Grade School Philosophy
The Waldorf curriculum is based on the educational
philosophy of Rudolf Steiner. It is common to Waldorf
Schools throughout the world.
The second stage of childhood, from the age of six or
seven until around the age of 14, is a time when
feelings are of primary importance to children.
Through their responses to experience, they begin to
understand the world. The intense physical activity
of the earlier years is gradually overtaken by a growing
In each grade a full spectrum of academic subjects is taught not only intellectually but
experientially and artistically as well. The children's journey of learning and self-discovery
is guided by Waldorf-trained teachers who consider each child's abilities and challenges
individually, and educate to meet the different developmental needs and readiness of
each year of childhood and early adolescence.
"The greatest scientists are artists as well. Imagination is more important
than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination circles the world."
The Grade School Day
A rhythmic, structured day remains paramount in the
grade school years. In the early grades, the day begins
with invigorating movement—perhaps skipping or
clapping, and reciting together. The children are then
ready to be fully present for the "main lesson"—an
extended period of up to two hours when students are
asked to do their most concentrated thinking. Main
lesson subjects (e.g. history, geography, math, physics)
last for three to four weeks, and then a new subject is
Mid-morning to lunch is dedicated to special-subject classes, taught in a way that
engages the whole child. These might include Spanish, German, Eurythmy (a move-
ment art), drawing, watercolor painting, singing and instrumental music. These
lessons are either once or twice a week on a consistent schedule that lasts the whole
year. These subjects support the subject of the main lesson whenever possible.
The afternoon is the time for energetic movement and busy hands. Woodwork,
handcrafts (knitting, sewing, etc.), clay modeling, and physical education act as a
balance to the intense concentration and thinking of the morning.
Throughout the day, the activities and approaches to subjects alternate between an
inner and an outward focus. It is an organic rhythm, much like breathing, which allows
learning to stir the children’s hearts and inspire their imaginations.
The Grade School Curriculum
The challenging curriculum includes:
- Morning "main lesson" period concentrating on one academic subject for a
3- to 4-week period (e.g. history, geography, math, physics)
- Ongoing Math and English classes
- Two Foreign Languages (Spanish and German) from grade 1 on
- Music (singing in all grades; recorder playing from grade 1; stringed instruments
from grade 3)
- Arts and Handwork (e.g. watercolor painting, clay modeling, sewing, knitting,
- Eurythmy (a movement art) and games
- Drama Productions (1-2 each year)
- Periodic Assemblies to showcase each class's progress
View: List of Subjects Studied by Each Grade
The rich humanities curriculum is presented orally by the teacher. Students learn and
explore fairy tales in the first grade, fables and stories of the saints in the second grade,
the Old Testament in the third grade, Norse mythology in the fourth grade, and the
ancient cultures in the fifth grade. In middle school, classes begin with Rome and the
Middle Ages in the sixth grade and move through the Renaissance, Reformation and
the Age of Discovery in the seventh grade. The American, French and Industrial
Revolutions, as well as American literature, are explored in the eighth grade. Through
map making and careful study, students gain a thorough grounding in geography each
year. Special attention is paid to the biographies of people who have changed world
history through thought and deed.
Science in Waldorf education begins with observation and experimentation, then
proceeds to theory. This is a phenomenological approach which creates a relationship
between the students’ own experiences and the evidential truth, leading to a deeper
comprehension of the scientific process. The goal is to develop in students the skills of
accurate observation, precise reporting, exploratory thinking, and sound judgment.
In grades one and two, nature walks and projects foster a sense of wonder for our
world. The grounded practicality of weights and measures, carpentry and farming is
called for in grade three. The animal kingdom is the focus in the fourth grade, botany
in the fifth, and geology and mineralogy in the sixth. As the children enter adolescence,
astronomy, physics and chemistry are undertaken.
The teaching of mathematics begins in first grade with the four arithmetical processes
and continues through algebra and solid geometry in eighth grade. In addition, the
abstract principles of mathematics are infused into many other aspects of the curriculum.
In the early years, jumping rope is a venue for learning to count. Playing the recorder
teaches the concept of intervals. Proportion and scale are studied partly through
geometric drawing and woodworking. Clay modeling offers an opportunity to sculpt
Platonic solids. This multi-disciplinary, and often initially tactile, approach resonates
with children and leads to an in-depth understanding of mathematical principles.
Throughout the grades, children learn two foreign languages, Spanish and German.
In grades one through three, all classes are oral. Stories, songs and rhymes are the
vehicles for learning vocabulary and fostering a love of the language. In grades four
through six, children begin intensively studying grammar, writing and reading in both
languages. In grades seven and eight, students are encouraged to study vocabulary,
practice conversation and read outside the classroom. The goals of foreign language
study in the curriculum are to give children flexibility and mobility in their thinking and
to instill a love of other languages and respect for other cultures.
The creation of beautiful handmade objects, increasingly rare in a utilitarian society,
feeds the child’s sense of accomplishment and aesthetics. The use and movement of
hands and limbs also offer an important counterpoint to intellectual pursuits. First
graders, both boys and girls, learn to knit scarves or small animal forms. Second
through fifth graders crochet, cross-stitch and knit with four needles. At the onset of
adolescence in sixth grade, each student creates and stitches a stuffed cloth doll or
animal. Seventh and eighth graders knit sweaters and sew garments, by hand and
machine. The practicality of handwork projects infuses the children’s everyday world
with meaning and offers an opportunity for them to appreciate the uniqueness and
beauty of the work of others.
A movement art that is sometimes called "visible speech and music," Eurythmy is made
up of a vocabulary of motions meant to illustrate the sounds of language and musical
experience. Through sequences of rhythmic gestures, the eurythmist attempts to make
manifest different qualities of heard music and speech. In the Waldorf curriculum, all
students from early childhood through high school practice the art of Eurythmy. As the
students age, the patterns of movement become more and more complex. Eurythmy
helps the child develop spatial awareness and a sense for the relationship of the
individual to the group.
Physical education classes are an integral part of every grade’s curriculum. Students
enjoy games and sports, which improve coordination, balance and rhythm. Teamwork
is always emphasized over competition. Fifth grade students travel to compete in an
inter-school mock Olympic Pentathalon that features wrestling, long jump, javelin and
discus throwing, and relay races. An after-school Circus Club is often offered. Middle
school students are encouraged to join an after-school sport program outside the school.
From circle time in the early grades to performances at seasonal celebrations in the
middle school, singing is a vital part of the curriculum. Students begin playing the
pentatonic flute in the first grade, proceed to the diatonic recorder and take up a bowed
stringed instrument of their choosing in the third grade. By fourth grade, students are
expected to supplement their study with outside private lessons. Middle school students
play in a multi-instrument orchestra.
Every grade performs a class play each year, with the subject arising from the Main
Lesson curriculum. Memorizing lines, inhabiting a character, and going on stage "in
character" is a process that achieves for children the tripartite Waldorf goal of thinking,
feeling and willing. In addition, producing a play, from beginning to end, is an
experience that creates and reinforces the social bonds in a class.
From fifth grade through eighth grade, students learn the art of woodworking. A
medium that requires patience, rhythm and sensitivity, wood offers them an opportunity
to explore sculptural form while creating a usable object such as a spoon or bowl. It is
a practice that cultivates perseverance in children and strengthens their will. Since
tangible beauty is the result of their hard work, an enormous sense of pride and success
The visual arts are infused into nearly every academic subject in the Waldorf curriculum.
The events and heroes of history and mythology are depicted in students’ watercolor
paintings. Precise geometry is studied through drawing with compasses and other
mechanical equipment. Animal and human forms are explored in freehand drawing.
All students write and draw their own unique, illustrated notebooks for Main Lesson and
other subjects to record their academic and artistic accomplishments.
How to Apply