Through the Grades
Starting in first grade, Waldorf students have a “class teacher” who will stay with them through fifth, and frequently even eighth, grade. The core curriculum taught by the class teacher is supported by subject teachers. The core curriculum and the subject classes are aligned with the students’ development as they grow.
In grades one through three, Waldorf education allows the innate human capacities of each child to develop through a holistic approach to learning. These innate capacities – wonder, reverence, attention, curiosity, confidence – form the solid foundation on which the child builds their academic future. In grades four and five children become increasingly conscious of themselves as members of a community; they have a growing curiosity about the world and their place in it.
Students make “main lesson books” for their core curriculum subjects. Under the teacher’s guidance, they create their own beautiful and unique textbooks to reflect their learning. This begins quite simply in grade one and by grade eight their books form detailed and valuable references to the subjects they have studied. Also in every grade the students perform a class play. The teacher selects a play that suits the theme of that grade’s studies as well as the students’ interests and temperament. The play’s performance is a special night for each class.
In grades one and two, German is taught orally through immersion, songs, verses, and stories, supported by rhythmical activities such as counting and clapping, and a variety of age appropriate language acquisition games. Students are mainly evaluated as a group but also individually when they answer questions and participate in games and simple plays. In third grade, students expand their skills through more challenging songs, verses, games, and stories. Students speak and sing as a group but are also asked to speak individually, recite, answer questions, and participate in guessing games. In fourth grade, we focus on reading and writing and grammar concepts are formally introduced. In winter we work on a long German advent poem which the students write into their own books along with matching pictures. They learn to recite the poem and sometimes perform it during the winter assembly. Also in fourth grade students receive their first German reader, “Vom Igel, der nicht schlafen wollte,” an animal story. Students formally study vocabulary and do crossword puzzles and reading and writing exercises. In fifth and sixth grades, students work on deepening their communication skills, reading, writing, and studying grammar. They work with several different books and stories, i.e. “Besuch fuer Tom und Mia,” by Margaret Rettich, and cultural German short stories from a Beginners German Reader. They also study German proverbs, poems and German geography. Student progress is evaluated through class participation, writing assignments, special projects, and tests.
In seventh and eighth grade, students choose one foreign language and have class three times a week. In German, we work with intermediate readers, poetry, songs, and stories. They study German and European geography and some history and biographies. The students begin a pen-pal letter exchange with students from Waldorf schools in Germany. Student progress is evaluated through class participation, writing assignments and tests.
In the first three grades, the students learn basic vocabulary, word structure, and expressions essential for everyday communication. In speaking, the children will be able to respond to simple questions, make statements, and understand commands using words, phrases and short sentences. Children are encouraged to use the language as much as possible. The language classes are presented with games, rhythmical activities, songs, and poetry. They learn vocabulary for the numbers up to 30, classroom equipment, colors, parts of the body, family members, weather, animals and animal sounds, and “to have” expressions. The students also learn about the Day of Dead, holidays in Mexico, expressions of emotion, telephone conversations, and traffic safety. Students are evaluated as a group and not tested individually.
During fourth and fifth grades the students further develop their earlier studies as well as reinforcing and improving their reading skills and developing their writing skills. They study grammar in more depth. Students’ progress is monitored through quizzes, writing assignments, and classroom participation. The sixth grade class uses a textbook and a workbook. We enhance the book curriculum with cultural activities such as visits to multicultural performances and monthly reports of different Spanish-speaking countries. The students further their understanding of Spanish grammar. Student progress is checked through written tests weekly for vocabulary and end of chapter tests.
Seventh and eighth grade Spanish classes meet three times per week. The students use a book and a workbook and continue to develop their reading, writing, and speaking in Spanish. More complex grammar and syntax concepts are introduced. Seventh and eighth grade classes also participate in several field trips to multicultural performances and restaurants. Student progress is checked through weekly writing tests for vocabulary and chapter tests.
Art is part of the learning process in every subject. Additionally, in grades one through three, children paint once a week. Painting in the lower grades is first and foremost to be a color experience. The emphasis is not on creating a recognizable picture but upon experiencing the interaction of the colors. Stories from their main lessons provide inspiration for the color stories in addition to those the teacher creates out of his or her imagination and knowledge of the colors. The students continue to have painting once a week in grades four and five. In painting, just as in drawing, the children’s technical skills need to meet their awakening observations of the outer world. The teacher demonstrates for the children simple ways to attain forms that arise out of the color. It is during these years that the children learn to see how form arises out of the play of light and shadow. Content from the main lesson continues to serve as inspiration for the painting lessons. In grades six, seven and eight, the students continue to have a weekly art lesson, but the teacher may change the focus of the lesson from painting to black-and-white drawing, pastel drawing, clay work, acrylic paint work, metal etching, and other techniques. The approach to painting becomes increasingly objective as the laws of composition, perspective, and light and shadow are made more conscious. Students are encouraged to work on a single painting over the course of a series of lessons. They learn proper work skills that include organized set-up, handling of supplies, clean-up, and collaborative process during the painting experience.
The music curriculum is based on Rudolf Steiner’s view that children need “active immersion in musical substance, experience through practice of its nature, progressive step-by-step awakening to musical principles, and finally proceeding to a basic knowledge based on direct experience.” Our children’s musical growth comes from listening, singing, playing, moving, creating, reading and performing. We develop our students’ musical talents, which helps to develop their character and confidence.
In the first grade, the pentatonic flute is introduced, as are seasonal, festival and curricular songs. In grade two, stories create the mood for singing and movement working in tandem. Students continue playing the pentatonic flute. The pattern of bringing music that supports the curriculum, festivals, and seasons is set for all subsequent grades. The third grader works through a series of steps to achieve the confidence needed for round singing. Tonal conversations, echo, and alternating songs, ostinatos, and quodlibets (partner songs) culminate in the round. A lively way of matching song’s words and vocal mnemonics begins to build rhythmic acuity. The diatonic flute is introduced. String instruments are introduced in fourth grade. Focus on natural playing and guided listening is emphasized. The children are led to singing material of greater melodic and rhythmic challenge. The art of two-part singing is introduced. Listening for intervals, awakening to minor mode and conducting are given attention. The development of skills in reading musical notation in conjunction with the flute and singing is woven throughout the year’s curriculum. In the fifth grade, the children have a new need for harmony, enabling them to experience the beauty and challenge of part singing and flute playing. The curriculum gives formal focus to the theory study of pitch, key signatures, form, texture, expression, style, and dynamics. Students are given the opportunity to take up the study of a wind instrument or continue their strings work.
The choir identity is broadening as sixth grade students work in three parts, and male/female parts are delineated. Theory work continues to include the Circle of Fifths and transposition. The children are exposed to medieval music and begin to look at evolving musical styles spanning history. Study of the recorder enriches the ensemble experience and prepares them for seventh grade Renaissance study and performance.
As the children through the grades take on the breadth of the musical elements, many children become inclined to work with each other and their own creative initiative to include composing. The children have opportunities to work in class and outside to form and polish their collaborations. In seventh and eighth grade strings and wind ensembles punctuate their musical life and they continue to work with choral literature that draws on their building skills.
The Handwork program helps the students develop basic skills for manipulating natural materials in many ways. Most students can finger-knit, thread a large needle, and form a simple knot when they come to school. These skills, plus ball-winding, braiding, knitting, crochet and others are part of the curriculum of the early grades. Handwork offers something new to learn on a regular rhythm fitting each student. Handwork activities develop fine motor skills and integrate body, feelings, and mind, forming part of the foundation necessary for successful academic work. The first three grades focus on knitting and crochet skills that become increasingly more difficult. Each student learns the basic skills; those who work quickly can take on advanced projects. Students are encouraged to help each other when they are ready. At the end of third grade, the students shear a sheep and learn to transform the wool to yarn by carding and spinning.
Fourth grade students explore very fine needlework, braiding, embroidery, and cross stitch. These skills emphasize precision and harmonious patterns and color. It helps the students’ thinking become more flexible as they use different ways to create patterns and organize supplies. In fifth grade, knitting is revisited with a more complicated technique of four needle work in the round. They each make a small bird nest and a hat, socks or fingerless gloves and learn to read a knitting pattern. They are helpers in the first grade knitting classes. The exploration of pattern making continues in the sixth grade as they create their own patterns to make a stuffed animal of their choice. Using fine hand stitches, they transform the flat fabric to the three-dimensional form. The seventh grade explores the human form, patterns, and pattern-making. Creating marionettes and producing a play for the younger children adds several new challenges for each student. Pattern-making for clothes to fit their puppet creations prepare them for making their own clothes in eighth grade. Eighth grade students use sewing machines and gain understanding of the mechanical principles and practical applications. After practicing control and accuracy, they create a pattern and sew a basic garment.
Throughout the grades, in addition to the joy the students take in their completed creations, they also relish the transition from experiencing great difficulty to nearly unconscious mastery. as they learn each skill,
Woodwork, Grades 5 – 8
Fifth grade is the starting point of the woodwork class. The students learn to care for the woodshop and how to use the tools and equipment properly. Safety for all students is a large focus and ongoing theme in the class. The first project, working with convex shape, is making an egg or a candle holder. We add concave shape to our skills in the making of spoons and forks. Now the students can make things that are both beautiful and useful from a piece of wood.
In sixth grade, students explore in depth the skills of carving wood with gouge and chisel. The emphasis is on the metamorphosis of turning a plain board into a functional platter or bowl. In seventh grade and eighth grade, students take the skills of the past years to a more refined level. Working with draw shaves, planers, saws, and hand drills, they work with harder woods. This helps them use their practical thinking skills and develops their will. A typical project seventh grade project is a three-legged stool. In eighth grade, they sculpt wood with deep relief technique into masks or figures of their own composition.
In the first grade, eurythymy emphasizes the image of wholeness represented by the circle. It becomes the “castle wall,” and a number of stories happening inside and outside the circle are enacted, supported by music and poetry. The sounds of language become archetypal gestures. Rhythm in music and texts and musical melody play a big role. In second grade, division of one into two entities becomes the focus. Ones and twos in circle weave together. Two separate circles can develop into a spatial figure eight. The language gestures of stories about animals and blessings of saints engages the children. The ability to recognize and move in rhythm and melody in small pieces of music is fostered in the young child.
During third grade the mood of major and minor in music is presented and translated into movement. The C-major scale is introduced. Texts from the Old Testament such as the Psalms are used in eurythmy, and we move the geometric form of the triangle, for example in the Star of David. A simple beginning with copper rods is made and helps to define fine motor movements. In fourth grade, the strength of the stories of Norse Mythology invites vigorous stomping, stepping, and strong, bold arm movements. We start tone gestures in small pieces of music. The shape of the square, among others, can be used for group choreography. From fifth grade on, the children slowly become able to create their own simple eurythmy choreographies to music, such as a Schubert Impromptu, or share their ideas about a new way of doing an exercise in class. The studies in main lesson of ancient cultures offer a wide scope of texts that can become group choreographies in eurythmy class, especially from the ancient Greek and Egyptian worlds. Rod exercises are introduced in playful ways. The geometric shape of the five-pointed star becomes basic group choreography in fifth grade. New scales are introduced. Sixth grade with its immersion into ancient Roman culture offers the possibility of doing eurythmy in Latin. The children have the experience that sounding language has a universal human quality, closely connected to our range of movement. Large choreographies are based on logical rules. Now the relationship between geometric shapes used in choreography becomes of interest. It takes clear thinking to figure out the paths each participant has to take to complete this kind of intricate choreography. Musical skills in movement become more refined, including a range of scales and more intricate footwork. Seventh grade calls for a greater variety and precision of musical and language skills in eurythymy. Complex rod exercises help build concentration. Gestures such as sorrow, laughter and knowledge, are added introducing the use of drama in movement. The gestures and spatial movements for majors and minors, chords, and intervals become important; footwork may express yes and no and qualities such as suspense and gracefulness.
Games and Movement, Grades 2 – 8
Students play games to stories that are spoken or sung; they practice string hand games and basic hand-clapping games. Students learn to throw and catch and to imitate rhythmic movements. Many versions of tag are played. Body geography, basic skills like running, skipping, jumping, swinging, galloping, and skipping rope are practiced through play. Students may learn to walk on a balance beam and stilts.
Nature games are very important, as well as freeplay in natural areas. Second graders develop basic movement skills while enjoying a variety of imaginative games. We start each class with opening exercises followed by a game or activity focusing on particular skills such as: listening, watching and reacting quickly, or balance and agility, or throwing and catching. We play games requiring large motor development: running, jumping, climbing, tagging, starting and stopping, all the while following rules and staying within boundaries. Children are introduced to gymnastics apparatus and basic skills via obstacle courses and using apparatus as “bases” for tag games. We end each class by gathering together quietly before returning to the classroom.
It benefits young children to learn to play together within specific boundaries and rules so they can be successful, as the physical activities, rules, and challenges increase in subsequent years. In third grade, the games and activities reflect the child’s growing sense of individuality, relationship with others and the surrounding environment. We begin each class with opening exercises, emphasizing spatial awareness and proprioception. The games we play require listening, quick decisions, vigorous energetic movement, agility, and skills such as running, catching,throwing, cooperation, and teamwork. Many of the games reflect and support the child’s experience of separateness and emerging individuality: games of courage, inner and outer groups, awareness of front and back, right and left. Tag games continue and the level of difficulty increases. Gymnastics and apparatus work and boss reader courses are continued as part of games activities. Fourth grade activities build upon earlier practices. Ball handling skills are enhanced through games. Students practice to develop movement memory, being able to imitate a sequence of movements in rhythm. Circus Arts are introduced. Gymnastics work is continued and challenges are increased. We focus on cooperative play and teamwork in order to move successfully into the next year’s curriculum, which focuses on individual challenge and introduction to sports.
Fifth grade is the first time sports are introduced through the javelin, discus, long jump, running short and long distances, and wrestling. Emphasis is on beauty, grace, style, and form. Time and distance are acknowledged but not measured at this level. All other movement activities continue to become more complex. Relays, tag, and running games continue. The children’s ability to appreciate and experience the beauty and grace in movement can help establish a strong base on which to build future sports activities. Sixth grade students experience their muscles in a new way and crave exertion. For the first time, stretching and physical strengthening exercises are practiced consciously. The children are at a turning point between childhood and adolescence. They require more challenges, more rules, and more form in their games. Archery and continued work with the javelin are practiced in preparation for the Medieval Games, which also include elements of a low ropes course; focusing on chivalry and encouraging teamwork, sportsmanship, and cooperation. Seventh grade movement reflects the autonomous spirit of the Renaissance. We work to improve skills, increase strength, flexibility, agility, and teamwork. More focus is placed on individual strength and ability and students increase their awareness of their own fitness and skills. Seventh graders are invited to participate in the Explorer’s tournament. Orienteering, archery, and teamwork are practiced. Particular attention is placed on developing will and work ethic. To this end, the Seventh grade trains for and completes a 5k run. Eighth grade is the summation of the lower school experience. The students take part in exercises that engage them in experiences of gravity and levity. Emphasis on fitness is continued, especially as they prepare for the eighth grade track meet in the spring, when our students are joined by eighth graders from surrounding Waldorf schools. Students train for long distance running and sprints, long jump, javelin, discus and shot-put.
Gardening, Grades 2 – 8
Sacramento Waldorf School has a full working farm, complete with farm animals. Gardening class provides experiential learning, with students able to connect main lesson subjects with real hands-on processes. The second grade curriculum focuses on nature crafts and activities. Students have opportunities in the garden to plant and harvest crops. The most important crop they plant is the wheat they will harvest and process in third grade. The third grade curriculum includes a main lesson block on farming during which students care for the farm’s soil with cover crops and compost. They also process the wheat they planted in second grade, threshing, winnowing and grinding it into flour, and then baking it into bread or tortillas. The rest of the year, the third grade plants and harvests other seasonal produce, constructs small building projects, shears the sheep, and keeps a gardening journal in the context of main lesson. The fourth grade gardening curriculum focuses on caring for animals in keeping with the main lesson emphasis on studying animals. Animal husbandry is practiced weekly when the students clean the chicken coops and animals’ stalls, brush the cow, collect eggs, and perform other farm chores. We also follow the main lesson thread of California history and explore the ethno-botany of this area with activities such as collecting and grinding acorns for California’s traditional staple—acorn mush. With the introduction of botany in the fifth grade, students are able to look at plants in greater detail. The fifth graders perform most of the duties for our greenhouse work. Another area of study for this year is herbs. The emphasis of sixth grade is producing vegetables. Sixth grade geology and earth studies are enriched as the students dig, weed, and prepare the beds they then plant with crops. The class also builds compost piles and brings the finished compost to the beds they have prepared for planting. The sixth grade studies economics and, therefore participates in the economics of the weekly farm stand. In the seventh grade students continue the work of producing vegetables, which they began the previous year. They also study nutrition this year; preparing and eating our farm’s bounty is a natural extension of their main lesson work. In the eighth grade, students are exposed to a broader definition of gardening. Activities vary from year to year but may include pruning, work with annual flowers, native plants, drip irrigation, light construction, tool repair, and farm maintenance.
Social Emotional Learning and Health, Grades 6 – 8
Social Emotional Learning and Health (SEL) is offered starting in sixth grade and continues through twelfth grade. SEL refers to both a set of core competencies and a process of learning. Competencies being developed in our curriculum are: self-awareness, self-management, social-awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making skills. Themes over sixth, seventh, and eighth grade include character education, human reproduction, socially healthy relationships, including technology, and transition to high school. Each class focuses on the creation of a safe, caring, and highly participatory learning environment where SEL competencies are modeled, taught, and reinforced. Learning opportunities are provided through mindfulness activities, games, presentations and lectures, small group work, sharing circles, Council, and solo time.