In the early elementary school years, children learn best when academics are conveyed through painting, drama, music, storytelling and other direct experiences that stir their emotions. A sense of beauty weaves throughout each school day.
The Waldorf curriculum is organized around the block schedule, creating a school year consisting of approximately nine blocks, each lasting three to four weeks. Our students focus on one main academic area each block, including math, science, language arts, history, geography, and more. School days for all grades begin with an engaging two hour main lesson period. These focused lessons allow students to dive deeply into academic studies in a lively, captivating way. Our teachers infuse academic learning with relevant art, music, and cultural facets that bring subjects alive for our students.
After the main lesson each day, students record what they learned into their own main lesson book, creating a record of the academic facts along with art, poetry and other creative elements. The resulting main lesson books are beautiful records of vital lessons that students refer to not only during the block but for years to come as they revisit topics again in higher grades. The creation of the main lesson book develops the executive function capacities required for self-directed learning.
Recess provides a healthy transition after main lesson period allowing students to relax, play and process all they learned in the main lesson before moving into special subject lessons for the balance of the morning. World languages are taught from first grade on, and lend themselves well to these later morning periods, as do music classes.
Afternoons are devoted to lessons in which the whole child is active such as gym, practical arts, or Eurythmy, a type of movement which brings speech and music to life visually. The rhythm of the Waldorf curriculum is intentional and enhances balanced learning.
The curriculum at a Waldorf school begins with the essential foundation of early childhood and builds upon itself through each aspect of human growth and development.
As the students mature, they engage themselves at new levels of experience with each subject. The awe inspiring nature studies of kindergarten become deep curiosity and interest in observing the plant kingdom in 5th grade, which culminates in true scientific study of botany in 10th grade.
All students participate in every subject offered in our curriculum regardless of their special aptitudes. The purpose of studying a subject is not to make a student into a professional mathematician, historian or biologist, but to awaken and educate capacities that every human being needs. Naturally, one student is more gifted in math and another in science or history, but the mathematician needs the humanities, and the historian needs math and science. The choice of a vocation is left to the free decision of the adult, but one’s early education should give one a palette of experience from which to choose the particular colors that one’s interests, capacities and life circumstances allow. In a Waldorf high school, older students pursue special projects and elective subjects and activities, nevertheless, the goal remains: Each subject studied should contribute to the development of a well-balanced individual.
The arts and practical skills play an essential part in the educational process throughout the grades. They are not considered luxuries, but fundamental to human growth and development.
The Class Teacher ideally takes the same class of children from Grades 1 through 8, teaching most, if not all main lesson subjects. (In middle school, additional teachers, including our high school faculty, teach specific blocks.) This consistency gives the teacher time to understand each student’s strength’s and needs and builds a close and trusting bond between them. The parents and teacher form a similar relationship which supports learning.
Textbooks are not used in the elementary grades. Instead, the teacher creates the presentation and the children make their individual books for each subject taught, recording and illustrating the substance of their lessons. These books, often artistic and beautiful, are an important way in which art is integrated into every subject: they have been the focus of Waldorf exhibitions at American and European museums.
The morning main lesson begins each school day. It is a two-hour period in which the main substance of the day is presented. The subject (it can be algebra, Greek history, botany or physics) is taught for a three-week or four-week block, then it is allowed to rest, often to be continued later in the term. This approach allows for freshness and enthusiasm, concentrated, in-depth experience, and gives the children time to “digest” what has been learned.
Drama, painting, music, drawing, modeling, etc., are integrated into the entire academic curriculum, including mathematics and the sciences. The Waldorf method of education through the arts awakens imagination and creative powers, bringing vitality and wholeness to learning. No other educational movement gives such a central role to the arts as does Waldorf education.
World languages are taught beginning in the first grade, giving the children insights into and facility with other cultures. The languages vary according to the location of the schools. The Denver Waldorf School offers Spanish and Russian.
The sciences are taught experientially. The teacher sets up an experiment, calls upon the children to observe carefully, ponder, discuss, and then allow them to discover the conclusion (the law, formula, etc.) Through this process the student develops rigorous independent thinking and sound judgement.
An extraordinary humanities curriculum begins in second and third grade with mythology and legends. The Old Testament is Grade Three, Norse mythology in Grade Four, the ancient cultures of India, Egypt, Persia, Mesopotamia, and Greece in Grade 5, provide the background for the study of history and are presented through excerpts from original texts. By living into these cultures through their legends and literature, the children gain flexibility and an appreciation for the diversity of mankind. By the close of eighth grade, the students have journeyed from Greece and Rome to medieval history, the Renaissance, the Reformation, the Age of Exploration, up to the present day.
Letters are learned in the same way that letters originated in the course of human history. Individuals perceived, then pictured, and out of the pictures abstracted signs and symbols. First graders hear stories, draw pictures, and discover the letter in the gesture of the picture. This process is accompanied by much sight word, decoding, whole language and phonetic work in reading and writing practice , and also through songs, poems and games that help to establish a joyful and living experience of language. Our students develop their reading skills through the rich humanities curriculum which includes fairy tales, fables, Native American stories, Genesis, The Bhagivad Gita, The Kalevala, and much more.
Music permeates and harmonizes life in a Waldorf school through a curriculum designed to develop the innate musicality every child is born with. In the first grade children sing and learn to play a simple wooden flute; both singing and playing musical instruments are practiced daily through the elementary school years. In the second and third grade, the lyre and the recorder are introduced, while the fourth graders have the challenge of learning to play a violin, cello or viola, and joining a class “orchestra.” Some schools provide instruction in wind instruments in sixth or seventh grade. Music is taught in a Waldorf school not only for its own sake and the joy it engenders, but also because it brings a strong harmonizing and humanizing force into the student’s life, strengthening the will and other capacities for the future.
Crafts and handwork are an integral part of the required curriculum from kindergarten through high school. Boys as well as girls learn to knit in first grade and crochet in second, creating many functional and colorful objects like cases for recorder or pencil boxes, potholders, puppets, etc. Decades before brain research could confirm it, Rudolf Steiner recognized that brain function is founded on body function. Learning to knit and crochet in the early grades leads to motor skills which metamorphose into lively thinking and enhance intellectual development later on. Coordination, patience, perseverance and imagination are also schooled through practical work. Activities like woodwork, housebuilding and gardening included in the elementary school curriculum, give the children an understanding of how things come into being and a respect for the creation of others.
Time to work, time to play and time to rest: Curiosity, Movement, Rhythm and Community
Children learn best at this age by entering the world they are studying with love, sympathy and wonder. The foundation of literacy and numeracy that has been laid in early childhood is now deepened and strengthened in first grade. Nature study takes the form of an experience of hearing the world speak, talking of life and adventures. The child learns the true facts of nature, but always in vivid, dramatic story form.
Awareness of others and ourselves: Wonder, Joy, Pity, Tenderness and Sorrow
A second grade child is like a butterfly who has just emerged from the chrysalis and sits upon the leaf waiting expectantly for those glorious new wings to dry and strengthen. He is truly poised for flight. Energies freed from the process of forming the body now awaken the subjective world of feeling – wonder, pity, joy, tenderness and sorrow. These are the currents of air upon which these new little butterflies will rise, on which they will find their relationship to the world about them.
Finding oneself through direct experience: Testing limits, Experiential Learning, Asserting oneself, and Finding one’s place
The third grade is often called the turning point of childhood. Every age has its drama, but the eight or nine-year-old is going through a change that is particularly profound; you might hear Waldorf teachers referring to it as the “Crossing point,” the “Watershed” or the “Rubicon.”
What is prescribed in the curriculum for this age? Farming and gardening, the Old Testament, Building and Grammar.
I have arrived!: Self awareness, Steadiness, Separateness, and Individuality
The fourth grader is at odds with the world. Questions take on a personal twist: “How do you know?” There is an earnestness stemming from a new awareness of just what they are up against in the world. Therefore, every possible opportunity is given to meet these oppositions in quite unexpected ways, ways in which the child can have the experience of crossing and at the same time be led towards a wholesome resolution.
The heart of childhood: Openness, Enthusiasm, Flexibility, and Harmony
The fifth grader has enhanced her recent gains in consciousness and grown more accustomed to being an isolated self, seeing the world in a new perspective. Yet, like the third grader, she is about to leave another phase of childhood behind her and to cross a new threshold of experience. The curriculum must, therefore, not only continue to build on already established foundations, but introduce certain new elements to prepare her for her next step forward.