Here at the end of Summertime, Margot turns 3 years old and Cassian has turned 1 year old. And as we’ve really settled into our new roles as a family and grown past that first year of infancy, I’ve sensed a new era about to dawn upon our small family. Cassian is growing more and more able to participate in things, and Margot is eager for more learning and discovery. Thus begins my exploration of what type of learning and education best fits us. If you know me at all, it’s going to be unique and nature-based of course, but it still will need to have a bit more definition than just that too.
Confession time. I’m a bit of a reluctant almost-homeschooling-mom (at what point do we consider the actual “start” too? My oldest is only just turning three. I guess a fair dose of vagueness comes with the territory though). I’ve known for some time that I would homeschool them, but couldn’t quite latch onto a model or philosophy that helped me act from a place of passion in my heart. Really since Margot was born I’ve been studying various educational philosophies, whether from books, blogs, or websites. I’ve struggled to find the perfect fit for us, and it seems there is no perfect cookie cutter model for our family.
There’s Waldorf/Steiner education. And I instantly appreciated its delayed approach to formal academics, the emphasis on warm, quiet rhythms of the home, a focus on the arts and reclaiming handcrafting skills. Above all I am drawn to the orientation of learning and living around nature and its seasons and following the feasts and festivals of the year, into which it is beyond easy to insert the practice of our Christian faith, the ability to see His works as Creator, and to follow along through the historic liturgical church year. And the overarching emphasis on holistic education: the head, the heart, and the hands.
It’s a beautiful approach. But it’s also often burdensome, since Waldorf was originally intended for schools, not necessarily a complete, elaborate show put on by mothers alone. Talk about dealing with feelings of inadequacy. But! And here’s the lifesaver, Waldorf was based on home-life itself, so there’s sort of a release there in my mind to do as suits your family and lifestyle, but with the encouragement to return to roots and practices of bygone eras and all the richness and traditions they have to offer.
I have finally landed into a place of freedom from those feelings of inadequacy I’ve struggled with for some time now… you know, because I don’t really know how to sing or really even enjoy it at all, I’ve had to teach myself to knit and crochet, and I can’t afford piles of woolens and silks and beewax and wooden everything (Waldorf is so much more than an aesthetic, people!), nor can I take the time to study and understand all the intricacies of this type of educational model, so that I get it all “right”. But I’m doing what I can manage, and finding what I need elsewhere, too, as just a regular mom who wants the best fit for her kids, without it consuming her every waking moment.
And I think I’ve discovered that in Charlotte Mason’s educational approach. Quite late this Summer, I sort of rediscovered her philosophy and approach, and I am just soaking in all that she had to say. I’ve heard of her before, but only now am finally starting to really look further into what she had to say about what children need and how they best learn. And I love what I am finding. There are just so many similarities between Charlotte Mason and Waldorf, in the foundational years most of all, so much so that I feel between the two I can likely craft the perfect balance for our family. I love that she too advocates for delayed academics and lots of outdoor time. But she has an even greater emphasis on literature, which can make homeschooling a bit less complicated when you’re just focused on reading the best quality, most engaging books ever written on each topic. She has a lot to say about young children joining in the rhythms of quiet home life and encouraging the formation of good, healthy habits at a young age. I’m really liking what I’m reading, and I’m excited to implement things as we go here too. (If anyone wants to buy me all of her books, that would be cool. Just sayin’. haha)
Most of all I appreciate that I have plenty of time to iron things out though. I have at least 3 or 4 years until starting anything truly academic, if I follow a blend of Waldorf and Charlotte Mason approaches. And really, that’s my entire purpose behind the Little Woodlanders series. Just sharing about our slow journey into a holistic, nature-based learning experience.
On to some more details about this summer though now! One wonderful practice that I’ve longed to incorporate in an intentional way for some time now is the concept of the “Nature Table”, found within both Waldorf and Charlotte Mason approaches. It is a practice of bringing in seasonal treasures from nature indoors, where they can be admired and appreciated, as they change and are replaced to match the rhythm of the year. This was the first time I truly got ours started in more than a haphazard scattering of leaves and twigs around the house kind of way, which is pretty standard for our family anyways.
Our Summer Nature Table, humble as it may be, was formed from our many adventures in the forest and garden together, Margot finally catching on to the concept of bringing home all the little odds and ends we’d find, and forming a special arrangement to display them all. I also used a special page of summertime poetry by Christina Georgina Rossetti as our backdrop, which can be read below. I especially appreciate the first section, with the emphasis on care and responsibility over creatures. I love instilling these values at a young age in my children, and what better means than by poetry! Reading poetry is also a somewhat new pursuit for reading to my little ones, but Margot so far is really enjoying it, and Cassian of course is happy with whatever we do, as long as he is included.
It’s become clear by the end of this summer, as Margot has turned 3 now, that she desires a bit more activity and variety throughout the day. She has a hungry mind and is not as content with the hours of free play I have typically granted her since her infancy. I wanted to find more ideas for stories, songs, finger plays, crafts, baking projects, and the like, especially ones which follow the seasons of the year and what we can observe in the natural world, and something that tied all the little activities, songs, and stories together. So I decide to start looking into some very, very gentle preschooling guides for starting this Autumn, something obviously compatible with the educational philosophies I’ve mentioned before too. It would have to be approached with the relaxed attitude that some days we would do nothing, because the kids are still so young, and some days we would follow it to a “T” and enjoy all the wholesome ideas and enrichment beyond what I might have thought up on my own.
So, I’ve been looking at several options online, that I thought I’d share a few here in case any of you are curious for ideas for something similar for your own family…
This leads to a distinct element of both Waldorf and Charlotte Mason early childhood educational philosophies that really resonates with me, and that I’ve been attempting to incorporate over the summer. That is, finding ways that Margot can join in the tasks of running a home as a family, to instill a sense of personal responsibility and having a helpful place in our home and family life. I want her to feel needed.
We’ve discovered some tasks that her just turning 3 years old little self can participate in that are actually quite helpful. Mainly so far this is in helping pick up her toys and books, watering and caring for our balcony garden together, helping me cook a bit, throwing trash away, folding our cloth wipes and diapers, and changing laundry over from the washer into the dryer.
I’m always touched by her willingness and joy even at participating in taking care of the home together. She so just wants to be a part of things and feel that her presence is needed and that she has a legitimate contribution. And it’s incredible how entertaining and diverting simple “chores” can be too. I can’t tell you how many little games and stories she tells as she is folding her stack of cloth wipes, or the way that shifting gears and deciding to bake something can help dispel cranky moods during a rough afternoon.
I also found this super helpful little chart of practical ideas for children to help out around the home from the Flanders Family Homelife blog. I love it so much!
The number one thing I’ve learned and recognized the need for this Summer though is to implement a good rhythm to our home and family life. When it was just Margot and I, things seemed to come more naturally since I never really had to divide my attention. Now though I’ve got the two of them, both her and Cassian who’s just walking and getting into everything. Juggling their needs, keeping up with the housework, and constantly pursuing my own studies and our ministries as a family here in Hungary is an immense struggle, one that I always feel I am failing at. But I’ve done some reading from the blogger and curriculum writer over at Lavender’s Blue Homeschool, and just love her writings on shaping a family rhythm for the home. There, Kelly has so many helpful things to say on forming a good rhythm for families, and her writings on preschool have been especially helpful too. Also check out her Rhythm Guide! (Look at me just sharing my favourite resources left and right, ha. No affiliates, promise!)
Some of these writings are helping me get back on track, and I’ve been good about getting a small routine established so far. The kids seem more at peace, since they know what’s next and what’s expected, and it’s really helping me keep up with housework better too. I still haven’t figured out the trick for getting in all my desired study time for my language class and the online herbal program I’m taking. But we’ll get there slowly.
Anyways. Enough ramblings. I’m not really sure what to call a post like this. I’m likely breaking most blogging “rules” with my little corner of the internet here. But I imagine things will expand in this series a good deal as time goes on. Either way, I feel that this summer more than ever, we’ve brought home the richness of God’s Creation, meeting him out there, and then again at home in our hearts as we observe the rhythms of nature and of the year and learn to find our own rhythm as a family together to mirror those inherent traits. Thanks for reading!
This is part of a Little Woodlanders series! Also check out…