Discovering Waldorf – Explaining the Waldorf Curriculum, Kindergarten through 8th Grade
Explaining the Waldorf Curriculum, Kindergarten through 8th Grade by Dr Rick Tan
Sedimentary rocks settle back to their bins inside the science closet. The chalkboard compass acutely rests deep in my desk. My sword leans against a wall like a seasoned knight retired from his last battle. From studying rocks to Rome, knights to starry nights, my year with the sixth grade comes to a close. Here at the end of this amazing year, my first year at Davis Waldorf with my students, I wanted to take this opportunity to share some thoughts about the development of the child, and how it determines the charge of the Waldorf teacher.
Only this final week remains, and my students are busy with final touches to their main lesson pages. On Friday, our school will crown the year with closing ceremonies where flowers are given to our graduating eighth graders, and each class will recite or sing closing verses.
My sixth graders will sing Steiner’s “Destiny Verse,” which I rearranged to fit with a melody I composed.
The wishes of the soul are springing.
I feel my destiny,
My destiny finds me.
The deeds of the will are thriving.
I feel my star,
My star finds me.
The fruits of life are maturing.
I feel my goals in life,
My goals in life are finding me.
Life grows more radiant.
Life grows more challenging.
Life grows more abundant within me.
Throughout this year, it was the song that closed our school day. There are days we have had when I felt especially proud of our accomplishments and joyful of our connections that by the time we sing the song, and I am playing the melody on the piano, my heart is soaring.
Steiner’s developmental approach to Waldorf intuitively holds the child first from the physical environment.
This is the kindergartener whose body and soul is nurtured through the oneness with his teacher, peers, and surroundings.
Next, the child of the first through eighth grade, from 7 to 14 years old, is then held by authority and leadership. The teacher’s role through the grades is being the noble knight, to use imagery from my sixth grade year. In chivalric fashion, with unwavering resolve, the teacher must guide the student with charismatic aplomb.
I have had to be a noble knight this year! The curriculum of the sixth grade is such that it meets the mind and heart of the 11-12 year old. My students were like rowdy attendants to the king’s ball, enjoying the thrill of entertainment, which sometimes can be as economical as pulling one’s lips to imitate a quacking duck.
Then, with the announcement of a cause, a challenge, or a quest, and with the possible reward of victory or even certain death, they sober to become unified crusaders! How fitting it was this year that they had studied the clarity of Roman law, and the code of the medieval knight. For the sixth graders, it has been about the passionate interplay of silliness and sincerity.
Banking on their capacity for precision and recitation, I wrote the “Warrior’s Creed” which they performed with martial arts-style movements at the Medieval Games and at our May Faire.
With strength and sacrifice,
My sword I wield.
From righteous code,
I will not yield.
I sheath my sword
And extend my hand.
I giving heart
Benefits all the land.
I resolve on the right.
I trust my path
Towards everlasting light.
From spirit mountain
I gladly stand and fight.
The eighth grader, at about the age of fourteen, is then held in a different manner. It is not so much holding as if in cupped, protective hands, but rather open and challenging, like you are asking, “So what do you think you should do?”
After fourteen, the child, or the young adult, is developmentally prepared for independent judgment. It is scary to think that we are empowering our teenagers with making their own decisions! But perhaps, it would not be so scary if truly we as caregivers, teachers and parents, were fully present in creating nurturing environments, and leading with responsibility and role modeling. Then, we should be able to trust that their decisions will be made from a place of our own making.
The charge of the Waldorf teacher, in the context of the threefold nature of the human being (body, soul, and spirit), is to transform the children’s natural desire for learning into treasures of creative and intellectual capacities. As the child develops, the needs evolve. The parent or teacher must recognize these shifts and find the rhythm of the growing child.
My own fourteen-year-old graduates this year from Davis Waldorf. He has decided to pursue his ninth grade at a nearby public school in Davis. The school offers a fantastic music program, and my son auditioned as a clarinetist for the concert band and as a saxophonist for jazz band. I had driven him to the school and I waited in the hallway as the music teacher lead him into one of the practice rooms. A faint but confident melody penetrated through the adjacent wall. Only a few measures later, the music teacher emerged from the room and told me that my son had earned positions in both bands. It struck me with full force for the first time that my first born child had just carved his own path, paved the way for his own fate.
My role as a guide for him had reached its apex. From here on, like a waning moon, I glimmer only as a celestial navigator, and I let my son’s own luminous self become the star. I thought about the instruments that we always had around at home when he was a toddler. I thought about the times I would play songs on the piano or when my wife would teach him how to hold a clarinet. We had given him the physical environment and the guidance to appreciate music.
Now he is making his own music.
: : :
Thank you Rick. Oh my… what lucky children we have to be held in such a way. It is the creativity and heart that you, and many teachers like you, bring from your own soul to mix with that of each and every child you have the honor of teaching… this is a miracle to me. Thank you, deeply.