, lessons can be exhausting mentally and physically – time to breath out and let lessons as well as school in general, ‘sleep’ is so important. It also gives a nice balance in the home for Chilli and I as time when I am ‘just Mum’ and time when I am also her teacher. This I have seen over the past year since we have started more formal lessons, is really important to both be mindful of and to keep in balance, so as to keep our relationship healthy.
As is our tradition, we started our year with a Rose Ceremony for the children. This was Marlin’s first Rose Ceremony and he planted a yellow ‘Banksia Rose’ which is a climbing thornless rose that is often planted in Waldorf Kindergarten gardens. Chilli chooses a rose to plant for the year to come during the previous Winter. We purchase her rose for the year ahead as ‘bare root’ during that dormant time and it sits there patiently waiting for the year to come. This idea came from the traditional Waldorf ‘Rose Ceremony’ where the Kindergarten children are ‘handed over’ to their class teacher at the end of their Kindergarten years and presented with a rose.
The year Chilli was 5 years old and had to be officially registered to homeschool in Tasmania, many of her early childhood friends from our hometown were heading off to Steiner schools. I wanted to do something special for Chilli to acknowledge that she was now ‘officially’ homeschooling and the idea of the Rose Ceremony grew from both this traditional Waldorf school ceremony and the starting school ceremony in Shea Darian’s book Living Passages for the Whole Family. The first year when Chilli was 5 years old and still in early childhood years, we just presented her with a rose from the gorgeous rose gardens on the property we lived at, in that time. The year she was 6 and started Kindergarten we were here at our little cottage home, so we created a Children’s Garden area and began the tradition of planting a rose for each school year.
It is so lovely to watch the rose after it is planted. I find it so symbolic of the journey the child takes in the year through that grade. At first it struggles a little while it finds it’s feet and plants down roots. Then as the year goes on, it grows and matures and then in the latter part of the school year as spring rolls around, the little green shoots appear and spring forth ‘jumping up to live again’. And then of course as the school year and that grade concludes – the rose blossoms and sends forth her very first bloom. We collect these petals after the flower has finished her spectacular show and we dry them to be used in very special crafts, teas and herbal preparations. In our ceremony to mark the beginning of each school year, we come together in a space at the top of our orchard. We light each of the children’s life candles, sing a song, talk about where the child has come from and what they have ahead of them, we bless them for the year ahead and they receive a small keepsake gift. Chilli always receives a small turtle trinket as this represents the Native American story we tell of how the world that was dreamt into being by the Creator was placed upon the Turtle’s back. This was Marlin’s first year of receiving a gift as our program this year includes a very gentle ‘nursery school’ rhythm for him; a few verses, songs, stories, finger plays, early childhood movement and gesture games as well as some various activities like baking and painting, sprinkled amongst our week. He received a little owl as we just marvel constantly at how wise he is! After receiving their gifts, the children walk over to a ring of stones that stands in front of the archway into the Children’s Garden and they wait to pass through the threshold into their new class, where they are welcomed by their ‘teachers’. We listen to our story, plant their roses and then head into our school room where there is a welcoming chalkboard for the year and some school supplies that each child will need in their grade for the coming lessons.
We started our Grade 2 year with an opening lesson from ‘The Journey of Analise‘ from Earthschooling. I have long been waiting to bring this story and these lessons to Chilli and I felt that Grade 2 was going to be the perfect time. The Grade 2 Oak Meadow program which still in my opinion draws strong parallels at this stage to a Waldorf program, has a strong theme this year of giving thought to what is happening underneath the surface of what we see on first impression. With the fables and with the art we do with the Grade 2 child, we are encouraged to explore how we ‘see’ certain characters when we close our eyes. Things no longer have to be painted true to real life colourings as an example – when we close our eyes, what colour do we ‘see’ that wolf, lion, mouse or person in the story being. All of this tied in perfectly I felt, with starting to take a little venture into the study of temperaments and what is ‘under the surface’ of people. I think these lessons will be really therapeutic for both Chilli and myself and I could tell Chilli was at a nice age and stage to start to explore the topic of temperaments, in this wonderfully age appropriate way through the story Kristie has written of Analise. Our welcoming chalkboard for the year was kindly drawn by Papa and is the opening chalkboard image for The Journey of Analise story. We modified it a little to represent Chilli and Marlin in our own home.
I’d also long been wanting to come up with a name for our homeschool – something that gave us an identity in terms of what we strive to do with our education of the children. Whilst we do use a program for our schooling and we do have ‘lessons’ through our day, so much of what we do is natural learning that happens through the course of our everyday. Having the children by my side, immersed in our daily home rhythm there is so much learning that happens naturally through experience and through the flow of the regular happenings in our day; cooking, cleaning, washing, folding, homemaking, growing food, tending animals, collecting eggs, making compost, preserving the harvest and everything else in the way we live our lives which educates our children with the skills they need for their lives. The program we create for our children draws on several curriculum resources, to provide an enriching ‘lifeschooling’ experience that won’t just merely fill their heads with facts. Instead with the program we create, we hope to place them steadfastly into existence with the most valuable life skills that we can possibly provide them to live the best and most enriching lives they can as they walk their path and live their purpose here in this life. This year we are using a yoga program by Kira Willey and amongst this she mentions Fireflies at some point. When I heard this I thought – “That’s it!” Fireflies and Dragonflies have long fascinated me – not only with their beauty but with their spiritual message they carry as well. The Firefly brings messages of remembering that the light that is within us is what will shine brightest, illuminating us from the inside out. The firefly is symbolic of spreading your wings and flying, holding hope, cultivating patience, living with aspiration, inspiration and illumination, seeking new ideas, being creative, having passion for what you do and living with the heart of a child – holding the magic of believing. Therefore, rather magically and serendipitously – ‘Fireflies Lifeschool’ was born. Chilli and Marlin love being little fireflies through our day and enjoy spreading their wings to fly through our program, being illuminated by our life schooling lessons.
I have been quite amazed at Chilli in the way her Grade 1 lessons seem to have just blossomed in her through our short Summer holiday. Concepts and work that she was still not 100% with at the end of the year, she deeply understands now as we work through some Grade 1 revision, heading into our Grade 2 year. I’ve also been amazed at this seemingly more mature student in front of me in our lessons. Something has really just blossomed inside her and within her own self during our Summer holiday – it is so beautiful to see. As I mentioned, our first lesson for Grade 2 was The Journey of Analise. The following day we then worked on the Waldorf Essentials Grade 1 ‘closing story’ of A New Land. We hadn’t gotten to finishing our Grade 1 year with this story last year, so I wanted to make sure we still used it as I thought the revision it provided was fantastic. I decided then that it would be a nice way to open our Grade 2 year, by gently reviewing some Grade 1 maths concepts. Chilli amazed me in this project and worked wonderfully well with the equations and situations that were presented in the story. This year we are also moving onto Volume 2 of the Living Music from the Heart program and Chilli is really growing beautifully in her music playing from this program. The lessons in this also provide creative elements that allow Marlin to live into the music lessons in his own early childhood way.
Inner Work is something that like so many of us, I have often not prioritised under the notion of just being too busy and not having the time. As I grow a little older and a little wiser, I realise that really Inner Work is something that you never do not have the time for. When we make the time to nurture the nurturer then everything else seems that little bit more effortless, time just magically opens up. I have compiled an Inner Work book to carry me through the year. It contains Kristie’s 2 weekly rhythm focus for each day that comes amongst the Earthschooling material, Steiner’s daily exercises from Melisa Nielson’s planner and the weekly caregiver meditations from the Little Acorn Enrichment Guides. Rising before the children each day and having time to centre myself, practise a little yoga and bring attention to my inner focus for the day, I have found to be so nourishing to myself, our family and our days. The front of my Inner Work book has a beautiful hand lettered piece by Amber Hellewell who illustrates for Waldorf Essentials. The piece is in the Ultimate Planner and it carries my favourite inspiring Steiner quote regarding Inner Work; “You will not be good teachers if you focus only on what you do and not upon who you are!”
Has your 2016 school year started as yet? What grade are you launching into and how do you plan to start the year with purpose and meaning?