We are gradually beginning to find our feet and I am starting to feel more excited than daunted. I know I have really just dipped my toes into Steiner education but even just these humble beginnings fill me with an enthusiasm that I find hard to articulate. I am loving it and whilst our days are far from perfect, I am finishing the week with a sense of achievement.
I have two boys who don’t want to write. At all.
Two boys who have no interest in presenting their work beautifully.
I realise this is fairly standard for young boys particularly those who have been in the education system but it’s something I find frustrating since my personality is the complete opposite and as a child I loved making projects look beautiful, presentation was really important to me.
Getting my boys to write is a real challenge but at least with this method the writing is also part of an overall creative package, every day involves colour and drawings.
Whenever I manage to encourage them to do some writing I feel like I’ve hit the jackpot!
H – wrote a story, the real story was far more realised and imaginative than the story that made it to script. H does not want to elaborate or use descriptive language if it means needing to transcribe it into letters. But the simple fact of something making it to paper is encouraging. I don’t correct their work in their books but make a note of spelling mistakes and we go over those words later. I have purchased some basic cursive workbooks so we can work on handwriting.
We are still working through the unit on Ancient Indian civilisation. Today we talked about some key concepts in Hinduism comparing them to our Islamic perspectives on the same thing. With our study of comparative religion I really want to emphasize the similarities between faiths but sometimes the differences are also food for conversation. H was really interested in the caste system and we watched a short Youtube documentary about the Untouchables/Dalits. I’m still utilising technology in this way even though it’s not part of the Steiner philosophy. Sometimes it is useful.
M – We made flat bread yesterday for M’s lesson, we have just finished a unit on the Ancient Hebrews and now we have moved on to the Phoenicians. Because the children are half Lebanese I explained that the Phoenician civilisation was actually in what is now Lebanon.
We are still reading aloud from Little House in the Big Woods. I think there is far too much benefit in the Little House books to leave them because of the colonialist attitudes. Instead I’m going to approach those things as they come up and use them as reasons to discuss racism and indigenous issues comparing the North American situation to our own reality in Australia.
HH – really loved it when we made bread, it struck me just how perfect these activities are for her age group. Initially we were working from the Gr 1 curriculum because I wasn’t sure how things matched to an Australian Prep but we have moved back to the Kindergarten book and it’s a much better fit. She doesn’t enjoy the stories in the Oak Meadow fairy tales book though so I am trying to find other stories to read to her. Today we read about a Fairy called Faith who couldn’t sleep for the letter F and we did some watercolour painting. HH knows most of her letters already but I think the slow, rhythmical pace of the syllabus is really important. When she wants to she brings me the ‘Teach your child to read in 100 easy lessons’ book and we do a lesson but I am not forcing it. We are also working together to make the work for her main workbook and I have another book that is entirely for free range drawing because I was finding that she won’t follow the guidelines for the lesson otherwise.
She also spent time playing in the garden and we skipped to the end of her book and found the Spring science lessons since season wise we are upside down. We read a story about a germinating seed and next week hopefully we will plant some things ourselves.
I have ordered the rest of the curriculum and art/craft materials I need and now it’s just a matter of waiting for them to arrive. And when working with HH today I made a small painting for our Spring Nature Table which hopefully I will have finished before Summer 😉
We finished organising our homeschooling space. Combined with the kitchen table most of our learning and playing will occur in here.
I wanted to make a space that had a large empty floor area for projects and playing.
When we need to work on a surface we can still use the kitchen table but for lego and construction and quiet reading and general play this room is wonderful.
Over the last few weeks I have found myself moving into full blown nesting mode. It seems a little early at only 23 weeks but experience has taught me that the third trimester is so exhausting that the things that need to be done must be done now.
I upended the house changing around rooms in preparation for the baby. We have been back in this house for over four months but I still haven’t got it sorted out in a way that pleases me and makes me feel at home. But bit by bit we are getting there and I think by the end of the week it should be done, inside at least.
Homeschooling requires space, we will now be using the kitchen table and a room that I have organised for children’s activities, kind of like a kids living room. This room contains all the toys, the children’s books, a cupboard full of art and homeschooling materials and a small tv and dvd player. It’s a lovely room that overlooks the fruit tree’s in the back garden.
The front lounge room will now be an adults living room or at least a controlled family space meaning it has rules, no toys, no food. Basically I want to keep it clean at all times. We can gather together in this space for quiet family activities, sitting together and talking, movie nights, dhikr and prayer but it’s not going to be a playroom.
So much of the week looked like this
But now there are only a few remaining piles and once the organization is finished then I can get stuck into some deep cleaning….or at least delegate it.
I am becoming increasingly better at delegating!
It really is a relief to have older children who are able to help in the house and so different to previous pregnancies when the maintenance of everything really only fell on my shoulders. I have not had the benefit of having extended family around to help and things like pregnancy and illness were really testing times. This time I am far more relaxed and far more rested. I recently watched a media report in which they stated only 1 in 4 parents required their children to do household chores and it made me feel kind of incredulous, how can this be the case and if it is then what kind of society full of entitled kids are we really creating? I definitely don’t want to overburden my children with too much early responsibility but I think it’s important they grow up within an atmosphere of mutual contribution. I also want them to learn practical skills. But if I ever feel I have to ask too much of them I recompense them financially.
Whilst I have a certain free-rangeness about my approach to learning, I’m really not inclined to a radical unschooling philosophy and I’m almost certain it won’t work outside a niche environment. If the suburban norm is a McDonalds mentality then my children will live on junk food and computer games if I leave them to it regardless of the ethos I promote personally. It is what they see around them. What I can do is set household boundaries.
I often think about the way I grew up and feel frustration that I cannot recreate aspects of my upbringing for my children. There are some things that I felt really shaped me as a person that I simply cannot develop in our family circumstances. My Mum and Step-Dad always had friends that they gathered with from time to time who shared their values but more importantly our daily life was always filled to the brim with stimulating discussion. I definitely have friends, smart, interesting and good friends but we don’t meet often. And whilst I have a fairly rich intellectual life that I pursue alone it isn’t something the children really see or hear.
But it is as it is and everything balances out somehow. Our family has it’s strengths and stabilities in ways that were absent in my own childhood also. All people are different and we do the best we can in the circumstances that present to us.
There may be something in me that craves an aliveness that is beyond the norm but my goal for our family is really centred around warmth and stability.
So I’m kind of in the process of determining these things and creating a plan….
Like all pregnant Mama’s I have a limited amount of energy and this time I am determined to use it well. The household tasks are never-ending but I am trying to re-frame how I look at the mess. Yesterday after a visit to Ikea I came home with a dolls tea set for HH, she was so thrilled and she has been playing with it ever since. She squeezes orange juice and pours it into tiny cups and she cuts oranges into quarters and places them in tiny saucers. And then she brings them to picnic with anyone who will enjoy it with her. The result is a trail of orange peels and sticky juice all over every available kitchen surface. She makes an effort to clean up at least fifty percent of the time.
Instead of despairing over orange peel and mounds of clean laundry and the half jar of honey that I found tipped all over my tea selection this morning, I decided to head off in the sun to a lovely nearby park.
And then we came across a little echidna off for a morning stroll. When we got close it curled up into a tiny ball and pretended to be a bush. We took a photograph and then we left it to continue on its merry way.
And then after a play in the playground we drove down to the marvellous old bluestone farmhouse and cottage gardens. This is my favourite place to visit in our surrounding area. The sky was full of birdsong, we saw red parrots, white cockatoo’s and carefully avoided the nesting magpies. The air was thick with the fragrance of the garden flowers. It is such a beautiful place, so hidden on the edge of the gorge and yet so close to our suburban home.
We watched the ducks swimming on the dam and we ate oranges and then it was time to come home. It doesn’t take much to revive a sense of spirit and to refocus on joys rather than fears. As someone who had a country childhood in one of the most beautiful places in the world, I do struggle sometimes with our suburban existence. Lately the words stifling, dull, lacklustre and mind-numbing have been falling off my lips too frequently but my body craves the natural environment, my soul needs beauty. And fortunately it is there to be found without much effort.
Finally by baby number five I am learning to prioritise and instead of drowning in endless domestic drudgery I am expending energy where it is really important.
So I am forty, my thirties were a tumultuous time, I can’t say it was a particularly happy decade. It was a time when I really tried to work against my nature and turn myself into something else. I guess many women do this. I tried to enforce a kind of blandness upon myself, if I wasn’t so eccentric, I would be happy, if I wasn’t always fighting norms life would be easy. I threw myself into domesticity but not a domesticity that was in sync with my own ways of giving.
Perhaps it is reductive to label an entire decade in this way, there were periods of joy and excitement and periods of real inner peace as faith settled into my heart and I connected to God/Creator/Divine Centre. But overall my experience was one of continual questioning and lack. I didn’t find a home in Islam as it is understood generally by most Muslims in Australia although I certainly connected to the Islam I read about or the Islam I encountered in my travels in Yemen or Morocco.
Perhaps in reaction to a decade of dryness and dissatisfaction I am now throwing myself into rediscovering my creative self. I don’t want to have to compartmentalise things into mothering or artistness, these things can exist together although it is sometimes hard. I am pregnant and I have plunged into an intense creative space which is at once wonderful and terrifying, pregnancy is such a time of extremes.
At the moment I am finding the most influential things I am reading that really speak to my gut involve a writing about the Feminine, the loss of this knowledge in our culture, what this means for women. It explains a wrongness I have felt all my life, a wrongness that I tried to fix through my exploration of Islamic Orthodoxy and it’s gendered spaces, something that I did find answers to in Yemen in ways that are too hard to articulate and ways that always encourage protestation from people who refuse to imagine that such a path could honour the Feminine. And I am too weary now of needing to spin my life in protestation and defence, I just can’t be bothered.
I haven’t been sleeping very well and despite my struggles now with my practise as a Muslim, in the middle of the night it is much easier to connect, to sit and look into the dark and to contemplate. At such times I feel God like an electricity in my veins, the night is alive and I am alive with it. I love the sensation of the house sleeping. In Islam we say that in the last third of the night God descends to the lowest heavens and this is something that feels so palpable.
I don’t have a designated workspace in this house. In our old house for a short period of time I set up a studio, it was a wonderful space and I would love to make something like that here but there really isn’t room so I just look at the pictures and remember it.
I feel a fierceness now that is willing to protect the aspects of life that I find essential and nothing can stand in the way. I will not live in dullness anymore. I know that most of the shadows we face in life are from our own selves, I don’t blame anyone for what I have or haven’t done with my life, every choice has been my own.
What matters to me now is God, family, art and womanhood…
And all of these things I am exploring are like wonderful lights in an otherwise un signposted wilderness.
I wrote this sentence today and so much of the life I feel buzzing within me is part of this realisation, I will not pander to patriarchy anymore, no matter the consequences, no matter the potential loss. Various people will make such a sentence far more reductive than it is. I am not talking solely about Islamic patriarchy but so much more broadly. And it is not contemporary Feminism where I find the answers.
These buzzwords are loaded, they cramn us into niches and often convey a limited vision. But such is language and we have to use what is at our disposal.
I am happy, there is potential swelling all around me.
Alhamdulillah ya Raheem!
I need time in the mornings to wake up and to be able to focus on mothering, I am slow to wake up to the world. Generally I wake up to my mind, filled with the ideas and thoughts that occupy my own journeying through faith and seeking meaning in life. I generally don’t wake up thinking about practical things. And I am grateful that at this stage in my life I don’t need to, I can entertain my own idiosyncrasies and I don’t feel pressured to be ‘normal’. So generally we all get up to take my oldest daughter to school and then we come home, the kids make themselves some kind of breakfast and I drink tea or coffee and check things online and then empty my mind of it’s clutter. I usually write something and this brings a kind of tabula rasa to my day. The kids can play outside now it is Summer. Then at around 11am we all gather together at the kitchen table. By then they have used up some physical energy and I have been able to focus and start thinking about facilitating homeschooling. I don’t think at this stage we are going to be Unschoolers, there are things that I do want to teach them formally.
I have decided to maintain this blog as both a kind of visual record but also a way of documenting a journey towards what I hope will start to fall into place in a much more coherent way than it is now.
We are using Oak Meadow and Earthschooling as main syllabus resources basically because that is what I have now but I can’t see us sticking to a solely Waldorf curriculum. I love it but there’s a preciousness with it also that doesn’t rest well with me. And my children too are far too flexible or perhaps wild. When working with making E’s and F’s out of icy pole sticks, HH wants to also make an i and an L, she draws through her beautiful large blue workbook with enormous squiggles and shapes using sharp edged crayons, we are never going to be restrained by method. I am also teaching her to read because she seems ready and whilst I don’t want to encourage too much academics and force her into that part of her mind it seems foolish to not run with her interests. I am looking into using some Charlotte Mason resources too.
We are also using Fitzroy Readers.
Both M and H need to practise their cursive writing, M is really just beginning to learn so I need to find some easy worksheets. I am also starting dictation so they can improve their spelling and handwriting. We are continuing to read aloud from Little House in the Big Woods. H is studying Ancient Indian history. We have started reading the Ramayana and I am thinking of making some shadow puppets with the kids, we watched a few Youtube video’s telling the story in a way that makes it easy for children to understand.
Twice a week we are visiting a friend who is doing some childcare for me and also helping the kids with some maths. This gives me time to hopefully do some planning, some organising and attend any personal appointments. This week I organised our homeschooling space/kitchen.
Of course several days later it no longer looks anything like this but it was pleasant while it lasted!
When we homeschooled previously we attended a homeschooling group with a private tutor three days a week for around four hours at a time. It was like a homeschooling co op with lots of parental involvement. It mean’t that I wasn’t shouldering the total responsibility for the children’s education. We covered all the curriculum area’s on the group days so the time we spent at home together was entirely unschooled.
So whilst we have homeschooled before it was not the same as it is now. I am learning how to facilitate their learning as I go along. I am new to Waldorf despite having been interested in it for years. I find that working with a Waldorf curriculum stirs up all my perfectionist tendencies and it often feels like it will never be manageable. On the days my boys just don’t want to write and our workbooks look nothing like the gorgeous images we look at online, I have to really hold off from being goal orientated and working towards a finished product, the process is what is important. I have to learn some of the skills such as form drawing and using crayons and watercolours before I teach the children. Waldorf is so precise with it’s use of materials at different developmental stages which probably works in a school setting but is less easy to achieve when at home with children of multiple ages. If my six year old wants to use coloured pencils then I let her do so! We are very slowly developing the beginning of a rhythm. Because I have three children in different grades I am trying to spend time working with each one of them rather than all sitting together as a group.
Some things we have done over the last few days –
leaf painting for the beginning of Spring, we gathered leaves from our lemon tree and printed with them using watercolours.
Stories from Hay for my Ox, Lily and the Princess, Little House in the Big Woods, First Aid for Fairies (Fabled Beast Chronicles)
projects from the Oak Meadow and Earthschooling curriculums (Ancient Hebrews (Tower of Babel) and Ancient India (Indus Valley)
M and HH love circle time even if we just recite a verse without lighting a candle and I make the movements up as we go along. HH generally does not want to follow the lesson plans I present to her. Today she practised all her alphabet instead of focusing on a single letter and when I caught her making an enormous scribble in the first page of her brand new lesson book and asked her not to do it she looked dismayed and explained to me that it wasn’t a scribble at all but a house being blown away by a stormy cloud! She then narrated a story to me about her house as she drew the pictures. It is this kind of creativity that attracts me to the Waldorf philosophy in the first place and I think we need to find a balance between improvising and following a more disciplined/rigid approach.
Waldorf blogs always look so perfect, this is not our reality. We have days that are filled with both productivity and some moments of great learning and also squabbling and noise and mess. But it’s a beginning.
Finally it feels like Spring is really here! I am even sunburnt after spending the first real day in the garden after what feels like months.
I ordered some new books recently including Sally Fallon’s Nourishing Traditions which I have seen referred to so many times. I am slowly trying to organise the house for our homeschooling. As usual when pregnant, the energy levels just aren’t there and I find myself getting frustrated with mess and grot. But I am really trying to prioritise things well this pregnancy and to not put energy into tasks that just require repeating over and over again, it is more sensible to just deal with the clutter and conserve energy.
I always find being pregnant a volatile time when we are truly at the mercy of our hormonal fluctuations yet as the years have passed and I have had several children I have learned to be far more patient with the process. I know what to expect, I’ve kind of relaxed into it. At four months I already look six months pregnant, it surprises me when I remind myself that I am now forty, it doesn’t feel uncomfortable to be carrying another child. It feels exciting and I am grateful.
I am really happy with my life. I am happy to be at home with the children, I am happy not to have a career. It has been a struggle to deal with going against the norm and societal expectations, a struggle as those expectations have played out in my own psychology and I have internalised the messages that this life at home is failure, a struggle recognising that I will resist all idea’s of perfection, domestic or career wise. I see these pressures as nooses we place around the necks of women. I am tired of it all. There is something within me that feels this home life and this birthing and raising of children to be so innate, we Muslims could call it fitra. And this is not to criticise women who choose otherwise but I know this is right for me.
And yet I refuse to do it within the standard patriarchal package with all the unrealistic and often brutal expectations. These are the things that have turned women away from homemaking. When I read pedagogical philosophies I recognise that part of the motivation I have for this role is a desire to nurture something hidden in myself, to mother myself as the mother. I am learning as I go along to give to myself what I hope to give to my children, this wholeness that is so lost in our modern age. This is not a war between men and women but we women have to have the courage to resist patriarchy in order to raise our sons and daughters in a new paradigm that creates wholeness for all. I think even men within patriarchy are only half men detached from their own selves. But I am suspicious of modern feminisms which rarely seem to me to cultivate wholeness.
I have been challenged over the years by things I would never have imagined being part of my life to the point where at times it felt like falling into someone else’s dream (or at times a nightmare) and yet I am more grateful for these experiences than not, I would not ask not to have had them because they have changed me so profoundly and they have helped develop the beginnings of something very settled within me, something strong but a strength that I carry that is gifted and not of my own doing. And I guess the strength is faith. What I do with it, how I act upon it always feels like a failure but if I pare it back to that original feeling, it is one of contentment and trust.
Today I have a couple of hours without children at home, the sun is shining, my beautiful friend made me some sage tea and this combination of her good company and sage – the chilled out tea has found the morning floating now into the most peaceful afternoon. I am feeling the first fluttering of kicks from this little boy or girl that I carry in my tummy and everything feels perfectly as it should be, nothing is out of place.
I think this is the challenge for the person of multiple worlds to find this peacefulness beyond the cerebral maze and clashing of identities. Homecoming is the point of exile and whilst I know I am not Home, I am tickled by the delight of it’s promise in the warm Spring breeze. Today I feel connected to Life, the life growing inside of me, the life in this beautiful creation.
I think I will go and buy a chicken and make bone broth and into the slow cooker I will put all this trust, this connecting with my own vulnerability that opens into such a beautiful ease. When our life moves into places of such unfamiliarity the temptation is to run to the norms and wear them like a coat of armour. But I am doing something different and today I can feel the sun on my skin. I can see my fears dancing like shadow puppets pulled by my own imagination, not quite ready to cut the string I let them dance but they are far away from me.
These hours are the nourishment that will enable me to nourish. As mothers we are conductors of energy, through our connecting to Source we connect our households. Today I am connected so I’m writing these words to remind myself during the times of distance and contraction. Everything passes, this will pass also. There will be days of tears and overwhelming. I am well rehearsed in exhaustion, I anticipate the last three months of pregnancy when in fullness I become a vessel capable of little more than incubating life, I anticipate the flooding emotion of post-partum, the rawness of body, soul and person laid bare and pushed to the limits. This is motherhood, this is the contemporary reality. I no longer fear it .
What blocks us from connecting to God/Reality/Universe? What idea’s, terms, theologies, psychologies have we turned into idols? How do we find what is natural within us without making it an identity of gender, race, religion?
My knowing is embodied not in words. The grounding earthing power of pregnancy, what a gift! Allahu akbar ( God is Great!)
When we first started homeschooling again and I asked H what he wanted to start with he said he wanted to learn about the First World War. I have to admit I really struggle with his interest in wars and weapons but I’ve realised his fascination with competition is simply innate. Superficially reading the Waldorf curriculum I have noticed that it comes up with developmentally appropriate means of stimulating this fascination with conflict and I hope we can pursue some of the themes relevant to his age group later on. But for the time being I went with his suggestion and we started to investigate the causes of the war.
I find that whilst he is really happy to discuss things for quite some time, there is a real resistance to doing anything like compiling points or lists or any of the methods we usually use to retain information yet I think pushing such forced academics would be really counter-productive. It makes me realise just how regimented we have been taught to be with our learning and it’s hard to step outside of this mold and recognise that learning can occur without taking these steps.
The main point I think H took away about the war was how it escalated from a series of events impacting only a couple of countries into something impacting a good proportion of the world.