It was a normal homeschool morning. Train tracks and jammies were strewn across the floor, remnants of breakfast had yet to be put away and I was wearing my apron and my best “can do attitude. My mental pep talk was keeping me going. It probably sounded something like this:
Ride that wave of positivity, Amber. You are a fun, loving and creative homeschool mother. You are not perfect, but that is okay….Channel your inner Mary Poppins…..with a muffin top….. Why did I eat those brownies last night? Ughhhhh…breathe….you are more than your size…..You is kind, you is smart…. Just three more hours until you can indulge in some Call the Midwife episodes. Okay, focus. FOCUS. People over projects, people over projects. Ah man, it’s loud in there 😉
We were running a little bit behind, but the mood in our home was peaceful, warm and engaging. We had just finished an exciting chapter from our latest read aloud and my two oldest kids were setting up the drawing boards and colored pencils for our lesson book work. Celtic music was playing along soothingly in the background and everyone was enjoying their drawings. Sarah (2) was drawing on the wall, but still…. she was drawing. Hannah (6) was creating this colorful and detailed masterpiece with a rainbow border and Noah (9) was fully immersed in his own imaginative world.
I was admiring his focus when I noticed his lesson book. (For those of you who are new to Waldorf Education, Main Lesson Books are beautifully illustrated notebooks full of the children’s drawings, paintings and summaries from their Unit studies. In essence, they become the child’s “textbook” and so they are encouraged to show their best work.)
I cringed inside. He had found a cheap fountain pen and was using that over all of the very expensive colored pencils and crayons that I had collected over the years. (and this wasn’t the first time!) One-eyed aliens had entered the summary drawing as well as all kinds of humorous dialogue bubbles. The border of the page was roughly scribbled. My inner Waldorf artist began to fidget and fret. I explained to him that we needed his best lesson work and that he needed to take his time and draw a scene from the story. (Not a scene from star baby and the attack of the one-eyed mutants…) He started again and this time outlined the characters quickly and then began drawing Minecraft symbols around the border.
“Noah!” I huffed in frustration.
Believe it or not, I am very stubborn and made him begin again. This time I coached him through every move, gave an excessive number of suggestions for color choices and even tried to shade in a few different spots to really make it pop. The page was glorious. Surely this Main Lesson page had come from a famous Waldorf website or prestigious private school and not our humble home. After I left my deluded reverie I noticed that Noah was clearly defeated and disengaged. This drawing was not HIS. In my ridiculous quest to recreate what I felt was most important, I had missed out on REAL opportunities to engage with my child and learn together.
There is no doubt that Main Lesson Books are beautiful and inspiring aspects of Waldorf Education. I know that as a child I would have loved them! However, they are not the proof that real learning has taken place. As I reflected back on this poor parenting and teaching moment, I recognized that I had allowed a false belief or expectation to become more important than really taking the time to understand how my child processes, shares and retains what he learns.
Noah loves to read and to draw, but when he is really passionate about something, he wants to TELL you about it. I was just beginning to figure this out as I had started laying next to him at night to help him fall asleep. He would share every detail of the book he had read, compare the characters, explain the meaning of certain critical moments in the book and blow me away with his memory. In reality, he probably could talk about his favorite books for a couple of hours every night. I audibly inhaled, then chuckled as this epiphany occurred. In my quest to recreate a Waldorf Private school at home, I had forgotten what I believe is one of the most important aspects of this method. The child is the curriculum.
Every day I still have to strive to be present, to be engaged, supportive and open minded. And each day I feel like I am barely scratching the surface of who my children are and who they are becoming. But one thing that has really transformed our home learning environment is for me to be observant and to make our interactions together be more important than the “activities” or “products” of our homeschooling day. Certainly, those creative tasks can facilitate meaningful learning moments, but they should never interfere with our children being able to truly express the wonderful ideas and feelings that are growing within them.
Join me next week when I talk about 10 ways that you engage with your children without Main Lesson Books. If you have ever experienced MLB envy or stumbling blocks, share it below!