This post is part of a series called Day in a Homeschool Life. This community of homeschoolers would love to hear from you about your typical learning day and how your homeschool family rolls. Head over to the Day in a Homeschool Life page for submission guidelines. It’s super easy and stress-free. Come on over and help us build community so we can all feel a little more connected on this journey!
NOE VENABLE // WALDORF // 1 CHILD
// From Kris: Noe is a Tiny Peasant reader from New York/California who I would love to meet one day. I am blown away by her amazing music (see her blog link at the end of the post). I hope you enjoy digging in to her lovely post about her family’s learning journey as much as I did!
Tell us about yourself…
My name is Noe Venable. My son, Ember, is 2 1/2, and we’re expecting #2 in September. 2 1/2 might seem a little young to use the term “homeschooling.” But most people we know are starting preschool around this time, so it feels like it’s time to start using this word. In a month, we’re moving to San Francisco, where we hope to continue the same things we’ve been doing here, so we’ll be looking for other like minded souls out there!
What method of homeschooling do you practice?
I’m a Waldorf teacher, so that’s the philosophy that I draw the most from. But I am also influenced by mindfulness, voluntary simplicity, attachment/continuum parenting, and my life as a musician, singer, and choral leader. While I did not go to Waldorf school as a child, I have known for as long as I can remember that this was the education I wanted for my future children, and this is why I sought Waldorf training. Back then, I pictured teaching in a school that my children would attend. I do enjoy teaching in Waldorf schools, and I still teach in formal school settings sometimes. But right now, I’m excited about using Waldorf ideas to create outdoor groups that are open to all.
When Ember was born, I started to seek community. At first, it was hard to find like minded people. Our neighborhood was full of classes and programs, all brimming with children. But I wanted something different. I wanted us to be outside. I wanted to do something that was not just focused on the children, but that was created to serve parents’ needs too. And I wanted to to establish something that nobody would have to pay to be a part of.
What I was envisioning wasn’t really a class, I realized. It was a community, or tribe— a place where children could play freely, and where we as adults could connect and support each other, within a context of mindfulness, nature and ritual.
Ultimately, I started a free Waldorf playgroup that meets three times weekly in the meadows of Prospect Park, in Brooklyn, New York.
It took a while to build our membership. There was more than one rainy day when Ember and I were on our own, tromping through the puddles in our rain gear, with me singing a little louder than I might have otherwise to warn the park dwellers of our presence.
But little by little, word of mouth spread. People began to find us. Today, we are about 20 families strong, with 3 – 8 families joining us on any given day, and more coming for occasional seasonal festivals.
Of our families, a few are Waldorf leaning, but most have other interests in common— in herbalism, traditional life ways, natural parenting, attachment parenting, gentle discipline, crafting, etc.
This is one of the things about our group that I feel the best about. As a leader, I’m coming from a particular philosophy, but I love that people can feel welcome and safe in the group, whatever their educational leaning. While the “rhythm” we follow is Waldorf, I see this as a place not to endorse one particular philosophy, but to enjoy being together, and to nurture and support one another on our journey as parents, wherever that journey takes us.
Do you use a curriculum? If so, which one?
The daily rhythm we follow draws on what I learned while assisting more experienced Waldorf early childhood educators in a couple of Waldorf kindergartens. However, there’s a wonderful book, Heaven on Earth, that has lots of great suggestions for parents looking to bring Waldorf ideas into their home life with young children. My favorite musical resources, in addition to the canonical Waldorf stuff, are the works of Jon Langstaff and the Revels organization. They are full of ideas to bring people together, using folk music and dance traditions from around the world. Music Together has also been a good resource for finding songs for circle time.
Describe a typical homeschool day for your family. Or, as you may have been asked – What do you do all day?
When my husband and son wake up, we start the day with a nutrient rich breakfast, lighting a candle and singing a blessing before we begin. After breakfast, we sing our sweeping song and start the work of getting ready for our day. After sweeping, Ember climbs into his learning tower (our most useful piece of furniture!) and helps prepare the food we’ll bring with us. He spreads mayo on bread, peels eggs and mashes them for egg salad, cuts fruit (with a butter knife), etc.
At 8:30 AM, we set out for the park, he on scooter, I on foot. It’s only about a fifteen minute walk, but we draw it out. I’m discovering that a key to harmonious life with a toddler is setting things up so that we don’t feel rushed. We take an hour and a half for our walk, so its less about getting from point A to point B, and more about really enjoying our way there. We stop for a picnic at Dog Beach, where Ember pets any dog that will let him. We listen to bird calls, notice mushrooms and flowers, observe whatever is new on our way.
At 9:45, we reach a secluded waterfall, where we sit and enjoy a second snack. Ember sails leaf boats in the water while I sing or play my wooden flute.
At 10, our friends start to arrive, parents with children ages 1 – 3. We play freely, building forts, digging for worms, etc.
At 10:30, we spread out our picnic blanket, and sing our hand washing song as the children wash their hands in warm water. Then we have a finger play and a blessing. Together, we enjoy a potluck snack, and the grown-ups have a chance to talk a bit. We go around the circle and share whatever is alive for us that morning, so that we’re sure to hear from everyone. Sometimes this leads to bigger conversations about parenting. The children are on our laps, so it’s limited what we can talk about, but it’s a nice time together, nonetheless.
At 11:00, we take our nature walk, exploring a fishing pond, an amazing, enormous tree that our entire group can fit inside, and another tree that’s good for climbing. We end on a bank where swans nest. There we do our circle time.
Following the close of that formal time together, most of us hang out casually for an hour or so, then go our separate ways, or to a great natural playground nearby. Ember and I start our long trek home, again taking our time. We stop at a second waterfall, where we eat another small meal, and finally end up at a nearby playground for a few hours before heading home to make dinner.
What is your favourite homeschooling resource – book, website, etc.?
Heaven on Earth, as previously mentioned, is wonderful. Also Everyday Blessings, by Jon Kabat Zinn. Blog-wise, we love Tiny Peasant. 🙂
Greatest joy in homeschooling (can be broad or a specific moment)?
I love how much time I get to spend outside, watching my son discover and respond to the beauty around us. I love connecting with the wonderful people we’ve gotten to meet.
I should mention that the support we’ve felt from this group of people has been especially meaningful given some unique challenges our family has faced. In the past year we’ve had to manage four stints in the hospital. We cross our fingers that all that is behind us now. But these were ordeals, and our emotional healing from them is ongoing. I am so thankful for having gone through them with a sense of connection, rather than isolation. I’m not sure how we could have done it otherwise.
Greatest struggle with homeschooling (can be broad or a specific moment)?
Something I’ve faced as a parent and group leader has been sometimes balancing the needs of my own child with my sense of responsibility to the group. Winter was especially hard. On extremely cold days, Ember really resisted going out. If I were just a parent attending a class someone else was leading, I would have just kept him home. But as the leader of the group, I was reticent to cancel last minute, especially knowing that a few brave souls were already bundled and trekking through the snow.
I tried some different things— dragging him out, giving up and feeling defeated, and ultimately listening to and honoring his very real need to stay inside in the cozy house. Unsurprisingly, the latter felt the best. Eventually, I started to feel better about occasionally canceling when I needed to cancel, and of course people understood.
Ultimately, it felt good to get more realistic about the natural constraints of weather, and to realize that, no matter how great your gear, sometimes it’s so cold that it Just Isn’t Fun To Be Out.
So instead, we got creative about what to do on messy days. Different group members volunteered their homes and led projects for the children. And we took a few field trips to Chinatown for Dim Sum, which the toddlers loved.
How to you manage homeschooling and regular household stuff? Any awesome tips?
With such a young child, this question is maybe a little different for us from how its meant, since we’re not trying to balance domestic work with academics. But it can still be a challenge to get everything done!
What helps is that Ember is involved in all the domestic work we do. Sweeping, washing dishes, and preparing food, cleaning up, folding laundry, gardening, etc. We sings songs and do our work playfully, and he tends to participate with enthusiasm. Occasionally, he skips participating for a day, and that’s fine too.
You can learn more about Noe’s playgroup over at their Facebook group, Sylvan Hearth. Also, don’t miss her amazing blog devoted to her work as a singer-songwriter and recording artist.
Readers – Please feel welcome to ask questions or share in the comments – let’s keep everything positive!
For learning resources, check out the Homeschool section in our shop – lots of free printables and more.