Ok, so this post is not about breastfeeding and weaning. It is about teaching and learning. But many times over these years of homeschooling (and my first “baby” turned 24 yesterday!), I have wondered how exactly one goes about “weaning” our children off of their dependence on us as their teachers. To nurture independent learning in homeschooling.
In the heavily teacher-directed method of Waldorf education, how do we end up with independent learners in homeschooling? When and how does this process of weaning our children begin?
Believe me, I’ve thought about this A LOT over the years! And here is my take on the whole educational weaning process.
The kindergarten years in Waldorf education are a time for “preserving childhood.” A time to be the warm, strong, loving Mama who creates a beautiful play environment and engages in meaningful activity that our children can observe. We hold the space and know what is best for our little ones. Children may teach themselves many things, but we do not engage in direct instruction. Instead, we lay the foundation for literacy with songs and stories and movement.
I like to look at the next phase as grades one through three. During these years, we as parents lead the lessons and gently introduce our children to learning through stories and pictures and engaging artistic activity. We pick the stories and plan the lessons. And we set up special playthings and expectations so that children this age can play alone, independently for longer and longer periods of time while we perhaps work with a sibling or take care of the baby.
Then slowly, gradually, beginning after the nine-year change, around fourth or fifth grade, we begin weaning our children off of a complete dependence on us as their teacher! And so, independent learners in homeschooling are a result of a process that happens over many years.
I have found this so very important to pay attention to when we are at home with our children. Rudolf Steiner created the Waldorf method for a classroom so there was never any consideration for how to shift the control or responsibility for lessons and learning.
But at home, it’s a different story. We are blessed with the opportunity to help our children explore their own interests and become more independent.
How Do We Nurture Independent Learning in Homeschooling?
What are some ways we do this? We can think in terms of introducing our children to independent projects that we “assign.”
When we first introduce this concept, we might consider expecting two or three of these in say fourth grade or fifth or sixth graded.
By eighth grade, perhaps each block has a special project. We might ask our child to pick a book to read on their own and then tell us about it, or pick an art project of the era being studied, or a person to read about and write a biographical sketch on. There are so many possibilities!
The keys to academic weaning that lead to independent learning in homeschooling:
- Allow children to choose a project within certain parameters.
- Help them break the project down into steps.
- Encourage them to set aside time each week to work on the project.
- Agree upon an end point and a way for them to share their work.
During this process, what is our role at each of these stages?
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I love the images that Kim John Payne, author of Simplicity Parenting, suggests. He describes our role as parents (and as teachers, I would add) in the years zero to age seven as being the sovereign queen or king, guiding our children as they develop their will.
Then from the ages of seven to fourteen, we are the farmer and gardener helping our children explore the world of feelings.
And finally, from ages fourteen to twenty-one, we are their shepherd and guide as they develop their thinking skills.
After twenty-one, we become the consultants!
What are your thoughts on academic weaning? What have you found most helpful in nurturing independent learners in homeschooling?