The elementary-age child remains enthusiastic about play, yet is also hungry to learn.
In first grade the students meet their Class Teacher, who quickly becomes a beloved authority figure whom the students view with affection and reverence, and who will often accompany them through eighth grade. They also encounter many special subject teachers. As the years progress, the students will form strong bonds with these teachers.
The elementary-age child remains enthusiastic about play yet is also hungry to learn. Their intellectual development lies firmly in their life of feelings; they learn deeply when they are engaged through their senses and direct experience. Equally important to cognitive development is social development. 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. During the early elementary years, the students’ individuality—who they really are and will become adults—begins to emerge.
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 am, over a span of several weeks. At the end of a block, the subject goes to sleep in the student 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 students, making learning a memorable and joyful experience.
A widening range of specialty subjects rounds out the school day. The universe of world languages opens up with 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.
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The archetypal Fairy Tales speak deeply to the students’ souls and help develop basic human capacities. The alphabet is discovered, letter by letter, through images of the world around us; the basic units of writing are experienced as the curve and the straight line. The writing down of poems that the children know by heart begins their journey to reading and spelling. Arithmetic, including the four processes, is introduced by the exciting discovery of the qualities of numbers and patterns everywhere.
This year’s important discoveries also include learning to stand in line, raise hands, wait patiently for a turn, work quietly and independently at a desk, listen to and follow instructions, and treat classmates, teachers, and materials with care and respect. Social and cognitive skills are fostered through play, singing, reciting poetry, playing pentatonic flutes, and performing in the class play.
Throughout the day, the children move. This builds spatial awareness, integrates the senses, forms the foundation for memory, and strengthens the body for future learning. Celebrating the seasons, festivals, and holidays builds the child’s reverent relationship to the earth and the spirit. Striving to create beauty in everything stimulates a lifelong enthusiasm for learning and creativity.
Field trips may include parks, nature preserves, orchards.
First graders go home before lunch on Thursdays, so they can rest from their newly learning-intensive lifestyle.
The Second Grader’s journey emerges from the world of fairy tales and moves on to the polarity of Legends and Fables. In the legends they encounter the courage, devotion, compassion, and humility of saintly people; in the fables, the cunning, pride, greed, conceit, and trickery of which humans and animals are capable. The eight-year-olds meet the stories with enthusiasm, happily reenacting them as they recognize right and wrong. Their awareness of others increases, together with their capacity for cooperation.
Many First Grade activities are expanded upon: for example, students can now grasp the concept of place value in Arithmetic, and their Reading and Writing skills expand to encompass cursive and lower-case letters, word families, and recurring patterns of letters such as blends and digraphs. Fine and gross motor skills, sequential development memory, body geography skills, and social cognitive skills are exercised consciously and daily. Nature walks help the child build a relationship with the earth and satisfy curiosity about the animal and plant kingdoms.
Field Trips may include parks; farms; nature preserves; orchards.
Second graders go home before lunch on Thursdays to give them a rest in their busy week.
The children now leave the nurturing, secure world of the first two grades and land fully on earth on their own two feet. They are newly aware of their surroundings as separate from their inner experience and are able to differentiate more accurately between the two. This realization of their separateness from the world, known in Waldorf pedagogy as the “nine-year change,” may result in a sense of loss or disorientation, even a mild emotional crisis. In response, the curriculum provides reassurance through the discovery of various forms of lawfulness. Lawfulness in the inner world is experienced via Old Testament stories of the ancient Hebrews; in the outer world, through the study of practical life on earth: Shelters, Farming, Food and Clothing, and Measurement.
This year brings the study of a stringed instrument (violin, viola, or cello), which requires newfound discipline. The students begin private lessons, and their first “homework” assignment is to practice their instrument. Reading and Writing skills progress; Grammar reveals the underlying structure of a previously unconscious activity. Daily movement continues to strengthen and nourish body memory and intellectual memory.
The students now see and experience the work of their own hands as it relates to basic caring for the earth and their environment. In the Third Grade Building Project, they build a permanent structure on the school grounds. Farming and gardening enhance the curriculum, and for five days and four nights—The Third Grade Farm Trip—the children live and work on a farm, waking up to the sound of the cock crowing, feeding the animals, milking the cow, collecting eggs, planting seeds, spinning wool, baking, and preparing their meals.
Field Trips may include farms, nature preserves; museums. All Third Grades go on the Farm Trip.
The Norse Mythology sagas of creation, destruction, self-sacrifice, and corruption, in which gods act like ordinary mortals, feed the students’ growing curiosity about human nature, as well as their increasingly sophisticated ability to discern moral from immoral behavior.
The study of Local Geography introduces a new, hypothetical perspective: the bird’s-eye view. Maps are drawn, first of the child’s bedroom, then the home, the classroom, the school, the town, and finally the state. Geography is experienced in new, unforgettable ways, such as a rafting trip down the Housatonic River or a sail down the Connecticut River.
Understanding the vast timelines involved in the history of Connecticut, beginning with the shaping of the land and the lives of Native Americans, helps students place themselves within the span of time as well as space. Drawing complex knot forms similarly develops capacities for spatial orientation, pre-planning, beauty, and form. The Main Lesson block known as Human Being and Animal delights the students as it explores the differences between humans and our beloved companions, the animals. Each student chooses one animal found in the Northeast, studies it in depth, and creates a story or other artistic presentation about it.
Playing diatonic flutes and stringed instruments in separate parts, as well as singing multi-part songs and rounds, requires students to separate themselves from the comfortable unison of former years. Similarly, the study of Fractions introduces the splitting of wholes, just when the students are themselves becoming “fractious,” splitting hairs and asking potentially unsettling questions about the world they happily took for granted even a year ago.
Field Trips may include museums; aquarium/zoo; rafting/sailing trip; nature walks/hikes.
The dreamy consciousness of earlier grades now gives way to an intellectual awakening. This is mirrored in the study of ancient cultures, which surveys a huge sweep of time, beginning with the mystical world of ancient India and ending with the Greeks, inventors of logic. The students enter recorded history, tracing the development of modern consciousness which will culminate in the eighth grade study of current events. A similar expansion takes place in geography: the students’ consciousness of place extends to the continent of North America, challenging their increased capacity for memorizing, visualizing, and drawing maps.
In math, emerging intellectual faculties let students move easily from fractions to decimals; in grammar, they grasp subtle differences such as that between the direct and indirect objects of a verb. The beauty and symmetry of geometry are experienced freehand, as yet unencumbered by the technical requirements of compass and ruler. In science, the study of our fellow creatures now turns to botany, one step removed from last year’s engaging animal kingdom, but still capable of eliciting fascination, wonder, and careful observation. The stringed instrument begun in third grade now becomes a mainstay in the student’s life at home and school. The fifth grade’s traditional participation in the Greek Pentathlon meets their new capacity for sustained physical effort with form, in javelin throwing, long jump, discus throwing, wrestling, and running.
Field trips may include Hindu temple; museums; botanical garden; nature walks/hikes. All fifth graders participate in the Pentathlon—the Greek Olympiad competition with other Waldorf fifth grades.
At the end of fifth grade, the students are poised and ready for the leap known as the “twelve-year change,” into the turbulent, exciting world of adolescence. From sixth through eighth Grade, to meet the students’ new realities with the challenges they need and want, the Waldorf curriculum undergoes a number of dramatic changes.