“I think that it is not exaggerated to say that no other educational system in the world gives such a central role to the arts as the Waldorf school movement. There is not a subject taught that does not have an artistic aspect. . .Steiner’s system of education is built on the premise that art is an integral part of human endeavors. . . Anything that can be done to further his revolutionary educational ideals will be of the greatest importance.”
— Konrad Oberhuber, Curator of Drawings, Fogg Art Museum; Professor of Fine Arts, Harvard University
Main lesson subjects studied in all Waldorf schools include social science and literature, geography, mathematics, language arts, and the natural sciences.
Social Science and Literature
This rich and extensive curriculum serves to develop a deep appreciation of the foundations of Western culture and introduces children to stories from around the world, embracing the development and diversity of humankind. As the children progress through the grades, their own development is reflected in the subjects that are studied.
In the early grades, young children are immersed in the magic and wonder of fairy tales from around the world. Animal stories nurture the children’s natural attraction to the animal kingdom, and mythical stories of the deeds of saints from multicultural traditions exemplify the qualities of courage and integrity.
At nine and ten years old, as the children inquire more about the world they live in, they hear the stories of the Old Testament and celebrate Jewish festival traditions. Tales of the Norse capture the imagination of the growing child’s sense of adventure, and the mythology and traditions of Native American culture bring life to their geographical surroundings.
Fifth and sixth grades mark the graceful epitome of childhood before the emergence of adolescence. During this period the children are immersed in the history and literature of the ancient cultures of India, Persia, Mesopotamia, Egypt, and Greece. As the children enter adolescence, their growing awareness of justice, law, and order coincides with the study of the development and fall of Ancient Rome, followed by the Middle Ages.
Continuing into adolescence, students learn about the Age of Exploration and are inspired by the masters of the Renaissance, particularly Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and Raphael. The study of the Age of Revolution is particularly appropriate for eighth graders, many of whom show passion for various causes in the world around them. During this year, history studies and biographical literature continue into the modern world, and the students stand well prepared to enter into their high school years.
Children are introduced to geography in their house building studies in third grade. In third and fourth grades, students begin to map their immediate surroundings. By pacing the boundaries and fields of Sunfield Farm, they each create a pictorial map. Exploratory field trips are taken to interesting features of local geography. As the students progress through the grades, geography studies expand to incorporate studies of Washington state and North America and eventually embrace all of the earth. Geography studies are interwoven with history as well as natural sciences, such as botany and geology. Through the study of geography, children are able to gain appreciation for the connections between the earth’s resources and human activity.
In Waldorf schools, arithmetic begins in first grade when the children are introduced to the intrinsic quality of each number and to the concept of how each number proceeds from the number one. A lively, multi-sensory approach using natural manipulatives, rhythmical counting, number rhymes, and memory games reinforces number patterns.
Beginning in first grade, the four processes of arithmetic – addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division – are taught simultaneously through imaginative stories. Using activities such as clapping, hopping and skipping, tossing bean bags, and forming geometric shapes, the multiplication tables are learned, beginning in second grade. Engaging all of the child’s physical and mental faculties deepens the child’s comprehension of the interrelationships between numbers, making mastery of the multiplication tables easier to accomplish. Fractions are introduced in fourth grade, followed by decimals and percentages in fifth and sixth grades, respectively. Geometry, algebra, and related higher mathematics are introduced in sixth through eighth grades.
In addition to math Main Lesson blocks, ongoing practice work in math alternates with practice work in the language arts throughout the school year.
The language arts curriculum begins in first grade with a pictorial introduction to the alphabet. Before teaching sound and word recognition, first-grade Waldorf teachers tell imaginative stories and poems about the shape of each letter. For example, when teaching the letter W, the fairy tale “A Fisherman and His Wife” may be told, and a tongue twister about a watery wave may be learned. Each child illustrates the waves in his or her own Main Lesson book, forming the letter W within the waves. Words and simple sentences are written down next to the illustration. There is a sense of ownership as the young students read the words that they themselves have written in their own books. These activities help to build a child’s love of language.
In the younger grades, grammar, spelling, and composition are practiced in imaginative, playful, and colorful ways so that the children grow to appreciate and understand the joy and beauty inherent in language. As students progress through the grades, writing skills are developed through poetry, compositions, research reports, and creative writing.
Poetry, speech, and recitation are included in the entire language arts program from first through eighth grades. In addition to the language arts Main Lesson blocks, ongoing practice work in the language arts alternates with practice work in math throughout the school year.
The sciences begin with daily nature walks in the early grades, awakening wonder for the natural world, and advance to rigorous studies in the older grades, developing the skills for accurate observation and exploratory thinking. Throughout all of the grades, Waldorf students spend ample time exploring and learning outdoors.
The Waldorf science curriculum relates many of the studies in science to aspects of the human being. For example, when studying zoology in fourth or fifth grade, children consider the metabolic system of the cow, the circulatory system of the lion, and the nervous system of the mouse and become aware that each animal exhibits one part of the human being in a highly specialized form. When studying plants in fifth grade, students consider their own respiratory systems while learning about the biological processes that take place in the plant’s leaf. This method of presentation helps children gain an appreciation of the deep connection between humanity, all other living beings, and the earth.
From sixth through eighth grade, students use direct experience to discover scientific concepts. The students will perform an experiment and closely observe the results. On the following day, they will discuss their findings, seeking to discover the physical laws or formulae that govern the process. Through this method, the skills necessary for scientific thinking, precise reporting, and sound judgment are developed.
Environmental and ecological awareness are nurtured throughout the entire Waldorf science curriculum, fostering the respectful treatment of the natural world. At Sunfield, our eighty-one acres of fields, forests, and wetlands provide numerous opportunities for hands-on agricultural and environmental learning experiences that enhance many of our studies in the sciences, including zoology, botany, ecology, geology, physical science, and chemistry.
In all Waldorf schools, seasonal activities and celebrations embracing the natural rhythms of the year serve to deepen the beauty inherent in the natural sciences.