Thursday, June 11, 2009

What on Earth is Earthschooling? An Interview with Kristie Burns

Kristie Burns is an earthschooling mother of three children, ages 10, 12 and 14. Kristie works from home as a healer, artist and teacher. She ran a Waldorf Enrichment school from 2000-2004 and now provides curriculum, lesson plans and tips for other parents wanting to start their own co-ops, enrich their child's education, or embark on the earthschooling journey.

A recent report by the U.S. Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics reported that approximately 1.5 million children (2.9 percent of school-age children) were being homeschooled in the spring of 2007, representing a 36 percent relative increase since 2003 and a 74 percent relative increase since 1999. In your experience, what factors have contributed to the rise in homeschooling?

One is the amount of resources that are now available to do homeschooling. When I was homeschooling my kids 10 years ago, the resources were not the same. The Internet makes these resources so available and easily accessed and it offers encouragement. You can ask questions, gets answers, get support, get ideas, see other people doing it successfully to inspire you to do it. Another factor is that public schools have started to cooperate with homeschools and offer them programs and assistance. It has given it a sense of acceptance and a stamp of approval that way.

How can homeschools avoid a sense of isolation?

Connecting with the available resources is easy these days. It’s almost the opposite problem. Before it was isolating, but recently I did a conference on information overload. Now there are so many opportunities in your community that you have to be selective – not every field trip or event or gathering is necessary. This would not have been an issue before.

Where do I start if I want to homeschool?

Each person needs to examine what is the motivation and inspiration behind the desire to homeschool. The place to start seems to be Yahoo Groups because there are lots of central conversations and these branch off with smaller groups and forums. On the Yahoo Groups page you can find groups for homeschooling boys, secular homeschooling, Montessori homeschooling, etc. … there are so many different flavors. A lot of people join 8-10 to start and pair it down to 2 or 3 once they get a sense for the style and feel most comfortable with a few of them. Here is a link to a yahoo group that is focused on Waldorf: (

The evidence suggests that homeschooled students tend to do as well as or sometimes better than their institutionally-schooled peers and Stanford, Yale, and Harvard have some of the most homeschool-friendly policies. How are homeschooled students well prepared for college and life?

Kids really adapt to their environment and if given the opportunity to learn, they will learn. It really depends on their environment. Some schools do this well, but homeschools tend to be more flexible, more able and willing to tailor the education to meet the child’s need, and to offer free time that the child needs to access creativity and intellect. One-on-one attention matters for some children, but not as much for others. Some do better with lots of kids around to influence them and motivate them. There are all sorts of learning styles. It’s all about what the child needs and what the child is provided by their learning environment. Homeschooling offers more opportunity to adapt and you know your child best. There is no perfect approach for everyone.

How do you provide a broad, challenging, balanced curriculum?

Balance is a combination of the child and the curriculum. There is no balanced curriculum. For instance, my son thinks in numbers and was doing his sister’s math problems in Kindergarten, so he needs to balance that with more creative experiences, knitting, time in nature. My youngest daughter is significantly creative, writing 100-page books in a few days. Balance for her is about balancing that creativity with a sense of discipline, a sense of order and organization – thinking in a different way, using both sides of the brain. That’s another reason homeschooling is great is because it is easier to create a balance in the day, there is no formula for it. As for challenging, there is a wonderful side of homeschooling that is very creative and experiential, but even if you don’t like math, you really do have to do your math. If there is resistance you have to find some way to overcome that and give them a broad educational experience. That part is not as fun, but it is part of the challenge. Continue to feed those breakthroughs and know what is appropriate for each age group to be learning. It gives you an idea of what to aim for realistically.

What led you to this work?

I was a photographer and an herbalist (and still am but not full time any more). I would do photo assignments and do consulting and classes and then when my children came along the number of people coming over and frequent travel started becoming disruptive. I tried to think of what I could do that would work better with my children. I started a co-op Waldorf School, and I ended up running it. It was Waldorf enrichment and then became a Kindergarten and it kept growing. Running this school took up all of my time in the evenings to do lesson plans, creating everything from scratch. This was in the Middle East where those resources and Internet access were very limited. There were 27 different cultures, and although it was Waldorf, I adapted it to match the seasons, cultures, and settings. If I didn’t find the perfect story, I would create it. It was a lot of work. After I ended up leaving the country, I was sad to not use these materials that were meant to be used for the next 10 years. Thus began the process of putting it online, which was a huge challenge and still occupies a lot of my work hours.

How do you currently help homeschool families?

Right now I offer lesson plans, curriculum, and enrichment through the website. I love feeling like I am part of people’s homeschooling experience. I still remember vividly how hard I worked on these materials and I am always updating them and adding to them. I love that they can be of use to people so that they don’t have to be overwhelmed like I was. The material that other people offer in Waldorf is very traditional; sometimes it doesn’t resonate with people. What I offer is created for many different cultures and settings. It is more adaptable and helpful to a wider audience. I hope that showing people the diversity that Steiner built into Waldorf education will bring more people into the community.

What is earthschooling?

Because of the opportunities that are available, today’s world is all about opportunities, information, and choices. Because of that and because we move more frequently, life today is so fluid. We need another term for homeschooling. To me, earthschooling signifies the adaptability and fluidity; you are focused on the education of your child to the needs of the moment without artificial barriers. It allows you to follow the flow of life. You can make the choices about tutoring, enrichment, afterschool, lesson plans, and curriculum without some rigid model to follow. If a certain style isn’t’ working, like Waldorf’s approach to math at a certain age, it gives permission and flexibility to give your children what they need in a different educational modality. Also, it is not just at home, it is grocery shopping, on a vacation, playing in nature, etc. It doesn’t stop; it’s a natural flow of life.
For more information on earthschooling visit: or

For more information on Kristie's work in art go to: and in healing go to: or


  1. My son attends a Waldorf School in South Florida and the connection of the curriculum with who we are as part of the Universe is amazing. I am glad that I found it. The information you have provides is wonderful.

    Thanks for educating and helping other concern parents find appropriate resources.
    I just linked you on my blog! Hope you don't mind!

  2. this is fantastic. "waldorf unschoolers" just hasn't really represented us correctly, & yet this is as close as we've been able to get. "earthschooling" is so right on, & speaks for itself in ways. i'll be linking tot his on my blog, too. thanks!