A Head-Heart-Hand Approach to Learning
Waldorf educators have always recognized that a child learns best when his or her whole being – body, emotions and intellect – is actively involved in the learning process. In the grades, each day begins with a two hour Main Lesson, an in-depth exploration of a core academic subject, designed to engage the full range of the child’s capacities. A typical lesson in the lower school, for example, might incorporate story, rhythmic movement, art and the use of tangible “hands-on” materials. This imaginative, multi-sensory approach brings the subject alive for the children and allows them to become active and enthusiastic participants in their own learning.
|Waldorf Education recognizes that capacities emerge in students in developmental stages, while also allowing room for individual rates of maturation. This is the foundation for the unfolding curriculum and teaching methods employed through the years in the grades. While the young child until age six or seven learns primarily through physical activity, imagination, and imitation, the children in the Lower School learn best when academics are conveyed through artistic and other kinesthetic experiences that engage their feelings. A sense of beauty weaves throughout the day as the children experience movement, music, drama, storytelling, and painting while engaged actively in learning.|
The Main Lesson Teacher
The school day begins with the teacher greeting each child with a handshake and a warm “Good Morning.” Ideally, teachers will carry a class for several years, and typically stay with a class for part or all of the journey from grade one through eight. Because the teachers come to know their students well, they can work creatively to bring the curriculum in a way that meets the needs of their class, accommodating individual learning styles, as needed, and work in close partnership with parents to ensure the best possible educational experience for each child.
The warm sense of community that characterizes the Waldorf class provides a secure environment for learning where each child’s gifts are recognized as a unique and valuable contribution in the world. While the Class Teachers become a stable anchor in the children’s lives throughout the formative years, the children also experience a variety of Subject Teachers through the years.
Lower Grades Curriculum
Waldorf curriculum recognizes capacities emerge in students in developmental stages, while also allowing room for individual rates of maturation. This is the foundation for the unfolding curriculum and teaching methods employed through the years in the grades. While the young child until age 6 or 7 learns primarily through physical activity, imagination, and imitation, the children in the Lower School learn best when academics are conveyed through artistic and other kinesthetic experiences that engage their feelings. A sense of beauty weaves throughout the day as the child experiences movement, music, drama, storytelling, and painting while engaged actively in learning.
After Main Lesson in the morning, the children have special subject classes. These vary from grade to grade and may include Choir, Strings/Winds, Painting, Clay/Beeswax Modeling, Handwork, Woodwork, Spanish, Form Drawing, Eurythmy, and Games.
Grade 1 Fairy tales, nature stories, poetry. Beginning reading through phonemic awareness, speech exercises, and phonics. Learning the upper case letter sounds and names through artistic experience. The quality of numbers and Roman and Arabic numerals. An introduction to the multiplication tables through skip counting and the four processes of arithmetic (addition, subtraction, multiplication, division). Speech, singing, pentatonic flute.
Grade 2 Legends of saints and sages, animal fables, nature folklore, poetry. Continued development of writing and reading with lower case letters, phonics, simple compositions. Introduction of cursive writing. Continued work on the four processes and multiplication tables. Vertical addition and subtraction regrouping (carrying and borrowing), number patterns. Drama, speech, singing, pentatonic flute.
Grade 3 Old Testament and Hebrew legends, poetry. Reading, spelling, composition writing. Introduction to the parts of speech. Continued work on the four processes and math facts, long multiplication and division. American measurement, time, money. Shelters, cloth, and practical work including farming, cooking, gardening and animal care. Drama, speech, singing in rounds, recorder or diatonic flute.
Grade 4 Norse mythology, Kalevala, poetry, literature. Paragraph writing, composition, verb tenses, punctuation, dictionary use,spelling. Fractions, word problems. Local geography of town and state, map-making. Zoology: the human and the animal, specialization of animals. Drama, speech, singing, recorder or diatonic flute.
Grade 5 Ancient Indian, Egyptian and Greek mythology; biographies from Ancient Greece; literature. Composition, active and passive verbs, syntax, spelling, grammar, spelling. Decimals, fractions, metric system. North American geography. Ancient civilizations of India, Persia, Mesopotamia, Egypt and Greece; Greek history. Botany – simple to complex plants, climate zones. Freehand geometric drawing, drama, speech, singing, recorder or diatonic flute.
As the children move from the work of play in the kindergarten, they still live in a dreamy and imaginative world, yet show a budding interest in more formal learning. This is still a time of wholeness; the foundation upon which all other curriculum rests.
In first grade, the introduction to writing and reading is brought in a lively pictorial way through fairy tales, folktales and/or nature stories. Children experience the human journey of the soul through the archetypal images in the fairy tale. Children learn the letter sounds and names through an artistic experience. This is followed by phonemic manipulation, rhyming words and word families. Reading evolves out of writing of familiar poems and verses from the blackboard. The children soon are able to write and read words and sentences. Poetry, drama and speech further develop phonemic awareness and clear speech.
The world of numbers is introduced through exploring the quality of numbers, often seen in nature, and then the Roman and Arabic numerals. Movement, such as rhythmical clapping, stepping and marching while counting, is central to the experience of math. The four processes (addition, subtraction, multiplication, division) are introduced through an imaginative tale and explored with stories, manipulatives, and written equations.
Singing and the introduction of the pentatonic flute provide a musical experience for the first grader. Our subject classes extend this work and include Handwork, Modeling, Painting, Games, Eurythmy, Form Drawing, Spanish and Gardening. The children also spend time playing outside and exploring nature through a walk and/or crafts. Forming the class as one whole through rhythm and repetition is a thread that weaves throughout all classes and the entire year.
As the children move into second grade, they will transition from a more dreamy state to one where they explore their higher and lower aspects. Some may be “stars” of the class – compassionate, friendly, engaged, and helpful. At other times, they may be more mischievous and even greedy, disrespectful and clever. The story curriculum of the second grade arises to meet this inner experience of the child through its legends of saints and sages in the world who have risen to a higher aspect as a human being and its fables that display the results of animalistic tendencies. Through these polar experiences, the child inwardly learns to strive to become more “saintly.” The children retell and dramatize stories through drawing, free rendering, and acting. Through the stories and artistic work, the children continue to develop their writing and reading skills with further work on phonics, sight words, and writing simple compositions. Word families, phonics, digraphs and basic vowel patterns are introduced. Cursive writing and the first grammar may be introduced, as the class is ready. The clarity and beauty of language continues to be developed through poetry, drama and speech verses. Typically, the first class play is learned by heart and performed for others in the school.
In Math, work continues on the four processes and multiplications tables (through skip counting). Daily practice with mental math covers all four math operations while the multiplication tables are expanding to the ability of the class. The wonder of number patterns is expanded through geometric forms and patterns. Place value is explored and practiced. Vertical addition and subtraction with and without regrouping are introduced.
Their musical work in singing and the pentatonic flute develops to a new level. Nature studies include stories, artistic experiences, crafts, and walks in all seasons. Our subject classes extend this work and include Handwork, Modeling, Painting, Games, Eurythmy, Form Drawing, Spanish and Gardening.
The third grade is often called the turning point of childhood. It is a year of transformation, as children move through the nine year change. They no longer live within the world of polarities, but are cast out on their own, alone and independent. This brings the first suffering of loneliness, yet also the first conscious joy in solitude. They now can observe the world in new, and sometimes critical, ways. Death and loneliness take on new meanings. Life often does not seem such a paradise anymore. Through this experience, the children learn to find their work, their way, and their home within the world.
Our curriculum meets the nine year old child in this experience in a variety of ways. Farming, gardening, cooking, and animal care give the child an opportunity to actively engage in practical and meaningful work. Shelter building and clothing further develop this experience of being a human in the world, even as the child searches to find a “home” on the earth. The rich and dramatic stories of the Old Testament mirror the third grader’s soul journey as they may feel cast out of paradise and on a quest to find their place in the world. Dramatic reenactments and artistic renderings emerge from these stories. Understanding the grammar of our language, particularly the parts of speech, now can develop more fully, as the child can experience these individual parts more easily. Self-generated writing can also develop to new heights as the child writes about the many practical experiences in the various lessons. Reading chapter books brings many children into the joy of reading independently, as some may continue to need review of phonics and sight words to develop fluency. Speech exercises continue and work with poetry will expand. Singing now includes rounds and the diatonic flute is introduced during the year.
The focus of the math blocks corresponds to the theme of practical work in the world, as measurement, time and money are introduced and experienced in the classroom activities of cooking, building and gardening. Further steps in the four processes are also taken with long division and multiplication. Our subject classes extend this work and include Handwork, Modeling, Painting, Games, Eurythmy, Form Drawing, Spanish and Gardening.
In fourth grade, the children are emerging from the nine year change and now stand independently in the world. They no longer experience themselves as part of a unity, but they feel the outer world as separate from them as individuals. This allows them to begin to explore details in new ways, the parts of the whole. Local Geography and History are introduced. Here the children discover where they live and move outward from their school and home, to their town, county and state. Drawing maps offers another opportunity to look with separation at the world.
Through the distinct personalities and characters of the Norse myths, the children experience courage and love, light and darkness, sadness and laughter, inner struggle and transformation. The Norse gods are imperfect gods who dabble in trickery and humor at times. The fourth grader delights in this adventure through story. Likewise, with the stories of the Kalevala the children hear about another kind of hero who sings the world into being. Language skills are further developed within grammar and composition writing including verb tenses, spelling, more with punctuation and the use of the dictionary. Report writing may be introduced in this year. Most children now read independently and chapter books can be taken up in earnest for further developing a love of literature, fluency in reading and comprehension of text.
The Science curriculum unfolds with the comparative study of the human being and animals which nurtures the child’s natural love for the kingdom of animals. In Math, all aspects from previous years continue to be developed and mastered, while fractions are the new topic of the year which is beautifully mirrored by learning to read musical notation in learning to play a stringed instrument in the newly-introduced Strings class.
Speech, poetry, singing, diatonic flute and drama continue and have become a natural experience in the course of the child’s learning, as have our subject classes that include Handwork, Modeling, Painting, Games, Eurythmy, Strings, Form Drawing, Spanish and Gardening.
The fifth grade is the golden year of childhood, a keystone year for the growing pre-adolescent. It is a time where the child has an inner balance, strength and confidence before the turbulence of adolescence arrives. The growing child is met with deep and meaningful subjects to provide a cradle for the development of his or her growing consciousness. Thus the wisdom and human development of their predecessors, from the stories of mythology through history are presented to them as a kernel of insight to be discovered and considered.
The panorama of mythology and history brought in the fifth grade is vast, starting with Ancient India and Persia to Ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia. The journey continues into Ancient Greece when the curriculum shifts from the stories of mythology to those of history. Greece has a special place in the context of human development and history, where we have the birth of democracy and great advancements in math, science, philosophy, architecture and more. The Greek Pentathlon is a beloved celebration for the 5th grade student. The child's expanding view of the world is supported by a study of geography and history that encompasses the continent of North America and leads us to a study of human beings in relationship to the land. Regions of the United States are studied with biographies of important figures such as the expedition of Lewis and Clark, Sacajawea and others.
Writing skills are further developed as the children learn to write in active and passive voice and may also write a state report. They deepen their study of grammar and mastery of spelling. Literature read and discussed in class typically stems from the study of biographies or ancient civilizations.
In math, the children continue to reinforce and expand on their basic skills and are introduced to the logic of decimals. Particular reinforcement of fractions, mixed numbers, conversion of decimals to fractions and fractions to decimals is practiced. An introduction to plane geometry and discoveries made by Greek and Egyptian mathematicians are brought. Geometric forms found in nature and a concrete experience of the Pythagorean Theorem is introduced for the first time.
In the realm of science, the geometry blocks dovetail nicely into the study of Botany. The plant kingdom, from simple to complex plants, is observed in their natural environment and studied, from mushrooms to flowering trees. The study of pollination and reproduction in Botany serves as precursor to the study of their own human physiology and life cycles (in seventh grade).
Speech, poetry, singing, diatonic flute/recorder and drama continue with further mastery and more advanced exercises. Our subject classes in fifth grade include Handwork, Woodwork, Strings, Modeling, Painting, Games, Eurythmy, and Spanish.
Language Arts Curriculum
The Waldorf language arts program has its foundation in a rich oral language experience starting in the preschool and continuing through all the grades. From preschool onward, teachers bring stories rich in imagery, high-level vocabulary, and complex sentence structure. These stories stimulate the children's imaginations and foster the development of careful speech as well as a broad vocabulary. Teachers also form their speech artistically, and through regular speech exercises engage the children in developing clear, articulate speech. Nourished by the living images in the stories, the children grow increasingly capable of bringing their own creativity to the retelling and writing of stories they have heard or read.
The Waldorf curriculum encompasses the broad sweep of human development, culturally and historically. The study areas of each grade meet the developmental stage of the human being, and the curriculum also traces the soul-spiritual development of humanity from the archetypal fairy tale consciousness through mythology and into recorded history. The stories of each grade are lovingly and imaginatively told by the teacher, and the children develop main lesson books from that material. Main lesson book work is led by the teacher in the earlier grades, and is gradually given over to the individual children until, by fifth or sixth grade, the content of the main lesson book is primarily the child's own work.
Before formal arithmetic study begins in the grades, the child's first experiences with order and rhythm are based in daily, weekly and monthly rhythms. Songs, poems, verses and repeated stories also give the child a sense for order and structure.
Early arithmetic is focused on understanding the quality of the numbers and counting. First the child experiences one-to-one correspondence when learning to count their fingers and toes and then learning to count to 100. While the children are learning to do this, they also begin rhythmical work with clapping, stepping, jumping and so on.
Form Drawing - The qualities of straight and curved lines are experienced from the first day of school onward. These bring the children into a new knowledge of, and wonder for, the natural world, and form a foundation for both geometry and handwriting. Forms are walked, run, drawn in the air and practiced on paper. Children experience many expanding and contracting forms, and may do some symmetry work.
Drawing/Painting - Regular drawing lessons are incorporated into the main lesson book work, with focus on color and basic shapes. In painting, the class works with the feelings, the living qualities, of the primary colors and their relationship to one another.
Modeling - In the first grade, the children begin modeling by hearing a wonderful story of how the bees make their wax. This helps them to develop a sense of respect and reverence toward the medium. The children then understand that the beeswax is a gift from nature. The class may begin with simple archetypal forms such as a simple ball or oval and later begin modeling characters from fairy tales and nature experiences.
Form Drawing - Running forms, with straight and curved lines, become the basis for later handwriting. The children work with left/right or above/below symmetry, drawing mirror images. They begin to incorporate their own ideas into their main lesson book drawings, though the teacher still leads. There is focus on basic human and animal forms and gestures, along with houses, people and trees.
Drawing/Painting - Color exercises in drawing and painting continue and the secondary colors are explored, as well as shifts in tone across the page. The idea of complementary colors may be explored.
Modeling - The children continue to use beeswax and model many animals and saints from the stories they hear throughout the year. The second grade student may also work with clay, allowing them to further guide their will and to develop dexterity and sensitivity in their hands.
Form Drawing - Precise, flowing forms that cross both the horizontal and vertical midlines are explored, asking the child to begin to balance in all four quadrants. Asymmetrical and metamorphic forms are also explored, and the children are encouraged to create their own 'answers' to forms that ask 'questions.'
Drawing/Painting - The third grade continues with color exercises, with some forms arising. Drawing continues to be a strong element of main lesson work, and the children incorporate more individuality in their work. The work of the earlier grades in painting is built on and expanded, as the third grade continues with color exercises, with some forms arising. Color and its transformation is explored, and two tone paintings may be transformed into three tones, or colors may be changed over so that the one that was first in the center becomes the border color, while the border color becomes the center.
Modeling - Modeling may include work with clay, salt dough, and beeswax, with subjects connected to the main lesson work and the seasons.
Form Drawing - Fourth graders are ready for a challenge and to begin to see that things can be multi-layered. This is supported by the drawing of woven Celtic designs, which weave under and over each other, while continuing to work with the previous years' learning about color, form, and symmetry.
Drawing/Painting/Modeling - Previous study with color and form continues. Animal forms and fuller landscapes are explored. Painting includes work with animal forms, arising out of color. Clay and beeswax may be used to create animals and other forms connected to the main lesson study.
Throughout first through eighth grade, students work on speech exercises through memorization and recitation of verses, poems and speech exercises. They are also given the opportunity to dramatize the story material of the main lesson. In first grade, a play may be presented for the families, with emphasis on choral speaking. In all other grades, the children will present at least one play during the school year. The children’s parts are carefully assigned by the teacher, taking into account the developmental needs of each individual child: one may be assigned a part which helps to draw out latent qualities, while another may be given a part which brings an aspect of the child's being into sharper focus.