Wednesday, May 24, 2006


A Look at the Waldorf Curriculum

A Look at the Waldorf Curriculum

by Kathe A. Conti

"Receive the Child with Reverence,
Educate them with Love,
Send them forth in Freedom."
- Rudolf Steiner, Founder of Waldorf Education

At Waldorf schools worldwide, children are treated with special reverence. Like delicate, newborn flowers, they are nurtured in sheltered gardens, protected from the harsh, natural elements until they are ready to stand on their own. And, just like flowers, they are allowed to grow gently, without being inundated by "too much" fertilizer that often prompts premature growth. The unfolding of the children in Waldorf schools happens as naturally as carefully tended flowers that bloom forth into poignant sweetness.

The curriculum of a Waldorf school is designed to meet the various changes in development that occur naturally throughout childhood. Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925), who was both a universal humanist and a scientist, initiated this unique and vibrant educational system. He offered invaluable suggestions for the renewal of mankind - not only in education, but also in medicine, agriculture, the arts and the sciences. His most enduring work perhaps, is that of his education program for children from kindergarten through high school.

Waldorf education is unique in many ways, primarily in how children are taught and when they are taught various subjects. Though Steiner offered specific direction to his teachers, he also felt strongly that an individual teacher should be free to create lessons from his or her own artistic strivings and world experience. The ultimate goal of a Waldorf teacher is to help the children connect with their own innate capacities for imitation and imagination, and for their educational experience to truly live and grow within them - a flower of learning within the flower that is the child.

All Waldorf teachers share the following concepts, no matter what grade they teach. These are the foundation of the Steiner method.

- Balanced Rhythm Every day, and in every lesson, children thrive on a balanced rhythm - a taking in of experience and then a breathing-out through artistic expression. Out of this "breathing", concepts are "born"within the children.

- Artistic Concepts All concepts presented to the children are done in an artistic manner, clothed in stories and woven into the being of the child through the arts, such as painting, drawing, sculpting, singing, Eurythmy (an art of movement), handwork, speech and drama.

- Multi-Sensory Approach Learning is approached through a multi-sensory experience that naturally recognizes children learn in many ways, and this allows each one the opportunity to succeed.

- Appreciation The children are encouraged to work carefully and thoroughly. A natural result of this attitude is an appreciation by the children for beauty and a reverence for the great works of the world.

A Brief Look At The Waldorf Curriculum
Waldorf schools recognize that the young child learns primarily through imitation and example. Great care is taken to create an environment that brings nurturing warmth, guidance and cooperation to a child’s world of constructive fantasy and imagination. The Kindergarten week is rhythmically structured to include: storytelling and puppetry, creative work and play, singing and creative movement, games and finger plays, baking and crafts, art activities, and fairy tales.
The Kindergarten year also follows the natural cycle of Mother Nature and includes many festivals that become cherished activities for the entire family.

During the elementary school years, the children’s individuality emerges. While they acquire competent skills, intellectual ability and academic knowledge, they also develop their own inner world of feelings. By educating them through a conscious appeal to their feelings as well as their thoughts, Waldorf education succeeds in meeting the true needs of an individual child.

The class teacher is central to Waldorf education. This teacher continues from grade to grade with the same children and is responsible for their main lesson subjects through the 8th grade. Thus the teacher’s unique life experience and passion for teaching becomes integral in their students’ educational experience. This teacher has the advantage of often knowing his or her students from 1st grade on, a powerful tool in helping each child achieve their innate potential.

Throughout the elementary school years, the students create their own carefully written and beautifully illustrated lesson books for each subject studied. These personal creations become a treasured record and reminder of all their learning over the years. A fuller description of the main lessons taught at each grade level follows.

- 1st Grade Fairy tales, folk tales, nature stories, pictorial and phonetic introduction to letters, form drawing, reading approached through writing, qualities of numbers, introduction of the four processes in arithmetic, lower multiplication.

- 2nd Grade Fables, legends of saints, nature lore, reading, phonetics, spelling, composition and grammar, development of basic arithmetic operations including carrying and borrowing.

- 3rd Grade Old Testament stories introduce history, study of practical life (farming, housing, clothing), reading, spelling, writing, original compositions, grammar, punctuation and parts of speech, cursive writing, higher multiplication tables, weight measure and money.

- 4th Grade Norse mythology and sagas, composition, letter writing, local geography and map making, Colorado history, study of the animal kingdom, fractions.

- 5th Grade Greek myths, ancient civilizations through Greek times, American geography related to vegetation, agriculture and economies, composition, grammar, spelling, reading, arithmetic (decimals, ratio and proportion), botany.

- 6th Grade Roman and Medieval history, European and South American geography, mineralogy, physics (acoustics, electricity, magnetism, optics and heat), composition, grammar, spelling, biographies, introduction to algebra, geometric drawing with instruments, botany and astronomy.

- 7th Grade Arthurian legends, voyages of discovery, the Renaissance, world geography, physics (mechanics), physiology (blood and muscles), astronomy, chemistry, composition, grammar, spelling, literature, arithmetic (pre-algebra, geometry, graphs).

- 8th Grade American history and the industrial revolution, world geography, meteorology, chemistry, physiology, business writing, practical writing, reporting, reading and discussion, Shakespearean literature, epic and dramatic poetry, algebra, solid geometry, volume computation, world climates, oceanography, black and white drawing.

- In Addition to the Main Lessons Foreign languages, speech, music (singing, recorder, instruments), form drawing, painting, clay and beeswax modeling, woodworking, drama, physical education, creative movement, and computer skills in the upper grades.

Kathe A. Conti is a parent at Shepherd Valley Waldorf School in Niwot and the editor of the school newsletter, The STAR.

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