The teacher is challenged to enliven classroom activities with movement, colour, poetry and living imagery. In the lessons there is a balance between listening, speaking and doing, between humour and seriousness, taking in, transforming and giving out.
A pillar of the Waldorf School curriculum is the main lesson. One content subject at a time is taught every day in depth for a period of 3 or 4 weeks. The rest of the timetable follows a regular rhythmic pattern. Core subjects such as mathematics, English literature and grammar appear both in main lesson blocks and ongoing practice periods. Subjects like languages require constant repetition.
In primary school no subject is optional. Each subject has a moral as well as an intellectual content. When taught as an integrated whole, a child is led to comprehend the marvels of the plant world, the wisdom in zoology, the order that reigns in the starry sky, in the body of the human being, in science and in art. The goal is for the child to develop an attitude of wonder, fascination, reverence and gratitude which leads to a joyous enthusiasm and affirmation of life.
The sections below address the specific class curricula:
Classes and Curriculum
Overview of the 6-7 year-old child
The Grade 1 experience is a pivotal one in the development of the child. It makes a clear transition from the nurturing communal experience of the Kindergarten into the self-awareness experience of Grade 1.
When starting Grade 1, the children are aware instinctively that the time to enter upon a new stage of learning has arrived. The child is ready to explore the inner worlds of memory and imagination and the outer worlds of new friendships and relationships with class and subject teachers.
During this first year the class acquires the good habits of classroom life and work, which will form the basis for all subsequent learning at school. Cultivating reverence for nature, care for the environment, respect for others, interest in the world and a feeling of confidence in their teachers – these are the moral aims for Grade 1. The teachers aim to lead the children into becoming a socially cohesive group who care for and listen to each other.
Physical, emotional, spiritual
The Grade 1 child has powerful new capacities of intellect available as a result of successfully growing into his or her physical body and senses during the first seven years of life. As a general indication, children who have begun to lose their first teeth (second teeth coming in) are emotionally mature and physically developed enough to cope with the demands of a more formal learning process. To begin with, the child’s memory is no longer dependent upon sight or a sound for recall. As a result, it now becomes free to serve the learning process.
The entire Class 1 Curriculum is presented in a way that appeals to the child’s sense of wonder and developing capacity of inner imagination. Academic subjects with the class teacher emphasise language, arts, arithmetic and form drawing, and are enlivened for the students through their imaginations, speech recitation, music, movement and the arts – watercolour painting, beeswax modelling and drawing. Movement through rhythmic circle work, eurythmy and games helps to bring warmth, order and sequence to the limbs and allows students to work together to learn important concepts through their whole bodies—a foundation for academic concepts for years to come. The child is cultivating a special inner vision that allows them to reach beyond the given and create something uniquely his or her own. The children are introduced to the letters of the alphabet through the rich language of fairy tales and stories in a concrete yet creative way. Letters become more than abstract symbols; they embody rich sounds and vivid pictures. Eventually the children will write, and then read, their own readers.
In Maths, the Grade 1s experience the qualities of numbers as well as all four processes of addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. Through these explorations, the children develop a mathematical sense that lives and matures throughout elementary school and beyond. Science is approached through nature stories and observations. Children are natural scientists; throughout the grades the Curriculum aims to cultivate the sense of wonder, awe and curiosity that is a foundation for true scientific inquiry.
The children learn to knit with needles. This is an indispensable part of the curriculum at this stage because of the relationship between finger movement, speech and thinking. It helps to support the reading process through functional eye-hand coordination.
Children also practice Form Drawing from the very first day, which helps them orient to reading and writing in the two-dimensional world of the page.
Music reigns throughout Grade 1. The children sing during many lessons, and they begin to play the pentatonic recorder with its five harmonious notes. The class also shares a play tied to the curriculum, as one group, in verse and song.
ENGLISH: Traditional fairy tales from world literature told, re-told and dramatised by the class. These stories, together with poems, provide the main material for writing, development of memory and imagination. Writing is developed out of movement, painting and drawing, and reading out of writing and sounds. Each child writes their own first reading books. Awareness of sounds. Speech formation.
MATHEMATICS: Rhythmic counting through movement, up to 100. Simple application of the four operations, from the whole to the parts.
ENVIRONMENT STUDY: Nature stories and seasonal festivals awaken in the child a more conscious interest in the world around him.
LANGUAGES: Afrikaans and Xhosa. The child learns through, the spoken word. Games, songs and poems bring to the ear of the child the rhythm, melody and sound of the language. Simple conversation is stimulated.
ARTS AND TECHNOLOGY: Singing and playing recorder in the pentatonic scale. Eurythmy. Drawing of rhythmical forms and balanced patterns to develop judgement, accuracy and harmony. Watercolour painting. Boys and girls learn to knit for well-knit thinking in later years. Beeswax modelling.
PHYSICAL EXERCISES, SENSE TRAINING: Games in the round for social awareness. Exercises and games to develop coordination skills, balance and bodily control.
The transition into Grade 1 is a big one – everything is new – new rhythms, new expectations, new feelings and new awakenings. Apart from continuing established rhythms, parents can help their children by not filling up their afternoon space with too many structured activities – allow the children to play, to breathe, to assimilate. A wonderfully strengthening exercise is to ‘review’ the day with your child before bedtime – simply review – without any comments, advice or ‘how did it feel’. Perhaps the following morning you can give the child a judgement-free reminder or word of encouragement.
We often say that children ‘grow up’ – as indeed they do. What would you think, though, if you were to hear that children also ‘grow down’ and ‘grow in’? This is so much of the class experience from the very first day. Everything is new – sitting at a desk, new friends, new awareness of hands and feet, new listening, new doing – and the new capacity to embrace this all with trust and immense open-heartedness.
From the first moment together, one stands, as a teacher, in awe of the immensity of this journey, this dynamic that exists between growing ‘up’ and ‘down’; and also between the ‘growing in’ to oneself and the journey that will take the child ‘growing out’ into the world.
Overview of the 7-8 year-old child
Grade 2 is the time of virtue. It is the bridge between the beginnings of formal learning to becoming aware of self; between the wholeness and fairy tale world of Grade 1 and the transformation of soul that takes place in Grade 3. There are two aspects alive in children of this age – they still have their angelic qualities of early children and need a worthy role model to imitate, but they are also awakening to the earthly qualities represented by the animal kingdom. The polarity between the saints and the animals, as revealed in the stories, lives in these children.
During this year the children show enjoyment in their own abilities. They begin to write and read their own little stories after energetically stepping out the sounds in various rhythms and enacting them in little plays. They revel in playing with numbers and counting whatever they can. They are open and trusting and ready to participate positively in all aspects of their learning environment.
Physical, emotional, spiritual
Children in Grade 2 have not yet made a clear distinction between ‘me’ and ‘the outside world’. The children incorporate events and experiences according to their own world picture. Concepts are best assimilated when they are mobile, imaginative and pictorial.
During this year the initial experiences of Grade 1 are deepened and enriched, the new skills from the previous year are practiced and developed. But now the children are more aware of what happens around them and are more confident and exuberant – the terrible twos? The mood of wholeness experienced in Grade 1 differentiates into contrasts – a tempting awareness of the mischievous, both in themselves and their classmates, balanced with a more conscious, ‘down to earth’ feeling for a ‘higher’ more spiritual element.
Rhythmical memory is at its strongest in these early school years and the Grade 2 child learns poems, rhymes and times tables easily through a real enjoyment of rhythmical repetition, often combined with stepping out various rhythms.
In Grade 1 the fairy tale reigns supreme. But the children are ‘coming down to earth’ and are connecting more and more to the physical world around them. In Grade 2 they begin to need a more human element in their stories and the individual’s relation with nature. There are two kinds of stories which do this. The first is the fable in which animals not only speak and enjoy human powers as they do in fairy tales, but they personify a particular human quality, virtue or vice. Fables poke fun at weaknesses of one-sided temperaments. These stories are found in the folk tales of nations all over the world and the temperament of the characters generally agree; sly fox or jackal; greedy wolf or hyena; powerful, slow bear; quick, sanguine, naughty trickster of a rabbit; steady but not stupid tortoise; powerful and easily-angered lion; wise, aloof and majestic elephant. As a balance, Grade 2s also work with stories and legends of great and good Saints who show the human qualities of love and wisdom (St Frances, St Christopher, St Jerome).These holy people live in such sympathy with nature that they communicate with an authority over the elements and over the animals.
These stories form the basis not only for reading and writing, but for arithmetic as well, where simple story sums can be used to introduce and practice the four operations.
Movement has an important part to play, and allied to movement are acting and speech where the actual sounds of words are more important than the sense. In Grade 2 the emphasis is on phonics – how spoken sounds are encoded by particular letters or letter groups.
ENGLISH: Fables, animal stories and legends of saints from world literature told, re-told and acted, written and read. Nature lore. The child is led over to small letters, then to cursive writing. Children’s own writing provides most of the reading. First readers are introduced. Awareness of sounds. Speech formation. Poetry.
MATHEMATICS: The four operations lead into a wider realm of numbers. Tables are learnt by heart. A great deal of mental arithmetic is done to develop facilities and strengthen memory.
ENVIRONMENT STUDY, SECOND and THIRD LANGUAGES, ARTS and TECHNOLOGY, PHYSICAL EXERCISES, SENSE TRAINING: work continued from Grade 1.
We recommend that parents take steps to protect and defend the Grade 2 child’s own fantasy life from the unceasing assaults of various forms of media and electronic entertainment, television, and commercialism – the amorality and intellectualism of our times. This is best done by allowing plenty of time to be spent in free, creative play with sand, water, wood, fabric – a whole assortment of various and natural materials. Encourage your child to observe, experiment and explore without time limits or an overloaded extramural schedule.
Take an interest in your child’s reading. We teach reading through the active movement of writing. Ask your child to give you rhyming words with short vowel sounds (‘which animal can fly and it rhymes with cat and flat?’; ‘Which body part rhymes with sand?’ etc.) We learn many rhyming verses in class – these help with things like sound recognition, pronunciation and memory development. Some children are already truly reading ‘chapter books’. Some pretend to do this and others are not even remotely interested yet. Reading will come to your child at the time and pace that she or he is ready for it. However, you can continue the gentle encouragement of starting to read by the three steps: read to your child, read with your child and let them read to you.
Overview of the 8-9 year-old child
The keyword for this age and stage of development is ‘the Rubicon’ – a term used by Rudolf Steiner to describe the transition that the 9 year-old children go through. For the children there is no going back. This is an essential process where they begin to discover their individuality and ways of interacting with the world. Little is said of this important rite of passage in conventional literature but it is important that this stage of development is recognised and understood by both the teachers and by the children’s parents. Like all transitions, it can be a painful ‘birthing’ process. The children start to leave behind the blissful, carefree early childhood and enter their middle childhood.
Physical, emotional, spiritual
At this stage the children become far more aware of both the outer world and their own inner world and this can come with vulnerability and insecurity. It can manifest physically as tummy and headaches, sleep problems, or as emotional problems. Many a parent has voiced their concern to the class teacher about their child’s feelings of their separateness from the world (I am lonely because no one will play with me), irrational fears (a previously secure child may suddenly not want to have playdates or sleep over at a friend’s house), or a dread of losing a loved one (“Who will look after me if mom or dad dies?”) As a teacher, it can be a challenging year, where a class of ‘angels’ begins to see the trusted teacher without the rose-coloured spectacles of previous years. The teacher’s authority will be (and should be) questioned and we are no longer seen to be the font of all knowledge and wisdom. In spite of these negative aspects, this period must be seen in a positive light, for the children emerge with a new-found independence and much personal growth. We have seen many a shy child find their voice and really begin to shine in class. Some little ‘Napoleons’ begin to see that there are other children in the class who have their own ideas and wishes.
The stories from the Old Testament are the ‘meat and bones’ of this year. No longer is it appropriate to cocoon the children. Many of the stories deal with issues of authority and freedom and really bring the children to an awareness of the harsher realities of life. In the very first Main Lesson, the children hear about the story of Adam and Eve’s banishment from Eden. This particular story has a profound impact at this particular time. It perfectly reflects the turmoil that the children find themselves in. Gone is the perfect Garden of Eden, where everything was supplied for them. Now they are ‘on Earth’ (perhaps with quite a bump) and need to find their own way in the world, ‘through the sweat of their brows.’
The children do a great deal of sweating! This is certainly one of the most practical years at school and the children spend a great deal of time outside. Like Adam and Eve, they learn about farming and how we must be the caretakers of the Earth. In this throw- away society, we also try to bring in the subject of recycling at this stage, if not before. Many children are avid ‘Greenies’ and it is wonderful to empower them and to give them hope for the future. They also make their own compost heap and experience amazement when they stick their hands in to find it ‘cooking’ and later to see the rich, worm-filled humus. Like all good farmers, they realise that their plants need much care and that watering and weeding need to happen on a daily basis.
Another very practical lesson is the craft lesson. The children are taught to crochet and they have hands-on experience of making baskets, making simple clay pots and firing them, weaving, spinning, making paper and much more. This makes them much more aware and appreciative of the crafts they see in their homes.
House Building is another firm favourite (both with parents and children alike), for at Michael Oak it has become a tradition that the children are given the project of making a model of a house of their choice. The parents are allowed to give some assistance and many have said how much they enjoyed working together with their child. The project is preceded in class by an in-depth look at the different ways people build their homes around the world, depending upon local resources. With luck, the class also has the chance to build something real and useful out of bricks (like the wall around the vegetable garden), or to do cobbing with straw and clay.
In English, the children begin to see the parts and not just the whole. Sentences are punctuated and can be broken up into nouns, verbs, adjectives. and maybe even adverbs. By now their reading is usually well-established and they enjoy reading from graded readers. Another Michael Oak tradition beloved by us teachers is having parents come in to help children read individually. By now the children are able to make their own summaries of stories they have heard and they also love to make up their own stories and poems. Their spelling can be just as ‘creative’ as their stories at this stage but it generally improves steadily with the regular spelling practice and their increased reading capacity.
Many of the Maths Main Lessons center on the practical use of measurement. These dovetail nicely with the other lessons. We can measure the height of our beans, see how many litres of water we use a day to water the plants, see the mass of our biggest pumpkin etc. We also look at time – from the seasons and best times to plant different crops, to the actual telling of the time on an analogue clock. We also learn about money. Sometimes a class has so many seedlings that they can be sold at a school market. Like proper shopkeepers, the children have to work out the cost and give change. With the proceeds new garden tools can be bought – and all from the fruits of one packet of seeds and real teamwork! Such experiences are very valuable in a young child’s life.
ENGLISH: Old Testament stories. Simple composition and dictation. The child writes down what he or she has seen, heard or read. Reading related to the main lessons as well as following a graded reading scheme. Introduction of grammar: the sentence, simple punctuation marks and basic parts of speech: verb, noun, adjective. Speech formation. Poetry.
MATHEMATICS: The four operations applied to simple problems of everyday practical life. Linear-measurement, money, time and mass.
ENVIRONMENT STUDY: Study of farming and house-building through stories, outings and practical activities. Experience of practical life fostered through learning about and performing basic human occupations.
SECOND AND THIRD LANGUAGES : Afrikaans and Xhosa continued. First writing, reading and vocabulary building. Poetry, speech, rhymes and singing.
ARTS AND TECHNOLOGY : Writing of music begins. Recorder playing continues. Singing in parts. Eurythmy. Painting and drawing. Varied crafts. Crochet, simple sewing.
GYMNASTICS: Children begin gymnastics: rhythmical ring games and round dances included.
With this being a time of transition in the child’s life, support from home is of great importance. In Grade 3 the ‘The Rubicon Year’ needs to be a discussion topic for the first parents’ evening. Parents’ understanding of the situation and acceptance of the child’s new-found striving for independence goes a long way to creating an easy transition for the child. This is a year where it is imperative that there is mutual sharing between parents and teachers. One of the ideal opportunities for this happens during the individual verbal reports that are set up mid-year. Here, in the intimacy of the one-to-one report back, a two-way dialogue can be very revealing and helpful to both home and school.
Overview of the 9-10 year-old child
The Grade 4 child, turning ten, is ready to take on the challenges that the world presents to him or her. Having crossed the Rubicon of the 9 year-old, the child has left the secure, warm havens of the first school years and with folded arms and legs firmly rooted, the child declares for all to hear – ‘I am here.’ Yet the child does not easily reconcile to the separating of self and the external world – thus a crisis of acceptance and trust may arise, manifesting in withdrawal from or struggle with the family and teacher.
Physical, emotional, spiritual
The Grade 4 children are met by a new world that they are ready to take on, but which needs to be presented to them in a way that they are able to meet it without being overwhelmed by its enormity. They may be ready for the challenge, but in truth have a great deal to learn about the reality they are so eager to enter. They are ready to step into the world but need to know where to place their feet.
The Curriculum in Grade 4 provides many of the tools needed for this step up. As the whole world of the earlier classes begins to break apart, so the Curriculum rises to meet the new world view. It introduces themes which help the children in their development, bringing security in this delicate transition time, and helping to integrate the self with external reality.
The integrated Main Lessons of Grade 4 take in the vivid life-filled pictures of Norse mythology, which portray humans cut off from the ‘heavenly’ world and who have to strengthen and learn to depend on their own resources.
Once again breaking down into parts, grammar introduces more formal use of parts of speech and the simple use of tenses. It is important to note that grammar grows out of what the child has already mastered unconsciously in speech. Language lessons extend this with oral work and drama – a play in Grade 4 forms an important part of the language development of the child.
Writing is furthered – stories, observations and descriptions are developed. Spelling is continued with prefixes, suffixes and plural words. Reading is extended and practice in decoding and comprehension continues. Reading for pleasure and information is strengthened and encouraged.
Local Geography is a Main Lesson where pupils can anchor themselves firmly in the place they inhabit daily. Starting from their classroom and gradually expanding further afield, Geography demands observation skills and accurate descriptions from the children as they learn to depict their environment using map-making skills.
A traditional and important Main Lesson, unique to Grade 4, is the Humans and Animals theme. The human being is first described as a threefold being of thinking, feeling and willing. It is then extended into a study of animals where their one-sided characteristics are compared to the human beings’ mastery of a much wider range of attributes. Through this Main Lesson, children develop a closer awareness of their connectedness to the external world, in this case the animal kingdom.
In number work, further help is given to the children in dealing with their changing world by the introduction of fractions. Here, what was once whole is now separated into diverse parts, just as the child may feel separated from family and environment. The learning of fractions always extends from the whole to the part and students are brought to a practical understanding of fractions through paper cutting and other practical examples leading to the formal mathematical language and signs. Decimal fractions may be introduced towards the end of this process. Work in the four operations is extended to greater numbers. Long multiplication with three or more digits and long division are introduced. Work on estimation, tables, freehand geometry and mental arithmetic continues.
In the Arts, drawing and painting are drawn from the rich tapestry of the curriculum. In painting the focus shifts to light and dark and different colour tones, and in drawing, animal themes provide a rich background from which to draw inspiration.
Drama, as mentioned, plays a vital role in the class, from small classroom improvisations, to the more formal plays extracted from main lesson themes. The importance of clear diction is emphasised and the beauty of speech is a central highlight for the children. In plays, more individual roles are now given.
ENGLISH: Deepening and enrichment of feeling through Norse and Celtic myths and hero tales from world literature. These provide material for writing, reading and dramatising. Descriptive writing and stories. Letter writing. Verb tenses; parts of speech; study of sentence formation. Poetry.
MATHEMATICS: Simple fractions. Mass; capacity; story sums relating to everyday practical life.
ENVIRONMENT STUDY: Study of the child’s immediate environment leads over to history and geography of the neighbourhood and the Cape Peninsula.
NATURE STUDY: Transition from imaginative treatment of the kingdom of nature to more objective study. Elementary study of the human being. Specialised animal characteristics are discovered and appreciated, in particular in relation to the human being.
SECOND AND THIRD LANGUAGES: Afrikaans and Xhosa continued. Writing own sentences and reading simple prose.
ARTS AND TECHNOLOGY: Painting and drawing. Embroidery, including cross stitch and design. Clay modelling. Eurythmy. Theory of music. Recorder playing. Singing in rounds.
GYMNASTICS: With and without apparatus.
In this time of transition for the child, there is a need for close co-operation between parents and teachers in order to ease the child’s coming to terms with their new place on Earth. The teacher needs to maintain clear and firm boundaries based on his or her understanding of the class’s needs and similar boundaries are needed in the home environment. The setting of boundaries is necessary for children at this stage and instead of limiting them, firm boundaries bring a real sense of security, despite how much they may be objected to.
Overview of the 10-11 year-old child
The child at this stage is usually confident and in control. They love everything that they undertake. They are passionate and wholehearted in the way they participate in most activities. It is a phase where most children are content, happy and fulfilled and truly experience a deep sense of harmony in both body and soul. They are beautifully and harmoniously poised between the young child and the teenager.
From a Rudolf Steier inspired perspective, we consider that adulthood is reached at the age of 21. We see three seven year periods in the life of a child: the early childhood phase, the Primary School years and the High School adolescent years. In the fifth year of ‘big’ school, we have the middle of the middle between birth and adulthood, the ‘heart’ of childhood, riding on the crest of the wave, before breaking into the topsy-turvy, turbulent years of adolescence.
Physical, emotional, spiritual
Physically the 11-year-old reflects this inner feeling of harmony and balance. They have an ease and grace in their movement that is well co-ordinated and controlled. They grow in length and strength. Their bodies are well proportioned, breathing and heart rhythms are regular. It is during these middle years that the feeling life of the child develops and the lessons are therefore imbued with arts and imagination. During the ‘nine-year transformation’ during the previous year, the child experienced the I/Thou relationship with the world for the first time – self and other, subject and object. During this tenth/eleventh year, this awareness of ‘self’ strengthens. The children must take hold of this new emerging ego, control it and steer it. Alongside this individuation process, a strong group dynamic is also created within the class. In the strong feeling life, which characterises children at this age, the foundation for interest in and enthusiasm for one’s work, the world and others is laid and this is where the deepest human values are determined.
When we engage the feelings of a child, he/she is able to make a strong personal identification with the subject matter. Learning must be primarily experiential. Therefore imagination and pictorial imagery is utilised to create a profound inner experience within the children. In this way, the children are guided into an awareness of the interrelatedness of life and their environment.
Strong and vivid pictures of ancient histories and mythologies are presented. What was the inspiration and impetus of their civilising forces? At this age, rhythmical memory is at its strongest. Out of this growing memory, the sense of time develops. Memory enables one to look back and to plan the future. The transition from myth to history is made: a place in the stream of time develops for each child. While history streams inwards towards the here and now, geography streams outwards from the immediate environment. The various regions and landscapes of South Africa are described, how climatic conditions have affected vegetation, human and animal migrations, populations, industries, farming and so on. Important mountains, rivers, oceans and communication routes are studied. Map drawing is extended, models are built and use is made of wall maps and atlases.
In Natural Sciences, the soul finds expression in the beauty of form, gesture and colour in the Plant Kingdom. The Grade 5 child has a lively interest in, and curiosity about, the outer, living world. Lessons are imbued with liveliness and feeling, rather than being a presentation of dry, academic facts.
In Grade 4, when the children experience the ‘nine year transformation’, the corresponding approach in Maths was that the ‘whole’ can be broken up into parts or fractions. In Grade 5, decimal fractions are introduced and the connections between decimal and common fractions made. The Grade 5s practice mental arithmetic constantly, rhythmically and with movement. They also work with the four operations while working with place value. Measurement using decimals is revised and practiced.
Geometry is explored by using geometric shapes and patterns in free hand form drawings, beautifully shaded.
The children’s strong rhythmical memory enables the beauty of language to be cultivated. The pupils recite and sing texts and verses from the various cultural epochs. These, as well as stories, form the basis of the narrative content and some of their reading material as well. The 11-year-old learns to differentiate between their own opinion and the opinion of others. This can be done through using direct speech exactly and through the active and passive form of the verb.
There is usually a real excitement and eagerness living in the children, waiting to immerse themselves in the ancient stories and times of Egypt and other ancient civilisations. The child at this age possesses an open-heartedness with which they receive most of the material, and they engage in a lively way by producing their own vivid, colourful images as a response to and as a result of the feeling of satisfaction and contentment that the content of these ancient mythologies bring them.
The classroom is an active and busy place at this time, with the children identifying themselves totally with their work. Interesting discussions arise; a greater understanding of concepts begins to be formulated. Yet the powers of thought in the Grade 5 child remain ‘feeling-thinking’ rather than the abstractions of the developed intellect that will manifest in later years. The basic relationship between child and teacher remains that of a loving authority. The underlying discipline and structure in the daily life of the classroom, and the sense of security and trust that needs to be built, are created and maintained through establishing a strong rhythm of breathing in and breathing out, of a balanced day that meets the needs of the 11-year- old fully, in body, heart and mind.
ENGLISH: Myths and epics of Ancient Civilisations like India, Persia, Mesopotamia, Egypt and Greece provide the subject matter for telling, reading, writing and drama. Active and passive building. Speech formation.
MATHEMATICS: Measurement. Fractions, common and decimal. Artistic introduction to geometry.
HISTORY and GEOGRAPHY: History introduced out of mythology. Ancient civilisations: India, Persia, Mesopotamia, Egypt, Greece. Inter-dependence of the earth and man. South Africa before colonisation and first contacts between different cultures.
NATURE STUDY: Elementary plant study. Animal study continued. Gardening.
SECOND AND THIRD LANGUAGES : Afrikaans and Xhosa continued. Study of the development of writing through the ages. The Greek alphabet. Simple Greek sayings.
ARTS and TECHNOLOGY : Painting and drawing related to main lesson subjects. Theory of music. Recorder playing in parts. Eurythmy. Knitting small articles of clothing. Clay modelling.
GYMNASTICS: With and without apparatus.
The thinking of a Grade 5 child is not yet ‘abstract’, the opposite of which is ‘concrete’. Concrete thinking begins with perceptions, with what is present in real experience – being ‘bored’ enough to see dragons and bunnies in the cloud formations; playing cops and robbers in the sand dunes; hide and seek in the forest, wading through shallow waters at river mouths, catching ‘klipvissies’ in rock pools; finding the Southern Cross or glimpsing shooting stars in the dark velvet sky.
Overview of the 11-12 year-old child
The children are now busy leaving the golden years of childhood behind them. They are coming out of a period of balance, ‘The Heart of Childhood’, into a phase of change. There is often a sense of sadness as they look back to the years of innocence and play as well as a feeling of insecurity as they look ahead to the years of adolescence. What does life have in store for them?
They begin to imagine all kinds of possibilities. Excitement and growing anticipation also take hold of the children as they look at the world and at their friends with new eyes. Their intellectual capacities are growing and they long to understand how everything works and how everything is connected. Cause and effect are among the keynotes of Grade 6. The children not only enquire about causes, but now actively create them in order to gauge the effects! This happens in social relationships as well.
Physical, emotional, spiritual
The beautiful balance, poise and grace of the previous year begin to be replaced by a lengthening of the limbs and a certain heaviness which is accompanied by somewhat angular and perhaps even awkward movements. The hormones begin to be active and huge changes start taking place in their young bodies. These physical changes are accompanied by a time of emotional insecurity. The 12-year-old is truly standing on the edge, in a kind of no-mans-land, on the one side lies childhood, to which they no longer fully belong, and, on the other side lies that of youth, which they are also not yet privy to.
Further changes happen within the child’s mind and understanding. A new awareness of themselves is coupled with a new awareness of the world around them. This growing orientation towards the outside world brings with it a need to understand causal relationships.
The curriculum for Grade 6 is tailor-made to suit the needs of the 11-12 year-old. The children’s dawning intellectual capacities are directed towards observation of the natural scientific world. For the first time the structure of the earth is studied. This is literally the foundation on which we walk and which we have always taken for granted. In art we learn about light and dark, we become aware of the shadows and we learn to observe further, and to draw what we observe. In music the major and the minor now stand side-by-side.
As mentioned above, the sciences are introduced, albeit in an artistic way. A few days ago I was asked by a child, new to Waldorf Education, ‘So, are we hearing stories again during this coming Geology Main Lesson?’ The child’s tone was hopeful, and when I answered, ‘Yes, but very real stories!’ the light in the child’s eyes and the response that followed was very heartening. Although the growing child longs to understand the world, he/she still yearns for a creative approach to facts and figures. And this is exactly what we strive to do.
We work very much with, and through, the senses as well. In the Main Lesson on ‘Heat, Light and Sound’ we observe common everyday phenomena and bring to awareness what we have actually seen. This brings about a certain security and confidence in the world and therefore in ourselves.
The children are often aware of upcoming Main Lessons and they usually look forward to subjects like Physics, but Geometry, Geology and Geography also rank high on the list. Moving from mythology to actual history also satisfies a real need at this stage. Amongst the new Maths topics are percentage and business-related study. This is often made very practical indeed, and holds many children’s attention easily. Who doesn’t like to make a little profit here and there?
In addition to bringing new subjects, the teacher aims to work with the children’s growing interest in social relationships in ways which provide plenty of opportunity for them to learn to take responsibility for their own class community. It is usually necessary to create totally new relationships both between the teacher and the children as well as between the children themselves. Clear structures and guidelines are provided in this potentially difficult phase.
The overall aim is to renew and strengthen the children’s connection with the world, in which they will live and work, as well as to renew and strengthen their social relationships in a healthy and respectful manner.
ENGLISH: Stories of the Middle Ages from Africa or Europe. Descriptions of different local peoples and how they live or lived. Formal letter / email writing continued. Description. Phrases and clauses. Speech formation. Poetry.
MATHEMATICS: Interest and percentage. Everyday problem solving. Geometry, with instruments, developed out of freehand drawing practised in previous years.
HISTORY: Influence of the Greco-Roman cultural epoch up to the beginning of the fifteenth century. Focus on Africa: Ancient Kingdoms of Africa, People on the move in the continent, The presentation of stories of different groups and their cultures. South African History: British occupation.
GEOGRAPHY: Southern hemisphere: Africa, as a continent, and all the countries within. Africa compared with Australia and South America, The night sky. Climate and climate changes.
SCIENCE: Elementary phenomena in acoustics, light and colour.
NATURE STUDY: Introduction to rocks and minerals, via Mineralogy and Geology, Animal and plant study continued. Gardening.
SECOND AND THIRD LANGUAGES: Afrikaans and Xhosa continued. Origin of English words in Latin.
ARTS and TECHNOLOGY: Painting. Soft toys, animals, made to children’s patterns developed from their own drawings. Music. Singing. Eurythmy. Woodwork : introduction to handling basic tools in carving simple practical objects.
GYMNASTICS : Exercises become more precise and conscious
The ‘Greek Olympic Games’ are held in Waldorf Schools in many countries. Here it is a celebration and gathering of all the Grade 6s in the Western Cape. Eleven Waldorf schools are usually represented and about 200 students take part. At such an event, the children are able to look beyond their own school’s horizon and they realise that they are part of a much larger movement. There is obviously a strong social component present in this annual event, but it is also a celebration of the qualities of truth, beauty and honour. Where competition could overshadow such an event, the teachers and organisers emphasise the social interaction and the qualities mentioned above. When the Greek Olympic camp is over, the children have truly left the early stages of primary school behind them.
The Gumboot Dance has become a traditional part of our Michaelmas Festival. From Grade 1-5 the children participate in this Spring Festival by doing circular dances around the ‘Maypole’. Grades 6 and 7 have for many years had other tasks at these celebrations, and through the years the younger children have observed the older classes take part in these special activities. Grade 6 has ‘performed’ the Gumboot Dance for many years in our school, and it is something that is very much looked forward to.
Parents can actively support the process their child is going through by understanding what it means to be in a no-man’s-land, and to feel quite rootless. Confident support is necessary. Provide the big picture. Things are changing, and will continue to do so for a while. Parents will actively help their child by making sure that very clear boundaries are and remain in place – boundaries that are suitable for 11-12 year-olds. Certainly boundaries and structures are things to ‘push’ against for the 12 year-olds! However, when they remain firmly in place, there are things to inwardly rejoice over; as the world is not completely changeable, and at least some places are still safe and reliable.
Overview of the 12-13 year-old child
This is the final year of Primary School and the year in which the children turn thirteen. Now the children stand on the cusp of adolescence. It is a time of exploration, searching and discovery as they come into a new relationship with the world; a time of rapid growth and many changes as their soul life erupts into the world outside them. They are beginning to experience all the turmoil and excitement, questioning and wonder that this age brings. It can be a disorientating time as they turn their backs on the balance of Grades 5 and 6 and look forward towards the world of adolescence and adulthood that lies before them. This future appears full of possibility as well as uncertainty, and this duality is lived out loudly and exuberantly as they try to balance and grapple with the many confusing moments this gives rise to.
Physical, emotional, spiritual
The children’s bodies are changing dramatically now as they grow taller, lankier and start experiencing the changes brought on by puberty. These changes are not always easily understood or experienced. At times what used to come easily and naturally can feel odd and self-conscious. At other times they walk through the day beautiful and confident in these new-found changes.
The children are developing the capacity to think critically and judgmentally. Now they accept with less certainty and show the need to question their authority figures (parents and teachers), demanding a right to be heard and for their ideas to be taken seriously. They display an appetite for knowledge of the world, of how and why things happen the way they do. Simultaneously, they turn inward, becoming more introspective and self-centred, showing the early promptings of inner self-reflection. Together with a yearning for independence and great bursts of energy, there is a great need for the support of their peers as well as a desire for solitude and subdued introspection.
The Curriculum and the teacher offer challenges and opportunities that harness the growing curiosity and conceptual thinking of the children in a positive and healthy way. While the children need to increasingly understand the nature of how things work, there is still a yearning for story and artistic expression. Maintaining this at this difficult time helps sustain the children inwardly and brings heart warmth to the inner tumult that is being experienced. The curriculum of this year guides them in their conversation with what lives out in the world: through scientific observation and discovery in physics and chemistry; through a nascent understanding that history is shaped by human beings, that there is a past that can be thought about and understood and a future that can be sensed and felt. It provides opportunities for the children to develop their capacity to hear their inner speech and hidden words.
In the study of the natural world, the Curriculum moves from the plant world and the mineral world to the world of the seas’ depths and the heavens’ heights. We look beyond our borders to the rest of the world to understand the connection between peoples and their environments. We follow the experiences and routes of the explorers and navigators of old. We learn about the new discoveries of the Renaissance: the telescope, scientific thinking, perspective drawing, the emergence of individual thinking and consciousness as long-held views of faith come under scrutiny. We learn to uncover not just the beauty but the form construction of geometric shapes. We journey inwards into the workings of the body and the poetry of the soul.
ENGLISH: Stories of races and folklore provide the material for reading and telling. Reported speech. Forms to express wish, wonder and surprise develop understanding for style and literary expression. Differentiating between one’s own and someone else’s opinion. Composition and business letters. Speech formation.
MATHEMATICS: Discount, profit and loss, area, volume, powers (ratio and proportion). Introduction to algebra. Geometry up to the Theorem of Pythagoras. Introduction of formulae. Perspective drawing.
HISTORY: Epoch of discovery and invention. The beginning of modem science from the fifteenth century and with it the beginning of modem civilisation. The great discoverers. South Africa: implication of discovery of gold and diamonds.
GEOGRAPHY : Northern hemisphere: Europe, North America, Asia. Economic aspects, cultural conditions. The night sky.
PHYSICS: Mechanics: levers, pulleys, machines. Heat, magnetism, electricity.
CHEMISTRY: Combustion-elementary examples. Crystallisation. introduction to acid, base, salt. Comparison of sulphur, carbon, phosphorus. Some familiar metals.
NATURE STUDY: Main physiological functions of the human body. Nutrition, health, hygiene. Ecology and conservation. Gardening.
SECOND AND THIRD LANGUAGES : Afrikaans and Xhosa continued. Developing a feeling for the character of the language.
ARTS and TECHNOLOGY : Painting exercises in layer technique. Perspective in drawing. Music and singing. Eurythmy. Needlework: a simple garment made by hand. Woodcarving: bowls and toys with moving parts.
GYMNASTICS : More advanced exercises in control of movement.
As the children make this powerful and strong step into the world, we can help and support them to appreciate and understand the questions, ideals, frustrations and limitations this gesture brings about. We can stand firm in our values and hold a conversational, safe and nurturing space as they tentatively take initiative, challenge attitudes and assumptions, formulate points of view and accept that others see the world differently. As we stand by them in these times of early individual judgement, we will help them become individuals with a strong sense of social responsibility.
Transition to the High School
For most children it is the last phase in a seven year journey and the moment when the children and teacher pull together the strands of their many years’ work. They ready themselves for a farewell as the children step into the world of High School. It is a bittersweet moment to spend these last months with children whom you have grown to know so well, and who themselves have grown into strapping, assertive, conscious youth. Together we celebrate some key moments of this important year. The class, together with other Grade 7s, completes their study of the medieval world with a two-day Medieval Camp. During this time, they immerse themselves in aspects of this important historical moment, learning to live, play, meet challenges and eat together. This culminates in a ceremony that ritualises this period of transformation into the chivalry and grandeur of their inner knighthood.
Teachers often aim to have a special camp that brings the parents and children together in discussion, play and self-reflection in an acknowledgement of the step through puberty toward the adultness of adolescence.
A highlight of the year is always the Grade 7 play, a culmination of many years of plays done with the class teacher. This one always has a bit of a special edge and aura of excitement, and a special performance is offered as a gift to the whole school. A wonderful ‘handing over ritual’ has developed as an important and integral part of the Star Tree Festival. The Grade 10s who, as seniors in the school, have held high the Michael Oak flame, hand it over ceremonially with song and movement to the Grade 7s who then, as the new High School intake, carry the flame of the school forward, as a symbol of all they have learned and all that lies before them.
“The sensory world is the school, without which the human being would never come to the spirit.”
“Love starts when we push aside our ego and make room for someone else.”
“Michael Oak gave me the confidence to pursue my dreams while staying true to myself.”