Between the ages of seven and fourteen, the intense physical activity of early childhood gives way to the feeling life of the child. Learning through imitation diminishes and the child turns to the teacher in a new way. The child is now ready to work with the abstracts of academics.
Beginning in the first grade, academics are learned through stories and artistic experiences that stir the student’s feelings. While teaching the necessary academics, the rich and diverse Waldorf elementary curriculum is designed to cultivate this feeling of intelligence, thus stimulating creative thinking and memory. While in the first grade, the child will hear folk and fairy tales and out of these he or she will find the letters and numbers, learn arithmetic and begin to write. By the fifth grade, he or she will be hearing stories about the history of ancient civilizations. These stories mirror where the children are developmentally — the macrocosm of the development of mankind is experienced within the microcosm of the child on his or her path to maturity.
Each day begins with morning circle – children recite verses and poetry, and engage in movement activities. After the circle, the children do their main lesson work in which the academic subjects are taught during an uninterrupted period of time usually lasting about two hours. Each subject is taught in an intensive block of three or more weeks – for example, botany may be taught one month, followed by a month of geography. This way, students explore in depth a particular topic without distractions.
The lessons are taught by way of oral tradition. The students listen and discuss the day’s lesson, and then go to the blank page of their lesson books and recreate what they have been taught. Younger students will copy down what the teacher has written on the board while the older students will use their own powers of composition to record what they have learned. In this manner, the students create their own textbooks for each subject, fully engaging the creative process of thinking. There are no tests, textbooks, or computers in the Waldorf elementary classroom, since these inhibit the child’s natural creative ability. Ideally, the same teacher travels with his or her class through the grades and deeply knows each child’s strengths and weaknesses, working closely with the parents every step of the way.
The rest of the students’ day builds upon the academic subjects learned in the main lesson and some are taught by specialty teachers: two foreign languages are taught (generally a Romance and non-Romance language), form drawing, games, singing and instrumental music (pentatonic flutes in the first grade, recorders in the second and third grades, and stringed instruments and woodwinds in the upper grades), handwork, and artistic activities such as water color, beeswax modeling, and clay sculpting.
Begin reading about each individual grade with an in-depth look at first grade.