Keynotes for Each Grade
One thing that I have noticed over the years of working with parents interested in Waldorf education is that often people forget to look much beyond the grade/age that their children are currently at. This causes much confusion and sometimes impatience – “When will we learn about China?” ” Why don’t we do geometric proofs now?” and so on. Having an overview of the entire curriculum and a working understanding of the flow of the curriculum can be enormously helpful. On our curriculm FAQ page on our website, we have an overview of the progression of different aspects of the curriculum which parents can peruse.
Our goal at Christopherus is to help people understand the curriculum so that they are not merely following a set of instructions or doing something “because that’s what we do in fourth grade”. The beauty of homeschooling is to make something one’s own. And to truly do that, one has to understand what it is one is dealing with.
And so a first step is to get to grips with an anthroposophical view of child development as this is what Waldorf education rests upon. We sell Rudolf Seiner’s Kingdom of Childhood in our bookstore – this is a great first step for those wishing to truly penetrate the curriculum Another possibility is our Curriculum Overview, the only guide available that takes readers through the Waldorf curriculum from the point of view of how to make this work in the home.
In our Overview I characterize each year with a phrase that characterizes that year. If one grasps the essence of each year, then one is not stuck wondering whether one’s innovative ideas for math, for instance, are “really Waldorf”. One understands what is meant to be achieved during the course of that year and then one can make choices and be creative in meeting one’s children’s needs.
I won’t repeat what is written in the Overview, but I wanted to give a taste of this unfolding of the curriculum by laying out a few keynotes for each grade:
First Grade – nothing is more important than imitation in first grade. Gesture, especially, is everything, and the challenge to the teacher is to capture the right mood of soul and right accompanying gestures for everything she does. Wonder and awe must not be spoiled by premature intellectualism.
Second Grade – here the innate musicality of the Waldorf curriculum really comes to the fore. The rhythms of each day, each week, each lesson should be crafted with care, so that a healing in and out breath permeates everything that is done. An example of this breathing in and breathing out can be seen between the pull of the moral stories in Animal Legends and in Saints & Heroes.
Third Grade – the child’s relationship to authority comes to the fore this year as she struggles with issues of separation, outer authority and the beginnings of inner authority. All this is, of course, unconscious, and should remain so as it is a struggle that needs to take place in the soul, not in the mind.
Fourth Grade – as a further step toward independence, the child must be allowed to discover all sides of his inner being, both Light and Dark. Moral struggles come to the fore and are met through the rich and morally ambiguous stories which feature in the curriculum. Playing heroes (good guy, bad guy) is vital and children should not be shamed away from this critical stage in their inner development.
Fifth Grade – the child is now balanced between early childhood and the first whispers of adolescence. Yet she is still a child and must continue to be allowed to be one. Play, unscheduled time to day dream and freedom from too much responsibility need to be maintained. At the same time, the child needs to be challenged more intellectually – the rigors of the fifth grade Waldorf curriculum ensure that this is happens.
Sixth Grade – the first whispers of logical thought and the more earth bound consciousness that accompanies this begin to show. The child’s very body becomes heavier as gravity affects her very muscular and skeletal systems. A challenge for adults is to help lift a child from the heaviness that sometimes predominates at this age.
Seventh Grade – now the child looks beyond the usual boundaries for adventure, whether physical, intellectual or otherwise. Care must be taken that cynicism or apathy do not set in and while it is quite appropriate for the child to now come more into everyday life with its challenges, it is very easy for a child of this age to become overcome with despair at the weight of the darkness in our world. The child must be inspired and energized as she discovers the wonders of our world – not overwhelmed or unduly saddened. Yet she must also start to come to grips with the complexity of modern life. Her earlier moral foundations arising from the story curriculum will help guide her as she grows and matures.
Eighth Grade – an important part of this year is a recapitulation of the past whilst looking toward the future. Working together with his or her teacher whilst still respecting the adult’s knowledge and experience is vital. This is a hard path to tread and new challenges in parent-child relationships come with adolescence. But the rewards are great and the security a homeschooled teen can experience as he becomes strong enough to actually be effective in our world is inestimable.