I have been asking myself this question since beginning homeschooling in September: Does balance exist in homeschooling? The answer for me is a resounding, No. I could end this post right here, but I want to explain why being out of balance is actually a good thing when homeschooling.
By now, we’ve learned that balance doesn’t really exist in life anyway. While this is a trending term in mainstream circles, the truth is, we’re all striving to achieve the impossible if we aim to live life in balance. Even a perfectionist like me knows that some days the house will be messy and other days it will look so put together even the husband notices.
Life balance is a myth.
You might have a lengthy to-do list, but you can’t possibly fit everything into one day – sometimes, not even into one year. Some weeks you’ll work like mad on your crochet projects, and other weeks, you don’t even want to look at a crochet needle. Some months you’ll be hyper-focused on getting in shape and most months the chip bag and couch call to you louder than your running shoes.
It’s the same with homeschooling.
You may have planned your entire year back in September – balancing out the subjects and activities for the week. But, you find pretty quickly that you’re struggling to maintain equilibrium and you begin to feel like a failure.
Before you entertain that feeling, let me remind you that homeschooling is not school at home. Life is the education. And, since we’ve already confirmed that life isn’t neatly balanced, know that homeschooling out-of-balance is actually right on target. Some days you’re doing more, others not so much. Some days you’ve got it altogether, other days you’re grasping just to make it to bedtime. No days are perfect, no weeks are perfect and certainly, no months are perfectly in harmony.
How Waldorf philosophy embraces the unevenness of life and education
One reason I became so attracted to the Waldorf philosophy of education is because of the allowance for lopsidedness in the way subjects are taught beginning in first grade. Because Waldorf takes a holistic approach to education (following in life’s wholeness), the subjects are not evenly dispersed throughout the school day or a school week as they are in conventional schools.
Instead, there is an intensive study of one subject for a period of time, which the Waldorf philosophy terms “the main lesson block”. In Waldorf schools, as well as with homeschoolers following the Waldorf philosophy, a main lesson block consists of a 2-hour focus on one subject for four to eight weeks. (See resources below for videos illustrating how this works).
This allows students to fully plunge into a subject – allowing learning to take place at a reasonable pace before moving on to other subjects/ concepts. I liken this to the crochet projects you immerse yourself in for several weeks before you decide you’ve accomplished what you intended to and move onto scrapbooking.
Most school systems would cringe at the thought of allowing extensive study in one subject for several weeks while significantly reducing the focus on others. But, Steiner schools have embraced the idea to allow time to develop concepts in one subject without being rushed to cram everything possible into one day or week. The results are reportedly calmer students, calmer teachers, and true learning arising from the extended study.
How this applies to you even if you’re not a Waldorf homeschooler
This idea of imbalance, even if Rudolf Steiner didn’t term it or intend for it to be this way, is what makes the pace of education match the pace of life.
An example from our homeschool:
Coming from years in the classroom, I originally had a pretty well-balanced outline of our homeschool program back in September. However, having been observant of the obstacles life threw us in the past, I did allow for leaning and swaying. The outline wasn’t set in stone, and I was wise to keep it open-ended because this is how things transpired:
From September to December, my son was fully involved in the activities I presented him. He was engaged (for the most-part), and completed many of the activities in one or two sessions. Much of the focus was on getting him to sit at his adapted desk for a set number of minutes (which increased over time). Another objective was to introduce him to different materials and tools for drawing, writing, painting, modeling, and so on.
From January to February, the focus shifted as he struggled with health issues. No matter how often I attempted it, he could not sit and tune into the activities as he had in the first quarter. I changed the goals immediately. The emphasis became his health, healing and physical strength-building. Since we hadn’t done a ton of intentional physical activities in that first quarter, I felt ok with making that the aim for this second quarter.
Therefore, many of the activities did not take place at a chair and table, but mostly everywhere around the house. Many of the tools we used were not typical school tools, but those found in specific rooms (kitchen tools, television remote, etc.). I became his physical support as he held onto me to walk from one part of the house to another (for some reason, even though very weak, he had this need to “walk” everywhere!)
If we were to look at the whole picture, the plan would appear distorted. Imbalanced. Too much academic-like activities in the first quarter, and not enough in the second. But, in following my son’s lead, I feel confident that he will eventually want to sit and explore those desk tools again. Right now, he is learning in unconventional ways, and I’m respectful of that because I know that balance in education is a myth anyway.
When you find yourself frustrated and concerned that you may be spending too much time in one area and not enough in another, remember the Waldorf way, and remember the examples from life itself. Release that pressure you put on yourself to balance everything neatly. Trust that learning is happening in the way that it’s meant to. Believe that you and your child are on the right track. Know that things will shift eventually – when the timing is right. Follow your child’s lead. Take as long as he needs. If you have still have an absolute need for balance, test out some yoga postures instead.
How do you feel about balance in homeschool? Do you manage to get everything done evenly? Or, like me, do you shift and readjust imperfectly?
The Edinburg Steiner School Main Lessons – a video explaining the main lesson and showing the beauty of the Waldorf philosophy in a school setting
Academics at Waldorf – Inspired Free Charter School – a video showing one Waldorf’s school main lesson on Geology in the 5th + 6th grade.