Homeschool Planning, And An Honest Review of Christopherous Curriculum


This has been so occupying my waking thoughts and life (and also sometimes my dreams), almost all I have been able to think about since getting home was this fall’s homeschooling.  Second grade, fifth grade, and now turning three, Clothilde will be old enough for something to keep her occupied.  A challenge.  I have been drifting around in the clouds of trickster tales, animal legends, stories of saints and heroes, ancient mythology, decimals, and botany.

It’s exciting to have a challenging project to work on, but it is not healthy for us.  Everyone is so freaking needy all the time.  The laundry is piling up, the clutter on the coffee table is getting dangerous, Ethan’s used coffee cups are stacking up….no one can do anything for themselves, and with me in la-la land, it’s a disaster.  Big kids alternately fighting and whining, Clothilde being a danger to herself and others on the new pink tricycle.  Things are not usually this fractious.

Ethan gave me a pathetic look when I opened my copy of the Ramayana to peruse through on the ride to the farm (one of the few times during the day when Clothilde is safely restrained in her carseat and no one is climbing on me – I can tune out the screaming and fighting in the back seat and focus for once).  I said, “What?” and he said, “Aren’t you going to talk to me?”  He said he felt like he was single since I started planning homeschool.

I said, “Oh no, not you, too.”

It’s hard to be needed so much, although Clothilde informed me last week that she is NOT my baby – she belongs only to the boobies.

I am about to go into detail about homeschool, and if you’re like anyone else in my family, that will inspire you to groan and stop reading.  Just a warning.

I tend to be on the “very organized” side of homeschooling.  It didn’t start out that way.  I have been judged heavily by unschooling parents for this, but I have found it easier to pass our homeschool evaluation every year when I have everything documented and written down.  (I really don’t know how they manage, but they were from North Carolina where the laws are different).  Every summer I plan out the homeschooling schedule for every day of our school year.  It is immpeccably documented, so there can be no question about not doing “enough.”

I have every year invested in the Christopherus curriculum, a Waldorf-inspired curriculum for homeschoolers, except this year I am skipping buying the fifth grade one and am creating my own.

The things I really like about this curriculum:  

The helpful “don’t panic” advice for schooling multiple children of different ages, the kind tone of the materials, the active math suggestions, the Stories of Wonder, the schedules to get me started, the inspiring excerpts from Steiner and other visionaries of education (it was a great, gentle beginning to Waldorf education), the creative approach, the songs and games.

I am not buying a fifth grade curriculum this year, but am working to create my own because:

-They hiked up their prices again, and I think it is already very expensive, especially the way they mark up the math workbook materials so much.

-The amount that is packed in to just a few days can be very overwhelming – for example, the study of Egypt, Babylon, India and Persia is only four weeks (only one week per culture).  Then they rush on to Greek Myths.  I just don’t feel like we can really deeply enjoy the ancient mythology in that short of time.  If there was one thing I could choose about Waldorf that really annoys me, it’s the shallow understanding of different cultures. (I have personally heard an emminent Waldorf-education speaker steriotypically catigorize all the native cultures of both North and South America as if they were one and the same!).

Also, because Greek myths and Geometry are taught at the same time, and I know Mirin will not be ready to breeze through that, we are saving that for next year.  This will allow us to really sink in and enjoy the ancient myths, and allow for him to really grasp all the math he learned in earlier years, fractions and decimals, long division.  I know he will need more than three or four weeks to work on all that.

A few other things that have bothered me about Christopherus:

-The curriculums also have many spelling/grammatical errors that I am always noticing as I read through them.

-I really don’t like a lot of the stories that are selected for their materials, or the writing tone they are written in.

-It is very Christian, although that is also part of just Waldorf stuff. (it is “Christopherus” or Christ-bearing, after all)

-When I first turned to Christopherus, Clothilde was about to be born, and feeling daunted by doing Kindergarten for Rose and Second Grade for Mirin, I wanted something that would just tell me what to do every day because I knew I wouldn’t be able to even think about it.  I was very disappointed that Christopherus didn’t do that, and it was very stressful the first year (but now that she is older, I appreciate the flexibility of the materials – it just wasn’t what I was expecting).

-That first year I didn’t have much time to go through everything before the school year began, and I felt like we should get started.  I just read the stories how they were presented in the Animal Legends and Saints and Heroes lesson books, and Mirin didn’t like them very much.  The story of Rabia, for example, talks about how holy she was and how she hardly ate and slept with a rock for a pillow.  This is the high point of her story.  Mirin burst out, “That sounds horrible!” and I had to laugh and agree with him.  St. Basil was really the only story I enjoyed very much.

For Second Grade this year I am only using the barest suggestions from the curriculum – mostly the math ideas and the schedule.  I also used one trickster tale Christopherus provided.

Inspired by my working-single-mama-and-Waldorf-homeschooling friend Jean, I researched different saints and heroes on my own.  I wanted it to show some strong female characters, rather than the male-dominated booklet the curriculum provides.  I found the book The Giant at the Ford by Ursula Synge to be a good resource, although I ended up only using the story of St. Christopher.  The stories are written in a heart-felt, inspiring style, unlike the disappointing Stories of the Saints book that was so highly reccommended by the curriculum.  While it has lots of stories, I really didn’t like the style in which they were told, and so many were about the “good” work of furthering the power and control of the church in Europe, which was such a historically negative thing, I could hardly read them.

The Saints and Heroes (or Heroines, actually) I chose for us were:

Liu San Mei the Maiden of Songs, St. Christopher, The Legend of Lucia Zenteno (a lovely story), St. Martin (and I based my story on the one given in the Christopherus first grade curriculum – I really liked it, although I made a few stylistic changes), Granuaile the Queen of the Seas, St. Odilia, Wacu and the Eagle, and Brigit (the goddess, not the saint).  I like that they are from all different places and situations, and St. Odilia was from Alsace, where we visited in France (besides being a wonderful father/daughter story).

My old copy of Fearless Girls, Wise Women and Faithful Sisters was invaluable.  I also was pleased to discover a book called The Cow-Tail Switch of wonderful West African stories on my bookshelf.  I have no idea where it came from, but it was there for a really long time.  Another great book I discovered I owned, Beat the Story Drum of Nigerian folk tales offered some good animal legends.

I bought a copy of Jakata Tales and was disappointed to find most of them really heavily promoted vegetarianism (I found several very nice stories, though).  I was also burned by a purchase of The Barefoot Book of Trickster Tales.  Despite the glowing reviews, I didn’t like a single one (ok, maybe I am just really picky).

For Fifth Grade I am turning to Jamie York’s Making Math Meaningful to help plan our math lessons.  I have found the suggestions very similar to the Christopherus curriculum’s for each grade, and there are even more ideas in Jamie York’s book.  To go along with the Ancient Mythology block, I am getting Count Like an Egyptian and Claudia Zaslavsky’s book Math Games from Around the World.  I have found including math games to be very motivational for actual math practice, something that has been difficult at home for us.  It’s a totally different dynamic than a bunch of kids at school all sitting down to worksheets together.  Besides the obvious practice benefits, it will tie in nicely with our Ancient Mythology blocks.

Ancient Mythology is essentially our Language Arts for 5th grade this year.  There are four different cultures:  Ancient Egypt, Babylon, Persia and India, and I am using the same time blocks as the second grade Language Arts to make my life easier.  For Babylon we read Gilgamesh the Hero (keeping the Jakata Tales in mind, I checked it out at the library first, to make sure we liked it.  It’s great).  I found some amazing ancient Mesopotamian recipes (like from excavated clay tablets, but adapted for the modern cook) here.  And there’s a fun cunieform resource here.

India is next, corresponding to the Saints and Heroes block.  We read a children’s version of the Ramayana, stories of Krishna and Ganesh, the tale of Savitri.  I am waiting on a copy of Shower of Gold to find some other female-centered stories (to balance out all the warrior stories).  We will end with the story of Prince Siddhartha (I really like this version as a kid’s version).

These are not stories I am familiar with, and I am in love with their incredible heroes, gods and monsters.  For working with this block (in addition to writing summaries of the stories in an illustrated Main Lesson Book), we will work with yoga, Mehndi, Batik, and Indian cooking.

Egypt is next, and I really like the books suggested by Christopherus:  Voices of Ancient Egypt and Tales of Ancient Egypt.  For this block we are going to attempt making paper.  I have an ancient set of Fun With Heiroglyphics from when I was a kid (good, because aparently the new sets are crummy and cheaply made) we were going to get out.  We are going to skip the commonly suggested on the internet mummy-making Egypt activity.  It’s kind of weird to wrap rubber chickens in toilet paper, and honestly it’s not the most exciting part of their culture anyway.  (It’s interesting to note that many of the homeschooling Egypt resources also tie in with Biblical quotes about Egypt – I find that amusing.  It’s like the Roman accounts of the Gauls).

Last is Persia, and I am still planning this block.

Science for 5th grade is Botany.  After reading a bit about Charles Kovacs’ book, I am skipping it and getting out my books by Stephen Harrod Buhner.  I think he “gets” plants better than anyone else I know of.  It isn’t Waldorf like Kovacs, but the understanding and depth and world-view is so much better.

This block is still in the works, but ideas are:

Daily plant journal (what’s blooming, what’s ripe, what’s dying, what’s new)

Own garden plot/helping with seed starting/ seed saving (lots of botany here)

A Plant Family book

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