The traditional Waldorf approach to grade school education recognizes that human culture has progressed in a similar way to how individual human beings mature. Thus the lessons in grades one through eight reflect the development of civilization from its beginnings to the present day in a manner that appeals to the age of the student. While grade levels are recognized, the entire grade school curriculum can be understood to be one continuous integrated process. Underscoring this is the fact that the teachers stay with their classes from grade one through grade eight. Having graduated a class of eighth-graders, a teacher will generally begin again with a group of first-graders the following year (or sometimes after a one-year sabbatical.)
The Waldorf approach recognizes that children have different temperaments and learning styles. Teachers work to bring a student’s natural individual aptitudes and abilities out while also forming a coherent social group of the whole class. Classmates bond in a Waldorf school because the internal culture recognizes how individuals with different abilities can all contribute to the good of the group. In this sense, the class environment is more cooperative than competitive but in every way supportive of individual growth and accomplishment.
The curriculum itself integrates the arts, humanities and sciences and is taught in an age-appropriate way through storytelling, eurythmy (movement), music, poetry, drama, drawing, painting, modeling, reading, and writing. Students learn to think clearly and express themselves in a variety of ways. Foreign languages are taught beginning in grade one. Art, music and drama are utilized to teach other subjects, such at mathematics, history and reading. Developing in students a sense of coherence and integrity is preferred over the partitioning of disciplines. Later, in high school, specialization and refined study are supported and encouraged.
The class teacher presents each day’s “main lesson” which through a variety of presentation methods focuses on such areas as history, geography, mathematics, botany, chemistry, biology, astronomy and other subjects. Specialty teachers provide instruction in subjects such as foreign languages, handwork, music, gardening, woodwork, physical education and eurythmy.
In addition to developing academic abilities and practical skills, a Waldorf education emphasizes the importance of social responsibility and reverence for Nature. Students realize themselves as individuals who are part of a community, a town, a region and a planet.