The arts program at the school is extensive and well developed. It is evident that the arts are a major contributor to the education of the Waldorf student and that the arts are a defining aspect of the school’s educational work.
The school categorizes the arts program into two distinct areas: The fine and practical arts, and the performing arts. Under the fine and practical arts are Handwork, Painting, Sculpting and Woodwork. Under the performing arts are Music, Eurythmy, Dance and Drama. The range of arts courses listed under these general headings is impressive. In truth, a student completing the Waldorf education will have experienced almost every major fine, practical and performing art discipline.
Throughout the curriculum the arts are ever present. Consistent with the Waldorf educational philosophy, the classroom teacher is the arts teacher in the early grades. For the younger students, the classroom teacher brings instruction in both fine and practical arts, as well as the performing arts. Beginning with grade five and six, the students begin to have specialty teachers for art instruction.
“It is said that ‘energy flows where attention is turned.’ In Eurythmy our attention is turned to movement, balance, hearing, seeing, thinking – and much more – in ourselves and in the worlds of music and poetry. We make discoveries and we express what we uncover through making it visible. Even if it is hard work at times, it can also be a source of joy in the act of creation.” — Robin Mitchell, Former Denver Waldorf School Eurythmy Teacher
Eurythmy is a “Movement Art” and has long-term benefits – since it encompasses many learning modalities, each one linking to the others. All of the students’ sense become involved in the learning experience.
Since Eurythmy incorporates movement skills, spatial and social awareness (together with the capacity to listen and relate objective movement to subjective experience) it has the capacity to gradually lead the student to awareness of language, poetry, musical laws and musical expression in finely tuned artistic expression.
The challenges posed by the need to take control of oneself when participating in expressing the elements of music and the spoken word are, in themselves, educational – even at times therapeutic. The insights gained during the activity of exploring the objective nature of vowel and consonant sounds, rhythms, rhyme forms, etc, and when discovering the laws and the freedoms of musical expression, all have a lasting, beneficial effect upon the students – especially when approached in a manner that respects the age of the student.
From Kindergarten to Grade 8, Eurythmy is taught at The Denver Waldorf School for at least one session per week. It is also currently offered as an elective in the High School.
The weekly lessons carefully follow the curriculum indicated by Rudolf Steiner in the methodological principles of Waldorf education. — by Robin Mitchell, in collaboration with Prairie Adams and Sylvia Nordoff
Rudolf Steiner’s active involvement in the debate about the effect of machines and machine production on human life and his aesthetic based on natural and organic forms greatly influenced Waldorf education.
Wherever possible, Waldorf school architecture and interior design are based on natural, non-rectilinear forms. This is not only out of aesthetic concern. Steiner said that the buildings in which we live, learn and work have a profound effect on our moral life. Also, arts and handcrafts have an important, even central, role in the Waldorf school curriculum.
According to Steiner’s aesthetic, each artistic creation should capture the vitality, fluid beauty and uniqueness that living organisms manifest. While machine-made goods are uniform, handmade things are beautiful by virtue of their irregularity. A hand-carved wooden bowl or spoon, a hand-knitted scarf or hat, a wall that has been lazured (i.e., painted with many layers of thin watercolor washes), a piece of hand-dyed cloth-each of which can be found in a typical Waldorf classroom-express this sensibility. Natural materials such as wood rather than synthetic materials such as plastic also support this aesthetic. For this reason, in a Waldorf school the children’s desks and chairs are usually made of unpainted wood so that the natural beauty of the grain can show. In their crafts and handwork, the children-beginning in the kindergarten-use natural materials such as beeswax, clay and unspun wool-and experience with their hands the living beauty of the natural world.
The importance of handwork in the Waldorf curriculum is related to the dichotomy of the machine-made and the handmade product. The very imperfection of handmade goods is a mark of dignity and bears witness to the limitations that make the artisan-and all of us, by extension-human. When the first grader finger-crochets a circular mat, or when the sixth grader learns to cut a pattern and sew together a stuffed animal, mistakes inevitably arise and corrections and revisions are made. These provide lessons in humility-in the original sense of the word-derived as it is from humus, Latin for “earth.” The child’s experience of fallibility is an experience of her relationship to the rest of nature. It is this relationship, this connection that Steiner and other thinkers of his day realized the machine would alter.
Also, the children experience in handwork class the absolute uniqueness of each human being. Given the same materials and the same instruction and employing the same methods, a class of fifteen children will create fifteen unique pieces of work. — Article by Carmine Iannaccone, a Waldorf Handwork and Fine Arts teacher in Arizona.
The craft of sculpture combines geometry, math, anatomy and woodwork. Woodwork, as a special subject, begins in fifth grade and follows through twelfth grade. Students first complete a hickory carver’s mallet, a maple serving spoon, and a bowl or chest of various shapes and woods. The fundamental tools they use are hand saws, chisels, gouges, rasps, files and sandpaper. With these tools, the students learn to shape, smooth and polish wood. The underlying goal is to teach the students patience, perseverance and pride in their work.
After these three projects, the lessons help students develop drawing skills related to woodworking. Each student creates simple three-dimensional sketches that they can translate into solid forms of wood. Students carve a simple bird, fish or animal. During this time, students begin to learn more complex tools and techniques. They may learn to whittle, using a variety of knives, and the basic methods for finishing wood with oils, waxes and paints.
By seventh grade, students are challenged to further refine their skills through increasingly difficult designs. Students may work with scale models and caricatures. The class will introduce basic safety and use of power tools. By the end of the eighth grade, students complete a project involving scale modeling or creating a toy or mechanism with moving parts. The woodworking curriculum stresses realism with animal carvings. It teaches advanced techniques for hand tools and whittling knives. The lessons encouraged students to develop problem-solving skills in mechanical designs and woodworking techniques.
High School students study woodwork for about seven weeks each year based on their block rotations. The ninth grade learns furniture working by building a simple four-legged stool. This is done using power tools including drills, saws and sanders. The goal is to give the students confidence, and teach woodworking skills and safe operation of machines and techniques.
The ninth-grade stools double as a community service project. The students decorate each one at a grade-appropriate level and give them to a class.
Tenth, eleventh and twelfth grade students complete a carved sculpture of the human form. This project is intended to complement the students’ science blocks in anatomy and physiology.
The carving will display a gesture and emotion intended to bring artistic expression into the scientific experience of the human form. This project requires all of the block time in these three final years of high school.
Spanish begins in Kindergarten with songs, games and stories and continues through the grades covering the alphabet, vocabulary, conversational speaking, sentence structure, grammar, punctuation, written language and an experience of literature. In addition, many cultures are studied in the context of the Spanish language program.
In the high school Spanish program, there are two classes: the upper level for grades 11 and 12, and the lower level for grades 9 and 10. The classes meet five days a week. Students focus on advancing their vocabulary and grammatical understanding, including learning various tenses of conjugation of regular and irregular verbs, direct and indirect object pronouns, compound sentences and complex dialogues, and reading aloud in Spanish. Autumn reading focuses on classic Spanish literature and Spring reading includes works by contemporary authors. Students prepare in-depth reports on various Spanish-speaking countries while they question what they as individuals can do to help with different crises faced by Latino cultures, including poverty, deforestation, immigration, and slavery.
The Russian program focuses on developing a working knowledge of grammar and situational vocabulary so that students may interact in a range of study, travel, and life scenarios.