Steiner doesn’t talk much about grade levels. Instead, he focuses on the child’s development at different stages. I think this is really great for us as we each design our own Waldorf curriculum for homeschoolers. This post is all about why.
In his late morning lecture on Day 8 of the 1919 Teacher’s Seminar, Rudolf Steiner says to his about-to-be-teachers “To find the right curriculum for the period of the seventh to the fourteenth or fifteenth year is a matter bound up in general with a true knowledge of child development over this period.”
This lecture is found in Practical Advice to Teachers.
Steiner goes on to delineate types of lessons for children before age nine, between ages 9-12, and after age 12. Here is his summary.
“You will say to yourselves:
- Up to the children’s ninth year I shall in the main restrict myself to what we have discussed as the artistic element and out of this begin writing and reading and later arithmetic;
- I shall not make the transition to natural history [meaning biological sciences] until after the point is reached that we discussed yesterday [the tenth year];
- And I shall wait with history, except in the form of stories, until they have reached their twelfth year. At this point the children begin to take an inner interest in great historical connections.”
Steiner then gives lots of examples: the human eye and nature’s laws of physics; the sequence of historical events and cultural life; a ball falling onto the floor and gravity; the miracle of Morse code.
Ok, pause. Take a deep breath. Sometimes I get the feeling while reading Steiner that he says things that he assumes are so obvious! Well, not always. But his examples in this lecture are super helpful. Grasping his comments on this age-appropriate curriculum can take a few readings, I find.
With my own children, I have experienced that Steiner’s developmental markers, such as sticking with stories about history until after age twelve, have been so spot on. Then the “aha” moment comes. If you haven’t gotten there with your children yet, you just have to go on faith with this! Some of those first teachers probably had to do this too!!!
After the developmental-appropriateness of this curriculum, here’s the next most important part. As Steiner speaks about the Morse code example as a way of teaching about circuits, he says that we want to look for our own wonder in a subject so that we can teacher from there.
He says, “When I think of the link that is created between the Morse apparatus at one station and that at another station, it never fails to fill me with wonder when I realize how the circuit is closed.”
We want to transform our adult understanding of a subject into something that is childlike, but not childish. This lecture gives great examples of how our goal as teachers is to aim for awe and wonder.
Here are a few other key points that Steiner makes in this lecture.
- As a teacher, we are a poet, an artist if we can always relive in ourselves the activity of the child with our maturer humanity.
- To be forever a steady fellow is not a suitable mood of life for a teacher.
- You want to speak about life and nature in such a way that you take as much pleasure in it as the children themselves and are as much amazed as the children.
- A great deal depends on the atmosphere created between teacher and pupil.
- When we explain a phenomenon of physics to a child who is full of wonder we shall ourselves become children full of wonder. [See how this goes both ways? We share the wonder with each other!]
I am writing these reflections in the midst of a week of many conversations about what implementing the Waldorf curriculum at home looks like. My mentor and partner in the summer Taproot Teacher Training for Waldorf homeschoolers, Barbara Dewey and I have decided to divide up our main lesson groups at next summer’s training in the ways described in this lecture rather than by grade.
I also highly recommend reading this post by Carrie over at The Parenting Passageway, Peaceful Times in Homeschooling a Big Family. I think this applies to families of all sizes!
Steiner really intended for his teachers-in-training to take these developmental principals he describes and work out their own curriculum from there. There is no such thing as a fixed Waldorf curriculum, or knowing exactly what to do! (I would posit that this holds true for all education.) We each work this out for ourselves, based on the children before us and an understanding of Steiner’s principles of child development. Our key task is to find the wonder in ourselves!
I just love how pragmatic Steiner is. After all, he was giving these lectures to twelve individuals, only one of whom had ever taught before, in order to prepare them to open a school seven days from the time of this lecture!
Steiner ends with these words: “You have now been introduced to a large part of the basis and method for working out the curriculum.”
Are you ready? We can do this!
The Steiner Cafe is a place to explore and reflect on the lectures that Rudolf Steiner gave at the Teacher’s Seminar in 1919, the very first Waldorf teacher training.
To read reflections on previous lectures, check out The Steiner Cafe.
These lectures are published in three books. Below are affiliate links for your convenience. Click here to read my full disclosure policy.
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