Why the Tree of Life?


How's and Why's

I've been asked to share a little bit about why and how my homeschooling approach has shifted. I'm not sure I can keep it in a nutshell, so for those uninterested in the nuts and bolts of what I'm doing, please consider this a warning that your eyes may glaze over and feel free to skip this post. This is going to be ridiculously long. In fact, the commenter may give up before she reaches the end. :)

Enki is a holistic method in the sense that it takes into consideration not only the mind (which is what conventional and "classical" education focuses on pretty much exclusively) but also the heart and the body. (Waldorf and Montessori are also holistic). Most homeschoolers are "holistic" by default, in one sense I think, because as parents, we have our eye on the whole child all the time anyway. We look to their physical and emotional (character) health, as well as the development of their minds.

But Enki means holistic slightly differently. In Enki, new material is brought to the student through "all" the doorways: body, heart and mind (among others). So for example, say for math, you would tap and clap in appropriate rhythms the multiplication tables (for putting it into the body), hear a story in which the energy of the mathematical relationship is at play (and it will mirror where the child is developmentally--so this addresses the heart level), and then, after working with manipulatives and games for a good while, and letting a good amount of literal sleep play a role in making brain connections, then you bring pencil to paper to work math problems. So, there is this foundation of body and heart elements; movement, story and games, that comes before any real mental output. And "discovery learning" plays a huge role in Enki. The student is not told things directly and is left to discover things for themselves as much as possible.

Enki also has something called the "Enki Web" which is used as a tool to guide the teacher in picking appropriate topics, materials, whatever, to bring to the student. I just tried to cut and paste a picture of it, but it didn't work. That's probably for the best, since I don't want to run into copyright issues. Anyway, I'll try to describe it, because the Web *is* Enki. There's no way to stress that enough.

Imagine a large outer circle and a smaller inner circle. The large outer circle is labeled "Community & Family." The smaller inner circle is labeled "Vitality & Wisdom." Between these two circle are connection "web" lines, each labeled. It really looks like a web or a mandala. It's very pretty actually. The different lines are:
Activity of Learning
Teacher Health
Adult Models
Essential Energy
Unity & Diversity
Body, Heart & Mind
Developmental Mirror

Each of these items could have (and do have) pages and pages written about them, and it is a very useful tool for the teacher/parent. All of the materials that Enki Education sells have been "taken through" this Web and meet all the criteria it entails.

Having worked with Enki for five years now, I can safely say that it is a complete paradigm shift. It requires a lot of work to implement. In many ways, that extra work is well worth it. But after taking a class on the Web last summer and ruminating on my own experiences, I have come to several different conclusions.

#1: Not only Enki, but every educational method, theology, political/economic philosophy, etc... they all have their own "webs" and they are all different. In my home, with my children, Enki's Web isn't working out so well for me. Parts of it work, but not the whole. Therefore, if I jettison the Enki Web, I'm really not "doing" Enki anymore. Which is ok. As a homeschooler, I think I ultimately have to make my own "web." I'm not sure you can get around that.

#2 There is a big difference between working with a class and working with your own children. Enki is primarily for the classroom. It has been adapted for the homeschool, but there are so many things that would be totally awesome and amazing if you had compadres to do them with. They're not impossible to do on your own, but they become more work than I want to do. Because I am lazy.

#3 I can't make my children do things they hate. They liked to do circle at Enki camp with lots of other kids (that's where all the academic and sensory movement work happens), but they dug in their heels at home. So we were skipping a huge foundation, the movement work.

#4 I was spending way more time in lesson prep than I wanted to. Practically every spare moment. And then I had no energy to follow through. And I began to feel very resentful of my uncooperative kids who would not do what I had so lovingly prepared for them. I concluded that I needed to simplify and find things that they wanted to do (because, heck, isn't that why I'm homeschooling?)--- or that I could force them to do more easily.

#5 I found Enki to make learning more complicated than it had to be, at least in our home. I'm not sure it is necessary to bring something to the student through every possible doorway. I think that makes sense in a classroom with lots of different kids and different learning styles. But it began to feel like I was medicating for problems we didn't have, if that makes sense. The Enki approach does things in this way in order to keep all those doors open in the student and so that the student doesn't primarily become a visual learner or a kinesthetic learner to the exclusion of other learning styles. In theory, I agree with Enki, but in practice, I found it very difficult and overwhelming to implement.

#6 I began to feel really boxed in by this approach. The Enki Web is both Enki's strength and it's weakness. While it some respects it is freeing, because it is not a recipe and you have to ask the deep questions, I found it restraining because I began to realize that I had different criteria and questions. My "web" looks different and it will probably change as we go along. In fact, I don't even really want to sit down and articulate what my web is now, because I think I would just be creating another box for myself. I have a general idea of it in the back of my head, and beyond that, it is just a matter of staying present and aware of my kids and their interests, abilities and developmental stages.

#7 If Life circumstances or traveling threw us off schooling, all of my lesson plans went to pot. I just didn't find a way be flexible about it. Since it was all interconnected, it would either flow beautifully (and I would be exhausted at the end of the day) or it would all fall apart. I need everything separate and nothing contingent upon anything else. If every subject is on its own separate track, I can miss something and pick back up where we left off without dragging everything else down. I think this is a personality issue on my part. Perfectionism probably. This is not an inherent weakness in Enki.

So, what have we shifted to?

Language Arts:
I found Enki to be Incidental Phonics in orientation. I am actually a pure and direct phonics girl. This was a lack of understanding on my part going into Enki. They're actually very clear about it, but I didn't understand the difference enough. But now I do. I found Enki's approach to language arts (reading instruction, handwriting and spelling) akin to throwing my kids in the deep end and letting them figure it out. In some ways, this is not a fair statement, but this was my kids' experience with it, and I watched my oldest's interest in reading and self-confidence wither away to nothing. Other families have had wonderful results, and I want to be clear about that, but I finally pulled out my copy of The Ordinary Parent's Guide to Teaching Reading and haven't looked back. They don't necessarily like it any better than the Enki way, but they're reading. And really, I picked Enki because I thought learning would be more enjoyable for them... but if they're hating it... what's the point then if I find it an inefficient method of instruction to boot.

I really like the Enki way of introducing math concepts. We're definitely sticking with that. I was on the fence about ordering Enki Grade 3, but I ordered yesterday. I decided there was enough that I could still use. Let's hope I'm right. But rather than Enki being a foundation, I'm going to use it more as a support. Kirven is now doing the Teaching Textbook 3, and whenever we do the Enki math stuff, it will be more as an illustrative review. So, to say "introducing" math concepts is a little misleading in how we'll use it, but I think the stories and activities make good connections in understanding.

I love Enki's approach to other cultures and the acknowledgment of inherent wisdom in all people. They're serious about it and deep and respectful. And it is not multicultural in a white guilt or Disney-esque sort of way. But the kids are also enjoying The Story of the World, which does not fit in with the Enki developmental mirror. It is my understanding that that sort of study of history would come later. But, we're going to do both. In Grade 3, everything is unit studies based, and I actually hate unit studies, so I will be breaking it all apart, I believe. We'll do what interests us, and I'm not going to sweat the rest. There are some really massive projects (build a Haudenosaunee long house---really cool, but, um, where?) that would be awesome with a class, but much more than I want to do. I get heart palpitations just thinking about the farming blocks that go along with the culture in focus. As Evan said, "why don't you learn how to garden in our own climate first." The boys have been known to plead on behalf of the plants I want to buy in order not to bring them home to our house of death. Enough said.

There's not much to Enki's approach to science in grade 1 & 2. Until Grade 3, it has been nature walks and nature stories. My boys are totally into robots and space and Mythbusters and Maker Faire and Instructables and The Elements and blowing things up. Enki science has been too lightweight for them. Everything is to remain in the realm of discovery learning, and it is best to give evasive answers to questions; answers such as "Hmm... I wonder..." And while we do do this a lot, there are a lot of times when the boys want meaty discussions about how the space shuttle works or why helium makes you sound funny. I don't think kids should learn everything from their own discovery all the time. I think there is a lot of self-impowerment in that approach, but I don't think they should have to reinvent the wheel on everything.

We were strictly no media for a very long time. I am still leery of it. We will never have violent video games. In fact, if they should ever cross our threshold because I've become apathetic about that too, please take me out to pasture and shoot me. But we are watching more and more things from Netflix and Kirven is doing several things on the computer. His math work is on the computer, as is Spanish and Typing (another thing not introduced this early in Enki). He is also going to be starting beginner programming with Dad whenever Dad reads up on it (way not Enki). Through Netflix, we've been watching Diego and Dora for Spanish, David Attenborough (love him) nature shows and Mythbusters. Now that we are in the deep of Texas winter and it is bloody hot outside, the kids have been watching 1-2 hours a day. And frankly, I like the babysitter. Good god, did I just say that? I still hate our Wii and the whining and fighting it creates, but they do move a little and they enjoy it a lot. And bizarrely enough, ever since the boys saw Star Wars, their creative play has skyrocketed. They have this game called Kings Game that is a mix of Star Wars and them being supreme rulers of the universe and it ranges all over the house and into the car and continues on in the grocery store, back into the car and then the house and they can play that for 2 or 3 hours and little bits in between. So, while I am still a total wet blanket about most media, I have my favorites and pandora's box was opened a long time ago around here. And need I mention how inspirational and educational Mythbusters is? Scientific method, problem solving, passion about science, blowing things up properly, what more can you ask for?

Geez, what else....

I think that about covers it. We're not in a box anymore, but Enki has influenced me in large and small ways, and it will continue to influence my approach. I'm still volunteering for them by writing some curriculum stories, and I enjoy that work. And I like working with Beth Sutton. I consider her a friend and a mentor. They really nail it when it comes to describing child development, and for that alone I have bought Grade 3, but I am also going to be bringing things to my kids that would be coming later (or never) in a pure Enki homeschool. It's just more interesting that way.


  1. So interesting! I love the way you articulate your thoughts and ambivalent feelings about things so clearly. Inbound several places where I was nodding in agreement, even though we don't do Enki. Thanks for bringing this post to my attention.

    If your kids like Myhbusters, they may also enjoy Popular Mehanics for Kids. DVD's are available at the library. And no cussin'! :-)

  2. Jennifer, I feel so much the same way. We had been loosely incorporating a bit here & there since Game Day. A enjoys the stories, hated the movement work (except for maybe some of the fingerplays), hated doing the beautiful artwork I loved so much, and I found much of the basis of Enki to just not mesh with us. As much as I love the idea, it's just not something I can make work without a ton of tweaking or wayyy too much effort on my part. We're also using OPGTR, and he is always asking to do more lessons from it. We'll likely take a peek at the Enki 1st grade math stories as a supplement for our other math curricula. And of course it's super frustrating that I've spent so much money on Enki and can't officially resell the parts that don't work for us. I get the reasons behind it, but I honestly think that's a poor curriculum/business model. :/

  3. Thanks for sharing your journey. I am having some struggles with implementing Enki as well, and it's helpful to read yours. We totally jived with it for k, g1 and g2, but g3 was a bust for us this year. I appreciate your insight about how it's designed for a classroom and adapted to homeschooling. SOmetimes that adaptation just can't quite work. But, yeah, I'm with you on the value of the child development insights.

  4. It's good to hear from you, Jana and Stacey. I'm glad to hear of your experiences, too.

  5. Jen, I posted yesterday but I must have done something wrong since I don't see it now. Ugh, so the mommy brain goes. I'll try to do a recap. I'm so happy that I stumbled upon your sweet and informative blog and this post in particular. We're about to venture forth in our first attempt at homeschooling our 5.5 DS this Fall and am seriously considering the Enki curriculum. He's been attending coop preschool until now and he enjoyed the nurturing environment quite a bit and was exposed to writing letters and identifying numbers. I LOVE Enki's waldorf inspired, multicultural, holistic approach but I'm having some concerns. My son sounds like your kids in that he LOVES science, building inventions and anything about space. He's pretty left brained and struggles with artistic expression and shys away from circle time activities and "performing" in general. He devours books of any kind and already writes his letters and can read a bit although fine motor skills is an area of improvement for him. The first grade number lessons seems so wonderful but he's already pretty comfortable with numbers beyond 100 and simple math functions (in his head but not on paper). You mentioned feeling challenged by the movement work and I can anticipate some resistance there. So, am I barking up the wrong tree with the Enki method? Any insight would be appreciated. Thanks for putting yourself out there. Felicia

  6. Hi Felicia,

    It's good to hear from you. I think if I could go back and start over, I would still buy Enki and use it. I found the teaching guides and the child development stuff to be invaluable. Waldorf is also strong in that area, and there are lots of Waldorf books on child development, but with Enki, you don't have to wade through the esoteric anthroposophical references. Plus, she brings in modern scholarship was well, whereas Waldorf is stuck in the 19th century.

    My second son who is doing first grade right now also went in knowing numbers and letters, but we have done short blocks on letters and numbers anyway. I think the fairy tales are a must, whether you tie them into a block or just read them some other time for fun and unattached to any "schoolwork." I could take or leave the hidden letters block, but my son did have fun finding the hidden letters we drew together. But I find the numbers block to be really magical and really full of wow's from both my sons--- it really brings across the wonder of numbers.

    The four processes stories are also really good and supportive of anything they are already bringing to it, and I highly recommend those blocks.

    The language arts blocks are just so-so to me and lacking in substance. They don't nail it quite as well (at least not for me) as the math resources do. There are plenty of Enki moms who feel the exact opposite of me, so it may be a matter of taste here.

    I also think the multicultural materials are worth the price. Having volunteered for Enki and worked with Beth Sutton, I can vouch for the mind-boggling amount of time she and other volunteers have put into the materials (current and those being developed) making sure they are accurate and respectful to the culture in focus. When possible, they have consulted family members of the sages for the sage stories of second grade, and I know they have sought out natives of specific cultures to advise and correct their work. I know of nothing out there in the homeschool market for this age group that has been so thoughtfully and carefully developed for cultural studies.

    Those are the three things that keep me coming back to purchase the next grade package of Enki. I just received my Grade 3 materials, and there is a knee-jerk reaction of overwhelm that I have to combat. Now that I know what that is and recognize it, *and* I know how our family works, I can read through the materials a little more lightly and pull out what is going to be useful for us without being dragged down by wishful thinking and regrets over the things that I just wouldn't be able to make work. I hope that makes sense.

  7. Wow, thanks for your thoughtful response. So, the number and letter blocks you are referring to are part of the kindergarten or 1st grade packages? I'm not sure which one to purchase. thanks again!

  8. All academics start in 1st grade, so for the numbers/letters blocks, you would need the Grade One package. One caveat is that the 1st grade fairy tales are targeted at a slightly older child than your 5.5 year old. They tend to be a little scary for that age, but are nourishing for a true first grader (generally). My advice would be to buy the kindergarten package because you could do letters and numbers blocks with the kindergarten stories. The kindergarten stories would be more on target for the heart connection with a 5.5 year old. I think all in all, the Grade One package would be too heavy yet for a 5.5 year old. I think you would find you would be using a much smaller percentage of Grade One right now, but I *think* you would find a larger percentage of kindergarten usable. But you would probably be shifting into 1st grade in about six months. So, on the one hand, you might get 1st grade and spend the next months reading through the materials. By the time you are done digesting Grade One, your child will be in a really good spot to start. If you can afford it, my real advice would be to buy both, because (if you were diving right in straight away) I think you would find yourself using the kindergarten stories, crafts, etc., but the Grade One instructions (just inserting the kindergarten stories in for the block stories). But that may be impractical for you.

    I'm not sure if this helps at all, but please feel free to ask me to clarify anything. Above all, don't get sucked into feeling like you have somehow missed the boat or deprived your child of something--- whatever you choose! That feeling is a common emotional hook for Enki homeschoolers. I think we've all struggled with it--- homeschoolers of any ilk, too. But this particular method is a big undertaking, and it becomes unbearable if you become rigid or a slave to it. Your starting point should be *your* child, not some outside construct (whatever that may be).

  9. Wow, we ended up in so much the same place, Jennifer. Enki will always be part of what we do, but I agree that it was developed for the classroom and has a difficult time transitioning to the small homeschool. I too ended up using OPGTR; my oldest was reading but didn't have phonics. After about 60 lessons we stopped because both boys just took off with reading, which two years of Enki language arts hadn't done for them.

    These days I'm planning grade 6 (in the curriculum although I have one in grade 7 so I meet his skill level a little differently). While I have the old Enki teacher's guide to work with I am using Live Ed for our resource library. But Enki and Waldorf math and science haven't been enough for the boys in these older grades so we also use Life of Fred and bring in other science. We started using computers in our homeschooling more often last year, using Spelling City which is the first thing really helping them learn to spell (although my phonics reading youngest is a better natural speller than my whole word oldest).

    I've never felt that I left Enki completely, and I was often reassured that I was still working within the web, but at this point I think I am most influenced by the philosophy in the foundation guides rather the actual teaching methods.


  10. Jennifer, first of all, sorry for coming to the conversation so late. I also want to thank you for being a source of inspiration for our family. We started our homeschooling journey a few years after you, and are happy to have found both the Enki approach as well as the support that you and others have been willing to share. In particular your willingness to share experiences both here and on the HF mailing lists has been most helpful.

    Having said this, I find that our family is in a similar situation with regards to Enki as yours. We have three (soon to be four) sons, the oldest is just finishing G1 and we are starting our planning for a combined G2 and K for next year, with a G3, G1, and K the next year. Overall, I find the child development aspects of Enki right on, and the three-fold development-immersion-mastery approach is, at least, aspirationaly an ideal. Our family's web does not quite map onto the Enki Web, which I suspect is typical. For one thing, I am an engineer and my wife is a marine biologist; we both find the Enki approach to science (at least in K-2) to be lacking. We are starting to incorporate Nebel's Building Foundations for Scientific Understanding into our homeschool. We find that Enki takes an unnecessarily hostile approach to science, essentially redefining science in the Enki context to be more akin to 19th century "natural philosophy." This is ironic because all of the actual scientists that I have actually met have a deep reverence for the mysteries of the cosmos (think Carl Sagan) and life (think Watson) and even mainstream science reform (cf. 8plus1science.org) reflects the kind of ecological/systems approach that Enki claims to favor (and then seems to discard as being too "disintegrating" for young children). I tend to treat science as another lens that we can use to look at the world and as a shared language and community - one of which we are a part.

    We love the stories, and movement (although we do have days of resistance). We never got into the recorder, although my son has expressed interest in learning to play the bagpipes (of all things).

    For math, we supplement with Miquon Math for now and are looking at Life of Fred and Julie Brennan's Living Math approach as well. I have a goal of being able to tackle something like Irving Adler's Groups in the New Mathematics by the time we reach sixth or seventh grade (this was supposedly the author's intended audience in 1968).

    Our oldest just completed Book B of Getty Dubay which you are also using for handwriting. We have not yet found the Enki language arts materials very engaging. Fortunately, reading seems to have come naturally to our oldest. We will see how it turns out with the younger ones.

    For us, one of the biggest issues is trying to find a way to make a multi-age homeschool environment work without parental exhaustion while still meeting the needs of each child. I think that we will continue to use Enki through the grades, but that our approach will not look very much like Beth's vision. And that is fine with me! I look forward to continue to follow your adventure and hope that we can pick up some ideas as well.