Donni : Welcome Melisa, it’s always inspiring to find out more about the people we love online. Can you tell us about yourself, your family, your pets and where you live.
Sure! We are a big bunch. Erik and I have five children, ages 1 to 15. Harry is 15, Jake is 13, Ellie is 11, Sam is almost 6, and Sariah will turn one on Earth Day. We laugh that we’ve got our feet firmly planted in each of the three childhood 7-yr cycles.
There is never a dull moment in the Nielsen house. While we live in cultivated peace now, it hasn’t always been that way. Like many families today, we are blended. My older three are from my first marriage and while we had some good co-parenting times in that situation, we have also had some very bad ones. Our struggle was to lovingly bring that peace and hold the space while the children were working through some pretty tough things. We are in such a good place for the last few years and everyone is doing well – we all have bumps in the road, but overall life is WONDERFUL. Last fall we moved house from Idaho to Utah and have been enjoying it so much. We have a nice spot in the city with plenty of room to roam, I couldn’t ask for more right now. It is just what we need.
Pets… we’ve got a rascally cat, Sunbun, he appears in some of our DVDs and on some podcasts. Sunbun and I have an interesting relationship as he is a perpetual line stepper which makes the more choleric parts of me bristle. He is a good cat with crazy old man energy, LOL. We have a bunny too, Mohinder. (I named him while we were studying India a few years ago with Jake.) We’ll likely get hens again this season as we miss the fresh eggs and the cute spirits hens bring to the yard.
About me… I was raised with many Waldorf ideals. I lived in Germany as a child and my mother picked up many customs that carried through my childhood and into my parenting and alignment with Waldorf. I have always homeschooled. With the exception of exploring all the options when Harry was about age 4, we have always been a Steiner homeschool. Once I fully understood what was behind the method – this coming together of our spiritual aspects with our earthly needs – once I grasped it all, there was no turning back. I have found that you don’t have to agree with everything Steiner said in order to find this method works. There is no denying what he saw in children and how it plays out through the years. I am a very big advocate for Waldorf and would love to see it cross into the mainstream more.
Donni : I’d like to know all about Waldorf Essentials. I know you have exciting new projects on the go… what are they and how can we get involved?
We started out almost five years ago as A Little Garden Flower, in fact our curriculum is often referred to as ALGF. We found that a lot of people had trouble finding us so a few years back we adopted the name Waldorf Essentials. We are migrating over to that name entirely so it is easier for everyone to find us.
Our aim has always been to focus on what is essential. If I could impart anything to those coming to Waldorf it would be to learn the foundation – the essentials before getting caught up in the fluff. Last year I kept getting a spiritual prompting about there needing to be more of the foundational work of Waldorf with moms. I worked with moms month in and month out and helped them one by one, but I felt like there should be a bigger commitment. Moms needed a teacher training program that gave them the foundational skills to then move forward in confidence.
I noticed that the will forces of moms were really wearing thin – just being part of our modern culture does it to everyone to some extent and I wanted a way to really help. Thinking Feeling Willing was born from that prompting. I have taken my 12+ years of Waldorf homeschooling experience and coupled it with my long time direct study of Steiner’s work and also what I brought from the other parts of my life (midwifery & lactation studies, spiritual quests, my childhood, etc.) and I put them together in a program that I think is pretty amazing. We have gotten such wonderful reviews on it. The program works with the foundations of Waldorf – understanding what is behind it, how to teach at home, all of the artistic aspects of it as well as the MOM element of HOW? We have also included our new second edition of Kindergarten for those that need it.
The program is full of handwork (2-4 projects a month), circle time (completely laid out for each month WITH mp3 & video instruction for the movements and melodies), recipes for each week and so much more. The lessons we have for mom are fantastic. I LOVE this program I think as much as our participants do. It is renewing in me the things that make me so excited about this way of life.
We do have other things going on… so many things in the works. Of course we are working on revisions of our 4th-6th grades. Those are in the works. I mentioned above we are working on our second edition of kindergarten which includes a huge amount of early childhood work in it. We are working on our free eBook on middle school, beginning with 7th grade. We have a lot of other things going on too – new books that I am not quite ready to chat about just yet, but sign up for our newsletter and you’ll get updates.
Donni :Please tell us the story of how you came to Waldorf? And then how you came to this place of helping homeschooling families with their Waldorf Curriculums.
I mentioned above that I have always had a foundation that was Waldorf centered. I remember lantern walks and harvest celebrations and we were very low media in my childhood home. That made coming to Waldorf as a parent really easy. In the days that I was researching homeschool, I had my then infant, busy, crawling Ellie at the library with me. I was looking at books and she pulled a book off the shelf that changed my life. It was Betty Jones’ now out of print book, “A Child’s Seasonal Treasury”. It was a homecoming for me. My research was over, I knew the direction we were going in. From there I just started learning and building. I attended conferences when I could. Back then, there were not many resources and the internet in many ways was still very young. After I had been at it for a while, I had moms emailing me for help with their journey. Then, just over five years ago, we put together our first book, the first edition kindergarten. Before long Erik was able to leave his job as a reporter and work at home with us full time. That was four years ago.
I love what I do. Each family we work with has a special place in my heart. With our new program, we have gone from working with a few dozen each year to hundreds and I am so amazed at the power behind the women – these mothers are FANTASTIC! They are working so hard to bring peace and beauty to their children. We have moms with tiny children, moms with teens coming to Waldorf, moms with one child and moms with ten. I enjoy them all! We have participants all over the globe and that excites me too! We are working on so many things to really make this accessible to all who desire it. We have families in France, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Belgium, Japan, Philippines – I know I am forgetting some! Each day is a great geography lesson for my children! Each night at dinner, we give thanks and praise for all the families that find our work. This is a family endeavor – although the children still find it odd that people like to listen to me!
Donni : What are your favorite aspects of Waldorf Education. What do you think are the most challenging?
This is a tough question! Each year I think “this is my favorite” but then I look at the lessons from my other children and think those are my favorite. If I stand back and look at the whole, down to the parts, I would say that my favorite aspect is the way the curriculum is laid out. It meets the child exactly where they are. I have observed it again and again in my children and in those families that I work with. The stories are perfect and I love the way the history meets them at each stage in their second cycle development and beyond. I have watched 12 year old’s act like Roman soldiers and 14 year old’s demand revolution about television watching. I have watched the behavior of an 8 year old transform after hearing the right fable and the eyes of a first grader be transfixed on their mother as they hear a fairy tale for the first time. It is all so magical.
I think the most challenging aspects of Waldorf are two fold. US. We are the first part. We often tend to stand in our own way. We struggle to just be open and let the Spirit IN. This comes in so many forms because we are all so different – yet so much the same. We all come with poo from our past that likes to present itself as fear, frustration or feelings of being inadequate. Then, the second part comes when we hop online and look at awesome blogs (like this one) and because we don’t fully understand the foundation of Waldorf or haven’t fully worked through that poo, we get to feeling down about our own ability to do it all. What we don’t fully realize is that we do NOT have to do it all. I have been down on blog surfing in the past and I am glad to have the opportunity clarify that a bit. It isn’t blogging that I think we need to be cautious about, or even reading blogs. It is being mindful of our feelings (and of course the amount of time we spend on the computer or smart device!) How do these things make you feel? Examining these things is super important. Also, I love it when I see a beautiful Waldorf blog where the writer is REAL. She admits to messing up and not getting it right all the time. Steiner gave us permission to not always be perfect. He said we would feel awkward in our work – this isn’t supposed to be easy! This is a full training of our will in so many ways. I am often asked if I keep a personal blog, I do, you can access it through the “About Us” section of our website.
I will always maintain, that while this road isn’t easy, it will help us in our roles as mothers and help meets – IF we let it. We have to get out of our own way.
Donni : There are some amazing statistics out there on how rapidly homeschooling is growing. Apparently, the US homeschooling community is as large, in numbers, as the Los Angeles Unified School District. Why do you think so many families are choosing to homeschool their children?
I am personally noticing that many cultures are coming to homeschooling. What seemed confined to a few pockets ten years ago, is now gaining more and more support across cultures. I am seeing that in our surge of international families and even those homeschooling in countries where it appears to be illegal, they are finding a way. If I am seeing this with Waldorf homeschooling, then I am sure all methods are seeing a rise. I do think so much has to do with the public school experience. While it isn’t bad for everyone, and of course some children find a way to thrive, it isn’t the experience most of us remember.
I think a lot of families are homeschooling special needs children because they don’t like the options they have in the mainstream. Some children are only slightly on the spectrum and that takes many options for special care away. I find so many mothers working to help their special needs children in a loving way. As one of these moms myself, I know the rewards and the pain that comes with walking this path. It can feel so lonely sometimes.
What does it come down to? I think it is a call to parenting. It makes me think of Steiner’s thoughts on children understanding the proper role of authority in their lives. We have to bridge the gap between being the sweet, gentle (but firm) parent in the first seven year cycle, to being the caring, empathetic yet firm parent in the second and third cycle. It isn’t an easy task. It is something Waldorf I believe does well, but bringing that to the mainstream is much harder in our culture of entitlement. Teachers and parents have their hands full.
Donni : I also think that just as many families would like to homeschool their children but are afraid. What do you think their fears are and what how would you address each one?
I think there are several things that families fear… I think a lot of it comes down to their belief that they can do it. I spend a lot of time working with moms on confidence. Either they didn’t do well in school or they don’t have a supportive family, once they get confident then they soar. I also talk to husbands and doubting mother-in-laws (as well as a few lawyers and a judge or two) when needed. I aim to give Mom all the tools she needs to emotionally and academically get busy with this task.
I think worrying that their children can compete with a Waldorf homeschool education is also on the minds of many parents – to the point of them not honoring Steiner’s schedule, only to come back to it down the road. Steiner’s work is golden if implemented properly. I have been simply amazed at the children that I have seen go on from home with a Waldorf home education. It is amazing. In looking at my own children compared to their peers that don’t homeschool, I find such a difference. It isn’t just a difference in the wordly nature of things, but in what they value, those values carry over into their school work.
Donni : Can you tell us what kind of help families who come to Waldorf Essentials will get from you?
We work on so many things. We are the only consultants that actively help families understand Spirit and how it relates to their homeschooling experience. We go beyond recommending inner work to helping families implement it, beginning with Mom. We work with families across the spectrum – big families and small, lots of experience and none, special needs children (our oldest is ASD so we know all about everyday lives that revolve around special diets and rhythm with the rhythmless!) We really have families that are all over the place… all over the world, from all faiths – this work transcends. I am so honored to walk this path with everyone, being a mentor is my pleasure.
Donni : What is your favorite food?
Oh dear. Really? That is tough. Cadbury’s Wunderbar for my sweets for sure! I don’t get those often though. My weekly indulgence is actually part of my Italian ethnicity. I could eat Parmesan cheese by the slice all day. Oh and hummus… love hummus – it must be full of garlic.
Donni : What is you dream for the future?
Currently our dreams are for healthy happy children to grow up and lead healthy happy lives of their own – I suppose that is long term! Short term, we love to travel, we haven’t done much this year since Sariah was a preemie and so tiny for so long – she’s strong and full of will though so we’ll be picking up our travels again soon. We have a large tour of cities planned for the eastern US this fall and we are hoping to head to the beach in Santa Monica here in a few weeks… we all miss the ocean.
That all being said… my real dream would be for this education to be understood by more, accepted by the mainstream and to see childhood honored the way it should be. To have more peace and less strife in the lives of all those we work with and those that haven’t found us yet. I love being part of this. It fills my heart with joy.
Thanks Melisa :-)
Melisa is offering this lovely yarn and knitted, child sized, back pack PLUS a $15 gift certificate to her shop.
This wonderful Giveaway has been won by Andrea of Ziezo… congrats Andrea and thank you Melisa :-)