By Lucie Smoker
Each day when my youngest child wakes up, he practically runs me over with an awesome hug! On the other hand, my eldest is known for his morning grumbles and his habit of sitting in a chair, just staring into space for a while – don’t touch him or speak to him for an hour or so! He later becomes the patient, more thoughtful of the two boys. They’re both intelligent kids in different ways: one better at math, the other in science and language arts. One excels at sports easily, the other can’t catch a baseball; but he is a hard worker at the heart of the team.
These two kids couldn’t be any more different. I want to empower each one to grow into and balance his unique qualities…but how? The answer to holistic homeschoolers is to place the child’s individual spirit at the center of teaching and learning:
~ What does she like?
~ How does he learn?
~ What makes her laugh?
~ What inspires his creativity?
~ What’s the best balance of free time and structured lessons for her?
~ How can this material help him to face life’s challenges or his own weaknesses?
We’re not complete unschoolers as we do teach; we’re not tied to any “method” as we base our main lessons more on the child in front of us than on Steiner, Montessori, Holtor Multiple Intelligence philosophy – but we blend ideas from all of them. We’re not “eclectic” as we do share some central ideas…in essence, we define and redefine “holistic homeschooling” as we go.
Each family’s interpretation of holistic ed reflects their own belief system, yet we all work to build a sense of wonder and reverence within the child’s heart. Some families connect to a universal sense of awe for the natural world, others to their family’s unique spirituality or religion; some inspire a sense of mystery, and others do a combination of the three. Our shared goal is to build a respect for both humanity and for the journey of discovery.
Cycles and Rhythms
We work to build a rhythmic balance between the child doing/learning something stimulating (the inbreath), and “down” time afterwards when they can begin to process what they learned within themselves. Unstructured time is an integral part of the balance, along with structured lessons and child-led projects. Some of us also build an annual rhythm, a cycle of festivals or celebrations that connect to their spiritual beliefs or to the seasons. All of hese rhythms are seen as a way of reflecting the cycles of life and strengthening the child’s inner spirit.
Stages of Development
We normally delay structured academics until age six or seven, watching the child for physical, mental, and emotional signs of readiness. We don’t place limits on curiosity and exploration at early ages, but simply don’t formalize learning. More structured learning is added as he child can thrive with it. We also see early teenagers as needing to explore their own paths. Our teens slowly take more and more responsibility for their education, truly “owning” it with the parent as a guide at some times and a support post at others.
Head, Heart, and the Whole Body
In all stages of teaching and learning, the family truly integrates the arts and movement with academic work. Handwork, sculptural modeling, drawing, painting, and physical activity are part of every lesson block. Modern brain research is now supporting this approach to learning as it slowly unveils neural connections between motor activity and parts of the brain.
Creative problem-solving is one of the keys to success in a fast-changing, unexpected future. We foster imagination through free time, storytelling, the arts, a sense of mystery and yes, through our famous media restrictions. Every science lesson ends with that unanswered question, creativity is encouraged in every subject, and we proudly work to protect the senses from overstimulation…
…giving the child some space – and some structure – to define who thay are and who they might become.