Curriculum by Grade
“We shouldn’t ask: what does a person need to know or be able to do in order to fit into the existing social order? Instead we should ask: what lives in each human being and what can be developed in him or her? Only then, will it be possible to direct the new qualities of each emerging generation…” – Rudolf Steiner
A hallmark of many Waldorf schools is teachers "loop" with the children. At ROCS the Kindergarten remains separate with it's reverence for early childhood. Starting in First grade, teachers will loop with their class until third grade. Subsequently teachers will follow their class from fourth to sixth grade and seventh to eighth grade. This allows for a deeper relationship between the teacher, student and family.
In our Kindergarten the emphasis is on learning through doing, and the children are active in work and play, song and movement. Every effort is made to make our Kindergarten a warm and home-like environment for the children. Great care is given to the development and nurturing of the children’s senses, their organs for learning. All the materials are part of life and the room has a balance of color, form, simplicity and purpose. Much learning takes place, but it is through imitation and example rather than through instruction. The children are learning about life at this age rather than about the specific subjects of academic work.
The teacher plays a central role, and through her example the children enter into the life of the Kindergarten deeply. They experience the regular rhythm of each day’s activities, be they household work, arts or crafts. They are led into the yearly rhythm of the seasons with their many colors, moods and activities. The teacher introduces them to song, movement, gesture and verse in the daily activity of “circle time.” The children drink in the world of stories, both nature tales and appropriate fairy tales, which are usually told to them through the oral tradition. The children come to know and love the Kindergarten world and through it, the wider world around them.
During this time in Kindergarten the children learn through imitation. The teacher sets up for herself various meaningful, practical activities – slicing fruit, washing dishes, sewing, fixing a toy or working on seasonal crafts such as stringing corn for necklaces at Thanksgiving or planting gardens in spring. The children will watch her, and depending on their own interests, will imitate her in a variety of ways. In the play yard, a teacher picking up a broom might soon be followed by a chorus of sweepers. Perhaps a teacher sewing puppets might find herself quite literally surrounded by a group of little tailors. She supplies them with the necessary tools and soon each child will be thinking, if not shouting, “Look, I can sew!” A teacher baking a loaf of bread, along with her helpers, of course, might inspire another group of children to “bake” a birthday cake in their “kitchen,” imitating the teacher’s real work in their fantasy play. Most importantly it is the purposefulness and intent of the teacher in her activity that will be imitated in the purposefulness and focus of the children’s activity, related or not by subject matter. Well aware of this, Kindergarten teachers strive to perfect not only their skills, but also their appearance, speech, gestures, movements and poise.
Play is the quintessential activity of children. It is the serious work of childhood. In play, children learn to experience the possibilities of life. Although play may need some guidance and teacher input, for most children play comes naturally and their swiftly growing bodies require it for healthy development. Through play, children create the world anew each day, and try on every imaginable situation within it. They build houses and ships, rockets and fire engines. They explore life in homes and farms, forests and mountains, underwater and in outer space. All of this is initiated by the children, with occasional help from the teacher. They create their play worlds using the simplest of materials, such as logs and stumps, stones and shells, cloth and play stands. In the course of play their growth in all areas is stimulated – physically, emotionally and socially, mentally and spiritually. As has been confirmed by a growing body of research, such open-ended imaginative play that comes out of the child’s inner life and capacities lays a foundation for imaginative and lively thinking in the adolescent and adult. It also stimulates an interest for all aspects of life, which can then be cultivated through academic studies in the elementary grades and beyond.
Children need to move their whole bodies! The majority of toys, and furnishings in the Kindergartens are those that encourage large scale activity and play, and the children are thus engaged for a good portion of the morning. This propensity to move is also recognized in having the children set the table and clear it, or in moving their own chairs to form the story time circle, and in the accompanying gestures for circle time songs and poems – a tree is not just a tree, it is arms outstretched above one’s head.
Capacities for Fantasy and Imagination
A child’s capacity for fantasy and imagination are intentionally encouraged and protected in our Kindergarten. This capacity is recognized, again, in the toys, where their simple forms and lack of definition allow the children’s imagination to determine the use and fill in the details. Examples are the simple doll, the large play frames, the wooden crate or the colorful cloth which can be transformed into an endless variety of structures. The child’s capacities for fantasy and imagination are also nurtured in our telling and acting out of poems, songs, stories and puppet shows. Telling a story, by heart, allows the children to create their own inner pictures, again a capacity for later creative thinking.
Rudolf Steiner felt that rhythm was the “carrier of life.” Children need familiarity and predictability in their lives. The yearly rhythm is created with the help of seasonal stories and crafts and the nature table, and is enhanced by the celebration of the festivals and the children’s birthdays. Great care is given to be inclusive and respectful of the various cultures and religions of the children in the kindergarten. The weekly rhythm is achieved by having a special activity each day, Monday for baking, and so on. The daily rhythm is established by following a set pattern of, for example, greeting, circle time, indoor play, clean up, snack, outdoor activities and story time, close and then lunch. The children always know what to expect, and this helps give their busy lives a sense of order and provides a secure environment in which they can develop.
In our Kindergartens learning readiness activities are intrinsic to the curriculum. Social skills are developed through all the activities in the Kindergarten – for example, interactive play, baking bread and circle time. Fine motor skills are developed through beeswax modeling, crayoning, painting, fingerplays, lacing shoes and buttoning oneself, and cooking activities. Larger motor skills are developed through the type of indoor play that is encouraged, through various cleaning activities, and through outdoor play. Circle time, songs, nursery rhymes, puppet shows and the oral tradition of the teacher’s storytelling develop listening skills and memory, cultivating in the child a feel for language and the world of words. Along with creative play these aspects of the kindergarten life also strengthen the power of imagination. Similarly, counting games, building, and rhythmic activities build a solid foundation for numbers and spatial relationships. The animal stories and nature table, along with a general cultivation of a sense of wonder, engender in the child an unconscious appreciation for the sciences which the child will discover later. Everything presented must be true in its essence.
In our Kindergartens, we aim to kindle a sense of wonder, devotion and gratitude in our everyday lives. We strive to connect the child to the earth’s rhythms, beauty, and meaning, restoring an understanding and respect for all life.
The first grade is a bridge between the Kindergarten and the grades. The year begins with the discovery that behind all forms lie two basic principles: the straight and the curved line. The children find these shapes in their own bodies, in the classroom, and in the world beyond. The straight and curved line are then practiced through walking, drawing in the air and sand, on the blackboard, and finally, on paper. These form drawings train motor skills, awaken the children’s powers of observation, and provide a foundation for the introduction of the alphabet.
Through fairy tales and stories the children are introduced to each letter of the alphabet. In this way the children experience the development of language in a very concrete yet creative way: instead of abstract symbols the letters become actual characters that the children have a real relationship with.
In a similar way, the children first experience the qualities of numbers before learning addition or subtraction: What is “oneness”? What is there only one of in the world? The four processes may be introduced as four princesses who are searching for jewels—Princess Plus always tries to carry more jewels than her pockets will hold; Miss Minus, on the other hand, is always losing her jewels. Stones, acorns, or other natural objects are used to introduce counting. Only after
considerable practical experience in adding, subtracting, multiplying, and dividing are the written symbols for these operations introduced.
First graders enter the world of music through the pentatonic scale. In this scale all the notes have a harmonious sound in any order they are played. Songs are based on seasonal themes; the playing of the pentatonic flute develops finger coordination, concentration, and breath control. Painting in the first grade is intended to give the children an experience of working with color rather than attempting to create formed “pictures.” The children’s feelings for form are encouraged through beeswax modeling and crayon illustrations. In coloring the children imitate the teacher’s work, attempting to draw whole shapes rather than filling in outlines.
Children entering their eighth year still carry with them much of the imaginative consciousness of early childhood, and they are beginning to be more aware of themselves and others. They start to recognize that they have their own personalities and emotions, some of which are positive and others that are negative. Honesty and deceit, trust and betrayal, kindness and cruelty–many traditional fables and folktales show these positive and negative qualities in sharp contrast.
The animals in the fables have little control over these qualities that they represent: the lion must be fierce, the wolf greedy, the fox cunning. In a similar way the young child must sometimes feel that he or she is helpless to control these strong impulses and emotions. In this context, stories of inspirational individuals such as St. Francis, Martin Luther King, Mother Theresa, and other upright people from various traditions can be understood as offering the children a picture of the element of choice that separates us from the animals.
The children see that they, like the characters in the fables, have desires, likes, dislikes, good qualities, and even some of the negative qualities that get those characters (and the children) into trouble. The pictures of inspirational individuals provide the children with an example of what the human being can achieve when he or she dedicates him–or herself–to a higher purpose. The children in second grade begin to see that there are choices to be made in life. They can follow their own desires, for which they see the consequences experienced by the animals in the fables; or, they can align themselves with a higher purpose, and gain control over their “animal” nature, just as Saint Francis was able to tame the fierce wolf.
During the second grade much attention is given to the development of writing skills. The children’s reading experience comes through reading what they themselves have written in their main lesson books. This may be a short verse that helps them review a letter sound, or perhaps a simple retelling of one of the fables they have heard. In this way the children experience the way written language actually developed over, the course of human history. The learning of arithmetic concepts and skills continues in the second grade through stories and games. The children practice using the four arithmetical processes and explore the nature of place value. Rhythmical counting by ones, twos, threes, and so on provides the basis for learning the times tables.
As the children enter their ninth year they start to see the world differently. No longer are they content to be a part of life without doubts and questions. Before this time the children fundamentally experience little separation between themselves and their environment. As this new consciousness develops, they suddenly begin to realize that they are individuals. Parents may notice children becoming more critical and beginning to question everything.
There is an emphasis on grounding is furthered as students develop an appreciation of the important work of the farmer in nurturing, cultivating, and protecting the different elements of nature. Experiences may include baking, canning, and an overnight visit to a working farm. The children may also plant and harvest a small garden at the School.
The study of housebuilding starts with the discovery that our first home on earth is our body. The children learn about many different dwellings that people have built over the course of time and in different parts of the world. The children may work on a small housebuilding project in class.
The children learn the ways that we human beings have developed to orient ourselves on the earth through the study of measurement. The class discovers that ancient peoples marked the passage of time by observing the cycles of nature. They relive the invention of various devises to measure time and may make their own sundial or water clock. This leads naturally to a discussion of how distance was originally measured by time: a day’s journey, etc. The children learn that modern units of distance measure originated in the human body: the king’s foot became our foot and the king’s thumb width became our inch. Thus, the third graders see that “the human being is the measure of all things.”
In the third grade the fundamentals of grammar are introduced. The children learn that there are different kinds of words. Some words (nouns) tell the names of things, while “doing words” (verbs) describe what happens in a sentence. Regular reading practice becomes part of the class rhythm; cursive writing skills are strengthened. The third-grade child is ready to experience the full diatonic scale in music. The children assert their new independence by learning to sing separate parts in rounds and will also begin to play the recorder.
Fourth graders are passing through the midst of the nine-year-old change. They still wish to revere, but their reverence must be justified. They become more self-confident as their perception of the world sharpens, but at the same time their experience of separation from their surroundings can be quite painful. The children begin to form their own personality in response to their experience of the world, consciously choosing those qualities that will go into their characters.
It is this faculty of conscious choice that the Norse myths strongly echo for the children. The gods of Asgard are portrayed as individuals with distinct personalities; the children learn from Loki the consequences of amoral cleverness and receive a contrasting image from the story of Siguna’s compassion and faithfulness. The Norse tales convey to the children the twin values of courage and sacrifice. Thor faces seemingly insurmountable odds, yet through perseverance is at last triumphant; Odin, ruler of the gods, gives his eye to drink of Mimir’s well so that he may gain the wisdom and spiritual vision to protect Asgard. As the children become more aware of the world after the nine-year-old change the many challenges of life may at times seem overwhelming. These Norse stories help to give the children the strength to face these challenges.
The fourth grade children continue their exploration of the world around them through the study of local geography. They may start by determining the “geography” of their own bodies: front-back, up-down, right-left. The children learn how to find the four points of the compass by observing the sun and stars. They study and make maps of their classroom, the school, the neighborhood, the city, and the state of North Carolina. Expeditions by foot and bus around the city help them to consciously link themselves to their surroundings.
The fourth grade curriculum repeatedly emphasizes the importance of human deeds. Thus the study of North Carolina history focuses on the men and women who played a part in creating the culture we live in. The teacher attempts to give the children a sense for the world of the first North Carolinians, the Native Americans.
In a main-lesson block titled Human and Animal the fourth-grade curriculum affords the child an opportunity to study the relationships that exist between the human being and the animal kingdom. Here strength and comfort is offered the child by contrasting the one-sidedness of various animals with the well-roundedness that is human. The figure of the human form itself are examined: the hands, free to labor and create; the organ of speech, with which the human being can communicate information and express beautiful thoughts; and an erect posture that permits him or her to wrest the head free of the forces of gravity and to think thoughts that reach for the stars!
Through detailed study of the forms and habitats of animals (beavers, bats, lions, foxes, etc.) through poetry, through clay modeling, and through play-acting, the children begin to get a feeling for the fascinating assortment of skills and qualities that the animals possess. At the same time, the children begin to see the unique and responsible position they hold as human beings upon the earth.
For the fourth grade child, the world, once exhibiting a magical wholeness, is breaking up. This is the proper time for introducing fractions. By cutting up apples, baking and cutting pies and pizzas, and creating parts of a whole, the children are given a visual experience of fractions before forming mental concepts. The children learn to add, subtract, multiply, reduce and expand fractions, and to change improper fractions into mixed numbers.