Welcome to Wood Nymph Way! I have created this blog with two intentions: (A) keeping our family and friends, many of whom live in lands Far Far Away, up to date with what we've been doing, and (B) as a tool to document and learn from our journey as a Waldorf homeschooling family. Enjoy! And don't forget to check out my resource pages on the right!

Wednesday, September 29, 2010


Today, for the first time, we celebrated Michaelmas.  For weeks now we've been working up to our celebration of this holiday.  We've been reading stories such as St. George and the Dragon,  The Shooting Stars, The Strong Boy and other fairy tales about strength and courage.  As Autumn progresses, it is a time of inner reflection and preparing for the months ahead.  In a practical way, at least for me, it means tending the last bits of garden, doing household repairs, canning and preserving food, and otherwise getting ready for the colder months ahead.  In a spiritual way, it means a time of self-reflection and bolstering oneself with the spirit of courageousness and perseverence.

I have mentioned in my previous post, I am not a religious individual, and I don't affiliate myself with any type of organized religion at all.  But I am a spiritual person, and that is one of the reasons why I decided to include the celebration of Michaelmas (and other upcoming holidays) in our lives and curriculum.  I can find the value in the philosophies of many religions and take from these the aspects that I feel most drawn to.  I guess it's kind of a global approach. 

There is an idea that I keep coming across in my readings on Steiner's philosophy, and that is that a parent is a child's first teacher, and children learn by imitation, especially in their younger years.  It is up to us to be worthy of imitation and surround them with others who are also worthy.  This applies to other areas of a child's life too, like choosing what a child sees, hears, and reads.  So much of what children are exposed to today through media and even school, is very much unworthy of imitation.  Nonetheless, children act on what they take in, and even undesirable behaviors are imitated.  As a parent, it is a constant process for me to remember this and make myself worthy of imitation.  I'm not perfect, and neither are my kids, but we're all working on it.

The stories surrounding Michaelmas are those of courage, healing, and strength.  Admirable qualities that are definitely worthy of imitation.  And I have noticed that the kids are catching on.  I "catch" them doing "good deeds" throughout the day, give a little praise (and I mean a little, I don't believe in over-praising kids for doing what is expected and right) and a thank you, and feel incredibly proud of my fine, upstanding little citizens. 

Quick story here:  a couple of days ago, the kids had each gotten a balloon somewhere, I don't even remember where.  Since they were tied to the kids' wrists, we let them bring them in to a store.  F's ballon broke off of the string and floated up to the top of an impossibly high ceiling.  Surprisingly, there was no breakdown of tears or anything, but he was very sad.  A few minutes later we were continuing with our shopping and S turned to me and said, "I'd like to give F my balloon."  I could've cried, I was so proud.  Like I said before, my kids aren't perfect, and there's the usual amount of sibling rivalry.  But this gesture was so self-less and thoughtful (and probably meant more to me than it did to F.  Although he was very thankful to his big sister.

This event gave me a much needed boost in the self-reflection department.  Here was the evidence of something I did right.  Yay me!  Too often, when looking inward, we find flaws first.  Now I know there are other things to find in there, maybe even some things worthy of imitation, if I look hard enough.

How We Spent Michaelmas:

freshly baked pumpkin bread for breakfast
a morning at the park playing games, "jousting", and chasing dragons
an afternoon of stories and songs followed by the
making of our Dragon Bread
a lovely dinnder of pea soup and dragon bread

my brave knights ready to do good deeds

jousting at the park

dragon bread before the oven

dragon bread after the oven

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Celebrating Mabon

Autumn is definitely the favored season in our family.  It's a busy, sometimes chaotic, and eventful time of year.  We celebrate many birthdays, all within a couple weeks of each other, have fairs to go to, apples to pick, pumpkins to carve, food to can, garden work to be done, and various other activities to enjoy together.  So to introduce the kids to Mabon, the autumn equinox, was a special treat.  We celebrated all day with food, songs, crafts, and of course, enjoying the outdoors. 

I do like holidays, but although I consider myself to be a spiritual person, I am not religious.  The marking of the seasons and changes of the natural world hold more meaning to me than special dates imposed on us by religious protocol.  Having said that, we do celebrate some Christian holidays, like Christmas and Easter, and starting this year with our foray into Waldorf-dom, the holidays of the saints, like Michaelmas.  At first, I considered omitting these from our studies, but after further research I found that I loved the meaning behind the stories associated with them.  The basic messages of hope, courage, love, and strength they have to offer are universal and certainly of value in teaching young children.  I'm finding it really easy to include this element without having it seem like a religious education.

But I digress.  I was able to dig back through all my pagan-y books, some of which I haven't read in years, and find some really great stuff to do with the kids.  We started each day that week with songs and finger plays about the usual assortment of autumn things:  leaves, apples, squirrels, nuts, and the harvest.  All week we read great stories, all having to do with the turning of the wheel of the year and changing of the seasons:  When the Root Children Wake Up, In the Land of Elves, Fall is Not Easy, Leaf Man, The Stranger (not really Waldorf, but a great story), Around the Oak Tree and Autumn by Gerda Muller.  (All of these are on the book list at the bottom of my page.)

S's leaf man gardener with
rake, spade, and rows
of "vegetables"

 On the day when we do paper crafts, the kids made leaf collages ala Lois Elhert.  I should say however, that due to the astonishing lack of variety of fallen leaves in the neighborhood, we used some fantastic double sided leaf paper I had on hand.  Tons of different shapes of leaves and nuts and seed pods that were printed on both sides so they could be used any way the kids wanted.  We'll do plenty of projects with real leaves later.

Autumn colored God's eye.
On the day we do fiber crafts we made God's eyes.  Remember those?  Popsicle sticks glued into an X by your art teacher and then you got to wind string around them?  We used real sticks that we collected on one of our walks.  I was amazed at how well S did winding hers all by herself.  I had to help F with his, because at not even three years of age, he didn't quite have the coordination to make the yarn go quite where he wanted it.  He did enjoy wrapping some sticks with it though.  While we wound the yarn around, we talked about how the four sticks represented the four seasonal changes; the equinoxes and solstices.

My kids love to have candlelight at just about every meal, and even request it at snack time.  So we made a beautiful Autumn centerpiece together.  I scooped out a bit of the middle from three apples and popped some candles in.  The kids decorated the rest of the plate with things they collected from around our home; maple leaves, bittersweet, and acorns.  It came out great, and a week later, we're still using it at mealtimes.  It was an especially nice Autumn dinner by candlelight.  Our usual blessing was said, but seemed to take on a special meaning for the day:  Earth who gives to us this food, Sun who makes it ripe and good, Dear Sun, Dear Earth, by you we live, and loving thanks to you we give.

I hope you all enjoy this Autumn and all the bounty it has to offer.  I'd love for you to share some of your own traditions for these holidays!  The more the merrier!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

A Bushel and a Peck

My long two-pointed ladder's sticking through a tree
Toward heaven still,
And there's a barrel that I didn't fill
Beside it, and there may be two or three
Apples I didn't pick upon some bough.
But I am done with apple-picking now.
        ~from After Apple Picking by Robert Frost

F finds his perfect apple
What a way to spend the last weekend of summer!  A textbook New England late summer day, warm sun, cool air, and the smell of ripe apples all around.  After eating our Baked French Toast (the very same one mentioned in my previous post), we took a trip up to our new favorite orchard, Quonquont Farm in Whately MA.  Just a little plug for them here:  it is the most beautiful little orchard I have ever been to.  After driving by the amazingly restored farm house, you're right in the middle of a well organized orchard of apples, pears, peaches and berries.  The apples looked fake they were so gorgeous!  Seriously.  Perfectly round and red on all sides.  Like someone went around airbrushing them for a magazine photo shoot.  S called them "Snow White apples" because they appeared to be something right out of a fairy tale.

After trekking up and down the rows and amassing large quantities of perfect apples of at least five varieties, we decided not to get too carried away and we called it quits for the day.  We left with a bushel and a peck (heehee, just like that song) of apples to be eaten as is and transformed into a number of tasty desserts. 

seven quarts of apple sauce
and many more to come!
Picking apples, while very enjoyable, can be a bit much for some kids.  There's a lot of walking, heavy bags to carry, and you can't always reach the apple you want.  But S and F were troopers.  They lugged those bags the whole time without one complaint.  In fact, they wouldn't relenquish them to us until we paid for them and brought them to the car.  There was some hard work in picking so many apples, but they were rewarded, as they usually are, by all their efforts.

Sometimes, when my husband asks the kids about what they did during the day, they tell him about the housework they did, or the yard work, or what we cooked together.  He laughingly commented the other day, "You're not homeschooling them, you're running a sweat shop!"

I think that so many people underestimate the value of work as a child's play.  Children learn through imitation, especially for the first seven years.  How wonderful for them to learn that there can be joy in the simple and necessary tasks of every day life!  Children want to do what we're doing.  They want their little and important lives to be filled with purpose just like ours are.  So many people at dinner time usher their kids out of the kitchen and plop them in front of the TV so they can "get [whatever] done."  While I acknowledge that toward the end of the day, patience is running thinner and the task of meal preperation can be a bit of a chore, I try to see this time as an opportunity for togetherness and learning.

Now I am admittedly what many people would consider a "Type A" personality.  You know the ones.  Neat freaks, lists of things to do, organized closets, and dust-free bookshelves.  It has taken my having children to loosen me up a bit.  Don't get me wrong, I still have to do lists (that actually get done), organized closets, and dust-free bookshelves, as well as a small business I'm trying to keep afloat, but I can slow myself down when I need to so I can include my kids in whatever I'm doing.  Taking the time to find the fun in work has given me a whole new perspective on how I spend my days.  I'm reminded of the opening to that Mary Poppins song, A Spoonful of Sugar

In ev'ry job that must be done
There is an element of fun
you find the fun and snap!
The job's a game

planting bulbs
This time of year is so full of opportunities for meaningful and fun work.  Planting bulbs, baking, canning, preparations for upcoming holidays.  All of these can be so joyful for children to participate in.  So go now and do something useful with your kids.  Unless you're reading this while they're in bed.  In that case, let them sleep or you'll be sorry in the morning.  :) 

Friday, September 17, 2010

That room where we cook

Beautiful Soup!
Beautiful Soup so rich So green,
Waiting in a hot tureen
Who for such dainties would not stoop.
Soup of the evening
Beautiful Soup!
       ~C.S. Lewis, Alice in Wonderland

I couldn't resist quoting one of my favorite books here.  With the cooler weather finally settling in, we've been finding ourselves back in our kitchen.  Anyone who knows me knows I love to cook.  Baking especially.  And although I am loathe to eat anything even remotely warm during the summer, I usually manage to produce pretty decent meals for my family. 

But now...now...I am back in that room where we cook.  My beloved and fairly recently renovated (thanks, Dad!) kitchen.  My shiny stainless steel stove, having rested peacefully and spotlessly for much of the summer, is now speckled with the crusty evidence of the start of an all out cooking binge.  Yeah, I'll clean it up tonight.

This is the way we knead the dough...

It all started a couple of weeks ago with an unexpected cold snap.  Baked apples for breakfast.  A rather large batch of applesauce.  I was just getting warmed up here.  And then I was forced to make sauce with the bags and bags of frozen tomatoes I had from our garden.  I literally could not fit anything else in my freezer.  Let's just say it snowballed from there.  Yesterday we made several loaves of cinnamon-raisin bread,  today it was Stone Soup and biscuits.  Tomorrow (although I made it ahead tonight) we'll be having baked french toast for breakfast. 

And did I mention we're going apple picking tomorrow?  I'm envisioning the back seat of our station wagon filled with bushels of lovely, ripe apples.  Not likely to happen, but I can dream, can't I?  Gallons of applesauce, apple butter, apple pies, apple strudel, baked apples.....*sigh*...

My kids, of course love to get in on the action.  Part of our homeschooling day always includes some sort of food related activity.  And on Fridays, during our housework time (yes, we have a designated housework time) we make soup.  We happen to have read Stone Soup, so we made some of our own.  The kids had a blast, as they always do when we cook.  Yesterday, after having read many farm and grain-related stories (The Little Red Hen etc.)  We made our rasin bread.  It all fits into our curriculum quite nicely.  Real hands on learning and all.

I'd like to mention here that part of Waldorf schooling is establishing daily, weekly, and seasonal rhythms.  For example, on Monays we paint.  On Fridays we make soup, and so forth.  We have assigned each day a color, which is relfected in our calendar ring and again in the color of the cloth napkins (yes, I made those too) that my kids use at mealtimes.  We also have a grain of the day:  Wednesday is Quinoa, Thursday is wheat, Friday is Barley and so on.  This may all sound odd and restrictive at first, but I'm finding that (just like all the Waldorf books say) it is comforting and in a way freeing to have these things established.  Not only does it help the kids feel secure in what's coming next, but I have found it to be extremely helpful in planning snacks and meals this way.  We always eat pretty well; we're vegetarian and eat a lot of whole foods.  But this way I can be sure that our diet doesn't get hung up around one particular thing.  Rice and pasta are just too easy to duplicate during the week.

I digress here a bit.  My kids are total foodies, and always have been.  They love to eat out, when we get the chance to, and I love to see them discover something new that becomes their "new favorite".  For example, tomorrow we will be away from home for the whole day, and although I could pack a picnic lunch that would save us a ton of money, frankly, I'm too lazy. Plus, we're just about out of food here (except for all that left over soup and raisin bread) and desperately require a trip to the grocery store.  So I'm sure we'll be eating out.  And I'm sure the kids will request dumplings at their favorite Chinese resaurant (the owners grow much of their own produce, how cool is that?) followed by crepes right down the street from there. 

I am so happy that S and F are exposed to the world of growing, cooking, and eating their own food.  I did a lot of that with my grandparents when I was young, and it really stuck with me in a way I never expected.  Passing these things along to my own children is, for me, a way of honoring them and all they taught me.  I don't see a lot of people doing this kind of thing with their children these days.  Honestly it makes me a little sad.  What kind of knowledge are people passing along to future generations?  Will it help them feel connected to their past, the earth, or their familiy?  It is my hope that in the future, my children will pass along their childhood experiences to their own children in such a way that makes them remember not only how to do something useful, but how enjoyable it can be when done in the context of family and tradition.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Learning Patience

Late last week, during our art time, we got out the kids' brand new boxes of modelling wax.  After exploring and naming the different colors and noticing the warm beeswaxy scent, we proceeded to soften it up using the warmth of our hands.  Now, if you've never used modelling wax before, you should know that this is not qickly done.  It's pretty stiff, and warming it takes a great deal of time and patience.

F warming his wax
When S decided it was to hard to soften it just to her liking, she began to lose interest in making something with the material.  We happened to be working at the table, which had two tea lights burning in lanterns the kids had made.  (My kids love candle light and request it at every meal.  We had just finished lunch and had left the candles burning.)  I held my piece of wax over the top of the lantern jar, where the heat was just warm enough, and VOILA!  In moments we had lovely, soft, pliable wax.

Following suit, F and S both warmed their pieces and delighted in the soft, silky texture, and pearly, translucent colors of the wax.  It is truly a joy to work with, unlike anything we have ever used.  So with the softening figured out, we moved on to actually forming shapes with our fingers.  In the past, I have made playdough with the kids.  Playdough is soft, can be acted upon quickly and with force (pounding, rolling, cutting) and will comply easily with the maker's hands or tools.  Beeswax is no such thing.  It must be pinched, pulled, rolled, and otherwise shaped with the fingers alone.  ("What amazing fine-motor work!" the teacher in me thought.  I immediately vowed to put away the playdough.) 

from left to right, F's mushrooms,
my gnome, S's gnome and mushroom

This activity pushed my kids to the limits of their patience.  Between waiting for the wax to soften and taking the time to work slowly and thoughtfully with their fingers, they had almost had it.  But they pushed through and were greatly rewarded for their perseverence.  Before we knew it, we had several mushrooms and two cute gnomes.  Over an hour had passed by the time we were done for the day.  If you can get a two and a half year old and a four and a half year old to sit happily and do anything for over an hour, I congratulate you.  It is no easy task.  Now that the kids are both learning to understand that the quick and easy way is not always the best way, they will be open to so many possibilities in their learning.

I am so grateful to be teaching them in the Waldorf fashion.  I think about the way I was forced to teach in a public school and about all the opportunities that the students miss out on for learning patience, the ability to focus, and the value of purposeful activities.  It is wonderful to see these things come to life in my own children as they polish their wooden toys with beeswax, or learn to sew with a running stitch, as S did today.  And most of all it is so delightful to see them take pride in the work they were patient enough to do.

S and her first running stitch!


Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Home Sweet Homeschool

Let me first apologize for the lengthiness I anticipate in this post.  It has been an eventful day, and I don't want to leave anything out, both for the sake of friends and family who are reading this to check in with the kids, and for the sake of other readers who are in having similar experiences as beginning homeschoolers.  Bear with me.  :)

Today was the first day of school at our house!  Literally.  At our house.  S began kindergarten, and so F didn't feel left out, S told him he was in pre-school.  For weeks I have been reading, preparing, making plans and daily and weekly rhythms to follow.  Even as a teacher in a public school I did not agonize over the beginning of the school year the way I did this year.  Take whatever first day jitters teachers get, and double it.  The fact is, these are my children, and I am their sole teacher.  There is no support staff, no lunch crew, no specials teachers, no administration.  I am soley responsible for every aspect of their education.  If I fail them, they will in turn fail.  I have to be their favorite teacher, as there will be no breaks from my company during the day, and most nights as well, since my husband is often not home until after their bedtime.  Hmmm...no pressure, huh?

But I have to say, as negative as that all sounds, it has made me want to do better than my best for my kids.  I have the rare opportunity to turn their education into something joyous and magical.  Thoughtful and engaging.  Totally tailored to their needs alone.  There is no pressure to prepare them for [insert your state's mandated test here].  Instead, I can use authentic assessment as we progress through our days.  This is how teaching was meant to be.  I am able to do for my kids what I could not do for all the wonderful (and let's be honest here, some not so wonderful) children I have taught in the past.  The flexibility I feel in planning is amazing.  And the joy in seeing their enthusiasm and success is quadrupled.  And best of all, for them, everything they learn at school is supported by their home life.  And vice-versa, of course.
S and her schuletute (see first post for explanation)

So this is how our day went:

-Get up, get ready, blah, blah, blah
-Morning Greeting: 
     Morning greeting verse (which is actually two that I sort of combined):
          Down is the Earth
          Up is the Sky
          There are my friends
          And here am I
          The golden sun is shining
          Up in the sky so blue         
          Good morning, happy morning
          Good morning, friends, to you!
     Explain what's coming next

-Housework for 25 minutes or so.  The kids each had a job, which they gladly did.
-Morning Circle:
     Morning Verse:
          Welcome, welcome lovely day
          With flowers bright and sunshine gay
          With painted birds that sing their song
          and make me kind, and good, and strong
     Finger plays:
          Open Shut them
          This is my ball
S and F and their calendar ring
     Calendar:  I must mention here how awesome this calendar is.  Grimms Annual Calandar Ring.  It is without a question the most amazingly child appropriate calendar I have ever seen.  No numbers or labels of any kind.  A circular format that truly illustrates the circle of days/weeks/months/year.  Just terrific.
     Game:  Farmer in the Dell
-Snack:  introduce blessing (we don't generally do this, but I'm introducing it as something we're going to do from here on out.  I like the tradition and it's a nice quiet segue into a meal.  S insisted we do it at every little snack.)
          Earth who gives to us this food
          Sun who makes it ripe and good
          Dear Sun, dear Earth by you we live
          And loving thans to you we give
-Gardening:  today we re-potted some houseplants
F and S with their jingly felt balls
-Art:  made wet felted balls with jingle bells inside them.  We'll be using them for circle games as we go on.
Bunny Foo-Foo

-Free play (while I prep lunch):  The kids played "dress-up" and loved the face crayons we got.  S had rabbit whiskers and F was a scary dragon.  Funny how a few painted lines made dramatic play all that much more...well...dramatic.
-Story time:  Ox-Cart Man,  The Little Red Hen, continuing with The Tales of Tiptoes Lightly
-Quiet play (for F) and reading (for S):
     Again, a note here.  True Waldorfians (for lack of a better term) do not introduce reading until age seven.  However, S can read, and it is enjoyable to her, and I'm going to encourage her to practice.  That's all. 
-Closing circle: 
          The Earth is stong beneath my feet
          The sun shines bright above
          And here I stand so straight and strong
          All things to know and love

So that was our school day.  At the end of the day, I asked S how she liked her first day of kindergarten.  She said, "I loved it even more than I thought I would!"  All that self-doubt I had earlier took a flying leap out the window.  And I can't wait to do it again tomorrow.  And the next day....   :)

Monday, September 6, 2010

Soup in the corn maze

Since the morning was crisp and fall-ish, and we had no other plans for the day, we decided to go do one of our favorite fall activities:  the corn maze.  The people over at Mike's Maze did another outstanding job creating this year's maze, which had the theme of "finding art".  Really, these guys must sit around all winter thinkg this stuff up.  It's crazy.  The maze itself was a replica of the famous Andy Warhol print of the Campbell's Tomato Soup can

Hidden within the maze, but clearly marked on the map you're given, are quizzes and challenges.  This year we completed 4 block-type prints, each of four colors, of famous paintings.  We also answered more than enough of the quizz questions correctly to win each of the kids a little pumpkin.  Okay, you only need three correct answers, but still, I went to art school for four years and these questions weren't easy!  I have to admit, I was pretty impressed with my memory.

After finally exiting the maze, we had a snack of cider and fresh grilled corn with butter and basil....YUM...and then the kids had pony rides.

We have been to this maze several times in the past, and it has become a bit of a tradition now for our family.  S remembered going last year, and we all remembered how F, who had just turned two at the time, kept rounding each corner of the maze with an excited exclamation of, "CORN!" as if we hadn't been walking around the middle of a corn field for 45 minutes.

In preparation for the beginning of our homeschool year, which starts tomorrow, I have been immersed in setting the rhythms of each day and the rhythms of the week.  It is so wonderful to see how traditions are emerging in the rhythm of the seasons and years of our family.  I, and I'm sure the children, find it comforting to know that there is always something exciting coming soon for our family to celebrate together.  It is becoming such a joy to create for my family the opportunities that become these traditions and much cherished memories.  Together, we are very blessed indeed.