Between the ages of seven and fourteen, the child is primarily a being of feeling, imagination and aesthetic sensitivity. The thinking and intellectual capacities are beginning to develop but do not dominate until puberty. For this reason, all instruction in the elementary years-be it reading, writing, arithmetic, history, geography, botany, or foreign languages- is presented in an artistic way by the teacher and involves and develops the artistic sensibilities and capacities of the child.
The class teacher will, ideally, stay with a class from grade one through grade eight. This “class teacher” provides a structure of authority and security and is a person whom, it is hoped, the children both love and respect. The class teacher is responsible for bringing the comprehensive Waldorf inspired curriculum to the children. The curriculum includes writing, reading, arithmetic and other basic academic skills. Over the eight years, it also features fables, fairy tales, Biblical stories and stories of saints, Norse mythology, Greek and Roman history and mythology, the culture of the Middle Ages, the religions and cultures of the non-Western world- India, ancient Persia, China, Japan and Africa- American and world history, zoology, botany, physics, chemistry, business math, and basic algebra.
Our curriculum also includes the full range of arts and handcrafts. The children learn to paint, draw, model with beeswax and with clay, knit, crochet, sew and embroider, and ideally will have the opportunity to carve and work with wood (a program to be developed). They also learn to sing and to play music. In the first grade all children begin to play the pentatonic flute and from the third grade on, begins to work with the recorder. Also in our third grade each student undertakes the study of an orchestral instrument- usually the violin or cello.
They learn to speak clearly and to recite poetry. Every year they participate in putting on a major dramatic production in which the children use their various developing artistic capacities. Gardening is a part of the curriculum and our school has a developing garden where the children can plant, tend and harvest their own vegetables. We keep chickens and hope to one day have the capacity to keep other farm animals so the children can learn about rabbits, sheep, goats, and their care. Frequent fieldtrips to organic farms and homesteads how supplemented the curriclum in this way.
A “main lesson,” usually ninety minutes in length, follows, dealing with a specific topic in the curriculum for that year. Topics are taught in blocks. Thus, for example, each day for three weeks the main lesson may focus on local history and geography (as in the third grade) or zoology (fifth grade) or chemistry (seventh grade). In all blocks, the teacher seeks to integrate the particular subject with others. For example, in teaching American geography she will interweave material from history, botany, literature, and so on. For each block, every student makes a main lesson book that contains factual information received from the teacher but also his or her own original drawings, illustrations, observations and compositions.
Each main lesson is designed so that the child’s intellect, feeling life, and physical will forces- in other words, the head, heart and hands- are engaged. The balance of the morning is usually taken up with special subjects that are primarily intellectual in nature, such as mathematics, reading and grammar. In the afternoon, classes take place that involve physical activity and/or the arts; handwork, games, music, foreign language (we offer French & German), painting and modeling.
The living, direct relationship between the teacher and the children through the spoken work is considered of great importance. Thus the teacher- rather than the textbook, television or computer-is the source of most information. Also, there are no spelling books or readers; the children read classics of children’s literature. Through the early grades, there are no tests or exams and no letter or numerical grade. Waldorf Education seeks to bring forth a person who loves learning for its own sake, not one who learns in order to pass a test. Our teachers meet regularly with parents to report on a child’s progress and challenges. In our Upper Grades, the teacher may start to give quizzes as a way of reviewing material and also as a preparation for the world of testing, which the students will encounter in their later schooling.
At the beginning of each day, the teacher greets each child by name, usually as he or she enters the classroom. Then the class gathers, and all recite a morning verse, sing, and play music.