YARN - From the (shorter) Oxford English Dictionary:

Spun fibre of cotton, silk, wool, or flax.... fibre prepared for use in weaving, knitting...a fisherman's net...any of the strands of which a rope is composed...a (usually long or rambling) story or tale, especially an implausible, fanciful, or incredible one.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Walt-dorf - Crossing the Waldorf-Disney Divide

When my sister-in-law opened the conversation with "I know it's not your thing, but..."  I knew I was going to say yes to something that was going to stretch me.  I figured it was going to be about crossing a divide between my life and the world of popular culture.

I walked home for lunch for my first few years of elementary school and the Flintstones were as much a part of my day as grilled cheese. I can place my babysitting years by the shows on TV (Love Boat and Fantasy Island), I have the Partridge Family on my ipod (should I really admit that??). I am a product of my times.

We are not super orthodox Waldorfians, but we don't have a TV (somewhere around the time of my english degree TV left my life and I embraced my inner geek).  Dora has entered our home in book form, we have been to see theatre productions of Franklin and Sesame Street, we have read Winnie the Pooh - the pre-Disney Winnie.  I think of it as 'popular culture light'.

So when the topic of a family trip to Disney came up what was I to do?

I do what I always do - I made it more complicated and flooded my brain with questions and tried to look at it from a 1000 angles!

How to be of both worlds? 
How to take the best of one and not alienate oneself from the other?
To what extent has the school become the keeper of my values?  my moral compass?  the ideal against which I measure myself?
How can we not accept this invitation?
Will a week of Disney undo years of Waldorf?
How can I not give my parents the gift of us all being together?
Will my children come home with expectations that I cannot/don't want to meet?
Did I not go to Disney as a child - and like it?  I wonder if that Mickey Mouse t-shirt is still at my parents...
Will a week of rides and sensory overload ruin my children's ability to embrace the simple pleases of play at school?
What could be more fun that the 5 cousins together for a week?
Wouldn't it be nice to go without a coat for a bit before hunkering down to snowsuit season?
Why would I avoid something that could be beneficial for all of the relationships in the family?
Will we have to buy a TV when we got home?
Would it really be a form of deprivation to not take my children to Disney?
Why do I make everything so complicated?

My sister-in-law is familiar with the ins and outs of planning a trip to the BIG D and all I had to do was say yes and she would find the deals and tell us when to book and where to show up, it could not be easier.

So we went. We went to spend time with the cousins and grandparents, and it happened to be to Disney. Well that is what I told myself.  But as we made the plans I was looking forward to seeing the room stretch at the Haunted Mansion and was pretty sure I did not need to go on Space Mountain as an adult. I looked forward to my daughter going on the Small World world ride with her grandmother.  Even thinking that thought implanted that song in my head.

In my mind I joked about getting kicked out of the school. I told people our plans like it was a minor misdemeanor.  The issues were all mine. It turns out that lots of other people struggle with these issues and ask similar questions.  Questions about where to draw the line, how firm to make the line and when the line actually interferes with other aspects of life and extended family.  It would be nice to not get noisy plastic toys, but sometimes they come despite polite suggestions and you just have to smile and say thank you.

I didn't give the children much warning that we were going, there was no big hype lead up, it was pretty low key, the excitement was about spending a week with the cousins.

It was a fast education in Disney. My daughter did not know the names of the princesses so in true Waldorf fashion she made a song with all of the names (Ariel, Belle, Jasmin, Cinderella.....) and wandered around singing it to herself until she could rattle them off like an old pro!

And maybe the two, Disney and Waldorf,  fit together like two sides of a coin, both seeking to indulge the spirit and childhood and make a kind of magic.

Waldorf has - gnomes
Disney has - dwarfs

Waldorf has - golden silence
Disney has - a soundtrack

Waldorf has - rhythm
Disney has - beat

Waldorf has - a progression of learning
Disney has - serial peak experiences

Waldorf has - coherence
Disney has - cross marketing

Waldorf has - calm
Disney has - hype

Waldorf has - natural materials
Disney has - materials made to look natural

Waldorf has - a lantern walk
Disney has - an electric light parade

Waldorf is - authentic
Disney is - created reality

Waldorf is - grounded
Disney is - ready for lift-off

Waldorf has - knights
Disney has - princesses!

We had character meals, lunch at The Castle with The Princesses, sparkly shoes, late nights, carousel rides, spinning tea cups, soarin', turtle talk with crush, 3-d sensorama movies, a 2 week safari in under 1/2 hour, parades and more parades, magic wands and wishing stars, fireworks, multiple rides in the doom buggies of the haunted mansion, and roller coaster rides.  We came home with Mickey Mouse and Minnie Mouse tucked under our arms and thousands of pictures on the hard drive.

The first day back at school my son and some of his friends took the lid off the sand table in the Morning Garden - they made a slide and played with absolute concentration and abandon for 45 minutes.

It was all fine!

I still kinda want to see the Harry Potter park.....

Monday, January 17, 2011

Grade One Readiness

Grade one entry might be considered one of the markers that differentiates a Waldorf education from other schools - the somewhat delayed timing of it, the unique assessment of readiness and the commitment to a curriculum that is different from other schools. It is also a source of mystery and confusion for parents new to Waldorf.

I am one of those parents.

My daughter has a birthday just after the age cut off for our school and in some ways could jump over the line if I pushed.  The issue of whether to push her ahead first occurred when she was still in Morning Garden. When her cohort split and the bulk of them moved ahead from Morning Garden to Kindergarten I was surprised to find myself feeling uneasy and that maybe nobody had bothered to tell us that we had failed Morning Garden. An inner hockey mom was unleashed and I was feeling like the ref had made a bad call against my child.  My rational sane self was well aware the it was not in my daughter's best interest to be rushed into Kindergarten and I was as surprised by this inner hockey mom as anyone could be.  I sat with it and thought about it and talked with the teacher about it, not about her decision but, about my response to the situation.  It made me realize how many issues about school are deep within me and need to be brought to consciousness so as not to cloud my thinking when it comes to what is best for my child/ren.

The situation repeated itself around the transition between the first and second year in Kindergarten. This time it was a bit easier because she clearly did not meet the 'turning 7 in grade one' criteria. The teachers were very willing to consider her grade one readiness if I had wished.  I made jokes about cramming for grade one readiness at home, doing crossing the mid-line drills and checking for deciduous teeth, but the jokes were just a veneer over my uncertainty about whether to push her forward or not.  I was pressured, actually I pressured myself, by thinking about cousins who had started reading at 4 and others who were the same age but already a grade ahead. It was my fear of her falling behind some externally created measure that was getting in the way.  But really it came down to thinking about whether it was better for her to struggle to keep up as the youngest in a 1/2 split or to enjoy another year in Kindergarten and to reap the benefits in terms of sense of self, responsibility and pride by being one of the older children in the class.

When I led myself back to what matters to me educationally I reaffirmed that all I really want is for her to feel good about herself, to be able to enjoy herself at school and to continue to love learning. I am convinced the rest will take care of itself.

I have not regretted not pushing her.

Half way through grade one I am so pleased that I was able to listen to the wisdom of the teachers and other parents. It involved quieting that competitive hockey mom and being aware of my sideways glances to other children of similar age to make sure we were keeping up.  It takes a conscious effort to stay focused on what is best for my daughter and our family, so programmed are we as a culture to compete and think about getting ahead. I am not proud of this aspect of my character, of that hockey mom within, but as an over-educated professional I guess I should not be surprised.

Watching my daughter embrace grade one and absorb the whole experience has been enriching, heart warming and wonderful.  She loves school and does not want to miss anything.  She loves all of it and is ready for it.  She has been playing at writing letters for a couple of years now and I understand what the teachers meant when they said that this was not real readiness, but a stop on the way. Indeed it was merely preparation for where she is now in terms of her ability to write and thirst to read.  She is excited to repeat aspects of her day and make mini main lessons for her younger brother, who is now convinced that he, too, is in grade one.

I cannot speak to the specifics of the readiness assessment though I think of it as a developmental screening test. It is not something that can be prepared for, it just is.  Any maybe this is where my hockey mom was right to put her bum back on the seat and take a deep breath, this is not about skill, or a prediction of future performance it is about children being ready for their next step, as they were for their first step - each at their own time when THEY were ready.

This segues into a  whole other discussion about why we are so intent on rushing things. Life is short, childhood shorter, let us all savour the magic while we can.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Thinking About Education

From the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA):