Arts and special subjects represent a vital component of the Waldorf curriculum. These subjects are interwoven into the academic curriculum at each stage of the child’s development, bringing a fuller understanding and love of the subject under study.
Every activity in the Waldorf curriculum has a purpose, and in its application strives toward beauty. Mathematics and geometry are explored through the creation of exquisite free drawings as well as string constructions. Children absorb and express their knowledge of the Main Lesson by creating their own textbooks, filled with expressive drawings and the written word. Our classroom walls are lively with watercolor paintings of a specific subject, and our chalkboards boast beautifully rendered maps and scenes from nature.
Throughout the curriculum, and at all stages, the arts serve to both develop functional skills and to cultivate beauty.
Foreign language, music, handwork, movement and games and gardening and farming all help to shape a child’s path through our school. These special subjects often reinforce themes and concepts from the Main Lesson, and so are fully integrated into the academic focus.
Knitting and other handwork projects are an essential component in the development of fine motor skills, inner calm, and intellectual clarity. Movement of hands and limbs is critical to intellectual development. Completing a long-term project teaches children perseverance and a can-do attitude. Through a variety of handwork projects, students develop hand-eye coordination and adaptability in working through a challenge, as well as the ability to appreciate others’ work.
Handwork includes knitting, purling, crocheting, spinning, simple weaving, cross stitch, four needle knitting, hand sewing, felting, and needle felting. Each of these components is introduced at the developmentally appropriate stage for the child. In fifth grade, woodworking is introduced as well.
Handwork offers many opportunities for reinforcing math skills in practical, challenging, and enjoyable ways. Author and Waldorf teacher Eugene Schwartz says, “We cannot underestimate the self-esteem and joy that arises in the child as the result of having made something practical and beautiful – something which has arisen as the result of a skill that has been learned.”
Movement Education and Games
The deep understanding of a child’s development is also the basis of movement education and games classes. Each class has a rhythm of joining together and moving apart, alternating highly active games and quieter ones, work together as a group, and reflection on one’s own body and movement.
The movement curriculum provides the foundation – basic coordination and movement skills – t that will be important in the participation in organized sports. Depending on the grade, the children will play games or do relay races that serve to develop skills that are also required for conventional sports such as basketball. String games and jumping rope also develop dexterity and stamina which can be useful in many different activities.
Movement class also fosters healthy social interaction, teaching the children to play with each other before they play against each other, to acknowledge one another’s accomplishments and strengths, to play safely, and to gain an appreciation for all kinds of movement.
Beginning in the first grade, our children learn Spanish. The spoken word is the key to learning languages in the early grades. Songs, poems, rhymes, tongue twisters, counting, and group games all foster group knowledge of the language and appreciation of the soul of the peoples who speak it. The children explore other cultures, and in doing so, broaden their own horizons. In the later grades, students keep a written record of the oral work, thus creating an understanding of spelling and basic grammar. Reading in the foreign language begins in fourth grade.
The study of music is interwoven throughout the academic curriculum with recorder playing and singing, and students progress from simple melodies in the early grades to more complex rhythms and harmonies as they grow older. The discipline of practicing with an instrument helps children find the inner discipline to face other challenges in life. Group music lessons offer a wonderful opportunity for children to practice the ability to listen to others and to work cooperatively. Playing an instrument is a wonderful means of self-exploration, self-expression, and creativity that allows the children to grow into well rounded human beings.
Beginning in the first grade, children are taught to play simple songs on the pentatonic flute. By the end of third grade or beginning in the fourth grade, they are ready to play a more difficult diatonic scale. In third grade, beginning level strings classes begin.
Singing is a regular part of the school week for all grades. In the lower grades, songs are based on seasonal themes. In first and second grades the children sing as a group, and in third grade children, with emerging consciousness about being separate, begin singing rounds. In fourth grade, two-part songs are added, and the children learn about holding their own voices against others to create harmony.
Class plays are an integral part of the curriculum, beginning in kindergarten and continuing through the eighth grade. They are unique for each class yet share distinct and common threads of educational philosophy, community building, and curriculum enhancement. The plays are enjoyed by all members of the school community – students and their families.