The elementary-age child remains enthusiastic about play, yet is also hungry to learn. She is ready for the structured environment and widening horizons of grade school, and secure enough to stay away from parents for a full school day. Equally important to cognitive development is social development: being with others and working together is as important as writing and reading! While younger children may still be content to play alongside one another, elementary-age children engage fully with their peers, creatively and eagerly playing in many different ways, often developing their own rules as they go. The distinction between self and world slowly begins to change, most noticeably when the child turns nine and begins to separate from the world and to question it.
The child entering the elementary school begins the second seven-year phase of life with several noticeable physical changes. The typical roundness of the early childhood student is gone. The head becomes narrower and more oval-shaped with each year, and the limbs grow thinner, longer, and more adept at meeting challenges. Baby teeth fall out as permanent teeth arrive.
The intellect undergoes a pronounced change between early childhood and the elementary years. Elementary-age children are increasingly able to focus and form strong imaginative pictures. Their memory is strong, and they are most open to learning. They can recall and recreate what they have learned verbally, in writing, drawing, music, or mathematics. Their intellectual development lies firmly in their life of feelings; they learn deeply when they are engaged through their senses and direct experience.
The child’s developmental stage is the basis for each grade’s curriculum design and content.
In first grade the students meet their Class Teacher, who quickly becomes a beloved authority figure who the students view with affection and reverence, and who will often accompany them through eighth grade. They also encounter many special-subject teachers. The school’s Educational Support Group (ESG) is available to support students in all grades in overcoming learning challenges.
In every grade, the Waldorf curriculum features Main Lesson blocks in which the students concentrate on one subject (for example arithmetic or language arts) daily from 8:30 to 10:30 a.m., over a span of several weeks. At the end of a block, the subject goes to sleep in the child before being revisited later that year, or in subsequent years. The subject is experienced through hands-on activities, stories, songs, color, movement, poetry, games, drama, and other artistic representations. This dynamic, multi-sensory, creative approach allows the content to come to life within the children, making it a memorable and joyful experience and nourishing their imaginations and sense of morality.
A widening range of specialty subjects rounds out the school day. The delightful universe of world languages opens up with playful Spanish and German lessons full of games, songs, and poems. Practical arts (handwork) lessons develop fine motor skills and concentration through knitting, crocheting, sewing, and cross-stitch. Drawing, wet-on-wet watercolor painting, beeswax modeling, and writing nourish the artist in each child. Every day brings music: singing, recorder playing, and (in third grade) a stringed instrument. Outdoor play refreshes the children several times a day and provides a foundation for social cognitive skills—the art of getting along with others.
All lessons are taught without textbooks for the children, relying instead on the warm and vibrant relationship between student and teacher. Students write and illustrate their own Main Lesson books summarizing the curriculum content. Every aspect of the Waldorf curriculum emphasizes what it means to be human and whole. No homework is given in the early grades. Instead of letter and number grades, each teacher writes a narrative year-end report. There is no standardized testing.
An aesthetically nourishing environment is as important to students’ learning as is their physical health. Classrooms feature beautifully colored walls, lively chalkboard drawings, wooden desks and chairs, and student artwork (visual, sculptural, and practical), all intended to bring beauty and wholesomeness.