|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 capacities emerge in students in developmental stages, 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.
In Middle School, academics continue to be experienced through the arts, but the pictorial thinking of the earlier grades now turns toward more abstract thinking. Teaching methods adapt to this change to meet the developmental stage of the child.
The Main Lesson Teacher
The school day begins with the Class Teacher greeting each child with a handshake and a warm “Good Morning.” Ideally, Class Teachers will carry a class for several years, and they typically stay with a class for part or all of the journey from grade one through eight. In the past at DWS, the school used a system of teachers looping in grades 1-4 and 5-8. After reviewing this experience, the Leadership Team and Faculty decided to determine the looping of a teacher on a case-by-case basis depending upon teacher evaluations and the needs of the school and their class. Whether a Class Teacher loops or not, the school is committed to providing a quality Waldorf education for each and every class.
Because the Class 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.
The sixth grade student is at the twilight of pre-adolescence. Emerging from the previous years building up self-worth, the sixth grade student will work on building self-esteem. Equally important at this stage is the building up of healthy group and social dynamics. The key word that defines the curriculum is order. By looking at cause and effect, black and white, right and wrong, the student discovers through the curriculum the laws that govern human interaction with each other and with the world. The successful passage through sixth grade will see the growth of the pre-teen to becoming an adolescent with a moral sense of justice, a feeling of belonging, a confidence in his or her abilities, and in the global context of social wellness, the virtues of patience and mercy.
History begins with the burning of Troy, setting into motion the events leading to the birth of one of the most incredible civilizations: the Roman Empire. The escape of Aeneas from Troy sparks the Roman saga. The student experiences the epic stories of the seven kings of Rome, the Republic and Roman culture. History continues through the Dark Ages after the fall of Rome. The sixth grader looks at the contrasts of development of Christianity with its roots in the rule of Constantine, the beginnings of Islam, the medieval world and feudalism, and the monasteries. The Medieval Games are a culminating celebration of these studies. Quality literature from the topic studies are read, recited and studied, including poetry, ballads, tales of chivalry, biographies and more. Writing expands into descriptive and expository compositions and an examination of the use of direct and indirect objects and clauses and phrases.
The sciences explored in sixth grade include physics, geology/mineralogy, and astronomy. Physics is an active study that engages the students’ observations skills through the senses. The focus is on sound, light, heat, and magnetism. In looking at the main aspects of physical forces - their nature, their sources, and their propagation, the sixth grader sees a picture of cause and effect played out in the scientific realm. The student will also explore the incredible geology that makes up the regional environment. A typical field trip is to Lassen National Volcanic Park to explore the dynamic geology of the area. The formation and qualities of igneous, sedimentary and metamorphic rocks are studied. In astronomy, the students observe the movement of stars and constellations and our connection to the sun and the moon cycles. The sixth grade student also develops an understanding of world geography using maps and globes. Seasonal changes, biotic zones, wind and water currents, meridians and parallels of latitude, landforms, climate zones, and various vegetations are studied.
Mathematics in the sixth grade encompasses the construction of geometric forms to economics. In geometry, the student works with instruments that define a shift into precision: the straight edge and the compass. With these simple tools, the student will construct circles, triangles, hexagons, squares, and other forms, presented in an artistic way. In economics, business math is introduced, where the concepts of interest and profit are experienced, along with a review of fractions and decimals.
In art, music, and handwork, the student experiences the idea of order through the needed precision for the work in each area. Art media includes charcoal drawing of geometric forms and landscapes, pastels and watercolor painting. In music, recorder, both soprano and alto, are taught. Speech, poetry, singing and drama continue with further mastery and more advanced exercises. Our subject classes in sixth grade include Handwork, Woodwork, Strings or Beginning Band, Art, Games, Eurythmy, Math and Spanish.
The overarching theme for the seventh grader is the science, ideology and study of the transformational. The substantial changes taking place in the twelve or thirteen year old creates an altogether new classroom environment for the students and their teacher. The teacher must change the way he or she approaches her “new” students, allowing for the foundation of reasoning to develop. The seventh grader debates topics in a new way, and is beginning to experience the shift in how they experience their world.
In the sciences, chemistry classes involve combustion, acids and bases, the pH scale, as well as the Lime cycle. Students often build a lime kiln and work with their teacher to create the chemical process of splitting calcium carbonate into its respective elements. Physics is delved into through the study of mankind’s inventions of simple machines. Our students will often create a Rube-Goldberg invention to demonstrate. The Health and Physiology block meets the students’ need to understand their changing bodies and how to think critically about their personal health. It also creates empathy and understanding for their classmates and the changes they are experiencing.
In history, the students are tasked with thinking about the people who took up the work of mankind. They are asked how a person changed the trajectory of an entire country or even the world. Transformational biographies are brought, such as Joan of Arc, Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Shakespeare and more. The Renaissance, the Reformation period and the Age of Exploration are experienced fully in seventh grade with engaging discussions about Columbus, Magellan, and other famous explorers. Critical thinking develops through such discussions, as both the positive and negative of what explorers brought to new lands is realized. Students may take up a Masters’ art project to work specifically with an artistic style of a Renaissance Artist and visit the Oregon Shakespeare Festival to take workshops and attend plays. Arthurian legends, historical novels, poetry, and other quality literature are brought. Creative writing, poetry, and an introduction to the five-paragraph essay are new topics for writing. Using compound and complex sentences and direct and indirect quotes are also examined.
Other subjects brought in seventh grade include pre-algebra, roots, powers, geometry, and a deepening of mathematical thinking. Additionally, cultural geography, often with a focus on the African continent, is explored. Presentations in seventh grade also help develop capacities for the traditional larger eighth grade project – investigation, critical thinking, writing, and presentation skills. Speech, poetry, singing, soprano/alto/tenor recorders and drama continue with more advanced exercises. Our subject classes in seventh grade include Handwork, Woodwork, Strings or Advanced Band, Art, Games, Eurythmy, Math and Spanish.
The eighth grade student stands at the junction of childhood and adolescence. In the years leading up to the eighth grade, the child has journeyed through the Waldorf curriculum, acquiring valuable skills and capacities. Now in this second phase of rapid physical human development, the eighth grade student experiences the rudimentary emergence of self-identity and group-identity.
The study of history travels across the Atlantic from the European explorations and Renaissance of the seventh grade curriculum and lands on the rocky shores of the New World. Students study the establishment of Jamestown in the beginning of the seventeenth century, the birth of America and the Age of the Industrial Revolution.
The study of American history is also an exploration into the fundamental fight for freedom and independence, where only through revolutions and rebellion; the colonists declare their freedom from the English crown. From the Revolutionary War to the Civil War, Americans were embroiled in battles that pitted brother against brother. In the nineteenth century, the fires of hatred of the South that festered finally exploded in racism, inequality, and segregation well into the twentieth century. Civil rights were a heated topic with women’s rights arising and the biographies of Harriet Tubman, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucretia Mott, and Susan B. Anthony of notable importance for the students. Religious freedom, separation of church and state, government, World Wars, and current events – these are woven into American history for the eighth grade.
The study of science in the eighth grade includes human anatomy, organic chemistry, physics, and meteorology. The muscular, skeletal, and neurological systems are explored in human anatomy. Organic chemistry focuses on carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. In particular, with the study of sugars, starches, and cellulose, the increasing complexity of saccharide chains determines the behaviors of these carbon-based structures. In physics, the eighth grader examines the behavior of heat, fluids, and electromagnetism. Meteorology finds the student outside classifying clouds and predicting weather patterns. In Math, Algebra I is studied, as are the Platonic Solids in Geometry.
Economic geography follows the top world commodities from producers to consumers, expanding modern perspectives of resource management, transportation impact, and genetically-engineered foods. The student gains an appreciation and respect for the world’s limited resources and allows him/her to examine how our daily consumption can have wider, more far-reaching implications and consequences.
Short stories and other quality literature are read and explored together. The experience of drama is further developed and the performance of the eighth grade play is typically a highlight of the year. In writing, the focus is on developing proficiency with narrative and expository writing. Learning to take notes, research, outline, and self-edit are important tasks. The Eighth Grade Research Project remains a culminating milestone for the year as each student presents his/her topic of study and work to the school community, through an oral and visual presentation.
Speech, poetry, singing, and soprano/alto/tenor recorder continue with more advanced exercises. Our subject classes in eighth grade include Handwork, Woodwork, Strings or Advanced Band, Art, Games, Math, and Spanish. The students end the year with weaving the maypole ribbons during our May Faire Celebration, their week-long trip, and finally the Closing Ceremony and Graduation.
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. History main lesson books are filled with biographies, stories, and maps that vividly illustrate the content.
In the fifth grade, there is an emphasis on the concepts and relationships of whole numbers, fractions, and decimals. Students develop computational skills in taking whole numbers, fractions, and decimals through the four operations. Examples include multiplication of multi-digit whole numbers, addition of mixed numbers and fractions with unlike denominators, division of simple fractions using reciprocals, and multiplication of decimals. Word problems are used to develop analytical skills. The opportunity of puberty changes the children’s consciousness. The twelve year old experiences the death of childhood and the birth pangs of the individual. Conceptual thinking comes more to the fore as children actively seek cause and effect relationships. This changing consciousness readies the children to learn practical applications.
Phenomenology is the hallmark of the Waldorf science curriculum. In the early grades, the children learn to observe and revere the natural world, exploring it on nature walks and through nature stories. In third grade, practical activities come to the forefront, but everything is experiential; nothing is analyzed. The relationship of the human being to the animal world is the study of fourth grade, and the relationship of the human being to the plant world is the study of fifth grade. In middle school, the science curriculum leads the students from experience to observation to judgment and finally, to understanding of scientific concepts.
In fifth grade, the students branch out from the local geography of the state to the country and continent of North America. Through group research and projects and using maps and globes, students develop an understanding of the geography of North America (Latin America is optional). Political and topographical information is shared, including seasonal changes. Students are able to make comparisons and contrasts of vegetation from various states, e.g., Alaska and Texas, Florida and Maine. The students engage in drawings for main lesson books, map making, oral presentations, songs, and poetic recitations.
In the fifth grade, the students continue with wet-on-wet watercolor painting and explore form and free-hand geometric drawing. They typically learn to draw with water color pencils and may venture into portraiture.
In the sixth grade, the students learn pastel and charcoal drawing, and work with light and dark shading. Perspective, acrylic, and figure drawing, clay, wet-on-wet watercolor painting, and wet-on-dry watercolor painting are typically brought. Water color pencil, calligraphy illuminated letters, and transfers with parchment may also be explored in relation to the Main Lesson block topics.
In the seventh grade, wet-on-wet painting continues with additional acrylic skills in a Renaissance-Masters project possibly. Calligraphy, Illuminated lettering, and perspective drawing are also explored.
In the eighth grade, art includes two-point perspective, cross-hatching, pen and ink as new artistic experiences. Wet-on-wet watercolor painting, portraiture with pencil or charcoal, three-dimensional modeling and clay sculpture are brought to a new level of skill and technique. Plaster on canvas and soapstone carving may also be introduced.
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.