Tuesday, 14 November 2017

Minimalism and Waldorf - the energy of stuff and the materialistic spirit.


I was looking through this beautiful book today, trying to think of some ideas for advent and Christmas and was struck by how simple things can be and yet how very complicated we tend to make them. So many of the things in this book can be made from plain, everyday materials yet more and more, there is this growing culture of material perfectionism which gives the impression that we need to have all the bells and whistles to follow Waldorf or even homeschool in any meaningful way.

When my children were very small, we didn't have a lot of money. The waldorf philosophy really appealed to me back then because it meant that I could make or create, either with my children or on my own simple, beautiful handmade toys, games and decorations for our home.

Yet, it seems that industry can build up around any philosophy, even one that is as inherently non materialistic such as Waldorf.
I began my Waldorf shop after making toys and decorations for my own small children. Over the years I have been advised to scale up my production many times by well meaning friends. This would undoubtedly mean patenting designs, building a brand and working with factory outlets. I've never considered this option because it undermines the reason I created the shop in the first place.

The root of the root (the reason why) is the most important part of anything we do because it will become integral to whatever grows from it. The catechism states that the end can never justify the means. Value never really lies in product, only process.
We all have a tree of life (our soul) and we have to feed those roots with mindful choices and careful footfalls. The intention behind what I do is what matters most to me because it feeds the most important thing of all.

Last week, Matilda hand spun some yarn which she is now knitting into a hat. The yarn is slightly uneven and their are a couple of holes in her stockinette, yet this is what gives the fabric it's beauty.
I notice the magic of the different shades of green as they intermingle in the strands of yarn. I notice them especially because this hat is not next to another half dozen hats in her closet or carefully contrived upon a shop shelf. There is no contrast or comparison, no judgement in my mind when I look at it, no questions asking noisily, which one is better? Which one is most fashionable?

We have so many lens's to look through when viewing something. First our own eyes, then the eyes of others through a myriad of different channels; the world wide web,  the fashion industry, other people's opinions, other people's standards of beauty and style, the list is endless. Sometimes its easy to lose the own unique vision rooted in our own soul, even though this is our one real gift.
Sometimes I just need to get away into the quietude  and refresh my inner page.

I often  imagine how things would have been in centuries past when pigments were rare and embellishment in handiwork considered a luxury. How the symbolism of each pattern would have struck the vision and how bright the colours would have seemed. Now we have a thousand different options of colour, design and pattern. Everything is embellished, our curtains, draperies, duvets and cushion covers. We don't see the individual stitches or imagine the vision of the hand that made them because they are mass produced by poor factory workers and designed with the market in mind rather than the deliberate, invested, inspired vision of an artist.

Everything we own has an energy interwoven into it.
I am careful when I create. Creation, after all,  is a holy space. What we create will infuse its energy into the lives of those that receive our creation into their homes.
I often spend much time in thought, meditation and process before beginning a project.
Each project, even a piece of writing is like a birth; it requires gestation before the labour can begin.

One of the questions I consider is whether I am creating simply to sell, approaching my work from the perspective of the market or whether I am creating something from the deep well spring within me; the part of me that wants to add value and beauty to the world not just more stuff in exchange for money. I do realize that in doing this I'm in a place of great privilege. The need to earn a wage is real and pressing and for many this over rules any other consideration. I don't condemn that at all and I also don't have the answer for it except that perhaps, as consumers, we can be mindful of where we shop, why we shop and what the wider implications of our privilege and choice has on both those who produce our goods and the natural environment.

Materialism has a spiritual energy to it and we can channel that energy and make it stronger or we can redirect it into creativity, gratitude and contentment in the abundance of what we already have, even if that's nothing more complicated than the warming smell of fresh baked bread in the oven.
Our children are watching what we attribute value to and they will attribute value to the same things.

This blog post was very much inspired by this vlog by the you tube channel living tree. I encourage you to visit her channel. Her reflections touch on some important subjects.

Thursday, 2 November 2017

Homeschool burnout and homeschooling ages and stages.

It's strangely quiet having only two older children in our homeschool. They are both high-schoolers so they can often work independently. When I was homeschooling five different age ranges with pregnancies and toddlers in tow, life was very different. It came down to a lot of just doing the next thing. Days often blurred together, in a kaleidoscope of movement. During pregnancy and newborn days it felt we got very little but the basics done. Everything was whittled down and simplified by necessity in order to mitigate the ever present threat of chaos.

During those years, I didn't have the time or energy to document, photograph or video many of our activities. There were so many dynamics to navigate, diverse needs to manage and odd socks to pair up. But things change. There is a season for everything it seems. I now, often find myself looking back on those times with great fondness. My youngest, who is now six, seems impossibly grown up to me, and I often wish I could slow down the time, stop her growing up so quickly. She often seems even older than her years with having so many older sisters to idolize.
And homeschooling older kids can have it's ups and downs too. I felt really unmotivated today. I have loads of housework to do and after lunch I was nearly falling asleep doing percentages, decimals and fractions with Matilda. The level of academic work goes up a notch with older ones and there are exams, qualifications and career paths to plan for which is, in a word, daunting.  I never thought I'd be doing a Chemistry IGCSE in my lifetime, but since helping our Science/Maths enthusiast (aka "an anomaly" in our family) complete hers last year I feel I can check that one off the bucket list!

No one can really prepare you for how consuming homeschooling can be. When I had five kids under my homeschool wing people would often ask me how I did it, and looking back I sometimes wonder, but truly, the rewards were so great. The most wonder-filled moments and memories are gleaned from  those hard, beautiful, intense years. It felt almost like a vocation of sorts, there was a sacredness to it and without God I couldn't have done it.

But a couple of years ago I had a series of health issues that were probably rooted in burnout and my three youngest ended up attending a local primary school.
Homeschool burnout is a real thing and I want anyone who suffers from it to know that they aren't alone.
We see all the loveliness of homeschooling on our social media feeds and there is so much loveliness in this journey, it's important that we get to inspire one another and be inspired, yet this doesn't mean that everyday is made up only of  Instagram moments.

Different stages of homeschool will look different too. When I had mainly little ones to homeschool, our days were much more about creating an atmosphere, spending time learning through play, reading stories, painting, being outside rather than sitting down doing table work. My house was also a lot messier and there were a lot more tears, squabbles and interruptions. That is the reality of small children learning in a loving, home environment. They feel secure enough to explore their curiosity, connect to their needs, express them, push boundaries and even debate the relevance of what you are trying to teach them (critical thinking.)
They also learn that there are times when things just have to be done  (Maths) and the eventual delight in pushing through, doing something they weren't initially thrilled at doing and then achieving it, (even if this sometimes takes some initial convincing. )
Of course children sit more quietly and act more compliantly in a school environment. It's a very efficient model for teaching facts and passing tests. It also teaches the child how to "act" more maturely.
Homeschooling is by definition, a more holistic approach. It is an inside out rather than the outside in approach. Though homeschool may look messier than a formal classroom, work is being done in the heart, soul and body (not just mind) of the child which is the faculty modern education values most.

I also want to write briefly about curriculums and their role in burnout.
I know that curriculums work for many people, but during those younger years and for us even up to highschool, we just used books, either bought borrowed or gifted. We also used DVD's, you tube and other online resources for most of our work. I would by a couple of curriculum based text books once in a while, such as the Carol Vordeman series just to consolidate the things we had learned but that was all. I think that curriculum's can be very demanding for a larger family with many different age ranges. Trying to work out multiple curriculum's for multiple age ranges can over complicate everything and lead to a feeling of always playing catch up.
Homeschool shouldn't require martyrdom. If you are a slave to your curriculum, change it or simplify by just using books and online resources.

Reminding myself of our priorities also helped me simplify and re-center myself when I began getting carried away and taking things on that didn't really fit our homeschool. Those main priorities were to nurture connection, compassion, wonder and a love of learning by creating an atmosphere in the home that fostered creativity and honoured the rhythms of the seasons and our own internal rhythms. It was also to give my children and I time and space to nourish our souls and connect to God. Whenever I came back to that vision rather than going off on a tangent of what "I should be doing," according to someone else's vision, I felt peace. I also had to remind myself through trial and error that  just because something works beautifully for another family didn't mean it was right for ours.

I also think that it is essential to connect with other homeschooling families. That doesn't mean signing up to every event which can also lead to burn out, but just getting out of the house and meeting up to socialize. The homeschooling families that we meet up with every week have been so incredibly supportive over the years. Just seeing other people in real life, who are experiencing similar things can open up your perspective. I'm an introvert, so I've had to push myself to join in at times but I've always been glad that I did. And if one homeschool group doesn't click, that is okay, there will be another, you will find your tribe.

If you are suffering from homeschool burnout, you are not alone. Remember:
  • However perfect someones life looks there will be struggles, there will also be moments of transcendent joy and these will be the most photographed and shared on Instagram but they are only part of the story.
  • Life is full of seasons, "This too shall pass."
  • Rest. Do what you need to do to restore your soul.
  • Ask for help, take it. Allow someone the joy of giving. One day you can pay it forward to another tired Mama.
  • Don't make ideals your idols. You won't always live up to your ideals or realize the goals you set for yourself. This is what makes you beautiful and human. Being imperfect is a blessing that stops you turning into a know it all, judgemental fascist and who wants to be that?
  • Cut down on extra curricula activities, simplify, get rid of stuff you don't or won't ever use, books, clothes. Minimize. Clarify.
  • If you feel called to send your child/children to school, nursery or childminder that is okay. Sometimes it is meant to be. Many children do better with the structure and stimulation of school (my very extroverted six year old) From a home-school mindset it can feel like you are failing, but you aren't you are doing what is necessary for a time and the children will grow, develop and thrive when you're strong in yourself. 
  • Do what you need to do to be strong. It is the best gift you can give them.
  • You are beautiful. You are enough. You are loved.

Wednesday, 1 November 2017

Candle Making

We made some candles over the weekend. some turned out better than others. It was a fun activity though gave us something Autumnal to put on our nature table.