The relationship between teacher and child is recognised as being crucial, and itself develops according to the different phases of childhood and early adolescence.
Waldorf schools strive to make each day an organic whole. Just as the unfolding of the person goes through different stages, so to does their day go through the same processes. As well as having content, the curriculum itself has a rhythmic pattern and balance which enhances learning rather than fragmenting it.
The school day is therefore divided into three parts:
1. Main Lesson in the morning;
2. A practice or artistic lesson in the middle period which includes music, languages, painting and drama;
3. Craft and practical activities lesson in the afternoon which may include handwork, bushwalks or games.
The threefold aspects of thinking, feeling and doing are thus nurtured in equal measure, with the result that students’ days are often less effortful but more productive.
The Main Lesson
Main Lesson incorporates the academic focus of an area of study and teaches key subjects during the first 2 hours of the day when the mind is freshest. Each area is studied thematically over a 3-4 week period to allow an in-depth focus, whether it is Mathematics, English, the Sciences or Humanities subjects.
Waldorf Schools aim to present all studies artistically and imaginatively, with the teacher using his/her creativity to make each subject come alive. Indeed, Steiner teachers are dedicated to creating a genuine love of learning within each child. By using art and activities in the service of teaching academics, an internal motivation to learn is gradually established. This is aided on a more subtle level by a beautiful environment and materials like wooden desks, natural fabrics and beeswax crayons, which play their part in nurturing the student’s awareness and satisfaction in what they do.
The mood in the school is one of co-operation rather than competition. Even during game time, which has a competitive element, skill, teamwork and fun are seen as more important than the desire to win.
At this stage of their development the children in class one make the important transition from the Kindergarten to primary where they begin their formal learning. As the children enter Class 1 they experience an emerging independence in the more formal classroom setting. They begin to experience a sense of wholeness and a need for connectedness within their class community. Through lessons which are brought imaginatively and meaningfully, the children’s feeling life is engaged. They are still in a mood of dreamy wholeness, able to bring a broad awareness rather than focused thinking to their learning. Stories, rhythm, pictures and songs assist them to view the world with wonder and reverence. Their imaginations are rich and they live fully into the stories that are told to them. The children’s holistic experience of the world is nourished by archetypal images brought through fairy tales and nature stories. At this age, learning is best taught through activity and imitation
During this first year the class acquires the good habits of classroom life and work. There are numerous moral aims for Class 1, some of which are cultivating reverence for nature, care for the environment, respect for others, interest in the world and the creation of a class that is socially cohesive, who care and listen to each other.
The many group activities, including morning verses, morning circle, games, art and cooking, help each child to experience a sense of belonging. There are many rhythms throughout the day that support the children’s’ security arid social skills, including verses, songs, routines and moments of reverence. Memory is strengthened through the learning and reciting of verses and songs and this in turn strengthens the Will forces.
Through the telling and retelling of fairy tales and legends as well as the recounting of events we develop speech and lay the foundations for correct writing. Through form drawing the children become familiar with the language of forms.
The Class 2 child feels life in every limb, but there is also further growth in the head and nervous system. They are more alert to the world around them and keen for challenge and adventure, though still living strongly in pictorial imagination. These images help them to understand the concepts taught (for example “3 gems for the Gnome King” rather than the abstract idea of “3”). Imagination is changing though, and they no longer faithfully accept the magic of the fairy tale world, but are beginning to recognise causes and conditions. Intellect continues to awaken through artistic activities, colour and music.
Children in Class 2 are at a stage in-between the imaginative realities experienced in Class 1, where Self and the world are one and where there is a feeling for the heavenly that lies behind their world; and the increasing experience of vulnerability and alone-ness as they approach “The Crossing” around Class 3.
New relationships are made with friends as they move away from mother and continue to deepen their sense of independence. There is a maturing of the senses and of coordination as the limbs lengthen and they become more dexterous and physically confident.
In Class 2 the children are able to concentrate for longer and can remember much more in sequential order. Writing, reading and more complex mathematical work can now be extended. Their thinking is based more on outer perceptions of the world.
Play is becoming more reality based as they make tickets and money, play shops and house, or bravely fight battles. Children are increasingly becoming aware of feelings and of their own and others’ abilities. It is therefore important to discourage competition and comparison, and value each child for their uniqueness.
Between the 9th and 10th year (during class 3) the child encounters what is known as “The Crossing.” Also referred to as the crossing of the Rubicon, it is the transitional phase from an unconscious perception of the world to a more conscious one. During this time the child is becoming more aware of the outer -world and their position in it. At the same time, the child experiences more consciously their own unique individuality. In some instances this transitional phase can be quite marked and dramatic for the child, and they can experience feelings of loneliness and separation.
As the Class 3 child becomes more aware of themselves and the physical environment in which they live, a new interest in the practical, material world emerges. After practicing their numeracy skills in class 2 they can now apply these in a wide range of everyday situations which require measuring or weighing, solving simple problems and writing of simple formal letters. By involving the whole class in the experience of working together in building, farming, and other examples of work projects, the class teacher helps to transform the initial feeling of separateness from the physical world into a feeling of responsibility for it.
In the history of humanity the themes of Creation, Authority and Tradition have been expressed in some of the great narratives of ancient human cultures, and stories from these cultures are valuable narratives for the child to experience and explore at this particular age. They express the sense of beginnings that an individual starts to confront and question as they look at the world as a self-conscious entity: How did things begin? Where do I come from? These narratives do not answer the questions but offer expressions posed of earlier and traditional answers in the form of myth and literature.
Safe across the Rubicon the intrepid crew breathe a heavy sigh of relief and peer around at their new surroundings. It is a new land of unknown potential. The first impulse is to stake a claim, explore and exploit. We come, we see and we conquer. Some claims are modest, some ambitious and some in between. Exploration takes us into the wild unknown, perhaps bringing back souvenirs from established civilisations. We mine for riches that may or may not be of value.
Mostly we return to our home base before it gets too dark!
All of the above is fun, boisterous, bewildering, dangerous, naughty and a little bit frightening. We might impress our friends with a mask we borrowed from a nearby village, we may want to attack our neighbours for their store of wealth or we could realise that as well as having fun, we might have to help each other to keep house and home together. It would definitely help if there was an older and wiser that might be discretely consulted regarding the right way to go about things, because everybody else is always causing annoyance. Or one who might be able to teach us a thing or two about how to make our best way in the world.
In class four the world is our oyster; a big oyster. With lots of other people fighting over the pearl! Our bravado is bought of confidence in the strong support, and of the success we have had negotiating the world thus far.
Ragnarok ends like Pandora’s Box with the promise of hope. A new world of our own with all the responsibility and mystery to come!
Themes for the Year:
The aim of Class 4 is first and foremost to channel the powerful energy which ten year old’s bring to the classroom. Pupils need to be challenged and stretched in every possible aspect of their work. ‘Work, work and lots of it” is the motto for Class 4.
The teacher aims to meet, through imaginatively presented lessons, the growing interest of the children in more concrete areas of knowledge and to provide them with opportunities for more independence in their work. Individually the children need to find a new relationship to their work, to their peers and teachers. The narrative content of the lessons aim to respond by offering stories in which a multiplicity of personalities contributes to the social whole (stories of the Norse Gods) and in which darkness and evil become more concrete. The children should begin to identify individual ‘badness’ in contrast to social or communal ‘goodness’. The children form a sense of where they are in relation to their environment, in both a social and geographical sense.
Having lived in the world of the fairy-tale, legend and myth in the first four school years, the children now are ready for the borderland between mythology and history proper. Through vast pictures of human evolution we move from the dawn of prehistory in the ancient cultures of India and Persia. Stories from these ancient civilizations give an historical picture of the human being in his development into the material world, which parallel the child’s own descent into the world of matter;
We are giving the children a picture of their own evolution (Jacobson A, 2009).
Through the stories of Indian gods, the children glimpse a civilization that resisted an involvement with the world of the senses; a dream world which had a timeless quality. The children experience a major change with the stories of ancient Persia and Babylonia. Zarathrustra brings agriculture to the world as a tool, a time where the earth is consciously worked upon. Later in ancient Egypt the children experience an age that has left us monuments, works of art and written records. The Egyptians felt the lawfulness and beauty of the world, and became recorders of cosmic measures and relationships. With the transition to Greece, the children experience the physical permeated by the ideal; the human being is a joyful citizen of the world not yet lost in materialism.
The study of ancient cultures affords an opportunity to integrate learning through the experience of music, dances, foods, crafts and mythologies which all bring a greater depth of learning than conceptual analysis at this age.
For the student in Class 5 there is a strengthening of the individual’s relationship to the world. The experience and sense of Self grows and the individual Will comes from this developing centre. There is a growing awareness of the interrelatedness of the whole. As the children now move to meet the world with confidence out of their individuality, they can choose to connect to the other through empathy. They begin to develop a sense of morality and personal responsibility.
This connectedness and evolving world view is developed further in space with geographical and mapping skills applied to the local region and state, and out to the maps and worlds of ancient civilisations. There is a conscious engagement with the history of the ancient world, and also that of Australia, both Indigenous and colonial history. Grammar too becomes more conscious as the children examine and utilise the various rules and structures that make up our language.
The students have a desire to be challenged mathematically and to improve their skills. They consolidate earlier learning and are conscious of wanting to reach a level of proficiency. Decimals set the stage for work with percentages in Class 5. The students become increasingly competent in mathematical skills and independent of pictorial representation. They solve problems, choose strategies and work with decimals.
Later in the year the beauty of geometry speaks to the children. The more accurate their constructions, the greater their aesthetic quality. They are interested in discovering the properties of numbers which can still fill them with wonder. In geometry they are able to complete complex constructions and begin to work with instruments.
The basic rules, processes and structures of literacy and numeracy are generally in place, built on a firm foundation of rhythmic and pictorial and concrete work as well as frequent skills practice, so that now emergent intellectual faculties can, by the end of the year, be drawn upon more consciously.
The pre-pubescent phase of a 12 year old signals the beginning of the development of the child’s individuality – “a total separation of the child’s personality from the outside world” (Lievegoed, 1997).
The child’s inner life becomes more introspective, reflective and self-centred. The feeling for the forces of gravity in their bodies and the development of their limbs brings the children in touch with their Will forces. There develops an aggressive, forceful attitude, which mirrors their physical need to conquer the world. They have an inner need to conquer and dominate all around them. They want to experience their strength and impose their Will. At this stage of development the children’s intellectual forces enable them to understand the causality of the world. The child as yet lacks the capacity for independent judgment, as there is still a strong personal and subjective element in their thinking.
During class 6 it is important that the child be brought into elements of deductive thinking, logical thought processes and into their analytical and critical faculties (Rawson, 1996). The children’s questioning, searching attitude should be directed to the world of lifeless nature and the laws that can be deduced to explain phenomenon. They want to know laws exist independently from humanity.
Themes of the year:
In class 6 the Roman epoch becomes the focus for the year. The Roman epoch enables the children to experience the changes in the Roman civilisation from the establishment of the republic, and the human qualities of honour and integrity needed to keep the republic functioning, to the decadence and corruption which led to its downfall (Staley, 1988). This helps the children develop moral discrimination at a time when they themselves are struggling with their own feelings for justice. The children can be given opportunities to take more responsibility for their own class community, which may stimulate a new way of relating to each other.
Nature of the Class Seven Child:
In Class Seven, the students reach thirteen years of age, and become teenagers. There is still accelerated growth in the limbs, and an associated awkwardness in movement. Physical identity and capacity becomes established, in advance of psychological development, and the students become very conscious of their bodies. Sporadic bursts of energy and willingness to engage in physical activity alternate with periods of lethargy. Physical activity is important at this age to provide a healthy outlet for the students’ energy and to support the development of muscle strength.
There in a growing sense of Self within the students, with a new relationship being established with the world. This can manifest in the challenging of adult authority and yearning for independence. This desire for independence and introspection is often accompanied by feelings of sensitivity, anxiety, and embarrassment. There are significant differences between the way boys and girls handle the onset of adolescence, and students tend to form strong friendships in small, tight-knit groups of their own gender. Students may develop crushes on sporting figures, actors and popular musicians as they search for role models and long to take their place in the adult world.
Students at this age become very focused on the outside world. At the same time, they are undergoing physical and psychological changes which can leave them with a certain inner insecurity. So while on one hand they are ready to reach out to meet the world, on the other they can become uncertain, incommunicative with adults, and hide behind masks. They search for their own identity, and are keen to assert their opinion, often argumentatively, but cling to the jargon and clothing of their peer group.
Themes for the Year:
As the inner quest of students is taken up through their outer adventures, the Arthurian Legends of knightly and chivalrous exploits provide students with literary content that is particularly suitable for this age group. Physical education lessons and class games, as well as the sailing camp provide vital physical and attitudinal challenges.
Biographical studies play a significant role in the presentation of historical information. In studying the lives of individuals who exemplify inspiring qualities, or who have struggled with obstacles or failings, students recognise and reflect on human attributes and on questions of social responsibility. It fosters in students, who are now experiencing unrest in their inner lives, a balancing and healthy interest in global perspectives and the outer world.
Empathy and respect for different belief systems and ways of living are born out of knowledge and understanding. In learning about the history of diverse cultures the students come to identify commonality between their world and that of the cultures studied.
Students learn to appreciate the cultural and spiritual heritages of other societies and to understand and appreciate the unique characteristics of their own.
The need to explore and reach further into the outside world is met by the curriculum with the theme of exploration. In the history main lessons the curriculum looks at the age of exploration and investigates the geography and cultures encountered by these explorers. As they are strongly aware of their physicality, the class seven student delves into the physical sciences of mechanics, physiology and chemistry as avenues to deeply explore the relationships between human beings and matter. The clear understanding found in the mechanical-causative connections, and the physical environmental-health connections, provide a sense of mastery of both the outer and inner world of the young person, and a sense of care, both for self, other and the wider world.